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You Can Share a Meal With a Kenyan Family and Make a Difference

What’s the best way you can think of to get to know someone?  In my opinion, sharing a meal opens people up and enables a friendly comfortable conversation.  When we travel, it can be difficult to scrape the surface of a place and I often find myself wondering how I can dig deeper and get to know the culture better.  So we decided to give travelers to Kenya that very opportunity by offering the option to enjoy lunch or dinner with a Kenyan family.

We met Patrick, Joy* and their two children several years ago.  Having worked on the edges of tourism for about ten years, Patrick was looking for a way to continue in the industry but also be there for his young family.  Despite their modest living conditions, he was very proud of his wife’s cooking and so came up with the idea to invite travellers to see the “real Kenya” and share a meal with him and his family.  This would allow the family to earn a small income while fulfilling the goals of spending time with his family and working with tourists.  On the first visit, there was another benefit that became apparent – his children had the opportunity to play with the visitors’ children, giving all children the opportunity to learn from each other.

A Typical Family

A lower-class Kenyan family typically lives in a one- or two-room apartment or unit.  Curtains act as walls to divide a room into sitting room and bedroom.  The sitting room is at the front and visitors are rarely invited past that.  The wife spends much of her time in the kitchen and brings out pots of steaming food to her husband and guests.  The kitchen might have a gas bottle with a burner for quickly boiling water and one or two “jikos” which are small stoves that fit one pot and use charcoal.  Bathrooms are usually shared between all the residents of the building.  The toilet will be a cubicle with a hole in the concrete which descends to a large pit.  The ‘shower’ is a cubicle with a small hole in the corner acting as a drain and residents take their own bucket of water to wash themselves (no shower rose or even a tap).  There is usually no plumbing in these buildings so residents buy their water in jerry cans.  Given the lack of space inside, children tend to spend most of their time playing outside.  Many families have chickens running around the yard, which are mainly used for meat on a special occasion.

Each tribe of Kenya has its own traditional food.  Joy prepares a selection of dishes from different tribes to give visitors a good taste of Kenya including:

  • Githeri – a stew of beans and maize
  • Plantain – green bananas boiled and then fried with tomato and onion
  • Rice
  • Mukimo – mashed potato mixed with pumpkin leaves and maize
  • Tilapia – fish found in freshwater lakes around Kenya
  • Chapatti – flat bread originating from India (Kenya has a large Indian population who have influenced the cuisine)
  • Chicken stew
  • Zikuma wiki – kale
  • Ugali – maize meal mixed with water to make a polenta-style dish
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet potato
  • Fruits for dessert

In Kenyan tradition, when we visit friends or family, the etiquette is to bring gifts.  These are probably not what westerners would normally consider gifts; rather we take maize meal, tea, sugar, rice, and other basic food items.  If there are children in the house, you might also take pens, pencils and exercise books and perhaps some sweets.

Kenyans traditionally eat with their hands and so hygiene is very important.  The wife will prepare some warm water and bring it in a jug with a bowl, soap and towel to each guest.  She pours the water over your hands so you can wash, and then offers the towel or a serviette.  As I mentioned earlier, there is no running water in most houses, so it often comes as a bit of a surprise to visitors to be presented with this method of washing hands.  There are a lot of stews on the menu so you might think eating with your hands is going to be very messy, but there are two key dishes that can act as spoons: ugali and chapatti.  The chapatti is clear as it is flat bread which can be curled into a scoop.  The ugali is of such a consistency that it can be formed into a scoop as well.

Kenyan food can take a bit of getting used to.  The meat tends to be a bit tough and the maize tends to be a bit tasteless.  Ugali is not my personal favourite, but it is not designed to be eaten on its own – it is meant to be eaten with a sauce or stew and that is where you get your flavour.  Kenyans don’t use a lot of spices in their cooking – flavour is added by salt and maybe chicken or beef stock cubes.  But the vegetables are fresh, they haven’t been months in cold storage as we often get in the west, so you get the full flavours of the actual food you are eating.

Guests often have mixed reactions throughout their visit.  On first entering the compound and then the house there is definitely some trepidation as it is quite a different way of life than what we are used to.  There’s also uncertainty about how to react if the food proves inedible.  And then there’s relief as fish, rice, chicken, mashed potato and cabbage is presented.  It might be cooked a bit differently, but it is recognizable and definitely edible!  As conversation flows guests relax into their surrounds.  The children play outside together and by the end of the meal there’s pleas from the kids that they want to keep playing.  Friendships are formed, connections made, and bonding over a shared meal leaves everyone with the warmth that comes from being with other humans.  Despite the nerves at the outset, all our guests have come away from this experience with positivity and believe that it was a key part of their whole Kenyan safari.

If you would like to share a meal with a Kenyan family as part of your safari adventure, please email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

*not their real names

Make a Tremendous Impact and Transform a Life Through Education

Make a Tremendous Impact and Transform a Life Through Education

While I might have a few issues with the aid and development industry in countries like Kenya (who arguably does not need foreign aid, just good governance and accountability), the incredible impact of sponsoring a student’s education is something I whole-heartedly support and emphatically encourage people to do.  The cliché that there is no greater gift than education resonates as fact in developing countries and there is no shorter, sustainable way out of poverty than going to school.  If you want to assist those less fortunate, then sponsoring a student is the most effective way to ensure you make a real difference.

