Posts Tagged ‘Swahili’

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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.

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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.
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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! 

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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…

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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.

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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.

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Doug: Week 3—Power Outages and Twiga

August 23, 2011

Hamjambo marafiki!

Yeah, we had plaid day at school…

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

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

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

Just sharing a joke with my old friend Laura

Don’t judge…

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