I’ve been back in Canada for 10 days now and it feels surreal that summer is almost over! Going to Kenya with Western Heads East has been an incredible experience – I highly recommend it to anyone who’s considering it but on the fence. It’s a great way to become immersed in another culture, live in another country for 3 months, gain international experience, and do meaningful work. The internship is relevant to any and every program – whether you’re in food and nutrition (probiotics and fermented foods), business (writing proposals), medical sciences (doing research and literature reviews), health sciences (health promotion), etc. There are also some generous scholarships, like the QEII Scholarship and Global Opportunities Award, to finance the trip. I hope my blog will give you some insight into my internship experience in Juja. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com or Wenna Deng on Facebook 🙂
Hell’s Gate National Park was a lot of fun and a great change from just sitting in a safari van, as fun as that can be. At Hell’s Gate, you can bike alongside zebras, hike in the gorges, and hang out in the geothermal pool – all in one day! Here’s the day trip in photos:
- You can rent bikes for 600 ksh per person outside the park entrance or at the park entrance. It’s 300 ksh for student entry into the park, another 200 ksh to enter with a bike, and 500 ksh for student entry into the geothermal pools.
- Biking through the park is a lot of fun but quite the workout! We biked from outside of Elsa Gate to the gate (which was unpaved but mostly flat), then hiked through the gorges, then biked to the Olkaria Geothermal Pool (which was paved but was mostly uphill).
- It’s best to have a guide for the gorges if you’re going for the first time. If you’ve already been, it’s fine to explore on your own – just be sure to go on a sunny day because there’s a risk of flash floods, especially when it’s rainy.
As the last weekend trip, we decided to go to Diani Beach because it was one of our favourite places in Kenya. Here’s the weekend in photos:
- Kisite Marine Park has very clear waters and is great for snorkelling! You can get the student discount there since it’s also with KWS, and the whole trip – including the 2-hour car ride to Kilifi, the hour-long dhow (boat) ride to Kisite Marine Park, snorkelling, and lunch – costs only about 5000 ksh or less.
- Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant is really cool but very popular! We tried to go there but they were full – so make sure to make a reservation before going.
- Try coconut rice, pilau, and tilapia on the coast! The coast is known for great food.
Emily and I decided to go to Amboseli National Park again because our roommates hadn’t gone yet and we were able to get a good price for our driver and also the student discount this time! Plus, we hadn’t seen Mount Kilimanjaro clearly the first time so we figured we’d try our luck at it again. I went on the trip with Emily, Elena, Arthur, Paul, Beata, Emma, and Clementine. Since I’ve already posted about the first trip, I’ll just share some photos from this trip.
Wednesday, August 1 – In the morning, Emily and I prepared for a meeting with AKUH, which we had been working towards our whole internship. Afterwards, we took the mpya to Nairobi and taxified to Spinner’s Web, a pre-priced souvenir shop near Sigiria Forest, where we met up with Elena and Arthur. Spinner’s Web is really big and is a great place to go if you are intimidated by or dislike bargaining. They have an expansive collection of souvenirs, though some items can be quite pricey! For example, a wood statue that I bought for 400 ksh at City Market was priced at 6000 ksh at Spinner’s Web! Nonetheless, you can find some reasonably-priced souvenirs and overall, it’s a great space to check out with a nice cafe.
We didn’t spend too long in Spinner’s Web because we had to meet up with our supervisor Dr. Onyango at AKUH. The meeting was with two management staff at AKUH who are responsible for strategic planning and hospitalty/food services at the hospital. It was a formal boardroom meeting so Emily and I were a bit intimidated in the beginning, but I felt more relaxed when I saw Trevor! Since he’s interning at the CEO’s office, he sat in on and contributed to the meeting. It was really cool to have him there because having the three of us there was the physical manifestation of the partnership between AKUH, JKUAT, Western University/Western Heads East to expand the distribution of Fiti Probiotic Yoghurt in Kenya.
Currently, AKUH serves cup yoghurt to patients with a normal sugar and no-sugar option. We discussed implementing Fiti at the hospital, especially for consumption in the maternal and pediatric wards due to the nutriceutical properties of probiotic yoghurt. The meeting was productive, largely because of Dr. Onyango’s direction and AKUH staff being open and receptive. Going into the meeting, Emily and I knew that the key to the long-term sustainability of the JKUAT-AKUH partnership was to have Dr. Onyango present since our internship is limited by the three months we’re in Kenya. Dr. Onyango has been fantastic at following up with questions and concerns from AKUH to ensure that their needs are being met while also adhering to the principles of Fiti and ensuring JKUAT has the capacity to accommodate AKUH.
