Sunday, September 27, 2009

Reflection Paper #4

As soon as we arrived in Tumbe, I could sense that we had entered a strong rural community. On the walk to my host family’s house, I received warm welcomes from the locals and had barefoot children running up to me and yelling ‘mzungu’ to me, excited to see me in their village. Upon entering the rural village of Tumbe, I realized many changes in the ways of living and cultural practices from the urban centers and even the other villages that we had visited.

Although the children in the rural village of Riruta Satellite had a lot more freedom than children in America have and could run around at their leisure, the children in Tumbe were restricted even less. Every day, I had many children over at my host family’s house without their parent’s knowledge. The parents were not worried about their children at all as they knew that their children would be well taken care of, cared for, and even punished by other community members. Children would go on walks with me and follow me around town without telling anyone where they were going. It was amazing to me how much the people in this village community trusted one another and relied on the other community members to watch out for their children.

In the village of Tumbe, I also noticed how much responsibility the children were given. The women cleaned the house and prepared the food but when they needed help, the children were expected to obey and provide that help. The children in my family obeyed their parents and other elders who asked them to do anything. This is something that is not really thought of in the community but rather just expected. In addition, young children all over the village could be seen taking care of their younger siblings or even other younger children and carrying them on their backs. This responsibility that the children have helps the community operate and work as a whole.

My host family seemed to know every single person in the village of Tumbe. It was incredible to me how my host sisters greeted everyone that they came across from the old to the young and even had a respectful greeting reserved for the elderly. This is something that is highly unlikely to happen in any urban area. Seeing communities like this makes me sad to think about the fact that in America, I often walk down the streets without exchanging words with anybody.

The simplicity and slow pace of life in the village life in Tumbe is another aspect of life that amazed me. As a foreigner who comes from somewhere where life is much more complicated and moves at a much faster pace, the simple, slow village life is something that I am envious of. In a discussion with Ali, an 18 year old boy in Tumbe, I learned how he viewed this cultural difference. As I explained to Ali how much I enjoyed the slower pace of life in Tumbe, he told me of his wish to go to America as the fast pace of life is better and means that people make more money and can gain more material items. The beliefs that many Africans have about America make sense to me but shock me at the same time. They know how much material stuff we have and how much that helps us with education, health care, government, and practically everything else but at the same time it also makes things much more complicated. Ali asked me why I liked the ways of village life more than urban life. My answers made absolutely no sense to him as he has a preconceived notion of what life is like in America. When I told him that material stuff doesn’t necessarily make people happier or make life better, he was just left confused. He didn’t understand how people that have the ability to travel to places like Tanzania and to buy computers, cars, and other expensive items that he lacks could possibly be unhappy. The people in Tumbe appeared much happier than any community of people I have ever come across in America. I guess there are plusses and minuses to both sides, and like the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Machines that can do simple tasks have become such a normal part of life in places like America. I do not think we realize just how much water, electricity, and money we waste by putting our clothing in a machine to dry instead of doing something as simple as hanging them outside on a clothes line. In addition, we throw so much away. It is amazing to see what the people in a village like Tumbe survive on and have in their homes. The children make their own fun and do not have toys like children in America have. Instead, they explore and make their own toys such as soccer balls out of rubber bands and plastic bags. I observed that many of the other items in the house were hand made as well and worked just as well as similar items that would have been more expensive to buy. In addition, I couldn’t help but notice that the people ate all of their food and didn’t let anything go to waste because they understand how lucky they are to have food. Thinking about this makes me realize just how much food the small community of Lewis and Clark College throws away on a daily basis in the dining hall. It is sad to think that the amount of food that is thrown away there could go to save people’s lives in Africa.

My host father, the chief of the Western Region of Tumbe explained to me one night when the electricity unexpectedly turned off that electricity is the biggest issue that the people on the island of Pemba face. He informed me of the fact that the island operates on two separate lines – the old line and the new line. The electric system cannot supply both lines with power at the same time so the electricity is only available to each line every other day. The first night I was there, they had a generator running but I am not sure how often they actually use the generator. I was very surprised to see that my host family had so many electronics in their house. They had two televisions, dvd players, and even a video game console, however, I do not think this is representative of many of the households in the village of Tumbe.

When visiting the primary and secondary schools in Tumbe, it was obvious that they had no electricity. The classrooms were simple and very basic – some desks, a chalkboard, and posters decorating the walls. The classrooms were open to the outside which I can imagine makes it difficult when doing a task that requires quiet such as taking an exam. The walk from my host family’s house to the school took a good 20 minutes or so and we were one of the closest families to the school. As the people of the village rely mostly on walking or bicycling as there are not many vehicles, this seemed like quite a walk for the students.

