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Doug: First week

August 6, 2011

Hamjambo familia na marafiki!

I have officially been in Nairobi, Kenya for 5 days now, but it might as well been a month. Driving to the Cincinnati airport last Sunday afternoon with my mom seems like ages ago. After frantic last minute packing and unpacking (initially my suitcase was over the limit), I began my 28-hour-long journey to Kenya. Following an uneventful flight to DC, I boarded an overnight flight to Zurich, Switzerland. As my first experience in Europe, flying into the misty green hills of Zurich Monday morning was pretty cool. I then had to go through security (again), forgot to put my laptop in its own carton (which resulted in an individual search for concealed weapons—not the greatest, I don’t recommend it), and finally made it to the gate where I picked up my final ticket bound for Nairobi. I survived my 8-hour-long flight to Nairobi through an arrangement of free movies (principally African Cats and Cars).

Sleep-deprived, I left the plane, and meandered the Nairobi airport—a surreal experience. After exchanging all my dollars to shillings (the Kenyan currency), I made my way through customs. Somehow my sole suitcase made it from Ohioto Kenya still intact (with nothing stolen!), and I made my way to the lobby where dozens of Kenyans were holding up signs for different people. This is it, I thought, if I don’t see my name here, I guess I’ll just find my way to a hostel for the night or something… Thank God, a beaming Kenyan man named Simon was holding a sign that said “MSID” (University of Minnesota Studies in Development—my abroad program). I greeted him and together we walked to the van in the parking lot which would take me and the other yet-to-arrive MSID students to a guest hostel where we were staying for the next two nights. After talking a lot with the other Kenyan MSID program manager, Jane, the other 4 students finally arrived. Our van made its way along the road through the night towards our hostel in Nairobi, where two other students were waiting, making 7 of us total on the Swahili-Intensive August Pre-Session.

Our next 36-hours in the hostel together consisted of an orientation on Tuesday by the program managers on homestays and staying safe in the city, an outing to the MSID office headquarters (a small but nice office where we would have access to internet and books), and then a 20-minute walk (first chickens spotted crossing the sidewalk!) to the small collection of buildings known as Nazerene University, where we would be taking Swahili and the rest of our classes. That night I had my first delicious and messy experience with an Ethiopian restaurant and prepared for what we were all most nervous for the next day: moving in with our Kenyan host families.

Wednesday was a crazy, whirl-wind of a day. The seven of us (4 girls, 3 guys) packed up all our stuff, piled into the van, and began our house-to-house trip, led by Jane, to meet our new families for the next 3 months. Our van bounced along bumpy dirt roads surrounded by houses and buildings (many openly exposed or under construction), into different Kenyan neighborhoods, with people everywhere, many staring at the van of mzungu’s (white people) and all our bags. One by one, we pulled up to house after house, and each of us piled out of the car to greet our new families, with the brave ones attempting some Swahili.

We then started down the dirt alleyway which led to my new home. After buzzing through the gate (almost every single Kenyan home has a tall stone or cement wall around it, some lined with glass, others with barbed wire, for safety—a strange thing, since the areas around Nairobi are not even particularly dangerous), I greeted Mama yangu (my mother) Jane and my new 85-year-old nyanya, Elizabeth. My new Baba, Samuel, is a civil engineer, and came home later that evening (their children are grown and out of the house). The house is quite beautiful, with a large grassy yard of trees, planted corn and banana trees. The rest of the day consisted of exploring downtown Nairobi and buying some cheap Nokia cell phones.

My host mom grows maize outside

My New home

Here are some things that I have been adapting to/loving about living with the Kiguru family:

  • Jane’s traditional Kenyan tea with milk, crushed tea leaves, and sugar (most delicious tea ever)
  • Having no internet, which means more reading and journaling (you really don’t realize how time-consuming and mentally draining it is until it’s gone)
  • Closing my windows by 6PM (when the sun sets) due to mosquitoes— (I forgot the first night, and had an epic 3-hour battle through the night with one)
  • Hearing 3 different languages at home (many Kenyans are tri-lingual—in Swahili, English, and their ethnic mother tongue—in the Kiguru’s case, Kikuyu)
  • Hearing the projected Arabic-singing of a man from a mosque, echoing across the city just before dawn
  • Watching TV with Jane and Elizabeth while eating dinner—their 6 channels cover great shows from news in Swahili, to a horribly English-dubbed Spanish soap opera, to random American music videos (tonight Willow Smith made an appearance with “Whip My Hair”—my grandma didn’t seem to know it)
Kenyan trees are awesome. This one’s in the yard

The drying machine

We’ve started daily Swahili language classes, in 2 two-hour sessions per day, and, surprisingly, I can feel my 2 semesters from Tufts (which I thought to have been fruitless), helping greatly. Well, I could go on, about how awesome this place is, exceeding all expectations, but I hear another episode of Soy Tu Dueña starting in the other room.

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