Category Archives: If I were a tourist…

Baraka Bear

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A group of women in Kibera Slums have formed a group, now becoming a small sewing business. Just recently I saw them trying out something new and so I bought one, in hopes of promoting this artistic group of women from the¬†Resource¬†Center for Slums! The make these little stuffed teeddy bears out of the tradition Kitange cloth. Each costs ten dollars and the bears would be great for little kids. I love mine. Im calling them “Baraka Bears” because baraka means blessing. Interested in buying a few or do you know of a store in the US that would be interested in buying in bulk? Let me know ūüôā

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Kenya National Museum and Snake Park

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Fridays are my day off so one particular Saturday Shem suggested that we go to the Museum. I said “sawa” and off we went!

Many Stuffed animals. One huge room dedicated to stuffed dead birds… thousands. Nat, maybe if I brought you here we could cure your fear of these fluffy little things!

I made friends with some wooden cut-outs while Shem retaliated against the¬†mosquito¬†that tried to kill him with malaria just the week before. Then we both ran into a mess with a hippo who tried to bite our head off completely… thank goodness I’m a quick thinker and I stuck a spare paintbrush in the big guy’s mouth (just so happened to have one in my purse!) to pry his mouth open and rescue Shem and I, just in the nick-of-time!

Then there was the snake park. Very cool- next time I want to go in the morning and watch them get fed!

The most exciting thing was the elephant that got loose in the museum.

The Chapo Challenge!

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About 2 weeks ago we celebrated Kenya’s independence day, called Madaracka Day. I decided to celebrate in my own unique way and do a fun experiement along Olympic road in Kibera, around where CTM is. With a blue grocery bag, a few shillings, and a perminant marker SHem and I headed out on a mission to find the best chapati along Olympic. We went to 6 different places, bought one chapo at each and labeled it with the name of the place before slipping it into the bag.

Our¬†Candidates: Abondos, Terminus, Bredan, Olympic Hotel, Mama Joni’s, and some hotel that starts with a K but I know where it is.

We took them back to the house and I chopped 2 pieces of each, put them on plates and labeled where each chapati was from on the bottom of the plate right underneath it. Then we tasted… one at a time, taking careful “tasting notes” as we went… which is the softest, tastiest, sweetest chapati on Olympic? Shem and I rated each one and put the six in order from best to worst. We agreed on all except 2 for the final lineup. But we agreed on the top 2…

Best Chapati- Olympic Hotel, Second Best- Brendan

I’d say this experiment was a huge success because the 2 top chapos were from places I’d never eaten before. Plus the answer to this question was pretty important since I am always in Kibera and my favorite food is chapati- so now I know exactly where to go to get the best! Next food contest will be to find the best coconut scone in town…

Going to Shem’s Aunt’s House

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We walked for about 3 hours up and over, down and around; passing many mountains until we finally came to a small cluster of mud-wall, thatched-roof huts that were cupped in a valley of shambas, surrounded by a horseshoe of mountains. It was beautiful. This aunt was his mom’s older sister and once again she was thrilled and surprised at our coming all in the same. After meeting the family Shem’s aunt (he calls her mom) packed us a picnic of soda and cookies and Shem and I just kept on walking. This time it was straight up the mountain! Our mission- conquer the peak and see a 360 view of the mountains and homes that were tucked between.¬†

The views were amazing and it was so peaceful on top that we actually repeated out trip up the mountain again the very next day. We ended up staying 2 nights total at his mom’s place even though we didn’t even intend on staying one night. First night she insisted we stay because she hadn’t seen Shem in so long and then the next evening it started down pouring buckets. Shem was so determined to go that night though that despite the rain he told me to get ready to leave. Because my refusals to walk in the rain for 3 hours did not seem to sway him I let him go say goodbye to his aunt, knowing that she would also completely refuse his idea of leaving, so once again we stayed another night! Back home at Rose’s place apparently both¬†evenings¬†that we were gone people from the surrounding churches and homes had come in a large number to visit and welcome us. I was told they wanted to see a white “Mazungu” and both days people prepared food for us and awaited our coming, only to return home¬†disappointed. When we finally returned home on¬†Friday¬†is when we heard from Shem’s uncle that he had bought fish as a special meal for us to have and then had also prepared special food the second night because he was so sure of our return. This uncle was the one whom especially put pressure on Shem to build his home next to the family there, while at the same time Shem’s mom was making the same request on the other side of the mountains. Both are good offers, but I think time and thought will bring clarity to Shem’s decision on that.