As respectful visitors to the village, we dressed in our buoy buoys and kangas during our stay. My host brother told me that 99% of the people in Tumbe were Islamic. This was evident by the fact that there were numerous mosques and almost all the women and many of the young girls were dressed in traditional clothing. On Friday, I noticed that many of the men were dressed in traditional clothing as well. It was amazing to me how dedicated these people were to their religion and how they always wore these outfits, even in the hot heat. Even in my family’s house, the women wore their buoy buoys and kangas most of the time.

During a conversation about Islam with one of my host brothers, he informed me that there were 14 mosques in Tumbe. My host brothers and host father would leave the house five times a day and go to mosque to pray with their community. Although my host sisters never went to mosque to pray, I observed them praying in the house one night. My host brother told me that women in Tumbe are not allowed to pray in the mosques although he was not sure why.

The community of Tumbe takes the Islamic religion very seriously and my host brother even took me to the site where they are building a religious learning center for the children of the community. As the community currently lacks such a place, it is their hope that this will help the children become more educated on Islamic values, practices, and traditions.

Although I have experienced village life before, it was very interesting to me to see it in a different setting. It is amazing to see how much of the village life is identical throughout Africa but also to see the differences that make each village community unique.

Too Busy to Blog

I realize that it has been a long time since I have written in my blog. This study abroad has been keeping me so busy that between the traveling, classes, and home stays, I have not had any time to just write. Today we were actually given a free day as we had two reflection essays to write but none of us had been able to write them yet and give them the time and effort that they deserved. I have sent these reflections to my mother – we have now written four of them – as she wants to read them and then will decide if they are good enough to share with all of you.

I apologize in advance for any breaks in my writing about these last few weeks as I can’t remember absolutely everything that we have done even though I have tried. I will continue this post as soon as possible as I know you are probably all wondering what I have been up to these past few weeks.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Reflection Paper #3

Conceptions and Misconceptions of Islam
Reflection #3

Being raised in a religiously strong, Jewish household, I know just how important religion is. I was sent to religious school at a young age to learn about the Jewish history and to learn Hebrew so I could understand what was going on at synagogue services. At my Jewish high school, we talked briefly about other religions – Christianity, Islam, etc. but I never really thought much about it. Although I had some doubts about Judaism and the existence of God for a few years, I wasn’t one to speak out and discuss this issue. I attended temple and enjoyed learning about my religion but didn’t like to talk about religion with others. I respect the fact that other people have different beliefs and don’t agree with my beliefs but I never really understood why.

Before arriving in Mombasa, I knew that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism were the three largest world religions but I am sad to say that I dint know much more about Islam than that. I had been to a mosque in Ghana where I was dressed in a beautiful buoy buoy without even knowing what it was called and was walked through the ritual cleansing that is required before prayer. As I visited the mosque with a male, I was immediately separated from him and sent to the women’s section in the back of the mosque to learn how to pray and how to use the ritual beads. From this experience, I learned that Islam, much like Judaism was a religion which was highly based on rules and traditions. This experience also helped me realize the close relations that Islam had with Judaism.

Apart from this experience at the mosque in Ghana, I had never had any other interactions with Islamic people or the religion of Islam. As a result, I didn’t have many educated, well formed perceptions about Islam so many of my perceptions were mostly based on negative stereotypes and other things that I had heard on the news and Internet. Of course this included information linking Islamic people to 9-11 as well as to other terrorist groups. I had no clue that the group of Islamic people who actually carry out and plan such attacks only make up about 1% of the Islamic population.

Before even arriving in Mombasa, we were aware of the religious differences that existed there. We were informed that we would need to dress differently while in Mombasa to respect the religious practices. The issue of clothing and covering up in Mombasa reminded me of the Jewish religion and being in Israel. When visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem and even just walking around the Old City, we had to cover ourselves and respect the tradition of not showing much skin. In addition, the Western Wall was split in half – one side for women and the other for men. Like in Mombasa, there were times when all of us students – females and males could not walk together.

On our first night in Mombasa, we attended a festival for the ending of Ramadan. We dressed in Western clothing – pants and t-shirts as we had not yet had time to buy the traditional clothing and for this reason, we were definitely treated as tourists. We were pushed and stared at. No one even dared to approach us or talk to us even though we could communicate with them in Swahili.

