Tanzania Spring 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our group’s casual climb up a baobab tree!

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

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

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

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

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


Rural Homestay Spring 2017- Nyeri

Spring 2017: The Sweet Sixteen
Rural Homestay in Nyeri

Tetu West Landscape

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

Iris: Monday 23 January 2017 – Tetu West

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

(My family’s farm in the forest)

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

(Me cooking ugali for everyone while in the forest)

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

(plucking tea in my neighbors plot)

Amanda Mae: Tuesday 24 January 2017 – Tetu East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruben Castren:

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

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

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

Kisumu Fall 2016

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

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

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

Kit Mikayi: Lupita Nyong'o was here!

Kit Mikayi: Lupita Nyong’o was here!

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

Dunga Beach busy in the morning!

Dunga Beach busy in the morning!

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

Laura contemplating Lake Victoria's current issues

Laura contemplating Lake Victoria’s current issues

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

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

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

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

Exploring Kisumu with our new friends!

Exploring Kisumu with our new friends!

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

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

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

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

A female water buck and her baby in Nakuru National Park

A female water buck and her baby in Nakuru National Park


Amboseli Fall 2016

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

Group photo at Observation Hill in Amboseli National Park

Group photo at Observation Hill in Amboseli National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erin showing off her stellar manyatta repairing skills

Erin showing off her stellar manyatta repairing skills

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

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

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

-Laura and Aidan


Urban Homestay Fall 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of us enjoying a trip to the Giraffe Center

Some of us enjoying a trip to the Giraffe Center

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

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

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

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

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


Tanzania Field Component Fall 2016

“You are bad at climbing trees,” was said on a laugh to the Fall 2016 KSP by the program driver Njau as he left us in Tanzania. We laughed and went along with his joke, but the reality set in while we climbed a massive Baobab Tree in Tanzania.

Selfie of Katie, Laura, and Emily (from left to right) at the top of a Baobab tree

Selfie of Katie, Laura, and Emily (from left to right) at the top of a Baobab tree

Our week in Tanzania was spent camping, hiking, hunting and spending quality time with the Hadzabe doing various activities. We use Dorobo Safaris, which is an ecotourism company that works alongside the Hadzabe to provide both genuine and education experiences to visiting groups, as well as support the Hadza’s movement to resolve land ownership issues through a variety of tactics. Dorobo practices a style of tourism that is structured but unplanned, allowing our group to engage in the Hadza’s lifestyle and culture, not just looking at it from the outside. There were also multiple chances to have different conversations about various topics with members of the Hadza, such as: education, culture, and the role tourism plays in their everyday lives.

Living in the Yaeda Valley region, the Hadza is one of the last hunter-gatherer groups in the world.  Despite many preconceived notions, the Hadzabe are not cavemen left in the dark, but people who consciously choose to keep to their traditional way of life.  Even after being exposed to other lifestyles through tourism and educations, they prefer their self-sufficient and egalitarian culture. The Hadza are linked to some of the oldest human remains in the world, but today there are only about 1,300 members who are left. While many of the younger generations speak Swahili, the Hadza have their own oral language which contains three different types of clicks, and has recently become a written language.

We quickly learned the difference between a hike and a walk, as well as the difference between close and far. On the first day we started off the morning with an early rise and a “simple” hike up the Rift Valley Wall.  It took us two hours of about a 90-degree angle to complete, before continuing our journey to our first campsite in the Yaeda Valley.

After a long day of hiking and driving on a bumpy road to get to our campsite, we were all excited to pick up three hitch-hikers, Hadza who were heading to a neighboring camp.  They joined other individuals that would be part of the group that would spend the week with us. With a long day in the car behind us, we had dinner with our guides during which we discussed the different things we all had noticed on the way to the campsite.  Crossing the green ridges of the rift valley and the dry semi-arid plains in between, we all saw a variety of vegetation and wildlife. There were flocks of pelicans spiraling in the air, small antelopes called dik-diks, and countless baobab trees spotted along the way to our destination.

The next morning, we went to visit one Hadzabe village which was about a forty-five-minute walk away from our campsite. This walk easily fit into our description of an easy walk, though not quick one. Once arriving at the camp, we met the members living there and had the chance to look around their village.  We were excited to touch the lung of a zebra that had been recently shot and sit inside the home of a man who was sporting a really cool baboon-skin hat.  These structures are made of wood and covered with leaves and grass, and are primarily used during the cold and rainy months. During the warm months they sleep outside under the stars, which our group chose to try out on the big rocks at our campsite that same night.

Emily and Aidan digging out tubers with Hadza women

Emily and Aidan digging out tubers with Hadza women

Soon after we headed out with the women to start gathering food, specifically //ekaw tubers a great source of fiber and protein (// is a way to write a click in the Hadzabe language). To collect the tubers, we used sticks to dig the dirt out from around the tubers, and finally will a lot of effort and time, pulled them out of the ground. When eating them you simply peel off the bark and cut into pieces or roast them to get a sweeter taste. Similar to sugar cane, you don’t swallow the tubers, you just chew on it until there is no juice left and spit it out. The Hadza survive entirely on gathering food from the land such as berries, tubers, and fruit from the baobab tree.  Their favorite thing to eat is meat, specifically Baboon meat, therefore they often consider themselves hunters, despite their dependence on gathered food as a source of nutrition.

When we finished gathering tubers, during the hottest part of the day, we walked back to our camp and took a small siesta. Siestas are a common practice during the hot afternoons to rest and then go back out when it cools back down. We did our best to relax out of the intense sun in Tanzania with minimal shade options.

Hannah, Katie, Erin and Aidan practicing shooting at a target with a Hadza bow and arrow

Hannah, Katie, Erin and Aidan practicing shooting at a target with a Hadza bow and arrow

After our siestas we spent the rest of the afternoon and into the evening making arrows by hand, the same way the Hadza would make them for hunting.  The wood used to make the arrows is often from the same tree where the //ekwa tubers are found. First, sticks are roasted in order to peel and remove the bark.  Then the arrows are whittled at one end into a point of some sort. There are different types of arrows and what they are used for based on the shape of the arrowhead and material.  A simple pointed arrowhead is common and used for many different animals.  An arrow that doesn’t have a point or has some sort blunt object on the end (like a corn cob) is used to stun small animals because an arrow would completely ruin the kill, preventing the hunter from getting any meat. One of the other types of arrows utilizes a flattened nail to make a pointed metal spear and can have a poisonous paste substance along the shaft of the arrow, which is used primarily to kill larger animals.  Feathers are attached to the arrow using animal tendons, and a designed is carved along the shaft to make it individualized and easy to distinguish from another hunter’s.  Even with the one-on-one help of the Hadza hunters our arrows took us over an hour to complete — they can make a more sophisticated arrow in 20 minutes or less.

