Tanzania Fall 2017

Tanzania Blog Post: A week with the Hadzabe, Hunters and Gatherers

Fall 2017 Group with Longtime Hadza Teachers

By: Christine Corcoran, Stod Rowley, Matt Boscow

Background Info

The Hadzabe are one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer communities in the world. They hunt and gather based on their hunger, so whenever their stomach starts rumbling, the men will go hunt and the women will gather various roots and fruits from the surrounding bush. The Hadzabe do not have much in possessions besides the clothes on their body, their shoes, the bow and arrows each man carries, and the occasional cell phone.

Their minimalist lifestyle stands as one of the pillars that keep the Hadzabe community intact and focused on a similar goal. Their pillars consist of their egalitarian system, sharing of all things not personally owned, minimalist lifestyle, living one day at a time and love for one another within the community. These are just a few that our group saw as vital to why the Hadzabe people stick to their community.

The children are required to attend school through primary education, which is similar to completing school through 8th grade in the States. While in school, children are exposed to other cultures and are taught various lessons that are seen as important and necessary for a young girl or boy to be successful. Through all of the exposure they endure away from their culture, they always want to return home. These pillars provide roots of which no education can cut. Although there have been a few Hadzabe students that continued on into higher education, they have always come back home to their people in the bush.

We were able to have the amazing experiences with the Hadzabe in Tanzania due to Dorobo safaris. Dorobo was founded in the 1980s by three brothers based in Arusha, Tanzania. Dorobo works directly with the Hadzabe and other cultural groups, educating them on their rights as landowners and preventing a situation in which the Tanzanian government or other organizations attempt to take land away. One of the organizations created by Dorobo to help the Hadzabe is the Ujamaa Community Resource Trust (UCRT). The UCRT helped the Hadzabe claim rights to their land to ensure they would become legal owners of their land. This was imperative as the Hadzabe have already lost 90% of their original land from the encroachment of an ever growing population outside of their community.

A good portion of the money spent to go on a Dorobo safari with the Hadzabe goes directly to their community, helping fund education, healthcare and women empowerment. Dorobo also does various things to prevent disturbing with their everyday life such as setting up camp far enough away from their camp, as well as providing nails as gifts to make arrow heads.

Tanzania Component Overview

Saturday we arrived at the Dorobo camp in Arusha in the early afternoon after a long eight-hour bus ride with Njau the magical bus driver. When we arrived at camp we ate lunch and met our guides for the week, Mama Maggie, Allen and Daudie. Soon after we departed for our first overnight camp on the western rim of the Great Rift Valley. When we got to camp we dragged our packs to our respective tents and then headed over to the campfire for our first hot meal of the trip. Post dinner we were given our itinerary for the next day before retreating to our steamy tents to rest up for the day ahead.

We woke up Sunday morning to eggs and bacon being cooked by everyone’s favorite bush cook, James. Post breakfast everyone helped each other apply sunscreen to any skin showing before we embarked on a three km hike up the western escarpments of the Great Rift Valley. From the summit we could see for kilometers in every direction, from saline lakes to the rift valley itself. We then proceeded to walk down to the safari all terrain vehicles where we finally departed for camp in the Hadza land. When we arrived at our second camp we were met by approximately a dozen Hadza men and women who were eager to greet us. Once everyone was introduced to each Hadza at the camp we indulged in another hot meal accompanied by a roasted goat leg for Lydia’s twenty first birthday, candles and all! After the tasty goat we slept on a large rock overlooking the Hadza land.

Monday morning was finally the day where we got to see the Hadza camp that was situated about a kilometer away from our own. When we arrived at the Hadza camp we were shown their grass-roofed homes where they cook and sleep. We then proceeded to go gather with the women of tinhe community. They went around looking for vines, which are attached to roots in the ground that are rich in carbohydrates. While we were eating these roots, which were plentiful, Moshi, one of the Hadza men came over with a severed monkey head that was swiftly thrown directly into the fire after a few photos were captured. Monkey brains are an acquired taste but I can speak for everyone in saying that they do not regret their decision of indulging themselves in a Hadza favorite. We headed back to camp soon after the monkey head was consumed to rest up for our 20km great migration across the Hadza land to our next camp on the distant ridge. That evening we were taught by the Hadza men to make arrows out of sticks native to the area. The process was actually fairly basic but fine-tuning the arrow to be completely straight and sharp takes a trained hand. After we all completed an arrow we went to practice shooting arrows at a cardboard box. It proved to be less difficult than many expected, regardless no one hit the box.

(Day 2: Visiting the community)

Tuesday morning, large quantities of food were consumed knowing that the great migration would be quite tiresome. The sixteen of us, as well as two Hadza and one of our guides, Mama Maggie set out on our journey around 7:30 A.M. The two Hadza men were constantly hunting throughout our trek across the valley. Although we sounded like a herd of elephants walking through the bush we still managed to catch a glimpse of a few dik diks and a herd of gazelles. The highlight of the great migration was easily when two bush babies were spotted in an acacia tree and taken by bow and arrow as a mid trek snack. When we finally made it to our third and final campsite on the adjacent ridge, water and a few soda pops were shared amongst the herd of us students. After rehydrating on a massive rock of metamorphic origin overlooking the valley that we had just migrated across, we were summoned to follow a few Hadza men to climb a nearby baobab tree. New climbing pegs were put in by Moshi for us to safely ascend into the canopy as the sun slowly dipped below the rocky knolls in the distance. Yet again most of the group slept under the stars on the large rock where the steady breeze wooed us to sleep.

We woke up before the sun rose on Wednesday morning to join the Hadza men on a hunt through the bush they know so well. Our large group split up into groups of three, each with a Hadza as a guide to follow into the bush. Each group set off around 6:30 A.M. in different directions with instructions to be back around noon. We spent hours trudging through the Hadza land looking for basically any moving target, again we saw a few dik dik but were unable to get a clear shot. After about four hours in the bush our Hadza guides had managed to kill a few small rabbit like rodents for our lunch that afternoon. Much rest was had when everyone had returned from his or her respective hunting trips in preparation for the final night with the Hadza. That night we sang and danced with the Hadza. I have never seen such athletic dance moves on any dance floor I have ever stepped foot on. The Hadza men and woman were so welcoming to us by pulling us into their dance circles and what seemed like a dance battle. It was truly a special night that I am sure none of us will ever forget.

(Learning about hunting)

Thursday had come too quickly but it was time to leave the Hadza and head back to the Dorobo camp in Arusha. The trip with the Hadza had gone by to quick but a lot was learned and both parties made lasting memories.

Nightly Discussions

The whole time in Tanzania we learned so much, from every interaction, every activity, and just learning how to be a passive listener. It is hard to pick out the specific different academic activities, for it feels like the whole week was an academic, personal, and somewhat spiritual journey.

