Story of My Visit to Kenya
by Abigail Belford
If you have ever travelled to the developing world, you likely experienced being out of your comfort zone and feeling like a tourist everywhere you went. As a blond-haired, blue-eyed, type-A personality journeying to Kenya, I decided that my only choice would be to embrace the discomfort. Instead of holing up in a Nairobi guesthouse, eating imported American food, and taking private cars to my research sites, I sought to infiltrate into the community. I stayed with a Kenyan family in a two-bedroom apartment overlooking a goat pasture, ate freshly slaughtered chickens and ugali with my fingers, and squished into honking, speeding, maneuvering matatus (taxis) that could avoid the traffic jams by utilizing sidewalks and drainage ditches as extensions of the road.
My days were not filled with safari animals, poolside drink service, or air-conditioned rooms in exquisite hotels, but with far more fulfilling experiences. I attended an African wedding dressed in a kitenge, ate nyama choma off of a gigantic wood slab plate, listened to hours of rhumba music in a crowded bar, meandered through Kenya’s largest slum, watched hair plaiting, played soccer where drying maize and a trash pile were mere obstacles to avoid, cooked goat on a barbeque grill, and bargained in Swahili for a fair cab price. Pictured above: Cooking goat in Mombasa, Kenya for a New Year’s Eve feast
Nothing about my trip was glamorous nor was it simply ordinary. Travelling to Kenya challenged me to step out of my sphere of similarity to a place of difference. Was it difficult abandoning my fork and knife for my fingers? Yes. Was it challenging to follow directions to a grassroots organization with landmarks like “past the trash pile” and “left at the roadside Coke stand”? Yes. But will I return to hug my host mother again, to practice my Swahili at the grocery store, and to see Baraka and Michael’s completed slum upgrade project? Ndio!
Attending an African wedding wearing a kitenge