Posts Tagged ‘Mombasa’


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.

Haley: Emotional rollercoaster

December 3, 2010

I haven’t posted anything the past few weeks. I found myself in a strange state of mind where I didn’t know HOW to write what I felt, experienced, saw… mostly because I wasn’t sure of what I thought. My apologies!!!! But I still have stories I want to share. SO this post will consist of a few play-by-plays or bullet points of the past couple of weeks spent in Mombasa. The overview being: Homesickness hit HARD when we first arrived, eased into contentedness to full on travellers HIGH, and back to normal(ish).

Home-sickness: Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe the feelings you have while away. I don’t even think a pregnant woman is capable of being as hormonal as a person caught in the middle of this wretched emotional feat! No joke, the whole first week of internship was like trying to run in water.

  • You don’t really realize HOW alone and isolated you really are until you go to a place where nobody speaks your language (or is WILLING to speak it).
  • You’re a full head taller than everyone your gender. You’re even taller then most the men too.
  • When looking at staff pictures you’re easily spotted NOT because you’re the only one smiling, but because miraculously you seem to have a nuclear GLOW underlining the pigment of your skin.
  • No matter how many times you say your name, you still get called something TOTALLY different (my personal favorite being Sylvia).
  • Realizing you would rather be called “Sylvia” than ‘This One” (always with a finger-point or head-nudge).
  • Becoming totally convinced that clocks run 100 times slower in tropical countries because you’re dying to get some AC going… or maybe even some Deodorant fans?
  • You realize that everyone has a better opinion about your country than you… And yet they have never ACTUALLY been there (it’s my personal fav).
  • Pretending to speak a different language OTHER than English because people love to show off their ‘bi-lingual’ skills, which essentially is ‘HOW-ARE-YOU!?’ and ‘MONEY!!’ (Como estas/ cava/ ti kanis/waduuuuuup = a frightened Kenyan that quickly loses interest).
  • Having to repeat yourself at least THREE times because you ask where “Oliver (Ah-live-er)” is, and nobody knows who the heck you’re talking about:
    • [ “ummmm the guy whose desk is next to yours?”
    • ] “OHHHH ….Oliver (OH-lee-vahh)”
  • People starting a conversation with you such as:
    • ] “Are you American?!?!?!?!”……. I’ve learned to lie and say other countries to avoid talking about the States
    • [ “Uhhh…. No……. I’m from Canada” (the first and last times I used Canada…)
    • ] “Oh… have you ever BEEN to America!?!?!?!??!?!” (arrrreeee youuuu kidding me?….)
  • When you are eating a traditional dish with your hands like eevveerryyoonnee else, looking up you find everyone watching you eat while giggling; Duh Haley… white people only eat meals with un-needed amounts of silverware, drink tea with their pinkies extended while stroking their curled up mustaches gaggling over last year’s preposterous yyyyyyyaaaaaaccchhhhttttt-club decor. Silly ME!
  • Wearing “shorts” that go slightly above your knee. You would think that Hugh’s Bunnies were on a promo with the reactions you’d get. “Girls-gone-wild in Kenya: WOOOO SHOW ME SOME ANKLEEEEE!!!!!!”
  • Men for some reason talking to you in a HIGH pitched voice.
  • Men thinking they are better than women. Ohhhhhhhh how I’ve realized how much I appreciate being a woman in the United States.
  • Those same men thinking they can get you in the sack because “You’re American right? So every girl over the age of 18 ‘sins’, it’s what you do.”—while touching your knee winking (MOTHER F–# #*Q64 @&*^&^!*^!*^&^#……… *^*&^*&!%@^!&@)
  • You order a Greek salad, and there’s nothing Greek about it. Hell, it’s not even a salad (sigh).
  • Stepping in camel poop at the beach.
  • Having to pretend that the “puddles” you WANT to avoid in the mud roads and allyways you take every day, are from fresh tap water. And if you step on something squishy, just keep on walking. Don’t even THINK about looking down or back…. and stenches you come across on the road, well lets just pretend you live in a community of gassy people because chances are that’s a more desirable reason for such assaulting smells.
  • Wondering WHY (after you just said you don’t understand Swahili), people think speaking SLOWER in Swahili changes your comprehension.
  • Sitting in a meeting at ‘work’ for 5 hours where ONLY Swahili is spoken, and when it is finished someone asks if you have anything else to add:
    • [ “Ummmmm Yes: I don’t speak Swahili(?)”
    • ] “so you didn’t understand anything we just talked about?”
    • [ “no”—and then that wonderful open-minded woman gets frustrated with you because you didn’t pick up on the conversation after the 2nd hour, and your advisor asks:
    • ] “You mean to tell me there wasn’t a translator there for you?! WHY wasn’t there a Translator!!??”
    • [“uhhhhmmmm… because you didn’t assign me one….”
  • Squatty-Potty’s: essentially a flushable HOLE meant to strengthen your quads and hamstrings (a better workout when bugs are present)… and it’s your lucky day if toilet paper is present

