My Life in East Africa
- Africa, Kenya
Cindy Chenault lived in part of a tiny house in a rural village in Kenya as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Hear how she taught her students computer literacy, while fresh milk was delivered by a three-year-old girl with a pitcher.
Hi, my name is Cindy Chenault. That’s me in the white shirt. I’d like to tell you about my Peace Corps service, from 2003 to 2005, in Kenya, East Africa. Here, my computer students are proudly receiving certificates for completing a course.
When people think of Africa, they often think of images they’ve seen on TV like the vast savannah grasslands of the Serengeti Plains. This is a gorge at Hell’s Gate safari park. One of the recognizable African trees, called the acacia, appears against the sky. It seems to grow as much horizontally as vertically, giving it a flat appearance.
Or maybe you think of wild animals, such as these rhinoceroses—and of men hunting with spears or bow and arrow.
Many people forget that Africa is a huge continent that is made up of many countries, each with its own cultures, traditions, and ways of life. These are a few young friends of mine from my village of Mikei.
Tea fields cover a lot of territory in Kericho, in central Kenya. Tea and coffee are two of Kenya’s biggest exports.
Despite the stereotypes of Kenya as a lion- and zebra-dominated landscape, there are many large cities that offer the same services as cities in the United States. This is Kisumu City, on Lake Victoria. It has a population of about 320,000 people. Kisumu has several large grocery stores, numerous Internet cafes, ATMs, and a one-screen movie theater that shows recently released films from the United States and India.
But as modern as the big cities may be, there are also many rural villages. These schoolchildren are posing in front of a typical elementary school in Nyanza province, in Kenya. You may notice the walls made of sticks and a mud and grass mixture, and the tin roof.
Most students wear school uniforms, if they can afford them. Since primary education became free during my time in Kenya, many more children attend school, even though they are not required by law to do so, as they are in the United States.
The major industry near Lake Victoria is fishing. Here is one of the markets where fishermen bring their daily catch for weighing. They are paid by the kilogram by a company that then loads the fish in ice and trucks them off for sale in the capital, Nairobi.
Fishermen work all day in these tiny boats to earn their wages. The fishermen usually work alone or with one other person to row out and then haul their catch in by hand.
In rural Kenya, most activity takes place outside. This woman and child are in front of a so-called “permanent" house, built of cinder blocks and concrete. In the background, notice the basins and pots outside. Most women wash clothes and cook outdoors. The house is used for sleeping and entertaining guests with chai, which is tea with milk and sugar.
Speaking of milk, this is how milk is delivered in rural Kenya. There are usually one or two families in a village who own a dairy cow, which they milk every morning. Fresh milk is then delivered to a family who pay around 25 cents for a quart. This little three-year-old girl spoke no English and was very shy—but she loved to smile.
One of the habits of Kenyans is to wash their hands before eating. Here my little friend Rodgers is squatting in front of a basin as his dad helps him with the soap and a woman pours water over his hands. This is done before and after meals because in rural Kenya, people rarely use silverware but relying more often on using their hands.
Water is a necessity for life. Even though many people live close to Lake Victoria, which is the largest lake in Africa, there is still a shortage of potable, or drinkable, water. Children must haul buckets of well water with them to school every day for general use. This is usually done by the girls.
Earlier, I mentioned the woman whose house was permanent. These are several non-permanent houses that belonged to my neighbors. Each door represents a household for a family of four or more people.
This was my two room house. It’s a “permanent" house made of cinder blocks covered in plaster, with glass windows and a screen door, which is pretty luxurious for my neighborhood. When rain would hit the tin roof, the roof amplified the sound and made it almost impossible to hear another person speak without yelling!
The tiny mud-and-stick shed on the left is my neighbor’s pit latrine, which is called choo in Swahili. Like mine, it has a concrete slab for a floor, with a small hole cut in the middle that you squat over to use the restroom. The building to the far right is my bathing room, where I would bring a bucket of water that I heated on a gas stove for a splash bath. Splash baths are surprisingly refreshing, once you get the hang of it.
This is the local clinic for my village of about a thousand farming families. Most minor illnesses are nursed at home. People come here to get emergency care that can’t wait the hour-long bus ride to the nearest hospital. People can also receive general checkups for pregnancy or buy medicine.
To maintain their health, most people rely on the community healthcare workers. The CHWs, as they are called, act as nurses who are trained in basic first aid, but are not licensed nurses. This job is usually performed by women who travel to sick people’s homes to help care for them.
One of the projects I worked on in Kenya was teaching computer skills. I helped open a center with computers donated by a local government organization. We also wrote a grant to install solar paneling for power to run the computers.
The local chief is presenting a certificate for the computer class to one of my students, Mama Cynthia, at a community ceremony. In Kenya, women are called by the name of their first-born child, out of respect. The Kenyan community acknowledges the difficulties of childbirth; so mamas are more respected than women without children.
Another class I taught was how to dry fruits using a solar food dryer. Sometimes the dry season is so dry that a drought develops and there are food shortages as a result. So together we decided to try drying the excess fruit from the rainy season that might have gone uneaten, so it could be saved for the times of fresh-fruit shortages.
Thanks so much for listening. I hope you have enjoyed hearing a little bit about Kenya—just one of the many countries in Africa. My Kenyan villagers and I would like to wish you Safari salama, which is Swahili for “Peaceful journey"—and Kwaheri! Goodbye!