Archive for the ‘MSID Kenya’ Category


Doug: 142…

December 22, 2011

Days in Kenya. I have not been in the United States since July—even just writing that sentence is strange. Tonight at midnight I will board a plane back to my country after living for 142 days in a country so different from my own, with people who don’t look like me or talk like me. After 142 days of being in the minority, of being the mzungu, of walking through parts of Nairobi and Mombasa and feeling like ALL eyes are on me, just waiting for someone to yell at me, or come shake my hand, or start a conversation solely because I’m white, I am about to return to suburban Ohio, with its two story brick houses, with unnecessary Living Rooms and Dining Rooms, where the electricity only goes out during a storm, and clean running water is always available at the turn of a tap.

I am returning to a place where I grew up a different person—where Africa, in my mind, was a country, not a vast continent of 47 different countries and thousands of different ethnicities and languages; where my biggest worry growing up was what to do on a Friday night.

Perhaps these are many of the same thoughts that have crossed the minds of countless other Western-raised students, after having lived for the first time in a developing country; after having to grapple with the fact that I’ve never known what it’s like to live in a tin roofed “house” the size of my own bedroom in America, where water leaks through the ceiling when it rains, as is the case for families in Kibera.  Or that I’ve never been abandoned by my parents on the streets, only to be found by the police and brought to an home for street girls, as is the case for some of my students I taught at Wema.  Or had to move away from a rural home, away from family, and work 12 hours per night every night for minimal pay, guarding a rich family’s home, in order to pay for school fees—like my friend Josphat who was the guard at my Nairobi homestay.

Looking back it is difficult to process the past 142 days. I have found myself wondering recently Well, self, how was Kenya? Words like good, and awesome don’t seem to scratch the surface. While eye-opening perhaps, is a little closer, it does not come close to conveying what I’ve learned and who I’ve met. Over the past 142 days, I have met some of the most resilient people of my life; Kenyans who are busting their butts to get themselves or their kids an education; who are living in a country where the government can’t be trusted to provide social services; who are so alive and passionate in their faith in Christ, despite difficult circumstances, that they are an inspiration to others.

It is the faces of these people, and the memories of their places, their places which, for a time, were my places, which flash in my mind when I think of Kenya.

And, so, who am I now? The Doug who stepped off that plane at Nairobi International Airport 142 days ago certainly has changed; he has grown greatly in his faith; he is a little less naïve, and a little more aware of his potential role in this world; a little more aware of the culture he grew up with; and a lot more comfortable in speaking in Swahili.

And, yet, fear not, in many ways I am still the same person. Kenya may have changed me in perspective, but it only reaffirmed my notion that sometimes the best way to handle ridiculous situations is just to laugh it off.

Kenya, it has been real, and I know, Mungu akipenda, siku moja, tutaonana tena.


Doug: Goodbye study abroad… hello Zanzibar

December 20, 2011

Mambo vipi wote!

So once again I slacked big time in updating my blog over the past month. But here’s to giving you a snap shot of the last month:

My time living on the Kenyan coast wrapped up really well. My internship at the Wema Centre slowed down in the final week—since my students went home for holiday break. Saturday, November 26 was a highlight because this was the day that dozens of students, parents and teachers gathered for Wema’s graduation ceremony on the front lawn. My Kindergarten 3 (KG3) class was graduating, as well as a number of older students on the vocational training classes. Now imagine your typical boring graduation ceremony—and now think of the complete opposite, and that was Wema’s graduation. Instead of boring speeches, there were student performances, an acrobat performance, dance groups and skits. It was quite the event.

American ‘cooked’ dinner for my host fam

My time with my host family on the coast also came to a nice close. Some of the great highlights were cooking an ‘American’ meal for my family with my friend Amber (which consisted of chicken parm out of a box, apples with peanut butter, Caesar salad, and ice cream with candy—as American as you can get since the grocery store didn’t have mac n cheese), and then also taking my host mom and my two sisters out to eat at a restaurant in Mombasa. I really clicked with this family and it was pretty hard to say good-bye; but, nevertheless, on Sunday morning December 4, I hopped on the back of a pikipiki (motorbike) with my two bags, and set off for the bus station. From there it was another 8 hour bus ride back to Nairobi.

The following few days were kinda a blur. All 26 students from my program came back from their respective internships at NGO’s, hospitals, and schools in towns and cities all over Kenya. During this time we stayed at a guesthouse outside Nairobi. It was the same exact one that I had stayed in upon my initial arrival in Kenya; but this time it was like culture shock: running water? Toilets and showers? Consistent electricity? And WIFI?? It was a strange feeling to feel too comfortable after my 6 weeks on the brutally hot coast. We had our final exams (no one really studied for these too much) and had final wrap up discussions.