Boy-oh-boy so I truly felt bad for anyone who had to talk to me the week of Homesickness!


  • People at work start to know your name (or the sound of your name). You don’t know theirs, but who CARES! They at least said hi!
  • You no longer sit at ‘work’ playing bejeweled on your phone for 3 hours straight. You get to decipher ‘Doctor-writing’ (which by the way is 10 times worse in Kenya).
  • You get invited to sit next to people during tea time. (haha I can’t write this one without laughing at how pathetic it sounds)
  • Someone decides to take the time to explain WHAT they are doing at work, and translate everything for you in the process
  • You realize that you are surrounded by the most beautiful beaches you have ever seen, and that going to the Indian Ocean cures every problem you thought you might have had.
  • You realize you are not the only mzungu suffering homesickness or frustrations.
  • The people you work with laugh at your jokes… even if you’re not making one.
  • You find that someone has paid for not only YOUR bill, but your friends’ as well, while refusing to actually introduce themselves to you (**Okay so this is a step up from Napkin-Man, Moroccan-Stalker, and Illiterate-Texter in Nairobi… but still, just go up and the girl and TALK to her—with taste of course).
  • You’ve come to terms that sweating is just a lifestyle where you live now, and there’s nothing you can do about frizzy hair. Read the rest of this entry ?

Haley: Huckleberry Finn

November 21, 2010

So I wake up after sleeping in… oh wait no I didn’t sleep in because three churches that surround my house BLARE their wonderful off-beat music in the mornings as if competing to prove whose love for god is greater… You ALL WIN!!!! gahhh.

So yes I wake up knowing that today is definitely a day I am going to the beach because it is HOT as hell by 9 a.m. and there’s not a cloud in the sky. Conveniently my friend Katie had the same-idea. So rather than going to the convenient Pirates Beach, we decide to go to a beach further up the coast—a beach that requires 3 different matatu rides, and a total brain diffusion!

We get on our last matatu that we have to take in order to reach Mombasa Beach and 20 minutes later we are the only ones on it.
[ “Do they know where we’re going?”
] “Yeah… Mombasa Beach! We told them twice…..” (matatu stops…. driver turns around)
]”Sooo…. where are you going?”
[ “(sigh…Katie and I in unison) Mombasa beach…”
] “Ohhh… we passed it”— of course you did. So thankfully they turn around and take us there… well no actually they take us to a place they THINK is “there”.

Katie and I get off the Matatu and are on a rocky road, surrounded by unfinished buildings and palms trees. So we just start walking and come across tons of lavish hotels. “Screw it,” we said. “lets just walking into one of these hotels to cut to the beach!” So that’s exactly what we did. Only when we got to the hotel, the man at the desk told us we had to be staying at the Hotel in order to get to the beach… yes, absolutely HAD to be staying there in order to use the stairs for the beach. “… BUT since you’re here why not?”

