Author Archives: Shaquilla Harrigan
It’s Been a While…
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!!!!!)
8 More Months?!
On December 24, not only did I celebrate my 23rd birthday, but I also celebrated 4 months in Kenya. Even though I am now one-third of the way finished with my fellowship, the prospect of being here for eight more months is pretty daunting. However, I do have some pretty exciting things coming up over the next few months: My friend Abby and her mother are visiting me at the end of February and the Princeton in Africa Retreat is coming up in mid-March. Now onto what I’ve been up to these last few weeks…
Over the holiday break, Meyris and Regine, two PiAf fellows working in Tanzania and Malawi, respectively, visited me. Showing them around Nairobi and viewing the city from their eyes was a refreshing experience. Nairobi also seemed a little bit more magical than usual because the normal hustle and bustle also took a vacation. Walking through the semi-empty city allowed me to feel a little bit more ownership over Nairobi as my adopted-home. I also had less fear about crossing the street.
During their visit, we ventured to the top of the Kenya International Conference Centre, bargained at the large Masai Market in the Central Business District, endured the overwhelming Toi Market to beef up our wardrobes, and went on a game drive at Nairobi National Park. In between our big excursions, we blasted Afrobeats songs in my apartment and shared the biggest hits in each of our countries–#TeamNaija seems to be popular everywhere.My personal favorite is “Pana” by Tekno. (This song has me out here wishing my name was Faloke.)
Regine and Meyris also helped me celebrate my 23rd birthday. We met up with friends to have dinner at Talisman, one of the best restaurants in Nairobi. Later, my friend Jessica and I tried to show them a typical night out in Nairobi. Sadly, because so many people have left the city for their hometowns or the beaches of Mombasa, the nightlife was not as banging.
I spent the latter part of my break in Dar-Es-Salaam and Zanzibar. Within five minutes of landing in Dar, I was over the humidity and knew exactly why Nairobi’s dry heat seemed magical to Meyris.
Spending New Years in Zanzibar was truly something. Even though the beaches were gorgeous, there were a couple of mishaps to detract from my vacation. Literally two minutes into 2017, I get hit in the eye with debris from a beach fireworks display. While it’s a funny story now, I certainly wasn’t expecting my 2017 to start with a literal bang. Oh well, this year can only get better from there.
I know this a short post, but I promise to have another update soon(ish) featuring photos of my adventures, book suggestions, my favorite Afrobeats songs, and how the rest of January is going.
In the meantime, you can read my PiAf Fellows Flier!
I’m Still in Kenya!
Despite the fact that I haven’t posted in over two months, I am alive and well in Nairobi. The last two months have been packed with some adventures and new initiatives starting at AWARD. Because so much has happened, I don’t think I can write a cohesive blog post to capture everything that’s happened so I’ll just list out the major events and throw in a couple of photos.
A Visit to Nanyuki
The weekend of October 6-8 I visited Kate and Anchal, other PiAf Fellows, and Kate’s friends Allie and Jess in Nanyuki, a small market-town three hours north of Nairobi best known for Mount Kenya. My trip to Nanyuki was very much needed–around my 6th week in Nairobi, I was starting to get restless. Nairobi was starting to feel claustrophobic and the charm of living in a new city was rapidly fading. Visiting Kate, Jess, and Allie was the perfect recharge I needed, plus I got to look at the majestic (and miraculously cloudless!) Mount Kenya.
The Nanyuki Ladies showed me a great time, and I made it to two of the three night spots. At Gerry’s, the ‘Irish pub’, I played my first game of darts and hit a bulls-eye. After Gerry’s our group migrated to the local casino which also has a club upstairs. I attempted to learn the steps to the African songs, but I couldn’t keep up with the local Nanyukians.
In addition to the Nanyuki Nightlife, the Nanyuki Ladies also introduced me to Nanyuki nature vis-a-vis Ngare Ndare, a conservation park. Our guide Jeremy led us on a 2km hike to paradise. We ended up at this crystal blue lagoon and waterfall within the forest. Even though the water was ice cold, it was too beautiful to not get in and pose for the ‘gram. The other Nanyuki Ladies were braver than me (and knew how to swim) so they jumped from the top of the waterfall.
My visit to Nanyuki was absolutely perfect and gave me the recharge I needed to return to my urban life back in Nairobi.
Mushujaa Day Weekend
While all of the other fellows went to Uganda to meet up with other PiAf fellows, (I had to stay and complete projects at work in anticipation of a program launch), I was on a mission to have fun in Nairobi during the long weekend. I’d say overall my weekend was a success.
I went to the Nairobi National Museum with my roommate and one of his friends. Two of the exhibits gave me a deeper appreciation for Kenya. One exhibit discussed the evolution of humans and documented the story of finding the fossils of the human race’s earliest ancestors. In my experience, the science of these discoveries is often separated from where they were actually found. I learned the role that Kenyans and other East Africans played in making these discoveries.
The other exhibit that left an impression was on the history of Kenya. Visitors had the opportunity to walk through Kenya’s pre-colonial history all the way to modern day. There was also a series of documentaries that interviewed Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (the first president of Kenya) and other freedom fighters and the tactics they used to gain independence. Watching these documentaries hit home the fact that Kenya gained independence just over fifty years ago. While Kenya does have more work
to do, it has surely come a long way since British Colonialism.
The following day, I went on a day trip to Kiambethu Farm in Limuru, Kenya. Limuru, much cooler and moist than Nairobi, is home to many tea and coffee plantations. Kiambethu Farm was founded in 1910 and was one of the first commercial team farms in Kenya. Fiona, the great-granddaughter of the founder, and her staff were amazing hosts. While on the farm, we got to tour through the tea fields and learn the tedious process of picking leaves. We also received a tour of the indigenous forest still on the property–so many medicines could be made from the plants!
Kitengela Hot Glass Factory
I spend a day being a tourist and joined a Kenyan tour group to visit the Kitengela Hot Glass Factory and Oleetepes Park right outside of Ngong Hills. The best think about the tour group was that everyone except for my friends Faith and Ben was Kenyan. It was awesome seeking more of the country with people who were born and raised there.
The road to Kitengela was *horrible*, but once we arrived at the eclectic collection of glass scultpures, the bumpy ride was worth it. There were so many creations that seemed like something out of a children’s fantasy novel. While everyone else who didn’t have a fear of heights crossed the rope bridge, I explored the Kitengela property. Animals, your regular farm animals and some more exotic specimens, darted in between the massive glass sculptures.
All of the creations at the glass factory were created from recycled glass all around Kenya, and the designs were created by local Kenyan artisans. One of the artists took pity on me and showed me around the shops and his speciality of transforming wine bottles into new objects as everyone else was across the bridge.
After we were done at Kitengela, we went to Oleetepes Family park right outside of Ngong Hills. Our tour group shared lots of laughs over a sumptuous nyama choma (roasted goat) dinner.
The rest of October went by pretty quickly and the countdown to Election Day was ticking by quickly. In all honesty, I was SO excited for election day. Not only did I think I was getting a female president, but I would also get to see Hillary’s victory from a swanky watch party at the US Ambassador’s Residence. Only one of those things happened–the Ambassador’s watch party was AMAZING (even though I had to be there at 5am to watch the votes come in from America). I, along with dignitaries from other embassies and other Kenyan elite, watched (in growing horror) the Electoral College votes slide in for Trump.
I had to leave the party around 7:30am in order to make it to work on time–AWARD was launching the same week America was falling a part. In between getting materials prepared and designing flyers, I had a news stream running in the background so I could keep up with the tally. My co-workers (who are all Kenyan or Ugandan) kept asking if I voted and whether or not I voted for Clinton. ‘DUHHHHH’ was my internal response.
Around 10am, my gut took a a major punch. ‘Hillary Clinton Called Donald Trump to Concede’ ticked along the bottom of the live feed. I just lost it. What America’s decision meant for those I love and care about and the world horrified me–the fact that everything had gone red was devastating. I felt so defeated and heartbroken. A sobbing, heaving mess, my supervisor Kevin walked me outside and took me to his retreat on ICRAF’s campus. What I felt was immense grief–America lost so much on Election Day. I can’t even imagine what we’ll lose over these next four years.
