Kenya Program Alumni Trip

“Engaging Africa: The SLU-Kenya Program Past and Present”
Travel Experience June 29 – July 9, 2019

This summer, you are invited to join Dr. Matt Carotenuto, KSP directors Abdelwahab Sinnary, Lina Karingi and Michael Wairungu for “Engaging Africa: The SLU Kenya Program Past and Present” Laurentian Travel Experience! Dr. Carotentuo will co-lead this trip with Kenya program directors and Njau Kibochi in an exploration of the transformational roots of the SLU-Kenya connection.

For more than four decades, St. Lawrence has built a unique connection with East Africa.  In January 1972 we embarked on a study abroad experiment.  Fifteen students and one faculty member spent three weeks in Kenya as part of the University’s effort to expand off-campus programs and explore opportunities in the developing world. By 2019, more than two-thousand students from over thirty different universities having spent a semester or summer term in East Africa via the Kenya Program or (KSP).  Our 2019 trip offers alumni an exclusive chance to experience some of this rich history.  Led by renowned Kenya program faculty and staff, participants will explore the program themes of culture, environment and development through an interactive and invigorating experience based on the traditions of the KSP’s past and present.

Trip Highlights:

  • Explore Kenya’s diverse cultures and environments, and visit world-class sites of wildlife conservation.
  • Stay on the St. Lawrence Nairobi Campus and meet Kenyan based alumni and program partners.
  • Engage with rural homestay families and view student internship sites.
  • Experience how unique the SLU-Kenya connection is!
  • Click here for a full Trip Itinerary

Housing Information:
Semi-private dorm style facilities in Nairobi, and 4-star safari accommodations during field components.  Some single occupancy travelers may be asked to share a room in Nairobi only.

Additional Information:

Trip Cost: $4,750 per person based on single or double occupancy. (Maximum-16 participants. Children ages 16 an up are welcome to accompany a parent or guardian). The trip is inclusive of the following.

  • Online introduction to Kenya and orientation for the trip run by Dr. Matt Carotenuto in Spring 2019
  • Full board accommodations (all meals), park fees and airport transfers from June 29th-July 9th
  • Semi private dorm style facilities in Nairobi, and 4 star safari accommodations during field components. Some single occupancy travelers may be asked to share a room in Nairobi only.
  • Transportation outside of Nairobi in extended cab Toyota Landcruiser Safari vehicles with professional drivers and field guides.
  • Local medical insurance and Flying Doctors medical evacuation coverage throughout the trip for each participant.
  • Five KSP staff and faculty will accompany the group outside of Nairobi and serve as guides.

Airfare and travel to Kenya is not included. We recommend exploring Kenya Airways new direct flight from JFK or many other popular options with layovers in Europe. Program staff would be happy to recommend additional ways to extend your trip and see other parts of East Africa. For questions please email or call Matt Carotenuto at (315-229-5456).

Full Trip Itinerary

Register Now to Secure Your Spot

Rural Homestay Spring 2018- Nyeri Finale

Tea fields of Nyeri bordering Aberdares National Park

Moriega! Welcome to our inaugural blog post from Kenya Semester Program, Spring 2018! We have just finished our third week and are settled in our lovely new home in Karen. While we love our beautiful compound and the bustling city of Nairobi right next door, we are reflecting and missing our new friends and family from rural Nyeri, North of the city. During our second week in Kenya we traveled North to live with families in East and West Tetu, on either side of the gorgeous Nyeri Hill. We spent the week learning about and experiencing agricultural life and now three of us (Molly Dower, Dana Tindall, and Lindsay McCarthy) are here to tell you all about it!

On our way to Nyeri we stayed a night at Sandai farm, just below Mount Kenya and took a morning walk on which many of the students saw their first giraffe! We then traveled to Tumutumu and visited a farm to learn about the Green Belt Movement and saw a tree planted by the movement’s founder, Wangari Maathai. Following a delicious, lunch at Julius and Lydia’s impressive, resourceful farm the students were welcomed by their families in Tetu West and East and began their homestay weeks.

Molly:  Coffee         

I love coffee. To me, coffee conjures images of early mornings before class and late nights in the library. I think of black coffee in a tin cup on a camping trip and sugary drinks in seasonal paper cups. To my rural homestay family, coffee is work done by hand. Coffee is sustenance, not via caffeine, but via income. Coffee is grown and picked. It is sorted and carried and weighed. Though coffee is the prominent cash crop in East Tetu, there is no culture of drinking it, as many families can not afford the final product of their hard work.

Every Wednesday my host family harvests coffee and carries the beans down the road to the factory near their farm in East Tetu. On this particular Wednesday, I got to help them and see first hand how coffee starts its long journey from the plant to the product that’s ubiquitous in my daily life back home.

After our breakfast of chai, yam, and toast my host mom and I walked down to the garden, or shamba, to start picking coffee. Peak coffee season ended in early December, so this would be the last harvest day until after the long rains of Spring. While we harvested, my host mom and I shared songs and she showed me how to choose the perfect beans to pick. We filled our buckets with beans and carried them up to the house, where the contents were poured onto a rug and sorted. As we sorted, we sipped uji, a traditional Kikuyu porridge of millet flour- my favorite new snack! The ripe beans, distinguishable by their deep red color, were put into a sack to be taken to the factory down the road. The green, unripened beans were set aside along with the overly dried, black beans called bone.

Because it was so late in the harvest season, the coffee we picked had already started fermenting on the plant. This coffee is termed grade B, and is still good for selling to the factory! My host mother, brother, and I walked to the factory through their beautiful village. Though they are used to the brilliant green landscape that surrounds East Tetu, it never fails to take my breath away.

When I envision factories, I think of smoke and metal, of dark places with many workers in closed up spaces. The coffee factory we arrived at defied every expectation. It was wide open, operated by just a few people and minimal machinery, overlooking a lush expanse of Nyeri hillside.

When we arrived, the beans were poured out onto another rug to be checked by the clerk. Once the quality and grade of the beans were confirmed it was time for them to be weighed. The clerk recorded the weight and gave us a receipt. Coffee farmer’s compensation is delayed until the end of processing, something I was surprised to learn. Our beans were poured down the designated Grade B chute, where they would be further processed. Pulped, fermented, dried, and dried again. Eventually, the beans would be picked up and roasted, then shipped off to be enjoyed far, far away.

Figure 1. Coffee picked from Molly’s host family’s shamba

After our time at the factory, we walked home to take afternoon chai and sat outside as the sun went down. My host sister milked the cows and I helped my host mother prepare a traditional supper of ugali and sukama wiki. As I reflect on the day, I think about the difference between farming the coffee and the coffee I buy at home- a way to conceptualize the difference between my life experience from my host family’s. A vast process of pulping, fermenting, drying, shipping, and roasting separates us, but I will forever be thankful for the opportunity to understandt hat the same process connects us, too.

Figure 2. A coffee factory in Tetu East

Wednesday, January 24th with Lindsay:

Every morning, when the sun rose, so would my new home in Tetu East, Nyeri. I opened my eyes to the sounds of my new family shuffling throughout the house, the doors creaking, and the animals outside my window chatting amongst themselves. I put on a long skirt and a t shirt and made my way outside to the kitchen, which was a separate room detached from the house. I helped my host mom hand-wash dishes from dinner the night before, and by the time I made it to the kitchen in the morning, my host mom had already milked the cow. On top of the open fire, a large pan sat, filled with water and fresh milk for Chai (tea) and when it began to over boil my host mom would grab the searing hot pot with her bare hands and place it away from the fire.