So we walk into this hotel snickering over what just happened and as we hit the beach side we are just struck by AWE. We just walked into a honeymooners catalog. The most unbelievable hotels on the most amazing beaches and here two 20 year olds come toddling in laughing over the retired men wearing speedos. SUCCESS! We just walked and walked and kept on walking around these rocks/cliff to find even more beautiful scenery where now we are SURE that this isn’t real. Maybe things like Inception are real? Because places like this just are NOT real… We keep on walking further away from the busy beach and are suddenly ALL by ourselves on this never ending beach of white sand, NO seaweed, and a playfull ocean. There’s one shady shack open serving drinks (which we of course don’t hesitate to buy a coke from).

While we were just sitting on the beach wrapping our heads around the fact that “we’re in Africa… on the Beach… in November” (it never gets old), this guy, Abu, comes up to us asking if we would take his picture with his i-phone. After awkwardly talking to him for a couple of minutes, we discovered he is a student in Mombasa about our age, and he had nothing to do. Well he couldn’t be happier to linger around and talk to two foreigners, and we couldn’t find it any funnier. We are CONVINCED that this kid is some “Prince A-boo-boo” because he is of some middle eastern decsent (we think); he’s a native of Mombasa and-YET he does not know Swahili very well (that’s just unheard of); He goes horseback riding on the beach all the time; He keep on saying he lives where all the Indians do (whatever that means); He is obsessed with his I-phone; He’s going to school to try and steer away from the “family business” (perhaps the throne?); He continued to ask if we needed or wanted anything (in a sincere, not creepy way); Offered to drive us home, which was completely out of the way; And well, it made for a funnier time assuming all of this.

Katie and I go jump into the water to rinse the sand off (which is instantly replaced with salt) and seriously it was like swimming in bath water. The water is so blue and oil-leak free, and it took not even 10 meters for us to reach swimmable depth. It is one of my favorite places in the world. When we would look to shore we notice Abu kept re-arranging our stuff and just sat there waving at us every time we would look back. We couldn’t help but laugh at his kind-awkwardness. When we went back to shore we realized that he wasn’t rearranging our stuff—he was just moving it because the tide was coming in. I look at Katie and tell her we have to leave NOW!
] ” (?) Why?”
[ “… because we have to get to the rocks befor the tide does!”

So we grabbed our stuff, said our goodbyes to Abu, and started trucking our way back up north. We got to the first cliff as the water did too. We start climbing these rocks now laughing at how crazy of a day this has been. We also discovered that the rocks were crawling with Crabs! We ran from the rocks trying to make our way to the next cliff when these men came by on a boat shouting at us that we need to climb the stairs and take the road rather than stay beach-side trying to beat the tide.

We climb these hidden stairs that took us to this lavish hotel FULL of retired eurpeans and honeymooners, tables with nice tablecloths, more pools than needed, a club blaring American music, and a fancy lawn display. So we go back down the stairs to the, what now looks like an “Angry” sea and had to climb the rocks and shuffle our way across the cliff while carrying our stuff on our heads. The water would come up crashing against us at times throwing you off balance. If you fell you were pretty much screwed because your camera, phone, AND ipod was going in the water WITH you, and flipflops do no justice for balancing. As Katie was walking her flip flop fell off into the sea
[ “hahahaha that’s a goner… ahhhhhh we’ll just get you a new one!”
] “NOOOOO!!!!! (throws me her bag and jumps in)”
[ “ARE YOU CRAZY!!!!! You’re going to DIE over a FLIP FLOP!?”
she climbs back up the rocks after rescuing a distraught flip-flop smiling…..

As I take a step my flip flop falls off over the edge… and without hesitation Katie now stands holding my stuff as I plunge in after my Old-Navy trademark. We miraculously defeated the Indian Ocean.

What a day, what a life, what a world. This is only a small story of MANY that us MSID students have accumulated while being in our internship phase. Every day that I have lived in Mombasa, I have learned or experienced something new. I wish I could have a video camera rolling at all times, because there is just SO much in life that passes us by. I am living the life of a modern day Huckleberry Finn with excitement, exploration, defeat, troubles, struggles, but most of all… discovery. It is never a dull moment while living out of your element, and I can honestly tell you that there is no way to FULLY explain or even display these experiences without having experiencing them yourself. So I truly hope, that the chance you get to try something new… do it. Don’t even hesitate… Jump from the rocks into the ocean to catch your golden flip-flop….


