Last Weeks of Classes in Nairobi

Blog Post- Week 6 & 7

Hello again, world. Life here has been pretty busy. After traveling to Amboseli and Kisumu, we finished up the remaining two weeks of classes before parting ways to begin our IDS programs. The second to last week of classes was focused on preparing for the Swahili exams, which took place on Thursday and Friday. With class registration taking place the majority of the final week and the ongoing issue of questionable (at best!) Internet connection at the UKC, we were fortunate enough to have our professors teach classes on the compound. While this may come as a shock to some of you, final papers, exams, and class registration all rolled into one week is actually not very enjoyable even here in Kenya. Luckily we found lots of ways to treat ourselves: trips into Karen, visiting the elephant orphanage, playing soccer and volleyball, doing yoga, and eating food (a favorite group activity) filled up our days and helped us maintain our sanity as we powered through our final exams.

The Friday evening after finishing our Swahili exams, we all got together to host one big potluck in celebration of finishing exams and our very own professor Amisi’s birthday. We invited all our professors and everyone made their favorite dish from home (major shout outs to both the buffalo chicken wing dip courtesy of Mac-Daddy and the roti made by Meera)

Some of us were on bartender duty which included Jenny-mix-a-lot and Dr. Dawa (Jeff), who whipped up some cocktails which Amisi particularly appreciated [Disclaimer: The Kenyan drinking age is 18 years]. Both Sinnary and Wairimu made appearances and they both brought us some delicious dishes! We also came up with a theme for the night’s festivities, which required everyone to wear some of their favorite items they have bought in Kenya. To finish up the night we had a photo shoot and were able to snap a quality photo that we will frame and hang up on the compound wall! It was truly a perfect night to finish up our week of Swahili exams and forget about the upcoming week of pain and paper writing.

During the last week, we visited the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, a place where young elephants who are abandoned if their mother dies in human-wildlife conflict or if they are trapped in a well (which happens pretty frequently) are raised and prepared to return to the wild. The elephants were very eager to drink their milk, which prompted nearly 100 tourists to all start taking pictures. While at the surface the orphanage looks like a great organization, the visit brought up a lot of conversations about the controversy of wildlife conservation organizations. Some see this as a solution to human-wildlife conflict while others believe that while these organizations may have the best interest at heart, they may not always be effectively addressing the root of the problem.

Having fun before the IDS begins

Having fun before the IDS begins

After the two very stressful weeks, we were all ready and excited to head off to our IDS programs. While the majority of KSPers stayed in Kenya, some students traveled to Tanzania and Uganda. People worked on a variety of different projects: childcare, community development, environmental and biological conservation, health and education, art and craftwork, and language training. In the next few weeks, be sure to keep an eye out for each student’s post summarizing his or her IDS experience!

Somehow—we can’t believe it—this will be our last group post for our Kenya semester. We’ve all had an amazing semester, learning and experiencing so much that it is sometimes hard to put into words. Upon return, if you ask us “How was Kenya?!” and we find ourselves at a loss for words other than amazing, incredible, etc. understand that we would need more than a quick conversation in the street to even begin to explain “how Kenya was.” But don’t worry, if you’ve got an afternoon/day/week, we would all be more than happy to talk for hours! That being said, we are all, of course, excited to come home and see our family and friends. We will never forget our time in Kenya and strongly encourage anyone looking to learn a lot, meet some incredible people, see some amazing sights, and gain independence and a sense of appreciation that is un-achievable in our everyday lives, to study abroad on the Kenya Semester Program.

-Lindy, Jeff, Jenny, Megan

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.”

Amboseli Field Component

Hujambo rafiki wangu!  Ninaitwa MacKenzie Juda na mimi na Meera na Darcy na Simon tungependa kusema kuhusu safari yetu katika Amboseli!

We had just arrived back from our three-week long urban homestays the day before we left for our field component in Amboseli.  Slightly exhausted from our choice of activities upon reuniting on the compound the previous night, we packed up the vehicles (three safari land rovers) and headed off for yet another week away from “home.”  I was excited: we were told that after spending two months trying to prove that we did not come to Kenya for purposes of tourism, we would finally have the opportunity to be tourists.  I can’t say any of us have ever thought it would be cool to be tourists in Kenya, but I, for one, took this to heart (see outfit in picture below).

After about four to five hours of watching the scenery go by and listening to my iPod (if you need expert advice, I highly recommend The Lizzie McGuire Movie Soundtrack for ANY road trip or long car ride that you take), we finally made it to Kibo Safari Camp!  The first order of business was to find someone to share a tent with for the week and move in.  These tents were unlike any tent I have ever stayed in in my entire life: firstly, they had floors.  Secondly, they had beds.  Thirdly, they had electricity (for certain hours of the day).  Fourthly, they had indoor plumbing.  Compared to our stay in Tanzania, we were living in luxury.

Mack Daddy getting stoked about the tent

Mack Daddy getting stoked about the tent

Normally I’m sure many of us would have stayed in our tents for a bit longer to relax and gush about how awesome they were or maybe even jump on the beds, but we were all on a mission: we were headed to the pool.  To everyone’s heartbreak, however, the pool was closed for the night.  To cope with such sadness, a couple of us ventured off to the bar where we met a man named Maurice who would become our friend for the week (DISCLAIMER: I’m 21 so I can legally drink in any country… OTHER DISCLAIMER: SLU did not cover our bar tabs).  Thus began the start of a weekly ritual; we would sit outside at our favorite table looking out over Mt. Kilimanjaro because I forgot to mention that WE WERE RIGHT THERE.  Along with Maurice, Samuel and Gona were serving us at meals all week, and they were incredibly hospitable.  I don’t always gush about the places I sleep, but when I do, I mean it: if you ever decide to go on a vacation to a safari camp in Kenya, you won’t regret Kibo.