Figure 3: Lindsay’s host parents and host aunt walking through their farm.

As I began the day, three themes that seemed to emerge from my perspective were the importance of family, farming, and food which intertwined throughout the daily lives of my homestay family. This morning, I was assigned to make pancakes for breakfast which I thought wasn’t a foreign concept to me, but proved to be slightly different from what I was used to. The pancakes were like crepes (meaning they were flatter and thinner than the traditional American pancake) and we ate them without toppings, folded up, and with our hands while we sipped on a piping hot cup of Chai.

After breakfast, I followed my host brother down to the farm (which in Kikuyu is called ‘Shamba’), where we had to walk down a long steep hill to reach the fields where we gathered rabbit feed and planted spinach. When we finished, I asked to see where the water from the watering system came from so we walked along the connecting plots of land and followed a small stream to the main ‘waterhole’. Despite the fact that I tripped and almost fell into the stream, the walk along the farm was unbelievably beautiful. Each plot of land we passed was owned by one of his family members, and I always had to make sure to say hello in Kikuyu to my “Aunt” or  “Uncle” (most of the time I would get laughed at when I spoke in Kikuyu because of my poor pronunciation). As we walked along the stream, I saw corn, coffee, potatoes, beans, and spinach growing in each plot of land that stretched throughout the valley.

Figure 4: These are some sweet potatoes that Lindsay’s host mom dug out of the ground

After trudging up the steep hill back to the house, my host brother and I were assigned to make lunch. Most of the meals I cooked with my host mom, but since she was on the school board for her youngest daughters primary school, it became me and my host brothers job. We made Githeri which is a dish that consists of beans and corn (which my host mom and I gathered from the Shamba the day prior).

Figure 5: This is the githeri that Lindsay and her host brother made together

Post lunch, I prepared to accompany my host mom to her Wednesday church group. We drove into town where we were taking care of errands when my host mom introduced me to one of her friend’s children who was about two years old. This being my fifth day in Nyeri, I was used to children gawking, pointing, and trying to touch me. However, when this child saw me, she burst into tears and seemed terrified of me. This was the first time I had received a reaction like this in Nyeri and my host mom said she had never seen a child do that before. Everyone thought it was hilarious. To this day, I can’t help but chuckle a little when I think back to how that little girl reacted to me.

We then drove to the church group, held at someone’s house, and we sat in a circle and introduced ourselves. The church group consisted of readings from the Bible and singing. When the sky started turning dark, and it looked as though it was going to rain outside, my host mom and I walked over to visit her mother (Shosho is Grandmother in Kikuyu) who welcomed me with open arms and made me feel apart of the family.

Figure 6: Here is some corn on Lindsay’s host family’s Shamba

The day ended with my mom and I cooking a delicious dinner that we ate with my host dad and brother. The themes that surfaced during my time in Nyeri, family, farming, and food, showed up in my daily life repeatedly throughout the week. Within the week, I had met most of the extended family and would see many of these family members on a regular basis. Additionally, farming was very important because it provided food for my family to sell as well as food that they would eat every night. Food proved to be such an essential aspect of my rural homestay. My host mom and I would farm for the food and then cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. Looking back at my experience at a rural homestay, I know I am lucky to have been placed with such an amazing family whom I will remember for the rest of my life.

Thursday, January 25th with Dana.

This morning I woke up to vibrant blue skies and a cup of hot chai, just as I did every other morning on my family’s welcoming, colorful shamba in Tetu West.  I ate farm fresh eggs and the milk in my chai was fresh from my family’s sweet, brown-eyed cows.  My mom and I washed the dishes from the dinner the night before of chapati and chicken stew and then worked at their roadside general store for the morning while my father was cutting napier grass to feed the cows.  When he returned home, he took our place at the store and my mom and I departed on a 20 minute walk across a valley of tea and corn fields and up a beautiful gravel road to visit my 11 year-old sister at her school.  She is in standard 6 and I got to sit in on her science class.  The classes are taught in English since the students have been learning English since their first year of education. This day they were having a health education class where they learned about the vaccines infants receive and the diseases which the vaccines prevent. I was impressed with both the content of the class and their extensive knowledge of English.  Most of the residents of Nyeri speak Kikuyu at home, but have been taught English and Swahili in school.

After science class was over, my mom and I said goodbye and thank you to my sister’s class and teacher for welcoming me. As we exited the classroom,  a group of primary school kids were running and giggling as they left class for recess. The weather was still beautiful and sunny with low humidity.  My mom and I continued our walk up the road from the school, still heading away from our home and towards the top of the hill on which they live. At the top we had an incredible view of expansive fields of tea plants, the region and my family’s main cash crop, along with coffee. We visited a building where the local farmers bring their tea for the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) to weigh and pick-up their harvests for processing at a factory.

We continued on our way to visit my grandmother who lives in the same house in which my mom grew up. I helped her feed her three cows and in return she made me a lunch of ugali and soured milk, which tastes far better than it sounds, I promise.

Figure 8. Dana with her host Mom and one of the family’s cows.

After I thanked my grandmother for the meal, we meandered down the hill, towards home as some storm clouds loomed in the distance. Just as we walked through the front gate to the house, some rain started to fall.  We went inside and watched the news while we waited for the afternoon thunderstorm to pass so we could milk the cows before dinner. My last dinner with my Nyeri family was a heaping portion of rice, githeri (a mixture of beans, corn, and spices), and a stew with potatoes and cabbage.  My mom, sister, and I ate and watched soap operas and then the evening news until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I went to bed thinking about the past week at my homestay in Nyeri. It was a wonderful experience and I was so thankful to be invited into the home of my warm-hearted and hardworking family.


Amboseli Fall 2017

Amboseli Fall 2017

Hamjambo marafiki na familia!  Liz, Britni and Phoebe here to tell you all about our week in Amboseli. This week was focused on learning about the impact of tourism and modernization on the Maasai culture. Traditionally, the Maasai are semi-nomadic pastoralists who herd their cattle in search of water for their animals. In addition, we investigated land issues that have caused the decline of their traditional pastoral lifestyle. By conducting interviews with local farmers and Maasai, participating in a Maasai homestay experience, and going on game drives we learned so much about the Amboseli region that we are excited to share with you!

Farmer Interviews (Liz):

On our first day in Kimana town we conducted interviews with local farmers to get a sense of land issues in the Amboseli region, as well as the struggles that agriculturalists face. We approached a settlement of several metal sheet buildings surrounded by cultivated fields, not far from the center of town. Satellites stuck out from the roofs, new accessories installed almost strictly for watching soccer. KSP students were split into five groups and began interviewing Kenyan and Tanzanian farmers of varying ethnicities about limiting factors to agriculture like fertile land, water, and wildlife impact.

