Here I go again

I’m starting this blog up again as I begin a new chapter in my life. It’s been over a year since I’ve last posted here. Since then, I completed my internship with the Kenya Equity in Education Project, wrote my thesis, and graduated from the University of Toronto after a hectic year of juggling studies with part-time work.

My next step is a fellowship in international development management with the Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC). As part of the fellowship, I will be travelling to Arua, Uganda for 8 months to support the monitoring and evaluation of the foundation’s work in strengthening education systems in the West Nile region of the country.

The activities I have planned for the next 7 days include organizing paperwork, changing my mind 30 times about which pairs of pants to bring, and spending valuable time with friends and family (including my two nephews, 2 year old Jack and 1 week old Sam). I fly out of YYZ on August 4th and will be travelling through London, Nairobi, and Kampala en route to Arua.

I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to grow personally and professionally while living in the beautiful country of Uganda. Stay tuned!

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The views expressed in this blog are entirely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of the Aga Khan Foundation, Aga Khan Development Network, or Global Affairs Canada.

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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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Ethiopia trip pt. 3

From Gonder, I flew to Lalibela, the town I was most excited about visiting. Lalibela is a popular destination in Ethiopia because of its 11 magnificent rock-hewn churches from the 12th century. The churches’ monolithic structures are awe-inspiring. Lalbiela is also the second most important Christian site of pilgrimage in Ethiopia after Aksum, a town in the far north that is believed in the Ethiopian Orthodox faith to hold the Ark of the Covenant. I was unfortunately unable to make it up to Aksum but I hope to visit one day. And besides, Lalibela alone was captivating enough.

Bete Abba Libanos

Bete Abba Libanos

Bete Giorgis (St George), the most photographed church of Lalibela

Bete Giyorgis (St George), the most photographed church of Lalibela

Bete Giorgis

Bete Giyorgis

Lalibela is often referred to as Africa’s Jerusalem, because the layout of the churches and many of its intricacies are modeled after the original Israel. It is said that Lalibela was built as a New Jerusalem following the capture of Jerusalem by Muslims in 1187. There is a river running through Lalibela that separates some churches from the others, and it is referred to as the River Jordan. One section is meant to represent the Tomb of Adam. And the names of the churches are reminiscent of Hebrew: for example, Bete Amanuel means House of Emmanuel, coming from the Hebrew word beth, meaning house (UNESCO).

Outside Bete Gabriel-Rafael

Outside Bete Gabriel-Rafael

Bete Lehem

Bete Lehem

The sheer size of the churches took my breath away. I wondered aloud how it was possible that these churches were carved into the ground. My guide informed me that although King Lalibela had hundreds of workers, various sections were completed by angels overnight. I was also impressed by the planning required to design the network of tunnels connecting the churches.

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An exit of a tunnel

An exit of a tunnel

Lalibela’s churches are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That’s wonderful, but when this honour was bestowed upon the little town, hundreds of families living in the vicinity of the churches were displaced due to conservation regulations put in place by UNESCO. Disappointed, I asked my guide what was done with the funds from the church’s hefty $50US admission fee. Based on his response, it is doubtful that much of the proceeds benefit the average residents of Lalibela, a town with considerable poverty.

On my second day of Lalibela, I went on an early morning hike in Lalibela’s mountainside. It was intended to be a hike to a monastery called Asheten Maryam, but I decided to just go for the views of Lalibela. I was monaster-ied out after visiting Bahir Dar and had read reviews that this one wasn’t anything unique. The hike was exhausting but I took some beautiful photos and got to walk by the teff fields and villages of Lalibela’s countryside.

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Hiking in Lalibela’s countryside

Hiking

I spent two nights in Lalibela to soak up the small town vibe. Then it was back to Addis for two more days. At the top of my list was the Ethnological Museum at the main campus of Addis Ababa University. As a sociocultural anthropology student, this museum was a highlight for me. It included pottery, clothing, technologies, children’s games, and various other artefacts from the various ethnic groups making up Ethiopia’s cultural landscape. The second floor boasts a fascinating exhibit on musical instruments and an art gallery. Plus, the building itself used to be a palace of Emperor Haile Selassie and Empress Menen, with some of their living quarters preserved. Their bed and bathrooms were surprisingly mundane. I also wondered why the Emperor’s toilet was so far away from his bidet.