Metal tips of arrowheads with poisonous paste used for hunting larger animals

Metal tips of arrowheads with poisonous paste used for hunting larger animals

The next day was the day we moved from our first campsite to another by hiking 7 miles through and a good 5-hour hike. Two Hadzabe men led us through the wilderness periodically trying to hunt.  They showed us where to find and collect honey as well as how to distinguish the different hives of stingless and stinging bees. When collecting honey from stingless bees they look for a little cone like tube sticking out of the tree, hack at the tree with an axe to get to hive, and extract the honey by hand. Stinger bees are a little more difficult because they must be smoked out in order to gather the honey.  The smoke masks the pheromone a bee emits after stinging!  We arrived at our second campsite in the late afternoon, took a siesta until the weather cooled down, and finally got a chance to shoot arrows.  Everyone got the chance to shoot at a target with the same bows and arrows the Hadza use when they are hunting. Although we were not very good, we had a great time practicing and definitely saw improvement in our skills throughout.

Our next morning had an early start as we broke off into hunting groups of two, with one SLU KSP student and one Hadza. There was no standard or expectation of having to catch anything but experiencing Hadza hunting techniques was a glimpse into the reality of what can happen on a hunt – sometimes there is a catch and sometimes there isn’t, it all has to do with luck. While our hunt lengths ranged from two hours to seven hours, some people brought back meat and others returned empty handed. The end of the day our tally was: 2 guinea fowl, a bush baby, “vermin,” and a dik-dik (a full size dik-dik is essentially the size of a baby deer).  The group collectively saw even more wildlife including hylax (a large guinea pig-like animal), antelope, squirrels, and a variety of birds!

Hadza hunter aiming for a Rock Hyrax

Hadza hunter aiming for a Rock Hyrax

Later that afternoon we had the chance to climb one of the massive Baobab Trees, we couldn’t wait any longer since we had been anticipating this since we first saw one. Two Hadza men easily and quickly scaled the tree, putting in fresh pegs for us to use to climb. As we climbed Njau’s words came back to us, and boy were they true! Even some of the of Hadza men laughed at us and our poor climbing.

After our time climbing we went up onto the rocks near the campsite and had a long talk with the Hadzabe.  Our guides translated our questions concerning land, tourism, and education we well as the Hadza’s responses.  While the Hadzabe have no use for a formal education in their opinion, Tanzanian law requires all children to be enrolled in primary school.  During our visits to the villages we noticed that there were no children over the age of five because they were all at boarding school. Many members of the Hadza don’t continue on through school and chose to return to their traditional lifestyle, however some members seek higher education so that they can become better spokespeople of their community for land rights.

Unlike some other tourism companies Dorobo has set up a partnership with the Hadzabe, and they do their best to create an educational and authentic experience. The Hadzabe are paid a portion of money per person that is divided up into various accounts such as: education, medical, and an emergency fund for food and other essentials that may be needed during a food shortage. Another important aspect of this type of cultural tourism is Dorobo has made it clear that the Hadza will never be asked to do something special for entertainment. Dorobo practices a tourism that is structured but unplanned, allowing for a more authentic experience, rather than what the tourist may want to see.  For example, if we go out on a hunt there is no expectation for them to catch anything.

Mia standing in front of Hadza home in neighboring community

Mia standing in front of Hadza home in neighboring community

After dinner on our last night the Hazabe started playing a guitar like instrument and we got to learn some of their dances and songs. We returned the thought with singing the “Cotton-Eyed Joe” complete with un-synced line dancing and later an impromptu “Don’t Stop Believing.”  Our week spent with the Hadza has not only give us insight into what a hunter-gatherer lifestyle is like, but has changed our perspectives of what issues and pressures this unique ethnic group is currently tackling as the world continues to change.

KSP Fall 2016 - Rebecca, Katie, Aidan, Laura, McKenzie, Michael, Mia, Emily, Erin and Hannah (from left to right)

KSP Fall 2016 – Rebecca, Katie, Aidan, Laura, McKenzie, Michael, Mia, Emily, Erin and Hannah (from left to right)



Rural Homestay Fall 2016

Fall 2016 Terrific Ten: Rural Homestay, Nyeri

After a wonderful first week of lounging around the compound, starting intensive Kiswahili, walking into Karen and getting to know each other along with our home for the next four months, it was time to head up north to Nyeri. This made some of us quite anxious, since we knew that this might be one of the tougher experiences of the semester, although we were also aware it would be among the most rewarding. Being encouraged to leave our ‘devices’ behind with Professor Wairimu, we pulled into the meeting location where our new found families were awaiting our (late) arrival. Most had their entire nuclear and even some extended family members in tow, basically insinuating whomever might fit in the car was there to welcome us. With smiles spreading from ear to ear, they collected us kids, and one by one we left for our adopted homes.

Over the course of the week, we would endure experiences none of us had ever done before in an American context, let alone on another continent. Activities included going to various church services, chores such as washing clothes by hand, various farming activities, mulching, milking, slaughtering, cooking, and most importantly, how to master the bucket shower along with the infamous pit latrine. Although we all had a wide range of experiences during our individual weeks, there were some recurring themes that became apparent when debriefing with one another such as the importance of community, religion, food sustainability and the development of education.

Community & Family:

One element of the Rural Homestay that we all had in common was the sense of community we experienced while in our families. Unlike the individualistic culture we are familiar with in the U.S., we found that the sense of community present in Kenyan, specifically Kikuyu, culture was very strong. Children do not belong only to their parents, but to the greater community too. On several occasions members of the community would stop in and end up staying for a meal, because one can never leave without tea and being fed, before going on their way; a practice which is uncommon in the U.S. Any success a member of the community had was viewed as a success for the entire community as well. Many of us found this emphasis on community and inclusiveness refreshing.

Going to the market in Nyeri Town was an extremely enjoyable experience for those of us who had the opportunity to go! The market brought people from all walks of life and socioeconomic statuses together, whether they were shopping for vegetables from local farmers, visiting merchants, having their hair done at the salon or buying clothing and jewelry. Trips to Nyeri Town were not only about nutritional and material goods, but also an opportunity for social interactions as well. We found that our host parents and siblings have often been loyal customers to certain vendors for several years. Although people found in Nyeri Town come from all over, there is a very clear sense of community among the individuals there as well. Everyone we encountered was very friendly and most were excited to see such new faces in town!

Most of our family units consisted of a mom, dad, at least one sibling our age, as well as additional siblings of varying ages. Most of our younger siblings could speak English and Kiswahili very well, while our parents were more well versed in the traditional Gikuyu language and Kiswahili. We found that we were able to put much of what we learned in our Kiswahili classes on the compound into practice when conversing with our families and people within the community. Our parents had various occupations ranging from farmers and teachers, to small business owners and military personnel; parents often worked very long hours and some were even required to be away from their families for extended periods of time due to work obligations. We also observed traditional gender roles within our families with mothers and sisters doing most of the cooking and cleaning while fathers and brothers worked on the farms and with the animals. In spite of the presence of traditional gender roles in Kikuyu culture, we had the opportunity to experience multiple facets of rural life in Kenya. Female students were able to work on shambas (farms) and handle the animals, while male students were able to help with the cooking and cleaning duties.

Washing laundry by hand

Washing laundry by hand


Religion plays a critical role in the value system of the Kikuyu. While it is not important which church each family chooses to attend, wholehearted commitment to the chosen church is an expectation from all ages and genders in the community. As a result, families attend church services every Sunday, and family members often belong to a sub-group based on age and sex. For example, St. Anthony’s Catholic Church was broken into three committees that met after service on Sunday’s and throughout the week: Youth Group, Women’s Committee, and Men’s Committee. In addition, in each group there was an executive board in place consisting of the President, Vice-President, Treasurer, and Secretary. Other roles existed within the churches as well, such as a large choir, Choir Director and Choir Conductor. As is true with churches in the United States, these positions are granted to elder members of the community who show great commitment and have experience with the dynamics of the church.

