July 4th at Ichamara

We have seven more farms to go to and then we are finished the first sampling for the Ichamara area. I can hardly believe things have gone so smoothly. Once we got a good system down with specific jobs assigned to each person rather than everyone trying to do the same job and no one being especially certain what had been done and what hadn’t been, we became much more efficient as a team. It also took awhile for us to get past the language barrier. Everyone here speaks such fluent English that sometimes I forget that there is a language barrier and that I have to slow down my talking and allow the people I’m speaking to time to process what I am saying. At first I found myself getting frustrated because I was having to repeat myself a lot just to get a simple point across. Usually its fine and we get to the point eventually but sometimes I’m just not clear enough and things go wrong. Like when I asked one of the grad students if he could put the milk samples in the freezer overnight. He certainly put the samples in the freezer, but he didn’t understand that the ice the samples are stored on during the day must also be placed in the freezer. In the morning we had no ice to collect new samples with as we went around to the farms. It was fine in the end as we were lucky to discover that lab at the Dairy we work out of had some ice blocks we could use. Otherwise we might have lost an entire days worth of sampling which could have left us five to ten farms behind schedule. All because I just assumed and didn’t properly explain myself. So my lesson for the past few weeks has been to speak slowly and to verbalise my thoughts because in fact people can’t read my mind.

We have been pretty much working non stop since we got here. The work is pretty labour intensive. Our day begins around 6:00 am and usually with a run. Our running route is along the tarmac heading roughly south west with Mount Kenya and the rising sun to our right and a little behind us. Usually the mountain is shrouded in mist but every now and then it can be seen peeking through the clouds. It is roughly 5500 ft and is the remnant of a once active volcano, now long dormant. It is the home of the Kikuyu god Ngai, which is one of the traditional deities of Kenya, although now it seems most everyone is Christian with a smattering of Muslim. Whichever spirit lives there, it must be laughing at us as we pant and wheeze along the foothills of its home. At home in Atlantic Canada, most of the landscape is barely above sea level in some places. In Kenya the average altitude is1500 to 1600 feet above sea level and boy can we feel the oxygen depravation while running. I now understand why Kenyans are able to run so fast. Although running for the sake of running isn’t at all common here. In the mornings we are the only ones out for exercise. Everyone else is sauntering along at a leisurely pace, on their way to work or dropping off their daily milk quota. The locals greet us cordially as we pass, but usually with a grin and a chuckle at how odd we look jogging down the road. However do not be deceived. These people are some of the most in shape people I have ever come across. In the rural areas of Ichamara and Murkurwe-ini where we are staying, the terrain is excessively hilly and all of the farms are nestled on the slopes which in some cases are nearly vertical. The farmers and their families walk these slopes multiple times a day, every day of their lives, to bring water and food to their family. All part of the daily routine for them. One lady took pity on us and decided to help us (typical Kenyan generosity) back to the combi with our crate of medical supplies. She took the crate (which is between 20-30 lbs and very awkward), placed it on her head and proceeded to walk the entire way back to the combi. It was easily a 20 minute walk and mostly uphill. I was in awe to say the least.

The rest of our day consist of as many farm visits as we can fit in before the sun goes down which I at 6:30 sharp. Dawn and dusk are not drawn out here like they are at home. They happen very quickly so that sometimes you are working away in the daylight and all of a sudden you are working in the dark and are not certain what happened. The farms are becoming increasingly far apart and so a good portion of our day is spent bumping along the Kenyan dirt roads. Some of the potholes are quite impressive and it seems sometimes like we drive into one and come out the next. The scenery is lush and green and everywhere you look is bananas. However the bananas are smaller than they are at home and much tangier and tastier I think. When we leave a farm, the owners will often send us away with a large bunch of bananas. We eat bananas with absolutely everything. Bananas in our cereal, bananas with our lunch, banana smoothies, bananas for a snack, banana sandwiches. I think I may turn into a banana before the summer is through. When we arrive on the farm, we have to ask permission of the people that we can carry out our research before we begin. We’ve only had one person turn us down thus far. It’s really in their best interest because they get free dewormer, free preg checks, free consultation, as well as any information we get concerning parasite load and mastitis in their herd. Everyone is very nice and very welcoming. This weekend we went to the Sweetwaters park and went on a safari. We just got back today. It was a wonderful and much needed break. The plains of Africa are just as beautiful as I’d imagined and just as full of animals. I find it incredible that all of these bizarre and exotic creatures can exist all in one place. We saw zebras, baboons, elephants, giraffes, gazelles, impalas, Elans, water buffalo, rhinos, and lots of different species of birds. My favorite was the maribu stork. He lives around the watering hole next to the tented village where we stayed. He is very social and will come right up to you to watch you eat your food. I suspect that he is used to getting for from people. He is about four feet tall and looks like he has a wing span of about five feet. The other girls thought he was incredibly ugly. His crop is red and wrinkly and hangs down over his keel like a deflated balloon. And he is bald like a vulture with a very large and impressive beak. I decided his name was George.

Now we are back at Ichamara to finish up our sampling. The end of the week will see us on the road again. This time we will be heading to Meru to stay with the UPEI nursing students who are also here in Kenya for the summer. Until we meet again!

Laura B.