In the Amboseli region, water loss and changing rain patterns have degraded the land such that wildlife and people alike are suffering. Once dominated by pastoralists, this region is now becoming increasingly agricultural as people become desperate to find a profitable and sustainable livelihood. Farmers create a weekly schedule dictating who can use the irrigation system and when. Many of the farmers suggested that the best way to combat the water issue is to build wells, requiring lots of time, labor, and resources which might not be worth the benefit if farmers move frequently because of infertile land. The other significant infringement on profit is wildlife. Because Amboseli Park is so close, and not fenced, wildlife roams freely out of their protected land and onto farms in search of water and food. Each night, farmers sleep in their fields, using torches and firecrackers to scare off animals. They fear losing their entire livelihood in one night, especially if a hungry elephant comes trampling through. Conservation, while an important initiative in the face of changing climates, also unfairly impacts locals. Many farmers are frustrated that they bear the negative impacts of conservation without being provided electric fences or other compensation for their losses by the government. We departed the fields, some green, some bare and dusty, thinking how these hard working and genuine people can be so smiley and spirited in the face of such dismal challenges.

 Game Drives (Phoebe):

The sixteen of us piled into our three, forest green Land Cruisers and set out on a sunny Tuesday morning in hopes of both seeing and learning about the wildlife found within the bounds of Amboseli National Park. Upon entering the park, we watched as other Cruisers zipped by ours, filled with eager khaki-laden tourists with their cameras at the ready. We snickered as they passed, keeping in mind what we had learned so far about the negative impact of tourism on the region. At first, we believed that our drive was for more holistic purposes, while the rest of the mzungus (white people) were there to gawk at the wildlife. As we continued driving slowly down the uneven dirt roads within the park, wildlife began to appear before our eyes. We would look left and see grazing gazelles or wildebeest and then look right and see zebras casually strolling across the plains in the distance. In awe of the vast landscape that was home to so many different species, we grabbed for our own cameras and began to point and shoot. It was at that moment that we began to feed into the tourist stereotype which we had previously been making fun of. After overcoming the initial excitement of seeing so many different animals, we began to feel the inner conflict of our role as both students and tourists alike, considering what impacts we were having during our studies.

We settled into our seats and began asking our tour guides questions about the different wildlife in the park and their certain behavioral patterns. The winding, bumpy roads throughout the park led us to an overlook.We climbed to the top, making out Mt. Kilimanjaro to the right as we stared out onto to the vast landscape. We were able to read informational panels about the geologic history of Mt. Kilimanjaro and its impact on the well-being of the surrounding land and wildlife. Back at the lodge, exciting conversations were shared over lunch about all of the sights we saw and the snapshots we took that morning.

Practicing our Big Five poses at the Amboseli Outlook Point

In the heat of the mid-afternoon we all hopped back in the Cruisers and went out on a second game drive. It was during this drive that we learned to keep our cameras away, making this experience feel like less of a tourist excursion than the first drive. We were able to see many animals feeding in the late afternoon sun. As the sun began to set, we followed the dusty roads out of the park. It was during the drive back to the lodge for the evening that, in our silence, we could process and reflect on all that we had seen throughout the day. Upon exiting the gate of Amboseli we left behind all of the gazelles, wildebeest, zebras, buffaloes, hippos, elephants, lions and hyenas we saw to continue their day-to-day lives, unaware of just how much they had impacted ours that day. We felt we were more than just tourists on that sunny Tuesday. We were academics, young minds eager to learn about the park’s wildlife species and their relationships with the landscape.

Manyatta Experiences (Britni):

Next on the list, was a visit to a “cultural manyatta.” What is a cultural manyatta you ask? Great question. A cultural manyatta is a group of Maasai families who form a traditional village to draw in tourists for the purpose of income. The people who live there perform a traditional Maasai lifestyle. Notice how I said “perform”… please remember that for later. Almost immediately after we stepped foot off the vehicles, the entire community came out to greet us. Men and women lined up and sang different melodies simultaneously. No one had time to pull out their camera as each Maasai took hold of a student and dragged us into the clamour. After, it was time for a tour of the manyatta. We turned around and were greeted by a wall of thorns surrounding the Maasai homes. In groups we were given tours of the eight or so huts made of a mix of ash and cow manure inside. Then, the Maasai split into women, leaders, and warriors and we were all given a chance to ask one another questions about our respective ways of living.

Phoebe and I (Britni) jumping with Maasai Women

Later in the week, pairs of us were taken to a Maasai homestead to stay overnight. We were surprised at how different, and yet similar, our host families’ homesteads were to the cultural manyatta. The wall of thorns was still there, but only a nuclear family lived in a dung hut and tin house on the homestead, rather than an entire community. What the cultural manyatta failed to demonstrate was the effect of modernization on the Maasai people. We were also surprised to find that agriculture seems to be playing a larger role in the Maasai lifestyle than traditional pastoralism. Regardless, the Maasai culture has not been eroded completely by these factors. Many of us participated in things like milking cows, or rather trying to milk, cooking, and fetching firewood and water. The piece de resistance was learning how to mix ash with cow manure to patch the dung hut we had slept in the night previous, most of us sharing rooms with several family members, goats, skittish cats, and flies included. We ended our stay by learning how to bead the decorative bracelets the Maasai are famous for.

Got Milk? Because Liz didn’t

So, perhaps the most important lesson for those who may visit the Maasai, is that culture is always changing. This is true whether you are a Maasai living a decreasingly pastoralist lifestyle or a U.S. citizen living in a modern society. Ultimately, a cultural manyatta is not representative of how the Maasai people live their lives today. Did you remember that word, “performance”? Well, that’s exactly what a cultural manyatta is. Many people don’t realize that that is not how all Maasai live today; culture is simply not static. Another aspect that we learned about the Maasai culture is the importance of tourism. In the case of cultural manyattas, environmental degradation has led to a decrease in pastoralism causing them to find other sources of income. To do this, these people replicate their traditional lifestyle much to the delight of tourists, as this is akin to the “Single Story” of the Maasai. For those of you who don’t know, a “single story” creates stereotypes which leaves our understandings incomplete and fails to recognize complexities, like modernization, that are at play.

Interview with Maasai Community Members (Liz):

At the end of the week, we had the opportunity to interview Maasai community members, including leaders, female elders, warriors, and educated young women. Each group welcomed us to their circle, greeting us by exchanging hello’s in in Maa, “sopa” and “ipa.” Splitting into more focused groups, we asked questions about the social effects of modernization, impacts of group ranching, issues surrounding irrigated agriculture, and tourism’s effect on development. Our discussions were incredibly fruitful, as community members answered our questions passionately, speaking furiously in Maa and often interrupting each other and the translator. With only 20 minutes to interview each group, we never seemed to have enough time to ask all the questions we had. Luckily, we were able to join the Maasai community members for lunch where we were able to ask more specific questions about their lives, occupations, and hopes. In turn, they were able to ask us questions about our culture. One woman asked what issues we have in the United States which we have not seen in Kenya. Our responses included things like an inefficient and irresponsible national food system, rejection of climate science, and preventable gun violence. The exchanges that we shared both during the interviews and over lunch proved to be one of the most valuable learning experiences of the week. The result of our interviews were four fascinating group presentations later that day, sharing our new knowledge about the above topics. This week we were able to get a more holistic understanding of how modernization is affecting the Amboseli region, including land, wildlife, people and culture.

Signing off for now, stay tuned to read about KSP’s adventures in Mombasa!