Heather: Last week in Mombasa

April 23, 2010

This is my last week in Mombasa so I’ve just been finishing up some stuff at work. Mostly just working on my presentation and final report that I have to turn in.

I also made dinner for my family yesterday – my original plan was to make burritos. However, when I went to the store, I was banking on them having chapati (to use instead of tortilla shells), but they did not. And then I didn’t want to depend on a street vendor having them outside my house, so I had to think on the fly. I decided to just simply change it to chicken stir-fry. That was something easy to make, and something I didn’t need a recipe or ingredient list for. I just picked up some rice, chicken, green and yellow peppers and some onions. As I was making it, the power went out. I had two burners going and I was flying blind. But no worries, I prevailed! It turned out well. My family seemed to enjoy it.

Since you may be curious about my host family, I’ll talk about that. As mentioned before, it was just my host mom and I. Since then the kids have come home from school for 2 weeks but have left again now. And my host dad came home from Sudan from work, but is leaving next week to go back for another couple months. For the time that he was home, my host mom took a leave from work so she could be around during the day.

When I get home from work we talk about how each of our days went, but they’re a pretty quiet family. My little brother and sister didn’t talk much either; I think they were just shy. It’s different learning about the kids’ schooling and stuff, but I’m still not exactly sure how the system works.

For dinner we normally have rice with cabbage and fish or some sort of stew. Sometimes there’s spaghetti, and other times we have chapati and beans. The rice stews and spaghetti are my favorites. After dinner the family normally watches TV, but it’s mostly in Swahili so I don’t know much. I try to watch it but I really have no idea what’s going on, so I normally read. They don’t talk amongst themselves much either.

I normally prepare my own breakfasts, which are just white bread and hot chocolate. It’s very simple, but it doesn’t take much time.

The other night my host mom gave me a handbag with a carved wooden lion and a salt shaker made out of cow horn. It was very nice of her and I really like it. Since I didn’t know anything about my family before coming to Mombasa, I didn’t have any gifts for my family. But a couple weeks ago I was making bracelets from beads that I made in Nairobi and I gave a couple to my host mom and her sister in law who always made me dinner. So I’m glad I at least had something in return for her.

I will try to post pictures of my house, but I don’t know when that will be. Maybe next week when I am back in Nairobi.


Heather: internship lessons

April 10, 2010

This week for work was pretty boring. However, I found out how Kenyans like to deal with aggressive animals. Straight up kill them. I was so mad when I found this out. One of our oryxs decided he wanted to be aggressive toward the dominant male of the group so he could get all the ladies. Well apparently my coworkers don’t like that. So they decided the best way to deal with the situation would be to kill him. And lucky me got to watch. There are other options available you know. Like, I don’t know, maybe move him to another area of the park where he can’t get to the big male. Seems so simple to me. Ugh. But then later when they were cutting him up to feed to the crocodiles (sorry for the graphics), they asked me if I wanted some of the meat! Really?? But then I figured, why not, I’ll try it. But then they didn’t want to give it to me because it wasn’t doctor approved and they didn’t think my stomach could handle it. How thoughtful.

Yesterday I got to play with day old crocodiles, that was kind of fun. One bit me. But don’t worry, his teeth were like sandpaper, nothing dangerous! They were kinda cute in their own weird way. And then they grow up and be not cute anymore.

Today I walked around the park locating all of our tortoises. We think we have 12, but we only found 9 of them. There’s gotta be 3 more out there somewhere. One of them that we have, Mzee, is 270 years old!! He doesn’t do much except sit there.

Tomorrow Liana and I are going to go to Wasini Island and go snorkeling! And hopefully swim with the dolphins too. We thought there would be more people going, but I guess not. Oh well, their loss! And Sunday 4 of us are going deep sea fishing! Yes, be jealous. I will let you know how those things go soon!