During my entire stay I felt completely relaxed, at home, and at peace right where I was… surrounded by mountains, shambas, fresh air, birds chirping, people caring for me with such thoughtfulness even though we had just met, good food, outdoor bucket baths, and I was able to spend more time with someone who I am enjoying getting to know very much. My phone was off. I woke up with the sun and birds and fell asleep by candlelight. You would have thought time would drag on and days would be slow, but actually in my opinion it went way too fast.

Once Upon a Time in Upcountry

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Shem and I took a trip to his family’s home upcountry a few days after my mom left Kenya. It seems like if you go anywhere nirth of Nairobi people refer to it as “upcountry”. Upcountry describes the homeland of a person, the place where their tribe and family is; it is rural and represents a significant¬†part¬†of a person’s identity. Upcountry is visited on holidays and when a guy becomes “of age” and starts a family he is expected to¬†travel¬†upcountry and build a house there to represent his presence to the community.

So now that you have a background of what I’m talking about when I say “upcountry” let me give you specifics…

Chooch feeds the chickens outside of her home

Shem and I traveled to Nyanza by taking an overnight bus to Homa Bay which overlooks Lake Victoria. After arrival at 5 am last monday morning we took a matatu for over an hour on a rural muddy road until we finally alighted by a road leading to Ruma National Park. Shem and I stood for a few minutes looking at the next leg of our adventure… a 10-12 kilometer walk with our luggage in a game park until we would arrive at his mother’s family’s homes. Their tribe in Jaluo.

Rose and I

As we walked along this dirt road we passed giraffe,¬†antelope, and gazelle very¬†close by. There are also cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas in the area but I was very glad not to see any of them since Shem was not carrying his rungu (a wooden maasai club). Finally when we arrived to his family’s shambas of corn, beans, spinach, and sunflowers we were warmly welcomed even though we surprised them since Shem likes showing up without much notice.¬†Immediately¬†we were taken around to all the of the homes that were spaced out between shambas (gardens) and I was introduced to uncles, aunts, cousins, second- cousins, and others. Lastly we landed at Rose’s home who is wife to Shem’s great aunt’s son (I think). This was one of my “home-bases” during my stay here and I loved getting to know this mother and her 2 1/2 year old daughter Mercy (or fondly called Chooch!).

Mombasa

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Following the art camp my mom and I took a mini holiday to the east coast of Kenya to a ¬†place called Mombasa which meets the¬†Indian¬†Ocean with clear blue-green waters and miles of beach and shells. We stayed at a resort on th southern end, called Sentido, which really gave us an excuse not to think about anything besides relaxing. The beach was in our backyard; pools, food, shell-finding, drinks, windsurfing, biking, massages, games, reading, talking…this was our agenda!

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April= The Month my Mom Arrived in Nairobi

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My mom got off the plane and landed in Nairobi the evening of April 8th and she stayed for a whole 3 weeks! It’s hard to believe that I hadn’t seen her nor any other family for over a half-year. I don’t know what exactly I expected her trip to be like during her stay here- I know I had expectations though; ways I thought we would interact, things we would do, places I would share with her, people she would meet, and introduce her to a culture she would grow to love. Some of these expectations were met, while others were not, which is always how it goes I guess. Some factors that influenced this were out of my control such as the upcoming art camp and meetings while other factors were stretched out like a tightrope and I tried my best to balance my hopes, needs, expectations, as well as my mom’s and other people’s. Looking back at the 3 weeks I don’t think I am good at tightrope walking.

Despite commitments and busy moments, my mom was so understanding and patient with me. It shocked me how much I have gotten used to living completely independent, which I did not realize as much until my mom arrived. During her time here we were able to explore a lot and take small and big adventures, before and after the camp. The day after my mom arrived we headed straight for Mathare Slum and she helped me to teach my art class; bending wires into heart shapes and then twisting, weaving, crisscrossing smaller wires with beads all around the heart shape. The children fell in love with her with them. After classes we took lunch at my favorite chapati place around and then took a long walk through the slum, as Moses explained how people live in that area. The following day was a contrast since we attended Nairobi Chapel Church with my Kenyan family and then drove together to a relative’s birthday party which could have been a wedding celebration based on how fancy the set-up was. The following week was the week before camp yet between preparations we took little outings together like Giraffe Park, Monkey Park, Uhuru Park, visiting grace and spending the night, walking through town, trying foods, going to Kariako and City Market, and taking lots of yogurt drinks! When I couldn’t come with her she still went out to Kazuri Bead Shop, to visit Grace’s family, Elephant Orphanage, material shopping, ect.

It was fun to show my mom the daily life and routines that I have. I enjoyed hearing her insight and cultural perspective since she was bringing fresh eyes and perspective to situations that I don’t notice or think about any more. Now that she has come she has a clear mind of the people and context where I find myself now.