Christmas in Kericho

I couldn’t make it home to my family for Christmas, so instead I spent it with my flatmate’s family. Barbara has spent most of her life in Iowa but was born here and has family living in western Kenya. A day after I got home from Ethiopia, I hopped on a bus to Kericho, a town about one hour’s drive east of Kisumu.

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Kericho is where Kenya’s finest tea plantations are located. Barbara’s family grows tea in addition to various other crops like sukuma wiki (kale) and a maize. Kericho is where some of Kenya’s Kalenjin ethnic group live. There are a few different languages in the Kalenjin community. Barbara’s family speaks Kipsigis in addition to English and Kiswahili. The kids in Kericho don’t start learning English or Kiswahili until they start school. Instead, their mother tongue is their first language, so I couldn’t communicate with the young kids except for body language and funny faces.

Some kids hanging out at a local outdoor church

Some kids hanging out at a local outdoor church

Christmas week in Kericho was quite relaxing for me. We spent some time walking around the farm and visiting all the houses, each belonging to one of the aunts and uncles.  Around tea time, we made a rotation to maximize our tea drinking opportunities at each house.

Freshly chopped sugar cane

Freshly chopped sugar cane from one of our house visits

Midway through the trip we drove to Kisumu to visit a friend. It’s too bad we only had one day there because it seems like a fun city. We had lunch on the shore of Lake Victoria and had some delicious tilapia with chips.

On Christmas Eve, the cousins organized a special gathering where no adults were allowed. Snack packs were put together, sodas were purchased, games were planned, and a playlist was created for dancing. I had an absolute blast. Near the end of the party, a meeting was called to discuss a plan for buying a special gift for their grandmother next Christmas – each of the cousins would set aside a certain amount each month to be collected at the end of the year.

On Christmas day, everyone got involved with preparing a big meal. There was something being made at each of the houses – vegetable stew at one, chapatti at another, and so on. We spent most of the morning at the house in charge of the mbuzi (goat). A fine looking goat was chosen and I stayed to watch the entire process of its slaughtering. I also was handed a knife to help with skinning the carcass.

Me holding two goat feet

Me holding two goat feet

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Every part of the animal was used somehow. The best meat was put aside for our Christmas stew, and the blood was saved for pudding. One of the house helps wrapped up the male genitals in a leaf and a plastic bag and put it in his pocket. We inquired about this and learned that only circumcised men are allowed to eat this part of the male. We also asked if women get to eat the equivalent of the female; this was taken as a ridiculous proposition as the answer was no, of course not.

I ate Christmas lunch with all the men while the women ate in a separate room. We were served first, but I got the insider’s scoop from Barbara and apparently the women set aside the best bits of meat for themselves. They did all of the cooking, after all. Regardless, it was delicious.

Christmas lunch

Christmas lunch

After lunch everyone got into their Sunday best for a family photo. We then got into a circle and I was presented with a gift, a beautiful calabash decorated by one of the aunts. I was so honoured and thankful not only for the special gift, but to be welcomed so openly by this family. It was tough being away from home for the holiday, but at least I was made to feel belonging somewhere.

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It was then time to go visit a different grandmother living a few kilometers away. The 25 or so cousins (I never did get an accurate count) and I hopped into the back of a lorry for what would be, for me, the ride of a lifetime. The cousins quickly climbed up to the overhanging metal bars on the top of the truck to get the best views. I decided to lay low and just peak over the side. The views of the tea plantations on the way were absolutely beautiful. The driver was a bit of daredevil as we went up and down the hilly, unpaved roads, but we all made it there and back just fine. Definitely not a Christmas I’ll ever forget!

Lorry ride

Lorry ride

The view from grandmother's house

The view from grandmother’s house

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Travel and Trainings

I can’t believe it’s been almost two months since I’ve posted here, and that my placement is almost halfway done. I’ve been learning a lot (often the hard way) and I feel really lucky that I get to live and work in two different environments. I’ve been back and forth between Nairobi and Kakuma a few times, each offering a different type of experience. When I’m at the Kakuma office, I get to visit schools and learn more about the ins and outs of implementation from our experienced field staff. When I’m in Nairobi, I can observe how decisions are made while managing expectations from both the field and our donor. Both are valuable, but things are a little easier in Nairobi, where there is high speed internet and hot water and grocery stores. Here are some highlights (and lowlights) from the past little while:

In mid-August, we held a conference for girls on KEEP scholarships. The conference included sessions on goal-setting, health, and an evening hike. My favourite part was when the students had small group discussions on their experience with the program, and then made presentations to the larger group. The first few presenters were shy but slowly they became more candid, being silly and making each other laugh as they shared their insight. There was lots of dancing during the lunch hours, and everyone freaked out when I joined in. I don’t think I’ve ever made so many people laugh at once.