However, for time sake, I am going to stick to the specifically academic activities, that were structured to debrief some of the non academic activates. Every night  we would have a debrief around the campfire after a scrumptious dinner,  led by our very outgoing, spunky, strong and fun guide “Mama” Maggie. These discussions would be based not only off of our experiences of that day, but also off some journals that we read before each discussion. These discussions would range from topics about the Dorobos history of involvement with local tribes, with Hadzabe and their land loss struggles, their education struggles, their conflict of interests with the government, other tribes, tourisms and NGOs. It was a very educational experience, and it gave us all quite a lot to think about, and altered lots of pre-existing beliefs and stereotypes.

All of these four discussions led up to the last final discussion on the last night with the Hadzabe. We had organized into our groups for a presentation on the Hadzabe that would occur the next day back at Dorobo’s headquarters. The groups were divided into four main topics: Land loss in the Hadzabe community, formal education, Tourism, and the future of the Hadzabe. This was a very exciting and once in a lifetime opportunity. It was a very mind-opening experience to have a discussion with a group of people whose life, values  and interests are seemingly so different than ours yet at the base of it all, we are all human and we all share similar needs. What was also extremely interesting was how positive they were throughout the discussion, we as students kept asking questions that were seemingly negative about the future to come, yet the Hadzabe responses were mostly positive to all the questions.

Then they had time to ask us questions. It is  two cultures trying to understand one another, and it was a very interesting and fun interaction. The questions they asked us were more directed towards the women, asking the women what they looked for in men, what the marriage traditions were like, etc. They were able to lighten up the mood quite a bit, by the end of the discussion we were all laughing merrily together.

The next day, after we left the Yedaa valley, our last day in Tanzania, we held our final group presentations to wrap up a marvelous,  experiential past week.  We had great discussions about land loss, education, tourism, and what the future holds for the Hadzabe. It was a long, but thoughtful discussion, and an excellent way to process together everything that we absorbed over the past week.

Personal reflection / Conclusion

Spending a week with the Hadzabe was such an incredible experience. Their views on life and community will stick with us for the rest of our lives. No day goes by being taken for granted by the Hadzabe. They take life one day at a time, knowing that whatever comes tomorrow will come, and they will deal with it when necessary. The Hadzabe are some of the nicest people we have ever met. They welcomed us into their communities and treated us as they treat one another, with love, respect and care.  

Rural Homestay Fall 2017

Rural Homestay Blog – Nearing Nyeri!

Hamjambo from all of us at the Fall ‘17 Kenya Semester Program and karibuni to our blog post about our Rural Homestay component! We are just finishing our third week in Kenya and are excited to tell you about our experiences! As our first full week of classes in Nairobi comes to a close, we have been discussing and reflecting on our time up north in Nyeri during our rural homestays last week. Three of us (Lydia Morin, Taylor Goldman, and Liv Sears) are excited to share all that we have learned so far with you!

We left Nairobi on the Njau-Mobile (our bus, expertly driven through the congested streets by our friend, Njau) on Thursday, August 31st. During our 5 and a half hour drive north, we watched the landscape change from a buzzing city scene to dry, rolling hills of citrus fruit farms and then to sharp, green ridges and valleys, scattered with coffee and tea farms. We reached the Sandai Farm, in the foothills of the Aberdare mountains in the evening. Run by Petra Allmendinger, the beautiful farmhouse sits on about 100 acres of wide open Kenyan grassland and is accompanied by several guest cottages. We spent the evening in the lodge singing songs with other guests and then made our way back to our cottages for a good night’s sleep.

On our way into Nyeri the following day (Friday), we stopped in Tumutumu at a farm owned by two participants in the Green Belt movement, famously founded by Nobel laureate, Wangari Maathai. The Green Belt movement aims to improve rural environments through efforts of planting trees. We were given a tour of the tree nursery and farm, ate traditional foods like ugali, sukuma wiki, and roasted corn.

Gears shifted as we got back in the bus. It was time to meet our homestay families. The bus pulled off the main road onto a steep and rutted gravel driveway. The bus groaned in resistance to the forces of gravity at play, and we slowly climbed in elevation. At the top stood our families in a rough circle. After brief introductions to our host parents and siblings, we were off! We drove up steep dirt roads foraged on edge of rifts, surrounded by hillsides of green tea leaves.

High in elevation and located almost directly on the equator, Nyeri County features supreme soil, abundant rainfall, and receives strong and direct sunlight. Historically, the Kikuyu tribe was granted land through political connections, and has been farming it ever since. The connection of our Kikuyu homestay families to their land spans generations and long outlives the old growth trees scattered on the edges of property lines.

Below we each wrote a bit on our week homestay in Tetu West and Tetu East.

Agricultural Landscape of Nyeri's highlands

Agricultural Landscape of Nyeri’s highlands

Church with Lydia

Today was Sunday (September 3rd), so my host sister Fedelis took me to church. Even from outside the large, blue and white cement building, music could be heard—upbeat and clean, bouncing off the walls and emptying out over the swaying tea fields and trees. It all began with song presentations from the women followed by men, and then children. Teenagers did a synchronized dance to music bouncing from the large speakers. Mothers with small children sang together in blessing of the young. Another SLU student, Jimmy, had come to the church with his family. We introduced ourselves before the church, and in poorly pronounced Kikuyu I said “Praise be to God”, and laughter erupted from the lines of benches before me. Church lasted for many hours and time was marked by group prayers, sermons, songs, and individual prayers.

In a historical context, the connection between Kikuyus and land was illustrated through religion. Kikuyu religious beliefs featured nearby Mt. Kenya as the home of the gods, and placed emphasis on keeping the family spirits close and burying the dead on the farm. Colonial influenced force an end to many traditional religious concepts, however churches reflect unique Kikuyu songs and dances, and prays are often led in Kikuyu language.

During the ceremony, I could feel the eyes of the community on me, filled with curiosity and friendliness. After church people lingered outside, chatting and meandering slowly down the red dirt pathway towards the road. I felt welcomed by the church, and friendly curiosity towards me was constant throughout my stay. I was often approached by people walking on the street, and with an outstretched hand and a few shared words and laughter, a bridge between two very different cultures was made.

Liv in the Shamba

While each home rests on the tops of the rolling hills, the valleys between are filled with various crops from maize to cabbage, potatoes, coffee, but predominantly tea in my area. The high altitude and temperate climate in Tetu West allows tea crops to flourish, producing the harvestable crop during the rainy season, followed by harvesting season when the skies clear. I worked with my host mother among three other women for a significant amount of time over the course of a few days. ‘Two leaves and a bud’ will forever be in my head as we combed through the rows of bushes, searching for the leaves (and a bud) that were ready to be harvested.

Farming is a popular profession that most families in the rural areas do as an occupation, bringing in income, as well as providing food for themselves and their families. Not only did my family harvest tea for income, but they also had rows of maize, cabbage, spinach, and onions to name a few. I was able to experience, first hand, the community that was built around farming. The women that my host mom and I worked with often sang songs and engaged in conversation to pass the time. For me, it was beautiful to listen to them and observe their skill as they swiftly picked every leaf that was ready to harvest, like a dance. The strap across our foreheads, attached to a basket behind our backs were filled before we knew it, at least theirs were… but I did my best!

