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Blogs from Abroad

Blogs from Santa Clara University students studying abroad.

The following postings have been filtered by tag Katharine Kurtz (Kenya. clear filter
  •  Conducting Interviews

    Monday, Nov. 22, 2010 5:52 AM

    Well it’s official.  I am now into the last 3 weeks of living in Africa. We are done with classes and have started our final research projects. My project is on the assessment of rangeland conditions, trends, and implications in regard to Mbirikani group ranch, which is one of the six group ranches located in the Amboseli region in southeastern Kenya. Yesterday, we conducted home interviews with the local people of the group ranch. I felt very official walking around with a walkie, a clipboard, and a translator named Wipa. In America, if you go up to someone’s door to interview them about something, chances are they will pretend no one is home or they will simply peer through the window and avoid answering the knock. In Kenya, door bells, driveways, and front doors don’t exist; in fact, neither does hostility.

    We walked right up to Maasai women sitting around their Boma, we were welcomed into a Maasai man’s mud hut, and we even talked to a Mama on a walk with her children. They were all interested in answering my questions in regard to the group range conditions; although it was not their responses that taught me the most. Yesterday I realized how little I have actually experienced in Africa. I have never felt so comfortable and so uncomfortable at the same time. I will fill you in on one interview scenario. Picture a beautiful green rangeland that is very open and has sporadic Bomas throughout its area. A Boma is essentially a group of mud huts set up in a circular formation around a centered homemade fence where the livestock are kept. The majority of the men were absent due to livestock grazing and agricultural work. Thus, the Maasai women were the only ones home, along with close to 25 of their children combined. The average number of children per woman is 4.6 and the human population is increasing at 2.56%, meaning the growing population is critically damaging the rangeland in the group ranch because there is such an increase in resource needs and land for Bomas.There is a huge youth bulge; the younger generation of 0-15 year olds is almost equivalent to the amount of 16-65 year olds. This fact has no influence on childbirth. Women are treated solely as baby makers and mamas; while the men are praised for their amount of wives and children. Yesterday during my interviews, I saw very young and pregnant girls. They were all together, caring their second child or their mother’s child on their back as well as their unborn babies; all of them were around 16 years old or younger.

    My interview at the Mama’s Boma started with introductions and then we all sat in a large circle, while four of the six mama breastfed their newborns. All the Mamas varied in ages; 29-60 years. We talked about my interview questions and they responded well for the most part. They mentioned that it would be best to wait until the men came back home because they do not know a lot about the area they live in and they lack the power to say what they think. My mind went around in circles as I scanned these women and their happy faces sitting next to me. Yes, there is happiness in their life and yes they work incredibly hard to support their large families, but from my point of view there is so much missing in their lives. Women are not empowered; in fact, they are barely acknowledged by their husbands or by the government.

    But, who am I to say what’s missing and who am I to think I can change anything about a culture that has been around since the 15th century?   I think the only thing I can do is learn, breathe, and find appreciation in all of my experiences. We have two more days of interviews to conduct before we are done with field data collection. I am sure I will experience even more than what I am expecting. There really was no way to prepare myself for yesterday except to simply have a very open and gracious mind in hopes that I will be able to absorb everything I see and feel.

    Be free wherever you are and find gratitude in the life you have.


  •  Switching Countries

    Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010 5:41 AM


    One of the best parts about the SFS program is that it is a dual country program! I am now in Kenya for the remaining month and a half. I am currently in Kimana, Kenya and I can see Mount Kilimanjaro right in front of me all day, everyday, unless it’s cloudy of course. The transition from country to country was pretty easy, crossing the border was not too much of a project; however, the countries are very different when it comes to atmosphere and people. Kenya has a lot more Maasai people than Tanzania and our camp is surrounded by Bomas (where the Maasai live). Our second day at camp we traveled to a Bomas and visited with our neighbors. Can you imagine living in a mud hut, wearing cloth, carrying a spear, and managing livestock for the rest of your life? Speaking as an American, I don’t think you can. It is truly unbelievable to experience and see the way these people live day to day. I am not sympathetic because they are very happy and very welcoming people; it is all they know and all they have. They use their resources to the best of their abilities and live the life of a Massai as best they can. Some young Maasai, however, have in fact left their Bomas and ventured out into the developing world around them to not necessarily find a better life, but to experience something new and live according to what they find.
    I do not want to get mushy and say I learned to be grateful for all that I have in my life as an American and as a student going to Santa Clara, because throughout my experiences I have already discovered this gratitude within myself. I am very privileged and I am very blessed to have the life that I do; although, the importance of this realization is to do the best that I can with what I have and to not take gratitude in material things. To never take advantage of all that has been given to me throughout my life, but to tactfully use it to help the world around me and to not be selfish, but selfless in how I use these things. Happiness does not stem from materials; how can it? Birthday presents, Christmas presents, houses, cars, designer clothes, etc., etc. Yes, these things bring a smile to a face, but do they make a person happy? I’ve been asking myself how would I feel if I didn’t get any presents for Christmas or any cards on my Birthday, and of course, my conclusion is I would be a little sad for the day, but would it change the happiness is my life? No. I have learned to find happiness in myself and in everything I experience. I ask you to think about what makes you happy and why and if those things happen to be a type of material, ask yourself how you would feel if you did not ever have them in your life? It has been enlightening to witness such happiness and love here in Kenya. A place where fancy cars, restaurants, clothes, wood houses, and so on do not exist; yet, there is so much happiness within the atmosphere it is almost impossible not to soak it in.
    I hope all is well wherever you may be,