A few days later, I saw it rain in Kakuma for the first time. When it rains there, it raaaaaains. It only happens a few times a year, so the ground has little ability to absorb water, meaning that a completely dry stretch of land can become dangerously flooded within a few hours.

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That week I helped distribute some materials to the schools in the camp. In the camp, the flooding had damaged people’s homes and businesses. Our vehicle got stuck in Kakuma 3 for two hours, and so a co-worker and I walked around in the mud while the driver fixed the situation. The local kids were delighted to see a barefoot mzungu ankle-deep in mud.

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That week, I attended a teachers’ training on gender responsive pedagogy. It was held in Lokichoggio, a town about 30km from the border with South Sudan. I wasn’t there to be trained, but I enjoyed attending discussions on gender stereotypes, barriers to girls’ education, safe schools, how boys and girls tend to learn differently, and creating gender-responsive lesson plans. The teachers enjoyed the training, but some of the refugee school teachers were concerned that the strategies would be too difficult to implement in their classrooms, many of which are crowded with upwards of 50 students. And some of the teachers have not been formally trained. Several had never seen a lesson plan, let alone one that considers gender dynamics in the classroom. But introducing any discussion about gender in education is a step in the right direction.

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With one of KEEP’s education officers at the training in Lokichoggio

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Back in Nairobi, I finally wrote my research proposal for thesis, which is very exciting. Before coming to Kenya, I was almost sure that I would explore something to do with schools in the refugee camp. However, I’ve become more interested in the host community outside the camp. I’m curious about education among the Turkana, a marginalized community in Kenya and whose education services remain minimal despite the presence of NGOs in the region making large investments in refugee education. There are several studies on tensions between refugees and their hosts, especially about resources and land. But there is nothing in the literature about education services in a refugee-host context. The KEEP project is the only NGO initiative in Kakuma delivering support to both refugee and host schools, and I’m wondering how KEEP’s work can inspire thought about an integrated approach for education in such a context.

Hope you didn’t fall asleep there. I celebrated finishing my research proposal with a day trip to Naivasha, a lovely town about 1.5 hours drive away from Nairobi. Actually, I tagged along with co-workers who were going there to preview a potential venue for a conference we are holding in December. While there, we took the opportunity to visit the beautiful Hell’s Gate National Park. It’s called Hell’s Gate because of a geothermal activity underground from nearby volcano Mount Longonot, creating hot springs (“Devil’s shower”) in and around a spectacular gorge (“Devil’s bedroom”) that visitors can walk through. We rode our bikes to the gorge from the park entrance, a 7.5km trek. Along the way we saw dozens of zebra, as well as some gazelle, buffalo, monkeys, baboons, and secretary birds.

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When I got back to Hell’s Gate, I went to a concert with my friends at a club in Nairobi. The famous Kenyan group Sauti Sol was performing. I had recently heard some of their music, and I’ve always wanted to attend a Kenyan concert. Here’s one of their recent hits, Sura Yako: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEJw64Zl28U. I can’t believe that in the same day, I rode my bike up close to beautiful wildlife, and had a night out at a concert in the city.

And then back to Kakuma on October 1st, this time only for 6 days. We held a two-day field-level planning session with all our remedial teachers and community mobilizers. On Saturday, our clubs development consultant coordinated a networking day with teachers and students participating in clubs activities in our schools. I was given the task of facilitating some focus groups and activities. I really enjoy practicing my facilitation skills, and I seize the opportunity to do so whenever I can, especially because my role as monitoring and evaluation assistant keeps me at a computer most of the time. I learned a lot about clubs activities that day and some of the gendered implications of extra-curriculars. We hope that through trainings for teachers and networking days, we’ll start to see both boys and girls become more engaged in sports, the arts, environmental stewardship, and most importantly, FUN.

At a KEEP field-level planning session in Kakuma

At a KEEP field-level planning session in Kakuma

So now I’m back in Nairobi, and things are quiet in the office while many of our staff our in Dadaab. I’ve spent the hanging out with friends, cooking, and catching up on some much-needed alone time. Thanks for reading this long post! Hopefully it won’t be long before you hear from me again.

In conclusion, here is a picture of me kissing a giraffe.

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The views expressed in this blog are entirely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of the World University Service of Canada, the Kenya Equity in Education Project, or Windle Trust Kenya.