The following morning, we were taken to buoy buoy buoys and kangas. I had no idea how much everything would change the moment we stepped into our new outfits. We were stopped by literally everyone on the streets. We were told that we looked smart and beautiful, compliments that we definitely did not receive when dressed in our pants and t-shirts the night before. It was incredible to see people’s reactions to us change. We were still white foreigners but now we were dressed like them. We were respecting their religion and wearing their traditional clothing. We almost blended in on the street except for the fact that we were wearing ridiculous sandals and carrying colorful backpacks and purses. Oh, and our faces were a bit lighter in color than most of the women here. But other than that, we blended in quite well. The local people appreciated the fact that we were observing their traditional practices and that we were trying to dress like them. The photographers and newspaper writers in Mombasa loved this fact so much that they printed a photograph of the males of our group dressed in their traditional clothing in the national newspaper. The photographers also took a photograph of the women dressed in buoy buoys and kangas but this photo didn’t quite make it into the newspaper.

As soon as our appearance changed, we were also looked at in a different way by tourists. Our perceptions of these people changed very quickly. As we walked around in our buoy buoys and received compliments, I witnessed the tourists being stared at in their inappropriate clothing. Many of the tourists looked at our group in an awkward way and even took photographs of us dressed in our Islamic clothing.

When wearing our buoy buoys in Mombasa, people did not call us over to hassle us to buy their products. Instead, they called us over to compliment our dress and ask us questions about whether or not we were Islamic. I definitely noticed that we were respected much more by the Mombasa community when we dressed in our traditional clothing. As we did not see any other foreigners dressed in buoy buoys or other traditional clothing, I think that the locals were impressed and happy to see the way in which we respected their culture and dressed appropriately.

It was very eye opening to learn about Islam in Mombasa. Although we had learned about the Islamic religion in Nairobi, it was nice to learn about the religious practices from people who were actually observing the traditions and practices. Visiting to mosque with Ahmed was an amazing experience because he wanted to teach us about his religion and explained everything to us as he did it. In addition, it was amazing to hear the calls to prayer throughout the day from the various mosques. I was impressed when Ahmed informed us that Islam was a very welcoming religion and that they would accept anyone who believed in the four prophets, Moses, David, Jesus, and Mohammed. In addition, I was amazed by the fact that there was no conversion process and that becoming Islamic just required the willingness to accept the four prophets, read the Koran, and pray.

Although I arrived in East Africa without much accurate knowledge regarding the religion of Islam, I have definitely learned much here. This new, accurate information has definitely changed my outlook towards the religion of Islam and the Islamic population. It still amazes me how much my religion of Judaism is so similar to the Islamic religion, something I never even imagined could be possible before coming to East Africa.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reflection Paper #2

Children of Two Worlds
Reflection #2

They run around. They can be seen playing with rubbish. As I walk by, they shout out, ‘mzungu.’ They are mature and are given many responsibilities at a young age. These are the children of Kenya. These children are the children of two worlds.

Not only are the children caught between two worlds but their parents are caught between two worlds too. They face difficult decisions about holding on to traditional customs and practices and adapting to Western practices. Although we are Western and therefore think that we are better than the rest of the world, I believe that our practices are not necessarily better.

Western culture makes its way to Africa through movies, television shows, the news, magazines, and tourists. It is amazing how the viewers and readers of these mediums take everything they see and hear at face value. They watch American films and television shows and believe that the things they see are representative of American life. On my last day with my host family in Riruta Satellite, my host mother turned to me and asked me if there were poor people in America. Movies and television portray such a glamorized version of America that my host mother truly believed that poor people do not exist in America. She was even more surprised when I told her that we have homeless people in America. In her mind, it was only possible for people who live in a rich, advanced country to be wealthy, live in mansions, and drive nice cars.

In addition to the movies and television shows that have made their way to Africa, the culture of spending much time in front of the television is evident in Africa. Even though electricity is a luxury here, the television in my host family’s house is constantly switched on. My young host sisters and well as my host parents spend a great amount of their evenings watching Spanish soap operas, the East African version of American Idol, and other Western or Western inspired shows. During the two weeks that I have lived with my host family, there was not a single night when we all sat around the table and ate dinner together. It has become normal for them to sit on the couches and eat their meal in front of the television.

In addition to the Western television shows and movies, the radio, music video channels, and internet have helped to make Western music a huge part of African culture. There is not a day when I return to my host family’s home and do not find my host father’s 23 year old brother blasting American rap music. My host father’s 21 year old sister enjoys watching American music videos on the television. My young host sisters love this and sing and dance to the American r&b and rap songs. Even as I sit in my host family’s living room and write this reflection, the radio is on and playing American rap, pop, and hip hop music. Although the girls are probably too young to understand the lyrics, they memorize them and sing them. The lyrics of some of the songs that they are exposed to are not exactly the most positive things for a child to listen to or say but since it is American, my host parents have no problem exposing their children to it.

