With more than a month that has flown by, it is time for some reflections. Mads and I arrived in Kenya on the second day of October as the new interns. Since that day, we have had meetings in Kisumu, given out fertilizer in Siaya, and collected chia in Busia. But these activities only scratch the surface of what we do and learn here. So allow me to reflect on these first five weeks in Western Kenya.
To start with, our mere presence in rural Kenya seems to be a great source of entertainment for many. Not a day goes by without excited children yelling at us: “Mzungu, how are you?”. ‘Mzungu’ is the East African term for a white person. While this attention is understandable, as there are not many ‘Mzungus’ who make it to these parts, it can also be quite overwhelming. The constant attention makes it abundantly clear that you stand out like a sore thumb, which definitely took some getting used to.
What has made the adjustment easier is the fact that the work here offers plenty of opportunities to learn and contribute. As interns, we try to split out time between Siaya and Busia to assist both field teams. We also have meetings with new and existing partners in other areas of the country. This means a lot of travel, but also a lot of opportunities to meet interesting people and learn about all facets of the organization. The fact that you can be talking to a group of farmers one day under an mango tree, and in a modern office negotiating a contract with some executive of a partner organization the next, makes this experience so unique.
The variety of tasks and constantly changing schedule has challenged – and does challenge – my flexibility in a very real way. Coming out of four years of university, I am used to planning out every day, and knowing exactly what my next month will look like. This is not something I can count on here. Although this can be very frustrating, I also realize that this is a learning experience in and of itself. And I am sure few people back home would disagree that I could benefit from some more flexibility.
A major benefit of the versatility of the work, as well as the fact that we are two interns, is the opportunity to explore different fields of interest within Momentum’s work. While Mads is going around dealing with the business side of things, I have discovered a profound interest in the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) side of development work. I have had the chance to research different systems and metrics. I now look forward to start collecting the data with my surveys and write up the report. The freedom to do this is extremely valuable to me.
It is not all sunshine and roses however, as living in a rural area of a developing country also means giving up some luxuries I didn’t know I was so attached to. For example, I will never again take a working fridge for granted, nor a proper (read: Western-style) airconditioned supermarket in biking distance. Even the bicycle I would take to get there is something I sorely miss – I am Dutch after all. Nonetheless, the feeling that I am working on something here that is worthwhile makes up for these little lapses in luxury tenfold.