Posts Tagged ‘homestay’


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.

Mia: Security, beads & research papers

September 24, 2011

I can’t remember if I mentioned this, but my house got broken into a few weeks ago, so my mom decided to tighten security a bit. Formerly, we had a glass door with a sliding metal grate, and a solid metal door that opens (it’s about 7 feet tall). There was a space of about 8 inches between the top of the metal grate and the cement above the door that wasn’t secured, and that’s how the thief got in. 

She had a metal grill put in above the metal grate, and soon I’m going to have a metal grate on my window as well. However, I ran into trouble today because I locked the keys (to everything, it’s one keychain) in the yard outside of the aforementioned security measures. The metal grate is secured with a padlock, and there’s no other way to get out to the lawn, so I had to break out of the house. Thankfully mom wasn’t home, or she might have had a heart attack (I’m still not sure how I’m going to explain this…I’m thinking it might be better left unsaid). 

On the upside, I look like a bead hoarder now because my desk is covered with jewelry for the fundraiser. Now when I come around the bead ladies give me crazy discounts because they know I’m coming back. They’re pretty nice too, so hopefully they’ll sell. 

We have a Swahili midterm this week, and several papers (short ones) due at the end of the week. We also have about 5 term papers due at the end of the program, which I’m not looking forward to writing…15 page research papers aren’t my favorite. It also looks like I may have to write them by hand, and then copy them, because I won’t have electricity at the new digs in October and November. Although there’s a solar powered netbook that just came out here that I’m almost tempted to buy…


Chelsea: Family = love

September 22, 2011

So, just have to make a special post dedicated to my Ecuadorian family. Today was definitely one of my favorite days here, simply because of time spent with them!

I made breakfast this morning for my family: pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs! They loved the pancakes & syrup I brought as a gift, but I’m not quite sure they understood how to eat them. They ate them with their hands and would pour a little bit of maple syrup (that they called ma-play) on the pancake before taking a bite. I was too amused to correct them.

Today was also my brother Pablo’s 8th birthday! In celebration, a bunch of family members came over to celebrate. It was similar to a US birthday party—with a ton of sweets, blowing out candles on the cake, piñata, etc. So much fun! After everyone left and we cleaned up a confetti explosion, my family helped my brother with his homework in sonicspeed and then proceeded to play games around the house. 

I’m pretty sure we were all majorly wound up on sugar, but it was such a fun night! We played the don’t-let-the-balloon-touch-the-floor game for at least 20 minutes with my dad screaming out things like “now only with your head…now your nose…you foot”, then musical chairs, followed by 20 rounds of hide-and-seek in the dark. I think tonight was definitely the most I’ve laughed since being here! 

Now, looking forward to 2 short days of school (with time off to work on a presentation) and another birthday party on Friday for my brothers’ friends! Bring on the dulces!!


Chelsea: Cold milk? What?

September 20, 2011

Back in the swing of things…back to my “reality” of classes and family time! The trip this weekend was fantastic – just a short 2 hour bus ride away from Quito! We tried out some different types of food – Ecuadorian-Mexican and Ecuadorian-Chinese, both a little different than what you would get in the U.S., but delicious. Otavalo is known for its huge market, and we definitely took advantage of that all Saturday morning! It was fun to look at all of the scarfs/jewelry/crafts and was a good test of my Spanish skills to bargain for my purchases!

Later in the day, we finally found an open tourism office and convinced the man there to let us go horseback riding, even though it was slightly raining and it was later in the day! We went on a horseback ride for over 2 hours through Indigenous communities and some tight mountain passes. My horse was deemed “alegre” (happy), and it definitely lived up to that—it had no concept of walking and liked to pass the guides. I definitely loved it.

We had our first essay due yesterday. Yikes! It’s hard to get anything academic done here with all of the distractions, but my group managed to crank out the 8 page paper in no time.

…just another full week of classes (without any trips, boo!), but should be fun!

This week has been full of cooking. My family had spaghetti (Ecuadorian-style) on Sunday and I made cheesy garlic bread that my family loved! This morning I made pristiños (a type of donut with a honey sauce…) to share with my Spanish class and tomorrow is my brother’s birthday so I’m making my family a breakfast of pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon! 

…and this morning I got Trix.  My brother was eating them for breakfast and I think my drool tipped off my mom that I wanted some. It was delicious, despite the 10 minutes of making fun of the fact that I eat my cereal with cold milk (they drink it warm!). Worth it 🙂


Grace: Korité, theft, & chocopain

September 8, 2011

Okay so let’s see, what have I done since my last post…I’ve finished my pre-session French class, learned some more Wolof, eaten lots more chocopain (the nutella-ish stuff that I love), completed the month of Ramadan (feeling like this is a major accomplishment, not that I fasted or anything…), celebrated said ending of Ramadan, had my cell phone stolen while buying an outfit for the aforementioned celebration, and made lots of new friends, both American and Senegalese.