When we were told we would probably be attending a church of some kind on Sunday, many of us had expectations of what we might experience due to our familiarity with religious practices. However, to our pleasant surprise, most of the services we attended opened with members of the various youth groups dancing and praising up the aisle to the beautiful voices and music being produced by the choir. While the structure of these services closely resembled experiences had by some in the United States, they were filled with a great deal of upbeat music and a lot more community involvement.


After church on Sunday!

Food Sustainability & Farming:

All of our rural homestays had farms varying in crops and size. During our experiences we quickly realized that the meals we were eating were made of food either grown directly by our family or by their neighbors. Examples of food items included potatoes, yams, arrow roots, maize, avocados, bananas, beans, peas, and cabbage. When one crop was not in season, the families relied more on the other crops to provide them with the nutrients they need. In addition, all scraps and extra crops were fed to the cows, goats, and chickens. There was practically no waste in terms of biodegradable materials used and produced by these families. The cows and goats provide them with milk, and their manure is used to fertilize crops. In addition, the chickens provide them with eggs and on some occasions meat. For instance, one student quotes his homestay father as saying, “I’m proud of the work you and Erick did today, tomorrow we will slaughter a chicken in celebration.” Thus, a cycle exists on every family’s farm, and when gaps exist in this cycle, other members of the community help to fill them.

While debriefing, we discussed how different this culture is from anything we see in contemporary America. Although one might perceive such food sustainability as part of the American dream, most farmers in America grow crops to sell in wholesale to food companies and grocery stores or raise thousands of hormone injected chickens to slaughter. As a result, American farmers still find themselves going to the supermarket to acquire produce. Overall, the level of sustainability Kikuyu families preserves alleviates the pressure to generate high incomes from the work force because they feel a sense of security knowing they will always be able to provide their children with nutritious meals.

Development of Education:

A major issue that we all felt deeply about discussing once the week had finished was that of education. It was clear to us that we all were staying with fortunate members of the Kikuyu community (being able to feed, house, and entertain another human for a week can be demanding afterall!). But that did not prevent us from seeing the effects of impoverished conditions in the community. As mentioned earlier when discussing the importance of community support to the Kikuyus, each and every family looks out for their relatives that undoubtedly live up the street as well as neighbors who are most likely also lifelong friends and colleagues. Therefore, some students expressed having experienced kind of a revolving door at their homes, with family and neighbors constantly coming around to help and ask for help. Because of the large amount of youth in the community, word that a visiting student had brought a soccer ball or any other ‘toy’ spread like wildfire. One student claims to have had a standing playdate with eight to ten neighbor kids to play with her and the soccer ball she had brought her family. But what does this all have to do with education?

“None of those children were in school today… All of the students were asked to bring the school fees of 650 shillings with them to school today and if they didn’t have it with them they would be sent home. Every single one of them was sent home.”

This is a direct quote from the homestay mother of the woman who regularly had afternoon playdates with the neighborhood kids. The mother knows this information because she is a teacher at the local elementary level school that all of the kids would have attended. Six-hundred and fifty shillings is equivalent to six dollars and fifty cents. The mother went on to discuss with this student that these families had decided that they could not spare the 650 because it was to be allocated to other things to keep the household running.

As a group debriefing, we discussed this and how unfortunate it is that families are having to choose between the education of their children and other means. It put into perspective how important education is from such an early age; a small investment in an education at an early age can snowball into much greater returns in the long run. But it is hard to be patient for such a return, and especially when you have to make the investment for anywhere from one to ten children. Being placed in more well off families, all of our homestay siblings are in school ranging from kindergarten, boarding school for forms I-IV and even colleges or university levels. Although we have discussed some of the hardships when it comes to education, the Kikuyu community is distinguished for their high achievement in academics and desire to learn.


Afternoon playdates with neighbors


Kenya Program Alumni Head to Graduate School

Alumni of the Kenya program, often integrate their experiences abroad into their academic and professional lives long after they leave St. Lawrence. Beginning graduate degrees in Public Health and African History this fall, two recent alumni take us through their path from undergrad to graduate school through their experiences on the KSP. Hongera Emily and Katie and good luck this fall.

Emily Adams ‘16 (KSP Spring ’15)
Major: Neuroscience
Minor: African Studies
Currently: Masters of Public Health Student at Emory University

Starting her Masters in Public Health Program

Emily starting her Masters in Public Health Program at Emory University

Hamjambo, Saints! I just graduated from St. Lawrence with a B.S. in Neuroscience and minor in African Studies, and I’m now living in Atlanta, GA attending Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health where I’m beginning my coursework to earn a Master’s degree in Global Public Health. While I’m now fairly confident in my career path, I certainly did not begin my time at SLU that way! Without the KSP, I don’t think that I would be here in Atlanta at this world-class institution.

My freshman year began with a bit of luck. I had always been interested in the African continent, kind of annoyed that the topic was glossed over in high school, and I was delighted to be placed into an African Studies FYP taught by Dr. Matt Carotenuto. Having spent my junior year of high school living in France as an exchange student, I knew that study abroad was important—and, because I’d already done Europe, I was planning on choosing a different continent. I was interested in the KSP right away, but Matt’s guidance as my advisor plus my interest in his class solidified my decision to go to Kenya.

I should note that, through my sophomore year, I was planning on following the pre-med track. Especially as an incoming college student interested in health sciences, I didn’t know that there were other options—it of seemed to me that, because I liked neuroscience, I had to be a doctor. The combo of organic chemistry and physics was very stressful for me, though, and by the end of the year I decided that I did not want to spend four-plus years at medical school hating my life. So, I stopped focusing on what I felt like I had to do and instead just did anything I found to be interesting.

I ended up on the KSP during the spring of my junior year, which was really the beginning of finding my passion. My semester in Kenya was a wonderful experience—the level of cultural understanding my peers and I gained was wildly beyond anything we could have learned as tourists, which is what I was looking for in a study abroad program. Living with Kenyan families and speaking with Kenyans (and Tanzanians!) from all different backgrounds is something that is not really possible for most people later on in life—truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Even better for me was the independent study. The IDS portion of the program allows students to have a month-long educational experience at the organization of their choosing, almost anywhere in East Africa, and is the opportunity to depart from the program curriculum in favor of a focus on individual students’ specific academic interests. Still interested in health, I did my IDS at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH). MTRH, in the city of Eldoret, is Kenya’s second-largest public hospital. MTRH also happens to be the home of Indiana University’s AMPATH program, which focuses on the holistic treatment of HIV/AIDS in an area of the country with relatively high rates of infection.

