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For Community-Driven Global Development

Karibu from Kenya!

Karibu! This word of welcome has surrounded us during our first few days in Kenya. From our hosts and partners to strangers on the street, this community has wrapped us in its warmest hospitality. We have traveled to Kakamega, a town in western Kenya, as part of the Global Competence Certificate program’s summer fieldwork. Our group is comprised of eight teachers from across the U.S., here to stretch our global competencies by collaborating and learning with our Kenyan partners as we complete an HIV/AIDS awareness project with a local community health center.

It is only day 4, and we are already stuffed. It seems that food is a huge part of Kenyan hospitality. It started with an incredible welcome feast on the evening of our arrival:

This was the first time I tried the Kenyan dishes that are quickly becoming part of my regular diet here: ugali (a thick maize-based porridge that is a staple food), chapati (round wheat-based bread cooked like a pancake), sukuma wiki (delicious cooked greens), and kuku (chicken — in many forms!). Gracefully eating with my hands has taken some practice, but I’m getting the hang of it. I am also beginning to love the chai (sweet black tea with milk) that Kenyans drink by the gallon. Fresh fruit — bananas, mangos, oranges, papaya, pineapple — is served at every meal and I can’t get enough of it.

A huge part of our experience here is the opportunity to live with homestay families. Each of us has been welcomed into the home of a family in Kakamega. This opportunity to share meals and spend time with our hosts is an invaluable way for us to learn about each other’s cultures. In my case, my host family lives outside Kakamega on a small farm where they grow corn and kale, as well as keep cows, goats, and chickens. In addition to the father and mother, there are two daughters, a granddaughter, a niece, and a young man who helps with the farm living here. One daughter is a high school history teacher. The other has just graduated from high school and will begin college to study business soon. Two other sons — one of them in medical school — live in Nairobi. The whole family eats dinner together every evening. Everyone helps with chores. Sundays are for church and meeting with extended family and friends. The home is comfortable and quite simple — five rooms with electricity but no indoor plumbing. The bathroom and a private space for bucket baths are located outside the house. Cooking takes place in a separate structure behind the house over an open fire or firewood-fueled stove. The house has electricity, and the power strip in the main living room is filled with the family’s cell phone chargers. A small TV often plays music videos from Kenyan and Tanzanian artists.

I am grateful to have been placed with this family, who is generously sharing their food, shelter, and lives with me during these weeks. They are curious about life in the U.S. and I’m happy to answer their questions. Their openness to welcome a stranger into their home is an inspiration for me to also embrace all the new experiences we are having during these weeks with a spirit of Karibu.

This article was written by Jennifer Lofing Boyle