My host mother told me that the thing that most surprised her about me was the fact that I couldn’t hand wash my laundry well. She knows that in America, I just throw my clothes in a machine and don’t really think about it. Being here in Africa makes me realize just how much I take for granted. I must admit that washing machines are very useful machines and make laundry very easy to do, but at the same time, hand washing is a lot more environmentally friendly. It uses less water and by not drying the clothes in a machine, Africans are not only saving energy, they are also saving money. On top of that, my clothes are much cleaner when they are hand washed in Africa than when they are thrown into a machine in America.

As I am the first foreign student that my host family has ever hosted or even interacted with, my host mother was very worried that I would not eat their food or partake in things they are normal to them but to which I was not familiar with. My host mother informed me that she spent the first few days of my stay with them worrying whether or not I was having a good time. Like any mother, she was concerned about me and wanted to make sure I was enjoying myself. Of course, I was. I made sure that she understood this when we had a conversation about her life and aspirations a week and a half into my stay with her.

My host mother, Judy is a 29 year old mother of two girls. Her daughters, Wendy (age 8) and Stephanie (age 3) are very mature, well behaved children who are easily influenced by Western culture. Judy was born upcountry in Nyeri, where she attended school and lived until she completed Form 2 at age 18. Judy moved out of her parent’s house to live with her aunt as her parents were going through a divorce. She was separated from her two older brothers as they went to live with another family member.

At age 20, when eight months pregnant, Judy married the father of her expected child. Judy and Moses’ first child, Wendy now attends Le Pic School in Class Three. She is a very bright young lady who had goals of being a doctor when she grows up. She knows that in order to become a doctor, she must study hard and attend university.

Judy and the new baby, Wendy moved in to Moses’ family’s house, where they continue to live and raise their family. Judy worked various jobs from a kindergarten teacher’s assistant to a cashier to help support her family. Three years ago, Judy gave birth to another baby girl, Stephanie.

After giving birth to her second child, Judy decided to stay home to care for her growing family and the house. In June 2009, she began to pursue her childhood dream of working in beauty by enrolling in Ashley’s Beauty School in Nairobi. She will graduate in October and then will take an external exam in December. The external exam is required to show that you are qualified to work outside the country. She is choosing to take this exam as she wants to work as a masseuse in a hotel in Dubai. Judy is so passionate about going to work in Dubai for two years as she believes that she will make a lot more money there which she can use to support her family and give her daughters a better life. Her husband, who works as a tour guide, however isn’t very fond of this idea as it means that his wife would be in another country, away from her family for two years.

I was surprised to hear that Judy had dreams of going to Dubai and not to somewhere like America. My experience in Africa is that everyone wants to go to America or marry an American so that they can get to America, but Judy thinks she will make more money in Dubai than she would in America. She is convinced that Dubai is the place for her to go as she has a friend who went to work in the beauty industry in Dubai. Judy’s friend told her about her life there and the cheap cost of living there which helped her save a large amount of money to bring back home. Judy claims that her friend is now back in Kenya and is living a much better life.

Judy describes her family as being of average wealth in Riruta Satellite. If she had an endless amount of money, her first priority would be to move out of Riruta Satellite. Although Judy and her family are happy and feel safe in their current neighborhood, she is ready for a change and wants to move out of the village that she currently lives in to a neighborhood near Adam’s Arcade. In addition, Judy would invest money and send her children to good schools which use ‘American and European standards’.

Although Wendy and Stephanie both currently attend private schools, Judy is not sure that she will financially be able to continue sending the girls to good private schools and eventually to universities. She worries a lot about money and is concerned that she will not be able to provide her children with the opportunities that they deserve. Judy’s daughters are her number one priority which is why she wants to go to Dubai and make money to improve the lives of her daughters.

Judy wants “to see her children grow up and become responsible girls and good people in society.” She is a supportive mother who will support her daughters in anything they choose to do.

Living with my host family in Riruta Satellite made me realize just how much Western standards are idealized in Africa. Yes, the West has produced many useful machines and pieces of technology but they are not necessarily better than the old fashioned, simple ways. I enjoy the fact that African life is slow paced and that not every minute of their days are planned out. I despise the fast paced culture which exists in America and that fact that we are so obsessed yet hindered with our supposedly better systems. It amazes me how Africans can survive and be genuinely happy with so little. While materialism is making its way to Africa, many of the people still realize that they don’t need all the material items that we Westerners pride ourselves with.

