Urban Homestay Spring 2018

By Shania Muncil, Sonja Jensen, and Corey Rost


Our group started off our homestays in Nairobi nervous and excited to meet our new families. We waited for everyone to arrive at our compound in Karen, and one by one families came looking for their student. We had delicious snacks prepared by Isaiah, and even two birthday cakes to celebrate Sarah and Gretchen’s 21st birthdays! We chatted with our families, getting to know one another, before we all headed off to our new homes. We were spread across the city, from the CBD to Runda, Westlands, and even Karen. We spent our three weeks taking classes at the United Kenya Club, visiting local malls, trying traditional Kenyan restaurants, and most importantly becoming close with our host families. Some of us were even lucky enough to attend traditional weddings! Part of our urban program also included “urban activities” that we participated in on Fridays. For our first weekend, we split up into three groups to learn more about Kazuri Beads, Lea Toto, and Ocean Sole.

Kazuri Beads

The women of Kazuri using clay from the base of Mt. Kenya to roll and shape beads  

Kazuri is a bead and ceramics factory located in Karen. It began in 1975 as a tiny workshop, with an idea to experiment and try new bead and jewelry designs. The founder of Kazuri started by hiring two single mothers, but quickly realized that there were many more disadvantaged women struggling to get by in Kenya that could contribute to the business. This initial premise led Kazuri to grow exponentially in the last few decades, with a workforce of now over 340 women. This increase in employment is important, as Kazuri’s customer base has grown widely as well. Not only popular at home in Kenya, Kazuri ships orders to nations all over the world. The meaning of Kazuri in Swahili, “small and beautiful” is easy to understand once you walk into their little shop and see all of the jewelry, ceramics and trinkets waiting on the shelves.

We started off our morning with Kazuri by meeting some of the staff and getting the tour of the factory. We walked through the bead-making process, from rolling clay and shaping it, to firing it through the kiln, hand-painting and glazing, all done right there at the Kazuri factory. Kazuri also makes pottery, such as mugs, plates, bowls, and small animals. After our comprehensive tour, we were allowed to choose any part of the bead-making process to observe and participate in. Because there is no place better to start than the beginning, we sat down to roll and shape beads.

Shania’s handmade beads 

The women at Kazuri were extremely welcoming, and are clearly experts at their work. They showed us how to take portions of clay and shape them into spheres or squares of different sizes, depending on which beads needed to be made. It’s safe to say it isn’t as easy as it looks, although some of us were better at it than others. As they worked, the women chatted and compared beads and materials, all while producing perfect spheres and cubes to be made into dazzling jewelry. Next, we moved to the painting room. Here women take beads that have been put through the kiln, and paint them with various colors, depending on what each order calls for. This takes a steady hand and a watchful eye, as each bead needs to be fully coated without any cracks.

While working with the women of Kazuri, it was inspiring to see how many disadvantaged women are now employed because of this business. Additionally, many of them have been with Kazuri for years, some for decades! These women are experts at their craft, and produce some of the most beautiful art we have seen so far in Kenya. We ended our day at Kazuri with a trip to the gift shop, and a plan to return again before the semester ends! (to learn more visit their website: http://kazuri.com)


Lea Toto


Lea Toto is an outreach program started by Nyumbani, a Catholic organization founded by American Jesuit Priest, Father Angelo D’Agastino, in 1992.  Nyumbani’s goals are straight forward – to reduce HIV/AIDS transmission rates and improve the quality of life for affected children and families.  To accomplish these goals, they currently work to provide assistance to children with HIV/AIDS through diagnostic services, medical care, holistic family and community building, preventative care, education and preventative care, environmental and sustainability education, and promoting self reliance.  Many of their programs target children in low income areas. They currently serve over 4,000 HIV/AIDS survivors every year taking small but important steps towards improving the lives of the over 200,000 Kenyan children under the age of 14 with HIV/AIDS and the approximately 1.1 million children orphaned due to AIDS (http://www.nyumbani.org)

Nyumbani is unique in that their approach focuses on a “whole-child model” meaning they view each child as an individual with specific wants and needs.  Lea Toto is a fantastic example of this model in work.  Swahili for “to raise the child,” Lea Toto works within Kenya’s slums to provide home-based care to children and families affected by HIV/AIDS.  Home-based care is important because it means less time and money is spent during hospital visits. In other words, it helps ensure that familial comfort does not have to be sacrificed simply because of a disease; “families can live better within their own homes.”  Since its creation in 1998, Lea Toto has served between 2,100 and 3,100 HIV positive children and 15,000 family members each year.