But the most unforgettable one was when all of us were required to present in groups on our respective internships at development NGO’s, and particularly what was shocking and surprising. What started as initially a slightly boring forum, turned very emotional quite quickly as the brutal realities and injustices we had experienced became clear: a street boy who returned to the streets only to fall back into glue-sniffing addiction, under-stocked and under-staffed hospitals which couldn’t properly do surgeries because they didn’t have rubber gloves, a teenager at a school reading at a kindergarten level, women treated like crap and abused by men, or forced to go into prostitution to feed their kids—the list goes on and on. But as we moved past the tears and the gravity of the situation, it suddenly became clear that each of us had changed since we first came to Kenya. Our eyes had been opened, even in the slightest way, to some of the cruelest effects that poverty has on the lives of individuals—individuals not unlike you and me—who are simply trying to live their lives. People talked about fears over transitioning back to the US and how to even begin to explain these experiences to friends and family back at home.

6 days after our program ended I boarded a 14 hour bus ride for one final trip in East Africa with some friends before going home. The trip was supposed to be just Sunday through Friday, with one night in Dar es Salaam and several on the island of Zanzibar just off the Tanzanian coast. Our bus, complete with cardboard pasted over the missing back windows, barreled down the highway bound for Dar at disconcerting speeds, the engine sounding like it was about to burst at any moment. But, alas, we made it safely to Dar. I even was able to find a street called Ohio Street in downtown Dar! Dar is so unbelievably different than Nairobi—so much less overpopulation, pollution and traffic; not to mention it’s directly on the Indian Ocean.

We took a ferry (after bargaining for the real ticket price of course)  over to the main port of Stone Town on Zanzibar. We spent our first 24 hours on Zanzibar exploring the city’s back alley ways and mosque architecture, night time water-front market, and embarking upon an incredibly touristy spice tour of Zanzibar (no shame—they actually took us through the woods and cut down cinnamon and nutmeg and other spices from trees, it was kinda awesome).

Beach at Jambiani–East Coast of Zanzibar

We then spent 2 nights on the east coast at a $15/night hostel called Teddy’s—one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life. And then it was up to the north coast for a night.

Sunset at Kendwa–on the North coast

All in all the trip to Zanzibar was absolutely amazing. From the crystal white beaches to swimming in bright blue oceans, combined with its old history and culture, this island was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been—and I’ve got a pretty bad sunburn on my back to show for it.

Awesome nighttime market in Stone Town

My time here in Kenya is finally coming to a close, and I shall soon do one final Kenya post. Over and out my friends.

Zanzibar livin’


Doug: Life in Mombasa, Part 2

November 23, 2011
My new room in Bamburi–a mosquito net is an essential.

So there are some distinct differences between living in Nairobi and living here in the coastal Mombasa region.

First off, have I mentioned that Mombasa is hot? Cause it is. It’s stinking hot. The only time I’m not sweating is the 5 minute period after my 2x daily showers. To make matters work, everything I eat is hot: from hot morning tea at home with my host family, to hot mid-morning porridge with the kids at the school, to hot lunch, to a hot dinner—always made more difficult by the fact that we use our hands. Undoubtedly, due to the intense coastal sun, I’m turning more African daily. The culture of the coast is crazy different as well. Walking through Old Town Mombasa, one gets very confused about what country you’re in. It’s like India, the Middle East, and Africa all collided and produced Mombasa.

The streets of Old Town Mombasa

From Hindi, to Arabic, to Swahili, to English—I think downtown Mombasa is having an  identity crisis. Add in the fact that the Portuguese were here for a while, and your head really goes for a spin. While we were touring an old historic site in Mombasa—Fort Jesus (creative name, I know)—my dreams were made complete: I heard a Kenyan giving a tour of the fort to some Spaniards—IN SPANISH. Now I just need to find someone in Ecuador (where I’m going for spring semester) who knows how to speak Swahili, and my life shall be complete.

View of Mombasa harbor from Fort Jesus

Old town Mombasa

Where was I? Oh yeah, Mombasa. The city itself is really cool, especially Old Town. Winding stone alleyways, beautiful mosque architecture, awesome views of the harbor. It’s only about a 25 minute matatu ride from Bamburi—where I live with my host family. Bamburi is a bustling town, inland from the Indian Ocean about 15 minutes. Stoney mud roads lead through a crowded town center, with numerous mosques, and people walking everywhere through the streets. I’ve found my favorite hole-in-the-wall café, where I’ve befriended some of the staff, and where I eat beans, chapati (sorta like pita bread…), and the most delicious passion fruit juice I’ve ever had—all for under $1.

A couple times a week I head to Pirates Beach (which is a public beach about 15 minutes from my house) with a couple friends who are also working in the Bamburi area. It’s a good place to relax—and by relax I mean get harassed every 5 minutes because you’re white—and that means you want to buy every small random trinket that someone is selling (literally a man walked by, asking if I wanted to buy one of the massive stuffed animals that he was carrying), or just make random small talk with random Kenyans. It’s always a different experience….