After an evening of luxury, it was time to get to work: when we woke up in the morning, we got ready to head out and interview some farmers.  When I saw this activity on the itinerary, I was anticipating going to some sort of conference center where there would be farmers who had signed up and designated time to be interviewed by us.  However, what we experienced was even more amazing.  All of the vehicles parked on the side of the road after about a half hour of driving, and we met about six men who were our designated translators for the activity.  We then split into groups of three, were assigned a translator, and headed off in different directions where we would look for farms where people were working and ask one of the workers if they were willing to be interviewed.  I was amazed at how welcoming people were when a group of strangers approached them to ask about any hardships they may face with water, wildlife, etc.  No one my group asked refused an interview, and one of the men said he wished he could talk to us longer.  After each interview, we would hand the farmer a bag of sugar and tea leaves as a token of our appreciation and head off to the next farm.

Upon completing the interviews, we headed back to the camp for a quick lunch and then headed right back out for a visit to a cultural Manyatta, where we would learn about the Maasai culture.  Cultural Manyattas are catered to tourists, and Sinnary warned us before heading there that our Maasai homestays would differ greatly from these (I’ll let Simon elaborate on that later).  We were greeted by Maasai women singing and dancing and then each would grab a student or two to join in the circle.  The women draped beads over many of the females, but we were told upfront not to get too attached to these beads as they were not gifts and we would have to pay for them if we wanted to keep them.  A man wearing a Shuka led us into the Manyatta and discussed many cultural aspects of the Maasai.  What I remember him saying was that the Maasai feed on meat, milk, and blood (which made me incredibly nervous for the homestay) and that they rely on traditional medicine, showing us some of the plants that are used to heal stomachaches and pregnancy woes.  After that, half of us went to sit with the men for a question and answer session while the other half did the same with the women.  Of course, we had questionnaires already prepared for us as a guide to what questions we should ask.  Before we left, the women rushed us into the market to sell us their beadwork.  We came to learn later on in the week that selling beadwork is the only source of income for the women of cultural Manyattas; the admittance fees for visitors go directly to the men.  Because of this, every woman was trying to drag us to her shop.

Wei decorated in Maasai beads (she ended up buying the headpiece… We insisted)

Wei decorated in Maasai beads (she ended up buying the headpiece… We insisted)

To finish off a busy day, we had another evening watching the sunset and Big Kili, and the popcorn kept coming.

Darcy hapa, na ninasema kuhusu safari yetu katika Amboseli National Park!  Our third day in the Amboseli region was dedicated to yet another classically “touristy” adventure: game drives throughout the National Park!!!  As a Conservation Biologist major with a thing for lions and other large mammals, African fauna is what first got me interested in this continent.  Needless to say, I was pumped out of my MIND.  Of course, taking Sinnary’s Conservation and Management in East Africa course this semester has opened my eyes to the pros and cons of national parks and all the crazy conservation methods involved in saving species, often for the sake of tourism, so it was really interesting to be a tourist in Amboseli while simultaneously learning the effects of tourism… I was still super pumped, though.

We woke up early to increase our chances of sick animal sightings and drove the 1 minute journey to Amboseli’s gates; not only is Kibo great in terms of glamping facilities, but it’s conveniently located, too!  After providing gate security with our passports and student ID’s, the SLU KSP rolled on inside, half our bodies popping out the open roofs on our three safari jeeps, sunscreen on and cameras ready to see some wildlife.  The first thing I noticed was the vastness of the land within the park—it was all green scrubby grass atop an expanse of flat dry dirt, interrupted occasionally by trees and bushes, Big Kili dominating the left side of our far sighted vision, and perfect clouds distributed throughout the crazy blue sky.  And within that vastness, almost immediately we spotted zebras, some birds, and Thompsons gazelles.  As we continued driving, more zebras in larger numbers and with babies were seen, as well as grand gazelles, wildebeests, ostriches, cape buffaloes, and giraffes.  Because about 70% of Kenya’s wildlife exists outside of park boundaries, we had actually already seen some of these animals prior to entering the park—including a giraffe family with a baby which crossed the road in front of us the day before.  Still, seeing so many different species coexisting in such a space was definitely a unique and awesome experience.

Megan Kloeckner’s sweet shot of a singular elephant from the herd in from of Big Kili.

Megan Kloeckner’s sweet shot of a singular elephant from the herd in from of Big Kili.

After driving for a bit, we spotted a large mass of grey in the distance.  Upon further inspection, we realized that a massive herd of elephants was walking our way, and it was freaking incredible.  Never in my life did I think I’d actually be able to observe wild elephants from such a close distance, and right in front of freakin’ Kilimajaro no less. They were huge and wrinkly and slow and quiet and we loved every second of it.

We continued seeing more of the same, while adding grey crowned cranes, impalas, warthogs, and hippos (that were quite far away) to our list.  Before leaving for a lunch break, we drove out to a more tree-heavy area of the park in hopes of seeing lions, which tend to stay away from open savannah as they have little opportunity to hide from potential prey in such places.  After driving the loop and scaring a ton of zebras in the road (some of which farted in surprise and my 5-year-old self thought that was hilarious), my jeep came back to find the other two cars excitedly looking at something far off in between two palm tree clusters. They found a lion!!!!!!!!! She was real far off and basically couldn’t be seen without bino’s but STILL.  I got to check another one off of Darcy’s list of life goals, so I’m not complaining.

Another sweet shot by Megan Kloeckner of the lioness we spotted off in the distance

Another sweet shot by Megan Kloeckner of the lioness we spotted off in the distance

We headed back to camp for lunch and had the option of staying to relax a bit or going on game drive round 2, so I did the latter.  We saw more of the animals seen in game drive round 1, PLUS about 6 hyenas right next to the road.  Those guys were SO cool to see, because they’ve got such a unique body structure and there was even a baby hyena who was the cutest thing I’d seen all day. Nerd fact: their feces are white due to all the calcium they ingest from eating so many bones.  That’s pretty neat.

At the end of the drive when I thought life couldn’t get any better, a massive rainbow appeared over the area where the lion was, and I was proved wrong once again by Kenya’s awesomeness.

We drove back to camp, had a drink by the pool, and celebrated Lindy’s birthday with a cake made by the ever hospitable camp staff since she’d be at the Maasai homestay for her actual 22nd. All in all, I guess it was a decent day.

