Kisumu Fall 2016

Cute group pic on top of the "Baboon Cliffs" in Nakuru!

Cute group pic on top of the “Baboon Cliffs” in Nakuru!

On our first full day in Kisumu, the topic on everyone’s minds was tourism. Starting the day off with a trip to the Kisumu Museum, we had a personal tour of the gallery by our tour guide and by the founder and former curator. The Museum also includes a traditional Luo homestead, with explanations in front of each home and granary, indicating which house would belong to whom and all of the uses. What could have been a really powerful learning experience was made a little confusing by the presentation of “traditional dancing,” which had the dancers scantily clad in fake animal skins and even one afro wig. As we were pulled in to the dances with photos being taken – later by actual journalists for an article about tourism – we couldn’t help thinking about how we much would have preferred to learn about the cultural significance and meaning of each of the dances. When we were pulled back to the presentation for a second round, this time with journalists present (mostly taking photos of us) and a few speeches given by the organizers, it led to a later conversation on staged experiences and authenticity.

Kit Mikayi: Lupita Nyong'o was here!

Kit Mikayi: Lupita Nyong’o was here!

The feeling of authenticity was definitely more concrete when we visited Kit Mikayi, a rock formation and religious and cultural heritage site for the community. We learned about the history, spoke with some of the elders, and even had some dialogue about cultural exchange and meaning. After a tour around Kit Mikayi, we climbed into the caves and up around the rock formation, even seeing a woman praying fervently at one of the altars commonly found in the caves. The rock is called Kit Mikayi (“Stone of the First Wife” in Dholuo), as the folk tale goes, because an old man called Ngeso would walk to the rock and stay all day, causing his wife to refer to the rock as his first wife because he spent all his time there. The rest of the day was spent discussing how Kit Mikayi could become a more well-known tourist site, and how to structure an experience that was interactive, meaningful, and genuine. It was an interesting day with a concise theme, and many of us left with many questions about how tourism can best improve the lives of the local community.

Dunga Beach busy in the morning!

Dunga Beach busy in the morning!

The next day, Wednesday, we set off for Dunga Beach. As we pulled in on our big bus, we saw a place bustling with activity and music: fishermen spreading out their nets, hauling the long, colorful wooden boats onshore and unloading the day’s catch to the women who crowd around. These women fish traders moved back and forth on land, cleaning fish, laughing amongst themselves, or waiting in the shade for certain boats to return with lungfish, Nile Perch, or catfish. We filed out onto the dock amongst a few curious stares, donned our neon orange life vests, and clambered into the boat awaiting us, complete with “Selfie Sticks Available” sign.

Laura contemplating Lake Victoria's current issues

Laura contemplating Lake Victoria’s current issues

The boat tour was fantastic. Out on Lake Victoria for a few hours with the sun and cool breeze, we learned about the lake’s fishing industry and the issues with pollution from local industry, sewage, and fish farms. While on the water, we saw the contrasts of the lake: fishing boats using both legal and illegal methods, crystal clear water followed by streams of polluting green algae, and shoreline business – some restaurants for locals, some enormous tourist resorts. After a few sunbaked and information-saturated hours, we pulled onto a small beach and walked through the town back to the beach, noting the few boda-boda drivers chugging along the road and the quiet of laundry hanging out to dry and all the children off at school.

Fishermen coming in from a day out on the water! Hope they got some fish

Fishermen coming in from a day out on the water! Hope they got some fish

When we reach Dunga Beach again, we visit the fishing co-operative, a resource for fishermen to access coolers and more technical fishing gear for bigger catches. The co-op is meant to be a collective bargaining tool to cut out the middle-men who often cut a significant amount of the fishermen’s profits. After a tour of the beach and lunch at the local restaurant, we met our translators for our interviews with the fishermen and fish traders. In groups of two, equipped with our questionnaires and gifts of sugar, tea, and Safaricom cards, we spent the next few hours learning about the routines, challenges, and lives of the women and men we spoke to. It was interesting to learn about what they considered the biggest issues: pollution in the lake, night fishermen stealing equipment, and the women having numerous dependents (often as the sole provider for the household). After doing readings on the issue of “fish for sex” and how it exploits women and eases the spread of HIV, we were surprised to hear that it is much less common nowadays – at least at Dunga. Later that night, after returning to the hotel, we met up with Henry and students from the nearby Maseno University (Christopher, Joel, Ida, and Amy), who led us on a walking tour of Kisumu.

Exploring Kisumu with our new friends!

Exploring Kisumu with our new friends!

