Wapi? Kanye? Where? Well, I’m in Africa, for starters. It’s a very vague word frequently used to generalize all countries within the world’s second largest continent. Making such a generalization can be offensive to people who live in Africa because each country has such diverse cultures and reputations. When I first learned I was coming to Kenya, I immediately thought of wildlife and jungle – I mean, who hasn’t seen The Lion King? I thought of drumming and desert, walking down long dirt roads and sleeping under the stars. While some of these (well, all of them) can be true about Kenya, the Kenya I live in is far from my naive expectations. Here, I would like to explain a bit more about my location and the culture of my placement.
So, let me begin with the most obvious question: Where exactly am I?
While traveling throughout Kenya, it is acceptable to say I stay in Siaya. Everyone here has heard of Siaya, largely because Siaya is the home of Obama’s grandparents. Usually people respond with “Oh! Obama’s place!” or “Do you like to eat fish?” when I tell them I am from Siaya. It is estimated that 842,000 people live in Siaya County, with 493,000 of those residing in Siaya District. A district here would be comparable to a county in America, whereas a county in Kenya is more like a state in the US. The population density of Siaya County is roughly 330 people per Km2. The primary education rate in 2012 was at 70%, while secondary education was 10%. In Siaya County, the poverty rate hovers between 30-40% (it currently stands at 46% for Kenya, with the poverty line being defined as less than $1 USD per day).
Siaya is 74 Km from Lake Victoria, which explains why I am frequently asked if I like fish when I explain where I stay. Fishing is a very common economic activity here, as well as farming, which includes crops and livestock. In my village, it is more common to see cows, goats and sheep utilizing the roads than it is for vehicles. Tourism isn’t common here, most likely due to the fact that exotic animals no longer live in this area (see population statistics above).
Kenya is notorious for it’s tribal communities. Tribalism is a very sensitive subject to most Kenyans (2007 presidential elections comes to mind), and therefore I am not going to go into much detail here, but feel free to investigate more if you’re interested. Kenya boasts over 40 tribes (some claim there are 52). Regions of Kenya are dominated by specific tribes. For example, in Central Province, the Kikuyu tribe constitutes the majority of the population. Nyanza province is dominated by the Luo tribe. Each tribe has certain qualities which are associate with it’s people. For instance, the Maasai tribe is known for their ability to jump, while the Luo’s are known for their dancing (which I must admit is pretty phenomenal). Tribes also have their own language, referred to as “mothertongue” by Kenyans. While Kenya has 3 national languages, KiSwahili, English and Kenyan Sign Language, each tribe – and therefore geographical region – also has their own mothertongue, which is frequently spoken more often than even KiSwahili. In my area, KiSwahili is rarely used because most locals speak Dhluo, the mothertongue of the Luo tribe. Similarly, those in Western Province, an area dominated by the Luhya tribe, will speak mostly Luhya. Here is a map showing various tribes and their respective regions: