Sunday, September 18, 2011

Giraffes! And Other Great Beings

This weekend was fantastic. On Friday I met the Soteni Kenya team for lunch. I interned with Soteni over the summer in Cincinnati and spent a lot of time working on editing a book that a seventh grader in Kenya made to help other kids study for their exams here. I also got to listen in on a bunch of skype conversations that my boss had with the people here in Kenya. It was awesome to finally get to meet them and bring them some of the typed book to show them what we had done so far.  They are great, interesting people and we spent a lot of time discussing the new Women's Empowerment program they are working on in one of the villages! They will be training the women on entrepreneurship, knowledge of equality, and AIDS awareness beginning in October and they want me to come out and visit the village with them sometime! It also just so happens to be the village where Douglas, the boy whose book I worked on all summer lives AND is right by Mount Kenya so I could meet him and climb the mountain too! AH!

Later that day Katie and I met with the director of our internships at the Center for Domestic Training and Development, an organization that empowers domestic workers by teaching them the skills and financial knowledge to successful get good jobs in people's homes. Additionally, they run a shelter for refugees and victims of human trafficking. We are going on a tour of all the places they work on Friday so we can decide how we want to help.  Edith, the director, really wants us to come up with our own ideas on how to improve the organization so that is exciting!

On Saturday a bunch of us went to a soccer game in Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world, top two in Africa.  We had visited before to get idea of what slum life is like and to meet some guys who work at ICA, an NGO working to strengthen Kiberan communities and empower the youth, but that day we just went to hang out with the ICA guys, our new friends, and watch some soccer! It was wonderful. The second we got there, all the kids at the game ran up to us, grabbed our hands while yelling "how are youu." I chased the kids around a bit and watched them braid Katie, Crista, and Natalie's hair while learning pick up lines in swahili from the ICA guys. Umetumwa kutoka binguni = you were sent from heaven.

Today we got up early to visit a Maasai Village. Again, it was amazing. We began by meeting Chief Joseph and a lot of other people at their church. They were all so nice, welcoming and full of joy. Then, get ready to hear about one of the coolest things I have ever done.... I HERDED GIRAFFES! Steven, Chief Joseph and I quietly surrounded a bunch of giraffes that were grazing and then all started running at them at the same time and they started stampeding past the rest of the group, running away from us! It was INCREDIBLE.
I was a little concerned this giraffe would come charging at me first because we were making intense eye contact until I ran at it!
I'm the creature with the long neck but tiny and in a pink shirt (bottom right corner!)
I feel like I'm in a state where I've sort of gotten over the initial shock of being here but am just in awe, intellectually and emotionally, of everything we see and do. I am so lucky to be here and meet so many great people (and giraffes) on the one hand and am understanding more and more about Kenyan culture all the time. The fact that people give you this delicious milky, sweet tea when you come to their homes is one thing I can definitely get used to and it symbolizes how wonderful, welcoming, and friendly most people are. On the other hand I am experiencing some culture shock but it has been more of an intellectual learning experience for me than something that has been truly personally upsetting, at least so far.  For example, my USIU classes have been interesting but more just to sit in and listen to how things are taught here than anything else and I'm loving analyzing the crap out of them.  Especially my gender studies class. While the professor is really interesting and seems progressive, gender studies in Kenya is not at the same level of acceptance as gender studies in America. A number of people in the class, including the professor, mentioned the "problem" of transsexuality, a topic that, while just becoming part of the discourses about gender and sex in the US, is certainly never described as a problem. We also discussed "metrosexuality", a term not generally accepted in American gender studies circles. My professor asked if it was a problem and one student said that it was to a certain extent because then if a car breaks down both the man and the woman would be too afraid to break their nails to try and fix it. This made me me uncomfortable on many levels because in addition to the furthering of the assumption that women are afraid to break nails, it implied that men should be the ones to fix cars and not care about their looks. These are real stereotypical issues in the US but not in gender studies classes! The cultural difference is very interesting and I am working up the courage to speak in the class because these students will probably find the difference intriguing as well.
Another eye opening and disturbing experience I had was last week when I went to the Village Market, a very touristy, wealthy, mzungu-y sort of place. Ironically, it made me pretty uncomfortable to not be the minority anymore because I had gotten used to the African make up of most of Nairobi and the fact that this place was full of white people made it seem inauthentic and disturbing because if this is where tourists come, they will have no idea of what Nairobi is really like.  There were no street kids or poor people in sight, everything was squeaky clean, the roads nearby had no potholes or dust and there were even some people performing "traditional" music for all the foreigners to enjoy while comfortably eating pizza and milkshakes. On my matatu ride back the buildings and streets quickly became more and more informal and run down and I got a very real image of the wealth gap that exists in this city.

Here's a great picture to leave you off with...
Some great people in the Maasai Village
And this is Nairobi from the top of the tallest building in the city. I live here these days.

I should probably work on updating more often so that these posts aren't so long...


  1. Not at all M - the posts are fascinating and definitely not too long. Your writing is great; natural but well structured. I look forward to hearing more. R

  2. We loved hearing all about your amazing adventures.
    Loved the pictures and your wonderful posts.
    Keep it going...we love hearing from you.