Cameras clicking, chairs scraping against the kitchen floor, mumbling in pairs and small awkward laughs filled the room while we were getting ready. The sun shining in through the dirty window, our improvised spotlight. The preparations had been short and concise. The director’s idea had earned instant support and the group immediately started working. Ideas were thrown to all sides, some were caught and used, others were discarded and lost. Single mothers were the subject and our character was Sarah the cleaning lady. She had agreed to the interview and were now seated in a chair facing the sunlight for the camera’s sake. Slightly uncomfortable she sat waiting while we got the last things settled. I were the interviewer and I sat down beside her. The camera started rolling. My tong were unwilling to fully obey the English language in this even for me exposed position. The smell of sweat and dust lingered in the room. After asking the basic questions I could get to the point of the interview; her marriage and the life afterwards. What had happened?

Her mother had been unable to pay for her education after the father’s death and Sarah shortly after married in 2009 because of a pregnancy. She had known the man for two years before the marriage and the two years following were good and caring while their little daughter grew. Sarah looked distantly out the window as to recall the events, her arms crossed on the brown hardwood table. The sound of the camera breaking the silence. The harmony had shattered when Sarah’s husband started drinking increasingly and came home angry and abusive. The fights got worse and worse. The camera had gone silent. She lost a child due to stress and tried getting help from the police and the elder men in the community. She was in despair. Couldn’t they turn her husband back to her? No, they could not. She continued working for the relationship and to provide for the whole family, as her husband had resigned his job. You could hear the resentment in her voice. The rumors of how bad and abusive a wife Sarah was spread through the community. She took a loan in the bank, so her husband could start a business. He fled with the money and Sarah got a divorce. Now she lives with her 8 years old girl and her 3 years old son who survived the turbulent start on life. They are happy and Sarah feels strong and independent again. She doesn’t care how the others see her. She knows she has done right by her children who are everything to her.

Throughout Sarah’s story the whole room had gone silent, all completely absorbed in her words, her voice, her emotions. I barely asked any questions. She answered them without me asking. I was still living the story after it ended. The room slowly awakened after the hypnotic experience. The birds chirping and the rustling noises of people going about their things came in to focus again but then not really.

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When we arrived at the platform, we heard of a wonderful place of many treasures; The Matumba market. A busy jungle of fruits, vegetables, children running, shoes, huge piles of clothes, people shouting and haggling. We knew, we had to explore this exciting place. At arrival, we immediately dived down into a pile of clothes with searching eyes trying to capture a glimpse of something precious. Skirts, shirts, blouses, and trousers all in reach. Many finding something their heart enjoyed. For myself, a silk scarf with a flower print. The irony of the whole thing being; we were people from the west buying second hand clothes sent from the west in a third world country.

We could not, of course, leave without buying huge avocados and exotic fruits with thorns. Resulting in the thorny fruit piercing the huge avocados on our way home because of careless packing and swinging with the grocery bag. It was a good day.

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Don’t worry, we are not in a class room chanting numbers and looking at a whiteboard all day or fooling around in kitchens. Our first trip to town was a treasure hunt. We walked with determined minds, growling bellies and eyes sore from piercing sunlight. Half of the places we were to find had become something else. A sign of how the city is ever changing and developing. Hopefully for something better. Or, how the Indian family with the good curry place had gotten enough and went back to India. In its place, a bar.

We have been on an excursion to the nearby villages with a local guide, Paul, to get an idea of how the different kinds of tribes and groups live in Kenya. The first family we visited were Paul’s own. His brothers and sisters were playing while keeping an observant though at the same time indifferent eye on us. His mother and aunt kindly showing us the kitchen. We were nervous and uncomfortable. Simultaneously bursting out with ah and oh sounds like people watching a magic trick. Surprised to see a tv in a clay hut.

We are so used to the soppy and cringe story told by the media about countries like Kenya. Their resourcefulness constantly astounds us. A road accident is no problem when you can just make a new road around the disaster. However, some obstacles are harder to overcome. A frustrated youth fighting for their voices to be heard in a society where age is of most importance. If you aren’t a little grey on the top you have nothing to bring to the table. Nevertheless, they keep committed to change this idea in society. We had a very motivating meeting with some of these young people. Most of the conversation was focused on the cultural and social differences in our countries and it was not hard to sense their indignation over some aspects of their own compared to ours. Not to say, they want to imitate our culture and social structure completely which often seem to be the understanding in the west. That what we have is better than theirs in all aspects. No, we came to a common understanding; we can learn from each other.

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Nearly a week has past. We have started our Swahili lessons and are gladly practicing by greeting the locals, singing the number song and some have even started on their pick-up lines as a joke or so they say. We have learned about the different tribes, not all 42 specifically, though the trainers are happy to explain about their own superior tribe in more private conversations.

We are served local dishes which is quite a gastronomical journey. The breakfast at 8 o’clock mostly consist of a gooey sugary substance which grey color does not inspire great hunger but it keeps you going until the fruit break at 10:30. Lunch and dinner is often rice, beans, lenses, potatoes, and then more mushy beans. I sound very critical but I’m quite content. We are not here to live in luxury. We are here to get an understanding of another culture. I have had the pleasure of a little cooking lesson with the cleaning lady Sarah. We made chapattis. A pancake-look-alike kind of bread. At first, Sarah would break out in loud bursts of laughter after witnessing our non-existing skills in this basic bread-making process. We were to take a round piece of dough and roll them flat and round like a pancake. It turned out to be much harder than her quick and skillful hands made it look. After 20 artistically “round” chapattis we started to get the hang of it and if you ask me, there were at least 9 completely round chapattis. Sarah might not agree.

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We live next to the Daraja High School for girls. All the girls are here on scholarships. They all come from poor and tough backgrounds. Daraja means bridge in Swahili. It’s called bridge because it builds a bridge between how life is and how life should be. They will be back from vacation this weekend and I look forward to meeting them.

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It’s cloudy. It’s early afternoon. The birds are chirping lively in the trees. Flies are buzzing everywhere. I’m sitting at the Global Contact platform at Mount Kenya looking back at the past few days. The others are playing Bezzerwizzer at the table next to me and the discussion and laughter fills the small courtyard. Last Wednesday was the exciting first meeting with the other participants. The awkward greetings around the breakfast table and the silence that followed. The first shaky conversations with the intense observations. I was so nervous. The pen in my hand wouldn’t stop to shake when I wrote my name tag.

Fortunately, we all soon got quite comfortable with each other.

We were picked up in the airport by some very patient taxi drivers. All the toilet visits, money exchanges and coffee cravings took a while at six in the morning. We then began the bumpy 5-hour drive to the platform. In our excitement, we did not hesitate to take our cameras out of the tightly packed bags. We captured every Kenyan person that we passed in their fascinatingly different daily life. None of us stopped to think how this might feel on the other side of the camera. We were just white people on a people safari. I hope to be more aware of this kind of behavior later on.

The arrival at the platform was nice. We got settled and introduced to the surroundings. Some of the information included a warning. Always to keep an eye on our washed clothes drying in the yard because it could become a delicious cow snack.

Reality hit us when we woke up after our first night here. Two girls were in our room who had not been there the night before. They had been evacuated from a homestay in the nearby village during the night. The reason was a cattle war. A tribe had gone out to steal the village’s cattle while caring guns. The gunshots had been audible from our dormitories. It had only been warning shots but the reality of “all means to an end” came apparent to us.

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