My grandmother thinks I’m a heroine

And she has all the reasons for that. Nobody in her family has ever before stepped on the African continent. Her father, who was a soldier during World War II, sent some photos of himself and some black men in France. He helped them when they were wounded, and my grandmother said they admired him and wanted to do everything for him down there in the trench.

What my grandparents know about “Africa”

Once I asked my grandfather about how the independence of African states that were former German colonies was presented in the German news at the time. He reacted like a child who was deprived of a toy. He said that since the end of the war “they” (the Germans) had always been seen as “the bad guys”, and “America” was ruling over them, and in general up to today it was “America” who got all the money and wealth that actually belonged to “Germany”. And he went on saying some actually racist things that shocked me and that I don’t want to repeat here.

When my grandmother saw photos, video clips and read my descriptions of farm life in Kenya, she was reminded of her own childhood. They didn’t have tractors and all labour was done manually with a hoe. Therefore she assumed that “Africa is still back in time”, a very common misconception.

How I became a heroine

Calling me in Kenya is expensive and connections are troublesome sometimes. My letters take long and have stamps with a foreign currency, depicting exotic birds or plants and an airmail stamp. All these things make my grandmother feel I am probably on another planet, and if not that, then merely surviving in the wildest bush.

hiking ngong

From her childhood to her current days she could have never thought of even dreaming to go to Africa. So to her, I certainly must be a heroine to undertake this great adventure and actually live in Nairobi (!!).

The problem with being a heroine

I am admired for something that is rather normal or at least not to be admired nowadays. Talking about my daily experiences here is hard, because they will look for the exotic features in my descriptions, they will ask for differences rather than similarities, and they will assume that it takes me a lot of courage to live in Kenya.

It’s a weird feeling, because I know that it’s due to my privilege of being from the global North that I can stay in Kenya. Since it is so hard to put things into perspective for my grandparents, sometimes I just keep silent and don’t share my experiences at all. And I share this strategy with many people who are living in the global South or coming back to their home country. They feel misunderstood and exoticised themselves.

But it is important that we share our experiences, so that others get to know another part of the world, and in order to process our experiences ourselves.

What you can do

Therefore, if you are talking to your grandparents or other admirers, make sure that you are not seen as a hero. You simply enjoy the privileges of a global Northerner.

Find people who lived, travelled or volunteered in the same place like you and share your experiences. They will understand the context and situations as well as your feelings much better.

If you feel like giving a bigger talk or presentation, do it in the most responsible way, including your own insecurities and general global relations.

Have you experienced the same? How did you feel? Let us know in the comments below!

With this free worksheet you can dismantle all the expected “extremes” in the country you are going to. This helps to not present you as a hero.

10 HH

It is part of our free email course that will help you travel responsibly to the global South.

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Describing the life of my Kenyan mother-in-law

and the effort it takes to do that in a responsible way

On this website and especially in the course (link to course) I am telling people how to talk about “Africa” or the global South and how to travel responsibly. Yet, although I lived in Kenya for as long as one and a half years at a stretch, in a working class estate and on the countryside, I still struggle everyday with categorising and talking about experiences.

So in order to do as I preach, I decided to describe the lifestyle of my mother-in-law on the Kenyan countryside from the viewpoint of one of the many volunteers she has hosted at her place.

At first sight, she “lacks” many things that people from the global North take for granted. But she also owns many things which she values more than Western standards. Yet, in order to avoid romanticising poverty, I will have to incorporate the global relations that affect her life. It’s not going to be easy, but here goes:

Lacks and Deficits

Madhe, as I call her (which means Mum), lives on a fenced compound with several houses that belong to her husband, her co-wives and her sons. Until recently she lived in a grass thatched 10m2 house with clay walls, but her sons built her a bigger house with an iron sheet roof and two separate rooms. There is no electricity and no running water, but this year they dug a borehole and now they don’t have to draw water from the spring which is a five minute walk away.

homestead

Madhe is a farmer. She digs, plants, weeds and harvests food for herself, her family and visitors. If I am at home, I help her with the hoe. When she gets money from her husband or her sons, she employs day workers to help her with a particularly big piece of land or a particularly urgent job. She is dependent on the rain since there is no irrigation system in place.

