So! I’m sorry this is so late. It’s been a bit of a busy week re-integrating into Nairobi life, so I’m just getting around to my blogging now.
Our time on the coast was fantastic, if oppressively hot and humid. We traveled from Nairobi to Mombasa on an overnight bus (which gave out Cadbury chocolate in their snack packs, much to our surprise and joy!) and arrived at the SIT office in Old Town Mombasa (next to Fort Jesus) shortly before sunrise. After taking short naps, we ate breakfast and headed out into the city to stock up on colorful muu-muus and khangas to wear during our rural village homestay. We got on another bus after lunch, and were taken south to the village of Shirazi, the location of our homestay.
Shirazi is a beautiful place—it is right on the ocean, with sandy soil paths winding between the houses of the village that rest under the numerous and tall palm trees. We had class every day at the madrasa, the mosque school. My Swahili class started at 7:30 AM every day in an effort to avoid the midday heat, and my specific class (Simba) met under a mango tree. In the afternoons, we were free to do research for our village group projects. My group of four was assigned to study tourism and its effects on the area, so we spent many of our free hours traveling to nearby resorts and interviewing the owners—what a hardship! We saw some beautiful beaches, as well as learned a lot of interesting information about the repercussions of tourism—some great, some bad.
In Shirazi, I stayed with a host family that kind of mirrored my Nairobi family (a widowed mother with adult children), which was an interesting comparison to be handed. I lived with my host mother, Mwanavita, her daughter Mwanajabu (about 30 years old), her son Hamisi (who I would not recognize in daylight because I only saw him when it was pitch black in our house at night) and Mwanajabu’s son Farouk, around six years old. There were also a large assortment of other children around all the time, as well as cousins and other people with ambiguous family connections to my host mother. Luckily, my friend Amelie was staying with my host mother’s sister in the same general compound, so we were able to unite in our effort to figure out who actually belonged to our host family and who didn’t!
My family’s house was a typical Shirazi house, with walls made of mud and sand, a dirt floor, wooden doors, and a high ceiling made from makuti (thatched palm leaves). I showered out of a bucket in an outdoor shower (the walls also made from makuti) behind our house. The water was straight from the well, so it was nice and cool, which was always incredibly refreshing after a day of sweltering under multiple clothing layers in the 90 degree heat. As a bonus, I got to look up at the palm trees swaying against the clear blue sky as I shampooed my hair! Doesn’t get much better than that.
I think I wrote before about how I go to bed earlier and wake up earlier in Nairobi than I have since I was a kid. Well, my Nairobi schedule ain’t got nothin’ on my Shirazi schedule. Since there is no evening news to watch in Shirazi (which pushes my bedtime to 10:15 in Nairobi), I was in bed not much after 9 o’clock every night. After we ate dinner, I had nothing to do and no light, so I’d just douse myself with DEET, crawl under my mosquito net and go to sleep, not waking until I heard the call to prayer at 5:30 AM.
Actually, the entire time in Shirazi was kind of a regression to childhood… people in Shirazi don’t use utensils, and only eat using their right hands (the left hand is associated with cleaning oneself after using the toilet), so I felt like a baby dropping hot rice all over myself trying to eat Shirazi-style the first night! Additionally, our host families dressed us every day, a process in which we had no say. Luckily, I usually got loose dresses and muu-muus, over which I’d have to tie a khanga to wear around my waist, and another to cover my head with. However, many people were made to wear dresses that can only be described as a tacky prom dresses from the 90’s…of course, made from synthetic fabrics that made the humidity even worse. Arriving at school each morning and seeing what outfit everyone had been given was always a comical highlight of the day.