On Thursday, Henry’s father Adera Osawa, a member of the Luo Council of Elders, came to speak to the group as a guest lecturer. In his lecture, he spoke on the history, diaspora, and leadership of the Luo community. We learned about the Luo Council of Elders’ past history as the Luo Union East Africa, and how political situations can shape the way a community organizes itself. According to Adera Osawa, the Luo Council of Elders is a way to “bring us together and make us think.” He spoke further about how the Luo Council of Elders structures itself, and its role in clarifying and preserving cultural practices. His talk was especially helpful later, when each presentation group interviewed three groups of community members: the men from the Council of Elders, the “mamas,” or the middle-aged women also involved in the Council of Elders, and the four young students – Chris, Joel, Ida, and Amy. Each group asked questions relevant to their presentation topics: the political situation, the traditions and cultural practices, and fishing industry of the Luo community.

The buffalo in Nakuru National Park are really overpopulated, but maybe looking at how the birds hang out on their backs (symbiosis, ooh) will make you feel better."

The buffalo in Nakuru National Park are really overpopulated, but maybe looking at how the birds hang out on their backs (symbiosis, ooh) will make you feel better.”

On Friday we packed up and left Kisumu, setting off for Nakuru National Park and our resort-like hotel within the grounds! This was our first “safari hotel,” but we were about to spend the next week in an even more luxurious one in Amboseli. During our one-night trip, we did four game drives: one on the way in, one later that day, and two the next morning (early before breakfast, and then on our way out). The game drives were so interesting because not only did we get to see wildlife, but we learned about the issues the park is facing, like the rising lake levels, the rising salinity in a freshwater lake (the second-biggest freshwater lake), and the overpopulation of grazers within a fenced park, like buffalo and zebra. It was such a fantastic way to end the week, and we got this cute group photo at the “Baboon Cliffs” to wrap up just before setting off back to Nairobi. Our Kisumu trip had been amazing and eye-opening. Up next was Amboseli, and we couldn’t wait!

A female water buck and her baby in Nakuru National Park

A female water buck and her baby in Nakuru National Park


Kisumu Spring 2016

Jambo marafiki na familia, once again! After two weeks of traversing the Kenyan countryside, we are all finally back to Nairobi, a place which, so suddenly and seemingly without our conscious noticing, has begun to feel less like a transitory living location and more like returning to our actual home.

For the first week of our field components, we travelled to Kisumu to study the socioeconomic and cultural issues of Western Kenya. Kisumu is the third largest city in Kenya on its own, and as the largest city in Western Kenya it acts as the metropolitan, economic, and cultural hub for the entire region. As a country with, as we quickly have learned, dramatic and powerful ethnic divides, Kisumu is also Kenya’s de facto center for the Luo ethnic community  or “tribe”–something which has great social and political ramifications for the entire region and country. During our stay in Kisumu, we had the opportunity to gain irreplicable hands on experience seeing how ethnicity works to shape identity in Western Kenya. Identity is a powerful force. Likely more than anything else we took from our wonderful stay in Kisumu, we gained a true understanding of the role identity plays in influencing all the hegemonic forces which affect society and our world. It was, in many ways, the week of “identity”.

Our adventure in Kisumu began the first day when we made our way to the Kisumu Museum. The Kisumu Museum is run by the National Museums of Kenya and focuses on cultural and scientific issues in Western Kenya, particularly the Luo community. The Luo traditionally live on Lake Victoria as fishermen, but as globalization and modernization have swept through Kenya, their livelihoods have gradually been changing. The Kisumu Museum offers a look into a world before it was met with the powerful forces of colonialism, and westernization. Walking through the Kisumu Museum was an intriguing and interesting experience. The main museum hall was a single room with multiple small exhibits that displayed items from traditional Luo living, such as a fishing net or an example of basket weaving. There were also examples of the natural environment, such as several mounted heads of local animals like wildebeest and gazelles. In the aquarium, we encountered many fish species which, while once prominent, face increasing danger outside the safety of the museum walls due to overfishing and the presence of Nile Perch, an introduced species which preys on the native fish in the lake. The traditional homestead placed on the museum grounds displayed to us the importance of family in traditional Luo identity, but also, how Luo culture is dynamic and constantly changing–polygamy, for instance, while once common and illustrated by the many houses in the homestead, is now being phased out due to moral and economic changes.

After the Kisumu Museum, we piled onto the bus and drove to Kit Mikayi, a Luo cultural and religious site. Kit Mikayi means “rock of the first wife” in Luo, and the 40-meter stone formation has traditionally served as a pilgrimage monument where couples would have their marriage blessed or elders would pray for rain. Now, Kit Mikayi serves as a tourist attraction (it costs a small fee to get into the now-fenced area) and, as Christianity’s influence reached the region, it became a prayer site for Christians instead of for members of the traditional religion.