To charge her phone she walks half an hour to the next small shopping centre that has electricity, or she gives it to someone. She doesn’t have a car, a TV, a fridge or electric light. She bought some solar lamps in addition to the one we gave her.

Her kitchen is a separate grass thatched house, where she mostly cooks with firewood, with the pots placed on three stones. She also has a cooker that works with sawdust, and another one that uses charcoal. But she prefers using firewood as she just picks it on the way home from the farm and because it creates the right temperatures for the meals she cooks.

madhe kitchen

Romanticising poverty

She is involved in the church choir and some women groups and table banking. In the village she is known and appreciated as a hard working woman who will always help in cooking or bringing food when there is a funeral or a fundraising. A visitor will hardly leave her place with an empty stomach. She attended courses in cooking and community health work. So she also has some knowledge in modern and traditional medicine, especially helping women to give birth. She knows which leaves help against diarrhoea and which roots are good against toothache. She knows how to give injections and apply ointments.

But most of all she values her farming. The harvest she gets takes her through the year, and she rears chicken and ducks for eggs and meat. She is very proud of and kind to her three sons.

I enjoy staying on the countryside with her. The environment and the work are like a holiday from busy life in Nairobi and much simpler (as in: less complicated or hectic) than my life in Germany.

banana harvest

Values and Experience

As I said: Madhe values the things she owns and does, and the people she interacts with. That doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t be better off if she had a car or electricity. She would see better at night and could keep the mosquitoes out, because they fear light. She could drive to the hospital if she needed to and arrive and be treated faster. Currently she would be carried by motorbike from her house and then change to a minibus taking her to the next town with a hospital.

Although she lives below the one dollar or two dollar bar per day, set by international agencies, she still has three healthy meals daily and some leftovers for visitors. She doesn’t see herself as poor because of all the food she has stored and the nice new house she has and the social support system that surrounds her. But that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t appreciate a regular income. I don’t see herself as poor either. But just because she values different things from Western standards doesn’t justify that she has no access to what other people have access to. There is still an unfair imbalance.

madhe speech

Global Relations

A rather quick online research for causes of poverty in rural Africa brings up a list of very clear reasons.

  • Climate change is one of them. Madhe depends on rain and the regularity of the seasons. Although she is not as affected as people in other areas, she can see changes that make her work harder.
  • Land grabbing is another issue. Not only Kenyans, but international companies grab tremendous pieces of land in the country and manage to present these actions as legal. They exploit the soil and the people for oil, cash crops like tea or coffee and other agricultural products.
  • Global agriculture is a very political issue, with buzzwords like food security and GMO circulating in the news. On Madhe’s level you can see the influence of seed policies and the introduction of certain fertilizers in the decreasing value and productivity of the soil and the lower resistance and availability of local seeds.
  • The spring water Madhe used to drink as a child nowadays carries diseases due to industries that are polluting the water sources, namely a sugar and a paper factory guiding their waste directly into the close-by river.
  • Since countries from the global North, including Germany, speculate with food prices, Madhe will buy additional food which she doesn’t grow on her farm for an irrationally high price. Selling surplus on the local market or to middle men will give her an amount of money that is way beyond the food’s actual value.
  • Political structures and practices that stem from colonialism still affect people on the ground in the form of tribalism, marginalisation and land distribution.
  • World economic recession, slowed down trade and unfair tariff walls by countries from the global North are other, more general factors causing poverty among the rural population in Kenya.
  • Insecurity is rising with Kenya’s involvement in wars and radical groups killing people in the country.
  • And finally, self-worth and the picture from the global North play a big role. If you are always told that you don’t have this, you don’t have that and you are factually poor, you may at some point start to believe it.

All these issues are affecting Madhe in her well-structured life on the Kenyan countryside. Poverty is nothing to be romanticised. Poverty is not inborn, inherent or natural.

Poverty is an important point of view, just like richness.

Madhe’s life, such as any individual human life, needs to be looked at from both sides.

