Posts Tagged ‘MSID Kenya’


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.

Mia: Cute kids and nasty viruses

November 3, 2011

So as I type this I’m literally surrounded by cute but screaming watoto (children) at the school I’m interning at for the next 5 weeks. They’ve never seen a computer before, they’re fascinated. I’ve actually been here for about 1.5 weeks, and a lot has happened, so I’ll try to make this brief (and organized!)

Sunday: Arrived at hut compound, met family, and realized I don’t have a pillow or a door. 

Monday: Host sister (also boss), took me all over town to her school, the clinic I work at on Wednesdays, the HIV clinic I go to support group meetings at, and the school for deaf children that I lecture at on Fridays. Whew, long day. 

Tuesday: All day at the school…I realize that teaching preschoolers is much harder than it looks. Props to all pre-K teachers, it takes a LOT of patience. 

Wednesday: First day at the lab in Ambira. They showed me around, and I took names and information for each patient as they pass through (and get hit on incessantly by lab techs. Gotta love Kenyan men!)

Thursday: All day at Alice Hope again, this time in ECD 2. Trying to teach someone how to draw numbers correctly is also harder than it looks. 

Friday: Rough day. Started off with a pikipiki accident (nothing serious), I get to the school late, and then I get lost on the way to the deaf school, Sega. I arrived 45 mins late for that, and then went home after teaching. That night I was bitten by the watchdog of the compound…thankfully it didn’t break the skin because I never got rabies shots. 

Saturday–Tuesday: Sis and I go to Nakuru to see her husband and children, and get groceries for the month. On Sunday we went to a Jehovah’s Witness service (interesting), and watch some movies (they have a TV!!!). On Monday we went to the market and get enough vegetables for the month, and the on Tuesday we fit it all on the 8 hr bus ride back to Ugunja. I honestly didn’t think it was all going to fit, and neither did Lilian, but 6 boxes later we were happily boucing down the road home! That is until we came upon a traffic jam caused by not 1, but 3 semis stuck in the road. That took a few hours to fix, but we got home before dark. That night, I went to John’s homestead so he could use the internet and we could have some mzungu (white person) time. And watch Gilmore Girls!

Wednesday: Worked at Alice Hope in the morning, and worked in the lab at Ambira in the afternoon, this time using the CD4 machine and microscope to check for malaria. It doesn’t look any better microscopically…Also sorted though some spewtum and stool samples. 

Thursday: First talk to class 1 and 2 about HIV. We couldn’t find a banana, so we put the condom on a blue bottle. The kids loved that. 
This weekend I’m going to Kisumu to work on my papers and hang out with Chelsea and Kaitlyn, and hopefully wander around the coast of Lake Victoria. 

Overall things are going great, but everything moves so slowly here. Once the sun goes down there’s not much to do because we don’t have electricity. However, I’ve never seen so many happy people before. Everyone always has a smile on their face, and sincerely wants to know how your days is. It seems like the people here really enjoy their work, which is something I don’t see a lot of in the US. They also seem to value people as entertainment, probably because most people here don’t have computers or TVs. What this means is that you can get to know someone in a very short time, and entertain each other for hours. 

It’s certainly a different lifestyle, but it’s starting to grow on me. More updates as I’m able…electricity is fickle here.


Mia: It’s the end…

October 17, 2011

…of the classroom phase of the semester! Our internship starts next week, so we have our Swahili finals tomorrow and Wednesday, and the rest of the week off. It’s been more than 6 weeks since we arrived here, which is hard to fathom. 

I decided to spend the last weekend in Maasai Mara (there are pictures here), and it was amazing. Well worth the cost, and we even got to step foot in Tanzania for a little while. 

As for the business end of things, the research proposals are almost done, and all of the research papers have been started! I’m not sure how much I’ll get done before the week is out, but I’m sure not a lot is going to be accomplished in the field, so I’m trying to wrap everything up. 

The new digs

I finally have more information about my internship- I’m going to be teaching children under 8 how not to contract HIV, and I’ll be giving special lessons to the deaf children at the school. I’ll also be working with PLWH (people living with HIV) in the community, and talking about health issues. 

I’m very excited about this, but it’s going to be hard to leave my host family. They’re really great, and on top of the warm fuzzy feelings, they JUST got cable and internet. Sad day. But at least I’ll have 300 channels to surf when I come back from my hut! 


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.

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