Kenyans hanging at Pirates Beach

Two weekends ago, a group of us from my program went to stay in Tiwi—a beach south of Mombasa. Tiwi was undoubtedly the most tropical and beautiful place I’ve been. We only stayed for 24 hours (only $10 for the night!), but it was a pretty sweet stay. We were able to snorkel through the crystal clear and blue waters, see some awesome brightly colored fish and, and go in some even more awesome sea caves. It’s times like this where I wonder what am I doing? I’m 10,000 miles from home, snorkeling in the Indian Ocean—in Kenya. Very blessed indeed…

The view upon arriving at our hostel at Tiwi Beach

Sunrise over Tiwi Beach


Doug: Life in Mombasa

November 19, 2011

Greetings from the coast of Kenya! Apologies for the long delay in posting, but so much has happened in the last 4 weeks. I will try and capture it all in the following post.

Around October 23 I moved from Nairobi (the capital of Kenya—where I had been living for 3 months) to a coastal town called Bamburi, just 25 minutes north of Mombasa—the main port city on the coast of Kenya. I am now in the internship portion of my program, where every student works for 6 weeks at a development NGO in the sector of development that he or she wants. I requested to be put at an internship that mixes social services and education—since those are my two interests.

And that is exactly where I have been placed. For the past 3 weeks I have been interning at the Wema Center (‘wellness’ in Swahili) —an orphanage, school, and vocational training center for youth from the coastal area. There are 8 dormitories at Wema, which are solely for former street girls, and there are 3 classrooms which host about 80 children from the community. In order to attend the school at Wema, the child must come from an impoverished or needy household. Many of the kids in my classroom come from single-parent homes (always mothers), and some were even abandoned on the streets of Mombasa, found by the police, and brought to Wema. From my first awkward day shadowing the main teaching in my classroom, I have moved on to taking full responsibility of the class and teaching for the entire morning block—usually numbers and language lessons. It took a little time, but I finally have all the kids’ names down in my classroom, and know a good number of other students, and even some of the older girls that stay here at the center. I’m usually at the school (a 15 minute walk from my home) by 8:30 am, and leave to walk some of the boys home around 3pm—since they live in the surrounding community. (Side note: my walks to school in the morning have gotten interesting, since I’ve started to walk with one of the other teachers who lives in my neighborhood. She’s Japanese, and knows very little English. So, naturally, we speak the entire time in Swahili—we sure do get some strange looks from Kenyans along the way…)

Teaching is definitely not easy—and some days are better than others. If ever there was a theme or motto to my time in Kenya it is this: just roll with it. For example, the main teacher will sometimes walk into the classroom just as class is about to start, tell me how he has to go to a meeting and will be gone for the rest of the day, and that I will be teaching the whole time. I then have to scramble to come up with a lesson for the whole 1.5 hours. But this extends to all aspects of Kenyan life—I get home and really need to work on an essay, but the power is out so I can’t charge the laptop. Or our bus breaks down and we can’t get where we need to go. Unlike in America where people get stressed out if the Starbucks line is taking too long, in Kenya, you just roll with it. After all, there’s not much (anything) you can do.

My homestay here in Bamburi is much different than Nairobi as well. For the first time in my life, not only am I in the minority, but I’m overlapping every day with people who are Muslim—something that was so foreign to me, having grown up in the Ohio suburbs. I live with my mom, dad, my 5-year-old sister, my 15-year-old sister, and my 24-year-old brother—though he is often out working. The first night I was surprised when we ate on the floor with our hands. Also, my family is of the Waswahili tribe—where the Swahili language originated from. So everyday I hear more Swahili than I ever have in my life. I try to keep up, but usually it’s just too fast—I have become conversational in Swahili which is helping a lot, and was my goal upon coming to Kenya. I’ve also picked up the Muslim greeting that’s used seemingly every time someone enters the room: Salaam alekum, to which you say walekum salaam.—I’ve more or less become fluent in Arabic obviously…

Also, while living with a (big) Muslim family, I’ve had the opportunity to experience two family events: celebration of the Muslim holiday Eid a few weeks ago, and a Muslim wedding last Sunday. Both were really interesting experiences. For the holiday, I showed up to a family member’s house, where everyone was crammed into a small hallway, divided men and women. There was everyone from small children to elders—and one man was leading the call-and-response prayers in Arabic (as if I needed to feel more out of place). What followed was a huge feast of Biriyani (traditional Muslim dish) and Mango juice (I don’t think I’ll ever get over how good the juice is here on the coast: passion, to watermelon, to avocado—this stuff is crazy good).

Me with my host mom (on the left) and all her sisters, after celebrating the Muslim holiday Eid.

For the wedding, which was last Sunday, I traveled with my two sisters and a bunch of other kids—all of us decked out in our white wedding attire, through the streets of Mombasa, across the channel via the Mombasa Ferry, and into a rickshaw (tuktuk in Swahili), where we wound through small streets, 3 hours late to this wedding.

My host sister Rahma (on the right) and our cousins crammed into a tuktuk (rickshaw), on the way to the wedding.

We showed up and crammed into this concrete-walled house with other family members, where the bride was sitting. After I had been asked/forced to take copious pictures of the bride, she was marched outside underneath a large cloth, and we all went to the groom’s house—the final event of the evening. I joined a long line of women signing and shouting, as we stormed the groom’s house in one final hurrah. It was certainly quite the evening. And what evening would not be complete without a pikipiki (motorbike) ride back to the ferry with my host mom—during which we had to come to a screeching halt 3 different times to avoid hitting people. Kenya never fails to keep things interesting….

Me with my two host sisters (left and center) at the wedding.

Doug: Rolling Rapids and Terrifying Heights in Uganda!

October 17, 2011

Habari zenu!

The semester here in Nairobi is really flying by. I have about two more weeks here in the city before I move to a rural coastal town north of Mombasa for a 6-week internship at an orphanage. More to come on that in the near future.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel to my third African country—Uganda. There was so much packed into the three days we spent in Uganda, including white water rafting down the Nile and bungee jumping over the river as well, and I will try to convey all that we saw:

We decided to brave the risks of overnight bus transportation in East Africa in exchange for another day in Uganda. Downtown Nairobi at night is absolute mayhem. Due to overpopulation, there are people literally everywhere, crossing streets, packed into the sidewalks, flashing lights—it’s like a normal city on speed. Because of this, my friend Emma’s phone was stolen, which she only realized once we finally found the bus terminal. But other than that, knowing that this was the only incident of getting anything stolen on the whole trip, I’m not complaining.

So after waiting 2 hours for our bus to arrive (this is what is known as “Kenyan Time”—apparently that extends to bus schedules as well), we were off on our east-bound journey through the night to Kampala, Uganda. The bus ride ended up taking about 14 hours in total, and we hit the Kenya-Ugandan border around dawn. Getting our Ugandan visa was quite the confusing process. We sleepily stumbled out of the bus, walking in between a 2-mile long line of trucks, waiting to get into Uganda (I wondered how long these drivers had just been sitting there, waiting for entrance), finally figured out that we were supposed to just walk across the border ourselves to get our Ugandan visa, and wait on the side of the road for the bus.

Finally, after reboarding the bus with all the other passengers, we were flying through the rolling green hills of Western Uganda. Right away the landscape was vastly different from Kenya–lush and beautiful, with rich red soil, while Kenya is more dry and arid. We rolled into the outskirts of Kampala about 2 hours later. The next day was a huge soccer match between Kenya and Uganda, so people were pouring into the city from all over East Africa. Because of this, security measures were high—our bus was stopped multiple times for random security checks, and while in the city of Kampala, we were stopped at the entrances to shops and stores to be scanned. Apparently Kampala pulls out all the stops on the eve of a huge soccer match.

That evening I took probably the most interesting motorbike (‘bodaboda’ in Luganda) of my life. After dinner, we decided to try to find this traditional Ugandan culture and dance show, so after explaining to 4 bodaboda drivers where we wanted to go, we boarded the bikes. We were an odd number, so I took a bike by myself. Not only did I not speak one word of Luganda, but the driver spoke no Swahili and little English. The following ensued: we were weaving in and out of one of the worst traffic jams through the city I’ve ever seen, our bike broke down, it started back up, he got lost and couldn’t communicate with me, his phone was out of battery so he couldn’t call his friend to see where the others were. He used my phone battery, then left to buy phone minutes (because of course you carry around your phone when it’s dead with no minutes), came back, finally called his friend, and then successfully made it to where we were seeing the show! GREAT SUCCESS!

So after a day exploring Kampala, staying the night in our hostel just outside the city, we were up early to catch the ‘free’ shuttle provided by the Adrift rafting/bungeeing company we used that weekend. The rafting launch point on the Nile was just outside of Jinja, a city on Lake Victoria about an hour back west towards Kenya.

Us getting owned by the Nile

Now as far as rafting down the Nile River, this was a pretty surreal experience. The enormity, and power of some of the rapids was literally breath taking (especially when we flipped two times). We launched around 10am and rafted until 4pm, stopping for lunch along the way. Besides the worst sun burn I’ve ever had in my life (still strugglin with it as of now), rafting down the Nile was quite possibly one of the coolest things I’ve done it my life. We would be approaching what looked like small rapids and as we launched over the first one, the second would tower over us. It was like a roller coaster on a river. At one point we had to stop, get out, and they carried the raft around. When we asked our guide why, he said “These are Class 6. We would all die”–Casual.

