Thursday, August 30, 2012

Unrest in Mombasa (Part II) and Critters

Unrest in Mombasa (Part II)

Since my last update, events have become considerably more interesting here in Kenya’s second city. After the riots quieted down on Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday seemed to be a much more peaceful day. As the day went on, no new events were reported and all seemed at ease, even so, we had about 150 kids absent from school between the upper and lower schools; their parents had held them home over concerns for their safety. Their concerns were unwarranted though and the day continued on peacefully, though you can’t blame them for taking the route of caution. As the day progressed no news emerged and we had dorm meetings as we do on Wednesday nights. We ran through security and safety protocols just in case things took a turn for the worse. In all honesty, AKAM is one of the safest places the students and I could be right now. We are located on the extreme southern coast of the island and within 5 km of us are three police stations, an army barracks and the President’s Coast Provice State House. But precautions are still necessary. As we wrapped up the meeting, the kids turned on the TV and, lo and behold, perfectly timed after our wonderful talk meant to ease the fears of these boys, the news showed coverage of yet another grenade attack. Four police officers were killed when a young man threw an explosive into their van right in the center of town.
            The conflict itself is a complex mix of religious, political and economic motivations. The town of Mombasa is predominantly Muslim, but there is also a strong Evangelical Christian component too. The original attack on the Cleric, Rogo, has still yet to be attributed to anyone. So, some of the younger, more radical and perhaps Al-Shabbab influenced segments of the Muslim population (this group being but a fraction of the total population) has been rioting and have since destroyed four churches. Certain loud voices of the minority have attempted to turn the situation into a religious conflict. Reassuringly, important and influential Christian and Muslim leaders in town have come together and made very clear their mutual concern over the portrayal of the situation as such and have called for unity amongst people of both faiths.
            The other aspect has to do with the economy. Many people in Mombasa feel that the government in Nairobi has not done enough to support and encourage growth in Mombasa. Many people are out of work and gravely impoverished. A teacher I was talking made the observation that when you place someone in a position where they are unemployed, broke, hungry and now have a reason and an immediate target for their frustration, they are going to unleash all they have of the new target. Apparently this has been simmering for some time (Check out the Post-election violence from the last round of presidential elections here in Kenya).
            Even with all of this activity going on in Mombasa, the President, Kibaki, arrived in town today to unveil his new 5 billion Kenyan Shilling warship, presumably bought to help intimidate Somali Pirates. With him came considerable security forces, we can only hope he stays through tomorrow, and here is why.
            Friday prayers are some of the more highly attended prayers at the mosques. That is just a fact here. What that means is that a large number of the people who have been protesting are going to be all in one place on Friday afternoon and that is when the concern starts. There have been rumors flying that on Friday afternoon after prayers let out at 1 pm, the city is going to descent into further rioting on a large scale. School has been called off at the Academy, for the safety of the day students so they don’t have to commute through what could be a volatile city.
            But again, these are rumors, but rumors not to be taken lightly. So this weekend I have a long weekend, but it’s the first long weekend I have been wholly unexcited for in my life.


Not to decrease the seriousness of the above section, but I do want to lighten the mood a bit so here is a brief foray into the world of the wildlife (kind of) of Mombasa.

Imagine your most peaceful sleep. Pure oblivion, dreams have come and gone and you are ensconced in pure blackness. Got it? Hold that thought for a while. Isn’t it nice? Now imagine that beautiful silence being shattered by the harsh CAW of a crow. No wait, thirty crows. No so nice anymore, huh?

Crows are an omnipresent beast here at AKAM. They squawk in the morning, afternoon and evening. They come in out of the blue uninvited, quite like Adele, through the open doors of the Commons during lunch and snatch unguarded food right off the plates of overly trusting students. They defecate on staff members. In short, they are evil, but why are they here? Because Mombasa is a port town, and with ports come rats. Once Mombasa had become the established port town of Kenya, they realized they had a rat problem. So what did they do? They created a crow problem. The crows were brought in from India to kill and eat the rats. Mission accomplished, but like so many invasive species, they found there were other things to kill and eat in Kenya, so they thrived, unfortunately.

