The East African Context

I have been in Kenya for two months. In which time I have:

  • climbed a mountain
  • swam in the Indian Ocean
  • spent a huge chunk of time searching for madafu (coconut water)
  • danced on the beach
  • worked with local literacy programs
  • sat in on African drumming lessons
  • drank enough chai to caffeinate a small nation
The view from an abandoned Mosque.
The view from an abandoned Mosque.

I have been extremely lucky that all of these adventure have been shared with people friends, colleagues, fellow expats, tuk tuk (a motorized rickshaw) drivers, and the security guard at my local grocery store. Much of my time in Kenya is surrounded by warm and friendly people who have helped guide me and insured that I felt safe. In the US and even throughout my travels in Europe I have always been good at directions, however in Mombasa I am hopeless. Without the help and patience of my lovely tour guides I am certain that I would not have ventured off campus yet.

It is an odd dichotomy feeling so cared for by those around me, and then been responsible for the care of so many children. On any given day I switch from feeling like a child/teenager to a mother, aunt, and authority figure about 20 times a day. My job over the summer gave me a good jump start on the authority figure role. I spent May, June, and July handing out gummie bears for good behavior and time outs for bad. Time outs don’t seem to work on my high schoolers, but my work on my teacher voice has proved valuable. For the most part the kids are hilarious, sweet, and clever in class. I work mostly with the 7th and 8th graders who are not too cool to raise their hand and blurt out a crazy answer, so the conversations take some interesting turns.

In year 8, I am teaching African short stories with a Kenyan co-teacher and the students have made thoughtful contributions about race relations, stereotypes surrounding HIV and AIDS, and the individual’s role in society. In a lot of ways my school could be any IB or private school that is trying too hard to be the best at everything. However, the discussions I have with the year 8 class keep me rooted in the Kenyan context. They have shared moving stories about how family members were ostracized because of their HIV status, and in the classroom played out the

Some of my students
Some of my students

religious tensions present in Kenya. These debates are why I am enjoying my teaching role, but as a middle class white American I am often out of my depth. Most days leave the classroom feeling like I learned from my students and co-teacher more than I actually taught.

I am not sure I will ever feel totally comfortable in Mombasa. The matatus (buses) will always be loud, cramped, and overwhelming. At least for a while, Friday after prayers will be tense*. Students will always force me to use my teacher voice. Discussions about issues in the East African community will continue to be enlightening, but difficult. I don’t know that Mombasa will ever feel like home, but I don’t think it has to. I came here to feel out of my element, and push my limits. Here’s hoping I stay uncomfortable.

*After the Westgate Attacks in Niarobi the tensions between the Muslim and Christian communities in Mombasa have increased. Last Thursday it resulted in the shooting of a cleric with ties to Al Shabab, and violent riots in Mombasa on Friday where a church was burned.


Shoo Fly! Don’t Bother Me.

“Shoo fly! Don’t bother me. Shoo fly! Don’t bother me. Shoo fly! Don’t bother me, ’cause I belong to somebody.”

I am not sure why but I have hummed every nursery rhyme imaginable in the past few weeks. It could be a home sickness, a reaction to having to parent 4 teenage girls, a need to keep occupied, or even a desire to show people in Kenya an aspect of American culture they couldn’t learn from last week’s episode of Suits.* My Grandmama once noted that when I am upset I simply hum songs under my breath to keep myself going. I think that is the best explanation for my sudden obsession with “Shoo Fly.”

I came to Kenya August 6th (one month ago today). I started teaching August 13th. My 22nd birthday was on August 17th. August 18th my Grandfather suddenly passed away. August 24th I helped lead fifty 11th graders up a Kenyan mountain side. September 7th I leave for a beach vacation with 25 of my co-workers, ie. nearly every person I report to at work.

Working at an IB school that is constantly asking students and staff to reflect on their experiences and decisions has made looking back at my month in Mombasa feel odious. It is not that I don’t think that I can gain anything from the self reflection or that I don’t want to update people on my life, but rather up until this week I have been in a world where I have been humming along on autopilot.  I know that is not what my Grandpa or my family in the States would want so I am trying to change my tune. Perhaps to something more upbeat. I’m thinking “Get Up Offa That Thing” by James Brown. Any other suggestions?

In other news:

I am finally getting out of the pattern that developed at the beginning of the year where I sat all day in meeting after meeting where I was talked at! I am still in meeting after meeting after meeting, but now I am at least able to contribute something of substance.

