Anthropology Directed Study in Kenya

Student Breanne Lash with Kenya studentsThe anthropology minor was reinstated in the fall of 2008, and NMU student Breanne Lash has made creative use of the opportunity by designing a directed study with anthropology associate professor, Alex Ruuska.  The directed study enabled Breanne to receive academic credit for an exciting summer project in Kenya.  Breanne is using the anthropology minor to complement an international studies/Spanish major Here, in her own words, is Breanne’s experience.

This summer I taught HIV/AIDS education, English, Social studies, and P.E. to primary students in Kenya. During my 2 ½ month stay, I lived with the family of a former international student at Northern. Her parents actually are the founders of the school in which I volunteered at. The town was quite rural, and lacked running water and electricity (minus the use of generators that were consistently on the fritz).

At first, the students were not really sure of me, seeing as I was the only white person in the town, and quite possibly the only one they had ever seen. But with time, they had grown fond of me, and would pelt me with questions about anything and everything. These are an example of the questions my students had for me:

  • Madam, do you know where 50 cent/ P Diddy/ Young Joc live?
  • If I go to America, will I be brown like you? Or will I still be black?
  • People have GREEN EYES?! How do they SEE?!
  • Did AIDS come from America? Did a Mzungu (white person/European) bring it to Africa?
  •  Are there poor people in America?
  • Madam, why don’t you shave your head like an African? You should, and then leave me your hair.

During these Q&A sessions, the children would be all over me, examining my skin, playing with my hair, wondering what the blue lines under my skin were, and teaching me the important Swahili phrases like nataka chakula/maji and sipendi baridi –I want food/water; I don’t like the cold.

The one thing that really stuck out to me was this sense of community. In the text books, the stories would focus on the effect the character had on the community or their friends and family, rather than focusing on the individual. Along the same lines, it was an eye opener to realize how embedded HIV/AIDS is in the community.  An English assignment, completed by my standard six pupils, was to explain the idiomatic phrase “all that glitters is not gold”. Over half of the class told stories about people having AIDS. One example was about a young boy who fell in love and wanted to marry a very beautiful girl. His parents warned him against it, but he threw their disapproval aside. After they were married he discovered he had AIDS, and the beautiful girl left him, and he died alone. Even though the girl was beautiful, she was not a good wife—All that glitters is not gold. Another example was of a beautiful woman who would turn heads. One day at a community gathering, she was speaking to the crowd when she suddenly fell down and died. It was later discovered that she had AIDS—All that glitters is not gold.

In teaching them, they taught me more about myself and my own country.  I plan on returning next summer; finances permitting.

--Breanne Lash, Anthropology Minor