Thursday, April 29, 2010

Music in Kenya

My friends will say that I am a musical person. I remember being three and able to identify the Chili Peppers on the radio. Or seven and being entranced by "Thunder Road" and turning on the radio late at night, just so I could listen to the Eagles (I want Hotel California, Hell Freezes Over edition, at my wedding reception. Just sayin'). When I was old enough for music lessons, I was always playing something. From sixth grade to college, I sang in my school chorus, church choirs, and, for my last two years of high school, I took voice lessons. In addition, I'm always listening to something and, when a song comes on the radio, I try and match rhythm with the correct time signature (is it 4/4 or 6/8?). My computer, cheekbones, wrists, and hips have all served as drums and metronomes and I can identify my favorite songs within the first bar.

Yet I never really allowed myself to become good at it. Every instrument I played, I never played longer than two years. At church, people always tell me I have such a beautiful voice and, when going to weddings and first communions at other parishes, someone will try and recruit me for their choir (luckily, my own parish won me over in that regard). At the same time, I've always let my fear get the best of me and thus never made Regionals or anything like that. I've also been very inconsistent with practice, something necessary. It wasn't until I inherited my brother's small guitar and went to a music room to find that I forgot every vocal warm up I'd ever learned that I realized I needed to change. So I signed myself up for music lessons this semester, as elective credits.

OK, Katie, you're addicted to music. What the hell does any of this have to do with Kenya?

It's through exploring my love for music, both creating and appreciating, that I've realized how universal music is. Every culture has their own musical tradition, their songs, their dances, their instruments, their musical structure, their chants and their rhythms. People relate to it and bond over it. Like any other work of beauty, it's something that channels through the soul and helps people overcome boundaries (yet can also be used to create them). Music evokes emotions, tells stories, and allows the expression of ideas in ways that words cannot begin to suffice. Most teens will tell you it is their companion, even when it feels like no one else is.

Music can also be used in IR. A friend of mine, studying in Cairo, is a music major with an interest in the Middle East and peace and conflict. I can see her hosting a music camp for Israeli and Palestinian children, teaching them how to work together to create something beautiful. U2 uses their music to make others aware of social injustices. In The Sex Lives of Cannibals, the author talks about how his girlfriend taught women in Kiribati environmentally friendly agriculture techniques via their own song and dance. Encouraging musicians from different cultures and styles to share their creations could be a way to draw in tourism, educate others, bolster economies, and enable groups to preserve their traditions.

I want to learn of the music in Kenya. I want to learn not only who's popular, what instruments are used, what songs, but how it's used, what kinds for which times, how it's composed. I want to learn what the Kenyans have to teach me about music, how we're united by it, even as we're divided by it. Finally, I want to learn how to channel this medium, this hobby, this gift of mine, in a practical way to fulfilling my duty to this planet.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


In addition to applying for (and receiving) a scholarship, cooking paella and sending letters requesting donations, I've also made a Facebook event, mentioning my time frame (hoping to have money at least for vaccines and airfare by the first of July), my address and facts about my semester. I'll admit, I don't always pay attention to the groups on Facebook or the mass emails people typically send. At the same time, I figured that it was worth a shot. I know that I need to reach everyone possible. I really want to go. I need money. I need to do all I can (morally) in order to raise it.

I'll admit, I've had issues asking for money. I don't want to seem like I'm bumming off people, mooching their support. I don't want to be the kind who asks for money, especially considering that I have a job and I should be grateful for the money I do make, given this economy. I don't want to ask for one more sacrifice from people who may already be struggling, whether to cut extras or to keep a roof over their heads.

At the same time, I realize that it is an act of humility. In essence, I'm telling people, "I can't do this without you. I need your support. Whether it's financial or emotional, it doesn't matter! Just let me know you're on my side, one way or another!" Of course, this includes thanking them, not just by words, but by action, and using the money they do send responsibly, carefully earmarking it for Kenya. This includes making the most of this experience, knowing that this is an investment. Finally, it means accepting that we were meant to help each other, that, as much as we are obligated to help, we must enable others to help us and give them a chance to do something good (of course, this does not mean taking advantage of them).

We were put on this earth to aid each other, to make our own unique contributions and aid others in making theirs. Funny how a business-oriented act can become so philosophical.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Class......