Yeah…I wasn’t scared at all…(that’s me in the front right-hand corner, holding on for dear life)

After the full day of rafting, we went back to the accommodations that Adrift provides—a small hostel/campground, with a restaurant/bar right on the edge of the Nile–and right where we would be bungeeing the next morning. My heart raced as I awoke the next morning thinking about jumping off the huge tower that loomed over the nearby Nile. After getting breakfast, we got weighed (only 4 of us were brave enough to do the jump) and started climbing the huge wooden tower  that lead out to the ledge hanging ominously over the Nile. Apparently it was unanimously decided that I would go first, so naturally I agreed. I walked, heart racing to the little open-air room at the edge of the platform, while I was briefed by an Australian African man (yeah, I was confused too) about how safe this was, how many years they had been doing it etc etc.

View of the Nile from our hostel.

All of this did not comfort me much. I hobbled to the edge of the platform while all the while he was saying “Just don’t look down, look straight out, don’t look down, and in 3….2….1…JUMP!”

So I did, plunging hundreds of feet down towards the Nile (I actually went under water a few feet), and bounced back into the air. It was quite the exhiliration, and by far the worst part was standing at the end of that platform with my toes hanging over the edge, looking out over the Nile and the rolling Ugandan landscapes. The rest of the trip was not that noteworthy, with the rest of that Sunday spent exploring the town of Jinja, and then another overnight busride back to Nairobi.

Free fallin’ belly flop

Uganda, (besides the brutal sun), you were quite good to me, and I hope we get the chance to meet again. For now, I shall remember you by the patch of your flag I have sewed onto my bag–next to Kenya’s and Tanzania’s. It is my way of chronicling this adventurous year.


Doug: Heavenly landscapes in Hell’s Gate

October 4, 2011

Not a bad parking spot

Last weekend I made the trek to Hell’s Gate National Park with a few friends. Hell’s Gate is about an hour and a half from downtown Nairobi via Matatu, near the town of Naivasha (one of the central locations of the post-2007 election violence actually).

Sheer rock face that we biked up to the base of

On Friday morning we left taking two matatu’s to Naivasha, and then a motorbike from Naivasha to our hostel which was a beautiful backpacker’s place on lake Naivasha. The rest of the one night trip was our day-long biking into the park. The pictures speak for themselves. These were some of the most breathtaking landscapes I’ve seen in my entire life.

Fun fact: Rumor has it that Hell’s Gate is where priderock from the Lion King was based off of. (Though I’m pretty sure multiple parks claim this).

Clouds like the ones from Toy Story rolling across the savannah

We spent the day biking (mine broke halfway through the park and I had to walk it back to the entrance. At least I had these views to keep me occupied…). We then went back to our hostel, chilled on the dock, and had a bonfire. We went back to Nairobi in the morning. A short but sweet trip.

Back on the dock of our hostel on Lake Naivasha


Doug: “A state of war”

September 21, 2011

This is how one governmental leader described the series of events over the last week here in Kenya on the news last night. Though a formal conflict has not broken out in the country, the seemingly endless death toll that has emerged in the last seven days has been heart wrenching. But even more frustrating than the series of events themselves is how preventable each accident could have been with better regulation by the Kenyan government. Many of the Kenyans that I’ve talked to, rather than showing sympathy, have expressed more of a weary resignation, saying things like, “Us Kenyans, we never learn…”

Tomorrow is the official mass burial for the 100+ victims of the Sinai gas pipeline disaster. This horrific accident occurred last Monday, at around 9AM, and even made it onto international news stations. Essentially a gas pipeline running underneath the residential slum of Sinai (near Nairobi) burst, after which residents rushed to get containers to collect the free fuel. Tragically, something (people think possibly a cigarette) turned the scene into a blazing fire pretty quickly. The images were almost post-apocalyptic looking, with houses near the gas leak incinerated in seconds. As more bodies were found, Kenyans demanded justice (relatives of victims are now suing both the Kenyan Pipeline Company and the Kenyan government). But one question kept emerging: Did Sinai need to happen? Articles resurfaced from as early as February 2009, in which residents in the slum were told of the dangers of where their homes were located, but refused to move. Also the pipe that burst was over 30 years old, way over the life expectancy for pipelines. One of the major differences I have noticed after living for a month here in Kenya is the lack of effective governmental regulation in so many different sectors in life. In America, despite how much we complain about partisan politics, we place a huge amount of faith in our government to get things done. And oftentimes they deliver. If there is a huge pothole on the highway, usually it is repaved over within a week or two. If there is a water main burst, someone is there to repair it within the day.

