Summer Swahili Course in Kenya
By Ashley Sheriff
The Swahili methali (proverb) “Kupotea njia ndiko kujua njia” roughly means “to lose one’s way is indeed to know the way.” This saying encapsulates my summer study abroad experience in Kenya. As a newcomer to the Coast, I stumbled my way through learning the cultures, gaining proficiency in the Swahili language, remembering to take my malaria pills every day and generally navigating new places and spaces. Once I got my bearings, I found ways to make the most of my time abroad including getting my hair braided in the lovely Abuja style, having a dress made by a seamstress in the town of Mtwapa, and enjoying fried mandazi, fresh from the skillet and spicy, dried mangoes from street vendors on a very busy Biashara Street.
I was honored to be a recipient of the summer 2013 Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship and to have participated in Yale University’s Swahili language instruction program; I spent nearly two months taking advanced Swahili lessons in Old Town, Mombasa – a historic district on the east side of Mombasa Island. The intensive summer curriculum included safaris to Amboseli and Tsavo East National Parks, an opportunity to snorkel above Malindi’s coral reefs, a weekend trip to the Lamu archipelago, and tours of several historic sites including Fort Jesus, Gede and Jumba la Mtwana. Each excursion presented new opportunities to practice Swahili and to learn about pertinent issues in Kenya such as environmental conservation, development projects, globalization, and natural resource management.
For instance, my trip to Malindi’s beautiful coral reefs was followed by a lecture on environmental degradation and commercial fishing. On the same note, I was privileged to meet Ms. Hadija Ernst, editor of the bi-monthly Chonjo Magazine based in Lamu and member of the Save Lamu organization to discuss the role of Save Lamu and a number of partner organizations in encouraging good governance practices and transparency concerning the Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) project. This port project will potentially damage the archipelago’s varied ecosystems, cut off trade routes and displace local groups. While visiting Lamu, I got the opportunity to sail around the island’s channels on small boats called mashua, and even tried my hand at weaving in one of the local villages. These small experiences created a meaningful study abroad curriculum, many unforgettable memories and ultimately inspired me to continue mastering Kiswahili this fall semester!