Amboseli Component

Hey there! Aubrey and Tina reporting live from Nairobi. Following the urban homestay, our group had the privilege of traveling to the Amboseli region of Kenya. Once an area belonging to Maasai people living pastoral ways of life, Amboseli now consists of six different group ranches and inhabitants from non-Maasai communities. The idea of group ranches arose as an effort to preserve pastoral land from post-colonial leadership and elites attempting to grab land. However, accessible land and resources are continuously shrinking due to corruption and exploitation carried out by wealthier members of group ranches and the migration of non-Maasai people to the area. Who often partake in agricultural, small-scale businesses, and/or trading practices. So as a result of this shift from a pastoral-based economy to the constructed capitalistic ‘market’ (and other factors such as westernization, globalization and tourism) Maasai lifestyle is rapidly changing.
We contemplated these changes during our visit, particularly in terms of the pastoral, agricultural, land, tourism, and education sectors. Through various interviews and two home visits we began to better understand the individual experiences of farmers, people involved with the cultural manyatta, members of the KuKu group ranch, and those apart of the boma we visited. We were able to take what we have learned from scholarship and theory, and saw the implications for the actual, everyday person. So why yes, it is unjust for globalized and westernized systems to encroach upon Maasai cultural practices, people are typically trying to live the best they can in national and international institutions that favor the elite.
First stop: interviews with farmers. Ever struggle with socializing? Well walking up to complete strangers and asking if they’d be willing to chat, is a great way to overcome this. Jackson, who took on the role of culture broker, often translated and helped to break that strangeness of some mzungus and students bopping around with pens and notepads. We met with people who identified as groups such as Kamba and Kikuyu. Here we began to observe first-hand how non-Maasai people have taken up agricultural practices in areas originally used by pastoralists. As Maasai lost land to outsiders, their livestock began to decrease. However, in a group discussion Sinnary explained while a great deal of land used for agriculture is no longer owned by Maasai people, there are those who do own the land and choose to lease it out. Due to the expansion of the agriculture sector, swamps and rivers have dried up. Many rivers categorized as permeant are now seasonal, both farmers and pastoralists are experiencing water shortages. This decline in a resource needed to grow crops and ensure the survival of livestock has led to disputes between these two groups.
Following the interviews, we drove down the long and bumpy road to our hotel. We could see groups of people gathered in traditional Maasai dress near what appeared to be homesteads. What was surprising however was the few safari vehicles that frequented them. We later came to learn that these were Cultural Manyattas, a place where tourists may learn about and experience Maasai culture. When we visited the cultural manyatta later that day, men and women took us by hand and led us into a circle where we sang and danced together. The women placed beaded necklaces on us, and the men were encouraged to participate in the jumping contest. We were then able to learn about traditional Maasai medicine and visit inside the homes made of cow dung and mud.
Next, we had a chance to buy crafts, mostly jewelry, sold by the women. Lastly, we were able to conduct interviews with different groups of the manyatta: the elders, the young men, and the women. Our interviews seemed to spark more questions than they answered. The members stated to live on the manyatta, yet the insides were nearly empty with no cooking materials or personal possessions. Many of the answers we received painted an image of a group that was fully immersed in a traditional way of life and were challenged by our observations. It is more important however, to understand why such discrepancies exist. Many tourists travel to Kenya, and Africa in general, to observe the Maasai people, bringing along stereotypical notions of the group produced by the media and colonial pursuits. Out of demand and desire to please tourists, manyattas sometimes exaggerate the traditional nature of their current lifestyles.
The question of “who is exploiting who?” then arises. Are the Maasai people exploiting tourists and their lack of knowledge or are the tourists exploiting the Maasai to gain access to their culture? I’m not sure if I have a finite answer to this question. Throughout our experiences and discussions however, I have come to conclude that I don’t believe that the Maasai are exploiting tourists in any way. While they may not be producing entirely accurate notions of how they live in 2021, cultural manyattas are a way for this ethnic group to preserve their culture in an area which is developing and modernizing at rapid rates. Furthermore, stereotypes which are sometimes harmful of the Maasai that are produced in Hollywood and the media spread much more rapidly than by the relatively small number of tourists who may visit and make posts about them. Additionally, many of the people who participate in cultural manyatta depend on the income for their livelihood which has been challenged repeatedly throughout history by colonial efforts. If tourists wanted an authentic and modern day Maasai experience they most likely have the resources to put in the work ahead of time to be able to come to similar conclusions.
The inconsistencies between how the Maasai people told us they live and how most modern day Maasai people live was further exemplified upon our visit to a real Maasai homestead. Here, some of the houses were visibly modernized being made of sheet metal so they need not be repaired after every rain. The people we were able to meet with here wore modern clothing and had a borehole to retrieve their water. While this contrasting set of observations justified our suspicions about the cultural manyatta’s true nature, it more importantly gave us an accurate image of contemporary life for the Masai people living in the Amboseli region.
Rounding out the week we had the opportunity to talk with various members of the KuKu group ranch “traditional” and “educated” women,