Kevin let me vent and spew and cry. He also got real with me. He told me how he felt during Kenya’s 2007 and 2013 elections. Though it was not his intention, I got a privilege check. The feelings this election produced mirror the many other disappointing and scary elections that happen around the world–and less peacefully as well.
Kevin told me that because I was so upset, because I was hurting so much for my country, I needed to keep fighting, to keep pushing for progress. Despite how much harder it will be, now is not the time to give up. At the same time I must support the elected officials who will fight for my values and values of human rights and compassion, I need to fight on the ground. One of my biggest fears (a fear that is coming true), is that this election will increase the -isms and -phobias between Americans. I need to fight the hatred and bigoted vitriol with love and compassion.
It’s been about two weeks since the election and it still hurts. Getting on Facebook is dangerous–story after story of ‘White Nationalism Rising’, ‘Trump appoints XYZ Bigot’, (insert marginalized group here) attacked–and gives me conflicting feelings of being in Kenya while all this is happening. On the one hand, I feel lonely because my core people aren’t with me to process what’s happening and it’s frustrating having to explain this election to non-Americans. On the other hand, being in Kenya has been an escape to care for myself mentally and emotionally. I can take more space to process and be more intentional in how I offer support. I also feel less like an Other in Kenya. Yeah, I’m not Kenyan and I have many differences from those around me, but it’s still affirming to be surrounded by so many amazing people who look like me.
The Aberdares: An Escape
The weekend of November 11-13, my roommates invited me to join them and their friends in the Aberdares, a tea village about three hours north of Nairobi. We went to a fishing lodge to celebrate one of their friend’s birthday. It was a wonderful retreat from the depressing election results and the stress at work.
Our guide John took us on a hike along the river that runs through the area. Every so often we would settle on the bank and try our hands at fishing. While I didn’t catch anything, my roommate Tilly caught a trout for dinner. Sitting along the river and taking in the lush greenery of the surrounding tea farms put me at peace.
Perhaps the best part of the weekend getaway was smashing the Donald Trump pinata my roommate Nathan and another friend Gabby made. While the pinata was originally meant to be an extra stomp on the Trump, it became an effigy that would offer a release of anger. There were two other Americans on the trip and we got to smash the pinata first–even though my whacks didn’t reverse the election results, it was still cathartic to release my anger in such a physical way.
I go to work, too
In between all of these adventures, I go to work. The month of November was an incredibly busy time for AWARD: we had a steering committee meeting, the launch of a new agribusiness initiative, a staff retreat, and all of the other daily tasks that must get done.
November was kind of a baptism by fire. Everything that I’d learned in the previous two months was put to the test and I had to quickly learn new skills to meet the needs of the organization.
During the first week of November, AWARD hosted it’s 9th Steering Committee (SC) meeting at ICRAF. The SC is kind of like AWARD’s board of directors; they guide us and help us create our strategic priorities. Even though I didn’t get to interact much with the SC members, I did learn a lot about the history of AWARD and had renewed excitement for the projects we will take on as we move into our third phase.
The following week, AWARD launched Gender in Agribusiness Investments in Africa (GAIA), a program that seeks to close the gender disparity across the entire agricultural value chain and streamline the process of research becoming an agribusiness. For the launch, AWARD gathered 31 of East Africa’s top innovators for a boot camp and investor showcase. My unit, communications, was in charge of creating all of the flyers and branding for the event. I basically learned InDesign in a week. Also, if you go to the website, you can see all of the GAIA images I created (humble brag).
Last week, my office had a staff retreat at Lake Nakuru National Park. After such an intense two weeks, I think everyone appreciated having the chance to reconnect with each other and prepare for 2017. This retreat wasn’t a typical work retreat–nobody had their computer and we didn’t have any pending deadlines. Our facilitator instead gave us the space to share our personal and AWARD stories. One of my favorite activities we did was collectively share the Story of AWARD. Sneakily, Akaya gathered our start dates and made us round-robin explain what has happening at AWARD when we first joined. My staff has people who have been with AWARD since Day 1 and and people who started two weeks before the retreat. Hearing how everything came together and that passion and dedication were consistent themes made me feel finally like a true part of the team.