After the meeting, Emily, Trevor, and I met up with Reni at Diamond Plaza, where we ate dinner at Chowpatty, an all-vegetarian Indian Restaurant. I was craving Chinese food though, so I had the Szechuan fried rice. Afterwards, Emily and I taxified back to Juja and got back just in time in the evening to say our goodbyes to Emiel, who was leaving for the Netherlands. It was a very bittersweet moment because Emiel was excited to go home to see family and friends, but we were all sad to see each other go, especially after living and travelling together around Kenya for 2.5 months. Emiel is truly a character with his unfiltered humour and openness – it felt quieter without him!
Marlene was also leaving that night, at 2am, so we invited some JKUAT friends over and Marlene made mulled wine from scratch! It’s a typical wintertime drink in Austria and Germany, and you can also drink it at Christmas Markets in Canada. It was fitting because it’s considered “winter” in Kenya due to the lower-than-average temperatures (still not that cold by Canadian standards). The ingredients used to make the mauled wine were red wine, cinnamon, cloves, masala tea mix, and oranges. It was really nice talking to everyone and then getting to say bye to Marlene before she left for the airport.
Thursday, August 2 – I worked on my QEScholars narrative report, which is required as part of the scholarship to have you reflect on and give feedback about the internship. After, I worked out and showered at the Senate because we had no water in the house (ie. none of our taps had running water)! It was the first time we had a water outage at our house and it turned out that it was a JKUAT-wide water outage that lasted for a couple of days. Luckily, our housekeeper Diana came by with huge jugs of water so we could have some water at our disposal.
After the Senate, I bought some clothes and fruit at the Juja markets (it’s been a routine), got back to the house, and worked on the poster content with Emily for our internship. Part of the WHE internship involves making a poster to be presented at Africa-Western Collaboration Day at Western University in November. This way, we can share our internship experience to others who are interested and also to scholarship donors and professors who are interested in our work.
In the evening, Emily, Emma, Clementine, Aidan, Acacia, Andy (a local), and I went to J’s (also a routine for Thursdays). It was a lot of fun! I realized that I will miss nights out in Kenya immensely because music and dancing are a huge part of the culture (as you can tell by how music is always being blasted and how open people are about dancing). People have a lot of rhythm and don’t seem as reserved as they do in Canada about dancing in public.
Friday, August 3 – Emily and I worked on some obligations we had for our internship in the morning after afternoon. In the evening, I went to the Tapas Restaurant at Westgate Mall with Emily, Acacia, Aidan, and Kevin (our new roommate from Belgium who arrived on July 31) and Reni met us at the restaurant. It was the last meal before Acacia had to fly out early in the morning the next day.
Kevin, Aidan, and I headed to K1 Klub House after having tapas, but since it was Friday and K1 is usually popular on Thursdays, it was eerily empty. Nonetheless, the compound is big so we played pool, table tennis, and foosball then met up with Didi (a local) and headed to The Alchemist for Hip Hop Friday. It was a lot of fun! Afterwards, we taxified home in time to say bye to Acacia before she headed to the airport.
Monday, August 6 – In the morning, Emily and I worked on the final report for our internship, and in the afternoon, I blogged. In the evening, Emily, Aidan, Kevin, and I ate dinner at the Green Savannah – and they finally had pilau! All the other times I’ve tried to order pilau at the Green Savannah, they were out.
Tuesday, August 7 – Emily and I made naturally-flavoured pineapple yoghurt with Eve in the morning and afternoon. Previously, Eve had used artificial flavouring but we suggested experimenting with natural flavouring and Anisah (a WHE intern in Mwanza) was kind enough to send us the steps for making the naturally-flavoured yoghurt.
Afterwards, Emily, Kevin, Aidan, and I went to Nairobi went up the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) in CBD. It costs 300 ksh for students to go up to the roof, where the helipad is located. From there, you get a panoramic view of Nairobi! It was really cool!