We carried these full baskets through the streets and between valleys in order to meet with the truck that transported the tea leaves from the farms to the manufacturers to be prepared for drinking. This part was a whirlwind. Women and men were rushing to this location, flooding the space with bags and bags of tea, they were efficiently weighed and packed tight on a bus, we were given a receipt for our harvests, and then when it was all over, took the scenic route home.

Students Working in Commercial Tea Production

Students Working in Commercial Tea Production

The Food Feat with Taylor

Food was a hugely central component in all of our homestay experiences in Kikuyuland. From the first moment I arrived to the day I packed up, meals were always a very important part of the day.

A memorable starting point of my week was the first morning I spent in Nyeri. After waking up at a leisurely hour, my family and I settled down in the living room in front of the TV for breakfast. My sister, Josphine, set down several items on the coffee table: a tower of sliced, white bread on a large platter, a thermos full of chai along with mugs and a sugar bowl, and a plate of boiled potatoes and huge ndomo pieces. The meal seemed relatively straightforward, but, according to my host mother, Charity, I did a couple of things wrong during this breakfast experience.

I started off by pouring myself some chai, a tea consisting of equal parts water and milk heated with ground tea leaves. I took a sip and smiled contentedly at my parents. Here is where I made my first mistake.

“You don’t want sugar??” Charity was appalled. “You must put sugar. I will show you.” She reached over for my mug and proceeded to deposit five heaping spoonfuls into my tea. “Chai with no sugar is no good.” I nodded diligently and started to sip my chai, which was now more sugar than tea.

Once I had been educated on the proper way to drink chai, I moved on to the rest of the meal. I picked up a slice of bread and placed it on my plate. After watching my host father, I determined that I should dip my bread slices into the chai after spreading Blue Band margarine on each one. Even though I was confident in what I was doing after watching my host father, I had to be corrected again.

“Just one?? Your must take more. Here, have more bread,” Charity said, as she loaded four or five more slices onto my plate. As I slowly worked on this pile of bread, she added two hunks of ndomo, a boiled root, customary to Kikuyuland.

One thing I think we all took away from the food factor of this experience was learning how to expand our stomachs to take in the enormous plates of food placed in front of us at every meal. Since it was considered slightly rude to leave uneaten food on the plate at the end of the meal, it was important to finish everything offered. Something we were all able to relate to was having to waddle out of the room after a heaping pile of ugali (a bread-like substance made from boiled cornmeal) and sukumawiki (boiled, shredded spinach).

Meals were a time to be shared with friends and family, whether it be an impromptu visit from a neighbor for chai or a family dinner while watching KTN news. Food brought people together and was a time for us to pause during the day and take a moment to have conversations.

Rural Homestead in Nyeri

Rural Homestead in Nyeri

Never have we experienced being a part of a community where each factor works together so seamlessly. The importance of food, religion, and farming stood out to each of us as these themes all contribute to the bigger picture of these rural areas. Each family had a compound on the ridge, towering over farms that sustained the family as well as or the family and support those in a villages. generating income. Life was meaningful, and tangible connections illustrated how important each aspect of life was in Nyeri.

We were welcomed immediately and became part of the family in just seven short days. We feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of such a welcoming and tight-knit community in Nyeri and hope to have the chance to visit our wonderful families sometime in the future!

Mombasa Spring 2017

Fort Jesus, Swahili Carved Wooden Door with Omani influence

KSP on the Coast

Our first official day in Mombasa began at Fort Jesus in Old Port, Mombasa. Fort Jesus was established in 1596 by the Portuguese. Throughout the next few decades, Fort Jesus would change hands about nine times between the Portuguese, the Omani, the British, and ultimately to Kenya as an independent nation. The struggle for power is reflected in the enchanting architecture of the doors, rooms, and paintings in the fort, richly influenced by each culture. UNESCO named Fort Mombasa a World Heritage Site and museum, and rightly so, for its well-preserved carvings and structures.

Fort Jesus, with its juxtaposition of the past decayed and conserved, is absolutely beautiful. Each intricate carving or functional watchtower gave off the echoes of decades of historical importance. The stories of the Fort is  alive in its’ half moon arches, ornate carved doors, and breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean.

Not only is Fort Jesus acclaimed for its strategic military position on the coast, but it also was the site of many treaties between nations. Political landmarks in the history of the Swahili peoples and Omani sultans took place in Fort Mombasa. The great political actors of the past are commemorated with their great achievements throughout the Fort.

After the tour inside of the Fort, we took a walking tour in two groups in Old Port. The Arabic architecture, stray cats, and beautiful ocean view makes Mombasa stand out from other places we have spent time in within Kenya. It is certain that ethnically, Mombasa is extremely diverse compared to Nyeri or Amboseli.

We saw lovely old buildings, visited a spice shop, did a walk-through of the fish market (Mhmm Samaki!), and met a wonderful seamstress at the market. The kikoys, kangas, and kitenges were colorful and much cheaper than they are in Nairobi. Mombasa is known for having the best selection of kangas and kikoys in Kenya. Some of us got bargain deals for such beautiful fabric. Two kangas, yards and yard of fabric, cost about four to five USD!

Mosaic and hanging linen Old Port, Mombasa

KSP with local members of CHEC

On our fourth day in Mombasa we had the opportunity to meet with a local NGO, Coastal Hostess Empowering Community (CHEC). CHEC was started by local sex workers to provide basic health education, mentoring, and counseling to female members of the local sex work industry. Along with a booming tourist industry, the coast is also home to a prominent sex-tourism industry, with Mombasa being no exception.

CHEC works closely with local sex workers to offer them support and a safe place where they can work to battle the stigma and discrimination that is associated with working within the sex profession. Local members work on a grassroots strategy to offer necessary services to a community that otherwise would not have access. Along with basic necessities such as food and shelter, CHEC offers its members support through a variety of programs entitled “Family Matters”, “Healthy Choices”, and “ETA”. “Family Matters” is a program started by CHEC members that emphasizes creating healthy role models for children within the community. “Healthy Choices” provides local children and teenagers with information about the dangers of  unhealthy habits, such as substance abuse and peer pressure. Through this program kids are taught that it’s okay to say “no” unhealthy choices. “ETA” is a new program that focuses on providing basic education for both members and their family members.

Through forming solidarity within the community and working alongside local organizations that promote the well being of male sex workers, CHEC aims to demonstrate to local workers that they have access to necessary resources and to help ensure that their rights are protected. Currently, CHEC has over one hundred members from the local community and works closely with larger Kenyan associations such as the HIV/AIDS Alliance of Kenya, and the Kenyan Sex Worker Alliance to organize new programs and events to spread awareness of issues, such as HIV, facing these industry workers.

We found this experience to be incredibly beneficial and rewarding, and allowing us to gain a greater understanding of the culture within Mombasa. We had the chance to meet some amazing people and had wonderful discussions about the local culture, and different challenges that local communities face.