Emperor Haile Selassie's bed

Emperor Haile Selassie’s bed

Emperor Haile Selassie's bathroom

Emperor Haile Selassie’s bathroom

Military uniform

Military uniform

I also went to Ethiopia’s National Museum. Although this one also has interesting cultural artefacts, the highlight is its natural history section, which contains the remains of the famous australopithecine afarensis, Lucy. I’m a huge fan of Lucy’s so we took a selfie together. Outside the museum, I also checked out a cannon used by the Ethiopian army to defeat the Italians during the Battle of Adwa in 1896.

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Lucy and I

Acheulean tools

Acheulean tools

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A cannon from the Battle of Adwa

I also visited the famous Tomoca coffee shop to have a macchiato, buy some beans to take home, and people-watch.

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A macchiato

A macchiato

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On my last evening, I took a minibus up Entoto Hill, referred to by some as Addis’ rooftop. I needed to take two minibuses and one Toyota pickup truck to get up there, so that was an adventure. At the top is the charming Entoto Maryam church. There wasn’t enough time to go inside, so I spent some time checking out the exterior while a very dedicated group of people prayed outside. From Entoto Hill I also took this photo overlooking the city at sunset.

Looking at Addis from Entoto Hill

Looking at Addis from Entoto Hill

Entoto Maryam

Entoto Maryam

I visited my favourite part of Addis Ababa at its peak time. Saturday morning at Mercato Centrale. This is the largest market in East Africa and one of the most hectic, crowded, overwhelming places I’ve ever visited. I loved it! I don’t have any pictures because most of the time I didn’t feel comfortable taking out my camera. And the one time I did, a lady yelled at me to stop, and so I requested her request. I figured out how to get there by minibus, which again was a bit of an adventure. I enjoyed wading through the crowds, visiting the market’s various sections: vegetables, meats, metals, plastics…and my favourite: spices. The spice market was so beautifully colourful and an intense experience for the senses. I made sure to buy some to take home, including Ethiopia’s unique berbere, as well as some incense. Before heading to the airport, I finished my visit in Ethiopia in the best way I can think of – by sitting in a little café in Mercato, having broken English-Amharic conversations with some folks over a coffee.

Addis

Ethiopia Trip pt. 1

The week before Christmas, I briefly escaped from Kenya to visit Ethiopia. It was an exciting journey of history, religion, nature, and cuisine. I’ll spread the stories from my trip over a few posts because there’s so much I want to highlight about this incredible country.

I flew to Addis Ababa and arrived early afternoon on a Friday. The capital reminded me of Nairobi in some ways: its busy and bustling atmosphere, countless construction projects, and a diversity in the socioeconomic realities lived by its inhabitants.

In Addis, I stayed at Mr Martin’s Cozy Place, a guesthouse with an atmosphere as friendly as its name suggests. I never figured out why the place is called Mr Martin’s. The owner’s name is Davit. Anyway, it was a simple but comfortable option in a safe location with helpful staff. The main house is also occupied by a family, which might not appeal to all travelers, but I really enjoyed that there were pets and goofy kids running around.

