Hello from Ariel!
Though the 30 plus hours of traveling was filled with a roller coaster of excitement rooted in suspense as well as a number of encounters and conversations with interesting and inspiring people, nothing could match the excitement I felt when I walked out of the luggage pickup area and saw Carly, Cha Cha, and Jonah standing outside the doors waiting! Cha Cha and Jonah are both part of the U-tena team, and some of the most charismatic individuals I’ve ever met. Their light-hearted but caring nature immediately came across as they helped us with our bags and told us jokes, all the while welcoming us to Kenya. (P.S. We now call Cha Cha our “Mommy-Daddy” or “Momma Duckling” because of the way he looks out for us and leads us )
The drive home was beautiful, filled with green landscapes and colorful buildings. After arriving at Cha Cha’s house, in a neighborhood called Umoja Two, we walked to the local Greenspan mall to pick up a few necessities we had forgotten. When we came home, we cooked dinner together as a family of sorts (including Cha Cha’s son and nephew, Mayan and Isaiah), and Cha Cha began to ease us into the local cuisine! Exhausted as could be, we slept very well that night– we even fell asleep with the lights on. But our full nights sleep prepared us well for the exciting day ahead.
We woke up on Wednesday with a full itinerary. But first, we were greeted with warm chai and pancakes made by Cha Cha. We were instantly swept off our feet by how DELICIOUS the chai was. It is brewed with warm milk and sugar, and is a common Kenyan staple.
As for the rest of the day, we decided to divide and conquer, so we split up with separate U-tena executives to attend their respective meetings. Carly and I attended a meeting going on at the U-tena Youth Center led by a representative named Everlyne from the Kenya Medical Research Institute. It was a meeting being led to help educate single mothers about how they can safely avoid HIV/AIDs, STIs, and unplanned pregnancies. Shiko, a Kuza mentor, helped lead the presentation. The speakers were extremely inspiring and skilled– they spoke not only factually, but also had a great air of empowerment in the way they spoke to the women. They spoke of consent and and the value of one’s self over preserving a relationship with a pushy or disrespectful man. She introduced topics that we’ve never had to face before in the US, like the stigmas attached to birth control, or worrying that a man can’t know that a woman is using contraceptives or HIV-prevention drugs. These concepts of distrust and lack of power were foreign to us, and it was amazing to hear Everylne and Shiko speak about these topics with such strength and certainty.
At the conclusion of the meeting, all the women in attendance were offered 500 shillings (around $5, which can get you pretty far in Kenya) as a sort of incentive for attending/compensation for their time. We were told that this funding was coming from an organization in California, and was an extremely effective tool for keeping the women in high attendance and engaged in the discussions. I was shocked by how receptive the women were to the information and how willing they were to make themselves vulnerable with questions about the material. However, I can understand why, as Everlyne and Shiko handled all these inquiries with poise and grace. All in all, I was very impressed and optimistic about the entire meeting. After it was over, we walked back to the U-tena office to meet Cha Cha, Sierra, and the rest of the squad.