Foul Beast

Pigeons, equally ubiquitous, far less annoying

Millipedes are cooler. All over campus you see thick black carapaces that aren’t dissimilar to elongated tootsie rolls if they were darker. Upon closer inspection, you see the undulating red legs that moving in a hypnotic fashion to propel the little critter along. These guys are harmless. Apparently, they secrete some chemical that made them ideal for importation (I’m not sure where from) to limestone quarries in Kenya. They would break down the rock and make it easier to mine. Go figure. They too have thrived here and appear as often as the crows, but are far less of a nuisance.

Coooooooool, right?

Camels belong north of the Sahara and in the Middle East, right? Well, the last time I went to the beach and was playing a heated game of staff volleyball, up over the dunes came a camel that sat right down and watched us play. They roam the beaches, pulled along by profit seeking entrepreneurs who sell camel rides to beachgoers. I can only assume the Omani presence in the area from centuries ago allowed the importation of camels into the region, or they may have lived here before, I’m just guessing here.

Finally, Cats. I am a dog person through and through, which has made their absence here all the more noticeable. I think to date I have seen one dog, and that was on my trip with Lindsey up to Watamu. None since. But cats are everywhere: in the streets, in restaurants, at the Academy. You name it, they are there. There is one cat at a restaurant called Jahazi that is wonderful and friendly, but I can only assume the rest are petulant, moody and violent creatures. I miss dogs.

Pictures unrelated, just wanted to put some more up!

The entryway into my apartment, Oh the Places You'll Go indeed

Bedroom Door: The sign bears a mantra that is necessary here at AKAM

My well-stocked cupboard: Nutella, Pasta, Salt, Chips, Coffee, Tea, Red Wine and Jack Daniels

-Mzungu currently still safe, but surrounded by crows 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Unrest in Mombasa

Last night an Islamic Cleric was killed in broad daylight while driving with his wife and kids a few miles north of Mombasa in Nyali. The news has been flowing in at a steady pace and staff room conversations have revolved around the events since about 3:30 pm yesterday. The news/rumors/conjecture I have heard, in no particular order, are as follows. The Cleric was a man named Aboud Rogo Mohammed and he had been placed on both UN and US blacklists due to his strong connections to Al-Shabab, the militant Islamist group based in Somalia. In the months leading up to my time here there were a number of grenade attacks in nightclubs and bars that the international media attributed to Al-Shabab, but the local news feels differently and places the responsibility in the hands of the Mombasa Republican Council, a group that is motivated my the desire for an independent Mombasa and Coast Province. Regardless, Mohammed had been accused of planning other attacks in Mombasa that had yet to be carried out. He was also a known recruiter for the organization in Kenya.
            Mohammed was apparently shot up to eighteen times and, at least according to rumor in my homeroom this morning, his wife was rushed to the hospital, having sustained direct hits herself, and died this morning. Yesterday afternoon and evening, the northern part of Mombasa Island was completely shut off by rioters and the bridge out of the city was closed for a while. Tires were burned, as were Matatus. One person was killed during the riots. Some of the rioters apparently vandalized up to four churches using rocks from the street to break windows and doors. We had to hold our day students back from leaving school as we didn’t want the buses on the streets at such a volatile time.

A fellow Teaching Fellow and I went across the street to the local supermarket to do some standard shopping and nothing really seemed amiss, we are on the southern-most point of the island though, about as far away from the violence as we could be. Right next to our school is a major ferry, the only connection from the southern part of the island to the South Coast. It is normally jam packed with Matatus and Tuk-Tuks (three wheeled motor-vehicles that I, for some reason, strongly associate with Thailand). The biggest sign that something was wrong was that the streets were largely empty of the vehicles and instead hordes of people were on foot. Matatus are generally easy targets when riots begin and if pictures are any indication, they tend to burn well too. Any intelligent matutu driver gets off the road when he can when riots are afoot. Besides the lack of vehicles, everything seemed largely the same.
            As for who killed the Cleric, a number of theories are floating around. Many people are blaming the police as this was a high profile contentious figure that had potentially bad intentions for the general population of Kenya and Mombasa. But a teacher here (who has had his fair share of run ins with the police for refusing to pay arbitrary fine), defended the police (in a way) saying that when the police execute someone they do it with two shots to the head or heart, and not in broad daylight with such aggressive tactics. He seems to think that it was an internal job by Al-Shabab intended to incite violence in Kenya and heighten tension between the Muslim and Christian populations of the city. Spokesmen from Mohammed’s organization, The Muslim Youth Center (MYC) have already threatened retaliation on “the non-believers.”
            With all that being said, everyone at the academy is safe and sound and there is no reason to believe that will change in anyway at any time. The city on the whole is a very safe place and incident like this happen, tensions are high for a day or two and then it all goes back to normal. Life continues to be good, and continually interesting, on the coast of Kenya.

Here are some links for your perusing pleasure:

-Mzungu currently safe and sound and wrapped up in the intrigue of current events happening in real time in my new city of Mombasa

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Long Weekend in Mombasa and Watamu (Part 2)


On Sunday, I woke up early and headed north with Lindsey Thompson. Lindsey is a recent Bowdoin grad (two years my senior) who started working at the Academy last year. Coming from Bowdoin she is (naturally) enthusiastic, outgoing and great at what she is doing; she loves teaching Math and moved from a Teaching Fellow to a full-time Teacher this year. I knew her only really by name when I was at Bowdoin but was a great resource for me during my application process here and has been a great help in getting me settled here as well.
            The day itself was overcast, the first day of its kind since I have been here, but my excitement at being able to get off campus for a weekend banished any gloomy thoughts the clouds might have instilled in me. We rode in a Matatu with fifteen of our new closest friends. The ride up was uneventful (thankfully) and in no time we had checked into Eco-Lodge, our home for the night. More on that later.
            We headed into the town of Watamu for lunch. We walked along the road until a man pulled up on his motorcycle, asked where we were heading and offered us a ride into town for $2 total. Seeing a good deal in the works, we hopped on and off we went into town. It was like a whole new world… a world full of Italians. Yes, that’s right. Italians. Everywhere. Watamu is apparently a HUGE vacation spot for the golden-skinned, far-too-revealing-speedo wearing Italians. So much so that instead of English (a national language here) the street kids and vendors speak Italian!
            After a lunch of fish, we headed down to the beach. To get there we had to wind our way through an elaborate network of backstreets and unmarked paths but we emerged onto a beautiful white sand beach. We were helped on our way by a nice woman, Mama Zina, who guided us to her beachside shop; we admired, but ultimately did not purchase anything. After a short walk on the beach, the clouds were beginning to look more ominous so we scurried back to the road.
            Near Watamu are the ruins of an old Swahili town built in the 12th century and active and vibrant until around the 16th century. Lindsey had visited before but was blown away the last time so she wanted to go back and I was more than willing to check it out. After paying a small fee to the National Park Service, we passed through the gates and picked up a tour guide, who introduced himself as Mr. T. Lindsey being Miss Thompson and me being Mr. Taylor (something I am still adjusting to, the kids call me “sir” or “Mr. Taylor” and I introduce myself that way, it is bizarre, I feel so old!), we were thrilled to have a guide with a similar last name. We soon realized his moniker was a play off his actual last name, Chai, which is Swahili for Tea, so he was actually introducing himself as Mr. TEA. Ahhhh. I though I escaped painful puns when I bid my dear father adieu at Logan Airport, but apparently they exist everywhere; good thing I have a healthy appreciation for and deeply miss my father’s puns. It got even better when at our first stop on the tour, Mr. Tea was explaining a mosque floor plan to us and after instilling us with some new knowledge finished by saying, “there you go, a little cup from Mr. Tea.” Ouch.
            The rest of the tour was fantastic, Mr. Tea far outshined my guide from the day before at Fort Jesus; he was full of energy and great facts. The ruins themselves are remarkably well preserved and are surrounded by deep, thick forest. There are baobab trees everywhere that rise tall, thick and strong from the earth. Their branches seem frail and spindly compared to their gargantuan trunks. There were monkeys all over the place, scurrying through the ruins and bounding up the trees.