Sources: 1,2,3,4

Do you think you could portrait the people you meet on your trip like this? Why or why not? What are your struggles? Let us know in the comments below!


 

We are tackling more of how to talk about lacks and deficits in our free online online course.

For now, why not evaluate your own picture about your own country and shifting the focus a bit away from your expertise of judging what is lacking and missing? Try this free worksheet with two strong questions.

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Why you shouldn’t walk barefoot in Africa

So Cultural Appropriation is a thing

But how can an average traveller deal with the buzzword?

I am usually very critical about any hashtags and buzzwords. So I decided to write this post in order to show you how a mere mortal like myself can deal with the whole media fuzz. The average person, who doesn’t understand much about politically correct terms but would like to discuss issues without hurting anyone.

The theoretical definition says that cultural appropriation happens when members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group. There is a great video explaining the details and what Katie Perry has to do with it.

I used to have dreadlocks because I liked them.

And when I didn’t like them anymore, I combed them out. In my home country Germany it was strange but accepted to be a white dread head. In Kenya, dreadlocks where associated with thieves, not being trustworthy and even being filthy. This comes from the Mau Mau, a resistance group who bloodily fought against the oppression by British colonialists during colonial times. They are often depicted as a sect, and one of their features were dreadlocks.

laura with dreads

In the US or Jamaica, dreadlocks have different religious or political meanings. People of Colour with dreadlocks were/ are discriminated for having them, while white people with dreadlocks are accepted by society.

If you stay in an African country for a while, you will sooner or later feel in a position to estimate or judge certain things.

You will assume you know how things work. You may be walking barefoot on the countryside like the elder “mamas”, wear the colourful lesos even in town, carry things on your head. You will look very authentic on the photos you are putting up on social media.

dress laughing copy

The problem is: the women walk barefoot because they don’t have money for shoes. If they could choose, they would certainly wear shoes like the majority of people in their country. Sporting a leso in town makes you look ridiculous, at least in Nairobi. Someone wearing a leso is clearly from the countryside and doesn’t understand the formal dress code in the city. Carrying things on your head may look authentic in photos, but you only enjoy it because you don’t have to do it every day. In your home country you will use public transport or your own car to carry things. You have running water coming out of tabs and there’s no need to carry several litres per day on your head.

This is not to blame you or make you feel guilty.

I myself, after several years in Kenya, am learning new things every day. And every now and then, I look ridiculous instead of authentic.

Matters become much more complicated, when you look at Nairobi’s striving middle class who are now taking colourful lesos or kitenge to the local tailor in order to have a modern blazer made from the “traditional” material. Obviously, people in the diaspora keep wearing cultural dresses and are appreciated for it, while people of the same nationality in different places are being stigmatised for it.

And if you volunteered and stayed with Maasai and are given a piece of their bead jewellery, why not wear them? And when to wear them? Only during festive occasions, when the Maasai are appreciated for it? Or also when walking in town, where you will look like a tourist with them? The Maasai themselves will be smiled at and not being taken seriously because they “stick to their backwards culture”.

What we can do is to adapt a certain attitude: that of openness, listening and especially self-reflection. Let’s be aware that whatever we do or wear doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it always happens in a context of culture and power relations.

Do you struggle with Cultural Appropriation? What do you think about it? Let us know in the comments below!

Here is a video turning the topic around and showing how it would look like if other cultures appropriated “white culture” for a party.

This free worksheet will help with all things authentic and your attitude towards other cultures.

It is part of the free online course “My Conscious Trip to Africa” which you can join here.

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Dolly the dog sticking her nose into the camera.

This dog has a job (and a free worksheet for you!)

And the problem with the word EXOTIC

Once we got a present from our friend. It was tiny, had yellow fur, four legs and a tail. It was called Dolly. It was a dog.

I may have to say a few words about pets in Kenya.

In my entire time here, I have only seen three small white pet dogs. The others are usually either stray dogs or security personnel. That means they are not petted. They are being fed in the evening, but caned if they start getting on peoples’ nerves. I trained Dolly a bit but she is not the norm. Children as well as adults fear touching her like they fear touching any other dog.