Funny, I never mentioned the class that spurred me to go. Truly, I have wanted to go to Kenya since I was little and had been seriously considering it since last summer (first vocalizing it in a conversation with a dear family friend). Yet, a couple things were standing in my way. Money was one (and my resulting desire to graduate a semester early). The second was my belief that, because I had taken Spanish, I should go somewhere in Latin America or Europe. I kept these things in mind until I took International Environmental Politics.

I credit this as the class that changed my life. All of my beliefs and passions in food security, human rights, female/indigenous rights, corporate responsibility, good governance, fiscal and consumer responsibility, fertility awareness and consistent pro-life ethics seemed to be rooted in care and concern for the planet. In addition to indicting me on my unsustainable habits, this class also provided a semester long country case study. Before I knew it, I signed up for Kenya.

The two girls I studied with are amazing, compassionate, intelligent women committed to making a difference. As it turned out, one of them mentioned that she would be studying in Nairobi this fall. I finally realized that I needed to go. I said that I had a year left and I really wanted to make the most of it. She said to me, "Girl, if it's what you want, do it!" I had no idea how I would make this work but, from that point on, I was committed.

As we learned of Kenya's environmental issues, many symptomatic of an unscrupulous government and desperate poverty, leaving people with little options, I felt the need to get my hands dirty. What does lack of sanitation look like? What is it like to have to either purify my own water (carelessness being fatal) or having to buy bottled (knowing some issues with privatized water, in addition to possibly not having the option to recycle)? What does the wilderness in Kenya look like and how is it being impacted? How are the lifestyles of Americans affecting the lifestyles of Kenyans, for good or for ill? Finally, knowing that Kenya is a strategic security point and anti-terrorist ally, how does our foreign policy contribute to either problems or solutions to Kenya's development?

How can we all, rich and poor, black and white, Global North and Global South, come together to truly make this world a better place? How can we learn to put agendas aside and learn to help each other, to help this planet? This is what I'm hoping to learn this fall.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I'm not departing yet. AU makes us go to a meeting to learn basic logistics of the program. I promise, dear readers, I will not bore you too much with these details.

Bottom line: Yellow fever is my only legally required shot but, considering Kenya has horrible water, I should get a typhoid shot. AU has had to evacuate students who've contracted typhoid so I'm going to get the shot (in addition to bringing my boiling pot, a Brita filter, and my stainless steel water bottles). I am going to take malaria pills so that I can travel and not worry. I also may get a rabies shot, considering the dogs aren't friendly and people hawk kittens in the streets. I don't intend to touch any animals, but I just want to be careful, in case any decide to go renegade.

I do need medical evacuation insurance, as well as repatriation of remains insurance. This is only a precaution. Kenya is very safe, as long as you're smart about your health and personal security (really, that's anywhere, developed and developing). If there is any political strife, it doesn't affect Westerners too much (more to do with in-country ethnic issues and corruption). However, it was a grim reminder that, even with my youth, strength, and health (considering how much work I do, I have been blessed with strength and stamina), I am still mortal. Of course, as a Catholic, this has spiritual dimensions for me and reminded me that I will need to go to Confession before I get on the plane (I always go to Confession before a long trip, but that's just me).

I did find out that my program fee is $3000, not $5000 and I did receive $1000 in scholarship funds, in addition to my own savings and generous donations from friends and family. My mom says it means I truly am meant to go. Doors are opening.

I'm feeling so much all at once. I know this trip is going to change me. I can't believe I'm one step closer. I can't believe all I really need to do is register, send my resume to an internship organization, get my shots, my credit card, my ticket and go. It's the end of the semester. Summer is going to fly. Then, I shall spread my own wings.

So close.......

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I know I haven't been up to date, but finals are upon us. I have been preparing outlines for final papers, studying for tests, and taking care of other business. There has also been little to report. I have my pre-departure meeting this Monday, to go over basics for the trip.

I've been thinking about Development, about economics (my minor), about how it relates to Kenya and I've been getting philosophical. I've been thinking about how this relates to my faith, my belief in a loving and merciful God (while people can be unjust, unloving, and unmerciful) and where I fit into all of this. What all these economists and politicians are saying and who's actually right, who has authority to say these. What is right vs. what is popular or convenient.

It all makes me cry. I never thought school would have me cry. I never thought I'd throw books against the wall. I never thought I'd have emotional debates with friends and spiritual leaders over numbers and statistics. I never thought politics would have an emotional, spiritual side to them. I never thought I'd have to stand for and defend my major, my desired profession, and my dreams to people who honestly don't get it.