We spend the morning visiting Kenya’s Kangemi slum, home to one of Lea Toto’s 8 outreach sites. We began our visit with a meeting with some of the staff at the branch.  We discussed some of the programs and care they provide and what challenges they face. They told us that one of the biggest challenges of working within low income areas is ensuring basic medical, nutritional, and housing needs are met in addition to providing HIV related care.

With this in mind, and armed with the gift of a heavy box full of non-perishable food we broke up into two groups and, accompanied by some of Lea Toto’s dedicated social workers, went on home visits. Each group met with an individual or family that is involved with Lea Toto. We were welcomed into our hosts homes and we had the opportunity to get to know each other and to ask all sorts of questions ranging from what kind of assistance they receive from Lea Toto, the benefits and challenges of receiving aid before they became involved with Lea Toto and now with Lea Toto.  One group visited a young man receiving in home treatment and assistance while another group met with the mother of two children that are doing very well with a self administered treatment program and are going to boarding school with the help of Lea Toto!

After our respective visits, we regrouped at the main offices and got to discuss our experiences and ask any more questions we had. Our visits were vert different, but that’s the beauty of Lea Toto. They embrace each individual and family as the unique people they are and strive to provide individualized care.  Whether that be in the form of caregiver training, nutrition and food counseling, spiritual guidance, community building  training, or so much more.  Medical treatment of the disease does not necessarily equate to an improved life because diseases affect so much more than just an individual’s health; this is what sets Lea Toto and Nyumbani apart from the rest (to learn more about the work Lea Toto and Nyumbani do check out their websites! http://www.nyumbani.org/nyumbani-lea-toto-community-outreach/ and http://www.nyumbani.org)

Ocean Sole

Ocean Sole works to turn flip flop pollution in the oceans into art and functional products as a means to promote conservation of the oceans. In 1998 in Kiwayu, Kenya tons of flip flop pollution was washing up on the beaches creating an environmental disaster to the marine ecosystem and local communities. A year later, founder Julie Church, encouraged local women to collect, wash and cut these flip flops into the colorful products we see today. By 2000, these products were being sold commercially in Nairobi and in 2005 the company was officially established. Since then these colorful art pieces and functional products have gone global, raising awareness on flip flop pollution while improving upon local poverty through employment. Since the establishment of the company, Ocean Sole has cleaned up over 1,000 tons of flip flops from the Ocean and waterways of Kenya, provided steady income to over 150 Kenyans in the company and contributed over 10% of its revenue to marine conservation programs (to learn more about this incredible organization go to their website: http://oceansole.co.ke/).

An Ocean Sole employee works on the
final touches of a larger giraffe piece

Students started off their trip with a tour of the facilities. Our tour guide walked us through various stations that turned ordinary flip flops into pieces of art. Before anything could be done with the flip flops, they had to be scrubbed clean. Then they were sent to various work stations. Some workers pressed the shoes together to make templates and others used the flip flops to cover larger pieces. For these big pieces recycled house insulation is used to create the shape of the piece and it is then covered up with the flip flops. It is incredible how resourceful they are! We got to see them working on a life sized camel, one of their biggest projects yet.

Students pose in front of the life-sized camel.
One of the biggest projects yet! 

After our tour we got to experience, we got our hands dirty and helped out in the process for the remainder of our trip. We all started scrubbing the flip flops and engaged with the employees. One of the women we were working with had only been working there for 2 weeks. After a while, we all split up and helped at the individual stations. Some helped tediously glue the manes onto the lions, while others started from the beginning and helped construct hippos. There isn’t anything quite as valuable as experiencing something first hand. We all gained a new appreciation for the art pieces and the work that goes behind them while increasing our awareness of the issues the marine environment faces. Our day ended in the gift shop, a perfect place to get souvenirs for friends and family!

Karura Forest 

Our second friday in Nairobi was spent at Karura Forest, a beautiful expanse of trees and small wildlife. Found in the northern part of Nairobi city, the forest is managed by the Kenya Forest Service, and is approximately 1,041 hectares in size, making it one of the largest protected forests in the world. However, the forest wasn’t always so revered by all of Kenya. While the forest was officially gazetted decades ago, there was a significant struggle, especially during the 90’s, to develop housing projects that would have decimated a large portion of Karura. Fortunately, through prolonged and passionate environmental activism, Wangari Maathai and others were able to save the forest. Since then, Karura is a shining example of resisting land-grabbing by corrupt politicians, as well as a gorgeous sanctuary that poor and wealthy alike can enjoy.