Urban Homestay Fall 2021

Nairobi Skyline
Hi all! We completed our urban home stays in early October. Heres what two students, Grace and Tess had to say about it!
The Blog: St. Lawrence Kenya Program – The Urban Homestay Component (September 19 – October 😎
Following the Nakuru and Naivasha Field Component, our group spent three weeks in 10 separate homestays throughout urban Kenya within Nairobi County (nine singles and one double). The neighborhoods that students stayed in were in Karen, Kitisuru, Lavington, Runda, Kilimani, New Kitisuru, Runda Green, and Kileleshwa. Students’ urban host families were diverse in their environments, not only in regard to their location, but also in terms of whether both parents were present and whether their host families had siblings, pets or guard dogs, a garden, a domestic worker, an askari – a Kiswahili word meaning soldier or security guard – and various other factors. The variety of urban host families aimed to give students varied and diversified experiences, as each family had something unique to offer to the student(s) they were hosting. Throughout the three weeks, students were given various opportunities to engage with their family members through experiencing night life, family activities such as going to church and/or celebrations such as weddings and graduation parties, cooking with their families, exchanging stories about each other’s cultures, traveling to host parents’ rural homes, and exploring the city, among other activities. The program was fortunate enough and able to organize and continue forward with the urban homestays, despite the coronavirus pandemic still being extremely present in the lives of Kenyans, specifically with the enforcement of mask-wearing in public and the national curfew from 10 pm to 4 am during our homestay.
While we were in our urban homestays we were also taking classes at the United Kenya Club (UKC) in the capital city of Kenya (central Nairobi). The UKC is a private club that provides food, housing, and other accommodations, including a library and classroom spaces for students to work and take classes in. Two of the main classes, focused on gender studies and government, are being taught by professors from the University of Nairobi, which is the oldest and largest university in Kenya! The third course that is offered is based around conservation and biodiversity in Kenya and is taught by the Kenya Semester Program’s Academic Director.
Prior to students meeting their urban host families and moving into their houses, students had a conversation with each other and with one of the directors of student life and academics about the history of urbanization in central Nairobi, in regard to accessibility, social life, environmental degradation, and the urban divide related to wealth, as well as race. The city of Nairobi, upon its initial creation, was divided based upon one’s race and ethnicity; however, the city also became divided based upon economic status as a result of this initial divide. By living with urban families within the middle and upper middle-income classes, we were able to make comparisons with our rural home visits within Kipsigis culture in Kericho County, as well as with the “informal settlements” of Kibera and Mathare (the locations of our two field excursions on September 24 and October 1). As “informal settlements” will be referenced throughout, they can be briefly defined as areas where groups of shelters and housing have been built, in which the residents have no legal claim to their residency.
In viewing the density of living within Nairobi County and within “informal settlements” also in this county, our group was able to visually see and experience the massive urban sprawl that has overtaken the city of Nairobi. In 1963, the city only housed 350,000 people, but today the city houses a staggering 4.9 million people! In consequence to this rapid population increase, access to resources such as health care, security, water, high-quality housing, and food are in short supply, although a majority – if not all – of these resources are accessible by those within the middle and upper middle-income classes. Additionally, Nairobi National Park – the only national park that resides in a major capital city – may be at risk of being minimized or eliminated in the future to make accommodations for human resources. The increased population also has great effects on traffic, and by extension, air pollution within the city. The congestion of traffic was impossible to not notice on our way to the UKC every morning, with personal vehicles driving children to school, as well as people doing errands and driving to work, making the roads difficult to drive on for our taxi drivers. With Nairobi’s increased population, the lack of public transportation has also become highly noticeable, as the increase in public transportation such as matatus and boda-bodas would surely decrease congestion and allow for more drivers to utilize the roads. Ultimately, the large and still increasing population within Nairobi County and within the capital city will have devastating impacts on land use, in terms of environmental conservation of land and escalating agricultural land use to continually feed the growing population.
During our time doing the urban homestay we also participated in weekly experiential learning components as part of our core course “Culture, Environment, and Development in East Africa.” We each left our urban homestays on Friday mornings to meet as a whole group and from there departed for the experiential learning component planned. The first component we participated in was through the organization Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) based in the informal settlement of Kibera. SHOFCO is a grassroots organization which seeks to empower residents of Kibera through providing critical and essential services such as providing clean water, creating employment opportunities, and providing access to education specifically for girls. The presence of SHOFCO services within Kibera is extensive, and this became clear through the morning that we spent with them. For a few hours that Friday morning we were taken on a tour where we walked through Kibera and visited sites where SHOFCO services were available. We saw their headquarters, sites for accessing clean water, a school they had built for girls, their hospital, their center for gender issues and advocacy, and spaces where they offered employment to Kibera residents for services such as sewing. One of the aspects I admired about this organization is that they are not trying to change or eliminate the way Kibera has come to exist, instead they want to support the community as a way to empower the residents of Kibera.