On one of our last days in Mombasa we visited the Kenyatta Public Beach in the afternoon to check out the local scene. Upon our arrival, vendors who were attempting to sell us sunglasses, bracelets and even camel rides swarmed us immediately. A few adventurous souls of ours decided to take the men up on their offer of a camel ride and had a great time! While some of our group decided to walk along the beach and interact with the locals, the rest of us decided to rent a glass-bottom boat and take it out into the Indian Ocean. As Patrick (our guide) moved the wood paneling of the boat’s floor away to reveal the glass, we were all quickly amazed at the beautiful marine life. We saw an abundance of coral, fish, sea urchins and more on our tour. We stopped far off of the coastline to jump off the top of the boat and go swimming in the salty, warm and beautiful Indian Ocean. After many jumps and giggles we headed back to meet up with the rest of the gang and leave for our hotel. It was an incredibly fun day and allowed us to gain a better understanding of the culture that exists on the public beaches.

The next morning, on sadly our last day in Mombasa, we had our group presentations in the morning after breakfast. The topics that we presented on mirrored those that we had been learning about over the course of our visit. These included: the ongoing war on terror in the Kenyan coast, the relationships between various ethnic groups, the socio-economic impacts of tourism in the coast and the future of the costal people and their Kenyan government. As our time in Mombasa was coming to a close, the group presentations allowed us to look back at all of the knowledge we had attained regarding many different aspects of the coastal culture.

For our last hoorah Sinnary treated us to a private Tamarind Dhow Cruise for dinner. The cruise gave us a new perspective on what the coast looks like at night from a distance. This was an incredible way to spend our last evening in such an incredible city. We ate as much seafood as we could stand and danced the night away under the stars to the live music. The next morning we watched the sunrise over the beach as we ate breakfast and sadly made our way to packing up the bus. Although we might not have enjoyed the 12 hour (!) bus ride back to Nairobi, we most definitely enjoyed our time on the coast!


Amboseli Spring 2017

“Have you gone on safari yet?” I can’t even count how many times this question has come up in conversations with my family and friends back home. In Swahili, ‘safari’ means journey, so indeed, this semester has been one big safari. KSP has taken us on journeys to rural Nyeri, beautiful Lake Naivasha, through the rift valley of Tanzania and across the busy city of Nairobi. However, our trip to Amboseli National Park in mid-March allowed us to experience a true tourist safari – in the Western sense of the word, complete with wildlife and traditional Maasai. Amboseli National Park is a relatively small piece of land, 151.4 square miles, located on the Kenya-Tanzania border, just north of Kilimanjaro. The park attracts tourists from around the world, to get the perfect shot of wildlife with a backdrop of the regal Mt. Kilimanjaro, as well as experience traditional Maasai culture in the surrounding area.

Zebras ignoring the view of Mt. Kilimanjaro in favor of the view of the our caravan of safari cars

Our game drive through the park began just after sunrise. The sixteen of us filed into three Land Cruisers and entered the park, alongside tourists carrying cameras larger than a small child. We drove around the park for several hours. To put in perspective just how touristy we were, I ended the day with almost 400 new photos on my camera. On our relatively short one day game drive, we saw cheetahs, buffalo, zebras, impala, ostrich, hippos, hyenas, wildebeests, and herds of elephants. The park is also home to over 600 species of birds. Though parks attract tourists from all over the world to see the wildlife, there is also prominent human-wildlife conflict surrounding these protected areas. In Amboseli, we had the chance to speak with local farmers, who described how elephants, eland, and other species cross park boundaries looking for food. An elephant can destroy an entire farm, and the livelihood of the farmer, overnight. People are not allowed to kill elephants if they are on their land, so to protect their crops, farmers use flashlights to scare away wildlife, sometimes sitting out all night to watch over their land. A few farmers who could afford it had also built electric fences. It was incredible to be able to experience Kenya’s wildlife firsthand, but we also got the opportunity to learn about the complex human-wildlife conflict that spurs from this demand for tourism.

Our group of 16 (minus one sleepyhead) overlooking the park

Elephants enjoy a late day drink

We continued to explore the tourism industry of Kenya by visiting a Maasai cultural Manyatta. The Maasai are a well-known pastoralist tribe, that are often posted as the face of East Africa for tourism purposes. Tourists that are drawn to the parks for wildlife often visit cultural Manyattas as well, hoping to experience different cultures. A traditional Maasai homestead is called a Manyatta. It consists of a series of Bomas – dung huts with grass roofs – situated in a circle. The animals are kept in the center of the circle, for their protection as livestock are a Maasai’s livelihood. A cultural Manyatta is designed specifically for tourism purposes. The Maasai welcomed us with a dance then showed us traditional medicinal practices, gave us a tour of their Bomas, and marketed their beadwork to us. We also had the opportunity to interview the Maasai about the cultural Manyatta. The men manage all income from tourism while the women have autonomy over the income from selling their beads. The cultural Manyatta was especially interesting knowing it was created for the purpose of tourism. We were very aware of the performance that the Maasai were showing us in contrast to contemporary Maasai culture. Later in the week, we were able to experience a more authentic Maasai lifestyle on our homestays.

At the Maasai homestay, we had the opportunity to learn from the Maasai by participating in multiple activities including cutting and collecting firewood, carrying water, milking goats, cooking meals, patching bomas, and beading bracelets. Since we had visited a cultural Manyatta before the homestay, we were able to compare the two experiences directly. The homestay was a much more authentic experience and allowed us to fully understand the ways in which Maasai culture is evolving.

After making observations and having casual conversations with everyone we interacted with during these experiences, we had the opportunity to conduct interviews with various groups of Maasai. We interviewed traditional pastoralist men, community leaders (whom were all men), traditional women, and educated women. From each group, we got an idea of their thoughts on tourism and development, and how it is impacting their lifestyles.

When discussing tourism, we focused mainly on the cultural Manyattas. After talking with the pastoralist men, we learned that the cultural Manyatta is not necessarily an accurate representation of their culture. There are multiple differences between a Manyatta and a traditional Maasai homestead. For one, there are no permanent houses in a cultural Manyatta. Male members of the community move back and forth between the Manyatta and permanent homes in other parts of the region. In the Manyatta, the Bomas are very squeezed together, with no space in between so there is very limited room to put livestock. Men also have to play specific roles at the Manyatta purely for tourism purposes. A committee determines the roles each man must play each day during tours. The men have to be dressed in all traditional wear (even though western clothing is becoming much more popular among the Maasai) and abide by what the committee assigns them to. All the men in the group expressed their disdain about this. However, each individual also agreed that the Manyattas were beneficial because of the income generated from tourism.  The educated women also supported the cultural Manyatta because it provides revenue for the women that sell crafts. The money these women make from their crafts is their property. This allows the women to be more independent, especially because they do not receive any money from tourist fees and have no say in how it is used. Unlike the pastoralist men, the pastoralist women emphasized that the Manyatta was beneficial because it allowed them to preserve aspects of their culture.