At Kiota Children’s Home, 20 children receive support from Dutch and Australian sponsors.  In September, we were fortunate to introduce Sheila to Ndunda, who she sponsors.  Ndunda’s story is sad, but not unusual – his parents abandoned the children and he was found with his younger brother picking through the garbage dump when he was only 5 years old.  Since arriving at Kiota, he has learnt social skills (although he is still very shy), has been able to attend school and has access to counselling.  He has a chance at a decent future now.  Moreover, when Sheila visited with her friend Christine, they “Packed For A Purpose” (www.packforapurpose.org) and were able to bring specific items needed at Kiota – pens, exercise books, coloured pencils, etc.  There is more than one way to give!

In September, we were fortunate to introduce Sheila to Ndunda, who she sponsors

In September, we were fortunate to introduce Sheila to Ndunda, who she sponsors

Jared wanted to return to university to finish a Bachelor of Public Health after his first sponsor was no longer able to support him.  Thanks to Bev, he is completing his degree this year.  Bev travelled to Uganda last year to meet Jared and spent time with his relatives, seeing his life.  From the first time I met Jared in 2012 to the time of introducing him and Bev in 2014, I saw a remarkable change in him.  He seemed to have grown, which for a man in his mid-20s was unlikely.  But he stood up straighter and had more confidence.  Regardless of any academic results, just this change in demeanour will surely take him further than the shy boy of two years previous.

Bev and Jared's relationship was cemented during Bev's travels in Uganda and Jared can continue his studies as well as take on extra-curricular activities

Bev and Jared’s relationship was cemented during Bev’s travels in Uganda and Jared can continue his studies as well as take on extra-curricular activities

Pauline travelled in Kenya in 2014 and, upon learning the plight of girls in education, wanted to sponsor a young woman.  Sylvia is a Maasai girl who achieved excellent marks in her primary school exams, but her prospects of getting to secondary school were slim to none.  The primary school she had attended had largely waived her fees in the knowledge that her parents were extremely poor but that Sylvia was very bright.  A secondary school would not make the same allowance.  Enter Pauline, and Sylvia is attending boarding school in Narok, the closest town to her family yet still 100km away.  She now has the opportunity to avoid an early marriage and a life of walking miles to fetch water and firewood.

Education is life-changing and we are committed to affording as many students the opportunity to go to school as we can.  In Melbourne, Australia we hosted a fund raising event in May 2015.  Guests were invited to sponsor individual students or make a one-off donation.  The money we collected from the donations has been given to the Titus Ngoyoni Memorial Primary School to replace the desks and chairs, which are in severe disrepair.  We intend to make the Melbourne event an annual one so we can continue to raise funds for needy schools and homes.

The money we collected from the donations has been given to the Titus Ngoyoni Memorial Primary School to replace the desks and chairs, which are in severe disrepair

The money we collected from the donations has been given to the Titus Ngoyoni Memorial Primary School to replace the desks and chairs, which are in severe disrepair

Of course there are still plenty of students who would benefit from sponsorship.  Susanna is a Maasai girl from the same area as Sylvia who is starting secondary school this year.  Winnie is a young woman in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, who has two more years of secondary school to complete.  There are children at Kiota Childen’s Home who require support for primary education.  Mara Explorers Camp in the Maasai Mara works closely with their local community to identify students in need.  And Sunrise of Africa School in Kitengela has 30% of their students attending on scholarship due to the generosity of donors.  There is even a single mother working in our local bar trying to raise money to finish her nursing degree.  In Kenya there are 91 registered nurses and 64 enrolled nurses per 100,000 people.  Compare that with Australia where there are 1195.8 nurses per 100,000 people – and Australia claims to have a health care crisis!  Sponsoring a nursing degree would not just impact the student, but all the extra people who can access her care.

Susanna is a Maasai girl from the same area as Sylvia who is starting secondary school this year

Susanna is a Maasai girl from the same area as Sylvia who is starting secondary school this year

The value of education in Kenya

Education is most needed in rural communities where schooling costs are twelve to twenty times as much as the monthly income of parents, despite the abolition of secondary school fees.  The costs are for uniforms, shoes, text books, stationery and boarding fees.  This means secondary school is out of reach for the poorest households and early marriage for their daughters is seen as a much more immediate way out of financial strife through the dowry payment.  In Kenya, one in ten young people never complete primary school and so struggle to find well-paid work.  Thus there is 60% youth (18-35 years) unemployment.  When you consider that an average wage earner supports about a dozen family members, the impact of an education that can secure a job is huge for a whole community.  Yet, one million children are still out of school in this country.  While this number is only half of what it was in 1999, it is still the ninth highest of any country in the world.

While committing to an ongoing sponsorship of a child can seem a little daunting, the relationships we have seen forming between sponsor and student are far more rewarding than anyone imagined.  Of course, it is important to be updated on the academic progress of the student, but a personal connection is also possible and can be amazing – as evidenced by Bev and Jared mentioned earlier.  If you are interested in connecting directly with a student who needs sponsorship, do contact us.  We are committed to ensuring students get the education and resources they need to succeed and also to enabling you to have the accountability and connection you are looking for.  Email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com for more information about how you can directly transform a young Kenyan’s life today.

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