Then, we did some souvenir shopping at City Market and then taxified back home. I laid out all my souvenirs on my bed and showed the others – we were all laughing at how I had bought so much that I could have opened up my own shop! Anyway, I’m now home in Toronto now and unfortunately, one of my suitcases that contained most of the souvenirs was lost! Hopefully, I get it back because look at these gorgeous souvenirs:
Wednesday, August 8 – I woke up early because I was going to Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Nairobi with Bess via the Juja school bus at 5:15 am. I met Bess at the BBQ we hosted and she invited me to shadow her, other medical students, and the doctors at the hospital. I thought it was a great idea, especially because I was personally interested in seeing how hospitals operate in Kenya and I figured there might even be an opportunity to ask about the possibility of expanding Fiti to this particular hospital.
I ate breakfast with Bess and her friends at a small restaurant across from the hospital. Then, we shadowed and were mentored by an ENT specialist, so we saw many cases of goitres, adenoids, tonsilitis, etc. It was really interesting to see the physician-patient interactions and also interesting to see how hospitals operated differently from how they do in Canada. For one, the fees are much cheaper (100 ksh for consultations and 300 ksh for small procedures) but not everyone is covered by insurance. The med students even told me that many people in their villages and towns seek their medical advice, even though they’re not yet qualified, because they can’t afford to see a doctor.
After the hospital, I took a matatu to CBD to meet with Reni because we had initially planned to go to Gikomba market, a huge outdoor clothing market frequented by locals. However, on the way to the market, we noticed that the neighbourhood wasn’t safe – the roads were corroded, there were many intoxicated people on the streets, and we even saw kids about 12 years old sniffing drugs from a bottle. Our taxify driver also told us that it wasn’t a good idea for us to go as foreigners because vendors would overcharge us and people might follow us around. We decided to go directly to Bao Box, where some QE Scholars were meeting up for dinner. If you plan on going to less touristy areas, it’s a good idea to go with locals. I definitely feel safe going to the Maasai Market or City Market on my own, but it wasn’t worth the risk to go to a market in an unfamiliar place.
Anyway, Bao Box is a board game restaurant and it was a lot of fun! It only cost 1000 ksh (10 USD) for a whole table/group to play games and since we were a group of 11, it came out to less than 1 USD per person. We played Jenga, What Do You Meme?, and Taboo – it was a lot of fun! The food was also really great, especially the nachos, which were incredibly cheesy! I highly recommend this place!
Thursday, August 9 – Emily and I worked on our final report again during the day. I also went to the Juja markets, where I bought a hardboiled egg with kachumbari from a stand and fruits from a shop.
In the afternoon, we took the mpya with Emma and Clementine to Spinner’s Web in the afternoon to buy some souvenirs for the last time and because I had to return one of my souvenirs that I realized I didn’t have space for. We met up with Reni and ate at Mercado for dinner, in time for happy hour! The cocktails there are amazing!
Tuesday, August 14 – I worked on a movie compiling some video clips I took during my time in Kenya. I had already made a movie of the first half of my internship, so this time it was the second half, from July 4. The footage is mainly from weekend trips and trips to Nairobi – you can watch it here.
Emily and I continued to work on our final report, then took the mpya to Garden City to exchange some money (we were both very low on cash), go to the Sarit Centre to buy some snacks for a get-together later that night, and meet up with Reni and her mom (who was visiting her from Canada!) as a last dinner. It was so cool listening to Reni’s mom’s stories about visiting Kenya when she went in 1979. She also went to Amboseli and got caught between a huge herd of elephants! She told the story in so much detail that I wondered if the memories I had during my internship would also stay with me decades later, so vividly.
After dinner, Emily and I said our goodbyes to Reni and her mom because we were flying out the next day. We taxified back to our house and hung out with our roommates and JKUAT friends (Bess, Esther, Matthew, Didi) as a last get-together. I also played the Kenya video that I put together for everyone!
Wednesday, August 15 – This day was spent struggling to pack all my clothes and souvenirs in my luggage. It ended up being 10 kg overweight so I had to transfer a bunch of stuff to my carry-on bags. I also wrote some postcards, which I sent back home and to my grandparents living in China.
For lunch, Emily and I met with Dr. Onyango for lunch at AICAD, where we talked about our internship and also learning a lot about our supervisor, like how he lived in Japan for 6 years completing his Masters and PhD!