Although I think that Judy should stay in Kenya with her daughters and husband, I am impressed with her dedication and the sacrifices she is willing to make to support her family. Although she is the female of the house, Judy is very independent and refuses to sit around and live off her husband’s paycheck. After graduating from beauty school in October, I believe that Judy will be successful in finding a good, stable job in a hotel in Nairobi. I respect the decisions that Judy and Moses have made in their household. They have most definitely been influenced by Western practices but they refuse to let these practices define them. They blend their simple, traditional practices with modern, Western practices. Judy and Moses, as well as their daughters, Wendy and Stephanie are children of two worlds. This is something that will define them and influence them for the rest of lives, for the better or for the worst.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Long Overdue Post

Today is the last day I am spending with my host family in Riruta Satellite. It is very sad as I have become quite close with all of them, from the two girls, Wendy and Stephanie to my host parents, Judy and Moses, to Moses’ siblings, Peris, Peter, and Aaron. They have been so welcoming since the first day I arrived. As I am the first foreign student that they have ever really interacted with and hosted, they were not quite sure what to expect of me when I arrived. However, in a conversation that I was required to have with my host mother earlier this week for an assignment, I asked Judy what most surprised her about me. She laughed and told me that what most surprised her was the fact that I couldn’t scrub my clothes and hand wash them well. The other thing that surprised her was the fact that I honored their way of life, ate their food, and partook in the things that they did. She told me that she was worried that I wouldn’t eat any of their food since it was ‘different’ and that I wouldn’t partake in the day to day things that they did.

As my study abroad program is keeping me quite busy, I have not had time to really sit and reflect on the past week until today. Even today I don’t have much time but by the way things look, it is the most free time I will have for awhile.

Last Sunday morning, we went to church. After church, we went to the beauty school that Judy attends. The previous weekend, Judy was not able to give me a massage and she was determined to give me a massage before I left. I was surprised to hear that I was only the second person that she had ever given a massage to as she was pretty good. After the massage, we went to the market to pick up some snacks as about a dozen women from church were coming over to the house that afternoon. As the women were socializing in the living room, Peris, Peter, Wendy, Stephy, and I went to Peter’s room to hang out and stay out of the way. We decided that it would be a good time to go to Kiberia, the slum as I was interested in seeing the inside of the slum after our discussions of it in history class. As Moses was at work, we couldn’t use his car. So we asked Aaron, Moses’ brother to take us to Kiberia. He explained to us that he was busy and couldn’t take us. We sat around for awhile trying to figure out what to do instead. A few minutes later, Aaron came in and handed his car keys to Peris, implying that we could take his car and go to Kiberia. We got in the car and drove to Kiberia. The girls were excited to get out of the house although they didn’t really understand where we were going.

Written September 27, 2009:
We drove to Kiberia and drove through some of the slum before getting out of the car. Moses, my host father told me in a conversation about Kiberia that we shouldn’t get out of the car and walk around but I didn’t have any fears and was leaving all of my possessions in the car. We parked the car and walked in to the inside of the slum. It looked an awful lot like many of the other neighborhoods we had walked through/passed so I was quite confused as to why this area in particular was called a ‘slum.’ There were little shops, just as there were on all the other streets and people just sitting around or hanging out outside. Once we had walked into the slum a bit, I noticed that the houses were quite small and didn’t look like very nice places to live although I am sure these houses were better than having to sleep outside.

As I walked into Kiberia with the knowledge that we were entering a slum, I had expectations about the area. As we walked around, I was thinking about what makes an area a slum and what life in those houses or living in this area must really be like.

Three days after visiting the slum, the government allowed the first batch of Kiberia families to move into new apartments. These apartments, furnished and paid for by the government are part of a plan to end the extreme poverty that exists in Kiberia. My family pointed out these apartments to me when we were in Kiberia and from the outside they looked quite nice. However, I couldn’t help but think about the conflict that must have occurred between people as only a select group of people were allowed to move in to these apartments. Although the government is building more apartment complexes, I imagine that there is much jealousy surrounding this issue. The government chose which people could move into the apartments first by where they lived. According to the news, the government’s plan is to move a group of people into the apartments and then take the land that those people were previously living on and build another apartment complex there and then move the next group of people in and so on.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Final Days in Nairobi

Written: October 1, 2009: At the University of Nairobi, we also learned that all of the science students receive a cadaver for a year. This body is the student’s body to learn and experiment on. In addition, the university has a mortuary which they run to bring in money. It was a bit weird seeing a mortuary on a university campus but the biology majors in our group were a tad bit jealous of this.

After staying with our Riruta Satellite host families for more than a week, we had to say good bye. I exchanged gifts with my host family – educational materials and games for the girls, a notebook and nice pen for Peris, an address book and nice pen for my host mother, and an American t-shirt for my host father. I gave Mary, the house help a Swahili-English dictionary as she was always looking at mine and wants to learn English better. I also gave Peris, Judy, and Mary jewelry that my mother made and sent with me as gifts. In addition, I had gone out and had a bunch of the pictures that we had taken over the week printed and put them in an album for my family. They loved the photos as well as the gifts. They surprised me and gave me some gifts as well.