We also had the opportunity to discuss development and the role that education plays in changing culture. The consensus among the groups was that the culture may be changing but education is valuable because of the benefits it brings to the community. The role of educated people is to enlighten the community on what is changing and to advise the community on how to better maintain their land. The traditional pastoralists were particularly adamant that no matter how much their culture changes, they would still retain important aspects such as the Shuka, the importance of cattle, and some of their inherent values.

We also spoke about group ranches as well as irrigation methods. Community ranches provide benefits for pastoralists because they are effective at curbing land loss in Maasai communities. There is also a community fund provided by the ranch that goes towards school fees. However, some members of the Maasai community wish to subdivide the land because group ranches restrict autonomy over the land. Lastly, on the topic of irrigation, there was controversy over the pros and cons of irrigation. Benefits of irrigation include increased crop yields, the ability to alter the environment depending on wet and dry seasons. The traditional women only saw the benefits in irrigation. However, there were also many downsides including water shortage, soil depletion, and negative impacts downstream due to pesticide contamination.

These interviews allowed us to culminate all our experiences throughout the week and gave us a holistic understanding of the issues as well as potential solutions in the Amboseli region. It was a great week!

-Maeghan, Maya, and Molly

Urban Homestay Spring 2017

Jambo! After returning from Tanzania, we all set out for the urban homestay component of the semester. All sixteen of us each lived with a family for three weeks, placed in different homes throughout Nairobi. The families took us in as their own while we also attended classes at the United Kenya Club during the week. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the day to day experiences of students in Nairobi.

One of the great things about each of us staying with different families within the city and surrounding suburbs of Nairobi was that we were able to have our own individual experiences with the city and with a household that was open to showing us their favorite parts.

One student’s family took her to the International Jazz Festival that is held in Nairobi annually. The festival featured a headliner and about eight supporting acts that performed throughout the course of a day. The majority of the acts originated from countries such as Israel and England, but there were a few performers that were local Kenyans or nearby Tanzanian neighbors. This wide variety of acts called for an equally diverse audience. It was interesting to witness that in a place with so many different cultures, the music was able to play such a unifying role. As long as the bands were playing, people were happy and dancing together. We were able to fully immerse ourselves in the lives of our families. We tagged along for the grocery shopping, church, visits to grandma and even afternoon workouts.

International Jazz Festival which is held in Nairobi annually

We also had the opportunity to attend multiple Kenyan weddings with our host families and as a group. One student went to a family friend’s wedding in Thika, and was able to learn more about Kenyan weddings, join in on the dancing, and enjoy a traditional Kenyan wedding feast.We were also invited to a wedding by our program director Wairimu, who called her relative (the father of the bride) to have an extra table set for sixteen people last minute. Almost all of us were able to attend the Kikuyu wedding, which was set outdoors and attended by hundreds of people. We enjoyed lots of dancing, examining gender roles in Kenya, and creating lasting memories.

Some of the girls at the traditional Kikuyu wedding with Dr. Wairimu

We were able to spend every Friday of our urban homestay exploring Nairobi and taking advantage of living in a cosmopolitan African city. On the first Friday, we chose from three different local organizations to spend the morning with: Kazuri Beads, Ocean Sole, and Lea Toto Outreach Program.

Some of us went to Kazuri Beads which was founded in 1975 and located close to the St. Lawrence compound in Karen. Kazuri is a swahili word which means “small and beautiful.” The organization employs single mothers in its factory, in line with its mission to provide and sustain employment opportunities for disadvantaged Kenyans. Those of us who went to the factory were able to engage with the workers and get to know more about them. The experience was made even better as we participated in each step of the bead-making process. We sat with the women, rolled the clay into different shapes, then painted and glazed them. Most of us enjoyed the stringing of beads into necklaces that would end up in different parts of the world. We were touched to be in such an empowered space where the women enjoyed their work. Chai time was an hour into our visit so we joined the queue of workers and got our containers filled with tea. The women also brought their own snacks such as mandazi (fried doughnut) and did not hesitate to share with us and each other. It is safe to say that we all left with a greater appreciation for Kazuri’s handcrafted jewels and the hardworking women who do it all.

Another group had the opportunity to visit Lea Toto, a medical center focused on providing care for people with HIV and AIDS in Kangemi, an informal settlement in Nairobi. We toured their facility and learned more about ARVs and the challenges associated with providing care, as well about the organization’s strong focus on education and community involvement. We also had the unique chance to sit down and talk with some of our peers who have benefited from the services provided by Lea Toto. We talked about stigma associated with being HIV positive in both Kenya and America. After our group discussion, our new friends gave us a tour of their neighborhood and welcomed us into their homes.

The last group went to visit Ocean Sole, an organization based in Karen that takes old washed up flip-flops collected along the Kenyan coast and transforms them into anything from small iguana keychains to life size giraffe sculptures. The organization was started by Julie Church, a marine conservationist and local Kenyan who wanted to find an effective and productive way to reduce the amount of waste found in the Indian Ocean and on the surrounding beaches. By constructing these creations, Ocean Sole is able to provide over 100 individuals with jobs and take away 400,000 flip-flops from the Indian Ocean every year. While we were at the organization’s base in Karen, we were able to not only see what the process of completing the final product consisted of after the flip-flops had been collected and delivered, but we were also able to try it for ourselves. This process included cleaning the flip-flops that had recently arrived, gluing the flip-flops together, carving the flip-flops into the shape of the desired animal, and giving the final creations a final rinse.

The second Friday, we travelled to Karura Forest to learn more about Wangari Maathai, the Green Belt Movement, and green spaces and conservation in Nairobi. Karura Forest is an urban forest located in Nairobi. It was established in 1932 and managed by the Kenya Forest Service, but because of demand for development and high crime rates within the forest, it was largely ignored and fell into disrepair. In the late 1990s, Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement protested development of the forest, leading to her rise in fame and her eventual Nobel Peace Prize. The reestablishment of Karura Forest continued in 2009, with the formation of “Friends of Karura Community Forest Association,” led by the British High Commissioner’s wife and members of the Nairobi community. In the past few years, the forest has been transformed into a popular space for hiking, walking, biking, and horseback riding. Over 70% of the forest’s visitors are Kenyan, and Karura’s revitalization has provided many of its disadvantaged neighbors with jobs.

Karua Forest

Tanzania Spring 2017

On top of the world! This is also where some people slept at night, under the stars, with a beautiful sunset to awake them in the morning.

As we travelled from Arusha, Tanzania to where we would live for the next week, the Great Rift Valley came into view on the horizon. We would be camping on the edge of the Gregory Escarpment of the Great Rift Valley until the next morning before we ascended the Gregory escarpment, viewed the beauty of Lake Manyara, and drove to the Yaeda Valley where we would meet the Hadzabe in the shadow of the Serengeti Plateau. The Hadzabe are one of the few groups remaining in the world that still actively practice hunting and gathering as a lifestyle. They are also an egalitarian society, meaning that everyone is treated as equal and there is no hierarchy like there is in most of the westernized world. As a community they have been marginalized and had their land taken away from them at a rapid rate. Due to their hunter gatherer lifestyle they require a lot of land. They are a mobile people, who live in temporary huts until the area around them is depleted of its natural resources; they then simply move to the next location and continue this pattern. It’s important to note now that people have a very inaccurate stereotypical view of the hunter gatherer. It’s seen as being a daily struggle and is often put hand and hand with starvation. THIS IS NOT TRUE AT ALL. In fact, the Hadzabe are the only group in Tanzania to have never faced famine in all of their existence. There is plenty of resources for them to live on, and most of them work for only 2-3 hours a day! This sounds like a pretty relaxed lifestyle compared to our average 40 hour weeks and surprises many people.