Liz, Britni and Phoebe


Amboseli Fall 2016

For our last grand adventure/field component as a group, the ten of us hopped into safari vehicles to go to Amboseli, a national park about four hours south of Nairobi. The park was established in 1974 and covers 151.4 mi2 of traditionally Maasai land. As students going to an area largely economically supported by tourism, we experienced a variety of situations in which we adapted to, questioned, and debated our understanding of our experiences. Throughout the week, we had discussions and interviews with farmers and community members, we went on two game drives through the national park (lions and tigers and… ostriches[?] oh my!), visited a “cultural manyatta”, and did a 24 hour homestay with a Maasai family. Our experience was interspersed with hotel pool swims, tire shoe shopping, and DOOM!-ing all of our belongings. No adventure is complete without a little DOOM! Insecticide©, right?

Group photo at Observation Hill in Amboseli National Park

Group photo at Observation Hill in Amboseli National Park

As land availability has decreased, due to the breakup of group ranches and larger populations, Maasai have less land to graze their livestock on and many have turned to a mix of pastoralism and agriculture. We had an opportunity to learn about the challenges of agriculturists living in the area first hand. Most of the farmers we interviewed did not actually own the land, but were crop sharers. This means that the landowner leased out his land, many times to a middleman who paid for the lease, seeds, and pesticides and allowed the farmers to work the land in exchange for a certain percentage of the profit. The area we were in used generators to pump water from the small river to their crops, and never ran out of water because of their positioning so far upstream. The main challenge that farmers faced was ELEPHANTS. Being so close to Amboseli, the adorable elephants regularly go out of the National Park at night and feast on the delicious vegetables that the farmers had been so meticulously taking care of. If elephants do come, the farmers must resort to making loud noises, shining flashlights, and lighting firecrackers to scare away the elephants. Since there is no compensation program, these farmers can lose their entire income for the growing season (3-4 months). The most effective way of keeping the elephants out is by electric fence. The farmers discussed that the government should provide fencing for either the park or the farms because of the problems the government park has caused for them.

After a morning of interviewing farmers, we made our way down the road to visit a “Cultural Manyatta”. Cultural Manyattas are a site that the Maasai in the area have created to earn an income off of the tourist industry that is rampant in the region. These manyattas are a traditional homestead, consistent of approximately 15 cow-dung homes, and a boma to house cattle. The manyattas are set up in a circle with the homes around the outside, with the boma in the center. There are multiple reasons for this, two of them being protection from lions, and for health reasons because of how wet the center of the manyatta gets during the wet season. Who knew a barrier of acacia branches and dung homes would hold off the “king of the jungle”?

The Maasai in the manyattas create an experience for the tourist to learn about their culture and way of life, greeting you with a welcome dance and jumping competition, and then seeing you off with a market of their beaded goods. When we pulled in, the group of Maasai men and women welcomed us to dance with them, and challenged the boys to take part in their jumping competition. Our new Maasai friends joked about the boys’ lack of jumping ability- guess we’ve got something to work on, eh boys?!

Students are greeted and welcomed to dance with the Maasai at the Cultural Manyatta

Students are greeted and welcomed to dance with the Maasai at the Cultural Manyatta

After welcoming us to their manyatta and praying, we were brought into the homestead and taught about some of the natural medical remedies they have for everything from Malaria, to digestive issues, to low libido. After our medical lesson, we toured the homes, and had group interviews with the manyatta site members. On our way out, many of us bought beadwork from the women that we danced with in the beginning of the visit. Beading is something that only women do, and allows them to have a means of income to help support their households, and give them more economic autonomy.

While in Amboseli we had the chance to experience how most tourist’s live in Kenya. We stayed at the Kibo Safari Lodge and slept in “luxury tents” that were mostly filled with tourists from Europe and North America. When the safari’ers weren’t out enjoying Amboseli National Park, they were taking refuge from the hot sun and swapping stories about their quests to see The Big Five (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, and Rhino) which were the most sought after animals by recreational hunters, but has now transitioned into a fun sightseeing challenge.

On our second day in Amboseli we excitedly woke up with the sunrise, grabbed a quick breakfast and eagerly loaded into our two Safari style Toyota Land Cruisers and were on our way. Before we entered the park we were greeted by several grant’s gazelle and twigas, also known as giraffe, and many local Maasai selling souvenirs such as necklaces and animal carvings at the entrance. We spent the morning and afternoon in awe looking at countless numbers of elephants buffalo, wildebeest, waterbuck, reedbuck, baboons, ostriches, warthogs, giraffes, zebra, thomson’s gazelle, grant’s gazelle, hippos, flamingos, and birds that were completely foreign to us. We even saw several hyenas and a lion! It was picturesque seeing all of these animals in their expansive landscape with the snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro in the background.

A group of female ostriches and a lone wildebeest hang out in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro

A group of female ostriches and a lone wildebeest hang out in front of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Our travels to Amboseli happened to be in the dry season, so there was not much vegetation in relation to the herds of animals, with a few exceptions of swampier areas where the Kilimanjaro snow melt collects. Much of the landscape was bare soil, and in some areas there was hardly more than a few trees or shrubs in eye sight. We learned that this is due to the large number of animals that the environment cannot sustain. The National Park can sustainably hold a population of 400 elephants, but the population has skyrocketed in recent decades to over 1600 (they are forced to raid the farmers’ fields so that they have enough food). An adult elephant can knock down five trees a day, which has converted the environment into a grassland. As a result, the grazers populations have increased and they have overgrazed the environment.  All of this has led to a strain on the environment and topsoil erosion that causes the dust devils that vortex around the park.

A herd of elephants on their way to find some juicy, fresh, well-kept tomatoes.

A herd of elephants on their way to find some juicy, fresh, well-kept tomatoes.

Then the day came, and we went off roading to bush, eagerly seeking out our new families. We went to this homestay in groups of two and each group was given a translator since families mainly speak their ethnic language of Maa. We were dropped off at the entrance of the manyatta and were immediately welcomed by our Maasai homestay mother with a cup of chai and later to our homestay father.

Many rural Maasai practice polygamy as they have historically done and my homestay father had two wives. The wives each had their own house for themselves and their children in the manyatta and the father takes turns sleeping in between the two houses. Each of our homestay mothers cooked separately for themselves and their children and both worked together to complete tasks to keep the manyatta running.

At our homestay we were able to experience a day in the life of a traditional Maasai and help them with daily tasks. The Maasai have rigidly gender segregated duties, so the girls helped collecting water from a natural spring in the ground, gather firewood, cook, and clean. The boys spent most of their time herding cattle and finding new pastures. In the end we all were instructed on how to make the distinctive Maasai bracelets and necklaces and a couple lucky people even got to help reinforce a house by spreading the cow dung and ash mixture onto the house walls.

Erin showing off her stellar manyatta repairing skills

Erin showing off her stellar manyatta repairing skills

We finished out the week with interviews of community members. Groups of community leaders, educated women, traditional women, agriculturalists, and pastoralists answered our various questions about everything from irrigation techniques to thoughts about FGM.