Photo credz to Cecelia Hyland for capturing the safari dream team under a casual rainbow. (Left to right: Lil Wei, Dar Es Salaam, Simom, Jenny, Jeff, and Meera)

Photo credz to Cecelia Hyland for capturing the safari dream team under a casual rainbow. (Left to right: Lil Wei, Dar Es Salaam, Simom, Jenny, Jeff, and Meera)

Simon hapa tuliishi katika Masaai kwa siku moja. We stayed with the Masaai for a night. Each of our groups had a translator because we weren’t good enough at Swahili and the Masaai weren’t good enough at English for us to get through the night. The translators were all either from the family we were staying with or from a neighboring Manyatta, our translators name was Mary. We got there in the afternoon and of course the first thing that happened was they offered us chai, like any good Kenyan would. It was strange staying with them after being at the cultural Manyattas because, surprise surprise, the Masaai are pretty much just like any other Kenyans. Most of the family that I stayed with wore western clothes and only the older generation wore the traditional dress.

That day we didn’t have that much to do because it was so late in the day. We herded the goats a little but it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, they kind of knew where to go and didn’t really need us to help. As we were waiting for dinner Jeff started to make friends with the family’s children, there were about ten of them. He showed them his binoculars and they were amazed, they looked at Kilimanjaro and for people who saw the mountain every day it was the first time they had seen in so close. The children were amazed by the binoculars and looked at everything they could. Even our translator who was 20 was amazed by them. After that we started to play soccer with the children. We tried to make teams and play an actual game but soon enough it just turned into everyone trying to get the ball.

A little bit later the animals got back from grazing and it was time to milk them. I tried and wasn’t the best at it, Jeff was much better than I was. We talked to our host mother about the animals and she said that they weren’t producing as much milk as they had in the past. Part of the milk was given to a calf whose mother had died shortly after childbirth. It was given the milk from a bottle by our Masaai mother. We talked to Mary about this and she said the cow saw our Masaai mother as its mother and would even go into the house to find her, the cow was adorable. We ate dinner a little bit later and looked at the stars as we did; they were some of the most beautiful stars I have ever seen. After dinner we went to sleep on the bed. Except it wasn’t a normal bed, it was a traditional Masaai bed which is a platform made of sticks with some dry bean plants, with some cow hides on the top. It wasn’t the worst sleep I have ever had but it wasn’t a good sleep by any means.

Jeff and I were woken up around 4:30 in the morning by the sound of a rooster crowing, the rooster was under the bed along with all of the other chickens. It kept crowing about every twenty minutes. Eventually we were able to get back to sleep and we woke up around 8:00. We had a breakfast of chapatti, although it was more similar to a very thick crepe, or very thick, very greasy Kenyan pancakes. After breakfast we went with Mary to fetch water from a nearby well which the government had made. After filling the jugs with water we headed back to the Manyatta. After that we went out herding again but the animals were already too far away for us to reach them. We went back to the Manyatta and then we worked on beading with the mother and Mary. I made a bracelet and a ring and Jeff made a bracelet. After that we ate lunch which was ugali and cabbage. All of the meals we had there were regular Kenyan meals that wouldn’t have been out of place at our homestays in Nyeri. After lunch Mary showed us how to plant in the field that the family owned. This didn’t last long as the car that came to pick us up arrived shortly after we started to plant. The stay with the Masaai was a very interesting, and enjoyable experience and one unlike any other experience we have had.

(Left to right) Wei, our Maasai mom and Meera

(Left to right) Wei, our Maasai mom and Meera

Meera hapa sharing the rest of our time in Amboseli: After an incredible week with animals, some amazing Maasai men and women, and Kilimanjaro we finished off our week by interviewing different groups of people of Maasai people.  We interviewed groups of: Community leaders where there was a Vice Chairman and a committee member, Elders where we got the opportunity to chat with two older men, traditional women where the influence of modernity was evident because they had cell phones, handbags and weave however traditional culture was evident also because they wore shukas (a.k.a. Maasai blankets) and lots of beautiful beading, and last but not least, we had a group of educated women who shared the differences within their culture now in comparison to the past.

The Community Leaders group talked about how things are being done in the community to ensure that the community is safe and people are living in harmony together.  Some of the duties they carry out consist of ensuring that bride wealth is paid and making sure that people who owe people are paying them.

The group of elders talked about pastoralism and the role that it plays in their culture.  They told us about the importance of cattle in their culture and also how why they stopped being nomadic. In order for them to survive the Maasai people used to move from one area to the other to ensure that their cattle have enough to eat!  This is why Maasai people used to build semi-permanent houses since they did not live in them all their lives.  The elders said with the introduction of modernity, education and Christianity their culture is bound to change however the things that will remain the same are: one the wearing of their traditional Shukas, if it is not the everyday dress it will be worn at ceremonies. Two the scaring of the face will never change because it is a mark of identification and the people of Maasai society will always have cattle weather it is five or twenty, they will always have cattle!

The traditional women shed light on the improvement of access to medical services.  They said that nowadays more and more women are using the hospitals for childbirth compared to the traditional methods where they do a homebirth and have their co-wives help them or their friends in the community.  We were curious to know why they are using hospitals and what we were told is that the government has insisted that they use the facilities by making it more accessible to the population and also made the services free of cost.

The educated women shared some of the changes that have come to their culture which include the change in food they eat, farming as a way to gain access to different crops for domestic use and helping with providing food for the cattle also, permanent houses which are now being made for iron sheets and wood, education and the change for men to have only one wife which came about with the influence of Christianity.

While staying and traveling around Kenya we have meet so many different people and learned about their culture.  While the Maasai people have for long resisted change and modernity our trip to Amboseli has taught us that culture will not change but only evolve with the different influences.

Kwaheri wanafunzi, walimu, wazazi na marafiki!

Tanzania field component

Tanzania and the Hadzabe: Moto Sana! 