The tall towering trees of Karura Forest 

Students started their visit to Karura with an educational video on the history of the forest, featuring one of their newly found idols, Wangari Maathai, whose book the students read earlier in the semester. They were then able to engage in a question and answer with Professor Karanja Njoroge, a board member of Friends of Karura Forest and was a colleague of the late Maathai. Soon after they left for a guided walk around the forest. They admired the tall towering trees and saw various animals frockling through the forest as they made their way to the historical caves of the forest that were used as Mau Mau hideouts during the fight for independence from the colonial British government. Further down the students passed a waterfall cascading down into a river before returning to the trailhead.

Students admiring and learning about
the caves used as a Mau Mau hideouts during the anti-colonial rebellion of the 1950s 

We would also like to thank a fellow Saint, Jay Ireland ‘77, President and CEO of GE Africa, for hosting us at the GE offices after our day at the forest and teaching us about his work. SLU connections are everywhere!


Tanzania Spring 2018

Over the course of our semester in Kenya we do various field components that give us a look into different cultures within eastern Africa.  We spent this past week shadowing and learning from the Hadzabe people in the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania. The Hadzabe people are one of the last hunter-gatherer communities in the world. The Hadzabe live by a few set pillars that allow them to maintain their culture and lifestyle.

The first pillar of the Hadzabe community is a minimalist lifestyle. The Hadzabe do not have many personal possessions besides the clothes on their bodies, their shoes, the bow and arrows each man carries, knives and very rarely a cellphone. This allows them to move their communities at any point if there is a lack of water or food. The Hadzabe do not store food for future occasions and they do not grow any crops. When they get hungry the men will go out and hunt and the women will go out and collect various roots, fruits and vegetables from the surrounding bush.

The second pillar of the Hadzabe community is that they live by an egalitarian system. The third pillar of the Hadzabe community is that they always share within the community. Over our few days with the Hadzabe we learned that everything is shared amongst the community whether it be fruits and roots collected by the women or animals brought back by the men from the most recent hunt. This breeds a community that always supports one another.



One could argue that the Kenya Semester Program is defined by the various field components that make up the core course “Culture, Environment and Development in East Africa,” and this week in Tanzania was definitely a defining experience for all of the students. Before each field component us students wonder what we will be learning for each of these central themes. In this instance, we wondered how these themes intersect in Tanzania, specifically with the Hadzabe.

Come Saturday morning we woke up at 5:30, some grabbed breakfast, and the rest of us boarded the bus in a somewhat catatonic manner, ready for a bus ride of a few hours. Many of us fell asleep on the bus ride, maybe dreaming about the mountains of Kilimanjaro, the Great Rift Valley, Mango Juice Boxes or even a Lion candy bar. After passing through the border, we hopped back aboard our trusty bus and rumbled on towards “Arusha Town,” home of Dorobo Safaris. As we lumbered off the bus, a little stiff from the journey, we traded excited glances- our experience in Tanzania was about to begin!

We met our Tanazanian guides, Kisana and Mama Maggie, and readied ourselves for the Tanzanian adventures that would soon begin. During this week we would be traveling to the Yaeda Valley to see where the Hadzabe lived, hunted, gathered, sang and dance. Would we see first-hand a Hadza shoot a dik-dik? Would we be taught the words of a traditional Hadzabe song to be sung around the fire? Would we see how 1,000+ people survive off of land that seems as dry as a bone at first glance? We would soon find out.


Night Classes:

Although to us, it did not seem like a typical week of school, we learned an immense amount through the experiences that we had with the Hadza, and more importantly our nightly discussions. These discussions were a good time to debrief on the activities that we had done the day before, and truly conceptualize all that we were learning.


Through previous readings, we had a basic knowledge of the Hadzabe tribe, and what they stood for. However, without actual exposure the reading would have been irrelevant. Many issues were expanded on by our local Tanzanian guide, Mama Maggie, who explained to us not only the history of the Hadza, but of Tanzania as a whole. This helped us understand where the Hadza fell in the long and complicated Tanzanian history, and why it was so unfair that their land was being taken from them.

Night Classes

This lead to the discussion of Dorobo Safaris, which as stated before, helps the Hadza with the Dorobo fund and exposing different cultures to one another. All of these discussion raised questions that we were then able to ask the Hadza, personally, which was a truly valuable learning experience. Not only where we learning about one of the last hunter and gatherer tribes, but we were able to live with them and experience life the way that they do.