But in Kenya (which is considered one of the more relatively advanced African countries) oftentimes those people never show up. Like in the case of Sinai, why was the pipeline not replaced after 30 years? Moreover, how could the Kenyan government not know that this pipeline was due to burst soon? Or if they did know, why did they not move residents away? After all, isn’t one of the sole roles of a government to protect its people?

But the tragedy did not stop at Sinai. Earlier this week another thirteen people lost their lives as a bus lost control trying to pass another car in Mwingi. This is just another addition to the long list of causalities resulting from one of Kenya’s most pressing problems at the moment:  failure to control road safety. Earlier, I wrote a blog post about how crazy matatus (essentially small vans used for transportation) are to ride in. At the time, I thought it was kinda scary but fun, an exciting new experience in Kenya. But now I am realizing how dangerous transportation in Kenya truly is—claiming so many unnecessary lives every year. Many roads are falling apart, while some (those built by the Chinese) are brand new. Seatbelts? Who needs ‘em. Speed limits? Hardly ever even seen a sign for them. Traffic lights and stop signs? Why even bother to obey something if you know you won’t get a ticket for failing to? This is the mentality that the government of Kenya is struggling (failing) to control.

Then, to make matters worse, a few days ago, four more people died in Kiambu after consuming the illicit Chang’aa brew, a cheap, illegal, alcoholic beverage (oftentimes containing ethanol) that has been blinding those who consume it and even killing others. Kibaki (the President of Kenya) ordered an official crackdown on the brewing of the drink last week, but what does that actually mean? The communities affected by this brew are usually those living in poverty, since the drink is so cheap, and they are fed up. These poor areas, the slums, are often the ones who pay the penalty for governmental oversight. Huge crowds (mainly women) stormed suspected pubs, smashing bottles, outraged that some of their husbands suffered the consequences of this unregulated drink.

As an American student who has just started learning about Kenya in the past year, I’m trying to understand why Kenya continues to have these problems after 60 years of independence, and what led to them; but it’s not easy. I’m starting to understand how immensely complicated this field of development is, and how many different factors play into a country’s attempts to alleviate poverty.  But amidst all this sorrow there is still great hope. I went last week with several friends to donate blood at Kenyatta Hospital—the main hospital where many of the burn victims from the Sinai fire were receiving treatment. The number of Kenyans who had showed up to donate blood was inspiring. And though that experience (though perfectly safe) probably banned me from giving blood in the US ever again, it was uplifting to see the support Kenyans had for other Kenyans.

And so life in Kenya pushes onward. Only time will tell what the next 3 months will bring, but undoubtedly it will continue to open my eyes to this country that is, for now, my home.


Doug: Back to school!

September 12, 2011

Well I guess it’s time to start the real “study” part of “study abroad” (couldn’t avoid it forever I guess). Last week we started our first week of real classes after returning from a 5-day-long orientation at Lake Nakuru National Park. Highlights from orientation week included:

  • Trying to learn 21 new names. So far it has been just the 5 of us who came early for the August-Intensive Swahili Pre-Session. Now there are 26 of us total—making it a lot more difficult to go places. A group of 26 wazungu is a pretty big target for pick pockets. One girl already had her bag stolen from underneath a table.)
  • I also had my first experience of being successfully robbed. I was heading downtown with two friends to meet up with the large group of newly arrived semester students. We boarded a bus, and not long afterwards three men with large envelopes (a sure sign of pickpockets) got on after us. They moved to sit closer to us as soon as they could, and when our stop arrived, we stood up to get off. Instantly they started crowding us, “accidentally” pushing me back into my seat, and blocking the exit of the bus. My friend Chelsea realized what was going on and shoved the guy blocking the exit out of the stopped bus. We pushed our way out, and booked it to the other side of the street—only to realize that my travel water bottle had been stolen from the outside of my bag.  Luckily nothing valuable, but still a good reminder that we can never be too careful here.
  • After our 3-hour-long bus ride west of Nairobi to Nakuru National Park, we arrived to the compound in the heart of the park, where we would be staying. We spent the next few days in talks about safety, health, host family stays etc. , doing cheesy bonding games (takes me back to beginning of freshman year of college), and doing evening game drives through the park. Lions, zebra, flamingoes, and buffalo. Oh my! (Going from Arusha National Park in Tanzania, to Nakuru, I’ve seen enough animals to satisfy for the time being).
  • Every morning, afternoon, and evening, a large family of baboons would hop the fence into our compound, and just hang out for an hour or so. We would be sitting in a circle outside, doing one of our talks, and a massive baboon would just come strolling by. It definitely kept things interesting. Periodically our director would have to grab a big stick and chase them away.