Hamjambo! Wanafunzi wa SLU walisafiri Tanzania… Our first field component brought us to Tanzania, where we spent one week living with the Hadzabe, a hunter-gatherer society living in and around the Yaeda Valley region. Currently, the Hadza population in Tanzania is around 1,000 people, making it one of the smallest ethnic groups in the country. Unfortunately, the Hadzabe are also one of the most marginalized peoples as the Tanzanian government, development agencies, and tourism companies have viewed their strong connection to their traditional lifestyle as stubbornness and refusal to incorporate modern “developed” ideals into their practices. For years now, the Hadzabe have been losing land to government sell-offs, tourism agencies, rich tycoons who use the area as hunting grounds, and encroaching tribes (who have, in most cases, lost their land as well). Land is very important to the Hadza because it is their home, food source, hospital, entertainment, traditions and culture. Among the many topics we discussed over the week, land loss as well as land conservation permeated many conversations because of its importance.

Our group of eighteen was led by four guides, Douglas, Hope, Sia, and Mama Maggie from Dorobo Safaris (check them out, they are incredible), who were extremely knowledgeable about Hadzabe culture and lifestyle. For over 30 years, Dorobo has created and maintained relations with indigenous people and have advocated for their needs and rights; one part of the mission is to bring interested visitors to meet with the Hadza and learn about their cultures directly from the people themselves, and not from misrepresenting rumors. We felt fortunate to have Dorobo leading us,  and the week was equally challenging and rewarding as we experienced life “in the bush,” which is very different compared to our normal lives. We—Jenny, Jeff, Lindy and Megan—are happy to share our experience with you and feel it can be best described in the words of Moshi, one of the Hadza who stayed with us throughout the week, who we got to know very well. Moshi anasema: “Moto sana! Safi sana!”

Simon and Moshi

Simon and Moshi

Mtana! My name is Lindy, the resident #saintforasemester on the program, as I am the only one who does not actually attend St. Lawrence. Our week spent with the Hadzabe in Tanzania was easily one of the most incredible weeks of my entire life. With new adventures occurring morning, noon, and night, the moments that had the biggest influence on my experience were actually not as much the discussions and scheduled activities each day. Instead, it was the unplanned, unexpected events where I would find myself repeatedly thinking, “This cannot be real life,” and taking mental notes in an attempt to never, ever forget. That said, I will be bopping around throughout this entry to help put the craziness of the week in order a bit as we talk about the week’s adventures..

To start off, it was only a few short hours into the trip when I knew the week ahead would be one for the books. Njau told us before we arrived at the Tanzanian border that after getting our passports stamped, we would walk over and meet him on the other side. I couldn’t honestly tell if he was being serious or not, but a little while later I found myself checking another country off my “countries to visit” list as we literally walked across the border from Kenya into Tanzania (not figuratively literally either, but literally literally).

Jambo! Mimi ni Megan, and I am going to talk about our time spent at the Mongo wa Mono camp. While there are many remarkable things about Hadzabe culture, what struck me the most was how incredibly resourceful the Hadza people are. They know so much about their environment—which plants can be eaten or used in other ways, which animals produce the best meat, and also which types of foods can be found (and where) during the very different wet and dry seasons—and are completely self-sufficient because of their knowledge of the land. In Mongo wa Mono, we were fortunate enough to accompany some women on their daily gathering expedition, so we followed behind as they expertly spotted trees whose tubers (roots) were suitable for digging. Women usually gather tubers, nuts, fruits, and plants each day and bring them back for their family, while it’s the men’s duty to go out and hunt small game and wildlife. After each of the groups gathered a few tubers, we all gathered together and watched as the women built a fire and roasted the tubers for us to try. They tasted like warm, uncooked potatoes, but they were very filling and it was easy to see why the women value their fibrous nature so much.

In the afternoon, after a much needed and appreciated siesta, we gathered with some men and tried our best at making arrows. We were each given a stick which we heated in the fire—it’s easiest to peel the bark off that way—and then whittled down to a sharp point. Nowadays the Hadzabe use knives to carve their bows and arrows, but it was hard enough to get a point using a knife, so I can’t imagine using a stone tool to achieve the same effect! After the point was completed, we stuck the arrows back into the fire (so they were malleable) and then straightened the tools as best as we could; to do this, we used our teeth, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we all felt pretty badass doing so! Tying the guinea fowl feathers on to the end as the fletching would have been too difficult, so one of the Hadza men tied them for all of us using giraffe sinew! The final step was to carve designs into the shaft and rub it down with ash. We were all grateful that we were able to learn how the Hadzabe make the arrows they hunt with, as it was yet another example of how knowledgeable and resourceful these people are in a world where the majority of people wouldn’t be able to fend for themselves if organized food distribution, for whatever reason, failed. The Hadzabe truly live an impressive life!

Hamjambo! Ninaitwa Jenny. The morning of our big hike, we were anxious and excited for the long journey across the Rift Valley. Mama Maggie and some of our favorite Hadza men (including Moshi, of course) were to lead us the whole way. The beginning of the journey was spent walking quietly in a single file line, admiring the bush around us, while the Hadza took the opportunity to hunt. We stumbled upon a large cluster of prickly pear cactus and watched as the Hadza used their bows to grab and twist the fruit off the cactus. After some chatter, Maggie translated that immediately after our trip, the men planned to bring their wives there and stay there for three days to feast on the prickly pear and party. Eventually, we happened upon a tortoise walking along the path; while all us wazungu took pictures and oogled at it, the Hadza men saw the tortoise and began smiling from ear to ear. Yup, that tortoise was about to be lunch. It was our duty to carry the poor thing (or Janice, as we later named her) until the Hadza decided to eat her, which was definitely hard on some of our more sensitive souls.

Walking Across the Valley

Walking Across the Valley

Janice in hand, our next stop was a beautiful hollowed out baobab tree where one of the men found honey inside. The whole process took about an hour; the men made a small fire while one physically climbed up inside the tree and used the smoke to subdue the bees and gather the pure honey. We were all lucky enough to try some and it was delicious! At about that time a woman and her child walked up to us; when the woman saw the tortoise, she was very excited and expressed interest in eating it right away (traditionally, only women eat tortoise meat, not men0). So a fire was made and I handed Janice over and she was promptly set on top of the fire to literally be roasted alive. Once adequately cooked, some tortoise eggs, foot, and liver were passed around for us to try. I almost don’t want to admit it, but I thought tortoise egg and foot are pretty good. After this tasty snack we continued on the last leg of our journey. As we approached the other side of the valley, we were excited to see a big thunderstorm approaching…and quickly. Just as we finished the hike and reached another Hadza encampment at the edge of the valley, the rain caught us and we welcomed the free shower with a rain dance. A perfect way to celebrate our expedition across the Rift Valley!