The week of nightly discussion wrapped up with a larger group question and answer with the Hadzabe and St. Lawrence Students. We were able to ask final clarification questions that would help us in our group presentations, and they were able to ask us questions as well. It ended with a lot of laughter and a new understanding of each other’s cultures.

This made the final presentation a breeze, and as we sat in a circle at the Dorobo headquarters, the discussion was hard to stop. Throughout the week we had been able to learn so much through experience and discussion which was applied to the 4 group presentation topics of land loss, tourism, education, and the future of the Hadza. In such a short time, it is hard to connect deeply with others, but the Hadzabe made it particularly easy. They are a loving and generous people who accepted us into their community and allowed us to get a valuable and authentic education. Although we cannot possibly know every problem they are facing, we were able to formulate feasible solutions to share with them.


A Day in the Life of the Students:

Tuesday (The Journey Across the Rift)


Now we want to take you through a regular day that we had with the Hadza, step by step. Tuesday morning, we all woke up anxious and excited to walk across the Rift Valley. Where we were staying the night before was on the ridge just North of where we would be after our long journey. Many of the students were tired from the previous night of dancing, arrow making and even some improv, but we were excited to meet a new group of Hadza, although we knew we would miss the first group! Our day began with a great breakfast, cooked by the most incredible chef Peter. We then took down the tents, packed out lunches, loaded the car, and set off on what ended up being an 8 hour walk across the Rift Valley. I dont think a lot of people can say that they did that! 

Lunch time hunt

We started the hike at around 8:45 and were led by our fearless Dorobo Safari Guide, Mama Maggie, as well as two Hadza men by the names of Moshi and Gudo. We were told to be very quiet for the duration of the walk, because the whole time Moshi and Gudo where hunting. We did end up catching something, but it was nothing that any of us expected. 

Emma with the tortoise

After taking multiple breaks to drink plenty of water and to despike our shoes, we just so happened to stumble upon a cute tortoise. To all of our surprise, the men picked up the little guy with a large grin on their face, and were preparing to cook it for lunch. As translated by Mama Maggie, Moshi was even chanting, “I love eggs, I love eggs, I am so excited to eat these eggs.” A few minutes after we picked up our new friend, we stopped under the shade of a Baobab tree where Moshi was also able to extract water from its trunk. Unclear as to how they were planning on eating it, before we knew it they had tossed our tortoise friend on the fire, alive.


As you can imagine the students were shocked. As Moshi and Gudo continued to pile on the branches on top of the turtle, we stood there aghast as the little guy started squirming in his shell. The rest… as you can imagine, was nothing less than brutal. Like one of the students said, “it was like watching a really really slow car accident!” When the shell was completely charred we didn’t know how they were planning on eating it, but they quickly showed us when they started bashing the shell on the ground, cracking it. Once it finally opened up the students all gasped when they saw what was inside. Some screamed, some even walked away, but all the while the Hadza were grinning from ear to ear and snickering. They must have been pretty excited for their lunch! When the process was over, some students ate the eggs, other the liver, and people even ate some intestine. To most of us, however, our smushed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches had never looked to good.


After the Hadza lunch break we continued on our way, passing through pastoralist lands and herds of cattle, which we knew from our reading were stolen from the Hadza. About 2 hours later we stopped for another long break, where Moshi climbed into the Acacia tree to retrieve 7 eggs from the nests, offering all of the students a sample. One of the most important thing we learned about the Hadza was the importance they put on sharing. There would be no food found that was not shared with everyone around.


The final stretch of the hike was about 2 hours, up the ridge adjacent to the one we had stayed the night before. Before we began our climb, we stopped at the Hadza camp where we were warmly greeting, and shared the remains of our tortoise friend. The views were incredible, and you could see across the entire Rift Valley. When we arrived at camp it was already starting to get dark. Some students climbed a top the large rock near our campsite and watched the most beautiful sunset, while others chatted around the fire. Dinner was a delicious serving of Mac and Cheese with a banana bread dessert and that certainly put us all to sleep. After all, we had a big day of hunting ahead of us!