Since I haven’t talked about what I’m actually studying here, I’ll briefly tell you guys. The program (University of Minnesota Studies in International Development) is focused on development (surprise!) and there are 4 main academic components:

1)      International Development—here we study developmental theories, what has worked, what hasn’t (and why it hasn’t) and the biggest developmental issues facing Kenya right now. What’s really cool though is that we get to choose a specialization track (Education, Social Services, Microfinance, Environment, or Public Health). I was torn between Education and Social Services, but for now am going with the Social Services track, since I’m thinking of maybe doing Social Work in the future.

2)      Kenya Country Analysis—this is basically overview of Kenyan history, pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial, Kenyan political structures, etc.

3)      Swahili—the never ending attempt to become conversational in Swahili continues (I think I’m getting pretty close)

4)      Internship—this part does not come until late October. At that point we all split off and are sent to different parts of Kenya to work an internship with a developmental NGO for 6 weeks, based on what our development interests are. I finally found out (I was a little impatient) that I will be interning at The Wema Centre (Swahili for ‘goodness’)—a children’s home/ orphanage in the rural coastal town of Bamburi, 20 minutes north of Mombasa. Part of what they do is go into the city of Mombasa and work to get begging street children out of the city and into the orphanage, where many children ages 4-14 live, go to school, and eat meals—(much more to come on this once I get there). Oh, and I also found out I will be living with a Muslim family, with young kids, in a Muslim community, so that should be really interesting (again, more to come later)

Classes here in Kenya are a little different than back home for a few reasons. They almost never start on time, often get out early, and while our professors actually are very intelligent and the classes so far have been very interesting, the academic climate is just much different. Nobody is freaking out about GPA, grades, etc. I love Tufts, but let’s just say I’m not sad to learn for learning’s sake, in a much more chill environment.


Doug: The Tanzania Trip

September 8, 2011

I just returned from a 6 day trip to Arusha, Tanzania with three friends from my program, and it was absolutely amazing. The MSID program coordinators decided that they would give us 5 days to travel after our final exam last Tuesday. So we boarded a bus bound for Arusha, Tanzania. The trip to Arusha was primarily my friend Chelsea’s idea—since there is a school there that she has supported for the last 7 years, The School of St. Jude. One highlight from the 5-hour bus trip from Nairobi to Arusha was paying $100 USD at the border for a visa into Tanzania (USA and Ireland citizens are the only ones that had to pay more than $50; oh yeah, and Pakistan pays $200—sorry Pakistan). Arriving in Arusha, we found it to be a much smaller city than Nairobi, with AMAZING views of Mt. Meru—which looms over this hilly city.

View of downtown Arusha from our hostel

Our first two days and nights were spent at The School of St. Jude, a remarkable school that was started on a bare plot of land about ten years ago by an Australian woman with the dream of a school that would offer excellent education, while being completely free, to train bright young minds from the poorest families in the area. What stands today, nearly ten years since the first 3 students enrolled, is one of the most amazing schools I have ever seen, with 1,500 students (ages 7-20) on three different campuses and a core faculty of Tanzanian teachers. The School of St. Jude (the patron saint of hopeless causes) is fully funded by private donors (you can sponsor a student through their website), and everything (and I mean everything, from the kids’ backpacks, to their uniforms, to school supplies, to tuition, to the brightly colored school buses, is completely free for the students’ families). The school provides hearty meals to every student (in case they aren’t getting it at home). The campus is quite literally a paradise—it is beautifully groomed, covered in rich green grass and vegetation, with colorfully painted playgrounds and clean bright buildings. Walking around the campus, I was speechless that such a school existed in rural Tanzania.

Not a bad view…

But enough about the school—now onto the students. I challenge you to find a happier group of kids than the hundreds of primary school kids we saw running, jumping, screaming, laughing, playing and just being kids every morning before the bell rang for classes. There was no fighting; there were no disobedience issues or behavior problems or crying—just pure joy. And I realized that for these kids, school is paradise. For their families, they realize that getting this education is the only hope for their children to break out of the cycle of poverty, empowered to change their lives. “Fighting Poverty Through Education”—The School of St. Jude’s mission statement is short but powerful. They seek to train the future leaders of Tanzania, and they are well on their way—the students here score unbelievably high on standardized tests and are considered some of the brightest in the country.