Here are some of the most interesting things we learned from the groups:

  • When asked about modernization, the group of pastoral men said that they would ideally be 50% pastoralist and 50% agriculturalist. They are not bitter or put out by the change in their traditional ways of livelihood, but rather are adjusting and finding new ways to live and be happy.
  • The strong relationship between the Maasai and their cattle was/is amazing. No matter how “modern” the group becomes, everyone will always still have at least one cow. “We are not Maasai without our cows”
  • Pastoralists who are also agriculturalist frequently hire out people to graze their cattle. Children now go to school at minimum through primary level, keeping them in the classroom rather than out with the livestock, leaving a gap in the labor force that must be compensated by changing work for the adults, or hiring out to graze livestock.
  • When one sees images of the Maasai people, they frequently see an image of a bare breasted woman covered in beads. In reality, historically and modernly, women are always covered, and do not bare their breasts. This image was created by the western world, and is not actually representative of the Maasai people.
  • The maasai shukas (blankets) were actually brought by the Scottish missionaries in the late 1800s.
  • Another identifier of the Maasai is the circular or lined scars on their cheeks. This is a burn scar that was used as a technique to keep flies out of their eyes which could otherwise spread a disease that could blind them. The circular scars we have seen here in Kenya identify a Maasai as a Kenyan Maasai. If a Maasai has three vertical lines instead, he/she can be identified as Tanzanian.

-Laura and Aidan


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.

A Kenyan Half-Marathon Adventure

Dearest KSP blog readers and fans (hi mom!),

Britt Eastman ’18 and Gabriella Gurney ’18 reporting to you LIVE from the KSP’s compound outside Nairobi with an exciting mini-blog update. On March 7 we had the distinct pleasure of running in the First Lady Half Marathon in Nairobi. This means we completed 13.1 miles IN A ROW on the equator… we’re not sure how that happened, either.

The race was a fundraiser for Beyond Zero, an initiative founded by Kenya’s first lady, Margaret Kenyatta, to reduce maternal and childhood mortality through prenatal health initiatives, newborn and child healthcare, and HIV treatment and prevention. It’s a super awesome organization and you can find out more about it here:

We got up bright and early at 5 a.m. Sunday morning, managed to find an Uber driver (readily available since Saturday night was just ending for some people), and made our way to Nyayo Stadium, where the race was supposed to start at 6:30. We spent about 45 minutes trying to hunt down registration, where we could pick up our numbers and shirts (“t-shirt ni wapi?” — “t-shirts are where?”), and were completely unsuccessful. It turns out that packet pickup was the day before at Kenyatta International Conference Center, a vital detail not given on either the race website or in the confirmation email and which we ourselves failed to look into at all. Oops. Better luck next time, right?


Us without our race numbers.

After accepting our fates of having paid registration and running without race numbers or getting our race t-shirts, we found ourselves at the starting line. Right before the wheelchair race went off at 6:30, we were lucky enough to get a glimpse of the First Lady of Kenya, herself, before she was surrounded by people. Here’s a picture of other people taking her picture:


People photographing the First Lady, Margaret Kenyatta.

            After the wheelchair racers took off, we stepped up to the start line (well, as close as we could get to the start line because there were hundreds of people running the half marathon) and at exactly 7 a.m., WE WERE OFF!

Turns out running 13.1 miles is incredibly grueling and energy consuming.

But we made it! After crossing the finish line, we tried to look again for our race t-shirts (still no luck) and had an awesome breakfast at a restaurant across the street. We found another Uber driver and were on our way back to our urban homestays.image003

Running a race in Kenya was definitely an amazing experience. We were able to run through the streets of Nairobi and among Mombasa Road, which had been closed off to traffic early that morning. We ran past informal settlements, government buildings, and churches filled with people and bursting with music. The racers themselves were also very interesting. There were racers from all over the world (though they were primarily Kenyan) and of all kinds. There were professional athletes in racing jerseys, but there were also girls in ankle-length jean skirts and ballet flats running or walking the half marathon.

Running a half marathon in Kenya was an experience neither of us will forget!

-Ella & Britt

The finish line!

Summer 2015: Healthcare Delivery in a Developing Country

Summer 2015 one

Monica Manning, Mara Talek – Narok West

Summer Course: Healthcare Delivery in a Developing Country
My name is Monica Manning and I am a rising sophomore at St. Lawrence. I hope to major in Global Studies and am undecided minor. Going into this trip I was not expecting to feel so comfortable during my time here. I was expecting to be a “Mzungu” and see everything from a distance and simply be a guest. I knew I was learning about health care in Kenya but didn’t realize how involved I would be and how interactive it would be. I never felt uncomfortable, however I believe there were situations that I could have. Meeting with strangers who I have little to no association with was what I was most nervous about. Even at home talking about a serious subject to a stranger can be uncomfortable. The communities we went into were welcoming and the people were very kind. Most thanked us for visiting with them even though I always felt we should be more thankful for letting us visit them!

The program was very structured and I felt within three weeks we did far more then I was expecting.  We covered the public and private health sectors of Kenya along with the village and the city. All four areas have a huge difference within the country. It was essential that we covered all four of those areas in order to really understand the public health care in Kenya. Even though I only have a base to my knowledge about Kenya and public health care I now have an understanding about where I can explore further in the subject, and what areas I take the most interest in. Even though I am not planning on being a medical student, this experience has opened my mind to other occupations I can do to make a difference that still are associated with public health.One of the coolest places we visited was Kibera. While we were there we talked with two mothers about the challenges they face raising their children as they struggle financially everyday. They were both smiling women and pleasant to talk to. We had a translator with us too although they both spoke English well. One mother talked to us outside her home because the baby was not yet old enough to be exposed to other people yet (that is a cultural practice), and the other mother welcomed us into hers and we were able to hold her twins! The second woman had another child, but it died at 10 months very quickly within a week of sickness. Her current twins were so cute though. Her living space was smaller than my room, and she pays 600 shillings a month to stay in her home. (That is about 6 dollars.) We gave each woman a bag of food in which she was very thankful for! Without the clinic on the edge of the neighborhood that takes care of part of the population in Kibera, her babies would not be the healthy babies they are! The need for aid and adequate and affordable health systems in and near the slums is huge! I learned this was similar to the very rural areas where transportation was difficult.I now understand the opportunity in this world that is not always in your face in the United States. I know where the United States struggles and what needs to be improved upon, but in Kenya you can see it every day where the change needs to happen. Just within Malaria and HIV alone, so many people’s lives are changed in a negative way. If there were more people who could see this part of the world, then more people could be inspired to help make a change no matter where it is. This trip has really forced me to focus on what I want to do with my life, and where I want to take my academics. In addition it made me so grateful for the opportunities I have. When you are constantly surrounded with people who are on the same playing field as you, you forget the big picture of life and what goes beyond your little bubble. I finally have the capability to take a step back and think about how I want to impact this world that needs so much attention.My name is Halley Choy and I am a going to be a junior at St. Lawrence in the Fall. I am majoring in Environmental Studies and Psychology with a minor in Sociology. Before coming to Kenya, I knew very little about their culture, people, and healthcare system.  I had expectations to visit some of the hospitals and clinics around Kenya and learn about the struggles and the kinds of diseases people face in the healthcare system here in Kenya.  I hoped to learn about the culture, and some Swahili along the way.  I had hoped to travel to the Mara to see some of the amazing wildlife.  I had read about the Adamson family’s life in Elsamere and some of the towns and cities that we were going to be visiting like Eldoret, Kisumu, and Kibera so that I would be more prepared.Despite my readings and expectations of this course and Kenya, this study abroad experience has been much more then I have ever thought it would be.  It has been a valuable experience to learn about diseases and then meet and talk to people that are dealing with these illnesses every day.  I was able to learn in depth about fistulas and then actually meet women with fistulas at WADADIA.  Before coming to Kenya, I had known nothing about female circumcision and fistulas. Learning about the challenges in the healthcare system in Kenya such as obtaining drugs and equipment due to limited expenses and providing free health care to patients has opened my eyes to the many struggles in Kenya and other developing countries.