Our entire trip was coordinated by the Dorobo safari company. First off, Dorobo is amazing! They set up camps, provide us will meals, and somehow became like family in the one week we spent with them. The Dorobo company was founded in the 80’s and focuses on providing a true cultural experience instead of your average tourist safari. They have also become close allies and friends of the Hadzabe people. In order to stop the Hadzabe from losing their cherished land, the owners of Dorobo created the Ujamaa Community Resource Trust (UCRT). The UCRT allowed the Hadzabe as a community to apply for a title deed and gain rights over their land. This was the first time a community had ever done this, but it went through and now the Hadzabe have the legal rights to the land that they deserve! Of course, this does not mean that the Hadzabe never have people trying to take their land. Luckily the local communities for the most part respect the agreement. However, when this isn’t the case the Hadzabe have game scouts that report trespassers to the village government who then comes and removes said trespassers. So far the Hadzabe seem to see it as a very effective system. The Hadzabe are extremely kind people though and hate to say no or turn people away. So, they struggle with turning people away and especially during times of droughts (which they are in right now) they allow pastoralists to graze their cattle on parts of their land. If you want to learn more about the Dorobo company of the UCRT you can check out their websites: http://www.dorobosafaris.com/ and http://www.dorobofund.org/ucrt . Now that you know some about the people we were staying with and the company we travelled with we can finally talk about all the amazing activities and adventures we embarked on in our short week.

Throughout the course of our week long excursion, we had ample time to indulge in many academic and personal activities. As soon as we arrived at our camp near the base of the Gregory Escarpment, we immediately scurried up the waterfall and rocks in the waterfall for a bit of fun and activity after a long day of travelling. The next day, we trekked up the Gregory Escarpment, which we were told was an “easy hike,” but it actually was a rather challenging hike that ended with a mild case of hiking-induced vomiting. We trekked across the Yaeda valley onto a ridge overlooking the Serengeti plateau, visited Hadzabe homes, had discussions with the Hadzabe about issues that they believe and we believe are pertinent to them, and worked and talked to different groups within the Hadzabe community (women, men, and children). We also were kindly and graciously instructed in the art of arrow making, hunting, and archery, climbed many baobab trees, and slept under the stars and moon during the night. Finally, the Hadzabe and our group joined together for a farewell shindig, where we danced and were merry around our campfire. I want to stress that all the activities we did were not solely done or performed due to our presence. These activities are integral parts of the Hadzabe’s lives and we did not engage in the cultural tourism that is common in many parts of the country.

Here Maise, Nicola and Anna are seen digging for tubers.

Here Ruben is seen attempting to make fire..as it turns out none of us actually have this skill.

During our time with the Hadzabe, we were really able to get a clearer picture of what it was like to live a very different lifestyle from our own. The experience of living in a consumer culture and then experiencing a hunter gatherer lifestyle is something that cannot be put into words and profoundly altered how we think and perceive our culture and lifestyle. The Hadzabe truly welcomed us with open arms into their community and they taught us a great lesson in what community is. Whatever one hunts or gathers, it is shared with the community and everyone indulges in the spoils of the day. Furthermore, the Hadzabe accept anyone into their community during times of drought and famine and share with them what the hunt or gather as well. We are eternally grateful for their kindness, hospitality, wisdom, and patience (especially when it came to our profound lack of hunting and gathering abilities) and would like to extend a sincere thanks to the Hadzabe. They profoundly touched our lives and we hope that what they taught us can be shared with other people in our lives. Their way of life is beautiful and we hope that they are able to continue living this way or at least be able to make the decision to change themselves.

Our group’s casual climb up a baobab tree!

Overall, we can all agree that our time with the Hadzabe in Tanzania was a life changing and eye opening experience. Over the course of the week we hiked, climbed trees, hunted animals, gathered honey and tubers, learned how to make a fire, made arrows and learned some traditional Hadzabe songs and dances in an attempt to fully immerse ourselves in the Hadza culture. In addition we were given the opportunity to have many intimate conversations with members of the Hadza, which allowed us to ask questions and in return share our own culture with them.  Through these experiences we were able to be apart of a really unbelievable cultural exchange.

Over the course of the week we learned a lot about Hadza culture, history and current problems they are facing. Dorobo asked us to keep the question in mind “why have the Hadza never experienced famine while other tribes around them have?” At the end of the week, with the help of the Hadza we were able to attribute their lack of famine to mutual agreements to share, their egalitarian societal structure, diversity in food, taking good care of their land and their nomadic lifestyle.

Also, we were able to learn a lot about current ideas about education among the Hadza. Some of them mentioned their fear that education would inevitably lead to loss of culture and assimilation. In addition, they cited that in some circumstances education can create hierarchy, which would undermine some of the most important aspects of Hadza culture. Others however argued that education is necessary for this generation in particular to be able to defend the community legally. There was definitely a debate among the Hadza about how to balance maintaining their culture but also keeping up with the world around them. One possible solution that we thought of was to hire Hadza teachers to teach Hadza children.

Another topic we covered was the problem with uncontrolled and hunting tourism. The reason why Dorobo is a culturally sensitive and sustainable organization is because there is little to no impact on the Hadza during our visits. Instead of having them put on a show for us, we basically just shadowed them throughout their everyday lives. Other cultural safari organizations display unauthentic tribes or leave too much of an impact on the tribes upon visiting which erodes their culture.

Having the opportunity to live with the Hadzabe community for a week was a truly unforgettable experience. The Hadza were so kind and welcoming and Dorobo did an incredible job facilitating our interactions with them. The Hadza culture and what we experienced can essentially be summed up in one sentence that one of the Hadza women related to us on our very first day living with the tribe: “It’s all about love here.”


Rural Homestay Spring 2017- Nyeri

Spring 2017: The Sweet Sixteen
Rural Homestay in Nyeri

Tetu West Landscape

Hamjambo for the 16 of us here in Kenya for the spring 2017 semester! Two weeks ago we all returned from our rural homestays in Nyeri county. Each one of us was welcomed into the home of incredible families and we are so excited to share it with you. We were either located in Tetu East or Tetu West in Nyeri. We learned to cook traditional Kikuyu foods, milked cows, plucked tea and picked coffee, and much more. Three of us (Iris, Amanda, and Ruben) have decided to share personal journal entries with you as a way to explain this incredible experience.