Lindy here again…As Jenny mentioned, not five minutes after we finally reached the other side of the valley and stopped for lunch, the rain began to fall. Half the students packed themselves into the safari van along with some of the Hadza women who would be joining us. The rest of us were invited into one family’s hut to try and stay out of the rain. With about 15+ people squeezed tightly into this small hut, I broke the ice and introduced myself with my three weeks worth of broken Kiswahili. Everyone proceeded to introduce themselves and told their age, or tried….shout out to Jeff and Ashley who inevitably became amateur translators as they were the only two who are in a higher level than Swahili 101. Pretty soon the inviting sound of rain outside was too much and many people joined Jenny outside to dance in the rain. In the end, Megan and I were the lone KSP students in a hut filled with Hadza. As we sat on the ground we just kept looking around and then looking at each other, laughing as we tried to wrap our minds around what was happening. Rain trickling down our backs from the holes in the roof, we listened to women talk, hearing the click in every few words as they spoke their mother tongue, Hadzabe. We used what little Swahili we knew to speak with them and express our thanks for welcoming us into their home and out of the rain. Even with the language barrier it was clear that we were no longer strangers but friends, even if only for a short time…

On the last day we found a nice reminder of home: there was a guest book at one of the camping sites. We all loved reading through the pages, seeing the names of friends who had previously been on the program. Here is a picture of when my brother, Drew, and his friends signed during their semester in 2008. Hi Drew!

KSP history---Fall 2008 group

KSP history—Fall 2008 group

On what we deemed “lion pride rock,” situated above our third camp, we had the opportunity to sit with the Hadza and ask them some further questions while we waited for the rain to abate so we could go hunting. We all had groups based on various topics concerning Hadza culture and we formed our groups to ask some specific questions. We interviewed them on land loss, tourism, outside perceptions, and education. Though we learned a lot, certain things specifically stuck to us. When we asked them what they wanted us to take away from them and their culture they presented us with three things:

1. Recognize the importance of loving one another and loving your environment

2. When interacting with someone else, really connect face to face with that person and put yourself in their shoes

3. Understand that you are connected to everything around you; you are connected to the natural world and to all the inhabitants within it.

Quite a beautiful take home message.

Pride Rock

Pride Rock

After the rains subsided, around mid-afternoon the Hadza decided it would be a good time to go hunting. Gamba, Simon and I (Jeff) headed out to hunt. Gamba immediately set the pace, quick and direct, and showed us the Hadza paths, which we thought looked much like the rest of the bush. We climbed to the top of an escarpment that looked out over the land so that Gamba could see where to head next. We descended further down the valley stopping at various rock formations looking for rock hyrax. Gamba found honey nestled away in a tree, but decided tomorrow would be a better day to collect honey. After checking more rock outcrops, he told Simon and I to circle around and flank a deep crack in the rocks. Although I never saw any hyrax, I watched Gamba fire an arrow into the crack. Then a screaming rock hyrax came running out of the rock, an arrow puncturing through its back and out the stomach, and tried desperately to run away. But unfortunately for him, Gamba caught up with him and killed it quickly with his knife. After a brief rest and exchange of excitement, we continued onward, with Simon and I switching off carrying the hyrax.

We proceeded to a lower part of the valley, where the bush grew much higher. Then without warning, Gamba started sprinting alongside a rock formation. Simon and I followed as best we could, but he quickly told us to circle around. I turned around and ran in the other direction around the formation. About five seconds into my sprint, a huge warthog came sprinting past about 30 feet ahead of me from the other side of where Gamba was running. After the hog was out of sight and I started walking back; I was completely out of breath and I warned Gamba to not shoot because the warthog was gone. Now excited but also disappointed, Gamba and I exchanged a few words about how big the hog was and how cool it would be to bring it back to camp. After checking more rock formations without success, Gamba decided to head back. On the way back, he spotted a dik-dik, but it got away before he could fire a shot. We were the first group to make it back to camp with hyrax in hand. That night we tried some of the hyrax, which actually tasted pretty good!

One of the most memorable parts of our week with the Hadza was after the sun went down. Douglas made it very clear that a part of Dorobo’s agreement with the Hadzabe is that Dorobo never asks them to do anything special as entertainment for the guests, or to put on a show of any sort. If they like you and feel comfortable, they will invite you to join them in whatever they are doing, but it is all the choice of the Hadza men and women. That said, we were all pretty excited the night we arrived at our second campsite and were able to join the Hadza around the fire, listening to them play music and sing. In no time at all, we were dancing and singing together around the fire while Douglas helped translate the meaning of each song. We even sang a few songs of our own…we had a few Beatles and Disney songs up our sleeves and I must say our harmonizing was impressive. There’s a 99.999% none of them understood the lyrics, but at the end of each song, we were met with a loud applause and eruption of “Safi sana!” cheers…

Campfire TZ 2015 SPThe following night, at the next campsite, our fireside activities shifted from singing to dancing. We learned different traditional dances that accompanied each song and even had a few dance-offs! Sweaty, dancing, and smiling from ear to ear, we all kept promising ourselves, “Okay, we’ll go to bed after the next dance”. During these times spent gathered around the fire, I kept thinking that never in a million years would I ever have expected to be dancing around a fire with the Hadzabe in Tanzania. We all understood that it did not matter where or how we lived, or even that the majority of us could barely communicate in the same language to one another, we were still able to find other ways to communicate and have conversations, learn from each other, and become friends.

Group discussion TZ SP 15

Group Discussion

On the last day before we left to return to Arusha, the Hadza men took us to a nearby baobab tree to climb. These massive trees store water in their fat trunks, making the surface of the tree soft enough to pound in sharpened wooden stakes for climbing. Some Hadzabe gathered branches and sharpened them to a point with their axes and then nailed them into the tree with surprising ease. One by one, half of the students climbed the tree to the top, which was spacious enough for eight students and three Hadzabe. I climbed even further to the top and looked out over the Yaeda Valley. This tree provides so much for the Hadza lifestyle: it houses beehives, produces edible fruits, contains huge stores of water (even during the worst of droughts), and provides shelter for other animals, which can be hunted for food. No wonder they call it the “tree of life.” Baobobs are amazing!