My classmates and I also met with Sara Ellen and Joe Mamlin about the organization they started called AMPATH in Eldoret, Kenya. AMPATH is a partnership working with the Kenyan government and Indiana University. AMPATH is a great example of how all different branches of health care can come together.  One of the Mamlin’s goals has been to work alongside Kenyans in teaching about health care and giving quality health care to the people of Kenya. Working together as a community, AMPATH has been going into difficult to reach rural villages with community clinical workers to treat patients, test for HIV, and educate about the basics of health care and maternity care.  With three hundred clinics and such programs as OSCAR, Orphan Street Children At Risk, they are helping people to reach health care from all backgrounds in Western Kenya.

OSCAR is a program for children living on the streets where they can access free health care and testing for HIV.  Over tea, we met with some of the street children of Eldoret and discussed the health problems and challenges growing up in the streets poses to them.  The street children often have health problems such as skin diseases, jiggers, and injuries due to violence and fighting that goes on in the streets.  Many of the boys had been pushed to the streets due to alcoholism or abuse in their families, the death of their parents or the corporate punishment in the many of the schools in the area.  Despite these struggles and living on the streets where drugs and violence is common many of the teens that we spoke to want to and plan to get off the streets.  They want to go back to school and have a successful job.  To learn more about the great work that AMPATH program is doing here is the link to their website

At the Mamlin’s House in Eldoret  with Haley Choy, Monica Manning, Emma Phippen

At the Mamlin’s House in Eldoret with Emma Phippen, Wairimu Ndirangu, Haley Choy and Monica Manning

In Eldoret we also visited, TUMAINI an organization that is providing a safe, fun and learning environment for street boys. The boys put on a play for us about how a typical boy could become a street boy.  Eventually they will be performing the play to the public to spread awareness about the numerous children living on the streets of Eldoret.  Programs like OSCAR and TUMAINI are giving some of these street children hope and education for a better future off the streets.

Summer 2015 three
I had not expected to feel so welcomed by so many people in Kenya.  I have met some of the most inspiring people like Sarah Ellen and Joe Mamlin.  I liked going to the Masai village and getting the chance to go into the homes like in the Kibera slums to learn about the people’s culture and health issues.  I appreciated the hospitality of the people in Kenya very much like the Nightingale family and the AMPATH family.  I felt very comfortable in all the places that we stayed and with most of the food that I ate.  The welcoming hospitality has made me feel safe about coming here in the future and learning here a lot easier. One of my suggestions for the future would have been visiting a mental health facility or program in Kenya.  If possible, this program should be a little longer for the students digested the material.  Because of the program’s packed schedule the class should be counted as two units instead of just one and half.I am excited to be going home to tell my family and friends about all the great organizations and people that I have met in Kenya and how they are doing great things to help improve their healthcare system.  This experience has helped me to grow, make great friends, to learn about the healthcare system in my own country, in Kenya, and other developing countries.  I am happy that I have learned about the culture of Kenya from the different foods like Ugali and Kenyan chai – tea to the Masai people that we visited.  It has been a great opportunity to see many different parts of Kenya and the different their health care providers from the teaching hospitals in Nairobi, the clinic in the Mara, and lastly the sustainable AMPATH program in Eldoret.I would recommend this course to students interested in the medical field.  The course has also been designed for non- medical students. Actually for the health course summer program this summer we had a global studies, psychology, environmental studies, and sociology majors. I think we all felt very comfortable and interested with the class material throughout the entire course.My name is Emma Phippen and I just graduated from SLU this last semester with a degree in sociology. I am so thankful to have been able to be a part of this amazing program because of the experiences I had. I could not have asked for a better way to end my St. Lawrence academic career. During this program we knew the trip would be very fast pace considering the itinerary was full of visiting many different health clinics, hospitals, and life improvement homes. The three of us had never been to Kenya, but we were willing to have open minds and learn about the different cultures that make up the country.The relationships that we established with our trip leaders and many people we met throughout the three weeks helped us acclimate to the new surroundings and established a comfortable environment for learning.

This program opened our eyes to the medical world and the aspect of social health care, a topic in which none of us ever took a particular interest in. Since being here and visiting the many different hospitals, clinics, and organizations our eyes were opened to the many different components that make up the Kenyan health care system and how it works. We were also very surprised by all of the other activities we did while on this trip like a sunrise safari in the Mara, visiting a Masai boma, going on a boat safari, and all of the shopping we did during our free time! The balance between work and play was perfect and kept us all on our toes the entire time. We were never disappointed by any of the days, and were excited every morning to learn and meet new people!

Summer 2015 four

Emma Phippen with the Mara Talek community

Since this program was so hands on we believe that we were able to learn to our highest potential. This program helped us explore a way of learning that every student should experience because being thrown into a new setting filled with amazing opportunities, and people helps a student explore outside of their comfort zones. That can really test students’ abilities to learn and grow as an individual!

Students who want to experience learning in a way that is structured very differently than a classroom setting would love this program because of the field work and hands on experiences. Also students who are interested in entering into any sector of health would love this program and really connect to the topic! We met an alumni of the program, she did not go to St. Lawrence, but was a part of the Kenya semester program. She explained to us how the semester introduced her to Ampath, the program she works for. Students can be exposed to opportunity to connect with doctors and health professionals and may find inspiration for their future endeavors, or careers.

Spring 2015 Kenya Program Students Respond to Attack in Far Northeastern Kenya.

The following is a response from the St. Lawrence students currently on the Kenya Semester Program. They wanted to reach out to the SLU community and let everyone know what they were thinking in relation to the April 2, 2015 terrorist attack in far Northeastern Kenya.  If any students or family members have questions related to this topic I encourage  you to contact me and or the Associate Dean of International and Intercultural Studies Dr. Karl Schonberg

Our thoughts are with our Kenyan friends and colleagues who are mourning this tragedy

Matt Carotenuto
Associate Professor of History &
Coordinator of African Studies
St. Lawrence University


Jambo marafiki wangu! First off, we would like to collectively apologize for our slow posting; we’ve been super busy having amazing experiences and have not had as much time to write as we thought we would!

We’re just going to jump right in: we know there’s been a lot of concern about the events in Garissa yesterday. And understandably so! When the western media writes headlines such as “University Students Targeted in Kenya,” it’s difficult not to immediately jump to the worst conclusions. That being said, these events are quite complicated, and, more importantly, they don’t affect us here in Nairobi in any way (other than our obvious sadness at the tragedies taking place in this country).

