Well, you are welcome in Kenya!
I’ve been in Kisumu for five days now but it already feels like so much longer than that. I survived my first piki piki (motorbike) ride, fell in love with chapati and have not gotten run over while crossing the road. If you would have told me a few years ago that I would be living and working in Kenya for two months, I would have thought you were crazy. Traveling halfway across the world was not something that I saw as a reality for myself. I still can’t believe that I am actually here.
At orientation on Friday we received an overview of the many programs that KMET leads. When I say many, I mean MANY. My mind was blown by the sheer amount of initiatives that KMET takes part in. From maternal health, to vocational classes, they’ve got it covered. Their health services are all encompassing. One thing I really admire about KMET is their focus on empowerment. They seek to empower community volunteers and leaders to make a change by providing them with the knowledge and tools necessary to take charge, and speak up on issues affecting them. These issues include maternal fatalities, unsafe abortion, safe sex, TB testing, combating stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, gender violence, clean water and nutrition among other things. This week we will start rotating through the different departments at KMET to familiarize ourselves and gauge our interests.
For months we have been meeting to prepare for our fellowships, but there is only so much preparation that one can do. You can’t truly understand a culture until you are actually in it, and are experiencing it. Culture shock is real. No matter how many times I’ve traveled to new places, I’ve never experienced culture shock to this extent. I would say this is up there with my transition from inner city Philadelphia to Gettysburg. Of course culture shock is to be expected, but this is different. A feeling that I can’t quite describe. It is so strange, being in a place where everyone looks like you, yet your lives are completely different. Your language, mannerisms, and culture are different. Being a Black American in Africa is an experience like no other. For one thing, I am able to pass (unlike my fellow Gettysburg partners). Most people assume that I am from here when they first meet me, so they speak to me in Swahili. Our conversations never go past “hello” and “how are you” since those are the only phrases I know so far. I’ve already been questioned about my nationality multiple times since being here. I can recall one conversation with a KMET volunteer that I had at the Women’s Health Day community event Saturday. She asked me where I was from, and when I said that I am from the United States she gave me the strangest look, then she asked what African country I am from. I tell her again that I’m just from the United States. After another strange look I get asked about my parents and I give the same response. Then she asked me, “but somebody in your family is African?” I tell her yes, somewhere far down the line but I don’t know who and I couldn’t tell you from where. I could tell from the look on her face that this was a strange concept for her. After a couple of seconds of silence, she smiled, looked me in the eye and said “Well, you are welcomed in Kenya!” With those six words I immediately relaxed, and let go of any preconceived worries that I may have had. Although we have these differences, we are also more alike in some ways. I know that this definitely won’t be the last encounter that I have on this subject, it is all a part of the experience. The events of this past year have strengthened my identity as a black woman in America, but, after only a few days in Kenya I have started to question what it means to be a black person in Africa. Through careful reflection and thoughtful understanding I am looking forward to eight weeks full of learning and discovery. Not only about Kenya and KMET, but also about myself. Wish me luck on this journey!
Chentese Stewart ’18