While at AMPATH, I was able to do a myriad of things that solidified my interest in public health. The most influential activity was shadowing an epidemiologist as she visited/surveyed Eldoret’s large population of street children in an attempt to better understand their health in general, but specifically rates of HIV infection in what is a horribly marginalized population. I also had the opportunity to accompany community outreach workers, pulled from the local population, as they visited AMPATH’s HIV-positive patients in their homes in order to ensure compliance with medicine regimens and offer support outside the hospital. It was during these activities that I realized that my true passion was community-based health work. I enjoyed forging relationships with patients in their homes and learning about their lives and perspectives.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it—my month at AMPATH was intense, incredibly emotionally draining, and I was frankly relieved when it was over. I saw some difficult things and learned some hard truths that are easy to ignore while halfway across the world in America. At the same time, my experiences in Eldoret awoke something within me that I knew I needed to pursue.

I returned to SLU that summer where I was granted a SLU Fellowship to study the historical roots of STD stigma in Kenya, which I argued was inherited from their British colonizers. The research, done under Dr. Carotenuto, turned into my senior African Studies thesis, which I then completed and presented at a conference in Ottawa later that fall.

When I started applying to grad schools, I had personal experiences that both showcased my experience and passion in the field of public health, and I was accepted to Emory—arguably the best global health program in the country. Emory is home to some of the world’s leading academics on HIV/AIDS, which I had identified as my main area of interest. The school of public health also happens to be located across the street from the Centers for Disease Control, offering opportunities for internships, work study, and amazing guest lectures. Just today my class heard from Sandra Thurman, who was appointed personally by President Clinton as the leader of the Office of National AIDS Policy during the 1990s. We were all hyperventilating in our seats as she flipped through photos of her with President Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and Nelson Mandela, reveling in hearing from such an HIV/AIDS superstar—who also happens to be a member of the Emory faculty!

Basically, I am studying my passion at a place filled with THE experts of the field. Would I be here studying global health without the KSP? I hope so. But, honestly, I really doubt it. The best thing about the KSP is that anyone—even a neuroscience major—can find a way to tailor it to individual interests and to turn it into something that will be beneficial throughout a lifetime. I am certainly proud to be a SLU graduate, and even more proud to be a KSP alum!

Katie Greene ’14 (KSP Spring 2013)
Major: African Studies and History Combined
Currently: Graduate Student in the MA/Ph.D. Program in African History at Michigan State University 

Katie with Friends in Nairobi

Katie with Friends in Nairobi

While studying at Saint Lawrence, I first took Introduction to African history. Pre-existing notions about African culture were altered, and I became intrigued with African history. That paired with the incredible support of professors like Dr. Carotenuto and Dr. Schrems encouraged me to pursue history as a major, and my interest in encouraged me to apply to the Kenya program.

Thinking about how to connect this experience to my major, Dr. Carotenuto helped me develop an outline for a summer fellowship researching youth and generational politics in Kenya that would focus on processing my study abroad. While in Kenya, this research interest drove me to do my independent study with Student Campaign Against Drugs – an NGO run largely by young Kenyans and university students. This helped develop my interest in youth and generational relationships and led to a senior thesis regarding the role of youth in Kenya’s socio-political sphere and generational conflict rooted in colonialism.

During the summer before my senior year, I conducted preliminary research for my senior thesis, travelling to Syracuse University to utilize the Kenya National Archives microfilm collection. During my senior year, I was fortunate enough to receive funding from the History department’s Vilas research fund university to travel to the National Archives in London to engage in archival research of colonial documents.

These experiences stayed with me after graduation and drove me to apply for Ph.D. programs in African history. Fortunately I was accepted to one of the nation’s best programs at Michigan State University and have spent the summer of 2016 back in East Africa through Yale University’s Swahili program in Tanzania. Serving as a research assistant and through scholarship support from a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship at MSU, I plan to spend the next several years furthering my interest in Kenyan history and working towards my Ph.D.

While in graduate school, I plan to study Kiswahili and another relevant language so as to best conduct ethnographic field research and to analyze primary source materials. I hope to further my St. Lawrence work on contemporary Kenyan history and add to the historiography of generational conflict and the role of youth in East African societies.








Coming Home: On Campus Research and Internships

Coming home, many alumni of the KSP wonder how they can integrate this life changing experience into their academic and even professional lives. Often the best way to process your semester abroad, can be through a directed internship or independent research projects where you can put your experience to work. Take a look at the two students below and see how they turned their semester in Kenya into a prestigious summer internships and research fellowship. Hongera (Congratulations) Annie and Megan, as we hope more students follow your example—-Matt Carotenuto (Associate Professor of History and Coordinator of African Studies St. Lawrence.

Annie Wilcox ’17 (KSP Spring 2016)
Government Major, French and African Studies Minor
Summer Intern: Brookings Institution’s African Security Initiative 

Annie Wilcox '17 (KSP Spring 2016)--Summer internship at Brookings

Annie Wilcox ’17 (KSP Spring 2016)–Summer internship at Brookings

Having just returned from a networking trip to DC, I arrived in Nairobi with internships on my mind. I was looking for summer internships in Washington, DC when Dr. Carotenuto mentioned the Africa Security Initiative internship at the Brookings Institution which was co-sponsored by St. Lawrence. It was an ideal opportunity.

I had never taken in-depth courses on terrorism or security issues facing sub-Saharan Africa while at St. Lawrence, but my liberal arts education gave me important tools to tackle these complex issues while at Brookings. The Kenya Semester Program specifically exposed me to a number of security issues that I researched at Brookings, including corruption, gang violence and the security problems that arise out of poor infrastructure, among others. I was better able to understand how the issues translated into the countries I was researching at Brookings.

The Africa Security Initiative is a two-year old project organized by the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings. While at Brookings, I worked with Senior Fellow Mike O’Hanlon on both research and events for the Initiative. Throughout the summer, I worked on a project that examines innovative security practices in cities around sub-Saharan Africa. I looked at various community policing models most notably in Rwanda. I helped plan a panel on President Obama’s role in African Security and Development. Dr. Carotenuto spoke about his research on Obama’s Luo identity. Sarah Minogue, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch, spoke and Brooking’s Senior Fellow Mike O’Hanlon moderated. The panel expressed concern that Kenya may be slipping back into authoritarianism. Finally, I was able to contribute to a blog post on Brooking’s blog Order from Chaos.

The benefit of working at an institution like Brookings is the constant access to information. Brookings has five research programs that host events on a range of topics: Foreign Policy, Metropolitan Policy, Governance Studies, Economic Studies and Global Economy and Development. Throughout the summer, I went to a number of events hosted both by my program and the other four. Some particularly notable events that I attended were the IMF Regional Outlook on sub-Saharan Africa, Inclusive Growth in Cities with OECD Secretary Ángel Gurría, and The Battle over the Border: Public Opinion on Cultural Change at the forefront of the Election. The Ambassadors from Uganda and Rwanda led a discussion on advancing financial and digital inclusion in their countries. Kenya was ranked first among the twenty-six countries the Financial and Digital Inclusion Project studied because of country-wide availability and access. My experience at Brookings reinforced so much of what I witnessed in Kenya, which was a really positive way for me to reintegrate myself after my semester abroad.

My summer at Brookings helped me understand the interplay between security and development work. The Kenya Semester Program and my internship at Brookings reinforced each other well. I carried out research on issues that I saw in play in Nairobi which added depth to my experiences abroad. One of the most prominent issues was corruption in the police force and how it affects all other aspects of security for citizens because of a lack of accountability for crime.