On the day we were to leave our host families, we all walked over to the house where we had been having class. All the host families and students were there and we enjoyed lunch together before our host families returned us to the Methodist Guesthouse, the place where they had originally picked us up from.

We spent a night in the Methodist Guest House to get organized before heading to the coast. We repacked our bags as we were only going to be able to bring one duffle bag each with us for the ten days that we would be spending on the coast.

The following morning, after breakfast, we put all of our luggage on a big orange bus and got ready for the eight hour drive to Mombasa. I was one of the first people on the bus so I decided to sit behind the door so that there would be no one in front of me. David Sperling, our history professor informed me that he wanted to sit with me as he is very tall and needed the extra leg room. He told me that I could move if I didn’t want to sit next to him but I told him that I didn’t mind.

During the bus ride, David and I had very interesting conversations. He told me more about the 40+ years that he has spent in Kenya and explained things that we saw on the drive. in addition, he was very interested in hearing about my experiences in Ghana and my reasons for going there and dedicating so much time and effort to the orphanage there. I explained to him how much luck played in this event. It made me think about how lucky I was to go to Ghana and how much luck it took to be placed at Christ Orphanage. We talked about the ways in which my experiences in Ghana have changed my life and David noted that it was probably due to these experiences that I am so mature.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Reflection Paper #1

Paper for Class:
Reflection #1: Reflections on Africa

I feel at home in Africa and maybe a little too comfortable with the African way of life. Although I notice the cultural differences, I am used to these things. Differences that are shocking to other foreigners don’t surprise me anymore.

Working at orphanages and living in villages in both Ghana and Kenya has made me realize just how happy the people in Africa are. We look at the African life style from a Westerner’s mindset. How could these people who have very few material possessions and live in what we call ‘poverty’ be so happy and content with their live styles? In terms of our American standards, they have very little yet they are always smiling and are so happy with what little they do have. These people who outsiders, especially Westerners often view as ‘indigenous people,’ have a lot to teach us. They have discovered the happiness which comes from people. Us Westerners on the other hand look to material things to find happiness. It’s no wonder Africans are so much happier than Americans.

I am intrigued by the simplicity of the African life style. Although countries such as Kenya are in the process of urbanizing, they still hold on to many of their traditional practices. This life style is centered around the family; this is not just limited to the nuclear family but also encompasses the extended family. This is something I admire very much. Being in Africa and seeing the closeness of the families here makes me long for a more closely knit family back home. Due to our fast paced and complicated life style in America, family is not something that is treasured and appreciated as it is in Africa.

In a village like Riruta Satellite, families are not the only people who cherish one another. The community is very welcoming and is very closely knit. The strong community in Riruta Satellite means that people know each other. My host family was shocked to hear that I do not know my neighbors at home. This is a sad but true fact and adequately summarizes the lack of community that exists in my neighborhood. Walking around Riauta Satellite with my host sisters helps me realize just how strong the community is. Mothers, fathers, boys, and girls know my sisters names and call out to them as they pass by. The Riruta Satellite community has welcomed my classmates and I into their community by hosting us and greeting us, offering us handshakes and hugs as we pass by.

This idea of a strong community in Africa, particularly in East Africa is something that Aylward Shorter discusses in his book, East African Societies. He explains that “people look for job opportunities for their relatives and fellow tribesmen. They lodge them and feed them and help them in moments of crisis, when they are sick and in trouble. A great deal of their earnings is paid out in the form of school fees for their young brothers and sisters and even more distant relatives” (Shorter 1974:54).

The African life style revolves are the idea that children are worth something. Their hands are important assets on the farm and in the home. African children are given much more responsibility than most American parents would even imagine giving their children. While taking care of one’s siblings is often a chore in America, it is something that children in Africa do without complaint and with an open heart. Young children in America are very restricted, unlike children in Africa who are commonly allowed to wander around and play outside without parental supervision. I have witnessed many older siblings watching out for their younger siblings and carrying their younger siblings on their backs. I have also seen many older children carrying around and caring for other children who live in the community. These children are not required to do this but do it out of the love in their hearts and because this is the way a closely knit African community operates. It is incredible to see the way that these children embrace everyone and care for others as their own siblings.

Being an American in Africa helps me realize how much I take for granted in my daily life. In America, no matter where I go, I know that I can turn on the faucet and water will flow. In addition, I know that if I flip the light switch, there will be light. It is when I am in Africa that I realize that electricity and water are things that we are privileged with in America. In addition, being in Africa and listening to the news and to the locals, I have realized how lucky we are in America to have a well functioning and non corrupt government and police force.