I admit it—I teared up twice during our stay at St. Jude’s, both times on the last day. On that Friday, the school opened its gates (like it does every Friday afternoon for 2 months out of the year) to any and all 7-8 year-olds in a 30KM radius from the school for testing for admission. Chelsea and I agreed to help guide the kids during a series of “tests”, from basic identification of pictures, then (if they pass) to a short writing portion. What resulted was something I will never forget, as I stood in the open-air lunch pavilion, waiting for the kids to arrive: hundreds upon hundreds of boys and girls started filing into the school yard; parents (mostly mothers) and even orphanages had started lining their children up at 8AM that morning, hoping beyond all hope that their son, their daughter, would get a coveted spot at St. Jude’s (the school only can let in 150 students each year). My role was to greet each child and lead them to sit on some benches, waiting for their turn, their chance, to prove that they deserved a spot at St. Jude’s. Each kid was so precious, some holding small, dully sharpened pencils (perhaps their family’s only pencil?), with shy, scared expressions. Some light up in a grin as I smiled at them and greeted them in Swahili (most spoke no English). On the one hand (as I greeted child after child), it made me so happy to think that St. Jude’s was giving these kids a chance at an education that they may not otherwise get; on the other hand it broke my heart that the majority of these kids were going to go home empty handed—without that coveted green slip of paper, saying they had earned a spot. And here I was—a kid who always had had access to good education growing up, and in a year’s time, would be back getting my university education (something that will be a challenge to get even for many of the St. Jude’s students).

Hanging out at lunch

Nevertheless, what brought tears of joy was the amazing sight that met our eyes as we walked, later that afternoon, bags packed, to the front gate on our way out. The dozens of students who had gotten those green slips of paper (which meant acceptance to St. Jude’s) were finally making their way out of the gate after a long day of waiting in lines and testing. A huge crowd awaited them on the other side—mothers cried and yelled out screams of joy, picking up their children (who themselves did not seem to be fully aware of the implications that the paper held for their lives). People everywhere were crying and laughing, as these small kids filed one-by-one into the joyous crowd of parents. And as the crowd thinned, and as beaming mothers took their children back home (next the school will visit them at home to survey their socio-economic status to make sure they qualify for free education), I realized the true power that a school has to transform and empower the lives of the families it serves. The smiles of the kids and families also further convinced me that working with youth through education is a career path that I increasingly am feeling called to. Thank you St. Jude’s, for everything you’re doing, and all you taught me.

After the School of St. Jude, the other main thing we did was hire a taxi to drive us through Arusha National Park (while all the other silly tourists paid absurd amounts for their safari trucks, we were bouncing along in our beatup sedan–it was fantastic). Instead of going on and on about how beautiful it was and how many animals we saw, I’ll just put in a few photos:


Doug: Week 3—Power Outages and Twiga

August 23, 2011

Hamjambo marafiki!

Yeah, we had plaid day at school…

So let’s get to it. As my August Swahili Intensive class comes to a close (final exam tomorrow. Don’t worry mom, I’m still going to study, even though Tufts only sees these classes as Pass/Fail), I’ve outlined some of the highlights from the final week before the other 20 students from the program arrive:

  • Giraffe Center visit–this place was super touristy (wazungu everywhere), but also really awesome. The five of us took a bus 45 minutes outside the city, to a twiga preservation park.

    They were even bigger and more majestic than I could have imagined. We got to practice our Kiswahili with some of the park staff, and may or may not have even kissed/ gotten licked by some of the twiga (everyone was doing it…). The pictures speak for themselves

Just sharing a joke with my old friend Laura

Don’t judge…

  • Soccer–the way it was meant to be played. Last week after school one day, three of my friends decided to go play soccer on a “soccer field” that’s in my friend Jeremy’s neighborhood, so I decided to join. We pumped up my friend Chelsea’s ball that she brought, and journeyed to find the field. Now, I’d be lying if I said I was excited to go play soccer. After all, after 14 years of attempting to play soccer (high school JV for 2 years, what up), I had pretty much come to the conclusion that I kinda strongly disliked soccer. All those days of summer conditioning in the blistering Ohio heat on my high school’s turf field had kinda scarred me. But the 2.5 hours that followed on that soccer pitch changed my view. The goals were a little above waist height and the “field” was completely dirt. Two young neighborhood boys, Toby and Jeremiah, joined us to make it 3 vs 3. Pant legs rolled up, no official gear or scoreboard, with clouds of dust shooting up into the air at every shot, it was not long before we were caked in dirt, smiling with our new friends we had just made. The boys knew English pretty well, but few words were exchanged–games are an international language. Clothes and faces caked with dirt, we called it a game (I myself being a little more winded than I’m proud to say), and headed home all smiles, promising to meet them again another day.
  • Power outages are becoming more of a norm for my family. Every other night in the past week, all will be normal, me doing homework or watching TV, my mom and grandma preparing dinner in the kitchen, and then all of a sudden, pure darkness. My mom will click her tongue and yell in Kikuyu at the electric company, who is apparently to blame for plunging us into darkness for hours on end. Luckily my Kenyan cell phone has a flashlight, and or I just get in bed at some crazy early hour (like 10PM).
And so the August Pre-Session is coming to a close. I leave on Wednesday to travel down to Arusha, Tanzania with a few friends to visit my friend Chelsea’s school that she supports, and to potentially check out Mt. Kilimanjaro, and hopefully do some hiking in the area. I’ll post again after my trip, and put up some pictures (assuming I don’t get my camera stolen). 
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