Here is a map of Garissa in relation to us in Nairobi:

Garissa in relation to Nairobi

Garissa in relation to Nairobi

It doesn’t look that far (though it is only a little closer to Nairobi than Canton is to Boston), but in reality, Nairobi and Garissa are literally worlds apart. Garissa is on the border of the former North Eastern province (now Garissa County), one of the most underdeveloped and insecure parts of the country, which even most Kenyans avoid. There’s a popular joke here that, in North Eastern province, they ask visitors, “how is Kenya?” because it is so far removed from the rest of the country. Not only is it far, it’s quite remote in terms of access. Many of the roads here in Kenya are not well maintained as it is, but getting to Garissa is more difficult than traveling most places due to lack of infrastructure. Basically, North Eastern province, including Garissa, is a lawless area that has continually been subject to the wrath of militant Somalis. It is for this reason that, while the attack is tragic, it’s not a surprise—unfortunately, events like this are not uncommon. The only reason that the Western media is taking notice is because of the scale of the attack and because of the Christian targets.

Unfortunately, these attacks have become more common in recent years due to Western drone strikes and due to the Kenyan military’s interference in Somalia. North Eastern province is an easy target in Kenya due to its proximity to Al Shabaab’s Somali base and due to its lack of law enforcement.

Now to the good news! Our program has not operated anywhere near North Eastern province in at least a decade.

This is the United Kingdom’s travel warning map for Kenya:

Map from British Travel Advisory outlining restricted areas

Map from British Travel Advisory outlining restricted areas

As you can see, Garissa is firmly ensconced in the orange area. Our program follows these same guidelines, with additional restricted areas. In addition, it’s important to note that a  travel advisory has been in place in some form since the 1998 bombings of the US Embassy in Nairobi. With the addition of Mombasa to the restricted areas in 2014 we now have a component in far western Kenya (Kisumu) as a replacement.

Since the attack at the Westgate mall in Nairobi in September 2013, security here in the capital has increased exponentially—these attacks are truly devastating the Kenyan tourism industry, and so president Uhuru Kenyatta is determined to prove that his country remains safe for foreigners. I know that every single one of us, all 18, feels 100% safe in regards to security in Nairobi, where we are metal detected and scanned before entering any mall or grocery store or restaurant or hospital, etc. Cars are searched before entering parking lots and bags are thoroughly inspected by private security firms all around the city. Honestly, we are more concerned in our day-to-day life by the crazy drivers or threat of petty theft—as we would be in any other big city in the world. As we are writing this, everyone in our beautiful house in the ultra safe suburb of Karen is happy and healthy. We’re making a potluck dinner tonight, actually, so music is blaring and people are singing as they prepare food for our Kenyan friends and professors. In short, none of us are worried. That’s not to say that we aren’t having discussions about the events in our current home country, and we are definitely taking our personal safety seriously (carefully deciding where we go on weekends, etc.), but we are living our lives as normal. In addition, our KSP administration remains alert, as always, because our safety is their top concern—as we learned last semester, when the program was canceled due to security concerns, we would not be here if it was deemed unsafe for us in any way.

All of us feel it’s important that, amidst the plethora of dramatic media articles, you hear directly from us. Within our fenced-in compound (equipped with an electric fence, barbed wire, and 24 hour security guards, as most houses here in Nairobi are), we are safe and anxiously awaiting our independent studies to commence next week. For us, it’s life as usual. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this tragedy and we are heartbroken that our adoptive country continues to suffer this plague in some areas. However, that does not change how we feel about our time here, and we urge anyone who is interested in the program to not be discouraged by this awful incident. As SLU African Studies chair Matt Carotenuto said in a post about this incident, “tuko pamoja.” All 18 of us truly feel that we are “all together” with our greater Kenyan family, especially those impacted by the events in Garissa.

Hakuna matata!

Love, SLU KSP Spring 2015

Nairobi and the First Weeks of Classes

Jambo sana! Emily, Emily, Katie and Ceci here, reporting on our first two weeks of classes! Ninaitwa Ceci (the least morning-people of all) here to talk about our morning routines on the compound! We trudge into the kitchen before 7 grumbling to ourselves about the ungodly hour, but find some solitude in the delicious aromas of whatever Seth has prepared for breakfast. As we haphazardly dish ourselves some oatmeal, sausage, bacon, eggs and fruit, and reach for the pots of coffee and chai, we can hear the pitter-patters of our classmate’s feet who have also been beckoned by the smells of breakfast.

As you take your place around our huge family style table, the tired “goodmornings,” and grumpy attitudes fall victim to good food and company and dissolve into conversations and laughter (beckoning out our late-sleepers as well). By 7:10, we are joined by the “Hamjambo’s,” and “Habari wanafunzi!” of our Swahili Professors and are off to our classroom’s by 7:30.

Although each class is unique, we find a common ground with the energetic, positive and fun environments fostered by our teachers. At 8:30 we get to break for “chai,” (including goodies such as mandazi and chocolate chips prepared by Seth) and pick up our breakfast conversations or attempt the new Swahili vocabulary we had just learned.

With the end of classes at 9:30, those who have the 10:45 class at the UKC scramble to gather their last minute things and get to the bus by 9:40 so they aren’t left behind (or most likely forced to run down the driveway) by Njau. Those who are fortunate enough to wait for the afternoon bus take the time to relax, scarf some leftover snacks, or get a head start on homework.

Emily Adams and Katie (Kiki) Murray here, ready to tell y’all about the two classes (out of the four options) that we are taking at the United Kenyan Club and about our many adventures in Nairobi. Each student must choose two classes to take in order to supplement the mandatory Kiswahili course and core course (Culture, Environment, and Development in East Africa) that we all take. Both of us chose to take the same two classes: “Critical Issues in Socio-Economic Development in Kenya” and “Introduction to the History of Modern Kenya.” Each of the classes meet three times a week for 1.5 hours in our classroom/apartment/hotel room at the United Kenya Club in Nairobi.

Our socioeconomics class is taught by a professor at the nearby University of Nairobi, who works in the department of development studies. He is new to the KSP, and this is actually his first semester teaching this course! Erik is doing a great job so far; on the first day, he came in with a tentative syllabus and asked us to give input on the things that we were hoping to learn about. Many of us were interested in corruption (which runs rampant in Kenya), education, and healthcare, so he arrived the next day with a fully revised syllabus that touched upon our diverse interests. So far, we’ve been learning about a lot of cool things, most of which are directly applicable to our lives here. Especially because the Kenyans are such a news conscious people, it’s wonderful to understand what’s going on in the country and to actually be able to follow the media’s extensive political coverage.

The other class we are taking focuses on the history of Kenya. Our professor is, again, a Kenyan who teaches at the University of Nairobi. Mary seems to know everything about Kenyan history, and is quick to insert playful jokes into her lectures! We began by learning about the migration of the Bantu peoples to Kenya from Western Africa and their intermingling with Arab traders and other migrants from around Africa. Much of East Africa’s early exposure to the outside world was through trading, first with the Arabs and then later with the Europeans. Eventually, a “scramble for Africa” took place, with each European powerhouse striving to obtain as much land in Africa as possible. Great Britain had an extensive presence in the land that would become Kenya and Uganda because they discovered that Lake Victoria, resting between the two countries, was the source of the Nile. Because Egypt was such a strategic area for them, they made sure that they controlled not only the source of the Nile, but also the small rivers that all fed into the lake, so that no enemies could harm them by cutting off an essential water resource. Kenya and Uganda became important pieces of land for England, and so they had good rationale for claiming them as colonies during the scramble. We haven’t gotten any farther than the colonial period so far, so who knows what will happen next! (Actually, we both know, because we both took a Conflict in Africa class on campus that covered Kenya’s 1950s Mau Mau conflict. It’s not pretty). Anyway, class has been very interesting so far, and, like we said, very applicable to modern society and politics!

students learn to navigate Kenya's cosmopolitan capital

students learn to navigate Kenya’s cosmopolitan capital

Other than taking our classes, we have also had ample time to explore the city of Nairobi in the Central Business District. During our free periods and lunch we often venture into the city, either to the market or to find new restaurants. The Maasai Market is a particularly popular place for students. At the market, you can find anything from handmade jewelry, to shoes, to paintings, and flowers. Everything is beautifully made and each product is unique in its own way. Another great thing about the market is that there are no set prices, which means everything is negotiable! However, bargaining is something we Americans are not accustomed to, and therefore it takes some practice to lower the price down to a reasonable price. Unfortunately, we’re wazungus (Swahili for “white people”), so we will always pay more than actual Kenyans because of our skin color and accents. Fortunately, with the help of our Swahili teachers we are learning to bargain in Swahili, which usually helps lower the price at least a little!

