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Networking: Knowing people takes you places

DAAD conference

sunny 72 °F

While I was at Professor Shitemi’s home the last weekend, she was finishing the final preparations for the DAAD conference at Moi University for the following week. The more I learned about the conference, the more interested I became. The DAAD conference gives former students from the University of Bayreuth’s African Studies program to interact with their peers who have gone on to teach at different Universities. There were a few German professors but the majority of those who attended the conference were foreign exchange students. The conference title “transfer of Africa-related alumni knowledge: regional integration and trans-regional co-operation” goes hand in hand with what I’ve been researching and concentrating on while in Kenya. The main task of this conference was to have the intelligent alumni from these programs to network with others of similar interests and concentrations. As Professor Shitemi explained the conference to me, it is the opportunity for these intellects to “adopt innovative methods and structures of organizing knowledge transfers through dialogue and interaction.” My goal for this trip was to not only increase my understanding of the Kenyan school systems, but also to create partnerships between the US and Kenya. Through my participation in this conference, I was able to open up my own avenues for partnership and include the Universitat Bayreuth, University of Mauduguri, University of Jos in Nigeria, University of Yaounde in Cameroon and the South African Army Reserve.

Mama Shitemi (as I came to call her by the end of my trip) allowed me to join in the discussion and the lectures last minute. It really was a great opportunity, and despite being the youngest participant in the conference and never having studied in Germany, I fit in quite well and everyone was more than willing to talk with me and share their stories. The lectures were amazing. I had the chance to sit in on a panel discussion on the establishment of Women’s and Gender studies at the Univesrity of Yaounde in Cameroon. Professor Rosalyn Mutia discussed the trials she has faced as a female in the University and how very few women are the heads of the departments or the deans for schools in Cameroon.
This is a trend everywhere but the purpose of having it as a topic at the conference was to have the other participants engage in conversation for what their individual schools or departments have done to ensure gender equity at the University level. The benefit of having all the participants having a connecting point – ie former peers at Bayreuth – is that they are more willing to give honest input and discuss freely without the pause to determine if something said is too pointed. Constructive criticism is seen as just that and nothing more. A lot of the presenters focused on the ‘transfer of knowledge’ and the pros and cons of globalization. The opinion on globalization was split down the middle.
Globalization was paired with the increased ability to travel and study in different universities. Some, like Professor Kamaara from Moi explained that brain drain exists but that if, for example, all Kenyans and the Kenyan Diaspora studied in Kenya, there would not be enough room in the Universities. Her other argument was that if some students did not go elsewhere for an education, then none of the professors in the room would have the benefit of meeting one another and benefiting from the exchange programs in Bayretuh. In the end, the general consensus was that brain drain exists, that by creating partnerships we are able to exchange ideas on infrastructure and study design and everyone benefits. But that North-side divide still exists, that schools of the south should not copy exactly the protocol and design of northern schools and that globalization needs to be balanced.

I spoke most with Lydia, Mama Shitemi’s niece who was in charge of most of the conference logistics, Sammy the IT guy from Moi who all the older professors were attempting to fix me up with as we were the youngest two single kids in the program. Despite their efforts, nothing came up except a great friendship and an exchange of contact information and the promise to keep in touch. But their jibes and attempts were entertaining.

Also, Professor Mwebi Lavin Snail of the South African Army Reserve and I had some great conversations. Professor Snail, who smokes like a chimney, looks at the effects of trans-regional foreign exchanges on the individual. Going hand and hand with the discussion of globalization, he presented his paper on the “Reflections of an ex-African Student in Europe in the New South Africa.” Although I was called away for my own research during Professor Snail’s presentation, we had our own discussion of the topic. He really is an interesting man – during the Apartheid he was a student at the university and was ‘always a rebel’. He told me he knew that his personality and temper would get him into trouble with the restricting government and one day at the University, there was a fight between a black South African student and a white official. The class, including P. Snail, was behind the student and was provoking the situation. The white official said to the students “I’ll make sure you die and go to Hell” (quite the remark!) at which time the student responded “well one of your colleagues tried to send me there the other day, and when I got to Hell’s gates there was a sign that said “Whites Only”.” Well needless to say, there was uproar between the white official and those of his colleague who came in for assistance and the students. Each of the students was suspended from the school and exiled from South Africa, Professor Snail included. It was then that he decided he needed to pursue education elsewhere and applied to Universitat Bayreuth. The effect it had on him though he said was irreversible. He was a changed man – he was no longer a South African, even after being reconciled and granted asylum into his home country. He wasn’t now German nor South African, but a hybid of the two cultures. There are many who returned after independence that were unsure of their identity and had difficulties resettling. It is more than reverse culture shock. Professor Snail said that a strong partnership between his two homes is what makes him feel complete. I have his paper and am really eager to read it. Although my studies are in Kenya, it is impossible to just read about Kenya as there are ties to every country. If anyone else would like to read the paper, let me know.

To top off this conference and actually the main reason I was invited to become involved, was the day trip to Lake Baringo, Itein and the Great Rift Valley. I have a ton of pictures I will post the day I get home and have unlimited free internet access (awww so excited!) It was gorgeous and amazing. And even though we were not in the ‘conference setting’ we still had great dialogue and it was during lunch that Professor Snail told me his story. A great way to wrap up a trip. Just a quick overview, the Great Rift Valley was formed by volcanic activity under the surface and there are huge plateaus and deep valleys we traveled down. We started at the Elgeyo Escarpment in Itein (only a few kilometers away from the high altitude training center for athletes in Itein. We saw many runners and bikers in the area. So impressive!) We then travelled down to the Keiro valley where we stopped at the Jebroach Gorge. Absolutely gorgeous. Ive never seen any view like it. We then went to the Lake Baringo hotel that is owned by former President Daniel arap Moi (I saw monkeys!!!) and then finally onto Lake Baringo where we saw THOUSANDS of flamingos and the hot springs. Although it was raining by this point, it was absolutely gorgeous and quite an experience. I cant wait to put up pictures.

One of the benefits of me setting up my own program here in Kenya was that I could take advantage of any opportunity that came up. I didn’t have to worry about keeping a schedule and could sit in on conferences and meetings. Also, I can’t forget to mention Uli (Dr. Gerd Ulirich ‘Uli’ Bauer) who was a steadfast friend in this conference. He was the project coordinator from the Universitat Bayreuth and was so welcoming and explained a lot of what was going on so I wasn’t confused. He has an amazing sense of humor and is extremely intelligent and outgoing. He will remain one of my good friends and close contacts from this Kenyan trip. Hopefully be able to visit him and his wife in Frankfurt sometime in the near future!

Check out my blog on the job offer with PeaceLinks SNV!!!

Posted by WendiBandi 07:16 Archived in Kenya Tagged ecotourism

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