My first activity in Addis was a walking food tour with Addis Eats. The co-founders, Eliza and Xavier, are American researchers with an impressive range of knowledge on all things food and all things Ethiopia. Not only did this tour equip me with some useful info and tips for food choices throughout my trip, but it also acted as an introduction to the geography of Addis and the history and culture of Ethiopia. The tour started with a small family-run joint where we had refreshing mango-avocado blends. Then we went to a small, sort of hidden restaurant frequented by locals, where we had two different types of wat (stew) over injera. We weren’t there at the right time to see injera being made, but Xavier told us how this spongy sourdough pancake is made out of a very fine grain called teff. It was here we had shiro wat, my favourite type of wat, because it’s packed with berbere, a special spice blend I really like.  After that, we went to a mid-range restaurant to have whole fried tilapia with some spicy sauces. Ethiopian cuisine includes some great fish selections, it being the source of the Blue Nile. Next, we went to a little café for a traditional coffee ceremony, complete with frankincense and a popcorn snack. I never really liked coffee, but my visit to Ethiopia taught me to appreciate it much more, and I asked for a coffee ceremony at several restaurants during my trip. Ethiopia is a special place for coffee because it is coffee’s indigenous home, where you can find the widest genetic diversity of the plant. Our tour concluded with a few more dishes at a high end restaurant, but by then I was really stuffed. The tour altogether cost $50US, a pretty good deal considering how much food there was, the quality of information shared with us, and the personal nature of the tour.

An assorted spread including different types of wat, collard greens,, and other veggies on injera

An assorted spread including different types of wat, collard greens,, and other veggies on injera

Fried tilapia

Fried tilapia

A traditional coffee ceremony

A traditional coffee ceremony

The next day I spent out on the town. First I went to the Red Terror Martyr’s Memorial Museum. This relatively new museum provides a haunting account of the Soviet-sponsored communist rule in Ethiopia and Eritrea that killed at least 30,000 people (though it is estimated that the number is more likely in the hundreds of thousands) in the 1970s, following the military takeover of Emperor Mengistu Haile Mariam. The museum’s guides are survivors of the violence who protested against the regime. In addition to their own experiences, they share stories of other dissenters who were not so lucky, as you pass by their photographs, clothing, and bones.

Photographs of some of the Derg's victims

Photographs of some of the Derg’s victims

Next I went to the Addis Ababa Museum, which was pretty unremarkable so I’ll stop there.

Then I had lunch at an Italian restaurant called Juventus, mainly because I knew my Dad would get a kick out of it but also because I heard the Italian food in Addis was amazing.  I had pizza and it was pretty good but nothing special. However, I did have an incredible pesto pasta dish later in the week at a restaurant called Grani di Pepe. Anyway, Juventus is right behind Meskel Square, an important landmark in Addis Ababa for a few reasons. First of all, it’s a central location for the city’s minibuses, some of which almost ran me over when walking through the square. (I used the minibuses several times in Addis, and was surprised that they were generally cleaner and in better condition than what I’m used to here in Nairobi). Second, the public square is the location of the annual Meskel Festival. Meskel in Amharic means cross, and this festival commemorates when the crucifix was revealed to Emperor Constantine’s mother, an important event in the Orthodox faith. Finally, Meskel Square was renamed Revolution Square in 1974 when the monarchy fell and Emperor Mengistu rose to power. He erected enormous portraits of Marx, Engels, and Lenen in the square during this time (which I imagine looked kind of creepy).

Meskel Square

Meskel Square

On my second day in Addis, I also visited the Holy Trinity Cathedral (Kidist Selassie). It was built in commemoration of Ethiopia’s freedom from Italian occupation. On the ceiling of the front section of the church is a beautiful painting of the Ascension of Jesus Christ and some other New Testament stories. Framing this are two other important paintings: one of the Battle of Adwa, when Ethiopia defeated the Italians in 1896, and another of Haile Selassie speaking to the League of Nations. At the front of the church, there is also a section with the tombs of Emperor Haile Selassie and Empress Menen. Not only is this church a significant place of worship, but it also demonstrates the tight links between church and state in Ethiopia.

Holy Trinity Cathedral

Holy Trinity Cathedral

The inside of Holy Trinity

The inside of Holy Trinity

A painting of Haile Selassie speaking to the League of Nations

A painting of Haile Selassie speaking to the League of Nations

From Holy Trinity I went to St George’s Cathedral. St. George’s is where Haile Selassie was crowned, so it’s considered a site of pilgrimage for rastafarians. I didn’t get there in enough time to go inside but sat outside for a while and listened to some of the worship music playing.