            The city was divided into Upper, Middle, and Lower class by large circular walls. There is nothing left of the lower class houses as they were thought to be stick and mud structures but what is left of the Upper class houses reveals a city that had a substantial amount of wealth. Large elaborate floor plans contained vast reception rooms, imposing courts of judgment, spring-fed bathhouses and spacious storage rooms. Here, like Fort Jesus, fragments of pottery from all over the world, metal objects from Venice, and ivory pieces were discovered. The architecture was overwhelmingly influenced by Islamic style as the Omani Sultanate of the time expanded its reach into this region and took the city from the local tribe with the help of rival tribesman. This past year at Bowdoin I took a class entitled “The Art of Three Faiths” taught by one of my favorite professors, Professor Perkinson. It focused on art and architecture in the Mediterranean as influenced by the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faiths around the year 1000. It was a great introduction into the world of Islamic art for me, as most of my previous studies had focused on Christian Europe around the 14th through 16th centuries.  The last place I though I would rediscover Islamic architecture was on the coast of Kenya, but lo and behold, out of the Kenyan Costal forest emerged the pointed arches, kufic inscriptions, and Mihrabs. I found that I was able to point out the features of these old mosques and caught myself mentally correcting our tour guide when he misused architectural vocabulary. So, proof in a small way that a Bowdoin Education can be relevant the world over, even when you least expect it.
            After our remarkably entertaining tour (if you go to the Gede Ruins, find Mr. Chai and have him guide you), Lindsey and I wandered the ruins on our own while the skies slowly began to open up and the rains began. We decided it was probably time to head out and began the long walk back to the road. Then the real rain came, I’m talking sheets and sheets of rain, by the time we hopped on a matatu, we were drenched to the core, easily the coldest I have been since I have arrived in Kenya, which isn’t really saying much, but wet we were. We were dropped on the side of the road and trudged our way back through the sand to Eco-Lodge, our home for the evening.
            The Lodge was established by a German woman a few years back who then transferred ownership over to the local village. It produces enough money to provide a solid lifestyle for the workers and to send every child in the village to Secondary School, a big deal in rural areas here. They have three “houses” based on different local architectural styles, and ours was made out of bound together leaves that formed a 20 yard by 8 yard structure that looked more or less like a hedgehog. It was very roomy inside, enough for three beds. The main lodge was elevated with a bar/ dining area on top where we spent the rest of our evening reading the night away. I tore my way through Shadow of the Wind, which I thoroughly enjoyed and Lindsey was working on A Brief History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and frequently regaled me, in a disturbingly delighted manner, about the different ways the population of earth could be decimated by asteroid or volcanic eruption. The location and time we had on our hands allowed a necessary and supremely enjoyable break from life at the Academy. As much as I have come to enjoy my time here, spending a week straight in the compound necessitates time away. I have found that I have made my way from one bubble (the Bowdoin Bubble) to the AKAM Bubble!
            The rain continued through the morning and we read most of the early part of the day. We finally pulled ourselves together and headed to a Mangrove forest where the Park Service there has set up an elevated walkway where you can walk above the Mangroves and observe the wildlife. It was another delightful excursion, but unfortunately my camera ran out of juice in the process so I couldn’t document the natural beauty there, I guess I’ll just have to go back!
            The AKAM staff was gathering at a hotel down in Nyali, just South of us, so we waved a bus down and joined them at the beach for volleyball, drinks and my first swim in the Kenyan Indian Ocean.
            All in all, a fantastic weekend. I am fully planning on keeping up with these travels, having just planned a trip up Mt. Kenya over my October Break. Time to put my Bowdoin Outing Club Mountaineering experience to use!