I do think that the true bonding came when my co-workers and I went on game drives throughout the park together. I will never be able to go to a zoo again after visiting a game park. I SAW FIVE LIONS IN THEIR NATURAL HABITATS!!! It was unreal seeing water buffalo, zebras, giraffes, etc surrounded by open lands and open skies. Now that my resident status has been approved, I’m going to allllllll the game parks I can while in Kenya. It was such a privilege to see the animals just doing their animal thing.
You’re gonna be incredibly jealous, but I’m spending my Thanksgiving in Zanzibar, a slice of paradise right off the coast of Tanzania. I’m so excited because 1) duh, I’m spending Thanksgiving on a beach, and 2) I’m visiting my second African country.
I’m still looking for Christmas plans, so if you have East African suggestions, hit ya girl up. Anywhere is a possibility, especially because I have my residency card so I can actually afford fun now.
Adulting Abroad & Other Thoughts
I’m sure that anyone who has gone apartment hunting in Nairobi can remember how it can be incredibly frustrating, but when you finally find the perfect place you knew you were living better than some of your friends in the US–inclusive maid and laundry service, pools at most apartment complexes, much cheaper rent etc.
Well, this weekend I was planning on moving into my dream apartment. The guest wing I was originally planning on renting was on a street abundant with lush tropical plants, a beautiful 15 minute walk to work, and in a more social part of Gigiri. But, as life would have it, my roommate bailed on me last minute. So now, I’m back to the roommate and apartment hunting grind.
Going back to the drawing board and trying to figure out my living situation is not what I thought I’d be doing a month into my time in Kenya. My frustration peaked yesterday afternoon when I learned I had to find intermediate accommodation at a place called ‘Slum Gardens.’ Not wanting to completely lose it in my office, I went to the nearest bathroom and started crying about my living situation with ‘woe is me’ hysterics. I probably sounded pretty ridiculous because Josephine, one of the ladies who works at the World Agroforestry Centre’s print shop, knocked on the stall door and urged me to come out.
Trying to get myself together, I explained to her my situation. She pulled me in for a hug which made me cry even more because it was the first real hug I’d had since moving to Nairobi. She gave me words of encouragement and a gracious reality check. Talking to Josephine made me realize how “first world” my current predicament was. In life, **** happens, but you gotta be resilient.
Adulting is hard. Adulting in a foreign country I am not even remotely familiar with is even harder. But, I can’t let these minor (in the grand scheme of things) frustrations detract from my experiences here in Nairobi. Besides this, nothing terribly bad has happened to me while I’ve been here.
I’m starting to feel more comfortable in my work environment and I’m getting to take on more responsibilities. I’m really proud to work at AWARD, especially as we are shifting our focus to think about gender inequities at the institutional level of agricultural research and development. In my first month, I’ve had the opportunity to do so much: shake the President of Kenya’s hand, do a couple write-ups for the communications team, and so much more.
I can already tell how much this year will teach–and occasionally–test me. But, I need to take it all in stride. I have the opportunity to live and work in another city for an entire year. Not many people can say that.
Moving to Nairobi has given me several lessons in advanced adulting. Most of the problems I’d normally ask Google to solve are best (and most times only) answered by asking someone directly. As much as you have to chase people, it is nice to actually interface with people. I’ve definitely become more comfortable with advocating and negotiating what I need, and I’ve also become more comfortable with being a little less independent until I learn the ropes over time.
Besides adulting, nothing too spectacular has happened this week–no wild animals or presidents, unless you count meeting the vice president of the African Development Bank. The highlight of this last week and half was having dinner with Ken, a Harvard alum who was born and raised in Kenya. He pointed out things I should notice about Kenya from my perspective as a foreigner. He also invited the other PiAfs and me to dinner at his house next weekend.
Update (6:20pm): Perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned here is that if you want kindness, you have to open yourself up to it and not be afraid to simply ask. After I got home from work, I explained my situation to Flora, the lady who owns the guest house I’m in now, and she let me work something out so I can stay for another week or so. I am so grateful to her, Eunice, Pauline, Bryan, and Daniel. Each of them have become part of my daily routine and are literally my Kenyan #DayOnes.
Each week, writing out my blog posts puts me in a more reflective space. Not only do I take the time to process what’s going on around me here in Kenya, but I also think about how things are going back in the United States.
