By Diandra Blake, African Studies with Swahili Minor Undergraduate Student
HU Swahili Study Abroad (HUSSA) Program - Summer 2023
When I was a child, I loved the idea of traveling. I grew up knowing I wanted to go to Africa. I didn't really know why, but I felt it in my spirit. Since I liked 'The Lion King' during the Covid-19 lockdown, I knew that they spoke Kiswahili and Isizulu in the songs and decided I would teach myself the Kiswahili language! Who knew that I would travel to Kenya years after my personal introduction to Kiswahili?
As this was my first time out of the country, I thought that I was going to cry when we landed in Kenya. I was full of intense joy while staring out the window, reading the signs in Swahili, and knowing that this experience was going to be unforgettable. I began my Swahili studies at Daystar University, which was a beautiful campus surrounded by hills and gorgeous sunsets. I met a young woman named Cynthia, my first friend here. She shared similar interests as me and loved to talk and tell me about her life. By meeting her, I felt more connected to those around me through her experience.
During an excursion, we traveled to Kakamega in Western Kenya. I saw the Great Rift Valley, which is said to be the place where the first humans were from. This part of my experience was so shocking to be a part of; seeing all of the land and breathing the freshest air ever. I saw myself from a new perspective here, feeling so small but surrounded by life all around me. While staying in Kakamega, we visited a place called Wanda Gardens. I got the opportunity to recite a poem that I had written, entitled 'WOMAN.' This moment was extremely important to me because I have always loved my poetry but rarely spoke it out. I felt powerful and heard, which allowed me to be even more confident and happy with my personal growth.
After Daystar University, we went to Kilifi. Here, we continued studying Swahili at Pwani University. Being at the coast was honestly surreal as reality set in that we were spending 3 weeks there. Looking out into the ocean, I felt like I had found a home and the peace I had been looking for myself. We were given speech partners who took us around and to the beach. My partner was Selina; she was like a sister to me and she nicknamed me her "little mermaid."
During our last excursion, we traveled north to Malindi. I hiked 'Hell's Kitchen,' which was a huge canyon full of clay! I collected stones along the way. While we hiked, the rain started to pour! As it was clay, there was barely anything for my shoes to grip onto. We had to form a human chain for all of us to get to the top. It was very scary, but after we all made it through, this was the moment where I truly felt alive! I felt overwhelmed with gratefulness and thankfulness for this place that I got to be in. Kenya truly changed my life and helped me continue to visualizer myself in spaces that are meant for me to strive in.