Connecting over a beautiful TZ sunset

Wednesday, Hunting in the Bush

The alarms from our small wrist watches beeped at a barely audible volume, but nevertheless, come 5:45 am we rolled over in our sleeping bags, yawned, and sat up-anxious for our day of hunting. The sun was not yet up, so with headlamps on our heads, and an extra flannel or fleece on for breakfast, we laced up our sneakers and headed out to the fire pit. As breakfast was laid out several students grabbed the chunky black kettle that sat nearly in the flames, put a strainer over their camping mugs, and poured out cups of rich black coffee. Breakfast was a spread of eggs, french toast sticks, mini sausages, fruit and granola- Peter, the chef, knew we needed sustenance for the day that was to come!


By 7 am we had settled into groups of three students each, and were paired with a Hadza man, or two, to be our hunting and walking guides in the bush. One group of three girls, Dana, Lindsay and Sarah (myself), were paired off with Bgayo and Bokin, and off we went into the bush at dusk. As we had learned the day before, this was not to be a chatty trip- at a moment’s notice our Hadza guides could see or hear an animal, and it was best to be silent for this to happen. In this specific hunting group, Bgayo took the lead while Bokin would venture out in front, returning to the group after a bit of time, searching the surrounding bush. Us three fell in line behind Bgayo, and tried to keep our eyes and ears sharp for surrounding life. 

No one knows their environment better than our Hadzabe teachers

After about twenty minutes Bgayo motioned to a large boulder in front of us, and to our surprise, he spoke in English “We will head to the top of this rock to get a better view and see what is around us.” We were shocked! In our silent walking no one had realized how fluent in English our Hadza guide was. At the top of the rock Bgayo scanned the land, while we enjoyed the view- both appreciating what we saw. Bgayo and Bokin whistled to each other from separate rocks, until Bokin found his way to us, settled upon the rock, and sat to roll a cigarette for the two Hadza men. 

For the next five hours this sequence repeated itself, we followed behind Bgayo, silently walking through the bush as Bokin would go off on his own to hunt, and then rejoin us. Many times Bgayo would stop in his tracks, draw out an arrow and shoot at whatever small animal he had keenly picked up on, although nothing was shot. “Hunting is a gamble” Bgayo said to us, not seeming upset that he had not caught something for the day. One of the pillars of the Hadzabe people is their sharing spirit, if you do not catch something one day it is okay because someone else will have. A highlight of our morning was when our two Hadza guides smoked some bees out of their hive and drew out honeycomb for us to try. This honey was the sweetest, best honey any of us had ever tried! 

Mama Maggi

Our food was excellent all week, and dinner this day was no exception. All of us students found a spread that included a massive pot of bacon mac n cheese, coleslaw, and banana bread. Although we were all stuffed with mac n cheese, we found ourselves around the fire again that night for one last dance with the Hadzabe. Us students gave a bad rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and the popular, “Stacy’s Mom.” The Hadzabe then shared with us the infamous “Frog Dance.” The Frog Dance starts out as the Hadza women sing a song with a relatively slow beat, all while two people crouch across from each other, each extending opposite legs to the beat. Once a rhythm is established, the song picks up, the beat becomes very fast, and the two dancers quickly stick out both legs, draw them back in, and pop up. The best visual I can paint for this would be a cross between the Rasputin dance, and a frog hopping up on its hind legs. The Frog Dance certainly tired everyone out, and we ended the night by falling asleep stargazing in our sleeping bags, atop what is certainly the best rock in Tanzania. Lala salama Yaeda Valley! 



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.


Mombasa Field Component, Fall 2017

Immediately following our Amboseli component, we met Njau at a shop in Emali and from there drove the whole day down to Mombasa. Immediately after stepping off the bus, the change in climate was apparent. The humidity was higher than many of us had ever experienced, and despite it being 7:00 in the evening, it was still 85 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Palm trees lined the edges of the resort we stayed in, called Neptune Beach Resort, and dinner was on a patio overlooking a pool, which was just in front of the beach where the Indian Ocean awaited. After a good night’s sleep in our rooms, we headed into Mombasa the next morning to experience it for ourselves!

(Fort Jesus, Old Town, Swimming (Emily Hoffman)

It was incredible to say the least to see the ocean and the vast blue horizon line for the first time in months. Ever since coming to Kenya we’ve been daydreaming about swimming in the ocean, let alone the Indian ocean. Within the first hour of arriving at our hotel, a few people ran to the beach. We craved the salty film on our skin, open-water, and effortless floating. The warm indian ocean left people feeling giddy and excited. Some of us even got into the routine of waking up with the sun and swimming before breakfast as the soft yellow light lit up the ocean. What a magical place to live.