My first couple weeks in Kenya, I was feeling major American #FOMO. I kept having recurring dreams that my friends would forget about me, so I’d intentionally stalk Facebook to see who was online and and shoot a quick message to remind them that even though I’m over 7,000 miles away, I still exist.
But, given the continued tragic murders of innocent men and women of color happening in America , the idea of me missing out on things in America and whether or not I exist take on a whole new meaning.
Living abroad means that I can kind of (except on Facebook) escape the constant voyeurism of Black death that is necessary for the ‘proof’ needed to gain ‘justice’ and also unnecessary because how many times do we have to witness death to realize that black lives DO matter. I can ‘miss out’ on the ludicrous statements people make about Kaepernick and others taking a knee as statement to get people talking about making decisions and policies that value the lives of POCs. Because honestly, it’s exhausting to think about and justify my existence as Black Woman. It’s draining to watch or hear about one POC after another to not just be killed, but be killed in vain and without justice.
But, being in Kenya for the most part lets me be a black woman, little b and little w. There is something pretty refreshing about living in a place where the majority of people look like me. It’s so powerful being at an organization filled with strong, high-educated, determined black women, and working towards empowering even more black women.
It’s incredibly interesting talking to some of my co-workers about the recent murders of Terrance Crutcher and Keith Scott. The idea that people from a place traditionally seen as ‘third world’ and ‘under-developed, developing at best’ calling the events happening in America barbaric should be a wake up call on so many fronts.
This week, the main FOMO I’m having is what can or should I do on behalf of #BLM from Kenya.
Even though the second half of my blog post is very serious in nature and the ‘random thoughts’ section is usually more comedic, I still want to share it because despite the immense amount of heartache in this world, I am still capable of finding joy and humor in life
- Between chapatti and ugali, I’m definitely #TeamChapatti
- I appreciate twitter and all the Jennifer Anniston memes that arose out of the end of Brangelina
- advocating for yourself is hard but necessary
- I have completed step 1 of my overseas voting ballot
- watched The Dictator with the other PiAfs
- I need to figure out where to watch #HTGAWM (quality link suggestions are much appreciated)
- I’m going to Uganda in a month!
- I hope the AWARD staff retreat is somewhere fun and beachy
- crying is important, but it can’t be all you do
- hoping the universe will let me keep my dream apartment
- My wifi HATES Skype…facebook video is the best way to vid chat me
- I can’t believe I have friends in so many different time zones
- I’ve picked up a couple
Giraffes, Presidents, and Forests Oh My!
This last week and half was filled with several high points and low points. Even though I’ve had some minor frustrations with Nairobi and myself at times, these frustrations haven’t detracted from my overall positive experiences here.
As this post title hints, last weekend I had the opportunity to feed giraffes at the Giraffe Center in Karen, Nairobi with the other PiAf fellows. Walking into the park was kind of surreal–never did I imagine that I would get to be so close to a giraffe in its natural habitat! Upon entering the park, I could see a crowd swarming to feed the only giraffe that felt like approaching humans on the observation deck.
After a quick safety briefing from one of the handlers, we were given a pile of pellets to lure the giraffes. Everyone else in my group was excited to “kiss” the giraffe. We each tried to bait the giraffes and beat out little kids for an opportunity to feed one. Our perseverance paid off because each one of us got that Instagram-able shot of us feeding a giraffe. As we were about to leave, Cami, one of other fellows asked if I kissed a giraffe. I scoffed and replied no. Welp, she made me feel like a total dweeb when she said everyone else kissed a giraffe except for me.
Accepting that this is a rare opportunity and will give me a cool story to tell years from now, I marched back up to the observation deck, stuck a pellet between my teeth, and waited for one of those stubborn giraffes to come over. I definitely got the sauciest giraffe of the day because this fella nipped the pellet from my teeth and then proceeded to lick half my face. The slobber was worth it because I definitely had the best video documenting my triumph.
Giraffes weren’t the only animals I got to spend quality time with that day. Karen also has an elephant orphanage that rescues baby elephants whose families have been poached or were too weak to keep up with the herd. Even though some of the elephants I got to meet were only three months old, they were still fiesty little dudes. At one point, three of them escaped the pen after the crowd overexcited them.