After lunch, I went to the Senate to shower (because we still had no hot water at our house) and to say bye to some of the people there. We went back to the house, said our goodbyes, and then we were driven to the airport. There, we bought some souvenirs (again!) from the duty-free shops. I bought tusker beers, a tusker hat, and a kitenge (colourful traditional fabric). We also bought souvenirs at our connecting airports during layovers – I bought hanuta (wafers filled with hazelnut chocolate) and postcards from Frankfurt, and shortbread cookies, Hob Nobs, and postcards from Dublin… what can I say? I love souvenirs!
We arrived safe and sound in Toronto. That’s all for my logs – I’ll post a few more blog posts about the last few weekend trips and reflecting on my overall experience now that I’m home!
The Maasai Mara National Reserve was one of the highlights of my trip so far, and definitely one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced! We booked the trip with Bonfire Adventures, a Kenya-based tour company which the Ivey interns had recommended. It was a great decision because our driver, James, turned out to be extremely knowledgeable about the park and its animals (he had been a tour guide for 17 years after all). Additionally, he was in constant communication with other drivers in the park, so we always knew where the animal sightings were. Previously, our tour guides had been private hires who didn’t use radio communication on safaris, so we had to look out for animals on our own (nonetheless, we still managed to see a lot of animals that way).
We left Juja around 6:30am and headed to the Maasai Mara. On the way, we stopped by the Great Rift Valley viewpoint and we made other stops along the way because one of my roommates was sick and puking. It was actually quite suspicious because six out of the ten of us were sick with vomiting and/or diarrhoea on the trip (luckily I was not one of them). We suspect it may have been from the burgers the night before, the tap water in Juja, or the food at the budget camp we stayed at. Some of us were already sick from before and others got sick on the second day of the trip, after having lunch at the Manyatta Camp.
The first day, we took a long time sorting out our entrance fees at the gate because we had a lot of difficulty getting the student rates (but luckily ended up getting it). We got into the park around 5:50pm and only went on a 40-minute game drive. Nonetheless, we still saw some wildebeest, zebras, jackals, crowned cranes, and a gorgeous sunset.
The next day, we woke up early to eat breakfast, view the sunrise, and head out for the game drive by 7am. The sunrise was stunning! I’ve seen some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets at the Maasai Mara.
Within ten minutes of being in the park, James drove us to a crowd of cars in front of lionesses and cubs eating a wildebeest carcass! We managed to get incredibly close to the wildebeest – I’d say about 10 to 15 meters away! One of the most incredible things happened when a girl in a safari van next to us dropped her phone outside – the lions immediately looked up as if they knew what had happened! They’re very sharp. We also learned that lionesses do the hunting but male lions eat first.
Next, we left the lions but got stuck in the mud! The other van (which Elena, her boyfriend Arthur, Clementine, Emma, and Frank – another German guy – were in) had to pull us out. We then drove to a big rock where some lionesses and an incredibly beautiful male lion were hanging out. We managed to get close (again) to the lions because our driver was awesome!
Afterwards, we drove to an area where we saw a lioness and four of her cubs. It was such a cute sight but I realized that we, as part of the hoard of cars around the animals, were disrupting them. We were following the lioness as she was guiding her cubs back to the rock that we were previously at, appearing to seek refuge and protection by returning to the other lionesses and the male lion. The male lion started roaring and the cubs even joined along and roared too. It was adorable because they thought they were so intimidating, even though they looked as small as housecats.
After the lions, we saw an ostrich very close up – so close I was terrified it would charge at our car. We took a washroom break at the airstrip, where we took some group photos and saw some charter planes touch down with some fancy people exiting them.
We continued on the game drive, got stuck in mud again, and then spotted a black rhino running very quickly away from us! We drove after it and managed to get some really close up shots before it went into a bush. Black rhinos are critically endangered due to poaching. Additionally, they also feed on bushes and fruits from trees rather than grass like white rhinos do, therefore it’s quite rare to spot them out in the open grasslands! We were very lucky.
We managed to also spot three cheetahs! They were being watched by staff members the whole time because, according to James, there was an incident in March when a cheetah cub jumped into a van (as they sometimes do) and was stolen by the people in the van! I’m not sure if this is entirely true, but it is necessary that there are people patrolling the cheetahs because they do tend to jump into open-roof vans from time to time.