Being in Africa makes me question many of the practices we have in America. At the same time, I realize that America has many adequate and well functioning practices and institutions. While America has a lot to learn from Africa, Africa too has a lot to learn from America.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Riruta Satellite Host Family

Yesterday (Saturday) morning, all of us students gathered together to have a meeting about our host family placements and discuss what the next two weeks living with these families would be like. We were all very anxious to find out about our host families but they continued to keep us in suspense until the end of the meeting. We were each given a bag of food containing vegetable oil, salt, tea, and rice to give to our host families as it was explained to us that it would be impolite to arrive without a gift. Finally, after much discussion and many questions, we were each given a half sheet of paper containing information about our families. The families had provided us with their names, children’s name, occupations, and phone number. In addition, the families had written little notes to us on the back of the sheet. It was very sweet and made all of us even more anxious to meet our families.

We were dismissed, collected our luggage, and sat around waiting for our families to pick us up. We waited and waited and waited for what felt like many hours although we were only sitting there waiting for about one hour as the host families were told to come and pick us up around 12 noon but our meeting had ended around 11am. The first host family arrived and we all applauded as the student embraced his host mother. This occurred about half a dozen more times before my host mother arrived. Like the other host mothers, she brought me a kanga and tied it around my waist. It was very pretty – brown and off white with flowers on it. The remaining students clapped as I hugged my host mother and the man who arrived with her.

Initially I was not sure whether or not the woman was actually my host mother as she appeared much younger than the other mothers. We walked to the car and started chatting. I discovered that the woman was Judy, the name listed as my host mother, and the man was her brother in law. From the sheet that I was given, I knew that Judy had two daughters named Wendy and Stephanie but I didn’t know their ages. I inquired about this and learned that Judy’s daughters, my sisters were three years old and eight years old. This made me very excited. I was also told that Judy’s sister in law, Paris lived with the family.

We drove along the familiar roads as Judy told me about her schooling as she is currently attending beauty school. She asked about my trip so far and was very impressed to learn that I had already been in Kenya for three weeks and in Africa for about four months. It didn’t take too long to get to the house. I was super excited, especially when I saw Wendy and Stephanie standing outside, waiting for us to arrive. The girls were absolutely adorable. They both had their hair braided with pink and white beads at the ends and three little braids in the front as bangs. They were seriously the cutest things ever. Stephanie was quite shy at first. Her father explained to me that night that she had never met a muzungu (white person) before. Wendy was very friendly and was so excited that I was at her house. Judy took me inside, showed me around the house, and showed me where I would be sleeping.

After the tour, I sat in the living room with my family. Judy put on some nature documentary for us to watch but none of us were very focused on it.

Wendy was very determined to help me learn Swahili. She brought out her Swahili school book and started teaching me all sorts of random words. I told her that I would get my notebook so that I could write all the words down and practice them. She taught me the numbers and told me that I should repeat them five times to help me remember them. I could immediately tell that she was a brilliant girl. It is not every eight year old that can teach a foreigner their language so well. She would read the words to me, tell me their meaning in English, and then have me repeat the word. We went through her entire Swahili book and then I asked her to write down some of the words for me to practice. She wrote them so neatly, with the English meanings next to them. She reminded me a lot of Lux, the girl I nannied for last school year. Both Wendy and Lux are very intelligent girls who are extremely mature for their age.

After our Swahili lesson, I asked Wendy to show me around the neighborhood. She showed me where the other members of the family lived and some shops in town. We then walked back to the house and played soccer with a very deflated soccer ball. I got to talking with one of the neighbors, named Sam. He is about 24 years old and works as a camera man at the local television station, NTV. We talked about school, life in America, and his goal of attending school in America and working for CNN. As it gets dark early here, I returned home around 6pm.

Following classes the next day, I taught Wendy some card games. Similarly, she attempted to teach me a card game but we both gave up as the game was super confusing to me. We did our homework at the table together before going outside to play ball. I had given my sisters, Wendy and Stephanie a beach ball to play with the previous day and they absolutely loved it. Wendy was so excited to play pass with me outside with the ball. Stephanie joined in and just kinda ran around, attempting to get to the ball before Wendy or I.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

School

The last few days that Melissa and I spent with Nyambura and her family were pretty relaxing. I decided that since we were no longer in a village, like we were in Ghana, I would go and get my haircut as the thought of getting my hair cut in Wegbe, Ghana freaked me out. Nairobi has a lot of tourists and foreigners who live here so I wasn’t as scared of getting my hair cut here. Boy, I was wrong.

Jimmy, Nyambura’s nephew took Melissa and I to a hair dresser near their house. The guy was shaving a man’s head. Now I was a bit scared. The hair dresser finished his hair and then told me it was my turn. I sat in the office rolly chair that was used as the barber chair and told the guy that I just wanted the ends of my hair trimmed. He seemed to understand. Or so I thought.