The second organization we visited the following week was Mathare Girl Power Project, an organization working on a smaller scale than SHOFCO, which seeks to support young girls through vocational education in the informal settlement of Mathare. Mathare Girl Power Project educates young girls on sexual and reproductive health, menstruation, substance abuse, consent, sexuality, and other aspects of sexual and health education in an effort to make the girls aware and knowledgeable of life changes and circumstances to empower them to stay in school and finish their education. The organization believes that if the girls can finish their education they will be able to follow their aspirations, be successful, and give back to their community. The girls are taught by women older than them, many of whom have been through the organization’s education as well. During our time visiting the organization we got to interact with the organization’s founder, its teachers, and some students as well. We were put in separate groups with one teacher and two students to have an open dialogue about what the students are taught, what they have gotten out of the organization, and to ask any questions. When I asked one of the students what has been the most valuable thing she has learned from being part of the organization she told me that she has been able to build the confidence to demand consent and to say no when pressured to engage in activities she does not want to. I really appreciated her sentiment, and I think it shows that the goal of this organization is working and that education truly is power.
Reflection: Grace Brouillette
I was so, so fortunate to be welcomed with hospitality, kindness, and compassion by my urban host family for three weeks. The night of my arrival, I gifted them a container of maple syrup, a very sweet and significant food item that has been important to me since childhood because I grew up in Vermont – a state that is well-known for maple syrup and maple creemees (also known as soft-serve ice cream). Being able to connect with my family members and the domestic worker that lived on the same property through my love of cooking and baking was really special. I had the opportunity to learn how to make chapati and ugali from the domestic worker as well as make pancakes with my sister that we could drizzle the maple syrup on. Of all of the special activities that I was able to participate in, one in particular stood out to me as communicating the importance of family, love, and dedication to both of these the most. During my first weekend at their house, one of my cousins was getting married and so I had the opportunity to go to a Kenyan wedding, only the second wedding that I’ve ever been to. Besides the wedding being a beautiful moment to witness, I was also able to see a different aspect of Kenyan culture that I wasn’t expecting to see upon initially coming to Kenya. Religion was so interwoven into the wedding and made for a completely different experience than the wedding that I had gone to in America. Celebration through dancing, singing, and music brought such a warm light to the day’s events. I doubt that I will forget the all-encompassing feeling of love that I experienced that day dancing with my sister and seeing two people so happily in love, surrounded by their loved ones and family. I hope to continue to stay connected with my urban host family, especially my sister, as I continue through the Kenya Semester Program for the next two months, as well as following the program upon my return to America!
Reflection: Tess Maxam
In reflecting on the rest of my time doing the urban homestay I believe it is one of the most formative experiences the Kenya Semester Program offers. It is the longest period of time where we remain in one place, aside from our internships in the last month, compared to the rest of the program which entails a lot of travelling and moving around from place to place. The ability to “stay put” in a way really allows the homestay to feel like a return home at the end of each day. What especially made this new place feel like home was the amount of time I spent cooking with my host mom. As often as I possibly could I would offer to help with dinner and I was able to learn how to make multiple staple Kenyan dishes. As a person who is not the best at cooking I thought it was great practice, a lot of fun, and brought me closer with my host mom. Another aspect of the homestay which I really enjoyed was getting to know my taxi driver Peter. Each day we had the same driver which has been arranged through the program to bring us to and from classes. In the 45-60 minute commute each day I was able to get to know my driver Peter very well and he even invited us to visit his home next week where he will cook us nyama choma (grilled meats) and be able to meet his family that he has been telling us so much about. It is relationships such as these that seem least expected when entering a component such as the rural homestay but one that has meant so much to me and I will never forget. Last but not least, I got to have company with four of the sweetest dogs that lived at my urban home. Each day I would come home from classes and be greeted with face kisses and cuddles from each of the dogs. I even got to know the neighborhood better through taking them on walks a few times during my homestay and would be able to say hi as I passed by all of the other community members walking around as well. Overall, I really enjoyed the urban homestay and it was an experience I will look back on with much admiration through the rest of my life.

