Sunday, May 29, 2016

Cultural Many Forms

We arrived in Nairobi, Kenya last Wednesday afternoon and really hit the ground running.  I'm here this year as a co-leader and instructor for a travel study course offered through Widener University.  The course topic is transitional justice, my area of interest for my doctoral studies, and we chose Kenya because it just recently went through the transitional justice process itself.  For those of you who followed my trip to Kenya last year, this will be a different ride for sure.  Last year was a service focused trip and we spent the majority of our time in Nyeri, about three hours outside of Nairobi.  This year, we'll be staying in Nairobi for about ten days before spending the following ten days traveling all around the country.  I'm excited to share our journey with you!

Our group, R to L Tiffany, Aisha, Pam, Linda, Rae, Olivia, me

Clearly very excited to be on board the plane
Lights of Alexandria, Egypt as we flew over the coast
Our group loaded into the van at the airport

Dinner our first night at Carnivore, a Brazilian style steakhouse.  I ate ostrich, crocodile and rabbit!  Passed on the ox testicles...
We began our trip with a three day cultural immersion course offered through Tangaza College in Nairobi.  Tangaza offers the only accredited Master's degree program in African Studies in East Africa and the faculty and staff are incredibly committed to teaching African Studies in Africa through an African lens (go figure, but you'd be amazed at the number of programs that exist in the US with American faculty and no requirements to spend any time in Africa at all!)

Learning from our third lecturer, Dr. Ochilo
The course was amazing.  We spent our mornings focused on African history and tradition, African religion, and politics and economics.  We were assigned field assistants on a one to one basis who then took us out into the city to meet with people practicing in the areas we learned about during the morning lecture.  Our first day we met with a diviner and an herbalist.  A diviner is someone who is believed to be chosen to provide services to the community, guided by their ancestors.  The diviner we met with stressed the importance of the role his ancestors play in guiding the work he does with community members, who seek his services primarily for issues of fertility, marriage conflict, and community disputes.  An herbalist, likewise, is often chosen and guided by ancestors, but their primary role is to supply the community with herbs and natural mixtures meant to relieve a variety of ailments.

The second day I met with a pastor from an evangelical church.  I was primarily interested in how he balanced deeply embedded African traditions and beliefs with Christian demands that seemed in direct contradiction.  I was somewhat shocked when he said that he didn't ascribe to the African traditions that his ancestors had and so the conflict was not an issue for him.  Despite this initial statement, he referred to culturally traditional expectations several times and I wasn't convinced he had actually given up what he was sure he had.  I also wondered how his conversion to a religion brought to Africa by Europeans and Americans was just one more way in which the African culture was slowly being removed and replaced.

The third day we met with Sakwa's dad.  Those of you who followed last year's trip will remember Sakwa worked at St. Mary's as a social worker and we became good friends.  He's no longer working at St. Mary's and has played an integral role in setting up our trip this year.  He has been our eyes on the ground and there's no way we could have done this trip without all of his hard work. Our third day focused on politics and economics and Sakwa came through for us again when our field assistants were struggling to find someone within the government willing to meet with us on a Saturday.  His dad is the Deputy Director for the Disaster  Management Unit and a police officer.  He's also worked for the UN and traveled all over the world.  He sat with us for over two hours and I think what he shared was just as, if not more, informative for our field assistants than it was for us.

Taking notes during our meeting with Sakwa's dad, Pius Masai

A little school's out, Saturday night fun!

Our first four days in Kenya have been a whirlwind.  We were non-stop from the moment we landed, but our course is over and we had a free day today, which we spent visiting elephants at an orphanage and feeding giraffes at a sanctuary.  I decided to adopt an elephant this year.  I really wanted to do it last year, but didn't and this year  I decided not to let the opportunity pass by.  His name is Rapa and I chose an elephant the same age as Amare.  He was rescued after falling down a well at five months old.  If you are interested, you can visit the orphanages website here.  Fostering an elephant is just $50 for the year and it seems to be a very reputable, worthwhile organization.

This week we'll be visiting several organizations that work to advance human rights in Kenya as it relates to our course material.  Wednesday is Independence Day and Sakwa and his wife have invited us to their home for a celebration.  Friday morning we depart for Nyeri.

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