Compared to the common dogs in Kenya, who have a rough short fur and are rather bony, Dolly is almost fluffy, especially her ears, and a bit smaller than other breeds.

dolly

When we called the vet to vaccinate her, he filled a little pink passport for her with her name: Dolly. Colour: brown. Breed: exotic.

That made me smile – and think. This breed is not common in Kenya, therefore it must be exotic. This applies to other areas, too. There are exotic trees and exotic cows. People here use the word exotic to describe species. And indeed, these species of animals or plants are often common in my country.

The word exotic originates in the late 16th century and stems from the Greek word exōtikos (foreign), from exō (outside). The Greeks therefore called anything outside Greece, or let’s say outside the European space, exotic.

Can something from inside Europe then be described as exotic at all?

Dolly and her puppy Dylan sleeping in their shack.

Another question: What is wrong with describing something or somebody as exotic, foreign, attractive? If you stress a certain population’s dancing talents, their colourful dresses, or the wild and rich nature, isn’t that a positive thing? What does it have to do with racism?

Here are the problems with exoticising people or countries:

  • People are generalised and certain characteristics are given to them. Differences and varieties disappear and they all become one mass.
  • Mostly such expressions stress the emotional or visual aspects. Single persons’ intellectual abilities or what makes them human are ignored.
  • The “exotic” global South is the contrast to the “enlightened”, “rational” and “well-organised” global North. When presenting a group of people like that, we also put ourselves and our own culture above them.
  • The same applies to wild, exotic stretches of nature, where travellers can present themselves as courageous adventurers, explorers and heroes. The academic, economic and governmental potential of these countries doesn’t count.

You can download this free worksheet with a little eye-opening puzzle with words used to describe the differences between global North and South. You will soon find out that they are hardly neutral. (It’s part of the free online course.)

04 HH

In my own opinion, it should be fine to describe a certain species of animals or plants as exotic, meaning uncommon, not indigenous, from outside.

But travellers must be aware and careful with exoticising landscapes, people and entire continents.

How do you deal with “the Exotic”? Let us know in the comments below. (Also let us know how you find Dolly. She’s our baby!)

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How to take photos in Africa

A guide to responsible travel photography

Preparation

Type the name of your destination in a search engine and look at the pictures. Question those photos! Can you find others beyond exotic wildlife and romanticised poverty? How do photographers from your country of destination portray their country?

03 HH
Use this free worksheet from our online course* to go deeper.
I searched for Kenya in Google pictures and this is what I got:

Google search results: sunsets, elephants, giraffes, acacia trees and maasai

Yet some Kenyan photographers give a very different perspective (click on the photos to get to their awesome websites!):

Street Artists (by Cedi Mungai)

The new Kenya Airways Dreamliner (by Mutua Matheka)

Gilbert Tongyo in his fish shop (by Mwangi Kirubi)

Patricia Kihoro (by Victor Peace)

The reason for taking pictures

If there are millions of photos of giraffes in sunsets already – why do you take them again? What do you want to proof with your photos? Why do you hunt “perfect moments” like trophies? We often unknowingly reproduce the photos – and the stereotypes coming with them – which we have already seen many times before.

Landscape

men on house

There is more to Africa than the savannah. There are urban areas and skyscrapers, lush green suburbs, highways, semi-urban centres and malls. Do you only take pictures of rural areas, because they are so exotic, so different from what you know? If you leave out the urban areas and all the zones in between, you will portray an unbalanced picture.

People

Always ask for permission. Always. And don’t take that permission for granted. Some people will agree because you took them by surprise and they don’t want to appear impolite. That is not a free ticket to publication.

Bakari at the shore of Lake Victoria

Take respectful photos of people. Avoid a higher angle forcing them to look up because that makes them look small. When taking photos together with them, how are you positioned? In the middle of decorative black children? Standing, while other people are sitting down? Don’t make objects out of the others.

Editing

When digitally editing your photos, consider what you exclude for aesthetic reasons and why. Why do you chose this frame, and what are you leaving out? A slight change in contrast can make a flat landscape look hostile or sharp, and other adjustments can lighten or darken peoples’ skin colours. The border between ethical enhancement and manipulation is extremely blurred, so be careful.

