Kenya Student Blogs: Summer 2017

The Zusha! Intern Diaries

Jessica Li (MIDP 2018)

Jessica Li

Our day starts by hailing down a tuk tuk in Machakos, Kenya as we near the end of a whirlwind nine-city tour of the country visiting Zusha! partners in the field. This morning, we sputter along on the rocky pavement to our first stop, the motor vehicle inspection center. Set against a mountain dotted with homes, this particular center ranks as the most picturesque and the largest as well, with a dusty field half the size of a soccer pitch between the front gate and the inspection berth.

We are told that the officer in charge of inspections, Mr. Kanali, has been delayed, and we must wait for his arrival before proceeding, as it is customary for work only to begin after greeting the head honcho. In the interim time, we pull aside the Zusha! enumerator and begin to speak with him about his work. Just as we wrap up our conversation, Mr. Kanali arrives and we initiate the niceties required previous to being able to wander around the center at our leisure.

I have been tasked with writing profile pieces on a few of the lead inspectors at the various centers, and so I pull aside Mr. Kanali to conduct the interview. This experience has been really eye opening to learn more about how a Zusha! partner views the program, and also has been good to understand the varying perspectives on how road safety can be improved in the country. For example, Mr. Kanali credits Zusha! for enlightening passengers about their role in improving road safety but says more needs to be done. It has been insightful to hear these comments and others from those in Mr. Kanali’s position throughout the fieldwork.

After we finish the interview, we snap a few photos together at the center and are told to stay for tea. Despite our time constraints, objecting to such a request would be seen as disrespectful, and therefore we sit around as they prepare for us traditional African tea served with milk and sugar. It arrives piping hot, and as timing would have it, coincides with the arrival of the tuk tuk to carry us back to town for another meeting. I try to down as much as possible without burning my tongue, succeeding only mildly, and out the door we go to our next stop.

Cosima Schelfhout (Senior, Class of 2018)

Cosima Schelfhout

I arrived in Nairobi 6 weeks ago; I came with a backpack, an empty camera roll, and a laundry list of expectations. I’d had a romantic vision of Kenya since watching Meryl Streep cross paths with a lioness in Out of Africa as a kid, and while I knew my idyllic image of the country was unrealistic, I was hoping I could find a fragment of it during my stay.

As it turns out, my vision has not only been confirmed, but enhanced. The country has proved as beautiful, and the people as kind, as I’d imagined. Though more importantly, my vision’s become more nuanced; Kenya’s beauty has proven complicated and at times contradictory.

My first glimpse into Nairobi’s complex charm occurred in the first hours of my stay. The drive from the airport lasted almost 2 hours, but covered less than 9 miles. My taxi driver, Allan, spewed vital information; he covered Nairobi’s investment potential, the coast’s reputation for witchcraft, and what to do in case of a car jacking. The ride gave me week’s worth of talking points, and also a good opportunity to observe.

There’s one road from the airport to the city center. On one side hundreds of tiny tin roofs make up the city’s second largest slum, Tour durch Kagemi. On the other, gazelles stroll grassy plains and Acaia trees disrupt blue skies. Further into the city, the dichotomy continues; imposing skyscrapers grow out of unpaved roads and gated, sprawling malls cast shadows over makeshift markets. Noting these contrasts has become a theme of my stay. I can’t help but place my daily activities into the starkly different, but somehow cohesive versions of the city. I live in “expat Nairobi,” work in “international business Nairobi”, and have only occasionally ventured into what a coworker calls “local, grimy Nairobi”.

Since this first ride, my list of contrasts has grown, and  I feel confident that by the time I return, I’ll have transcended my movie-born ideal, and will hold an idea of the country that more closely resembles its knotty allure.

Lam Nguyen (Senior, Class of 2018)

Lam Nguyen

You oft don’t realize how meaningful an experience is until it is long over – but sometimes, flight cancellations and hours of reflection in an uncomfortable airport remind you of your gratefulness to have a month left in Kenya.  We treated ourselves to a beach weekend in Zanzibar after a productive and enlightening month – all was wonderful and the trip spoiled us beyond imagination, until it was time to return to Nairobi. Cramped legs and fatigue were met with the frustrating news of a flight cancellation, and the plain warehouse that served as an airport left little to do but realize how appreciative we were of the love that Kenya has extended to us. The hospitality of Kenyans, the liveliness of Nairobi, the warmth ingrained into our office’s culture – I was bugging to be soaked in all of it again. It’s laughable that this minor inconvenience in our travels tops the list of what I found unenjoyable about my month interning here. Every other aspect of this month has been nothing less than incredible (especially my newly discovered addiction to chapatti).

For all that Kenya has given me, I am glad I can contribute to something positive that improves a crucial part of Kenyan culture. Hopefully around this time next month, I will be sitting in the Nairobi airport, preparing to head back to the States, reporting an even more profound appreciation for a country that treated a mere intern so well, laughing at how the worst thing to happen to me all summer is a flight cancellation, and loudly and proudly humming the Zusha jingle.