St. George's Cathedral

St. George’s Cathedral

While I sat and listened, a guide hanging around tried to convince me to go on some other tours. Instead, I convinced him to take me to a tej house, a type of bar I wanted to visit but wasn’t sure I could on my own. Tej is a type of mead or honey wine produced in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is flavoured with the leaves of buckthorn, a plant I know nothing else about except it’s used to make tej.  Tej is a sweet yellow drink served in a vase-like glass pictured below. It came out of a big green barrel and was very tasty.

Tej

Tej

After returning to Mr Martin’s in the late afternoon, I walked down the street to Bait al Mandi, a Yemeni restaurant. It was my first time having Yemeni food, and won’t be my last. I had lamb mandi with pita and rice. Mandi is meat that is cooked on charcoal in a tandoor, a type of oven traditionally dug into the ground and sealed so that smoke does not escape. I don’t think it was cooked in the ground at the restaurant, but the meat was smoky and delicious. The servings were generous and so of course I fell in love with the place.  With a full belly I returned to get enough sleep before an early flight to Bahir Dar the next morning.

Lamb mandi

Lamb mandi

City, Camp, Village

Back and forth from Kakuma to Nairobi, the past few weeks have been good to me.

Outside of work, I spent my October in Nairobi exploring new parts of the city and spending quality time with friends. I enjoyed escaping the traffic-filled streets by exploring some of Nairobi’s green space, including Uhuru Park and Karura Forest. (Both of those locations, by the way, were sites of controversial urban development projects planned during Daniel Arap Moi’s presidency, and a history of environmentalist and anti-capital protest led by Nobel Laureate Wangari Mathai). My visit to the main campus of the University of Nairobi made me miss campus at home, and a good friend has been gracious enough to take books out from their library for me. I also had the pleasant surprise of meeting up with one of my professors, who was in Nairobi for the launch of a new global research initiative called OCSDnet.

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A rugby match at Impala field, Nairobi

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The Institute of African Studies at the University of Nairobi

Uhuru Park, Nairobi

Uhuru Park, Nairobi

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Karura Forest, Nairobi

I’m back in Kakuma here and am staying for the month of November. My main objective for this visit is to conduct interviews and focus groups for my research, which have been going swimmingly. I’m researching how education in host communities (the hosts of refugees) has been impacted over the years by the presence of refugees in Turkana West (the sub-county in which Kakuma is located). I’ve been speaking with teachers, Turkana elders, and other community members who have been sharing their thoughts about infrastructure, conflict and security, culture, pastoralism, NGOs, and government. My main source of data is the stories and experiences of my interviewees, the oldest of whom have seen their communities change considerably since the establishment of the refugee camp in 1992. Where necessary, my co-workers have translated Turkana for me. The interviews have taken place in classrooms, under trees, in ekol (a hut), and an Ethiopian restaurant in the camp called Franco’s. This week I’m travelling to Lodwar, the capital of Turkana County, to meet with a government official. Needless to say, I’ve been learning a lot.

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A research interview location

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Turkana village

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Beautiful landscape of Turkana West

After work, I’ve been going on walks into the camp to explore and buy snacks like samosas and fruit. I’ve only been able to explore part of it by foot because the whole place is very large. But I’ve visited schools in all parts of the camp. It’s very cosmopolitan, with people of similar nationality congregating in certain areas. In many ways, the camp is like a small city. In other ways it’s not, as there are regulations that restrict the movement and activities of its residents that wouldn’t happen elsewhere (if you can access them, I’d suggest the works of Rose Jaji, Barbara Harrell-Bond, and Jennifer Hyndman on this topic).

On Saturday, the UN announced that starting Sunday, food rations in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps would be reduced by 50% until the end of January 2015. This is a drastic reduction of an already modest diet. The local economy, which relies on the trade and resale of grains and pulses received as ration, will take a big hit. The purported reason for the cuts is that the international food aid supply is overstretched by the humanitarian crises that have happened this year. I am not convinced by this explanation. Surely, measures should have taken to more moderately manage the flow of food supply in the camps. A 50% reduction all at once is unacceptable. The camp residents themselves were give 24 hours notice. Sorry, that last part was a bummer but I think it’s important to share.