The cheetahs were initially hiding under a tree behind some tall grass but eventually, they came out and looked out into the distance for two other cheetah brothers that they had been separated from the day before (according to the cheetah park rangers). The cheetahs were very affectionate with one another! We spotted a lot of wildebeest, zebras, and another lion. This time, the lion didn’t look as majestic – it was under a tree in the shade, looking like it was dying from dehydration.
We had lunch inside the park and then headed to the Kenya-Tanzania border and then the Mara River, where two armed park rangers guided us on a walk. We saw hippos, an incredibly huge crocodile, and some wildebeest in the river that crossed but didn’t make it to the other side. We were in the Maasai Mara for the Great Wildebeest Migration, which occurs from late July until October. During this time, wildebeest and zebras migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya to graze on fresh pasture and seek higher-quality water. While migrating, they cross the Mara River, where crocodiles and hippos attack them – crocodiles because they want to eat the wildebeest and hippos because they’re territorial. The day before we were there, the rangers said they saw some wildebeest crossing the river, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to see any crossing the river! It was still a fantastic day nonetheless, and my mom always says it’s always good to leave some reason to return!
In the evening, we tried to spot a leopard but we were unsuccessful. It was the last animal I needed to see to view all of the Big Five (lion, rhino, elephant, cape buffalo, and leopard) – I guess it’s another reason I need to go back! Luckily, we did end up seeing elephants, which can be pretty difficult to view in the Maasai Mara because elephants hate the loud noises that wildebeest make so they tend to leave the park/migrate away from the wildebeest when the Great Migration starts. We also saw the most beautiful sunset! It was such a beautiful moment, especially because it was our last trip as a group; Emiel, Marlene, and Acacia left for Europe a few days after we got back to Juja.
The next day, I saw another gorgeous sunrise and we went on a morning game drive. This game drive was a lot more peaceful than the last; we saw fewer animals than last time and took the time to appreciate the landscape more. Still, we saw some lionesses from afar, jackals, ostriches, a hyena, giraffes, and cape buffalos.
Tips for visiting the Maasai Mara:
- The souvenir shops and grocery shops are very overpriced on the way to the Maasai Mara so avoid buying souvenirs and stock up on snacks beforehand!
- There are Maasai ladies trying to sell souvenirs to safari vans at the entrances and exits, and it can be overwhelming because they crowd around the cars and one woman even opened our window from the outside and refused to let us close it again! I would recommend closing/locking your windows and doors if you don’t wish to buy anything. Or, if you’re like me and don’t mind the experience (which can be a bit much with so many Maasai women crowding around you), you can negotiate some really great prices with them! For example, I got 9 bracelets for 500 ksh and 4 pretty big wooden statues for 1000 ksh! That’s definitely a cheaper price than I’ve been able to get anywhere else. Plus, it’s a nicer feeling supporting local women than buying from the huge souvenir shops on the way to the Maasai Mara.
- Bring enough cash to pay your entrance fee ($80 USD/day for non-resident adults staying outside the park and $45 USD/day for non-resident students staying outside the park) because paying by card is quite difficult and sometimes not possible if the system is down. This is because the Maasai Mara National Reserve is not with Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) so they don’t operate under the same cashless payment system.
- If you can, invest in a telephoto lens! These are DSLR camera lenses that can zoom a lot so you can take great photos of animals. My camera body is 10 years old and not the best quality, but I was still able to take great photos because I bought a telephoto lens (Cannon 55-250mm) before I came to Kenya – and for a decent price too (approx. 250 CAD). If it’s in your budget, it’s a great investment. If not, bring a pair of binoculars to see the animals!
Tuesday, July 24 – Emily and I worked on making infographics promoting the health benefits of probiotics and fermented foods. We decided to make these infographics to educate consumers and promote sales at the yoghurt kitchens, especially after visiting Eve’s newly opened kitchen. In the evening, Emily, Elena, Acacia, and I went to Garden City to eat dinner at Artcaffé then watch Mamma Mia 2. We’re all ABBA fans and really enjoyed the movie! Afterwards, we came back and hung out with our roommates and Matthew, a JKUAT student, who we know through Marlene.