On our first full day in Mombasa we explored Fort Jesus, the ruins of a fort built by the Portuguese in the late 16th century, along with the sites of Old Town. We traveled in and out of the ruin catching little pockets in the stone that looked out on the ocean. A reminder that we were on the coast. The color pallet is so different here than Nairobi. It’s soft yellows and exuberant blues and green sprinkled with the array of vibrant kangas and diras that followed us wherever we went.

The colors, the small buildings, and the chaotic street environment reminded me of what I thought coming to Kenya would look like. We roamed down streets popping our heads into windows, surviving wild spice markets and the bustling streets that double as markets and roadways. My nose was overwhelmed with everything it was experiencing. Smells quickly switched from delicious to rotting fish to somewhere in between where I couldn’t decipher if I enjoyed it or not. I loved watching the way that people roamed the streets. It reminded me of how people cross highways in Nairobi, effortlessly migrating through chaos. It’s safe to say that everyone slept like a rock our first night.

On Wednesday morning we headed out in the bus with Njau and Sinnary to go and learn about a local organization (Haki Africa) that was centered around protecting and providing justice to human rights violations. Their vision, as described on their website, is “A Kenyan society devoid of poverty and all forms of marginalization and where each person has an equal opportunity to participate in self-development.” In Swahili, haki means “justice,” however each letter has been assigned to have a meaning. The H is for humanity, A for activism, K for knowledge, and I for integrity. Haki Africa also advocates for progression of socio-economic well-being as it relates to Article 43 of the 2010 Kenyan constitution, which asserts that every human is entitled to various healthcare services from clean water, reproductive services, to freedom from hunger.  This group is also in the process of being recognized as an NGO. They also recently won the 2016 James Lawson award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonviolent Conflict.

Despite being oppressively hot inside, the company employees were very welcoming and even had ready a large assortment of snacks for us. We all packed into a small room where we were introduced to the company by one of the employees, and then were introduced to Hussein Khalid, the executive director of the organization, and a man who has been subjected to a lot of government controversy and oppression for his work. He had been arrested eight times as he led demonstrations against violence, corruption, and human rights violations within the Kenyan government, but was still incredibly enthusiastic and hopeful about the work he and his colleagues were doing.

He gave us a brief overview as well, and explained some of the cases they deal with, which were eye opening to us. The police treatment of those suspected of terrorist activity was often brutal and inhumane, to the point where if one person even suggested somebody had terrorist ties, they were picked up and often never heard from again. When asked about it, they would also say they have no knowledge of the situation, and in many cases the only way to open up a case was to bribe them a large sum of money. This speaks to the overall theme of police corruption we have heard of in Kenya, although it is seemingly exaggerated on the coast where the Arab influence is much higher. We also learned that Hussein had done some incredible work in his career along with his organization, which at one point even earned him an invite to the White House from Barack Obama, while he was on Kenya’s blacklist for allegedly sympathizing with terrorism. The reasoning for this was that the cases Haki fought for were often disappearances of those suspected of terrorist activity.

After lunch at a traditional swahili restaurant in Old Town, we moved back to Haki and discussed politics on the coast with a lawyer associated with Haki Africa. He gave us an overview of how all of the different coastal people of varying ethnicities often worked together, particularly in relation to coastal politics, and the issue of cessation. A theme we addressed throughout the week, many people on the coast felt left out or disregarded by the central government led by Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi. This in itself was interesting to learn about first hand all week, and it was something we would later be able to discuss in interviews and group discussions. Although not everybody supports cessation, usually because they feel it would lead to more corruption in a new coastal government, many people we spoke to did call for it, and this is what we discussed at length during our afternoon at Haki. It was interesting to see how corruption was almost even more an issue on the coast than in Nairobi, which created an interesting dynamic to what we had experienced as we have spent most of our time in Nairobi.

Corruption is what seems to be the biggest and most pressing issue within much of Kenya’s government, if the coast is going to feel more included in the country of Kenya, corruption has to be fought against through grassroots nonviolent action, following a model similar to that of Haki Africa and their work in dealing with human rights violations.

Neptune Beach Resort (Grace Riehl)

We stayed at the Neptune Beach Resort, right along a private beach. It was a huge contrast from our camping situation in Amboseli! We were also back down at sea level for the first time in months! We had a pretty busy schedule the entire week, but we were able to spend 2 full days at the Resort, exploring as much as possible. Usually, we would spend our free time alternating between sun-bathing, swimming in the cold pool, and swimming in the hot tub-like Indian Ocean. However, there were plenty of more activities to be involved in! A few of us joined in on a beach volleyball game with some locals and played a short game of water polo with some hotel staff and other guests! During the afternoon, when there were low tides, a few shops were set up on the beach, such as dresses, jewelry, art and other knick-knacks. There were more people wandering around as well, offering camel rides and glass bottom boat rides. Many of us put our bargaining skills to the test!