Interestingly, at both the Kisumu Museum and Kit Mikayi, we could not help but notice how we were largely presented with an image of traditional Luo life from our guides, without more modern history being acknowledged. Partaking in cultural tourism was fascinating. While it was a great educational experience to learn about the history of the area, we also became aware that many times tourists are shown what is thought to sell: often in the context of developing countries, an image of an idyllic, exotic, and not modern time.

After settling in Kogelo, we set out for the Senator Obama Secondary School. We were all surprised to see the entire school assembled for our visit, and each member of the KSP introduced themselves to the 400 students. We then broke into small groups, and were given tours of the school by the students themselves, learning about their lives and exchanging stories about topics we soon learned crossed cultural boundaries; college, homework, sports, and boys; before saying goodbye and parting Senator Obama Secondary School.

Barack Obama’s father is buried in Kogelo and his step-grandmother, “Mama Sarah”, resides next door to the school, however, this is the only correlation between the president and the secondary school. As we came to know from staying in Kogelo, this area of the country has been caught up in the wave of “Obama fever”. The hotel where we stayed the night was decidedly Obama themed, complete with a lifesize statue of the president and a main building called the White House. After President Obama visited Kogelo in 2006, the school changed its name in his honor. Once this town became associated with the Obama name and the tourism associated with it, government money poured in to improve infrastructure. The freshly paved roads felt out of place among the modest shops and markets of Kogelo. After a very full day, we slept soundly the Obama themed hotel and prepared to make the trip back to Kisumu.

Our second morning in Kisumu began with a leisurely boat ride along the ever famous, second largest freshwater lake in the world: Lake Victoria. We were guided through the history of the lake as we encroached upon vintage steamboats that were used as a mode of transport between Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. The ride provided us with an overview of the environmental concerns of both pollution and overfishing which are greatly affecting the lake so inherent to the identity of the Luo. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to interview the local fisherman and traders who interact with the lake and grapple with these issues daily.

It was apparent from our conversations with them that the fishing industry is a taxing career, with often very minimal economic rewards. The majority of traders, all who are women, were the primary breadwinners of their families and often had to “partner up” with the fishermen, offering their bodies for fish in order to make enough money to provide for those depending on them. The industry is extremely hierarchical, allowing men with the necessary resources to receive most of the profit, while those less advantaged are heavily reliant on the resources of others.

Following our adventures and interviews around Lake Victoria, we remained at our hotel to interview several representatives of the Luo community. Among those who came to share discussions with us were elder Luo men, elder women, young women, and young men. It was an amazing educational opportunity to be able to speak with each of these different age groups and to hear their contrasting views on the issues we had been studying. We found that the elders, especially the men, were rather conservative in their views regarding Luo culture and were much more determined to preserve traditional values. The young men and women were much more progressive in their views of the future. One of the young women, when asked if she identified as a Luo or Kenyan, responded with “I consider myself first a global citizen, second a Kenyan”. As the younger generation comes of age, it is clear that traditional concepts of Luo identity are evolving to become more dynamic.

After our powerful experiences in Kisumu, we climbed back upon Njau’s well-loved bus and set out for Nakuru. Unfortunately, we had to leave some of our KSP comrades behind as they were floored with food poisoning (they’re back at it and healthier than ever now!). When we got to the gate of Lake Nakuru National Park we had to sort out some logistics with passports and while we waited we were treated to quite an amusing show put on by several baboons. We arrived at our hotel within the park in the early evening and were wide-eyed to a stunning sunset over Lake Nakuru. The following morning we got up early for our first game drive of the semester! We piled into the bus once more and were treated to Njau ready to stop for each and every monkey and Sinnary answering every wildlife question. We were lucky enough to see four huge white rhinos, which we quickly learned were actually named “wide rhinos” for their large jaw structure, but the name was lost in translation. We also saw several twigas (giraffes), monkeys, countless water buffalo, and even a rare aard wolf. It was an amazing experience and wonderful conclusion to an incredible week.

Kisumu Field Component

Hey guys! Ceci, Keke, Emily (and Emily) here ready to you about our trip to Kisumu! This was a new component to replace the Mombasa component, which was canceled due to security concerns along the coast. Kisumu is in the west of Kenya and is the third largest city in the country; it’s on the shores of Lake Victoria so much of the economy is based on fishing and is largely populated by the Luo people.