With senior year only two weeks away, I feel that my back-to-back experiences in Kenya and at Brookings have given me a better vision of where I would like to go after graduation. I am hoping the knowledge I gained and the people I met at Brookings and in Kenya will lead me back to working in Nairobi. I look forward to seeing where the experiences take me.

Megan Kloeckner ’17 (KSP Spring 2015)
Anthro/African Studies Combined Major

Megan on her rural homestay in Nyeri

Megan on her rural homestay in Nyeri

After I completed my semester in Kenya on St. Lawrence’s Kenya Semester Program (KSP), I found I still had so many questions, and was still very intrigued both by the country and its people. Though I know that traveling to Kenya was the ultimate learning experience, and that I have access to many engaging courses on SLU’s campus, I wanted to supplement my study abroad experience with a more personal study that focused on the issues I found interesting. St. Lawrence is wonderful in that it offers a few ways to go about independent research: students can complete a semester or yearlong independent project under the guidance of a professor, or there are a few research-focused fellowships for which students can apply.

The shores of Lake Victoria in Kisumu

The shores of Lake Victoria in Kisumu

I chose to apply to the St. Lawrence University Fellowship for the summer of 2016, and fortunately my project, Human Security in Luoland: Political Bias and Development Progress in Kisumu, Kenya, was selected. Under the guidance of Professor Matt Carotenuto, I spent nine weeks on campus conducting my research. This involved traveling to Syracuse University to collect primary data from their collection of Kenya National Archive documents, reading countless academic articles and other scholarly sources, assembling all the data and trying to formulate an argument out of it, and finally collecting my thoughts and composing a final research paper. The Fellowship also requires that each recipient construct a poster presentation that will be given to visitors on SLU’s Family Weekend each fall. While this is a great way to share one’s findings, Professor Carotenuto encouraged me to apply to Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies Undergraduate Research Conference as a way to further develop highlight my work, and also so that I may experience what it is like to attend and present at an academic conference.

The Fellowship project was the largest research project I’ve ever done, and while at times it was a bit overwhelming, I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated my experience. I would definitely recommend completing an independent research project or University Fellowship to build upon one’s KSP experience, as it enabled me to delve further into an issue that had intrigued me when I was in Kenya. In addition to the Fellowship, I plan on using some of the information I gathered during my summer fellowship to inform my Anthropology and African Studies SYE project this year. So not only was I able to grow as a student from my KSP experience, but I have also been able to apply my experience to other academic pursuits as well, ones that will enable me to (hopefully!) have two polished academic research papers by the time I graduate. Looking more into the future, I plan to include my research in my Grad School application, as having research experience under one’s belt typically helps in application acceptance. Of course I will always appreciate my Kenyan experience through photographs and memories, but now I’ll also be able to see it as a stepping stone in my academic—and hopefully professional—career.

Health Care Summer Course 2016

June 4
Karibuni Kenya! (Swahili for “Welcome to Kenya!”)
While Kenya may be facing many obstacles, the young, developing nation, has the opportunity to carve out innovative approaches to health care delivery. Many individuals in the country lack access to adequate healthcare. Over the next few weeks, we will be in clinics, both public and private teaching hospitals, community and rural health programs. From urban slums to game drives in the Mara to AMPATH, we will be exploring the health-care issues encountered in a resource-constrained environment. On Thursday June 2nd, the group gathered at JFK airport. After a layover well-spent exploring Amsterdam, we landed 2 days later, at 6:30 am at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Njau greeted us and drove the group to the compound. As we drove away from the airport, we spotted our first giraffes and pleaded to Njau to pull-over so we could get a better look. Little did we know, we would get much closer that afternoon! Wairimu and Azibeta welcomed us with open arms and Seth prepared a delicious breakfast (including homemade bread, a favorite!). We had time to settle into our new home and play a game of ping-pong before lunch and venturing out to explore surrounding Karen. The highlight of the afternoon was definitely a visit to the Giraffe Centre where we were even allowed to feed the giraffes from our mouths (http://giraffecenter.org/). Seth even made a surprise birthday cake!

June 5
This morning we set off for Nyumbani – the Swahili word for home. This mission-based branch of the Children of God Relief Institute, founded in 1991, provides a home, health care, education and spiritual support for children with HIV. We were greeted and welcomed by the director to join the children and sisters for mass. The church was a big room with high ceilings and fluorescent lights. The pews were white plastic garden chairs lined wall to wall with a big aisle down the middle. As mass began, the sanctuary was only scattered with children near the front with the choir and musicians lined on the right wall. But as the pastor began the congregation grew and grew until almost every seat was filled. Every part of the worship was tailored for the children. There was a group of them that danced traditionally at the front of the church and everyone participated in the songs, including the little ones. What struck me the most was the part of the service when it was time for ‘sharing peace’. Each and every child came up to me and shook all of our hands. It was one of the most touching experiences I’ve had and I’m not a religious person. After the mass we had tea and cakes with Sister Mary before getting a tour of the diagnostic center, one of the top healthcare facilities in Kenya. Wesonga, the nurse I/charge of the home took us through the youth homes and nutrition center for the infants so we could get an idea of the other parts of Nyumbani.

We went for a great buffet lunch with traditional African foods like chapatti and traditional African sausage made of various organs from different livestock. After filling our bellies with passion fruit custard and other goodies from the treat table, we set off for KAZURI, meaning ‘something small and beautiful’. This is a business that began as a way to empower women in their communities. It is a bead and pottery factory that sells its products in their shop and online. Their profits go to the women who make them and to reinvest in the business. The merchandise is made out of recycled old and broken pottery, melted down and made into beautiful painted jewelry, tea sets and decorative pottery. Even though it was a Sunday so the women weren’t working, we still got a tour and a great idea of what was going on here. Afterwards everyone got a chance to do a little shopping in their store.

Once Wairimu finally herded us out of there, we hit the road for some yoga at Christel Flower’s house. Her husband is a luxury tent designer so her yoga studio was awesome. We worked some of our travel knots out and learned some new yoga stretches and poses. Crystal had a couple of big Rottweilers and some Jack Russell puppies so we got our dog fix after our session. By the time we got back to our compound, Seth, our cook, had a beautiful meal prepared for us. We happily ate, laughed and reviewed our adventures of the day before crawling into our beds.

June 6
Today Njau drove us to our destination which was Nairobi Hospital where we met with Professor G.N. Lule about tropical diseases and infectious diseases. Prof. Lule is kind of a huge deal, AND he happens to be the father of one of our very good friends at St. Lawrence, Chris! Dr. Lule gave us a general idea of what he does, and prepared us for some of the tropical diseases we might see on our journey through Western Kenya. We spoke with him mostly about Malaria… which of course we are all secretly afraid of contracting while on our trip. However, we also spoke with him extensively about HIV/AIDs and other prevalent infectious diseases. In regard to Malaria, he told us that we won’t have to worry about it until we get to the rainforest! Our visit with Dr. Lule was an excellent introduction! And it was wonderful to meet with a St. Lawrence connection halfway across the world!