Wednesday, July 25 – I worked out at the Senate, helped out Eve at her yoghurt kitchen, and bought some stuff from the Juja markets. In the afternoon, I worked on my reflection for the internship and then watched Bob’s Burgers with my roommates.
Thursday, July 26 – I worked on my reflection, went to the Senate to swim (the water is so cold!), then bought clothes from the Juja markets. I’ve been buying quite a lot of clothes from there because the prices are very reasonable (usually 100 to 400 ksh per clothing item) and the clothes are really nice!
In the evening, my roommates and I hosted a barbecue event at our house for our JKUAT friends and their friends because many of us were flying out in a few days or weeks back to our home countries. In total, there were probably more than 50 people at our house! The JKUAT students brought over a barbecue and we had nyama choma (Kenyan BBQ goat), kachumbari (tomato, onion, chili pepper, and lemon salad), ugali (mashed maize), and muratina (traditional Kenyan alcohol). It was also a great opportunity to get to know other JKUAT students and network! I met Bess, a medical student at JKUAT who offered to take me to the hospital she’s doing her rotations at. Emily and I also talked to students about our internship and gauged interest in students that would be interested in joining a Fiti student committee at JKUAT.
After the barbecue, some of us went to Ace Nightclub in Juja, but there was no one there when we arrived because we got there at 1 am and it closes at midnight! It was a very short-lived experience.
Friday, July 27 – In the morning, some JKUAT students came by to help us clean up our place after the barbecue (so nice!). We ate lunch at AICAD then I met with Dr. Onyango to discuss the upcoming meeting with management staff at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) about implementing Fiti at the hospital. We also talked about Fiti branding, visiting yoghurt kitchens across Kenya, and our goals for the rest of the internship.
In the evening, I finished my reflection, worked out at the Senate, and went to the Juja markets, where I bought freshly-pressed sugar cane-lime-ginger juice. At night, my roommates and I went outside to view the blood moon. We were lucky enough to have clear skies most of the time, so we were able to see the moon turn red and back to white! Elena captured some amazing photos:
Saturday, July 28 – Acacia, Marlene, Emiel, Paul, Aidan, Emma, Clementine, and I took the mpya to Nairobi to go to the souvenir markets. Unfortunately, Emily was very sick and had been for a few days so she wasn’t able to join us. We first went to City Market, where we met up with Reni. There we bought mabuyu seeds (baobab seeds with a sugar coating) and souvenirs. I also bought fried tilapia there, which everyone was shocked/disgusted with but later some people also bought some because I told them how good it tasted! We then went to Cold Stone Creamery for ice cream and then the Maasai Market to buy souvenirs.
For dinner, we had burgers at About Thyme because it was BurgerFest in Nairobi (2 for 1 burgers).
Afterwards, we went to The Alchemist for the “Sonic Waves” event hosted by XtetiQsoul, a DJ from South Africa. Nairobi has a very vibrant nightlife scene!
I’ve also really grown to love the music that they play here (“Afrobeats”). Interestingly, not a lot of the popular artists are from Kenya (only Sauti Sol); most of them are from Nigeria. I even made a playlist of songs I’ve heard/shazaamed during my time in Kenya. My favourite songs are:
- “African Beauty” by Diamond Platnumz and Omarion
- “Melanin” by Sauti Sol and Patoranking
- “Fall” by DaVido
- “Love you Die” by Patoranking and Diamond Platnumz
- “Come Closer” by WizKid and Drake
- “Kontrol” by Maleek Berry
- “Mad over You” by RunTown
I don’t understand most of the lyrics because they’re in incoherent/slang English, in Swahili, or in a traditional/tribal language but the melodies and beats are very catchy!
One component of the Western Heads East internship is writing three reflections: at 3 weeks in, halfway, and with 3 weeks remaining of the internship. Since I treat my blog as a kind of journal/log, documenting what I’ve been up to every day, there hasn’t been as much reflection as I would like! I thought I’d post my last reflection to provide more insight on my experience in Kenya – including how this experience has impacted my values and beliefs, what I’ve learned about myself and my approach to my area of study, and how this experience fits with my career aspirations.
With less than three weeks left of my internship, I can’t help but wonder where the time has gone. In the two months that I have been in Kenya, I have met some incredible people, visited some amazing places, and experienced much more than I could have imagined. I am very grateful that the internship duration is three months, as it has allowed me to be immersed and gain a deeper understanding of Kenyan society.
