Letters from Abroad: Mtatus, Kiswahili and friends

The Harmon
Administration Center on the main campus of Africa Nazarene University in Ongata Rongai, Kenya. Photo provided by Raye Bontrager.

By Raye Bontrager, Guest writer

I’ve been studying abroad at Africa Nazarene University this trimester. I’ve only taken four classes because I wanted to have some free time to do other activities and to go exploring. I didn’t want to come all the way to Kenya, Africa and get stuck on campus and never see the culture.

I was also nervous about culture shock. The campus here is pretty westernized, so it really hasn’t been too hard to adapt to the culture, and on top of that I can adapt easily to places.

I’ve gotten several different observations about Kenyans. Some of the other international students from other nations in Africa have commented that the Kenyans are not as friendly as most Africans, and others say that they are just as friendly. My experience is that the people on the campus have been very friendly, but outside campus they’re a little more timid. I don’t know if it’s because I’m white and they’re not sure what to make of me.

I’ve tried traveling around to different towns around Nairobi with some of my friends. We usually take mtatus, which are like fifteen passenger vans but with more seats, or big buses.

The roads are awful here. You think that traffic gets bad in the States? Wait until you get stuck in a four hour traffic jam in Africa! Most of the people here don’t have cars so they either walk everywhere or they get a ride on mtatus.

I’ve been trying really hard to learn Kiswahili while I’m here. I’ve been learning as much as I can, but it’s difficult. One of my goals before I return home is to have a full conversation in Swahili. Actually, what I really want to do when I get back home is to talk in Swahili at people and not have them understand what I’m saying.

I really haven’t gotten to go anywhere too much. I’ve been able to go into town and some other cities close to Nairobi. My favorite place to go is a small little mall called Galaria. I go there a lot with my best friend just to get away from campus and go to Java and get chocolate fudge cake.

My favorite times are just hanging out with friends around campus. Sometimes I go visit girl friends in the room, and we talk a lot about the differences between here and America. We laugh at the stupid stuff Americans do. Other times I go and sit out with my Burundian friends (Frankie, Orly, Elvis, Sybil, and Favia) at the Canteen (which is a little snack shop that opens at 10:00 pm), and we sit and have either milk or soda together and talk.

Yeah, I think that’s my favorite memory. Sitting out at the canteen at night, having drinks and snacks, and laughing.