  •  Preparing for a Giant Change

    Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010 12:00 AM

    It has now been almost 7 weeks since I left the US for Tanzania and I continually have realizations of, “I am in Africa.”  This thought simply makes me stop in place, reflect on what I have been doing here,what have I learned, and what do I want to take back with me.  I have been trying to answer each of these questions and still come up
    lacking something, which I am certain I will find when our final weeks come around.  But for now, let me tell you this:  there is no honest way you can prepare yourself for what you see here, no way you can walk into a situation and quickly understand why things are the way they are.  Tanzania is a 3rd world country, and though you may study about it or watch movies on it, there is still no way of truly understanding it until you come here and experience it.  I am still struggling to understand it; and by that, I mean understanding the culture, the hundreds of tribes and their rivalries between one
    another, the deep community aspect of things, why the people live the way they do and why it has been this way for decades.

    I visited one of the staff members homes yesterday to find what I had expected, but it still shocked me.  We walked up to a mud hut surrounded by almost nothing.  There were a few trees and some corn stalks for the cows to munch on, but otherwise, it was essentially a bare area with a two-bedroom mud hut; a bed for mama, Martha (a staff member), and her son (Ronaldo) and a bed for the cows and chickens.
    The house smelt of a thick, heavy smoke and the cow dung added a little bitterness.  We were of course lovingly greeted and welcomed by Martha’s mother, who sported a Nike tee shirt that had obviously been worn several times in a row, something you would most likely bring up to a friend who wore the same dress twice.  This brings up a point I want to make, why do we (as Americans) prize material things so much?
    Why does having something or not having something make such an impact on social status or how you feel about yourself?  It boggles my mind to think about how much  importance we place on certain material things.

    When you are here in Tanzania someday, there is no room for judgment, no room to care about possessions.  It essentially doesn’t exist in the culture because every one here represents one identity.  The identity of a peaceful, welcoming Tanzanian.  The do not acknowledge individualism or time for that matter.  “There is always time,” is
    something I will hopefully come home with.  Tanzanians get work accomplished throughout the day, but they never focus on a deadline or anything.  At Santa Clara and in American life, we live by the clock and deadlines and due dates as well as by individual accomplishment and self-competition; here, none of that exists.  No one wears a watch because they are too expensive and no one tries to out work another.
    Of course, there is a difference in opportunity.  I am not saying to stop competing with yourself and with others in America, or stop meeting due dates, because that is not how America works.  We are a world of many opportunities and by working hard and gaining knowledge, we are able to accomplish whatever we desire.  I am simply asking you to recognize the difference and appreciate the message for what it is
    worth.  Don’t stop living like an American, and don’t start living like a Tanzanian; just identify the most important things in your life.  Close your eyes and picture them, take a deep breath, and ask yourself why these things are important to you.  Live by, with, and for these things you pictured and accept them solely for what they
    are.  Like I said, there is no way you can prepare your mind or your eyes for what you experience in Tanzania, but you can prepare your reactions.

    I wish you well,


  •  Week Four

    Monday, Oct. 4, 2010 5:51 AM

    For the past two weeks I have been fighting with a bug called a “jigger.” It’s a disgusting, infinitesimally small black pest that somehow finds a way to burrow into and under your skin. Once there and settled, it lays eggs, which creates a giant egg sack. Jiggers only go for the feet and toes; especially under your nails. I have now cut my nails down to oblivion in order to avoid anymore tucking in behind my toenail. My total plucked out of my feet with a needle and tweezers is eleven. There is still one, as I am typing, burrowed in the left corner of my right big toenail. I attempted last night and the night before to extract it, but came up short of my goal because I didn’t feel like poking myself with a needle anymore. Therefore, I am most certainly not sick of Tanzania, but I am completely and utterly sick of jiggers! I have tried to avoid them by wearing closed-toed shoes, socks, as well as scrubbing my feet and toes with a toothbrush and bar of soap every other night or so, but nothing seems to keep them away! They are like a lion on a fresh kill, a snail on a wall, a suction cup on a window, they are simply inevitable.