Alrighty, let’s talk about Ramadan. I got to Senegal the day before it started, so I have gotten the full Ramadan experience. Before coming here, I knew what Ramadan was, but I thought all it really involved was skipping lunch. Turns out, it actually involves more than just not eating during the day.  During Ramadan, people don’t really hang out with friends, or go dancing (all the dance clubs in Dakar have been closed), or see their boyfriends/girlfriends, or wear makeup, or play sports. They pretty much avoid fun.

So on Tuesday evening, my family was frantically searching the night sky for the moon, which has to be there for the end of Ramadan to happen. We couldn’t find it anywhere. Thankfully, the moon-less sky was only in Dakar, and other places in Senegal saw it (don’t really understand this, but whatever). So Ramadan was officially over! This meant that Wednesday was “La Korité”, the end of Ramadan celebration. 

I really didn’t know what to expect with Korité, but I had heard that everybody buys new, traditional-style outfits for it, so last Saturday Anne and I went to the market to find dresses.  This was an experience. And I don’t really mean that in a good way. It was sooo hot, and there were pretty much a billion people there, pushing and shoving, 500 million of whom were trying to sell stuff to me or give me a henna tattoo. We had to squeeze our way into the center of the market where the pre-made, Korité-appropriate clothes were and try to find something that was a decent color and wouldn’t make us look obese. In the end, we were successful, and each found something we liked for about $20. We then managed to squeeze our way out of the market again and took a car-rapide home. And then I got home and discovered that I no longer had a cell phone…

So I don’t think I’ve explained car-rapides yet.  These are small, brightly colored buses that are the traditional means of public transportation in Dakar. Anne and I have been wanting to ride them this whole month, but we didn’t know how they worked and were a little scared, so we’ve just stuck with the boring old taxis. But Saturday was the day, and with the help of Ami, one of my family’s maids, who took us to the market, we got the car-rapide experience. Basically, there’s a guy hanging off the back of the bus and you hop on and tell him where you’re going and pay him (the going rate is like 20 cents).  Then you squeeze onto the rickety bus and try (and usually fail) to find a seat in between all the bodies.  When the bus gets to where you want to get off, the guy on the back hits the side of the bus and the driver stops and lets you off. 

Your typical car-rapide.

So after buying a new outfit, and hearing about Korité for weeks, I was expecting a pretty big shebang.  However, Korité day actually wasn’t that different. We ate lunch, which was new, but I’m assuming that starting today that won’t be that unusual. Oh, and we had this sweet yogurt-y stuff on top of oatmeal for breakfast (instead of chocopain like usual…this was sad).  Other than that, everyone just kinda sat around all afternoon and napped.  Towards the evening everyone changed into nice clothes, but nothing really special happened then either, except that the kids in the neighborhood came around to all the houses asking for money (it’s a little like Halloween, but not).

With my cousins (Aisha, can’t remember the baby’s name but she’s adorable, and Suley) in the courtyard of my house on Korité (note my new outfit)

Oh, and something else exciting that happened this week was that the rest of the study abroad group came! So now there are 18 Americans here, which means lots of new friends, yay! We start classes on Monday. I’ll be taking French, Country Analysis (culture/history of Senegal), Wolof (actually super pumped for this), International Development, and Public Health.  All in French. I’m pretty excited, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a semester before where I’m actually legitimately interested in all my classes.


Mia: Nairobi! Kenya believe it!?!

September 6, 2011

So getting internet took a really long time. I’m actually writing this on the 3rd, because I couldn’t get to an internet cafe, and the service stores close early on Sat and don’t open on Sun. So I’ll tell you about my day today!

I met my host mom, she’s an adorable Kikuyu woman with a 17 year old son. Her husband died about 16 years ago, and she lives alone with her son, but has a househelp come once a week to clean and do the laundry. We watched soap operas and the news all day, and had lots of rice and masala tea. By the way, the soap operas here are English-dubbed telenovelas (figure that one out), and EVERYONE watches them. It’s very odd haha, but I did enjoy watching them with her. Tomorrow I’m going to meet a group of women that she’s part of who loan each other money to start businesses and help each other out.

My mom also does HIV outreach in the slum (Kibera, it’s the biggest one in Africa), and I’m going to try to tag along one of these days. One of the boys, Jeremy, works in the slum with the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy, which tries to keep girls safe by putting them on soccer teams after school. It’s a great program, I might go see them too. I’m very excited by all of this, and I really like Kenya…it’s so beautiful, and the people are so honest with you. I get stares everywhere because people have never seen a whitey (‘mzungu’) before, but everyone I meet has been friendly.

The city itself isn’t that different than the worst parts of Kazan, and the house I’m in is actually bigger than anything I saw in Kazan. I’ve got my own room, desk, and queen sized bed. However, there’s rarely running water because the government rations it, and the electricity is sketchy. But it’s a good trade off—and I have a yard to play in! Also, I’m about 20 feet from a golf course…the Air Force followed me after all.

I doubt I’ll be drinking here. The city is reaaaally unsafe at night, and being drunk after dark, even in a group, is a really bad idea. Some guys got robbed last year, and some guys this year almost got carjacked, so I’m going to be keeping it real with the studying and telenovelas.

