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Cherish Wilcox studies Swahili in Kenya


   While her college friends were home sharing Thanksgiving dinner with their families, Madras resident Cherish Wilcox was half way around the world feasting on roast zebra at the Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya.
   George Fox University, where she is a senior majoring in business, offers a semester in Kenya through an exchange program with another Christian school, Daystar University. Wilcox eagerly signed up for the overseas study, which ran from Aug. 10 through Dec. 21, but admitted her relatives were concerned following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America.
   "There are American professors on campus, so we all found out about it right away. We all gathered around watching CNN and crying and felt helpless. They let us use the university phone system to call relatives back in the States, and they held prayer vigils," she said.
   While the students felt safe, she said it was unsettling to get e-mails from relatives wanting them to leave school and come home. "I got one from my grandfather that said `Just try to look inconspicuous', which was kind of hard since we stood out like glow-in-the-dark white," she laughed.
   Wilcox noted there are many Muslims in Kenya and some riots did occur in the city, but she and the other 20 American students felt safe at Daystar. Part of the reason, she said, was because the university is located "in the middle of nowhere" 25 miles from Nairobi. The arid countryside actually looked a lot like Madras, she observed.
   They were grounded to campus for a while, but after the initial shock of Sept. 11, the students were able to relax and enjoy the exchange.
   The campus was made up of half African students and half foreign students from the U.S., Ukraine, Sweden, China, Spain and other countries. Everyone at the university spoke English, and for some of the Africans it was their third or fourth language.
   Some things were quite different, she soon discovered. "There weren't enough textbooks for everyone, so they were kept in the library and you had to check them out for two hours at a time," she said.
   But the exciting class offerings balanced out any inconveniences. In addition to her regular business classes, Wilcox signed up to learn Swahili, the national language of Kenya, and took an African music class in which she was required to sing and do a tribal dance in costume for the final.
   The student cafeteria made her long for a Big Mac, she said, describing a typical breakfast of bread and tea, lunch of chapati and green grams (tortillas with lentils), and dinner of ugali (a combination that tasted like mashed potatoes and grits topped with gravy or stew).
   The regional food was much better when it was prepared by a family, and Wilcox got plenty of chances to sample home cooking.
   Students were not allowed to go to Nairobi alone, but could go in groups. The country's main mode of transportation was to pack 24 people into a mini van, or crowd onto buses, she observed.
   On weekends Wilcox went home with African student friends and said everyone was so friendly. "The British who live there stay segregated, so they were happy that I would accept their invitation," she explained.
   One of her favorite things was attending African churches, where services were conducted in English and Swahili and everyone danced along with the music.
   On Thanksgiving, the American students were treated to a meal at the Carnivore Restaurant which consisted of platters of zebra, ostrich and alligator meat. "The zebra was O.K. but the rest tasted pretty reptilian," she commented.
   During the semester the students also got the chance to travel on safari in Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. At Masai Mara, a huge animal reserve popular with tourists, Wilcox saw elephants, lions, monkeys, giraffes, zebras, hippos and other exotic animals. "We saw about 10,000 wildebeests that were on migration," she said.
   Another well-known spot they enjoyed was Mombasa Beach, a beautiful tropical shore located right on the equator.
   Far from being scared away from air travel after the Sept. 11 event, Wilcox is already making plans.
   "I hope to go back to Kenya and visit all my friends there when I graduate," she said.