On our last night of the trip, we returned to Dorobo headquarters, where we reunited with Sinnary. After some much needed showers, we sat down for dinner and it was then that Wei informed us that it was the Chinese New Year! After telling us all about her family’s New Year’s traditions, we all decided to celebrate Chinese New Year by doing a talent show. Imitations, singing, gymnastics moves, rapping “Grillz” by Nelly (we see you, Kiki and E.Adams), and teaching the stories of the constellations were just a few of the talents shared. It was the perfect end to an incredible week filled with sweat, laughter, and new memories… not to mention Wei said it was her favorite New Years ever, so I’d say that’s a win in our book.

Group Shot

Group Shot

During the week, we talked with Mamma Maggie and learned more about her passion for helping others through a foundation she created, Dare Women’s Foundation. The foundation focuses on providing opportunities for women to utilize global networking by “empowerment through building careers, conservation, and relationships in and out of Tanzania” (DWF). Two examples of DWF projects are: the Women’s Menstruation Project–helping provide education and supplies for girls in Tanzania in order to help support them staying in school–and Small and Medium Enterprises which provides training workshops on starting up and running successful local businesses. For more information please feel free to access the website at:

Dorobo Safaris:

Photo Credits: Megan Kloeckner, Jenny VanOoyen, Lindy Pynchon, Darcy Best, Simon Day-Roberts, Ashley McDuffee

Rural Homestay (week 2)

Rural Home Stay Component: KSP Spring 2015

Habari za! My name is Klare Nevins and I’ll give a little background on what the Spring 2015 KSP group was most recently up too. This past week each student was able to experience the first of KSP’s two homestay components – the rural home stay. These experiences are a vital aspect of what makes the Kenya Semester Program so successful as it gives the students the opportunity to truly integrate themselves in the local culture and start to gain the confidence to live as a Kenyan, not a tourist. The rural homestay was based in the Central Highlands of Kenya in Nyeri County this semester and each student was individually placed with a family who subsists off of their agricultural efforts.

Rich ecological resources characterize the Central Highlands of Kenya; the land is lush with green vegetation and has two seasons of consistent rain making it an optimal place to practice agriculture. Additionally, the land has a long, deeply rooted cultural history. The region is home to the Kikuyu people, the largest ethnic group in Kenya.

By living with our rural home stay families; we are put in a position of becoming complete learners who by participating in the family’s everyday life gain an understanding of what is means to be a Kenyan living in that area, in those communities. Over the course of the week students not only visited various locations around the community such as church, schools, and local natural attractions, but also learned traditional skills used everyday by their families. These activities included the cooking of traditional meals of chipati, ugali, mukimo, and others.  Harvesting subsistence foods that included indigenous arrowroot, maize, and various fruits and vegetables also took up large parts of each day and students learned how to harvest cash crops such as tea and coffee. If that wasn’t enough, students also learned how to milk cows, process dried beans for seed, hand washing laundry and practicing our various skill levels of Kiswahili. Overall we were so excited to learn about Kenya from people who embody the region not only through their traditional practiced culture but also through their everyday activities in a modern day Kenya.

Hi guys! I’m Ashley McDuffee, and my homestay parents are coffee, or “kahawa”, tea and maize farmers. Although my father is retired now, he contributed to society as a teacher and then served as an administrator at a primary school for many years. My mother was a nurse in a government hospital for many years, before opening up a clinic with a few other nurses. She specialized in the maternity sector and was instrumental in delivering home births of countless Kikuyu children. I found it extremely impressive that my parents held very demanding careers, yet still came home to work on their large farm every night, all while raising large families. Kenya’s rural areas, like Tetu West, are extremely agricultural-based. The majority of women in this area work labor-intense days plucking tea, harvesting coffee berries, and caring for children. Meanwhile men cultivate the land, plant trees, spread manure, and care for cattle. I think this agricultural lifestyle has shaped a unique family structure in rural Kenyan families. From what I observed, the mother is the caretaker; she raises children by teaching her daughters life skills, such as cooking and cleaning, and she cares for boys until they are taught life skills from their father. The mother is responsible for preparing every meal from scratch, and a large majority of her day is harvesting and preparing food for her large family. Additionally, I encountered the father as a figure responsible for providing for his family financially, thus he often assumes the role of the family authoritarian. He often works long hours away from his children in the fields or at his job in the city.

Thus, the family structure has had both positive and negative implications. In one aspect, every member of the family is expected to contribute to the family, and children are taught the values of hard work and familial responsibility. However, this has created a division in the family commonly accompanied by inequality. Men and boys are given “gender appropriate” responsibilities; for example, they are expected to care for livestock. Yet, women are responsible for kitchen duties, for example. This separation has the potential to weaken relationships between family members of a different gender. In addition, giving the men control over crops and livestock gives them power as “breadwinners”. Whereas, the kitchen duties and childcare done by women offer no monetary gain, and this can be seen as less of a contribution to the family. Despite the great potential for these issues, my family was quite close and each member had great respect everyone in the family regardless of gender. However, the responsibilities of my mother, father, and sisters demonstrated an undoubtedly patriarchal family structure. Overall, my time with them was unforgettable and I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I was able to experience a family structure a little different from my own and learn so much about the rural Kenyan way of life.

Hamjambo. Kate Tuttle, here! During my rural homestay, I was hosted by a very traditional Kikuyu family made up of family members that held completely different gender roles than I am familiar to. My homestay consisted of two sisters, my mother and father, and while my family at home is structured in the same way, the experience I had with them was extremely distinctive and unique. When I was picked up by the family, I was greeted only by my sister Purity Wanjiru and my father Granville, as my host mother, Susan, was at home preparing for my arrival. Almost as soon as I arrived to the home, I understood that Susan assumed the role of the provider and cook of the household. I, too, took this role of the house with my two sisters during the week. I observed that my father very rarely ever entered the kitchen, nor did he work very much on the farm. My mom, my sister, and I did the majority of the fieldwork; we plucked tea the entire morning and gathered vegetables from the farm to add to our lunches and dinners everyday. Therefore, while I continuously felt that I was contributing to the family, I often wondered exactly what the responsibilities of my father consisted of. While reading and researching the traditional Kikuyu people, I learned that males in their traditional families were expected to protect the family and that they were not held as accountable for the farm work as the women. I firmly believe that my family is still practicing these Kikuyu traditions and that they have not been greatly affected yet by Western globalization standards for gender roles in the home.