The next thing I know, he has the scissors out and Melissa who was sitting behind me tells him to stop! Apparently he had a huge chunk of pretty long hair that he was about to cut off. We explained to Jimmy that I only wanted the ends trimmed so he could explain it to the hair dresser in Swahili. I told the hair dresser that maybe he should spray my hair with water before cutting it. He did as I suggested and sprayed my hair with water and then proceeded to comb it very slowly. It was kind of funny.

Things were starting to go well, right? Then the hair dresser takes out the buzzer and tells me that he can cut the ends of my hair using the buzzer. I was hesitant but he decided to show me anyways. He grabbed some of the ends of my hair and buzzed them off. At this point I was so done. I was so scared and told Jimmy that it was time to go. He agreed and Melissa and I just stood there in astonishment, laughing at the situation.

I was pretty scared and decided that I will just wait to get my hair cut when I return home at the end of December.

Yesterday, Monday, Melissa and I finished packing up the room we had been staying in. As Melissa’s flight was at 11:10pm, we decided that we would leave the house by 8pm. Of course this did not happen and we left closer to 8:40pm. We had been driving for only a few minutes when Nyamura said that we needed to stop for petrol. We pulled into a gas station to fill up but they had no gas. Nyambura told us that we would not be able to get far without petrol. So we drove to another gas station. The guy shook his head when we pulled up and told us that they did not have any petrol either. Oh joy. Melissa and I started freaking out because Nymabura was asking us what we should do by this point and Melissa needed to get to the airport. We drove to yet a third gas station and were relieved to see them pumping gas. We got gas and then battled the horrible traffic that was heading towards the airport.

We finally arrived at the airport and were dropped off so Nyambura could park the car. We had to wait in a long line of mostly foreigners waiting to enter the airport. It was ridiculous. With a little more than an hour to spare, Melissa said her good byes to us and entered the airport. Since I know that Melissa is very excited to get home, I was happy for her. But immediately after walking away, I broke down in tears. Can you tell by this point that I am not very good at saying good bye?

This morning, I awoke early, got dressed, and ate breakfast and patiently waited for Nyambura to drive me to the guesthouse where I was to meet my Lewis & Clark study abroad group. I waited and waited and finally around 9:30am, we left the house. as I was so ready to go and meet up with the group, my bags were already in the car and I was ready to go. We drove over to the guesthouse where Nyambura and Jimmy helped me with my bags. I went to the front desk and met my friend who I had met the previous day. Melissa and I came over to the guesthouse yesterday to meet up with my professor from Lewis & Clark but he was not there so we spent some time chatting with the guys at the front desk.

I was shown to my room and then walked to the dining room to meet the other students. I had mixed feelings about seeing this group of familiar faces. I was excited to see them yet at the same time somewhat scared. Not scared of them but scared of what it meant that I was now in this group of 25 white American students. I have spent the past three and a half months traveling and doing things on my own. I spent much time with other people and went places and did things but it was always at my own will. I am now part of a large group and we have an itinerary, class, and places to be at certain times. I have a feeling that this will take some getting used to.

Anyways, all of us gathered into a conference room and had a brief in country orientation as the majority of the students arrived in Nairobi early this morning. We met our Swahili teacher, Rose and she explained the intense Swahili training that we were about to embark upon. Seriously, it is going to be intense. Tomorrow, we start Swahili class – 6 hours worth of Swahili class.

It is also a bit weird to be with this group as I have been in Africa for the past few months and therefore I am already acquainted with the culture and life style here. The majority of our group has never before been to Africa and some have never been abroad before. I think that the staff and some of our teachers over exaggerated things at this orientation but I guess it is their job to protect us and make sure we are safe. We were told that we should take off all jewelry before going out or walking on the streets and were lectured on the dangerous side effects of the malaria medicine, Doxycyclin. Cross Cultural Solutions did the same thing last summer except they told us that Doxy was not effective in preventing malaria. Today, we were told about the sun dangers while taking Doxy and how badly we could get sunburnt while on Doxy. It was nice of them to warn us but we are all college students and hopefully all smart ones. I think that it just takes some common sense to know to apply sunscreen, wear appropriate clothing, drink water, and not sit out in the sun all day. But what do I know? I am on Doxy and have gotten malaria.

After our orientation in which we were also given our Swahili materials and already given a homework assignment, we split up and went exploring. I went along for the adventure even though I had already been to all the places we went. As I have mostly been driven everywhere during the past two weeks, it was interesting to walk around and see things from that perspective. Of course, this perspective includes nearly getting hit by cars as cars, not pedestrians have the right of way here and the drivers are crazy. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting outside by the pool and working on learning Swahili and completing my homework.