I remember at the beginning of my fellowship, I promised you all (but mostly my mom) that I’d write regularly on this blog. I had ambitious goals of writing once a week. But then, living my life got in the way. Not everyday of my life in Kenya is filled with baby elephants and taking selfies on helipads. In all honesty, my life in Nairobi can be pretty mundane. Aside from a lack of good public transportation (Matatus go everywhere, but whether or not you’ll live to see your destination is questionable) and a few other cultural differences, Nairobi feels like a major city that you could visit anywhere in the United States. So in that regard, my life hasn’t been exciting enough to write about every week. But, I have had some adventures since I last wrote in December (which I wrote when I had eight months left, and I’m posting this on my eight month anniversary).
The first month of the year wasn’t too exciting. I’d just come back from my winter break in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, and I was waiting for work to pick back up again. For me, January felt like a transition into the rest of my fellowship. I wasn’t the new kid at work anymore and my friendships had survived and stabilized after the long winter break. January was tough because I was overdosing on US News and willing time to slow down to live out the Obama days for as long as possible.
The overall highlight of January was my new hair-do. I decided I’d had enough of the long extensions and wanted to go back to my roots–literally. I decided to remove the extensions and cut off all my relaxed hair. I was left with my very own lil ‘fro. This whole process wasn’t as easy as I expected. I had a mini-crisis when I couldn’t recreate the style I got at the hair salon for the first hair cut and thought it would be a good idea to cut my own hair. Expecting to feel like bad-ass Disney Princess Mulan after she cuts her hair, I ended up feeling more like Cynthia, Angelica’s doll from the Rugrats. The next day, I went back to the salon in the hopes they could salvage the situation. After asking a zillion questions about taking care of my hair, I left AmaDiva salon feeling like Lupita Nyong’o.
Since my decision to do the big chop, I’ve adopted a lot of scarves and headbands into my wardrobe to accessorize my new hair cut. Luckily, I can purchase them from Toi Market for 30 shillings a pop. Overall, I love my new look, and I’m glad I took a risk I don’t think I would have undertaken back in the US.
Things started picking back up at work in February. We received a new grant to continue our Gender in Agribusiness Investments for Africa program that hosts boot camps for entrepreneurs to improve their business models and create a pipeline of gender-responsive innovations to move from lab, to farm, to markets in order to close the gender gap across the agricultural value chain.
I’ve also made vast improvements in my swimming abilities since starting swimming lessons! My swim coach is tough, but she’s gotten results–I can swim freestyle! The only downside is that I haven’t mastered timing my breathing so I mostly choke water when I attempt to take a breath, but I can swim for half a pool length before I need to pause and put air in my lungs.
February was also an exciting month because my friend Abby and her mom Erica came to visit me for a week! It was so awesome having someone from my “other life” share some of my experiences in Kenya.
Abby, Erica, and I did some cool things during their visit. I took them to Scratch, one of my favorite local bars. They had the chance to try Kenyan food and Tusker beer. We then had a mini-photo shoot at the Kenya International Conference Center’s helipad.
Afterwards, we got ourselves packed up for an overnight game drive at Nairobi National Park. Our campsite was the epitome of glamping; I had a sheepskin to line my chair! The next morning, we woke up early for our game drive eager to see Kenya’s big five. I’d say we were pretty lucky and saw four of the five–we were only missing a leopard. But, we did see two lions mating!
Our guide’s safari facts were more like dating profiles of each animal. We learned that we don’t want a lion as a lover because they mate over 70 times a day, each copulation period lasting around thirty seconds. As if that isn’t horrifying enough, male lions (as do many male mammals) have barbed penises! After reviewing the mating and child rearing habits of all the animals we saw that day, we decided that the dik dik is the ideal partner. Dik dik’s mate for life and co-parent their young.
After our game drive, I wanted to up the cuteness factor for Abby and Erica. We then visited the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. In case you were wondering, baby elephants are some of the most awkward creatures–in both looks and behaviors. However, their awkwardness only adds to how adorable they are. So many of the little ones slung dirt balls at each other, rolled around in the mud pits, and try to escape the viewing area. Once we got our fill of baby elephants and got tired of avoiding stray mud slings, we headed over the the Giraffe Centre.
I know that it’s bad to lure giraffes over to you with pellets so you can get a good Instagram photo, but you’ll have to forgive me. The chance to be at a giraffe’s height and see their beautiful faces up close is breathtaking. Plus, the giraffe I fed wasn’t a headbutt-er or licker.
After getting our fill of giraffe kisses, we went home to rest up for our big day. We did a bicycle tour through Hell’s Gate, one of Kenya’s national parks in Naivasha, and then completed a hike through the gorge. One of the cool things about Hell’s Gate is that its features inspired some of the landscapes in the Lion King. Also, Hell’s Gate gets its name from Kenyan legends that say the park is the entrance to their hell. Why? Because the park has immense geothermal activity. You can see and feel a rumbling as the steam escapes from the geothermal vents.
The bike ride through the park was incredible. Our backdrop was fields of grazing animals and awe-inspiring rock formations. It was incredible to bike alongside a herd of zebras or pausing to for a giraffe to cross. Things got a little dicey when we rode past a group of water buffalo. Luckily, they ran in the opposite direction from us–we definitely wouldn’t have been able to out-bike them.
Once we got to the gorge, our guide had to keep lying to me in order to trick me into continuing the descent. Heights aren’t really my thing and some parts of entering the gorge are very steep. With the encouragement of Abby ad Erica, I did finally make it down–albeit very muddy because of all the butt-scooching I did. Standing inside the Hell’s Gate gorge felt surreal because we are standing between narrow rock walls several meters tall that are notorious for flash floods. You can see the emergency escape ropes through the gorge.