However, it was not all fun and games. In between our free time at the Resort, we were having interactive discussions with various members of the Mombasa community, in order to gain a better understanding of the Swahili culture and the current on-going issues. We talked with female sex workers, the youth, Muslim women, and local Mijikenda professors of the community.

As we alternated between our Resort and traveling through the rest of Mombasa, it was easy to see the contrast. The beaches were sparse, with a few guests and locals around, but soft white sand. The resort reminded me of resorts and hotels in the United States. It was the most American I’ve felt in a place while in Kenya. You could feel the slight difference between the beach and the resort. Mombasa on the other hand, had a strong Arabic influence that could be seen not just in Old Town, but everywhere! It was a very crowded and busy place. Neptune Beach Resort also almost felt a little pocket of paradise compared to all the pollution that we saw in parts of Mombasa. Nonetheless, it was still all beautiful! We ended our time with a Tamarind Cruise on a dhow for dinner and drinks. This was a very special week that we won’t forget!


As we settle down on the compound and getting ready to set out on our next big adventure on our independent studies throughout East Africa, we conclude our last night with a thanksgiving dinner. The table was set with flowers and kangas, Isaiah’s delicious cooking, and 20+ smiling faces. We went around and said what we were thankful for and many people expressed how lucky and appreciative for just being here, the people we’ve met, the stories we’ve heard, and the places we’ve seen. As Dr. Seuss once said, “Oh the places you’ll go”, and look at where all of our feet will travel to tomorrow. From Central Kenya, Nairobi, Uganda, Rwanda, the Coast, and Tanzania to your computers wherever your feet lie, we think about what we are grateful for and the list is long. Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and stay tuned to see what’s next for our travels in East Africa.


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


Urban Homestay: Nairobi Fall 2017

After spending an exciting week in Tanzania with the Hadzabe we were off on a new adventure: urban homestays! Each of us had the pleasure of becoming part of a family for three weeks in neighborhoods all over Nairobi. We all had a great time with our families and exploring the city while also attending classes as a group. Some of the places that we visited with our  families included: the Nairobi Animal Orphanage, the Giraffe Center, Ngong Hills, a traditional Kenyan wedding, and church. One homestay family even invited the entire group over for an afternoon barbeque. In addition to the outings with our families, we also had the fabulous opportunity to choose one of three organizations to visit: Kazuri Beads, Ocean Sole, and Lea Toto.

Meeting families and embarking on the three week homestay throughout the city


Kazuri, meaning “small and beautiful” in Swahili, is an organization that provides employment opportunities for disadvantaged members of Kenya, mainly women. It began as a small workshop in 1975 experimenting with homemade beads and has expanded into a full fledged bead-making operation. Their mission statement really resonated with me especially this segment, “In the developing world of today’s Africa, the greatest contribution we can make is to create employment, especially for the disadvantaged and this remains our guiding philosophy. The result is reflected in the strength of the Kazuri Family and the beauty of our products.” We found beauty in the empowerment of women, as well as the actual product- each bead was made out of love!

(The​ ​employees​ ​helped​ ​teach​ ​the​ ​students​ ​how​ ​to
make​ ​beads from clay)

While we were visiting we had the opportunity to sit with some of the women and construct some of our own beads. Employees spend their days rolling and shaping a variety of shapes and sizes of beads and in the few hours we spent there we realized how skilled these women are. In the time we were there we had a great time chatting with the employees and trying to perfect rolling the clay into spheres. We stayed primarily in the first phase of bead construction which involved making clay into the variety of shapes in sizes that the beads come in. After this they are put into the kiln and then glazed in a beautiful array of colors and then put back in the kiln for a final firing. Finally, the now finished beads are strung together into the final product and sold all over the world. It was wonderful getting to talk to the women as we worked and we were truly able to feel the sense of community especially during our chai break where everyone shared snacks they had brought from home.