Nakuru Field Component

This past week our group traveled to Nakuru and Naivasha to learn about various aspects of conservation and problems the parks in the area are currently facing. We took many trips driving around Lake Nakuru National Park, as well as visiting a raptor rehabilitation center, Lake Naivasha, Interplant Flower Farm, and Hell’s Gate National Park. The game drives were certainly a highlight of the trip, and it was quite interesting to learn about all of the issues wildlife and locals are facing today.

The first day of our week in Nakuru brought us to the Naivasha Raptor Center. We were welcomed by owner and avian enthusiast, Shiv, outside of the bird’s enclosures. We first observed and learned about the vultures, the African White Back vulture and the Hooded vulture. These species, along with others in Kenya are at high risk of becoming functionally extinct, meaning a species still exists but is unable to play any role in the ecosystem due to population decline or disruption in their gene flow.

There are many human factors influencing the survival of vultures in Kenya, including wind turbines, geothermal power plants, and poisonings. According to Shiv, a wind turbine farm was constructed in one of the three worst locations in Kenya, just ten kilometers away from the rehabilitation center. The vultures are unable to sense the danger of the turbines as they fly through the area to scavenge. The blades of the turbines turn at 230 miles per hour and can slice a vulture in half. Turbines in Hell’s Gate National Park, we visited the park on Tuesday, were placed roughly 300 meters away from a vulture colony and killed five of the twenty-five ledge colonies which have been around for thousands of years.

As for the impact of geothermal energy, power plants are located in protected areas where vultures nest. KenGen, Kenya Electricity Generating Company, does geothermal drilling which has resulted in tapped ground leaks and superheated water that floods over, destroying habitat, specifically of vulture nests. These nests, tucked in cliff ledges, are many generations old and have high significance to vulture survival and reproduction. A final human impact on vultures is the poisoning of vultures as a result of the birds feeding on carcasses that have been poisoned by humans. One of the African White Back vultures at the rehabilitation center had been poisoned with a sublethal dose due to feeding on a carcass.

These issues are problematic for the reproduction of the species as a whole, as the birds pair monogamously for life and produce only one to two eggs per year. Of those couple eggs, the egg is often not fertile and if it is fertile it does not always hatch, and if it does hatch the hatchling is not always able to leave the nest because of predation. Those factors, combined with a 70% mortality rate in the bird’s first year, results in the parents needing to breed for forty to fifty years in order to replace themselves. If the vultures suffer from injures or death, it is unlikely that they will have been able to successfully reproduce. Therefore, the conservation and protection of vultures’ lifespans is important to the species’ continuation. If the vultures are able to reproduce at the rehabilitation center, it will be the first time they are ever successfully bred in Africa.