On a completely different note, earlier today I booked a flight to Ethiopia. While I’m away, I’ll visit the museums, markets, and restaurants of Addis Ababa; I’ll see Fasil Ghebbi in Gondar, which has been called ‘Africa’s Camelot’, and explore the famous rock-carved churches in Lalibela. By the time I get back it’ll be Christmas! I’m planning to spend Christmas with my roommate’s family in Kericho, Kenya. I’m sure I’ll especially miss home at that time, but at least I won’t be alone over the holidays. Stay tuned!

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.

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.

Getting to Know Nairobi

Hi friends,

Tomorrow marks two weeks that I’ve been in Kenya. I’m having a wonderful time so far and feel like I have learned a great deal already. Nairobi is a diverse, bustling, rapidly growing city with various opportunities for economic and social activity and a strikingly wide wealth gap. The city is headquarters for many East African industries and is a hub for regional and international governance, while also being home to huge informal settlements and poverty. From what I’ve gathered so far, the city is made up of a small downtown core known as the CBD (Central Business District) surrounded by neighbourhoods of varying character, some of which have quiet residential areas tucked away from the major streets. I live in such a neighbourhood. It’s called Kileleshwa and I’m pleased to call one of its apartment buildings my new home.

My apartment building  is visible just behind the vendors and trees.

My apartment building is visible just behind the vendors and trees.

A notable first impression I’ve had is the level of security in this city. Before arriving, I knew Nairobi would be highly securitized given its history of crime and recent acts of terrorism. But it’s been more of an adjustment than I had expected. Guards with metal detectors stand at the entrances of various public spaces, like the mall, restaurants and bars, and even a KFC I went to in the CBD. They open your bags and sometimes pat you down. If you’re driving into the parking lot of a mall, a guard may check your back seat and trunk, and possibly check under your car using an extendable mirror. My apartment is in a gated compound with a friendly guard, and the entrance to our flat has a heavy wooden door with two locks behind a barred metal gate with a padlock. I’m really bad with keys and so getting into the apartment is its own event. I’m sure I’ll get better at it. Anyway, despite the nuisance it can be, I’m privileged to be able to keep myself safe the way I can.

One of my favourite aspects of Nairobi it its public transport. I take a minibus, or matatu, to work. A matatu is a 15-seater van (although they can hold many more than that!) that races through the city streets at incredible speeds. The conductor hangs out the side door waving to passengers and yelling out the final destination. Once inside, you might enjoy some East African hip hop or reggae, sometimes blasting so loud that you wonder if your ear drums are still in working order when you hop off. You’ll see Kenyans in suit and tie on their way to work, parents with their kids, and maybe the occasional nerdy mzungu trying to fit in (me). At most of the loading stages, a matatu can arrive as frequently as every two minutes. Depending on where you’re going the cost is between 10 and 50 shillings ($0.12-$0.60 CAD).

Last week I went to the CBD for some exploring on my own. I walked around, had KFC (chicken tastes the same but I had ugali instead of fries), and visited the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC). The KICC has a rooftop observation deck that offers a great view of Nairobi. I was able to see various hotels and commercial buildings in the CBD as well as the Parliament building and Nairobi’s city hall.

The KICC.

The KICC.

The view from the top of the KICC.

The view from the top of the KICC.

This past week, I went on a staff retreat with the Kenya Equity in Education Project (KEEP) team. We stayed in a lodge outside Machakos, only 60km away from Nairobi. KEEP hosted a weeklong planning session and had some critical discussions about the project’s progress and areas for improvement. It was wonderful to meet the rest of the KEEP team and learn about the roles of education officers, counsellors, finance/procurement officers, scholarship program coordinators, and so on. We are 31 in total, which includes the Nairobi team and staff in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps. I’m thrilled to be part of this team and will certainly tell you more about the project and my role in future blog posts. For now, check out these photos of giraffes, wildebeest, gazelles, and zebra that I captured only a short distance away from our lodge!

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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.