Once the calves were brought back and calmed down with several liters of milk, the handlers would bait the elephants with milk and tree branches to parade them around for the crowd to pet. Watching them walk around and interact with me was truly amazing. Despite being such rotund animals, they can really move! I don’t think I have the right words to describe how the elephant’s skin felt–cracked leather with a combination of course and softer hair. The sensation of one calf’s trunk around my forearm was unreal. He definitely would have beaten me if we went arm-to-trunk wrestling.
Meeting these beautiful animals was definitely one of the best parts of my week. But, with the good always comes some bad. A couple of days later, I got food poisoning. The two worst parts of that episode of food poisoning were: 1) being unable to sleep because of the severe cramps and 2) being incredibly hungry and unable to eat.
While the food poisoning was terrible and all I wanted to do was stay in bed to Netflix the pain away, I am so glad that I decided to push through and attend the 2016 African Green Revolution Forum hosted at the UN offices in Nairobi. All of the movers and shakers of the African agriculture world were present at this conference, and I was so excited to represent AWARD’s booth and receptions.
On the third day of the conference, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta along with other dignitaries including Rwandan president Paul Kagame attended to give keynote addresses and reveal plans for the future of Africa’s agricultural sector. About half an hour before President Kenyatta makes his entrance, my supervisor tells my co-worker and I to go and get view. We picked great spots because PRESIDENT KENYATTA SHOOK OUR HANDS! Never in a million years did I think that I would be in the same room as President Kenyatta much less SHAKE HIS HAND. I would definitely call that moment the ultimate “karibu” to Kenya.
Besides meeting the president, I’m also glad I got to participate in this conference because it was my first real assignment as a member of AWARD’s communications team. I learned so much more about the work AWARD does, how many amazing women it has impacted, and how many more people are now thinking about the importance of gender in agriculture research and development as a result of AWARD’s studies and trainings.
After such a busy week, I was definitely looking forward to the weekend, especially because most of the other Kenya PiAf fellows from outside Nairobi came in for a weekend. It was lovely catching up with everyone and hearing how their posts were going since we last saw each other in June during orientation. I think my favorite part of our Kenya reunion was seeing how happy the fellows from more rural locations were to have Chinese food (Kenyan dim sum was surprisingly good!).
This weekend was also a turning point in my perspective of living and working in Gigiri. Out of all the Nairobi fellows, I live the farthest away from everyone else and my neighborhood within the city feels the least “Nairobi” of all the other fellows. In Kilimani and Westlands, there’s always activity and there’s a greater mix between local Kenyans and expats. Here in Gigiri, it’s embassy after embassy, mansion after mansion, guard after guard. It just feels so out of touch with the rest of the city.
I think part of my frustration comes from feeling like I won’t actually get to feel comfortable in the rest of Nairobi because I’m not living there. I also don’t live in those other areas because the Nairobi traffic is too horrendous to travel through to and from work every day. Currently, I only go to the other neighborhoods on the weekends to meet up with the other fellows.
I’m definitely not being patient enough with myself to acclimate, and I also don’t know if I’ve fully tested how far I can push my boundaries in terms of doing more exploring on my own, but I’m hoping that with time, all parts of Nairobi will feel like home.
I gained a more positive outlook on living in Gigiri because I finally took the time to explore beyond AWARD’s offices at ICRAF and apartment hunting. Yesterday, I invited the other fellows to go on a hike with me through the Karura Forest and then have lunch at Village Market. Walking outside and appreciating the beautiful landscapes of Kenya that are often forgotten when one thinks of Nairobi was incredibly peaceful.
Gigiri is also growing on me because I’ve finally found an apartment that has most of the qualities I wanted. Even though it’s slightly stressful trying to figure out moving logistics and furniture purchases in a foreign country, I’m very excited to make a home for myself. My location will also allow me to be closer to stores, have easier access to the main road to the other neighborhoods within Nairobi, and be able to walk to and from work. The major plus is being much closer to the Karura forest.
I honestly didn’t realize how much I missed greenery and (relative to the rest of Nairobi) peaceful streets until this forest hike and exploration around Gigiri. Even though I am still the farthest out Nairobi fellow, I think living in this urban paradise that is Gigiri will force me to be more outgoing and conscientious of my adjustment to Nairobi in the long run. I also think I’ll get a greater appreciation for the hustle and bustle if I also get to escape it.