Ocean Sole

On the first weekend a small group of us went to Ocean Sole, a small organization that turns old flip flops into artwork. As we walked around a guide told us “flip flops are the poor man’s shoe…everyone has a pair”. As a result, many of these flipflops are discarded and many of them are winding up in the ocean. Ocean Sole started collecting flip flops and recycling them into artwork of all different shapes and sizes. This organization took off after the United Nations ordered a few hundred key chains, which provided the money to build the organization headquarters in Nairobi, and to fund both the flip flop collectors and artists.

Ocean Sole Art

I was immediately struck by all of the colors. I stood next to an elephant statue that was bigger than I was and it was sporting electric greens, pinks, blues, and yellows of the flip flops that once wandered about Kenya. We were given a brief tour and then we were put to work. First we started by washing flip flops. Scrubbing off all the dirt and mysterious gunk that was caked on them. Once the flipflops are washed, they are cut, glued together into block like shapes, and then carved into the desired statue. After washing some of us went to the glueing station and others started to carve. I thoroughly enjoyed the time that I spent at Ocean Sole. I love the idea of recycling something- something gross and dirty like the remnants of an old flip flop, into something beautiful.

Lea Toto

Another component to the urban home stay, was small group participation in different local organizations close to Karen. One organization that we visited was called Lea Toto which means “To Raise a Small Child”. Lea Toto is a community based outreach program that helps to extend care to HIV+ children through medical services, nutrition, and counseling. Lea Toto works towards improving the quality of life that children and young adults have in poor informal settlements through community home based care. Through the use of community home based care the organization provides care directly to the child at home. While the children can still receive services at the center, members from Lea Toto come on site to the child’s home. Lea Toto provides services that the children might not be able to receive without this organization.  This allows for privacy, and for the organization to provide services to many more children compared to if they were caring for children directly at the center. Through Lea Toto we had the unique experience to talk to a few children who benefited from the services offered in the program. They welcomed us into their homes and we had a very interesting discussion about the stigmas associated with being HIV+.  We also discussed how Lea Toto has helped them both physically by providing medication but also mentally with counseling as well as providing a safe place and open community for discussion about the disease. The work that this organization does is extremely important and allows people living in poor informal settlements to seek the medical attention that they need while also getting educated and informed about HIV.

Karura Forest Urban Field Trip

I love to walk in the forest. “When you walk into the forest- you will not leave without a smile” Joyce, Emily’s host mother said to me as we walked into the gate of Karura Forest. What a special place. Karura Forest is a 2,570 acre woodland that was first established in 1932 and later protected by Wangari Maathai. Originally the forest was not exactly a place you wanted to be because it was dangerous. The forest was later threatened by development in the 1990s, but because of Wangari Maathai’s efforts- the forests stands today. In addition to this, the forest is a now a nice, safe, green space for the people in Nairobi.

Reflection with Amber:

Over the course of the Urban Homestay I spent a lot of time in this forest. I went walking with so many important people in my life here, my host family, my actual mother, and my friends. We even took a field trip the forest as a group.  There were so many interesting nooks, crannies, and little wonderlands in the forest. There were pine trees dripping with old man’s beard moss that reminded me of home, there were dense pockets of greenery and vines tangled over a stream that was inhabited by frogs and little fish, and then there were the trees. The lovely, beautiful, incredible trees. Some of them were ancient, some were in their first year of life, but all of them were working hard to bring fresh clean air to the city of Nairobi. That is such a gift. My family lived close to the forest and every afternoon I when I returned home from school I would sit outside and take in the fresh forest air, no burning trash, no car fumes- just the good stuff.

I really valued the time that I spent with my host family, especially at this time. Because of the re-elections the political climate has been interesting to say the least. It was so interesting to watch the news, to get into debates with my family over dinner, and to feel like I was pretty in the know with what was going on. I also felt very humbled by the kindness of my family- they welcomed me into their home with open arms and I quickly felt right at home. I found that relationship to be a two way street and I am thankful that I was able to spend a lot of time with my family and I look forward to staying in touch with them for a long time.

Reflection with Ella:

I am so incredibly grateful for my experience with my urban host family- I wish it was longer than three weeks! I was able to get very close with my two host brothers and two host sisters. I didn’t realize how alike we are, we all loved similar music and movie genres, as well as being outdoors and spending time with our families. I was also able to understand Swahili a lot more while at my time there. Although my family spoke fluent English as well, they would speak easy Swahili to me so I can learn and speak back to them. I appreciated our conversations regarding Kenyan politics, education, and society; I was able to really feel what it is like living in urban Kenya. This is such a great component of the Kenya Semester Program, and I am so happy to have a Kenyan family I can keep in contact with and hopefully see in the near future!

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