    As for adventures over the past week, for our economic policy class, we were split into groups of five or so, and then ventured out in to the village to conduct focused interviews. We learned about PRAs, which are participatory rural appraisals that are basically an outline to the “how tos” when it comes to interviewing people living in a rural areas. We attempted to use the methods of observations within our interviews, but it was difficult to seem “undercover” for the most part and just observe. Our questions regarded local resources and their issues. Our main goal was to identify the top five issues in Rhotia and create a venn diagram from that. This project was much harder than I thought it would be. I know we are a scene when we walk out into the town. People shout “mzungu” (white person)and point at us; sometimes it seems positive, sometimes not. Everyone notices us of course and wants to know why we are here and what we are doing. We always respond with, “Sisi wanafunzi” (we are students), but that doesn’t seem to change any looks or comments or responses. The gist is, is we are white people, we are very noticeable, and most think we are here to give them something.

    In regard to our interviews in Rhotia, they were definitely a challenge due to the hesitancy of the people. It was hard to find people who wanted to talk with us and who would be open and honest. We talked to a nice array of people; a father of six, a mother of eight, two teenage girls, a group of old men, and then a very successful farmer. Those conversations were not too awkward because everyone we talked to liked sharing their opinion on the questions we asked them. However, like I said before, we are only students and we are here to study and because of this, asking them questions about their lives and their resources and telling them how their answers are going to be reported makes me feel guilty for asking them any questions, because we have no way of making a huge difference within their community, at least, not now. With respect to our interviewees responses, the most popular issue stated was education and its lack there of. Most children are sent to primary school, which is basically the elementary level. If the pass out, they can go to secondary school, which is more expensive, or they simply stop going to school and start working within their families because they cannot afford it. Young boys will most likely work with the livestock (if the family has any) and the young girls will help their mamas clean their home, do laundry, and cook. Education here is simply too expensive and does not provide enough quality teaching to help children pass out of primary school. Students only get one chance to pass and if they do not succeed, all opportunity is lost. In other places such as Karatu, there are private secondary schools, and some children have the chance to go if their parents are wealthy enough, but that is quite a rarity. Other things mentioned were drinkable water, capital issues, famine, drought resistant seeds, firewood, employment, etc.

    There are many complex issues in Rhotia including a poor and absent government as well as minimal aid organizations. The people simply live with what they have and make the best of it. In retrospect, all the people truly need is a little opportunity, and from that comes the betterment of resource availability. Where can this opportunity come from? I will leave you with that thought….

    Salama (peace),


  •  First blog from Tanzania

    Friday, Sep. 24, 2010 8:09 AM

    Hello from Rhotia (village), Karatu (District), Arusha (Region), Tanzania (Country)!

    I am heading into week four of my experience abroad. The last three weeks have been full of adventures and memories. Our campsite is located in the middle of a village (Rhotia); we are fenced in and well protected from wild animals and other intruders. Within our first week, we were able to venture out into Rhotia, meet the people, and attempt to speak the Swahili we had learned. Everyone was so incredibly welcoming. “Karibu (welcome),” they would say as we passed by them with huge smiles across their face. Here, in Tanzania, it is a rarity not to be greeted by everyone you see. Even the children are very upbeat and very excited to see us. They grab our hands, tell us hello, and walk with us around our camp.

    There is a secondary school located nearby; a week ago we were able to attend their graduation ceremony and it was such a great celebration. Of course, the ceremony was typical in some ways; boring speeches and proud parents, but the students sang and danced as did some of the older community during it all. The people were very happy to have us there supporting the students and congratulating them for their hard work; however, every time we leave camp we are very, very noticed. You can just feel all the eyes staring you down. Although, I feel that the recognition of us in their village is a positive attribute to their culture; not because we are the “tourists” with money to spend on their beautiful paintings, jewelry, or cloth, but because they know we are here to study their culture and be apart of and contribute to the peacefulness and happiness in Tanzania.

    Tomorrow we are heading to the primary school to play some soccer (net ball) and read with the children. The teachers are very excited for us to come and of course, we are very excited too. Living in Tanzania has already been a beautiful experience. Tanzania makes you believe in the beauty of simplicity and soak up all of the life that is around you; not just the incredible vegetation, sunsets, and wildlife, but especially the people. Tanzanians are people who go to bed with a smile on their face and wake up with that same smile on their face; being in their presence is simply a blessing.


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