-Mzungu currently enjoying the sights, sounds and sun of the Kenyan Coast


Blaze, the Eco-Lodge Dog

Millipedes! Everywhere! I'll post about them later

Fish and Chips. The Whole Fish... and Chips

The Watamu Beach on a dreary day

Lindsey's Foray into the sea


The Fluted Tomb so named because "the wind blows through a hole at the top of the column and makes noise." Or, perhaps because the column is fluted.

The size of my palm. Cue Shudder.

Mr. T / Chai

Lindsey in a Baobab Tree House

Friday, August 24, 2012

Long Weekend in Mombasa and Watamu (Part 1)


What a weekend! We had Monday off from school in celebration of the holiday known as Eid. Eid, for the uninitiated (as I was a mere month ago) is the day that marks the end of Ramadan, which means the end of a full month of fasting. The celebrations are joyful and colorful, everywhere on the streets you can find little girls with their arms and legs covered in elaborate henna tattoos to mark the occasion and everyone is dressed in their finest and most colorful clothes, or for the men, their whitest robes. The town of Mombasa was somewhat sleepy throughout the month of Ramadan as about 70% of the population is Muslim here; many restaurants and stores were closed. But now the hustle and bustle has been restored and the city has roared back to life.
            I decided to make the most of the long weekend and go into tourist hyper drive. On Saturday I headed into Old Town Mombasa with my friends Kristine (A wonderfully energetic new teacher in the Junior School who hails from the Philippines but has spent the past five years teaching in Germany) and Edwina (The wife of my boss, Naheed, who also teaches in the Junior School and who knows Mombasa in and out. A fantastic tour guide). We headed to Jahazi Coffee Shop in Old Town which is a Swahili style building that serves Swahili food (Samosas, Swahili Coffee, Mango Juice, and other assorted delights) and has a really fantastic atmosphere. The coffee shop is actually owned by three teachers and administrators at the Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa (AKAM) so we are just keeping it in the family when we go there. It’s atmosphere and cuisine have recently been praised by a number of prominent guidebooks so the clientele has shifted from locals and AKAM employees to a more touristy crowd.
            After Jahazi, we headed out in search of a henna artist as Kristine wanted to get in the Eid spirit and join the festivities. Edwina, being as connected as she is, made a few calls and before we knew it we were off to the depths of Old Town, plunging through old, storied streets full of colonial homes, street-side shops, beautiful woodworking shops and what was apparently the first maternity ward in Mombasa (for the English and American women only, thanks Colonialism). We finally came upon this house that we teeming with women and girls all waiting to get their arms and legs decorated, I definitely stood out as the sole male presence and I had to gain the permission of the lady of the house in order to enter. Inside were even more girls in their hijabs. The woman got right to work on Kristine’s arm and within minutes her arm was decorated in elaborate floral patterns and dazzling shapes and lines. When it came to agreeing on the price, the woman unfortunately tried to gouge us. Edwina spent a good 10 minutes heatedly debating with her until we just paid her the going rate for this sort of work and rushed out into the street with her smoldering glare on our backs.
            Putting that unpleasantness behind us we headed to Fort Jesus for a tour. Fort Jesus is a large Portuguese fort that was built in 1593 as the Portuguese were extending their influence around the world and opening trade routes to finance their empire. Vasco De Gama had made his way to this part of the world a little less than a century before but he was driven away by the local peoples and ended up landing farther north. The fort itself is shaped like a human being with a head, torso, arms and legs. It looks out over the Indian Ocean and was a prime center for trade as it allowed trade between South East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Southern Africa. The museum here holds elaborate lusterware bowls from the Middle East, Pottery from China, Scissors from Venice and furniture from Portugal, all of which were found on site. Fort Jesus is remarkably well preserved and was recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out the pictures below to get a sense of what it looked like! Unfortunately for us our hired tour guide was somewhat of a flop, but the site itself was interesting enough.

My day ended with an evening of duty in the dorms and an attempted Fantasy Football draft with my close group of Bowdoin friends. Unfortunately, the internet service at school blocks Google Video Chat and the Draft website so I was unable to really participate, which was kind of a drag. I was still able to catch up with some people though and it looks like everyone is dealing relatively well with life post-Bowdoin. Some are employed, some are not, but we are all staying in touch and I couldn’t be happier about that.

On the stairs in the Swahili House

Kristine getting worked on, before the conflict over price. 

Our friendly, if uninteresting tour guide

View through the arrow slit onto the Indian Ocean

Wall Painting by the Portuguese. They were obviously sailors and warriors before they became artists.

Bowl with Kufic Script from the Middle East

Portugese representation of America from an Atlas in the Museum. Mexico looks a bit like Italy and we've been flattened out a bit. Valiant effort though!

They did a better job with Africa! Pretty spot on!