- Fewer selfies in the next post
- Flora, the owner of my current guest house, is amazing. She prepared an AMAZING Kenyan feast for me on Saturday.
- Kenyan style kale > American style kale
- I bartered down a beautiful handmade skirt by $5
- Kericho Tea is the new start to my day
- There’s no Starbucks or McDonald’s that I’ve seen so far. Though, Dominos and KFC are everywhere.
- Crossing the street is still the scariest thing about living in Kenya
- Thank goodness for ciprofloxacin
Last Days, Only Days, and First Days
About a week ago today was my last night in Boston. I spent most of it walking around the North End and eating Italian desserts with my friend CJ, a fellow world traveler who will be spending this year in Jordan. As we walked through the winding streets and in between bites of cannoli, we talked about your hopes and fears for this next year in our respective countries. Our fears stemmed from the logistical (how would we do such and such task that was mundane in America in a foreign country?) to the sentimental (how would be make friends and meaningful connections in a place where we were cultural outsiders?).
There was one point where we stood at the start of the North End and faced the Boston nighttime skyline. We reminisced about our last four years and how close were were to Boston given that we went to Harvard and questioned whether or nowt we really took advantage of being in such an amazing city, which led to a minor freakout about choosing to leave such an amazing city for Jordan and Kenya. Despite the uncertainties we both know we’ll face, we knew that leaving for a year was the right decision. We have the rare opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in other cultures of the world.
The next day was D-Day (Departure Day). After having a last Border dinner with my best friend and saying my final Boston goodbyes, it was time to head to the airport. After an immense amount of pleading, the Swiss Air attendant had pity (read: made me repack my bags) on me and let me check my two grossly overweight suitcases. As I watched my year’s worth of possessions be carried away on the conveyor belt, I took in some last wisdom and hugs from my friend Dakota.
After a relatively painless security check, I was now in the international terminal of Logan Airport. There was no turning back–in a few hours I would board a flight into the next year of my life. The first stop on my journey was Zurich, Switzerland. I had a 22 hour layover that allowed me to explore the city. With my ZurichCard ( a pass that allows tourists free train fare and discounts to various attractions) I got to take a ferry ride across Lake Zurich and see beautiful mountains in the distance. I also walked along the winding cobblestone streets and popped into a few dessert shops.
Zurich was an important transition point for me. Not only did it help me overcome the jet lag (Zurich is one hour behind Nairobi), but it gave me time to process some of the fear and excitement I had before I jumped in. Zurich was also a less chaotic test run of what it would be like to navigate around Nairobi–figuring out how to get around an unfamiliar city where English isn’t the default.
Now on the plane minutes before landing in Nairobi, I tried to get as close to the window as possible to see the landscape of my new home. As politely as I could, I reached over the lady next to me to get a few pictures using the excuse, “Oh sorry, my mom would love to see this view.” All I saw were rolling green landscapes occasionally dotted with buildings.
Once I landed and stepped onto the tarmac, the weight of this next year hit me. “Wow, I finally here.” None of the months of planning or advice could have prepared me for the anxiousness I was feeling. By this time, it’s about 8pm and I was exhausted. I told myself that all my other worries could wait until Thursday. Yellow Fever card, E-Visa, and Passport in hand, I made my way through immigration.
Once I passed immigration, I immediately went to purchase a local SIM card. Forgetting the conversion rate is on average 100 Kenyan shillings (ksh) to $1USD, I had a minor freakout that I hadn’t withdrawn enough cash when the attendant told me the price of my monthly plan and SIM was 600ksh. Yup, that’s right. I paid about $6 for a monthly smartphone plan.
After that minor fiasco, I met up with my driver, and we zipped through the bustling streets of Nairobi to my guesthouse (I never knew so many cars could move so fast all at once!). The next day, I woke up mostly ready (I hadn’t 100% beaten the jet lag) to take on my first day of orientation.
Driving up to the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)’s campus was simply stunning. The Runda and Gigiri neighborhoods are so lushly green. Various guarded mansions and embassies lined UN Avenue. Turning down the road towards ICRAF was literally like entering a forest. Yes, it seems obvious considering that ‘Agroforestry’ is in the name, but I still wasn’t expecting so many large tropical trees and gorgeous wild flowers.
