The St. Lawrence University Kenya Semester Program, Spring 2014!
(This was during orientation week at a restaurant called "Carnivore," where I ate ox balls, crocodile, and many other interesting meats.)
Finally, we arrived in Kenya, at 5:45am on Saturday, the 18th, in the Nairobi Airport! On the drive to Karen, we saw a group of five giraffes in the first five minutes of driving. From that moment on, I knew this semester would present many surprises. The SLU Kenya Semester Program (KSP) is four months long and my return date to the U.S. is May 15th, but I hope to be staying longer into the summer (an extension of my Independent Study month from April to May), and possibly continue to intern for an NGO that is focused on a women’s empowerment project, such as microfinance in rural Kenya or Tanzania.
This past week, all eighteen students were placed with separate host families in rural Kenya, in the county of Nyeri, in the central highlands of Kenya, below Mount Kenya, the second largest mountain in Africa. I lived with the Gakumu family in Tetu west. They were extremely gracious, loving, trusting, and knowledgeable. My father and brother, Simon (Baba) and Robert, spoke flawless English, while my mother and sister, Anne (Mama) spoke a decent amount of English. I had numerous conversations about Kenya, and the US and the topics included: the Kikuyu culture, economy, job availability, government, corruption, religion, education, medicine and hospitals, agriculture, gender roles, spouse abuse, child beating, familial obligations, tradition, and the meaning of ‘happiness.’ They opened up their home to me, and made me feel like a family member. I was not just a guest, however. I was put to work, which I was happy about, but it was tough, to say the least.
A typical day in Nyarugumu with my family:
7:00am – wake up
7:30 – walk 1.5 miles to bring Morgan, the 5 yr old nephew, to school with Emma, my 17 yr old sister
8:30 – drink Chai (“It’s Chai time any time!”), eat two pieces of white bread with margarine for breakfast…
9:00 – wash the dishes from last night’s dinner
10:00 – mop the inside and outside of the house, with a rag on hands & knees
11:00 – laundry, hand wash everyone’s clothes
12:00 – begin to cook lunch
12:30 – work in the shamba (garden), digging with a ho, or picking coffee, or cutting grass for the cows, occastionally cut and eat some sugarcane for a quick break
1:30 – eat lunch (chapatti, or beans and rice, or fruit, or potatoes with cabbage)
2:00 – 4:00 – rest time (I would write a lot in my journal, and read, sometimes my brother and I would go on a walk to the Aberdare National Park (50 meters from their property), play card games, talk about young college (he attends the University of Nairobi), or, my favorite thing to do, turn on some East African, West African, reggae, or traditional Kikuyu music and DANCE! Robert taught me some popular dance moves, which I loved, and I showed him my Dad and sister’s favorite dance moves…the one Adrianne brought back from Argentina!
5:00 – walk to pick up Morgan from school
6:30 – begin to prepare food for dinner
8:30 – 9:30 – prepare dinner, cook in fire pits in the external kitchen which was a wooden structure
9:45pm – serve dinner to the whole family
10:15pm – clean up the table, and have wonderful conversation with my father and the family
10:30pm – sleep…I was exhausted every day. They work very hard, especially my 17-year-old sister who guided me through these chores during the first two days. I assumed the role as another daughter quite quickly, and performed her chores that I mentioned earlier.
Out of the ordinary occurrences:
I taught Emma how to drive three days in a row out of a request from the father. I was proposed to by a Kenyan 26 year old man (though he acted more like a teenager when meeting me). My Mama called the chief of security to escort another man off her property, because he wandered into the house looking for the “mzungu” (white person), in a “rude and inappropriate manner” (words from my Mama). She has authority in her household, without a doubt.
Overall, I had an amazing week filled with life-changing experiences. I will never forget this family and some other friends that I met. Everyone was so gracious towards me, and proud to be Kenyan, especially a Kikuyu. I will be back one day!
Here are some pictures from the first two weeks:
Now, I am back in Karen, at the compound, and I will be taking classes for two weeks in both Karen and Nairobi, before my three-week urban home stay in Nairobi. I am enrolled in four courses: Swahili 101, Culture, Environment, and Development, Gender Issues in Modern and Traditional Kenya, and Biodiversity Conservation and Management in East Africa. Let the in-class learning begin!
"But who am I to blow against the wind..." - P. Simon