Kristine on my left, Edwina on my right

It's not all leisure on the coast of Kenya

Monday, August 13, 2012

Settling In

Hi All,

Today we had our first day of school (more or less)! All of the new students are on campus and the returning students are slowly trickling in. I have finally met the kids that I am being charged to look after. Fortunately for me, I think, all of them are returning students, which means that they are going to be able to teach me a lot about the residential life on campus and help me better understand my role as Dorm Parent. I’m hoping this isn’t a double-edged sword and that they use their superior knowledge to take advantage of my ignorance, but they all seem to be good kids so I doubt that will be a problem. They all have super-cool names: Bevertone, Zishan, and Shivam.
Time functions in a very bizarre way over here. Life moves at a very slow pace, but everyone has so much to do and is so motivated to do it that sometimes the pace of life gets in the way of achieving goals. Many meetings, activities and gatherings are scheduled and a schedule is sent out to the general community. Great. But then, as you converse with people throughout the day, you discover that certain arranged events have been moved or cancelled and if you hadn’t asked the right question you would have missed a meeting or showed up far to early. And sometimes that does happen. It’s just a part of life here. You have to shrug it off and move on.
I have been trying to keep track and write about all of the things that have been going on this past week but it has been a futile effort. It has been a real crash course in the International Baccalaureate program from the youngest students in the Primary Years Program (PYP), to the older students in the Middle Years Program (MYP), and finally to the oldest students aiming to achieve the IB Diploma in the Diploma Program (DP). It’s a fascinating program and I encourage you to check out the IB website to get even a glimpse into the program. As intensive and rigorous as the IB program is the Academy adds more levels of complexity and learning with an additional requirement to teach along 5 Strands of the Aga Khan Program: Pluralism, Ethics, Governance and Civil Society, Cultures (with a focus on Muslim civilizations), and Global Economics. It’s incredible how much work these students do. I continue to be amazed at the quality of student this school has and how intelligent, compassionate and driven they are. And I have only been here one week!
That being said, I can’t believe it has only been one week. At the beginning of the week, I was utterly and completely overwhelmed, struggling to keep my head above water, really. There was so much new information to take in and so much adjusting to do. I am looking back at my notes now and in numerous places they say in multiple places, “I still have no idea what I am doing.” Some progress has been made but in a lot of things, like the dorm parent position and what exactly I am supposed to do when I am “on duty” during the week and on the weekend, will have to be figured out as I go on. I sat down with the Teaching Fellow who runs the College Counseling office, Safiya, for three hours today and I am feeling the most comfortable and excited about the prospects for me there. I still haven’t had a conversation with anyone about Student Representative Council but I have plans for that later in the week.
I am most nervous for my English teaching assistant role as, unlike most of the other Fellows, I am not trained at all as a teacher and, although I read books ravenously, it has been a while since I have sat in on an English class. Indeed, I am not going to be teaching a class, at least not yet, but I will be assisting however I might in the coming weeks.
So, although I am certainly excited for what is to come, I am anxious to see what exactly that may be. My role is certainly getting clearer, which is refreshing but not everything is settled yet and my role may be shifting in the near future. As my Dad mentioned last night in conversation over Skype, every new job takes some adjusting to, especially when it is in a new country, new culture, and new environment.
As my workload picks up my goal is to be able to post at least once a week, time-permitting. I hope all is well wherever you may be, thanks for reading!

-Mzungu currently settling in and beginning to clarify his role in Mombasa 

Friday, August 10, 2012



Life has been nothing short of a whirlwind since my arrival in Mombasa. My mind is pounded with information every morning and afternoon and I’m left in a powerful daze the rest of my waking hours, sifting through the mounds of new concepts and strategies I need to learn for dorm life, teaching life, etc. I’ll try to run through some of the highlights from the past few days as a whole lot has happened and I don’t think I can cover it all!
            The drive into the city from Moi International airport was a fascinating one. The town itself reminded me very vividly of the streets I walked and drove in Uganda: generally dusty and covered in reddish brown dirt and sand, low lying buildings, non-descript hardware stores/ restaurants and heavy heavy traffic. Potholes are not uncommon.
            Mombasa is Kenya’s port town and the import industry is very large and important here. It has been for centuries as Mombasa was used as a major export point for ivory and other goods by Arab traders. The city itself is remarkably multicultural with a fascinating ethnic mix of black Africans, Arabs and Indians. The architecture reflects the historical Arab influence strongly, especially in the Old Town, and all through out the city there are mosques, churches, and Hindu temples. Something like 70% of the population practices the Islamic faith. The cultural and ethnic diversity of Mombasa is what inspired His Highness The Aga Khan to establish his first school here, the school that is supposed to serve as the template, and guinea pig, for a planned 15 or so other schools across the world.
            The school itself is nothing short of palatial. After driving through the town of Mombasa, through the crowded streets and concrete buildings, I heard someone describe the campus as an “oasis.” Construction is ongoing so the entrance is less than flattering, a few corrugated metal sheets and a lift gate, but once inside I could tell I was somewhere special. First I saw a sizable Astroturf field for soccer and tennis (the only one in Mombasa), but my eyes quickly turned to the gorgeous dormitories.