Sharing and Publication

Again, you need permission from the people in your photos for publication. It is not easy, but here on this website we ask the parents of the children before we publish the photos. Social media is a form of publication, too. What would you think if you one day found a photo of you online portraying you as poor or exotic?

If you take photos with or of people, they also have a right to have a copy of them. Make sure to develop them and give them out before you leave, or make sure to share them online.

Captions

Name everyone in the photo or nobody. “Me and some kids” is a caption that makes the white person the hero, the main subject, and the children become mere props. What about “First-graders of Garden School on their last day before the holidays”?

Also, try to avoid stressing stereotypes in the captions or downgrade people or situations.

Safety

Big cameras and equipment as well as expensive phones may present attractive opportunities to thieves. If you neither want to lose your expensive equipment, nor feel like being constantly on the run from possible pick-pocketers, just leave your equipment in the hotel or the house and enjoy the walk through the city. It will be much more stress-free.

Ask your friend or guide whether it is okay to take the camera along and also whether you may take photos in certain areas or situations.

people harvesting pears in Dundori

Law

In Nairobi, like in other places, it is forbidden to take photos of some government buildings. If you want to avoid trouble with the authorities, respect these rules.

Not taking photos is also an option!

In the beginning you might be uncomfortable and over-aware or over-sensitive about many things, including taking photos. That is a good thing! You don’t have to get rid of this sensitivity. Your intuitive shyness about taking photos is a sign that you are aware of the complex process behind taking photos. Not taking photos is just as well an expression of a responsible attitude.

What are your best tips for taking photos responsibly? Share them in the comments below!


*To learn more about responsible travel photography and generally a more responsible way of travelling the global South, join the free email course.

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our homestead in rural kenya

My house in Kenya (and a free worksheet)

or: How language carries stereotypes and racist ideas

My house in Kenya is situated on the countryside, close to the Ugandan border. It is built with a wooden structure filled and plastered with clay. It has a cemented floor and a veranda and the roof is made of iron sheets. I smoothened the walls myself, with a mixture of soil and cow dung. That’s probably the coolest natural material ever. Not only does it seal walls and baskets and smoothen front yards, it even keeps snakes away!

Lena and Paul smearing the wall of our house with a mixture of soil, cow dung and water.

Lena and Paul smearing the wall of our house with a mixture of soil, cow dung and water.

My house has two bedrooms, an inside shower, a large living room and glass windows. The high roof and the gap between the iron sheets and the walls prevent it from heating up too much even if the sun is really burning down on it. It’s basically air conditioned.

The living room. You can see the gap between roof and wall in the upper corner.

The living room. You can see the gap between roof and wall in the upper corner.*

My house is set on a family compound with the other houses of my in-laws (some grass-thatched, some with bricks and iron sheets), their kitchens, a kitchen garden, toilets, a cow shed, a house for chicken, an old granary and some small structures for ducks and dogs.

A house made off bricks that's not yet finished, on the family's compund.

A house made of bricks that’s not yet finished, on the family’s compund.*

When I help my mother in law with cooking or farming, she tells me: “Take the food to the house.” or “Father is not in the house.” or “Put the hoe in front of the house.”

Whenever I show some pictures of these houses to friends and family in Germany, they call them huts.

And that hurts, because it feels like I don’t even own a proper, valuable, universally acknowledged place of shelter (that is, a house). Instead, I stay in some undervalued, not perfect, maybe even dirty or poor structure – a hut.

In my old travel diaries from my first vists to Kenya, I also called the buildings huts, although to their owners and inhabitants they are houses.

Houses? Or huts? *

Houses? Or huts?*

That’s what I knew: Africans live in huts, right? Children’s books, teachers, movies and commercials tell us so. We go to the doctor, they go the medicine man. We have a mayor, they have a chief. We are organised in federal states, they in tribes and clans.

Let’s complicate the issue a bit more, shall we?