We spent about three hours trekking through narrow crevices, climbing over short waterfalls, and marveling at how thousands of years of erosion created this landscape. After coming out of the gorge (with more lies of encouragement), we visited KenPower’s geothermal pool. You could smell the sulfur steaming out of the giant pool, but it was perfect after a long bike ride and hike.
The next morning was Abby and Erica’s last days with me in Nairobi. We went shopping at a Masai Market, and I must say that I’m pretty impressed with the bargains we got. We had a final lunch together before they left to head back stateside.
The last few days of February were very quiet after they left.
March Madness doesn’t apply to just basketball. March was the month where it seemed like everything was happening all at once. First, I moved to a new place closer to where I catch the bus to work. The major perks about my new place are my fabulous backyard and its proximity to stores and restaurants. Next, I’ll just need to make use of my backyard by hosting a darty.
In the middle of moving, I had several big work events, including the celebrating International Women’s Day. This was one of the coolest events I’ve ever been a part of planning. AWARD, in partnership with the World Agroforestry Centre, held a private viewing of Hidden Figures for 100 high school girls and 100 of the women staff at ICRAF. In the afternoon, we held a panel on how women and girls have to navigate professional spaces. Even though this was so stressful to plan out every detail and make sure that everyone had a seat at the movie, it was so incredibly worthwhile to see everyone come out of the movie theatre incredibly moved.
Right after the International Women’s Day celebrations, it was time to get prepared for Princeton in Africa’s mid-year retreat. I admit that was intimidated and felt apprehensive about spending four intense days with 50 people, the majority of whom I hadn’t seen since early June. However, the retreat was what I needed at that time in my fellowship. It’s crazy to think that people I met for only a week in June feel like people I’ve known for years. I guess the glue of deciding to spend a year in Africa really sticks.
This retreat happened a couple weeks before my seven month anniversary in Kenya. I really benefited from stepping away from my life in Nairobi to reflect on my experiences thus far and what I hope to do for the duration of my fellowship. It was also rejuvenating hearing the stories of the other fellows because even though we all are in different countries in different posts, we had common experiences associated with starting a new job and life.
The four days of retreat seemed to fly by so quickly, and soon I was on a bus heading back to Nairobi.
The rest of March seemed to also pass very quickly as work was ramping up in preparation for our upcoming agribusiness boot camps.
April has certainly been a month full of adventures. For starters, I had the opportunity to go on my first out-of-Kenya travel assignment for work. I went to Lusaka, Zambia for the launch of our Southern and Central Africa Gender in Agribusiness Investments for Africa (GAIA) AgTech Innovation Challenge. We brought together twenty-five entrepreneurs from eight countries within the region to help them better articulate their business models and value propositions and become more gender-responsive in their business priorities and processes.
Even though I was busy helping to launch this event, I still managed to squeeze in a couple fun activities. I went shopping at one of the craft markets and purchased fabric for a dress. I’m hoping those six yards of fabric will magically be able to make many outfits because I’m torn as to what exactly I want made.
For my first meal in Zambia, I tried some of the local cuisine: caterpillars. While they didn’t taste bad (and no, they didn’t taste like chicken), they weren’t the most chewable food. The texture was at once crunchy and chewy, and I just couldn’t get through it. I mostly did it because my co-workers didn’t think I would. I can’t lie, I was pretty satisfied with how weirded out they were by my culinary choices.
A day after I returned from Zambia, I began my Epic Easter Holiday. That Friday night, I went to the Diplo concert in Nairobi. It was unreal how big the set up was; it felt like a mini-music festival with all of the tents and the main stage. The best part of the concert for me was when Walshy Fire, the other member of Major Lazer, showed up. I’d seen Walshy Fire perform back in January, so to see him again and with Diplo was doubly exciting. After so many weeks of stress, this concert was my time to let loose and dance. You can listen to the concert here.
The late night concert did make the morning pretty rough because I had to be up early for the Masai Mara safari I was going on with a few other PiAf Fellows. Our van was quite the struggle bus. But, a six hour ride later, we were all more-or-less functional and ready for our game drive in Kenya’s most famous game park.
After hearing so much hype about the Masai Mara, I didn’t want to get my hopes up on how incredible it was. But the Mara surpassed my expectations and more. On the second day, we drove around the park for seven hours. At that point, I could no longer tell from what direction we started because the park was so expansive. We even drove to the Mara River that separates the Mara from the Serengeti in Tanzania.
The most incredible part of our safari was seeing a kill happen in real time! We saw two lionesses and two cubs take down a warthog. From the van, we saw something creeping in the tall grass, when Hannah, one of the girls in the group, noticed it was a lion. Our driver whipped us around so we saw the entire kill happen in real time. For most of the kill, you could hear the warthog squeal in pain and terror as its entrails were ripped out of it by four lions. At one point, the mother of the cubs fought off the other lioness so her young could eat. Witnessing the shear strength and the musculature of both lions sent chills down our spines.
In addition to watching that National Geographic-worthy kill, we saw many other lions, zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, elephants, birds, etc. The density of the Masai Mara is incredible. Even though I have limited game drive experience, I haven’t been to another park with as high a concentration and diversity of wildlife. You can see more of my photos here.
After one last morning game drive, my crew headed back to Nairobi. Adjusting to the desk life again was pretty rough after being away for two weeks, but I’m crossing my fingers for more travel opportunities.
April is coming to a rapid close, but I’m looking forward to what May will bring.
What I’m Currently Reading
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists? by Neil Irwin
Black Women Traveling the World is Radical
What I’m Currently Watching
Chewing Gum (It’s on Netflix!!!!!)