 They are made “in the Swahili style” according to the website and are three stories tall with a large central opening that opens to the sky. The ground floor has a lush green space with tropical plants and the rooms all face into the center. The rooms themselves are great; the students have quads if they are in year 7-10 and when the enter the International Baccalaureate (IB) Degree Program (DP) they get either singles or doubles as the course load is much heavier and a little more personal space is necessary. They have a shower room with individual stalls and full laundry room with three washers and three dryers on each floor. Living large.
            The rest of campus is equally amazing. The dorms are a recent addition and they are modeled after the rest of campus. I’ll attach pictures to give you a sense of what each building looks like as they are worth checking out and my verbal descriptions won’t do them justice. You know what they say about a picture being worth 1,000 words… I normally disagree but in this case I’ll give in.

            All of the buildings are connected via second story walkways in a style that apparently reflects the Swahili building style of the past.

            Aside from a Junior School and a Senior school (both have their own libraries), there is a full length pool, a diving pool (woah!), a track and soccer pitch, tennis courts, squash courts and a weight room. Not bad at all.

            Now for my accommodations.  I can honestly say I did not think I would have this nice an apartment a few months after graduation regardless of where I would be working, US or Kenya. I have a whole apartment to myself with a queen-size bed and two large closets which I certainly cannot fill on my own. I have a full kitchen with a range, sink, fridge (big one!) and plenty of drawers. I have a full bathroom with personal shower and toilet and I have a nice common room with couch, chairs, table and a desk. Oh, and no big deal, but I have a balcony that overlooks the Indian Ocean. Pictures will follow.

Needs some decorating
Big Ships loaded with goods are a regular sight out of my window

            So, my living conditions certainly are nice, but I’ll be damned if I am not going to have to work incredibly hard for what I have been granted. Over the past few days I have slowly begun to realize and understand the incredible workload that I have ahead of me these next few years and daunting doesn’t even begin to describe it. I’ll go in to more detail in my next post as I am still figuring out exactly what I am doing but here is what I know for sure: I am a dorm parent, an assistant English teacher with 9 classes a week, a College Counselor with these kids futures well and truly in my hands, a Student Representative Council assistant (Student Government), and a Form Tutor (Homeroom teacher and Leadership seminar instructor). More detail to come.

-Mzungu currently adjusting to life in a foreign land and coming to grips with the potentially stressful and very busy turn my life is about to take. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Journey

Things are slow going here on my end. Endless streams of information and meeting scores of new people have meant early bedtimes for me. Here is the beginning of my postings, it ends with me arriving and Kenya, but not yet Mombasa, more to come, of course.

