Posts Tagged ‘Swahili’


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: 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: 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! 


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…


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.


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.


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). 

Doug: Week 2—Still living and (barely) breathing

August 16, 2011


I’m still alive and, for the time being, malaria-free and well! My second week in Nairobi proved to be a little less hectic than my first.

I’m finally settling into my daily routine, which consists of being up and out the door by 8:25 for 8:30 Swahili class (luckily, I live right across the street from Nazerene University, a university/church combo, with a small collection of simple classrooms). We have 4 hours of Swahili language class (I’m in the “Intermediate” class with two other girls. It’s basically 4 hours of conversation and some grammar, which is helping me to pick up a lot more), with a 30 minute “tea time” break in the middle (enter continued British colonial influence. French fries are also “chips” here, silly British people…)

There is an open-air eating area with an attached kitchen nearby where we get Kenyan chai every day. They also have traditional Kenyan chakula (food). So far I’ve been eating a lot of mchuzi wa mboga (vegetable stew with cabbage, tomatoes, and potatoes), ugali (a white, moldable flour that you eat with meals), chapati (it’s like pita bread, but much better) sikumu wiki (this green spinach-like stuff is with almost every meal. The name literally means “stretch the week”—because it’s cheap and filling, it’ll last until the next pay check”).

There have been some cultural differences that this Ohio mzungu (friendly Swahili term for a white person) is still getting used to:

  • Kenyans not only drive on the left side of the road, they also, naturally, walk on the left side of the sidewalk (which is often just a dirt path). This has resulted in my walking almost directly into multiple Kenyans, but I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.
  • Traffic laws, or rather, a lack-thereof. The rule of thumb is basically if you can get somewhere faster, just make it happen by any means necessary (and I mean by, literally, any means necessary—see previous description of my journey outside the city via matatu)

    Pretty typical sight in some parts of Nairobi

  • The mzungu price. This is whenever you are in a new situation and you don’t know the price of something, the first price they say is probably inflated drastically. For example, I was catching a taxi to meet up with my friend Jeremy and his host family for his birthday dinner. I knew it should be 300 shillings (roughly under $3). I get in the taxi, the driver begins driving a little bit…silence…then “You know how much this costs? It’s 1,000 shillings”. Naturally, I expressed my disbelief, and he went on and on about how far away it was (I knew it was a 10 minute drive), and how there would be construction (there wasn’t). I offered to pay 200, he refused and said 800, I then said 300 or I was going to leave. He freaked a little, saying how little money that was. I then started to get out of the taxi, to which he promptly said “Okay! Okay! Okay!”. The rest of the taxi ride continued in silence.
  • No Hooting! –These signs are everywhere, posted mostly around residential areas. Took us a little while to figure out that this is Kenyan English for “No Honking”. Still, I’ve been hearing my fair share of hooting…
  • The pollution. I’m not much of save-the-trees person, but, simply put, the pollution in Nairobi is AWFUL. I’ll be walking along Ngong Road (the main road outside my house) and I’ll see a matatu or big bus approaching, pumping out a massive cloud of black death. It’s then a race to see how long I can hold my breath.

    Awesome skyline. Not so awesome pollution

  • No snacks—Kenyans don’t really snack. It’s three meals per day (no Cheezits, no Doritos, or chips and salsa, and also no soda at home, perhaps explaining the less obesity—though I’m sure the lack of McDonalds and fast food is also a contributing factor). I can feel my American stomach shrinking daily.

Regardless of being an mzungu here (as well as being in the minority for the first time ever, which is proving to be both a humbling and eye-opening experience), Kenya is already starting to feel like home.  It’s a much different way of life, but, as my professor and advisor at Tufts says “There is order in the disorder”. From the crazy traffic, to people walking everywhere along dusty paths, to street vendors at open-air markets, things here seem to have a different character and life to them. Needless to say, if there ever was any doubt, I’m here for the long haul (aka until December 21st).


Doug: First week

August 6, 2011

Hamjambo familia na marafiki!

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

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

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

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

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

My host mom grows maize outside

My New home

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

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

The drying machine

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


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 ?
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