I have taken on the Student Representative Council and elections are in full swing. The irony of me, a devout hater of any SGA, helping to facilitate student government is highly comical. I am now saying things like, “You all are public figures on campus. What you do and say on campus matters!” with absolute sincerity and gusto. God save my poor cynical soul.

In addition to my new found interest in 10th grade election results,  I am excited to be creating a service curriculum for year 8’s on the topic of literacy. My hope is to have them explore the global, national, and personal developmental impacts of illiteracy, while incorporating some of the lesson’s Project Transformation taught me about “effective” literacy programs. At the end of the year, if everything goes as planned, will have built a library and a developmental reading tutoring program in a high need Mombasa area school. Now that I have written this it will be jinxed, but that is a problem for another day.

Soon I should have a post about teaching and travel, but 5:30am morning exercise demands that I get a few hours sleep. Goodnight!

*every student and ex-pat I have met is up to date on every T.V. show possible and chastises me for not bringing them the latest movies or shows

3 Days in

Packing list:

Barebones toiletries


Hiking Pants

Hiking Boots


Teaching Clothes

Bug Spray

Sun Screen




Most Importantly

French Press


When I packed for Mombasa I am not entirely certain where I thought I was going. A two-year safari? An under resourced school? A tourist trap? Though I am not clear on the answer of where I am just yet, I know that The Academy is something entirely different from anything my preconceptions produced.

For starters the school is beyond beautiful. The grounds are lush with palm trees and flowers, and the architecture of the buildings is clean, but with character. I cannot wait to explore all of the secluded nooks and crannies. (My current favorite spot is in the outdoor amphitheater.) Beyond the grandeur of the academic buildings my apartment here is on par with, if not fancier than, my apartments in Atlanta. The view from here certainly wins!

My view.
My view.

The people I have met so far have been nothing but wonderful. They are so gracious, taking my lovely new roommate I around, and sharing the love they have for this school, this town, and this country with us. I have already been drafted into the staff choir, which hopefully is a way to get to know my colleagues on both a professional and personal level. My goal is to continue picking their brains for Swahili words and be able to put a tiny sentence together by the end of the month.

I am starting to get excited for the school year to begin. I found out that I will be helping to teach 7th and 8th grade English classes that start their year off by examining mythology and oral storytelling practices (SCORE!). I will also be mentoring a group of 10th graders who I am told are great but a little “naughty.” The rest of my position is still evolving which is thrilling given how much I love uncertainty….NOT. I am not at all worried though, it will come together.

As of right now I have not had much of a chance to explore Mombasa since most things have been closed for Ramadan, but Eid Mubarak y’all! Hopefully the end of Ramadan means I will get it together and do some serious exploring of Mombasa and the surrounding area soon. Oh I did make it to Fort Jesus though.

Now for a few photos:

The Commons
The Commons
Where I wrote this post from.
Where I wrote this post from.
My dorm building
My dorm building
Fort Jesus
Fort Jesus
The goats of Fort Jesus
The goats of Fort Jesus

Roots and the Road

View from the Survivor Tree
View from the Survivor Tree

A new tradition of mine has been to visit the Murrah Bombing Memorial in Oklahoma City before I head out on a new adventure. It is a little morbid to go to the site of terrorism before leaving the country, whoops! However, within the pain that occurred in downtown Oklahoma City a palpable connection between all Oklahomans, regardless of race, religion, and politics.

Disaster is not a new notion for Okie’s who are routinely betrayed by our weather. May’s devastation in the communities of Carney, Shawnee, Moore, Oklahoma City, and El Reno are just a few examples in a long line of tornados, fires, droughts, and windstorms. While I lived in Atlanta, GA for college, I was often asked why anyone would ever put up with these dangers. The answer is simple Oklahomans are obstinate. We dig deep, rebuild, and move forward. The Murrah Bombing Memorial helps remind me what kind of people I come from and gives me the knowledge that even if the worst happens I can push through.

That being said… I am moving to Mombasa, Kenya for 2 years. Here’s hoping nothing goes wrong!!

Last spring a dear friend and former co-worker, told me about the fantastic teaching fellowship program she was finishing up and encouraged me to apply. Long story short, I did and am now on my way to Africa, despite the State department’s warnings. I am going to be teaching English literature at the Aga Khan Academy, acting as a dorm parent for 8 girls, and assisting in the school’s student life. My role at the school is continuing to change and evolve but, I am thrilled to see where it leads.

Did I mention the beach is supposed to look like this...
Did I mention the beach is supposed to look like this…

I’ll try and keep those who aren’t too bored already posted on my adventures!