After months of eager anticipation with a health mix of excitement and worry, I set off for Mombasa. I was accompanied down to Boston by my mother, father, grandmother and reluctant brother (he had just driven up from Gettysburg PA the day before, so understandable reluctance) and it was a nice two hours in the car as a last goodbye before my journey. In my rush to make my flight I completely forgot the bag of delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies that my mom had made for m journey. I have a feeling that will be my biggest regret in the coming months.
The flight to Amsterdam was very uneventful; I had a hard time sleeping so I watched the movie the Journey 2, staring “The Rock,” without any sound. Even so, I could tell it was an atrocious movie and it left me wondering what it was about Journey 1 that made them think it was a good idea to crank out another one to be force-fed to unsuspecting airplane audiences. But I digress.
I arrived in Amsterdam and was faced with a thirteen-hour layover in Schipol International Airport. Yikes, what is one supposed to do with that much time?! Fortunately, I had stopped by Bowdoin before I headed out to Kenya and conferred with Professor Perkinson and Professor Fletcher about what Art Historical hotspots I should check out with so much time on my hands. They both strongly encouraged I spend my time at the Van Gogh museum so I took their advice and ran with it. Despite the highly complicated Dutch signage and with the help of a few less than enthusiastic Dutch train employees, I was able to find my way to the museum. Observation about the city of Amsterdam from my brief tram ride through it: Much less outright debauchery and open enjoyment of illicit substances. Contrary to what popular culture had led me to believe, the city was rather cozy and charming and relaxed.
The line for the museum was daunting but the exhibit was well worth the wait. The collection was truly magnificent and offered an incredible look into the life and work of Van Gogh. I never spent much time studying this era of art history, but this museum really made me regret that oversight on my part. It was fascinating to see how his style changed not only as he grew as an artist and gained experience, but also how his declining mental state changed the tone and style of his painting into the styles of his I found the most interesting and beautiful. Long story short, if you have an extended layover in Amsterdam, check this place out.
I was quickly hit by an intense wave of exhaustion and scurried back to the airport, I had seen signage for a hotel in the airport and was hoping to catch a few hours of sleep before my flight. I followed the signage and discovered this place and it was AMAZING. It was called Yotel (check out the website) and they basically sold “cabins” for a few hours at a time. I rented one for 6 hours. The cabins were about 5 feet deep and 12 feet wide. In this space, they had fit a shower, a toilet, a desk, and a double bed so I was able to catch 5 hours of well needed sleep, shower up and change clothes. Absolutely perfect.
Then finally the time had come to fly to Nairobi. In the waiting area I met an incredibly friendly man named Shem Koech. Shem works as a nurse in the D.C. area in the US but was headed back to Kenya to see his ailing grandmother. He struck up conversation with me and we talked for at least half and hour about America, Kenya and our jobs. We had basically done a big swap: he had left Kenya to work in the states while I had departed the states to work in Kenya. Our conversation was lively and we exchanged email addresses at the end. His kindness and enthusiasm in welcoming me on my way to Kenya was foreshadowing for the reception I would receive in Mombasa.
The flight down to Nairobi was also uneventful. I sat next to an Irish missionary who was on the longest flight of her life, 8 ½ hours. Hazel, as she was called, handled it very well and slept most of the way, something I wish I had been able to do. Upon arrival I had to purchase my Kenyan Visa, a rather easy experience and within 2 minutes I was officially in the country!
            The bag retrieval took about an hour and a half; a painfully long wait that seems was a good indicator of how fast things move around here. Patience will certainly be a virtue in the coming months.
            After obtaining my elusive bags, I had to find my way to the domestic terminal. I snagged a luggage cart for my two 50 lb. bags and off I went. Much to my chagrin, I realized the terminal was a good half mile away and the noble person who had designed the airport had left an unfortunate lack of ramps. Every parking lot and road crossing I made required a sharp drop from the curb to get down to the concrete and a complete unloading of my bags on the way up as the curbs were four inches tall and I was unable to life the whole cart fully loaded. Needless to say, I was sweating buckets in the Nairobi early morning sun and getting my fair share of concerned and confused looks as to what the hell I was doing.
            Once to the terminal, check in was painless and I was ready to board my flight, but one more delay remained. Right before we boarded, a large motorcade crossed the tarmac and a number of armed Kenyan soldiers posted up on the runway. Folks hopped out of the jeeps that looked surprisingly like Secret Service officers and then I looked up and saw a rather large jet with the words “United States of America” on it. As you may have guessed, I quickly realized I was within 300 yards of the Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, in the midst of her travels around Africa. Interesting that I had to travel 6,000 miles and across two continents to see the queen of US Foreign Policy, but our paths aligned for a brief moment in at the Jomo Kenyatta international airport. I’ll take it.

More to come soon! Tales of Mombasa await! 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Intro and Disclaimer

This blog has been started with admittedly selfish intentions. I have found in past experiences that a medium like this blog is ideal for not only recording my experiences for myself in a journal-like way but also for keeping friends and family in the loop about my whereabouts and wellbeing. In my last blogging experience (in Uganda and Rwanda,, I found it a great place to reflect on my experiences and provide whatever insight I might from my perspective on the countries and cultures that might be incredibly foreign to friends back home. I do all I can to avoid preachiness, keep things interesting, and not just log events but include a mix of stories, anecdotes, and profiles of the people I encounter. In short, I do what I can to keep it interesting, but I can't promise brevity. I also welcome conversation and any comments or suggestions you may have! Thanks for reading, I really do appreciate it!