Njau was ready to take us safely to our next stop of the day, New Life Home! Yes, that’s right, we spent the afternoon holding the most precious babies I’ve ever seen. New Life Home took in its first baby in 1994, and has since grown into a large operation in Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, and Nyeri. The babies who come to the home are primarily those who have either been infected or affected by HIV/AIDs, so some of the babies are positive, and others became orphans due to the loss of parents or guardians who had AIDs. It is the mission of the home to find forever homes for all of the infants and children who are brought there. Volunteers and friends of New Life come every day to spend time with the babies and toddlers, just to give them love and care, and to give them hope for the future.
We each got to play with and feed a baby between the ages of 3 and 6 months. Some of the smiling babies we met were Jasmine and Owen! It was wonderful to see how much love all of the children receive because of the amazing efforts of the staff and volunteers. It was truly a beautiful place, with a beautiful mission.

New Life Home

New Life Home

Today was amazing! It’s so exciting that we’re just getting started, and still have so many places and people to see. Until the next adventure…

June 7
Today was the first day that we got to wear our white coats and as we liked to say, “play doctor for a day.” The agenda for the day was to visit Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, which is one of the best private hospitals in this area, funded by a Pakistani Royal Foundation. We arrived at the hospital around 9:00 am and then got a brief history and overview from a woman from administration. We then met with Professor Macharia. Prof. Macharia is the head of the pediatric unit at Aga Khan Hospital, and in this health care system the title of “Professor” is even higher up than “Doctor” because it indicates he is one of the doctors responsible to teaching the medical students and residents.

Aga Khan Hospital

Aga Khan Hospital

In the morning half of our group followed Prof. Macharia on his morning rounds and the other half when to the newborn unit with a resident. Following Prof. Macharia on rounds we got to observe him evaluating two different patients before he sent us to follow a resident. As we followed this resident to the oncology wing we met up with the other half of our group. They had seen the different units for infants and learned the things to look for when evaluating the condition of a fragile newborn baby. As we all convened in this chemotherapy procedure room in the oncology unit we observed this second year resident as she gave an eight year old boy his chemotherapy treatment through a spinal tap. The procedure was not as quick and easy as one would expect and the team of residents ran into some problems, but eventually they did administer the medication. This was a difficult experience for us as a group as it was hard to see this boy succumb to the results of the struggle that this resident had with properly performing the spinal tap.
After this we had lunch then returned to the hospital in the afternoon for a meeting with Prof. Macharia. In his presentation he provided us with a lot of information about health care in Sub-Saharan Africa relative to the rest of the world and then he focused specifically on pediatric care because that is his specialty. As a group we agreed that the most powerful part of his presentation was the maps he showed us of relative need and services in different parts of the world.

June 8
Today we headed out for the Kibera slums. There we met Joshua, who told us about Carolina for Kibera (CFK), a group that raises money for underprivileged children to pursue an education that otherwise wouldn’t be available to them. We then walked through the slums and were astonished by the rocky roads scattered with garbage, the streets crowded with people, the shoeless children playing in dirt, and the congestion of shops and houses lining the roads. (Photo taken from google images)

Railway from Mombasa to Uganda---running through Kibera

Railway from Mombasa to Uganda—running through Kibera

When we reached our destination at the Lishe Bora Nutrition Center, we were greeted by the friendly women who look after the children, were asked to remove our shoes, and sat down with the women to learn about the establishment. They are a non-profit organization funded in part by Glenmark Pharmaceutical that takes in malnourished children off the streets from 8:30-5:30 and supply them with meals, mostly local foods and RUTF (ready to use therapeutic food) supplements. The children spend the day in the nutrition center to ensure that they are getting the nourishment, whereas if the food was administered to the families the parents might distribute it amongst all of their children, leaving the malnourished ones still undernourished. During our visit, we got a tour of the center as well as met some of the children who appeared clearly malnourished and lacking developmentally. Lastly, we spoke with two parents of children whose educations were funded through CFK. They expressed their gratitude for the program and we donated a box of food to each of the families.

Next we headed to lunch and then made our way to BUSTANI, an amazing mental health rehabilitation center meaning “a beautiful place of flowers.” There we learned about the private establishment that takes in patients commonly suffering from depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and schizophrenia. Their approximate length of stay is two weeks, in which they receive counseling from a psychiatrist daily and are able to mingle and grow relationships with other patients. During our visit we were able to talk with some of the staff members and patients at the facility and hear their stories. It was an incredibly successful exchange of thoughts and experiences that everyone truly benefited from. It was amazing to see how much the patients opened up to us and actively contributed to conversation. Following chai and snacks, we returned to the compound for dinner.

June 9
Good morning! After breakfast and packing, we left the compound to go to Kenyatta National Referral and Teaching Hospital, the oldest hospital in Kenya-1907, to meet at 10 am with Prof. Zahida Qureshi, the chair of the department of obstetrics gynecology. She gave a fantastic seminar on women’s health including efforts to reduce child and maternal and newborn mortality and prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV as well as information on fistula, cervical cancer, and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). It was heavy, but a break for tea, samosas and mandazi definitely helped.

Kenyatta National Hospital www.knh.or.ke

Kenyatta National Hospital www.knh.or.ke

Around noon we left for lunch at the ABC Place in Lavington where we met up with Joseph and said ‘goodbye’ to Njau. Off to Nakuru!
p.s. beautiful views of the Rift Valley.


June 10
We woke up in Kembu this morning and the cooks set up a very tasty breakfast on our back deck. We finished our fruit and porridge and headed down the hill to learn about KENANA Knitters started and run by Paddy Nightingale. This small business puts women to work knitting small stuffed animals, shawls, slippers and other trinkets. KENANA Knitters employs 259 knitters and spinners combined, paying them per finished product, but also providing free health clinics that visit the farm every so often specializing in various services. Today a nurse from a Reproductive Health and Family Planning clinic came to educate and provide for the knitters. She explained some of the challenges and specific services they offer. We learned a lot about the social status of women in this society just by listening to how she described her patients approach to family planning. Because the men hold the power, many times women keep contraceptives a secret from spouses. Once we had a chance to ask questions, we got to poke around the store and pick out some gifts the ladies had knitted to bring home to our friends families before packing up and saying goodbye to Kembu Campground.

We hit the road for Elsamere in Lake Naivasha. After a couple hours in the car and constant entertainment right outside our windows from zebras blocking the roads to roadside stands offering every supply a department store could have, we arrived. Checking into the conservatory we saw Colobus monkeys swinging from the branches and playing on the rooftops of our cottages. We moved our stuff in and had chai and treats and then some time to work on our assignments before dinner. They served a delicious meal with fresh bread and our first Tangawizis, a tasty ginger soda drink that’s common here. After dinner we put on The White Maasai movie and hunkered down together for the evening.

June 11
Today Joseph drove us down the longest driveway we’ve ever seen to DABIBI farm! The farm is located in a giant volcanic crater, the floor of the Great Rift Valley, of fertile goodness. Our drive to the farm was stunning and we were able to see a lot of wildlife. The man we were traveling to see was named Josphat Macharia, who is a husband, father, farmer, and teacher. He was incredibly excited to see that we wanted to learn about his sustainable farming practices, and to show us around!