Kenyans actually use many of these words themselves. I learned from Kenyans that there are 42 tribes in Kenya, and everybody identifies with one. Imagine my surprise, when in my first semester of African Studies the lecturer told me that “tribes” and “chiefs” are a British colonial concept that is outdated and fiction and we shouldn’t use that term anymore? “But they say tribes themselves,” I revolted. I even met an assistant chief who introduced himself to me as such. It’s a political position.

But it’s also a word that carries values. A chief is not as competent as a mayor. Tribal conflicts are plain stupid and outdated. And a hut is not a proper house.

As travellers, we need to mind our language. Why don’t we name what we see in Africa in the same way we name things in our countries? Can we try and overcome the downgrading procedure of using colonial terms? It is very hard, but it opens our minds to constantly question our language and words.

Have you ever thought about the words you use? Share your experiences in the comments below!

(*Photos by my lovely sister.)


Click on the picture to get your free worksheet.

Click on the picture to get your free worksheet.

This free worksheet will help you when writing or talking about your trip to the global South. It has a language checklist reminding you of all the critical issues and a travel diary prompt to think beyond the common stereotypes and have a more awesome experience.

It is part of the free online course “My Conscious Trip to Africa” which you can join here.

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What it means to travel responsibly

My love-hate relationship with my own worldview and the Bandika Manifesto

me and baby Richie at a children's home in Nairobi

2008: With Richie, volunteering in Imani Children’s Home in Nairobi.

When I came to Kenya for the first time, I was 19 and had just graduated from high school. Both my German and Kenyan organisations had prepared me for the trip. Yet a certain amount of colonial baggage remained in my mind, a specific attitude and a way of looking at things, which took me years to become aware of.

I fell in love with the country and returned several times. Many Germans wanted to hear about my “adventures”.

So I filmed daily life situations in Germany in order to compare them later to clips I would take of daily life in Kenya. I wanted to proof that life in Kenya is not an adventure, it’s just life, too. I took the clips, but never got around to edit them.

Several years and long-term stays in Kenya later, a friend of mine sent me the German brochure “With Colonial Regards…” (scroll down for English).

It reveals the colonial influence that persists up to today.

Research on many blogs by German volunteers in the global South showed these reoccurring themes:

  • the superior feeling of the young volunteers over the global South
  • the exotication and romantisation of poverty
  • how racist and colonial ideas are unknowingly expressed in language and pictures
  • how stereotypes are reproduced, and so on
stepping on mud to make bricks

2010: Work camp in Anyiko.

When watching my own clips again, filmed with the honourable intention of showing “real life in Kenya”, I saw how I, too, had reproduced colonial stereotypes and held the camera with an unknowingly discriminative view.

After this revelation, I found organisations and websites presenting a different picture of Africa, beyond elephants, poverty and children playing football. (For a regular digest of those websites, follow us on Facebook.)

I slowly became aware of my own privileges and my role in the global context.

posing choir members in uniform

2012: Performing with the Narok University Choir

And that is why I started Bandika: to structure this process and help you become a responsible traveller – without the mess and ignorance I went through.

Responsible travel in the sense of Bandika Travel Connectors means a shift in awareness and a respectful attitude towards the people of the country you are visiting. It means to continuously reflect on global contexts, privileges and mind-sets.

manifesto simple upper

Click to read the whole manifesto.

And let me tell you: It doesn’t make things easier. On the contrary, feelings of guilt, uncertainty and being lost and powerless are on the daily agenda.

Yet it is worth to adapt this attitude, because it enables beautiful connections and interactions.

Traveling responsibly actually changes your entire worldview.

on the train to mombasa

2015: On the train to Mombasa.

It doesn’t erase all conflicts, but it empowers you to deal with them in a better way. It’s not all about carbon footprints, eco-labels, less bargaining and raising money for local charities – at least not for us.

Travelling responsibly means to humble ourselves, to appreciate everyone and sharing real-life experiences, in order to ultimately become a better person.

What are your strategies to travel responsibly? Let us know in the comments below!


If you want to read about a similar concept, check out Linger. They beautifully explain how by “Just Doing Nothing” you can travel responsibly.

Do you want to learn how to travel responsibly and change your worldview? Join the free email course.