Many negative factors result from the loss of vultures, including a loss of biodiversity in the Kenyan and East African ecosystems and an increase in feral dog numbers and therefore rabies. Vultures also contribute the equivalent of $11,000 a year, per vulture, in cleaning up the environment. Shiv talked about the lack of awareness of and sympathy for vultures, and all birds, and how awareness needs to increase significantly in order for human interaction and development to positively impact birds.

In addition to the vultures, the rehabilitation center also has hawks, owls, and eagles of various types. We had a special experience going into the vulture enclosure and having a hands-on experience with the large birds. Afterwards, Shiv brought Phil, a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, out for each of us to hold. The Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl is the largest owl in Africa. As we interacted with Phil, Shiv talked about owls being a bad omen in traditional African culture. Many Africans think that if an owl is found calling outside of their house, someone in the house will die. This belief is a miss translation of an ancient story in which an owl was a messenger from God when one had sinned. An owl would come to the house and warm you of your sin, giving you a second chance before harm would come to you. This myth, along with every other piece of information from Shiv, was very beneficial to our understanding of and perspective on Nakuru National Park and the ways of conservation in Kenya. 

On Monday, we had a short lecture from Mr. Edebe, a researcher with Kenya Wildlife Services, about some of the environmental issues Lake Nakuru National Park is currently facing. Around 30% of the park is covered by the lake, which is very well known for its flamingo population. Unfortunately, this population has been declining due to the impact of climate change.

Increased rainfall has impacted both water level as well as the salinity of Lake Nakuru. From 2010 to 2020, the area of the lake has increased from 43.3km2 to 61.3km2, and the perimeter has increased from 29.6km2 to 34.9km2. While the lake is expanding, the saline concentration has started to dilute which greatly impacts the biodiversity surrounding the lake. There has recently been a new species of tilapia, that typically only survive in saltwater, that are now able to survive in the lake. They have also seen an increase in the number of freshwater birds that now live around the perimeter of the lake. The increase in water level, however, has been destroying habitats of animals that use to live right outside of the lake. We unfortunately did not see any leopards, for example, because they have now moved strictly to the forest since there has been a decrease in land area.

On Wednesday we visited the Interplant Flower Farm, a farm for research and development in Naivasha. Flowers have become an important economic export, and Kenya is now the fourth largest flower producer in the world. Interplant is famous for its spray roses, or roses with multiple blooms per stem. The Naivasha farm is focused on developing and testing new species of roses to potentially grow and sell in Europe and other world markets.

This week in Nakuru was filled with animal sightings, interesting lectures, and lots of personal reflection. From the first day at the raptor rehabilitation center, our entire group couldn’t stop thinking about how much we had never thought about these issues. After the raptors, we went on many game drives and learned so much about the park from Mr. Edebe and Sinnary. Interplant gave us a glimpse into the flower farming industry in Naivasha, while Hell’s Gate and Lake Naivasha taught us more about the different issues affecting parks in the area. We each learned so much this week, and couldn’t have asked for a better program of activities.


Hope Olson: In reflecting on our week in Nakuru, I am especially grateful for the time we had in Nakuru National Park. We had previously talked about and learned about the Park in our biodiversity course taught by Sinnary and I really enjoyed visiting the place, seeing so much of what we had discussed, and imagining what the land might have looked like prior to negative human impact. It was incredible to be within such close proximity to animals that I had not yet seen in the wild, especially the giraffes, hyenas, rhinos, and lions. I am grateful for the tours we had in and around Nakuru, giving me a multi-perspective view of the city. 