Here is my homestay sister, Purity, shredding cabbage in preparation for lunch in our kitchen

Here is my homestay sister, Purity, shredding cabbage in preparation for lunch in our kitchen

Jambo, jina langu ni Claire Pacione! My host mami, baba, brother Dominic, and sister Jackline eagerly anticipated my visit to their church upon my arrival to Nyeri on Friday afternoon. After completing the family’s Sunday morning duties that included milking cows, feeding chickens, collecting eggs, making breakfast, and hand-washing clothes, we prepared ourselves for the 10:30am– 1:00pm mass…

As we take our seats, the Women’s Guild (a church organization helping the needy and the less privileged in the area) leads the church service accompanied by the choirs. As the sermon continues in Kikuyu, Jackline opens her English Bible to the corresponding scripture, and I read along. With time, I notice –with the few Kikuyu phrases Jackline and I have been practicing– that the church’s head speaker is referencing me in his speech. With this, Jackline gives me a gentle push and we somehow we find ourselves walking to the front of the church as a microphone is handed my way.

“Go on…talk!,” Jackline encourages me. Although the expectation to give a speech was so sudden and unexpected, I knew what I would share with the community that staring up at me.  I wrack my brain for the Kikuyu words I have practiced with my host mami the past few nights I start…

“Moriega. Jitagwa Claire. For welcoming me to Nyeri, Kenya and your Church, I am so grateful. I stand here with my host sister and host mami, as I gesture to her behind me, as they have taken me in as one of their own during my stay in Nyeri as an American student. Your vibrant community has made me feel at home in your town and Church and this you should be proud of. I will never forget the welcoming atmosphere you have created in my presence; your Kikuyu culture is beautiful. As you have made me feel part of your community, my family and I in America would be flattered at the opportunity to welcome you into our home if you ever find yourself on those shores. Asante sana”.

Quickly, the nervous faces that gaze up at me turn into softened smiles and nods. Jackline takes the microphone and translates my words for those who do not understand English well. But, what happens next is the most surprising of all. At the end of her translation, Jackline breaks into a beautiful gospel song. We both sway together, side by side as sisters.

Reminiscing on this moment I am able to reflect on the rich culture of the Kikuyu people as a community. As I listened to my sister and observed the church, I understood the important qualities of tradition, support, trust, morals, and commitment engrained by the Kikuyu culture. Although I have already studied such Kikuyu ideals through the pages of writers like Wangari Maathai, to feel the raw emotions of the community first hand was a lesson I will not forget. In that moment, instead of feeling like an outsider of the Kikuyu community, I felt unified, empowered and happy with them.

Mimi ni Wei Song, na ninatoka China! During my rural homestay, I was most impressed by the development and economy of Nyeri town. Unlike farmers in some other countries who strictly depend on the farm, the family-economy in Nyeri reasonably combines rural and urban resources. Both of my homestay parents have jobs in Nyeri, while simultaneously operating their farm with the help of an assistant farmer. Thus, the family has a great supply of fresh food for eating and selling that provides a solid income that improves their quality of life. Thus, the land and city construction work together to promote the local economy.

It additionally is clear that my homestay brother and sisters have better resources of education as compared to people of other developing countries like China, where education in most rural areas is a tough problem. My eldest sister currently studies at university in another town, and my other two siblings go to school in Nyeri with the help of their school bus service. After the children graduate, they have chance to get good jobs and also continue to manage their farmland.

Moreover, my homestay family has access to technologies such as television and computers. My homestay “baba”, or father, even told me that more people have started to buy imported goods like Japanese cars and cameras. In general, my homestay family is a positive example of the development and economy in Nyeri town, and they showed me their progression to a better life in rural Kenya.

Wei and her family in Nyeri

Wei and her family in Nyeri

Hey, Maggie Cummins dropping in!

During my experience in the rural homestay, I really focused on the education aspects of my family’s lives, as they had a teenage daughter and son and then two children under the age of ten in the education system. As soon as my siblings returned home from school, I would ask them all about their day, quiz them in kiswahili and in English, and look over their homework for them. School seemed to be something my family highly valued, and while they complained of exams and intimidating instructors, they seemed thankful for the opportunities they had been given.

Education was a fundamental component of the lives of the Kikuyu youth. Beginning at age 3, children began attending a pre-primary school, similar to a “pre-school” in the American education system. As there are no buses in East Tetu, children of this age are expected to make the commute along busy highways with limited sidewalk space by themselves. From this age until secondary students are required to adorn a school uniform, the colors of which vary between schools. Primary school, paid for by the government, lasts 8 years, a time in which students are required to take core courses in Kiswahili, Kikuyu, and English. By the time the children reach secondary school, they are allowed to choose their courses (a minimum of seven and a maximum of twelve) and begin planning for a career in the workforce or to continue onto University. Secondary school is subsidized, and students undergo a series of exams that will place them into a secondary institution, similar to the SATs acting as an agent in college acceptance. While primary schools are divided into “standards”, secondary schools are divided into four forms, one for each year. Education is required by law, and while supplies are limited and worn, students seem to value the academic tools that they have been given. On days that children weren’t in school, they were aiding their parents in work in the fields and around the house.

My host sister, a seventeen year old in Form 3, often spoke of the variety of classes she was enrolled in, some of which include; history, physics, biology, and agriculture. The agriculture course seemed to be isolated to local crops, rather than addressing the cultivation of crops in differing geographic locations. My sister aspired to attend a University within Nyeri, where she planned to study to be a tour guide.