Iris: Monday 23 January 2017 – Tetu West

There is something so sweet about being this tired. Today, I hiked through the hills of Nyeri to get to my family’s farm is located deep in the forest. There they grow cabbage, potatoes, and corn. Most of it is eaten by the family and any access is given to friends and family or sold for profit. The farm was approximately three and half miles away and we carried supplies for making tea and lunch for my father and the other farmers. Our load included pots, utensils, milk, and fruit. They were heavy loads that we carried in bags slung over our shoulder or heads.

(My family’s farm in the forest)

The walk there involved walking along the main road which gave me a lot of opportunities to practice Kikuyu greetings as I met a lot of my mother’s friends along the way. They always asked me to say hello to Trump for them or made it as clear as possible how much they loved America. Most people’s English was very limited, and since I only had about five days of Swahili and three hours of Kikuyu lessons under my belt, the conversations would end with that. However, they would ask my mother all about me in Kikuyu and once we moved on she would tell me what they said. Apparently everyone was very surprised to see me carrying tools. The stereotypes for Americans is that we have machines that do everything for us so therefore we must be lazy and unable to work they way the locals in Nyeri do. They were surprised to hear that I could cook, clean, and work and wanted to stop by the house to see it for themselves!

(Me cooking ugali for everyone while in the forest)

Tetu west is the land of tea and every hill we passed on our way to our farm was the same brilliant green color of rows and rows of tea leaves. As we returned from our long day in the forest we kept getting passed on the road by these women carrying enormous baskets filled to the brim with tea leaves. They moved quickly and with purpose as they rushed to the buying center down the road. Every evening a tea company comes to the communities buying center and pays the farmers for their tea. My family does not grow tea, but I was able to help pluck tea at the neighbors field and bring it to the center for them. My evening cup of chai has become so much more interesting now that I know where it comes from!

(plucking tea in my neighbors plot)

Amanda Mae: Tuesday 24 January 2017 – Tetu East

After visiting the site of Wangari Maathai’s personal efforts toward the Green Belt Movement in Kenya, I keenly noted the amount of firewood my family used throughout the day to cook meals and boil water. Unlike forest abundant New York, Kenya’s trees are a valuable resource not only for human consumptive purposes, but also for their environmental impact. Trees prevent erosion of the rustic red soil and retain the water (which hasn’t accumulated for five months in Nyeri). Still, using an open flame for cooking three meals a day requires a large amount of wood!

My mama currently paves the way in new technology in the community, as she just installed a biogas system to reduce the amount of trees cut from their property. Our home hosted nine chickens, six goats and three cows. The predictable dung from the cows posed a particular issue in terms of waste management. In previous years, my family has used the dung for manure. Now, however, the dung has a different purpose.

“Amanda, grab two buckets and bring them here!”

Mama called to me from the cow pens, her ankles deep in the sun-baked pile of cow dung. I obliged, unaware of what the next four hours would ensue. After packing each five-gallon bucket with dung so the top bowed out like a summer ice cream cone, Mama heaved the bucket over the fence to my waiting hands. With grit, I skirted and slid down the steep and (thankfully) short descent to her new biogas system.

(Left: The biogas setup: The dung and water is mixed in the circular pit with the PVC tube. The rectangle pit rests above the underground tank. A keen eye observes the pipe that eventually connects to the kitchen. The large round pit is for overflow when the tank becomes too full. Right: Mixing bioslurry, AKA dung and water, with Mama.)

I halted at a circular cement pit with a long PVC pipe blocking a drain down into an underground eight cubic meter tank (see photo for a visual) to dump the bucket. At first, Mama told me to go rest while she continued, alluding to the stereotypes Iris mentions above. I refused, and together we repeated the process two more times, for a total of three buckets of dung. Then Mama sent me uphill to collect three five-gallon buckets of water, which I  poured into the pit. With a stick designated for stirring, Mama began mashing and mixing the dung with the water in a similar fashion of stirring thick cookie batter. She paused to pick out clumps of undigested banana leaves, Napier grass, and twigs that might clog the drain. Taking my cue, I rolled up my sleeve to plunge my arm into the “bioslurry” to do the same.

Little did I know we would do this everyday. Bioslurry, or equal parts dung to water, ferments in the underground tank to release methane gas, which is piped to the kitchen house uphill. In roughly a month of hauling dung and water, Mama will no longer have to cut firewood. Instead, she can cook using the methane gas stored in the tank. In this way, Mama brings the use of the cow full circle. The milk money paid for the system and the cow fuels the biogas. The connection between the environment, development and the culture is apparent as Mama strives to cook delicious Kikuyu food like chapati, while thinking of the future trees. I can’t wait to learn how her system works!

Ruben Castren:

When I was first picked up by my family, we made a quick pass through town to check on my family’s dress shop and hotel. We were only there for a few minutes and three people approached my host family to say hello and to meet me. During ten minute drive to my family’s home we were stopped again by a man on the side of the road who, through my limited knowledge of the local language, just wanted to say hello and ask how everyone was doing. As the week went on, my host brother, Dominic, and I began to take regular evening walks along the edge of the Aberdares and into a local forest. During these walks, we would spend at least half of our time speaking with people that we saw walking along the road. Although dozens of people populated the dirt road that wound through the hills of the Rift Valley, it was rare for my host brother to not know someone’s name. On the last day of my homestay, my host father, brother, and myself drove a few miles to admire a waterfall on the Zina river. Although the drive only took about twenty minutes, we gave three people short rides,  and stopped twice to say hello to people walking on the road. I was enthralled by the powerful sense of community  that surrounded my host family.

I believe that the cause of this tight community has its roots in traditional cultural practices. According to my host father, almost every one who lived on the same side of the road as us for a kilometer in either direction was a member of our extended family. In 1952, when the colonial government instituted land ownership laws, my host father’s grandfather was given the entire hill side that our farm now resided upon. Tradition dictated that after this death, all of the land be split amongst his sons, the eldest son being given the best piece of property. The land was then subdivided amongst the the next generation of sons. Therefore, Dominic would see so many people that he knew, because lived in the middle of our extended  family.

Another reason for the culture of community has to due with the presence of the Church. Although a majority of the community spends much of their time working with cattle, or tending to their crops, church is a way that the entire community can come together and meet in the same place. Well over fifty people were at the service that I attended on Sunday, a large number considering the sparsely populated area. The service lasted about two hours, but we stayed another hour after the service, talking to various people. It was also clear that several youth groups and women’s groups existed that used the church service as a gathering time. The localization of families due to cultural inheritance practices, along with the gathering place provided by the church created a strong community that I felt blessed to be a part of, if only for a short time.

Kisumu Fall 2016

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

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

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

Kit Mikayi: Lupita Nyong'o was here!

Kit Mikayi: Lupita Nyong’o was here!

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

Dunga Beach busy in the morning!

Dunga Beach busy in the morning!

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

Laura contemplating Lake Victoria's current issues

Laura contemplating Lake Victoria’s current issues

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

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

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

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

Exploring Kisumu with our new friends!

Exploring Kisumu with our new friends!