Dabibi Farm

Dabibi Farm

First were the usual introductions, when we quickly learned that Josphat is an amazing teacher. He and his wife had been building their home for about 24 years, with the intention of keeping it an entirely sustainable operation. Josphat told us about his belief in organic farming, because chemicals are not good for the health of the food that we eat, or for the food of the animals that we keep. He produces his own fertilizers, for example, he takes his leftover corn and makes compost from that as well as cow poop. On top of this the birds help him with insect control, and the bats help him with pest control. This way, Josphat knows exactly what his livestock has been eating, and therefore knows exactly what he has been eating because the droppings of the livestock help feed his vegetables. Josphat also collects his own water, because the water that comes to his town has a lot fluoride and ruins people’s teeth. So, he was able to provide cleaner water for his children, who all have very nice teeth. Everything in his home is powered by solar energy…
Josphat has really thought of every single thing he could. He could practically never leave his farm and he would be able to live completely, and sustainably just on his farm.

He talked to us a little bit about some of the common healthcare issues that are present on the floor of the Rift Valley, and then we had a beautiful lunch, which was made up of 95% products from the farm! We closed the session at DABIBI farm with the message that it is important to teach others how to live this way, because in the end it will lead to a healthier lifestyle for a family, and then a healthier lifestyle for entire communities, that is why Josphat loves to teach about his work!


June 12
Today was our “R & R” day (rest and relaxation). We woke up normal time and had breakfast at Elsamere before heading out on our boat tour. Our guide, Francis, drove us in a boat that was probably about 12 feet long, and he drove us along the shores showing us many forms of wildlife including birds and the main attraction: hippos. We eventually converged upon a group of about six hippos, which we watched from a distance as they moved around in the water.

We spent the rest of the day at Elsamere doing our papers, presentations and journals. Later in the evening as we were sitting by the water doing work a group of about five zebras walked down and grazed on the grass for a good twenty minutes before retreating back beyond Elsamere, it was very cool to see them so close.

June 13
Today was the day we left Elsamere and made our way to the Maasai Mara. We left after breakfast and made several stops along the way, driving through the Rift Valley and finally arriving at the Mara around 16:30. The road to get to the Mara was another whole level of ‘bumpiness’; we were literally thrown from our seats a few times. Once we entered the Mara Reserve Joseph opened up the top of the Land Ranger so we could stand up to get the full safari experience. The Mara was an absolutely breathtaking scene. It was what you would imagine if picturing the scenery of the Lion King. The land was so flat and the sky so clear, the red oat was a yellowish gold and you could literally see what seemed like hundreds of miles of flat land with just a few scattered trees in the far off distance. On this evening exploration we saw elephants, gazelles, topis (which might be my favorite), wildebeests, more giraffes and zebras. We actually saw a huge group consisting of zebras, topis and wildebeest, which Joseph informed us that it was in preparation for the great migration in July.

We had to be out of the park by 18:30, so Joseph drove us to Basecamp, where we were staying. When we arrived some of the Maasai men helped us carry our bags to our rooms, which were these huge fancy tents. We then had dinner and after dinner we participated in a filming session for a Norwegian travel film. They were doing a series of several different places and this segment focused on the stereotype that gin and tonics could prevent malaria.

June 14
Today we left Basecamp at 6:30am and did a game drive in the Mara. We had the top of the Land Rover open to look out at the animals. We were incredibly lucky at seeing all that we did including leopards, lions, zebra, wart hogs, giraffes, elephants, silver-backed jackals, elands, etc. We stopped in the middle of the Mara and got out to have breakfast and enjoy the view, which was amazing.

Around noon we met with the Maasai women at Basecamp and learned about the Basecamp Maasai Brand beading company that they’re a part of. We met with Nancy and learned about the company, which empowers Maasai women by allowing them to maintain the Maasai handcraft as well as earn an income often used to put their daughters through school. The women make necklaces, bracelets, key chains, belts, etc. and sell 80% of it online, and the remaining 20% through gift shops at Basecamp. Each woman earns 75% of the price that the item they make is sold for and the remaining 25% goes to buy the material. Most of the material consists of string from tarp and plastic from recycling. We each got to choose our bead colors and partner up with a woman to make a bracelet together. Although the women spoke limited English, we were able to have effective conversations with them via a translator, which really helped both sides to understand each other’s culture. For instance, the Maasai women get married off very young and begin having several children almost immediately following marriage, which was interesting to hear about. It especially stood out to me how shocked the women were to know that we didn’t have husbands and children yet.

After lunch, we went to the Talek Community Health Centre where we met Daniel, a clinician and nurse midwife who gave us a tour and overview of the facility. It is an outpatient Christian Missionary funded clinic that offers a variety of services as well as contains an in-patient maternity ward. We saw the consultation rooms, lab, pharmacy, and the maternal and child health room. We also learned that every patient gets screened for HIV and is supplied with medication if needed.

Later this afternoon we paid a visit to a Maasai community in which the men jumped for us, danced with us, showed us how to start a fire by creating friction, and gave us a tour of their house. Their community was set-up in a circle with all the houses facing inward toward each other. Inside the house we toured, there were two rooms, one for a baby cow and one that had two beds, one for the parents and one for all of their children. In the middle of the two beds was a small kitchen, which consisted of a couple shelves and a fireplace where meals are prepared. The houses are built by the women using mainly cow dung and sticks and are extremely small. Following our house tour, we joined the women in their traditional dances and then entered their market, in which each woman brought their homemade crafts to sell.

June 15
Happy birthday Rachel!

At 8:45 we gathered for a delicious breakfast overlooking the Mara. This morning, we visited the Talek Health Center in Narok, minutes from Basecamp. On rotations, we explored the challenges of health care among pastoralist traditional communities of Kenya. Back to Basecamp for lunch before an afternoon to work and soak up sun. 4 pm tea with Wannie (ex-SLU professor) and her friend. We watched the second half of The White Maasai and had a reflection of the day upstairs. Birthday celebration complete with ritualistic Maasai chanting followed dinner.

June 16
image024This morning we had an early morning because we had to pack up at Basecamp and get on the road by 8am in order to make it to our next destination by dusk. We stopped for a coffee break at Fairhills Hotel and confused the servers because nobody here drinks iced anything… especially iced coffee! They brought us mandazis too, which are mini deep fried donut like pastries. We had another break for lunch at Jane and Ken’s house in Kericho. They live amidst huge tea plantations that stretch for miles. It was a beautiful place with rolling hills in seemingly every direction. Ken works for Finlay’s tea company and has for the past 33 years so he could tell us all about it. The company provides schools, churches, health clinics and activities for their workers and their families forming an entire little tea community. They had a yummy traditional meal including rice, chicken, beans, chapatti and black nightshade, an indigenous green here. Jane had also prepared an interesting fermented yogurt drink called mursik. It actually has immune boosters in it! After lunch we got back on the road and drove through a storm to get to Rondo Retreat Center. They had dinner on the table for us and we were all well ready to be out of the car.

June 17
image025We had about a two hour drive from Rondo Retreat Center to WADADIA (Women and Development Against Distress in Africa) Mumias. This NGO is an outreach program for women suffering from Fistula, a complication of prolonged obstructed labor. These women are often the victims of stigma and rejection from their families and communities.