Living in Kenya has consolidated some of my beliefs while it has challenged others. Throughout my time here, I have had some unique opportunities like going on a last-minute safari, going to the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi for Canada Day, and travelling with people I’ve never met to a Maasai village. I’m a strong believer in being open to new experiences, and my time here has consolidated this belief. Had I stayed in my comfort zone rather than saying yes to the opportunities that arose, I would have missed out on some very enriching experiences.
Talking with Kenyans about politics has also consolidated my values of honesty and accountability. Corruption is a severe issue here and seems to be the primary barrier to productivity and growth on both a national and individual scale. For example, some of the top government officials in Kenya are the richest in Africa (the Kenyatta and Moi family in particular) while 35.6% of Kenyans fall below the international poverty line. Corruption worsens the wealth disparity – namely, people in power accepting “gifts” (bribes) to amass their personal wealth while neglecting social programs that address national issues such as unemployment and poverty. Learning about the degree of corruption in Kenya has reminded me of the importance of maintaining personal values and ethics, to ensure honesty and equity on the larger scale.
Simultaneously, my value of political correctness has been challenged during my time here. Growing up in a multicultural community, I have learned about the importance of being culturally sensitive and politically correct. However, living in Kenya has challenged my notions of political correctness, which is not the norm here. Many times, my propensity for political correctness has caused me to be very sensitive towards things that locals say to me. For example, I was quick to assume that people shouting “ching chong” at me were mocking my race, but it wasn’t until talking to locals that I was told it was not meant to be negative. My feelings of discomfort are still valid, but now I acknowledge that I should consider context before passing judgment. In another instance, my housekeeper suggested that I should get my hair braided into cornrows but I feared that people would view this as cultural appropriation. I feel that my political correctness has caused me to be restrained compared to Kenyans who I’ve met, who speak much more freely. One takeaway from this is that I should be as informed as possible to understand how to openly embrace the culture while also being culturally sensitive. For instance, I tried to understand why non-black people getting cornrows would be considered cultural appropriation to gain a better contextual understanding of how my actions may be perceived.
Being in Kenya has also challenged my previously-held belief that the pole pole (taking it slow) mentality is equivalent to being lazy or unproductive. In fact, I have found the opposite to be true. I have met some of the most hardworking people here, who work 12 to 16 hours a day. It is unfortunate that the reasons for these long hours are due to lack of working regulations, a high unemployment rate, and low pay. However, this relates back to the issue of corruption being a barrier to productivity rather than the pole pole mentality.
Personally, I have had some struggles adapting to the pole pole mentality (and I hear than Kenya is considered more fast-paced than other East African countries). I have learned that I prefer to make plans rather than to work with ambiguity. I’ve had to become more comfortable with the unknown here because instructions and plans are less consolidated than what I’m used to, and people are a lot more relaxed about time. I have also learned that my approach to my studies is being pragmatic and following the scientific approach. I fact check all the information that I write, preferably from peer-reviewed journals, especially when it comes to health-related topics such as discussing the health benefits of probiotic yoghurt.
In September, I will be pursuing a medical degree in Canada. Given that I hope to work in the field of healthcare and public health, and hopefully work abroad for some years, this experience has been highly beneficial because it is strongly focused on health promotion and nutrition. Living in the Global South has given me perspective to better understand health and nutrition-related challenges through learning about them firsthand. Furthermore, living in Kenya has taught me to be more adaptable to last-minute changes and different environments. I am very grateful for this internship and view it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in which I can become immersed in Kenyan culture while also doing meaningful work relevant to my career aspirations. The past couple months have been some of the best months of my life!
Last weekend, I went to Malindi with some of my roommates, Mitch, and Mitch’s friends – in total, we were a group of 17! Mitch, a JKUAT student, was kind enough to invite us to join his friends in Malindi. They even planned out everything! More impressively, they managed to book everything (accommodation, transportation, food) for 7000 ksh per person ($91 CAD) for the whole weekend!
We took the 10-hour overnight Tahmeed bus to Malindi and arrived in the morning. I’m quite a heavy sleeper so I had no problem falling asleep on the bus, but some others really struggled because the bus was blasting music the whole time. It’s a good idea to bring headphones and earplugs for buses if you plan on sleeping.