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

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

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

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

A female water buck and her baby in Nakuru National Park

A female water buck and her baby in Nakuru National Park


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


Urban Homestay Fall 2016

Our second major homestay component of the program is based in around Nairobi, allowing us to travel and become more comfortable in the city through class trips, weekends out and exploring the streets between lectures.  This component lasted three weeks, each student being placed with families in Nairobi and the surrounding suburbs. On Sunday Sept. 25 our new parents and siblings came to the compound in Karen to gather us. We all packed our bags, put on our nice outfits and waited for our parents to pick us up. The yard was decorated beautifully with a large tent and chairs and Seth, our chef, made snacks and tea for the occasion. Families came and went with their new American children. Those who were left at the end anxiously waited as we watched our friends leave excited to meet our new families. That night we all enjoyed dinner in our new houses, exchanging stories with new mothers and fathers and new brothers and sisters.

Students enrolled in the history class were taken by their professor to learn and see the history of Nairobi. This is a view from the top of the Kenyatta International Convention Center.

Monday morning meant another week of classes for us. However, with the urban homestay we only have classes four days a week with Fridays off for field trips. Each of us went to classes, using the time between them to go explore the nearby city of Nairobi. Whether trying a new place for lunch, bargaining at city market or finding new stores in the winding streets, these three weeks allowed for us to become more comfortable in the city we live so close to. After classes we’d go home and get to spend the evening with a family, a nice change from the more college style living at the compound. We now had people who asked about our classes at dinner, made sure we were finishing our homework, and helped us pack lunches. Our new families were very much appreciated, making it a little easier to be away from home for all of us.

On Friday of the first week we all got to experience different parts of the city, through three different organizations. One group went to talk to PAWA 254, an art-ivism (art-activism) group based in Nairobi. They call themselves a “hub for visual creatives in Kenya,” providing a spaces for artists of all kinds to work and have a chance to take classes and share their pieces. The pieces and projects they support help to create social change. Students who went here for to explore the workspace, hear about projects and see where performances take place. Another group went to Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa, and went to different organizations that are working with the youth here. First they went to Uweza, a program that helps students with school funds and provides safe and empowering programs for them. These programs include things like a soccer team and art clubs, which help develop talent, build life skills, and improve emotional and mental well-being. After this, they went to the Red Rose School. This institution provides primary education for over 400 children in Kibera. This school is actually supported by a number of groups at St. Lawrence, including Omicron Kappa Delta. The last group went to Lea Toto, a community-based outreach program which extends care of HIV+ children in the Kangemi slum. They do this by providing medical services, nutrition, counseling and capacity building to children affected by HIV/AIDs as well as educating their parents and caregivers. Everyone learned a lot from their trips and enjoyed being able to share their experiences with each other.

Student artists showing off their work in the Uweza art gallery. Pieces can be purchased online, profits help buy more materials as well as going to the student’s education

Student artists showing off their work in the Uweza art gallery. Pieces can be purchased online, profits help buy more materials as well as going to the student’s education

Not only do we get to explore on Fridays, but sometimes during the week we got to as well. On Wednesday Sept 12th we took the day off of some of our classes to go to a town hall meeting hosted by the US Ambassador to Kenya Bob Godec at his residence. Here students had the chance to vote in the upcoming election, talk to people who work at the embassy and then ask questions. We all enjoyed conversing with fellow Americans and seeing what they were doing here in Kenya as well as hearing about what our Ambassador had to say about Kenyan modern events. While here we learned lots of things, such as the lowering of travel warnings for Mombasa, which hopefully means students, can begin to travel there again through the program and for IDS. Overall this was a very educational opportunity, one of the best parts of this semester are all the chances for experiential learning.

During our time in Nairobi we also had the chance to explore the neighboring town. One really fun thing that a group of girls did was go get dresses made at a tailor. Mia, Erin and I (Emily) had a day off together and went on an adventure. Erin’s host mother Flo is a well known tailor who was gracious enough to make time for us during her busy week to meet and talk to us about her job and then help us choose fabric and design a shape. While here she told us about working with the President’s mother and niece to design clothes, it was crazy to think this women was making us things too! We each chose patterns of cloth and then talked with Flo about what shape would look best on us and with the fabric. Then we each got measured for the dress, a first for all of us to have something fitted to our own bodies. We returned a week later to try on our new creations and get any alterations that were needed. Each of us loved our creations so much we couldn’t help but order another beautiful dress. Now we all have hand-made, one of a kind pieces of clothing to bring back home that will always remind us of our time here.

During our urban homestays all of us had the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the city of Nairobi. By living with families scattered around the city we learned how to use public transit to navigate the city.  Due to the complexities of public transit in Nairobi we all were helped by our homestay siblings. My older brother Emmanuel, who is a SLU graduate, class of 2015, was there to help me. Having Emmanuel there to help me was amazing. He didn’t just help me get where I needed to go but he was eager to show me new places around the city and take me to spots that I as a foreigner would not have otherwise visited such as the Kangemi Market. The Kangemi market was near our house and that is adjacent to the Kangemi slum. Being able to go to this market allowed me to see an entirely new aspect of Nairobi and without my Emmanuel I most likely would not have been able to visit it.

Emmanuel, my other brother George and myself also visited the Giraffe Center in Nairobi. The Giraffe Center is a tourist attraction where you can feed and pet giraffes and they have a museum on the cite to inform its visitors about the animals. As fun as we had at the center I can not say the same about journey there. To get there we were taking public transportation and had planned on taking two busses. This plan quickly dissolved. After our first Matutu (the Nairobi busses) we got on our second that said it was going to Karen, the part of the city where the Giraffe Center is, but halfway through the drive it took a turn and ended its route in a very different spot from where it said it was going. At this point our only option was to take an uber the rest of the way. Uber in Nairobi is relatively new and they have not quite figured out the most effective way to manage it. When we called the uber it said it was 6 minutes away but due to the faults in the uber system over here we finally got the uber after an hour. It took 3 ½ hours to get the the Giraffe Center but it was worth the journey.

Some of us enjoying a trip to the Giraffe Center

Some of us enjoying a trip to the Giraffe Center

Nairobi as strange as it may sound is a hot spot for SLU graduates. Max Miller from the class of 2014 is currently living in Nairobi. He moved here several months ago and before that he was located in Mombasa on the eastern coast of Kenya. Max attended KSP during his time at St. Lawrence and moved back right after he graduated. To any extent possible he is always looking to be involved with the program and is a great connection to have in the city.

During the Urban homestay our core course class had planned Friday activities. One of the activities was visiting the Karura Forest. The Karura forest is located in the middle of the city and is a staple of the greenbelt movement in Kenya. In the recent past this land was being taken over by questionable means and being used for development but in an effort to save the forest there has been improvement to the forest security and there is much more government involvement in maintaining it.

We also were taking our Swahili classes in Nairobi rather than on the SLU compound. We got the chance to go to breakfast in the city and visit the city market so we could utilize what we have learned.

Mia ’16 on top of the PAWA building just outside of downtown Nairobi. This space acts as a performance hall for musicians as well as a canvas for artists

Mia ’16 on top of the PAWA building just outside of downtown Nairobi. This space acts as a performance hall for musicians as well as a canvas for artists