I entered ID because I wanted to help people. I still do. My faith commands it and I find this field is my outlet. I wanted to change the world and make a difference. I want to change myself, to become more appreciative, kinder, more aware of the world, less selfish, less prejudiced, and less rude. I want to grow in my faith and bring new perspectives into my life.

I want to learn why I fight for this so much.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Mounds of Paperwork

Studying abroad demands mounds of paperwork. After completing my deposit, the study abroad office fixed my online portal so that I can now access pre-departure materials. I read through a good amount of them last night and I'm amazed at the amount of tasks I have to accomplish within the next four months. I have to take care of health insurance, apply for a visa, buy a plane ticket, see a tropical disease specialist, and do a variety of other things. I also have to register for classes at the U.S. International University, where I will be studying. I have to take Kenyan Politics and Culture as well as Elementary Kiswahili. I will be able to take two more classes in International Relations and complete an internship for credit.

I was surprised by some of the rules of the program. I am not allowed to leave East Africa (consisting of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi or Tanzania) and I'm required to let my director know about travel plans outside of field excursions. In addition, I am forbidden to travel on foot after dark and I have to sign a document saying I will abide by this. What a contrast! My friends who studied in Europe did not seem to have as much restriction. At the same time, I do understand that safety is paramount and my university cannot be liable if something should happen to me. Further, most of us taking part have never been to Kenya (or any developing nation, for that matter) and you have to learn the way of the land from someone who knows it. This is true, especially when you're living there for four months.

I find myself grateful for small things. I am glad that my mother bought me some knee-length skirts. In some of my documents, there were reminders for girls to keep modesty in mind and that, for some occasions, knee-length skirts are strongly recommended, if not required. Shorts are only for school boys in some areas and Kenyans take pride in their dress. Further, there are different gender expectations, so skirts for women are a necessity. However, there are exceptions for clubbing, a pastime for American and Kenyan students alike. I've only gone clubbing once and didn't particularly enjoy it. Maybe I'll find it fun over there?

I also found some of the rules obvious. I had to promise that I wouldn't drive a car in Kenya. First, where would I even gain access to a vehicle? Second, from living in one major city and within the bounds of another, I know not to drive a car in any major city. People are crazy! Third, I can't drive, period. As independent as I am, I am ashamed to say that I do not have a U.S. driver's license. Project to be completed after I return to the States.

I'll admit, I was disappointed to hear that I couldn't travel outside of East Africa. Not that I would mind staying in Kenya and getting to know the country as well as I can, with maybe a side trip to some of those other countries, but there is one exception. A dear friend of mine is getting married next week and they are leaving for Egypt very soon after (hubby is an armed services officer). I was hoping I'd be able to visit her in Egypt, but it seems like it's not meant to be. Hopefully, she can visit me in Kenya.

I am excited. I just have to get through the bureaucratic/financial aspect and finish this semester well before I can get there.

My countdown begins:)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thoughts on Kenya

I put in my $500 deposit today. I'm amazed. That's $500 I can't get back. This makes this even more real. I will admit that I am still in shock. I still cannot begin to process the fact that, in less than five months, I will be boarding the plane to Nairobi, the city on the other side of the world. It absolutely blows my mind.

I'm processing through a lot of things. The only time I had left the U.S., I was eighteen and I had gone to Europe for two weeks, to sing and sight see. Two weeks in four different countries, three of which I stayed in for two days at a time and of course, I never was in the same city for more than a day. This is different. I'll be living in one city (with some travel) for four months.

I know I'll see poverty. I know I'll experience culture shock. I know that men and women have different expectations. I know there's political and ethnic tension. I know that the pictures I've seen (on the Internet, from friends) are beautiful and that it changed the lives of my friends who had gone. But how will this change me?

My professor asked what, if anything, was I nervous about. To be honest, I don't know what I should be nervous about. Crime? I live in a city with that. Disease? I'm pretty sure a round of shots and smart prevention will cover that. Culture shock? I don't know how it's going to affect me so how should I know if I'm nervous?

I will say it's coming back to the U.S. that makes me nervous. I don't expect to be the same. I expect to see my culture, my ideas, my education in a whole new light. I expect to be challenged, transformed, and shaped by this experience. I don't know what that means for me in terms of coming home, returning to academics, or new thought processes. I guess it's that unknown that keeps me on my toes.

I'm excited though. More excited than anyone can imagine.