When we arrived in Malindi, we ate mandazi (fried pastries) and tea for breakfast and then took tuk-tuks to our villa. We hung out by the pool and soaked up the sun, then had lunch and headed to the beach.
The next day, we headed to the beach to view the sunrise. Then, we headed back to the villa for breakfast and then took tuk tuks to Watamu Beach, about 40 minutes away from Malindi. The beach was much nicer than Malindi Beach! Later that day, we went to Malindi Marine Park, where we hopped on a boat and went snorkelling. We caught some bad weather, so it was raining very heavily in the beginning when we were heading to the park. There, we saw a lot of fish and even turtles!
Although the weather was grim during the weekend, it was a lot of fun and very reasonably priced! I even got to cross off some things from my Kenya bucket list, like going in a tuk tuk and trying pilau at the coast (the coast is known to have the best pilau).
Tuesday, July 10 – I met up with Reni, Alex, and Celine to watch the World Cup (France vs. Belgium) at J’s at night. There was a really energetic vibe!
Wednesday, July 11 – We ate lunch at AICAD (there was pilau!) and then met with Dr. Onyango to talk about our progress and next steps. Afterwards, Emily and I went to the tuck shop then I worked out at the Senate. In the evening, Emily, Elena, Acacia, and I watched Mamma Mia.
Thursday, July 12 – Emily and I met with Eve in the morning and conducted a sensory test of the varied sweetness yoghurts. We went to AICAD for lunch and then visited Eve’s yoghurt kitchen that she just opened up in the Juja shops, just outside the JKUAT campus. She and her friend, Chebet, are running the yoghurt kitchen and worked really hard to get the shop up and running, including applying for business permits and working on KEBS certification.
Emily and I made pineapple yoghurt with Eve, but we used artificial flavouring. I contacted Anisah, who was very kind and sent me the protocol for making natural pineapple-flavoured yoghurt, so we plan on making it the following week.
Friday, July 13 – In the afternoon, I worked out at the Senate, took the mpya to Garden City, and had dinner at the Talisman. It’s rated the best restaurant in Nairobi by TripAdvisor and the New York Times. The ambience was really good and the food was tasty too! I shared the calamari with squid ink, goat cheese samosas, spicy prawns, Guinness chocolate cake, and had a Tusker cider – which came out to about 2400 ksh per person.
Saturday, July 14 – I met up with Emily, Acacia, and Elena at the Goat Social Club in Kiambu County, just outside Nairobi. I heard about the place from another QEScholar and we decided to go because it looked like a really cool space! The place is a lounge/coffee shop/art space and hosts free art classes on some Saturdays. It has only been open for a month and is currently only open on the weekends.
Afterwards, we taxified to Two Rivers Mall, the largest mall in Kenya (and East and Central Africa), which opened last year. We went around the stores and watched the World Cup (England vs. Belgium) at Urban Burger. When we got back to Juja, we met Beata, our new roommate from Poland!
Sunday, July 15 – Elena, Emily, Acacia, Beata, and I went to Thika Road Mall to check out the Miniso there and get Beata a SIM card. We also went to Java House and I tried to get some work done there. In the evening, my roommates and I streamed the World Cup final (France vs. Croatia) online.
Monday, July 16 – I had a headache all day, but Emily and I worked on infographics for the JKUAT and Kenyan yoghurt kitchens. In the afternoon, I swam at the Senate (the water was so cold!) and then bought some clothes from the Juja markets. You can find some really nice stuff there! I also bought a corn, but it was quite hard and not very flavourful.
Tuesday, July 17 – I did my laundry and worked in the morning. In the afternoon, Emily, Beata and I went to Garden City to work out our phone plans. I went to Artcaffé and got some work done there.
Wednesday, July 18 – Emily and I worked with Eve in her shop in the morning and then went to the ALISO office in the afternoon. Afterwards, I got a massage at the Senate and then took the mpya to Nairobi to meet up with my friend, Teffran, a fellow Canadian who had just finished his medical electives in a village in western Kenya. On the way to meeting Teffran, I saw some cool matatus around Nairobi!
We went to Habesha Ethiopian Restaurant and had injera with spicy beef, cabbage, sukuma wiki (collard greens), chicken and egg, and potatoes. It was a fun experience because we had to eat with our hands. It was also great catching up with Teffran and sharing our experiences in Kenya.