Upon entering the AWARD (African Women in Agricultural Research and Development) office, my co-workers greeted me and helped me get set up. I’m so excited to work with everyone on my team–each person is so dedicated to AWARD’s mission through their various specialities: assessment, communications, programming, agricultural science, etc.
My first afternoon, I had a meeting with Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, the director of AWARD. She is a tall, stately woman who has many accomplishments under her belt. However, despite her numerous titles, she insisted that I stopped calling her “ma’am.” She welcomed me to the team with a task–do a summary of AWARD’s phase three proposal. While the task at first seemed daunting, it gave me the opportunity to delve into AWARD and learn about it’s programming and the future of the organization.
Thursday and Friday zoomed by at work and it was time for my first weekend in Nairobi. My officemates took me to the Village Market, a large shopping mall in Gigiri, where I got to witness my first Masai Market. Though they both normally avoid the hectic and tightly packed stalls of goods from across Kenya, they led me through so I could see all the beautiful fabrics, jewelry, and wood carvings. I hope to learn enough Swahili in order to effectively bargain for some of these gorgeous items.
Two other Princeton in Africa fellows met up with me Friday night to welcome me to the city. We went to this lounge called “Juniper Kitchen” that was having its farewell event. While there, I met so many expats working for so many different organizations. It was comforting knowing how many people were in a similar situation to me–moving to a new country not knowing much of anything or anyone.
So far, this past Saturday has been my favorite day in Nairobi. Harriet, my friend from college is is Kenyan, and I met up near the University of Nairobi for luch so she could give me an authentic Kenyan experience. First she took me to a local cluster of restaurants and shops. All of the units were small stands or huts made of wood and tin. Harriet gave me a rundown of traditional Kenyan dishes. Under her guidance, I selected beef stew with kale, potatoes, and chapati (a tortilla-like bread that accompanies meals). Never in my life had I enjoyed kale until I discovered the way Kenyans make it–steeped in a meat and veggie stew. The massive plate of food I was served cost me 90ksh.
Harriet then showed me around the area around the University of Nairobi and the Central Business District. She pointed out various customs, taught me a couple Swahili greetings (which I still need to memorize), and made me cross the street. While crossing the street may seem pretty mundane back in the States, crossing the streets of bustling Nairobi is an art. Cars have absolutely no chill in Nairobi–even at crosswalks or when the light has the pedestrian signal. Cars do not care. Every time Harriet and I would cross, I’d basically sprint across the road and all the locals would calmly walk through traffic. I was in constant awe that Kenyans, even small children, would cross as cars glossed their fronts and backs. Maybe Harriet’s “Kenyan confidence” will rub off on me and I can stop sprinting across streets.
Later on Saturday, I attended the Nairobi Food and Music Festival with a few other Princeton in Africa fellows. My favorite part of the concert was being front in center of a local Nairobi R&B singer. Sadly, I didn’t catch her name, but she was WONDERFUL. Her last song was an ode to the city and was perfect welcome to this year.
I hope that by the end of this year I can sort of “do it like [they] do it in the 254.”
- I will never ride a motorcycle while here
- I saw FOUR MONKEYS while getting lunch from the outdoor cafe at work
- I still confuse the conversion rate and divide units of money by 10
- Apartment hunting is hard but the prices are SO much better than they are in Boston (a fully furnished 3 bedroom apartment with security and utilities…$750 in some places)
- I need to learn swahili ASAP so I can get in on all the work jokes
- Every time I communicate with friends and family with both my American phone and my Kenyan phone, I think about the song “Two Phones” by Kevin Gates
- I currently have four bug bites on my face, but life is still good here in Kenya
- You have to remember to flip on the hot water switch if you don’t want an ice-cold shower
- Cetaphil isn’t sold in Kenya, must find an alternative
- PERI PERI SAUCE IS LIFE
- Junction Center Mall has a movie special of ticket, popcorn, hotdog or nachos, and a drink all for the grand price of 600ksh. Yup. Used it to watch War Dogs.
(Note: The main image is a picture of the Masai Market I).