Education made multiple appearances in the media when teachers in Northern Kenya went on mass strikes, protesting employment terms and refusing to return to schools until the government met their demands of raising salaries. Institutions threatened to fire instructors if they did not return soon, and students were unable to return to their studies until their teachers return. Another educational newsbreak revolved around land grabbing, and the tear gassing of children attempting to protest the confiscation of their land.

It is clear that the rural homestay component with the Kikuyu people has grounded us in regards to living in Kenya. Not only was the opportunity moving, it also taught us much about the culture, environment, and development of Kenya through meaningful moments and relationships.

– Kenya Semester Program Spring 2015


Nairobi Orientation (week 1)

February 1, 2015

Hamjambo! Tunaitwa MacKenzie, Darcy, Simon, na Meera. Our first five days upon arriving in the beautiful country of Kenya were devoted to getting acquainted with what will be our home for the next four months. After a long flight, long layover, and another long flight in, we were both tired and excited at the same time. Wairimu – the KSP director – gave us plenty of time to rest throughout the first day, but not before we all ran around the study center to scope out the rooms and have a housing lottery to determine rooms of our own. A few of us were too excited to sleep and went on a walk around the neighborhood with Wairimu as people who walked by welcomed us with a nice “hamjambo” or “karibu.” Upon arriving back from our walk, we were introduced to Kevin, a yoga instructor who had come to the compound to help us combat our jet lag. This experience was a bit strenuous for us, but it allowed for the group to share plenty of laughs during and after the session. When we finished our meditation, we came back in the house to some delicious Kenyan cuisine prepared by Seth, the program’s chef. We dined on chapati and rice, and then the group decided that we all needed sleep.

First Days on the Nairobi Campus

First Days on the Nairobi Campus

The next day, we all woke up to find monkeys playing around in our yard.  You can only imagine how ecstatic the group was; instead of looking around the SLU campus for the albino squirrel, we have been looking around the KSP compound for monkeys and we were able to see them from our balcony!  We all got ready in our best clothes that we had packed from home because we were going to spend the day in Nairobi, the capitol city of Kenya.  We were assigned into three groups of six and dropped off at different locations in the city with the goal of navigating our way to the United Kenya Center, where we would be having our classes for the next semester.  Wairimu and Njau – our driver – maintained their distance throughout the activity, but kept a close watch on the groups in case they got themselves into any sticky situations.  Because most of us had come from small towns back in the United States, we learned the invaluable lesson that we can’t always be friendly to those who try to greet us on the streets of the city as we may appear more vulnerable.  We celebrated our arrivals to the UKC by traveling to the West End of Nairobi for lunch, where we were introduced to Zucchini and The Java House, a store full of fresh foods and smoothies and a coffee house with a variety of sandwiches, respectively.  Once our appetites were satisfied, we were driven to the African Heritage House; a gorgeous structure situated on the edge of the Nairobi National Park.  The house is chock full of art, artifacts, and inspiration from all over the African continent.  We were all awe-struck at the amount of time and knowledge that was put into this beautiful house, as well as the fact that we were able to see our first ever wild gazelles and zebras grazing out in the national park, while relaxing on the house’s porch!! Coming back from Nairobi, we were treated to chai made by Seth as we debriefed on our experiences.  The rest of the evening was devoted to getting further acquainted with our classmates as well as updating our families on our adventures.

A view of the National park on the edge of Kenya's capital city

A view of the National park on the edge of Kenya’s capital city


On Monday, we started the morning with our first Swahili class of the semester.  The class takes place on the compound, so rather than leaving for class our professors came to us.  We were split into four groups based on our previous experience with Swahili classes: those who had taken two Swahili classes before were assigned to work with Ben, those who had taken one class were assigned to “Uncle Dan,” and those with no previous experience were split up into two groups with either Julius or Amisi.  The class was three hours long, but each group met back in the dining area halfway through class for chai and the opportunity to practice what we learned in class with our peers.  Each Swahili professor is engaging and makes sitting through class for three hours an easy task.  After class, Njau drove us into the town of Karen to explore the shops and grab some lunch at a restaurant of our choice.  We all were excited by the Massai market with a number of stands selling beautiful jewelry, clothing, and other items, as well as the supermarket that had everything we could possibly need.  We were also given the opportunity while in Karen to exchange currency and buy stamps at the post office.

We started our day on Tuesday with yet another Swahili class complete with a break for chai.  After class and lunch, we headed to the Nairobi Hospital for a briefing session with Professor Godfrey Lule, a program physician at the hospital.  Professor Lule provided us with more information on tropical diseases, health care challenges, and prevention measures while in Kenya, and Wairimu talked to us about the measures we should take if we needed medical attention throughout the semester.  We hope that no one will need any serious medical care while in Kenya, but we all know that the unexpected could happen and it was comforting to know that the KSP directors had taken every sort of hypothetical situation into account.  When we arrived back on the compound, we had our daily chai break and then gathered into the seminar room with Wairimu and Sinnary – the academic director of the program – to discuss the core course, titled “Culture, Environment, and Development in East Africa”.  Along with the Swahili course, the core course is the other mandatory course for every student on the program.  It is multidisciplinary, so almost everyone can find it applicable to their studies.  With this introduction, we became more familiar with the content of the course, including its requirements and schedule for the semester.

After Swahili class and lunch on the compound on Wednesday, we had another meeting in the seminar room.  This time, we were discussing our rural homestays that were coming up in a matter of days.  For the rural homestays, we would be traveling to Nyeri and each staying with a different family for a week’s time.  We learned about the Kikuyu people with Professor Godfrey Muriuki, a renowned historian in Kenya and the professor of “The Making of Modern Kenya,” one of our elective courses.  This lecture was very important as the families with whom we would be staying were of the Kikuyu tribe.  After the lecture, discussion, and our daily chai break, we got all gussied up for our dinner at Carnivore to wrap up our orientation week.  This dinner was quite the experience as we got a taste of many meats that we had never tried before (and the vegetarians of the group got other delicious entrees).  Waiters kept circling our table with foods such as ostrich meatballs, crocodile meat, and chicken liver.  It was definitely a great finale to a busy but amazing week, and we’re excited for what’s to come throughout the rest of the semester!