Our journey took about 8 hours and much of it was on very underdeveloped (AKA bumpy) roads. The area of Kisumu is one of the more historically underdeveloped regions in the nation because of its’ adherence to the opposition party. We arrived at the St. Anna’s Guest House (hostel) a little before dinner time and were eager to relax after a long day of travel. Compared to our luxurious stay in the Amboseli region the previous week, St. Anna’s was modest at best.

Sunset over St. Anna's Guest House

Sunset over St. Anna’s Guest House (photo by Katie Murray)

The following day we met up with African Studies Department Chair Matt Carotentuto’s friend Henry, who assisted us as the Kisumu component coordinator for the week. Henry is Matt’s host brother and boasted about Matt being more of a Luo than him many times. We proceeded to Dunga Beach on Lake Victoria, which is the second largest freshwater lake in the world and the source of the Nile. Here, we had the opportunity to interview local fishermen and fish traders about challenges they face in their industry such as exploitation, HIV/AIDS and the Fish For Sex industry.

Fishing boats on Lake Victoria, Dunga Beach (Photo by Katie Murray)

Fishing boats on Lake Victoria, Dunga Beach (Photo by Katie Murray)

Afterwards we ventured into the city for some Java lunch (our favorite) and Henry gave us a little tour where we could do some shopping. We noticed that Kisumu was slightly underdeveloped than Nairobi, again due to their historical lack of funding and resources. We were also aware of it’s less globalized state as several people tried to take our pictures on the sly. We were often greeted with, “How are you-ni?” which is a mixture of English and Swahili.

The following morning we boarded the bus once again to visit the historical site of Kit Mikayi which is considered a sacred location for the Luo. Kit Mikayi also known as “The First Wife’s Rock,” is a large, rather obscure, rock formation which serves as a holy place for the Luo. We met with members of the Council of Elders and they gave us a tour of the different “caves” formed by the rocks. They explained to us the sacrificial areas on the rock, and although we were assured a sacrifice (of an animal) hadn’t happened in many years, a few of us had the pleasure of standing next to some fresh… remains. Traditional Luo beliefs maintain that the ritual of sacrifice is thought to bring rain “to the world.” One might say that they, literally, “bless the rains of Africa”

Sinnary got a little feisty in our Q&A session with the elders and wanted to know why they believed they were held in opposition for governmental positions. They asserted it was due to the amount of corruption present within the government and how officials didn’t want it to come to an end (which would be done by an elected Luo). They also told us how they believe Luo’s are known to be very trustworthy, honest and clever.

Later that night some of us decided we wanted to experience a night on the town in Kisumu as compared to Nairobi.  We went to a French (which turned out to be a more Italian) restaurant, the Mon Mai. Afterwards we went out to a nearly empty club, which just so happened to have a karaoke night, and quickly began to be known and referred to as, “The Americans.” After a few horrible renditions of our favorite songs, we headed back to the St. Anna’s Hostel.

Around 5:30 am the next morning, we were awoken by a Catholic mass going on in the neighboring “TV room.” That morning we attended a guest lecture, who was a member of the Council of Elders, and also happened to be Henry’s father. After he gave us a brief history on the Luo people and culture, we ventured off to meet with two more groups, educated Luo men and educated Luo women. They provided us with more insight, offering different perspectives, on Luo politics, culture, gender and fishing. After that we had a free afternoon because our other guest lecturer had to unfortunately cancel and we decided to use the time to make a last trip into the city of Kisumu. Some of us went and bought fabric while others enjoyed time in the air-conditioned upper scale mall. When the rainy-season skies began to look ominous, a few of us decided to use the preferred form of local transportation to return to our designated meeting area, the tuktuk – a small cart with three wheels. Later that night a bunch of us got together for the favorite game of, “Cards Against Humanity” which was further enhanced by multiple power outages.

Tuk Tuk transport in Kisumu (Photo by Emily Adams)

Tuk Tuk transport in Kisumu (Photo by Emily Adams)

The next morning we awoke to another early morning service and were eager to set out for our final destination, the Kembo Camp in Nakuru. We were once again afforded the luxury of top-notch accommodations where groups of four got to spend the night in unique yet beautiful houses. That afternoon a few of us got to visit the local community development organization which was devoted towards the empowerment of women via knitting projects; through the processing, harvesting, spinning, dyeing, knitting, and selling the group employs over 300 women in the area.  The group proceeded to get a tour of the ranch the camp was on where we got to spend some quality time with the horses. The next morning we were all eager to return to our comfortable and familiar home in Karen, and were looking forward to being able to spend the next two weeks in the place we’ve come to call “home.”