“Hhmmmmm, I don’t know!!”
That would be the closest possible response I’d give to any questions to the effect of what I’m up to currently. Partly because I don’t feel like I have been very productive since I came back and partly because I imagine that’s not the ideal response expected by anyone asking the question. For the past nine months I have been in hibernation, just like a grizzly bear during winter. Taking in stuff, looking around my neighborhood with a third inner eye, just trying to figure out how my broke self can be of use to those that are in need. I have been tempted more than once to write an emergency email to Global UGRAD just to say ‘HELP, MAN DOWN!’ It hasn’t been easy because Nairobi is not Marquette where there’s a “WE ARE HIRING” sign every few blocks. They call Nairobi “Shamba la mawe”, which basically translates to a “hard knock life kind of place.” Jobs are not easy to come by, unless of course the president is your uncle. But a man must survive. I started a little venture to sell honey just to stay afloat, it’s doing fairly well but there’s always people saying, “Ooh, you’re too expensive,” or The economy is bad”, or “I’ll buy next month.” Then, there’s another category of those who actually believe that by virtue of the fact that I stepped onto U.S. soil, I must have come back with millions of dollars and that I should make it rain on them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Then, there’s the age factor and that I’m a fully able-bodied man so begging is out of the question because there’s always a guy at the end of the begging bowl ready to exclaim, “Ooooh, how the mighty fall!!”
My community service at Northern Michigan University (NMU) was more than inspirational – it was scintillating. The kind of stuff you read right out of motivational books and you just want to implement immediately after you put that book down. The NMU Cat Packs, Habitat for Humanity, and my little stint with the ASNMU as a student representative got me really thinking. Why don’t we have this stuff in my school? It’s a model I would love to see replicated in Kenyan universities. But, our system here is not the kind you get around easily so there’s got to be a lot of meetings, letters, emails, calls and “knowing people” before an idea is even given the opportunity to even be heard. I’m in the very initial stages of talks with my university to see this come to fruition.
I am not known to preemptively announce what I’m up to (Ooh, wait, I already did that up there), but I have been thinking about a homework center/library in the informal settlement next to where I live. Be it as it may, that’s where I started life from when I got into the city of Nairobi, so I have a heart for those kids down there. A lot of them don’t have the luxury of enough space to do their studies and homework as they share very few square meters of room with their parents and siblings. I feel as if they had a place where they’d come to in the evenings and weekends for their private studies, it would be of great help to them as most are very brilliant. It would really enhance their chances at a shot in high school. The idea is still at conception stage as I don’t yet own property there….and the president is not my uncle…. Meanwhile, I resume school this October after a long wait heightened by a lecturers’ strike immediately after I came back. Can’t wait to graduate next year.
Written by Kelvin Orina Getuno, 2017-18 Global UGRAD student from Kenya at Northern Michigan University