In terms of restaurants, there are many traditional restaurants that have foods such as chapati, ugali, sukuma wiki, and stews. There are also other restaurants such as pizzerias, fast food restaurants, Italian restaurants, organic food restaurants, and one of our favorites–a Turkish restaurant called Bobo’s.

There are also many big stores and shops that we like to go to. One store, Nakumatt, is a crowd favorite. It is basically the Kenyan equivalent to Walmart. Somehow, we end up going there almost every day to pick up all of our little necessities. We go there so often that some of us have even become friends with the security guards at the front door… (Simon).

Nairobi’s Central Business District is very walkable, and after only spending a few weeks in the city, some of us feel that we have mastered it already. However, driving through the city is another story. Nairobi is a city that was built for approximately 800,000 people and there are currently 4-5 million people living here. One of the biggest issues we see is the road system and traffic situation. Sometimes traveling from our compound in Karen to UKC in downtown Nairobi, a distance of about 15 kilometers, can take up to two hours. Public transportation is popular and widely utilized, but some types (matatus!) are unsafe, while other buses are severely overcrowded with poor conditions. Luckily we have our wonderful driver, Njau, to take us from place to place. Njau is a master at driving in traffic and gets us where we need to go safely and quickly! Njau has basically become a second father to us. He is always teaching us during our bus rides by pointing out specific landmarks, types of plantations, flowers, and even the different types of license plates! He is also an avid bird watcher, so if you ever have any questions, odds are he will know the answer. We learn a lot each day from Njau and love asking him questions. Unfortunately, he usually does not answer the personal ones… (like how many kids he has, his birthday, his age, etc.) He likes to joke around with us a lot and his smile can always brighten our day! Even when we are stuck in traffic for two hours..

By the end of classes at 4:30, our tired bodies stumble onto the bus where we anticipate the next hour and a half of traffic that is sure to follow. With tensions high, we get back to the compound around 6 where dinner is perfectly timed and waiting for us, which is sure to cure any leftover traffic angst. A few ambitious bodies will put off dinner in order to use up the remaining hours of sunshine for some soccer or volleyball, while others venture up to the balcony or kitchen table to begin their work… or singing parties.

After an exhausting but exciting first week of classes, we were excited to spend a relaxing weekend away from the city in the lakeside town of Naivasha where we planned to hike, boat, bike (and eat, of course).

Our group hike began at 9:30 on Saturday morning. The ascents were steep and the sun was beating down. At first it seemed as though the city life had already taken its toll on us! When we reached what we thought was the top, we had forgotten one vital thing. Longonot isn’t just any mountain, it is an extinct volcano with a ridge to hike, as well. The mild hike quickly turned into a challenging workout as we pushed each other to run along the ridge. It was a beautiful hike with lots of wildlife; but certainly not mild!

Mount Longonot Climb (Dorminant Rift Valley Volcano--9,108 ft summit)

Mount Longonot Climb (Dormant Rift Valley Volcano–9,108 ft summit. Photo by Katie Murray)

We spent the night at Elsamere Conservation Centre. They focus on conservation of Kenyan land and animals in the name of a captive lioness who was successfully released into the wild. (There was a movie made based on the story. It is called “Born Free” if you are interested; several of us watched it after dinner).

Sunday the group split into two. The first group set off for Hell’s Gate National park on bikes. We explored the park with our guide, capturing photos of a variety of animals and hiking into the “geothermic spa” and “Hell’s Mouth”. The second group set off in a boat from the Conservation Center in hopes of catching a glimpse of hippos and other animals.

We had a great time in exploring a new part of Kenya and getting in some exercise and fresh air. I don’t think anyone would disagree that so far we have had an amazing time- but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been overwhelmingly challenging at times. This trip gave us a chance to take a break and digest some of the more difficult experiences we had already had. One suggestion we would make as a group: take a minimum of two liters of water with you if you plan to hike the ridge of Longonot. You’ll thank us later.

The St. Lawrence Kenya Connection

Karibuni (Welcome) to the Official Blog of the St. Lawrence Kenya Program,

This blog gives prospective students, parents, friends and alumni a chance to learn more about the Kenya program and follow the experiences of the current students throughout the year. After each component of the program, students will generate a collective post reflecting on their diverse experiences throughout East Africa. Photo galleries and blog posts will chronicle the lived experiences of students as they move throughout the components of the semester.

A Short History of the KSP

(A  video capturing some of the essence of the KSP by Beau Gaughran KSP Spring 2014)

In January 1972, Dr. Peter French led St. Lawrence’s pioneering trip to Kenya. Begun as a January-Term experiment, the SLU connection to East Africa evolved into the Kenya Semester Program (KSP) by 1974. From early origins as the Nairobi Semester, the program has grown into a truly East Africa semester, offering both semester and summer programs. Students today experience both the vibrant life of Kenya’s capital city as well as the regions diverse social and cultural landscape. From rural and urban homestays to field components across Kenya and northern Tanzania, the KSP introduces students to the culture and livelihood of African communities spanning the rural urban divide. The culmination of the semester is the independent study, where students spend one month studying a diverse array of issues in not only Kenya but also Uganda, Tanzania and even Rwanda.

With over 2000 alumni from over 30 different universities the program has had a wide impact on both U.S. students and our Kenyan partners. Fostering mutually beneficial relationships has been an essential part of the program’s mission. Alumni have been at the heart of nurturing SLU’s deep engagement in Kenya, with many offering generous support for local development and educational projects across the country. And since the early 1980s many of SLU’s distinguished Kenyan scholarship winners have returned “home,” with St. Lawrence degrees providing a pathway to leadership positions across the country.

Selected Alumni Insights and Memories

“If I close my eyes I can still see the bright lavender of the jacaranda trees; the rich red color of the dirt roads in the western province, the pink bougainvillea draped along whitewashed walls. I can still hear African music jangling from kiosk radios and the blast of horns from overflowing matatus.”

“On a personal level, I recall the hospitality of the Kenyan people, from my village family to a family I lived with in Nairobi, to the generosity of total strangers.”

“My time in Kenya with the KSP has paved my entire way in life; bringing me to where I am right now in my career, and molding me into the person I have come to be.”

“Quite honestly, every day of my KSP experience reaffirmed my desire to work and live in Africa. Kenyans are warm and hospitable and their land is beautiful.  I have been able to draw upon the KSP as the backbone of my career in international development.”