Heather: 2 a.m. hospital trip

March 26, 2010

I don’t think Mombasa likes me very much. Last night I got home from work and I thought I had some dust or something in my eye so I took my contacts out to clean my eyes. Well, they still hurt so I decided I would just wait it out. Bad idea. I couldn’t sleep because when my eyes were shut it hurt even worse. So I got up at midnight and looked in a mirror, only to find that my eye was the size of an apple and swollen shut. I thought I would wait til morning to go to the hospital, but it was unbearably painful. I woke my host mom at 2am. She took one look at me and told me I had an eye infection.

I got to the hospital and got let right in (2am is a great time to go—no one there!). They didn’t really even look at me that much; they just told me I had an infection. I guess there’s a pretty nasty infection going around that’s really contagious. Guess I got it somehow. So I got some painkillers and eye drops to sort it all out. I hope it doesn’t take too long to fix—gotta go to the beach this weekend! And it didn’t cost too much either. The taxi ride there and back cost more than the visit and medications.

Other than that minor mishap, things have been going well. Just been working this week from 7:30–5. Pretty long days in the sun. Tuesday I had to walk around all morning in my full gear. I like to relate it to a Carhartt outfit because that’s what it feels like. I was drenched in sweat. Yesterday it was cloudy and a little rainy so I definitely embraced that. It gets sort of frustrating when you think you should be doing something at work, but there’s nothing to do. Like yesterday I sat around for about 4 of the 8 hours I was there.

When I do get to do stuff, I am doing some feeding and observing of animals. I feed the giraffes (Henry is my favorite, though he likes to steal the food from the younger giraffes). Before I left last night I helped with the snake feeding too. We went out to the rat house and killed 3 rats and then gave them to different snakes. It was actually really cool to do that. One of the Puff Adders was hissing like crazy. I thought he was going to strike. But luckily, he did not. Had to skip work today because of my eye, and we’ll see how it is tomorrow.


Heather: A FAN!!!

March 23, 2010

Pretty successful weekend, I might say. I found out I had to work on Saturday morning from 9-11. We did a couple treatments on some oryxs. We trap them in a boma and then we have a chute that we use (sort of like for cattle) to bring them down the line one by one and then we can do the treatments that way. The ones we were working on were treated for some cuts from fighting each other, nothing too big. I got out of there about 11:30 and headed for THE BEACH!

We ended up going to Mombasa beach. It was a little bit of a walk, but not too bad. The water was gorgeous and really warm. We had to wait a bit for the tide to come in so we could actually swim. We were there for a couple hours and then decided it was too much sun. I got home and attempted to hold a swahili conversation with my sisters; it sort of worked. They understood what I was saying at least. Just hung out for the rest of the night. Sunday, I went to the beach again. We got there and there was hardly anyone there. It was really nice! Liana came to join us too. It was fun until some creepy dude flashed Liana and Rebecca. Glad I didn’t see that. I talked to Gladys and she told me she found another family for me to live with, so I was happy about that.

I got home and found out that Gladys had already told my family that I was leaving. So it was a little awkward, but I made it out just fine. My new home is in Bombolulu (great name if you ask me), but it’s a little too far to walk to work so I have to take a matatu every day. But at least I’ll still get my exercise at work. My new family is a mom and dad, and 2 kids. However, the dad works out of country and my siblings are at boarding school. So currently it’s just Mama Beatrice and I. But it’s fine, she’s pretty legit. She’s a cook so maybe I’ll get some good meals! She told me sometimes she’s too tired to make dinner so she just goes out and gets some food. Which is what we did tonight. Not bad!

We have a 2 bedroom home, but with a REAL kitchen. There is a sink! I haven’t seen one of those in awhile! And we have doors, thank God. There is running water, but the pressure was too low tonight, so I took a bucket bath. Don’t even mind that anymore. It saves a lot of water. We still have a squatty potty, but again, it’s ok. I currently have my own room, but I think when my siblings get back I’ll have to share. But, I HAVE A FAN!!! I have never been so happy to see a fan in my entire life. It’s a nice place, and I’m glad I switched. I think Mama Beatrice is going to be good to me. Oh yes, and there’s some pretty sweet old school Backstreet Boys playing outside. I could get used to this.

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