Update, 5 Sep 11

So I decided that running by myself during the day wouldn’t be too risky, and went for a 3 or so mile run on the streets. It’s hard to run here. It’s a mile higher than I’m used to, and there’s smog everywhere. But I feel much better now (it’d been two days since I ran).

I talked to Jeremy, and I’m definitely going to the slum with him tomorrow to work with the girls’ soccer school. We also have 4 hours of Swahili lecture tomorrow (the director, Jama, swears up and down that it’s 2 hours straight, then another 2 hours straight, but my experience with Kenyan time leads me to believe otherwise…). I’m very excited to start learning again. 

I’m thinking about getting braids with Barb next week. I know they usually don’t look good on white girls, but I’m hoping to find a style that don’t look too ridiculous. I’ve always wanted to try them, and everyone has them here so it won’t look out of place (even on a mzungu).

I picked up internet today, and I won’t mention names, but it’s awful. Splotchy, slow, and aggitating in general. But it works sometimes, which is all I need. The MSID office has wifi, so I’ll be skyping there. It’s about a 40 minute walk away, so it’ll be very rare.

I’m watching a random American movie with the host fam right now (my brother has lots of them, most of them are recent, and I don’t watch movies so I haven’t seen any of them). It’s great bonding. We watched ‘Friends with Benefits’ last night. It was interesting to watch it with my brother, he got almost all of the random American pop culture references, which I wasn’t expecting. American culture really has permeated Kenya.


Chelsea: Hola Ecuador!

September 5, 2011

I can’t believe I’ve only been here a week—it seems like forever! I feel like I have known some of my fellow students for years —not days! I am already accustomed to greeting my entire family with a kiss every time I enter / leave / wake up / go to bed that it seems natural! I no longer have to consciously think about not putting the toilet paper actually in the toilet (that one took some adjusting) or dread choosing between temperature or pressure when I shower. 

Luckily, I have a fantastic family! They have welcomed me with open arms and I already feel so loved. From the first day my mom here has called me “hija” (meaning daughter). Today, we went to see the panecillo, which is a huge statue in Quito dedicated to La Virgen del Panecillo that you can see from all parts of Quito! It was a tremendous view of the city! In the same area, there was also a festival of some sort where everyone was listening to music and flying kites! I had so much fun with my family there flying kites & just looking out at the mountains – just a typical Sunday.

This past weekend, we went on a 2-day trip with our program to San Miguel de los Bancos. It was such a beautiful place! In only a few kilometers of land there is more biodiversity than in the U.S. & Canada combined! Unfortunately we didn’t see too many animals, but did get the chance to see a few birds and some beautiful butterflies. It was such a relaxing weekend and an experience to bond our group of 29 together. I did some hiking in the mountains, relaxed at the pool, ate my weight in delicious food, and swam in a river, which happened to be a tad cleaner than the Mississippi…and with a much stronger current! 

Now: Pretend this next part was posted last Tuesday. It was saved as a draft, and due to a few computer issues, I wasn’t able to post it until now.

I still can’t believe I’m actually here —it’s definitely still completely surreal when I look outside and see mountains!

A few minor delays and such, but overall, pretty smooth travels here! I did learn that I might have packed a tad too much. Note: it is super embarrassing when you can barely fit in the elevator by yourself with your suitcases (but, in my defense, the elevator was small: capacity 6).

After a short night at a small hotel & some chaos figuring out where we should be/when, we all boarded a bus and arrived at our school in Quito. We had a long day of our orientation and were shown around the school (which is super nice!) and talked to about expectations, homework, etc. It was then that I realized I was actually taking classes here, yikes. I definitely have not transitioned into school mode and I have a presentation in 2 days!

We had a traditional Ecuadorian lunch (some type of potato soup, corn nuts, fruit, etc.) before meeting our host families, which was a bit nerve racking!

I am already completely in love with my family! My parents, Roberto and Lincango, are quite possibly the sweetest people ever and are so excited to have me here! I also have a 7-year old host brother, Pablo, that is extremely active and might be my new best friend since he has a mountain of toys, including legos, in his room.

Tonight my family drove me into the city center to see a huge basilica—the traffic was almost as bad as Chicago, but also had additional factors like city buses and the fact that when you cut someone off / almost collide, you just honk your horn and all is fine. Unfortunately, the basilica was closed, but I still got to see part of the city center, including a few beautiful churches and the government office of the president. We also stopped at the grocery store on the way home that was in a huge shopping mall. I was able to buy some turkey, cheese, and bread for lunch tomorrow – yay! 

I came back & helped my mom prepare dinner: green plantain soup & fried rice cakes with tuna/tomatoes/onions. From the vegetable & fruit non-eater, here is the update: I ate an entire banana this morning, green plantains, and tuna. I’ve grown so much already.

After dinner, I talked with my host family and showed them a few pictures from back home! They’re still amazed with hearing about Minnesota weather and laugh every time I say that it’s hot (and the rest of the family is shivering cold).

First day of classes tomorrow @ 8am. Guess I’m here to be a student after all.

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