Brenden Bready: This week in Nakuru was without a doubt one of the best weeks of the program so far. I learned so much throughout the week about so many issues I never would have thought of, such as the importance of vultures for removing animal waste, as well as how changing the salinity of a lake can affect not only the fish but also the species around it. While it was amazing to learn so much, seeing all of the animals in the wild was certainly a highlight of the trip. I didn’t think I would actually ever see a lion, but being able to watch them hunt was certainly a treat. This trip went perfectly with everything we’ve been learning about in our biodiversity class with Sinnary, and I’m very excited to continue learning about more and more issues I wouldn’t have even thought about without these amazing visits.

Rural Homestay (Kericho)

The rural homestay has been integral to the Kenya Program since its construction. As the Covid-19 pandemic has altered student life in Canton, New York, it has also changed the rural homestay component, to adhere to safety precautions in a way that students can learn through field activities and guest lectures in addition to the home visit. Traditionally, the homestay component is a seven-day homestay in which students live with families and experience a way of life corresponding to the peoples and cultures of the family, independent from other St. Lawrence students. This year students were paired and visited their Kipsigis family in Kericho county for two days, immersed in activities within the home that embodied Kipsigis culture and life in Kericho. Outside of the two days spent in the family’s home, students also spent time learning about community activities and history from local professionals.

            The home visits were located in Kericho, a tea town on the highlands west of the Kenyan Rift Valley. Kericho’s location along the Mau Forest, at an altitude and temperature ideal for tea farming has made Kericho a hub for commercial and international tea cultivation, local tea farming, and governmental tea farming. While Kericho is currently recognized as a tea hub, it is, more importantly, a center for diverse culture, specifically Kipsigis culture. Kipsigis culture has developed and changed between generations but has been carried on through oral history, maintenance of spoken language, and the inheritance of cultural practices and land. There were several opportunities to learn about Kipsigis culture throughout the week, from a pre-arrival lecture to a Kispsigis museum tour with a museum exhibition, an art gallery, and a general history and culture discussion with the museum director, Godfrey. 

Through these experiences, we learned that Kipsigis culture dates back 2000-3000 years ago when a Kipsuroi man brought people from Egypt and Northern Africa to the Highlands East of Lake Victoria offering the people opportunity, milk, and honey. Kipsigis culture thrived for hundreds of years with rites of passage, ceremonial dance and drink, and graduations. Kipsigis people were said to have made everything by hand from clothing, musical instruments, and tools to long beer straws. As mentioned before, the Kipsigis people had several ceremonies, but most importantly the ‘rite of passage’, which marks a child’s graduation into adulthood. Outside of the four alarming calamities, Kipsigis culture thrived thanks to the resilient community and bountiful land until European Settlers arrived with diseases, destruction, and oppressive politics. Colonial rule led to the loss of tribal identity and customs due to social disruption from taxes, loss of land, pressure from commercial agriculture, and urban migration. 

            Before leaving for Kericho each student received a detailed schedule of what our plan was for our week in Kericho. The following are the field components that accompanied home visits during our week. One of the first activities we took part in was visiting the Kipsigis cultural museum which is one of the smallest museums in the country. During this visit, we were able to gain insight into the lives and culture of the Kipsigis people, as our host families are part of the Kipsigis community. This experience offered us the chance to learn about the practices and culture that we would be experiencing while visiting our rural families for two full days. When introduced to our families, we experienced a welcoming with dancing, singing, and even receiving our own Kipsigis names which demonstrated the welcoming nature of our host parents and siblings into their community.

On the following day, we went on a tour of a local tree nursery in Kericho, learning about the sustainable planting and growing of trees and sustainable agriculture practices in the area. Following our visit to the tree nursery, we were able to attend a church service with our host families which gave us a closer look into the religious beliefs that our host families practice, which holds a large amount of value within this community. Although many of us as students have differing religious beliefs, this experience allowed us to fully immerse in this aspect of the community’s lives. 

            The next activity which we did was tour a mixed farming project in which we were able to see some of the practices that our host families may also have been participating in such as the harvesting of crops, milking of cows, etc. In the following two days, we were able to spend time with our families and truly immerse ourselves in the way of life practiced by the Kipsigis people. Each student was able to engage in different activities such as tea plucking, planting of trees, harvesting crops, cooking, and milking of cows. Many experienced similar activities but each was representative of the rural lifestyle that our families practice.