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children on sofa with toy unicorn

Presents for the host

Ideas for what to bring when you want to reward people for their hospitality

As a guest, it is always nice to bring a present. As a foreigner, it is even more interesting to bring something typical from your culture.

Different things for different people

When you are traveling to an African country or volunteering there, you might meet many different people who will have different roles towards you. Therefore a good hint is to bring several things that you can divide accordingly.

Sweets and balloons

Children will frantically appreciate the cliché presents like balloons and sweets, but they only last for a few hours. Afterwards, people are remaining with plastic waste from burst balloons and sweets wrappers to be disposed, which in some areas is not as easy. Dental health care is rare in rural areas, and the sweets you wanted to spread in a good intention can leave people with big problems.

Another type of rather unique sweets like liquorice from the Netherlands or Salmiakki from Finland have ever led to funny faces among the people who tasted them. They end up being eaten mostly by the people who brought them.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot bring sweets at all. Just mind the amount and the disposal later on.

Cultural Food

Other food stuff is usually appreciated. I am always hitting the jackpot with my dark German bread and sausage. Usually Kenyans regard Japanese food with less enthusiasm, but they are all the more appreciated by international volunteers.

Things like butter, cheese and chocolate obviously melt easily and are hard to be stored. But I gave out flavoured tea or instant cappuccino and people liked them.

In case you are participating in a work camp or any other event that will involve a cultural day, keep these food items for that occasion.

Photos

With photos you can often spark conversations. I glued together some photos of my family, friends and home and up to date it’s one of the favourite books of a small girl in the village. She knows all my relatives in there by name.

Put together some photos of your family, where you stay, what you do, and maybe a bit of the surrounding area.

Equipment

Another thing we always get orders for are solar lamps. People actually pay us back the expenses. They deem anything that says “Made in Germany” on it to have good quality, be it a clock or something else.

Textiles

And finally there are things like table cloths, dish towels or other textiles or clothes that may have the national colours on them or are typical and significant in another way.

Being the guest

Whatever you bring, try to give it from your heart instead of just disposing stuff on people. Since I am usually the visitor, at least in Kenya people don’t actually expect a present from me like they would in Germany.

Buy locally

Finally, you can also always buy things in the country and bring them. When I visit women, a bag of sugar, salt, rice, flour or a bottle of cooking oil is a common and valid present and I just buy it in the local shop.

field, tree, seedling

This is a friend’s farm. When I visited them, I brought some lemongrass from another farm which we planted there.

What are your suggestions? Share them in in the comments below and add to the list!

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a woman selling fabrics with obama print

Why a Kenyan village goes crazy about Obama’s visit

Obama’s father is from Kenya, from a place in the West of the country called Kogelo. The area is dominated by Luo culture.

But Obama himself was born in the US, obviously.

Otherwise he couldn’t have become their president. Therefore many people don’t understand why the country makes such a fuss about Obama’s visit. And particularly people from Kogelo and the surrounding county are not being understood or even ridiculed for welcoming “their returning son”.

After all, he is not their son.

He is American, and apart from a few visits has nothing to do with Kogelo, right?

Wrong!

At least for Kenyans, especially Luos.

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Africa A to Z – An Alphabet of Stereotypes: A is for Acacia

This is a series exploring the stereotypes about Africa, in a neat alphabetical order.

A

A is for Acacia

Most of the species of acacia are found in Australia. And actually, after a taxonomical debate, many of those umbrella like trees growing in African countries should now be called mimosa.

A is for Aid

Africa doesn’t need aid. Most of the problems that are now tried to be solved by aid were caused by the donors in the first place. A lot of the money that is handed out as “aid” is going back to the donors. And despite few success stories, in the history of northern countries “helping” African countries there is a long and sad line of failed projects.

A is for AIDS

Most people with HIV/AIDS live in Africa. You can find all the numbers and statistics online. 35 Million people in the world live with HIV. Almost 25 Million of those live in Africa. That also means that about 975 Million people in Africa DON’T have HIV. And I am saying they LIVE. A more or less normal life, just with medication. What they suffer most from is stigmatisation, discrimination and generalisation.