WADADIA uses peer educating volunteers, posters and other multimedia, a girls’ soccer team and word of mouth to find and treat affected women and teaches them skills such as sewing and beadwork to help them reintegrate into their communities after their recovery. After a tour and brief on their work, we set out into the field. We visited two women with two very different stories, but similar situations with this medical condition. It was an eye opening experience for all of us. It was the first time in the trip we had been inside a typical rural home. We donated a bag of food to each family, but what we had to give didn’t even dent what they so clearly lacked. We took comfort in the fact that the work done by WADADIA gave both of them hope for the future. We headed back to the office after our second home visit for a debrief before heading back to Rondo Retreat. We happened to cross paths with Star Support Group, a peer support group for fistula survivors. A few of them were brave enough to share their stories and it only drove the point home that this foundation has changed lives. They have been empowered and continue to grow stronger each day. While we can’t begin to understand what these women have been through their stories allowed us to empathize. We all dozed off in the car on they way back and Rondo had the best chocolate cake we’ve had all trip ready with chai when we returned. Gathered around in our screened porch, we enjoyed our snack sheltered from the damp Kakamega Rainforest right outside.

June 18
Today we traveled from Kakamega to the Kisumu Yacht Club to meet with two Neglected Tropical Disease Specialists. Dr. Andrew Githeko and Dr. Diana Karanja working for KEMRI (Kenya Medical Research Institute and CDC (Center for Disease Control). This meeting was pretty amazing because Andrew is actually a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and he shared it with Al Gore in 2007. What’s cooler though is the research that he did in the process! Andrew told us all about Malaria and the different types and species of mosquito that carry it. He had a lot of helpful information for us in regard to malaria in terms of how mosquitoes are studied, and the ways in which malaria can be controlled… That discussion got us asking Andrew about exactly how our prophylaxis works, and whether we are at risk of getting malaria. There was a rather extensive explanation of prophylaxis, but basically we learned that NO we won’t get malaria. The most important part of our conversation today though, was that climate change is happening, and it is causing malaria and other tropical diseases to move to areas where it wasn’t before.
After our discussion we had lunch right next to Lake Victoria and we had some nice conversations and exchanges. Afterward, we headed back to Rondo and enjoyed the rest of our day!

June 19
Today was the transition between Rondo Forest in Kakamega and the AMPATH component in Eldoret. We go up at normal time and had breakfast and then went on a walk through the Kakamega Rainforest, which is the only rainforest in Kenya. We then showered and had lunch at Rondo forest before hitting the road to drive our last leg of the journey to Eldoret. We arrived at the Pine Tree and settled in before heading to the Mamlin’s house for dinner. Joe and Sarah Ellen Mamlin are at the head of the AMPATH program and the ChildLife organization. We had a long conversation with them as they told us about their organizations and how they got to where they are today. We were all incredibly inspired by all that the Mamlin’s have done and the values they have implemented to create these successful organizations for the city of Eldoret and the neighboring communities.

Joe told us the story of how he became a doctor and then took a job in Afghanistan instead of a cardiology fellowship in the US, and how he and Sarah Ellen, who met in college, raised their kids in Afghanistan until it was no longer safe, which is when they ended up in Kenya. And here Joe helped to build the connection between the new medical school being established in Kenya, Moi University, and Indiana University, creating the AMPATH program that exists today. He also introduced to us other branches of AMPATH such as the GISHE (Group Integrated Savings for Health and Empowerment) programs, and the concept of population based health care or population health.

June 20
This morning we got a tour from Sarah Ellen of the AMPATH facilities and the Shoe for Africa Children’s hospital. It was definitely a valuable experience to see the conditions of a public hospital, with multiple patients to a bed and over crowded hallways. As we were transitioning between the main hospital complex and the Shoe for Africa section we witnessed a group of street kids clad in dirty street clothes each with a hanging dirty bottle of sniffing glue from their noses walking to the Tumaini Drop-In Center. After this comprehensive tour we took a break for lunch.

After lunch we were split into different playrooms in the children’s hospital to spend time with the children. In my group we started out coloring then we had story time and finished the section of time by making glasses out of pipe cleaners. The children seemed to have a good time with the activities and they were very excited about the new crayons that we brought them. These play rooms for the children are a big part of the ChildLife program because it provides a space for the children in the hospital to try to relax, socialize with other children and just be kids for a little while, despite their illnesses and injuries. Also the women running the center were really great, they truly cared about the kids and they seemed to be effective at making them feel a little bit better and safer.


June 21
Today we met Cindy on the Indiana University campus in Eldoret to learn about the ‘Chics for Chicks’ organization. Cindy, an American staying in Kenya for a year with her husband who is working for AMPATH, started it. Cindy created Chics for Chicks after she met a woman named Rebecca that she felt the need to help. She learned to raise chickens that she then gave to Rebecca to feed her family and sell eggs for a source of income. Now she teaches more people how to care for the chickens and is working to create a sustainable program that will continue to empower the people. We also went to Care4Kids, an orphanage of thirty-five children, where we saw more chicks.

Next, we went to Boma Inn Eldoret for a delicious lunch, followed by a visit to Tumaini, a rehabilitation center for street kids. We sat in on a class where the fourteen students were learning about school enterprise. They were all actively engaged and clearly interested in the education they were receiving. Tumaini started from a drop-in center that provided showers and hot meals for the street kids, most of which were high off glue. Once a group of boys showed interest in pursuing rehab, this three-year program was created. The boys live and work on the farm as well as sell beadwork and receive education. We had an extremely positive experience interacting with them and it was amazing to see how far they have come in their rehabilitation.

After dinner at Pinetree, we met with Suzanne Goodrich, an infectious disease physician who told us about the HIV research she does for AMPATH. As an American herself, she gave us an informative overview of what research in Kenya is like. She left us with the takeaway of how important it is to remember the people you meet and to not be afraid of reaching out to them as connections to further your career.

June 22
This morning, we had the opportunity to visit 3 children’s homes with Sarah Ellen Mamlin. AMPATH supports all of them and it was wonderful to see and hear the impact the program has had. The first home was Kimumu. The second, Neema Children’s Home, is home to 33 boys and 16 girls affected and/or infected with HIV/AIDS. Joshua and Miriam Mbithi welcomed us into their home for tea and cake before introducing us to the children and showing us the school. The third, Tumaini Children’s Home. Horace and Phyllis Leister take care of 49 children. We then headed to lunch at IU house
The afternoon was spent with Benjamin Andama learning about the program GISHE (Group Integrated Savings for Health and Empowerment). A wrap-up dinner at IU House with Joe and Sarah Ellen was followed by a discussion with Dr. Adrian Gardner.

With a strong focus on children and women’s health, this program provides a perspective on the health care system in Kenya with exposure to many different aspects and levels of care. In addition to health care, exposure to a variety of new cultural values was a significant part of the program, which helped us grow as a people. This program has helped each one of us gain knowledge about health care such that we can apply it to our future endeavors in the way we see fit.

SLU Participants: Claire Albrecht (Biophysics & Chemistry), Sarah Neilson (Psychology), Danielle Schwartz (Biology & Chemistry), Rachel Snitzer (Psychology), Emma Visser (Behavioral Neuroscience with a Spanish Minor) with SHC Program Instructor – Dr. Wairimu Ndirangu