During our time we were also able to meet with college students to discuss the comparisons between our college experiences as well as learn from two women leading a table banking organization. 

            Lastly, we were able to get an educational tour of a tea factory which is a major aspect of life within the community. During this tour, we saw the process of tea making which gave each of us a better appreciation and understanding of the industry. 


Student A’s Reflection

            The most powerful part of my experience was the welcome we received from our host families. Before this moment, we had not met our families and had no preconceptions of what meeting them would look like. As we entered a host parent’s driveway, I began to hear the sound of singing. Not knowing what to expect we got out of the car and walked toward them. At first, I remember feelings of discomfort; I did not know what to do or how to act. Slowly I started to feel more at home and by the end of the day, I had built a powerful connection to my family. After their Kipsigis singing and dancing had concluded, we had a buffet-style lunch full of Kenyan food like rice, ugali, chapati, nyama (meat), vegetables, and mursik (a traditional Kipsigis fermented milk). Through eating food prepared by our families, I tasted not only flavor but a great amount of care, thought, and love. Something I noted about the welcoming setup was the separate seating areas for ourselves and our homestay parents. Looking back, I realize that it was most likely due to Covid precautions; however, the separation also added to the anticipation of meeting our families. 

Following the rural homestay traditions, after our meal, one at a time our parents came over and chose who they thought was their son or daughter. For myself, this moment was reversed as I was asked to chose who I thought could be my parents. After picking correctly, we walked as a family to a place to sit together and get to know our family. I remember so clearly how eager they were to meet us and how much excitement they had on their faces to finally meet their daughters after more than a year without hosting. The moments with my family that day were unforgettable, the feeling of comfort came so instantly. We concluded the welcoming ceremony with one last dance, this time alongside our family. We formed a circle in which we danced around following our host mother’s lead as our host father stood behind. As the dancing concluded, the rain became heavy. I will never forget my father removing his shakka (a traditional fabric tied across the body) and holding it over my head, protecting me from the rain. The act was that of fatherly care and protection, an important value to the Kipsigis. This day has become ingrained in my memory and I hope I never forget the feeling of open arms into my Kipsigis family.



Student B’s Reflection

During the two days living with my host family, I was able to both learn as well as teach my family about American culture. Amongst the many activities I was able to take part in, I believe that there was one which was the most impactful. My host mother was a teacher at a local school and on my second day decided to bring me to meet her students. Unfortunately, my other American sibling was unwell therefore I spent the second day independently. During my visit to the school, I felt the stares of all 200 students with some attempting to reach out and grab my hands, one even came up behind me and grabbed at my hair. However uncomfortable I felt in the moment, I allowed myself to absorb and take it all in. Out of all of the students, one young girl felt courageous enough to come up to me and ask me if she could introduce herself and tell me her name which was a highlight of my experience. Despite my mixed emotions surrounding this experience, as I reflect on it I can reconsider both how I am perceived as well as reconsider my prior assumptions. As uncomfortable and vulnerable as it made me feel at times, I strongly believe it gave me a perspective that I have never experienced, and for that, I am beyond grateful. 

Student C’s Reflection

I had the fortunate opportunity to live two days with my Kipsigis host family in rural Kericho and learn how Kipsigis culture has prevailed and adapted over time. As a clarification, Kipsigis culture has been greatly impacted by globalization, modernization, colonialism, the spread of religion, and more, so breaking down the change in Kipsigis culture is incredibly complex and deserves more than a blog post discussion. Living with my host family I had the opportunity to walk through the community, visiting the local secondary and primary school, tea pluckers, tea pruners, and neighbors, spend time with my host brother harvesting and tending to crops, and working with my host mother to learn how to make ugali, chapati, do laundry by hand, and prepare other traditional dishes. Above all, I owe the success and meaningfulness of the experience to my host family because they were incredibly welcoming, supportive, communicative, and loving during my time there. We discussed traditional farming and cooking practices, my parent’s occupations, my brother and sister’s experiences at university, and more. It is challenging to try and put such a moving experience into words because the activities and conversations can barely begin to capture the closeness and the connections I felt with my family.