The Good Idea

Today, as I was rinsing manure from my armpit, I thought about some of my experiences in Kenya so far.  I had just been covered head to toe (literally, some even went in my eyes and ears and mouth) with manure from an unruly cow.  One of the worst I’ve encountered here, actually.  Although I don’t really blame her for protesting the rectal thermometer, it really doesn’t compare to having a rectal palpation done.  Pretty sure my arm has a far greater circumference than that little thermometer.  But she jerked, kicked, and jumped out of her restraints – even testing the sturdiness of the milking pen itself (it held, but a few tense moments passed in which I had devised a strategic plan to prevent her from falling into the 6 foot pit right in front of her, and corner her so that we could have some hope of roping her back in – all the while leaping over 5 foot fences to avoid being trapped in the fragile structure).

I’m most thankful my plan remained untested.

I’m thinking: this is the third farm of the day.  I’m now doomed to spend the rest of the day covered in manure.  I’m sweating from the sun and from the stress of planning an evacuation plan for myself and a thousand pound beast.  I’m hoping that the manure that went in my mouth isn’t harbouring a severe strain of Salmonella or E.coli.  I’m dreading the monstrous hike up the mountain to get back to the car.  I realize that thoughts along this vein enter my brain almost on a daily basis.

It made me wonder why I thought Kenya might have been a good idea.

When I got to the top of the hill, I was greeted by my new driver, Godfrey.  He laughed immediately upon seeing me and told me I was ‘SO CLEAN.’  I couldn’t help but smile.  On the way to the next farm we shared bananas, and chapatis (a most delicious flatbread which we take turns buying each day).  We joked about the outrageous cow.

We carried on with our day – getting more covered in manure, spilling iodine all over my pants, sweating profusely and struggling through communication mishaps with our farmers.  We shared chai tea with two families. I chatted with a group of 8 or 9 boys and learned what animals they had on each of their farms, what they wanted to be when they grew up, and how to take care of pigs.  We laughed as our team (Shepelo, Godfrey and I) ate more bananas and avocadoes than I have ever consumed in a week, let alone in one day (I ate 6 bananas.  In one day).  We almost cried we laughed so hard over Shepelo’s story of the leaking hot water bottle in her bed.  We were invited in for supper at our last farm and couldn’t believe the size of the bowls of stew and rice put before us.  We finished enrolling our last farm in the study – farm 110.  We came home to another huge dinner prepared by an ever-smiling Francis.

Although each day brings its’ own struggles, by the end I’m always reminded why Kenya was a good idea.  The people I have met, the team I am working with, the positive impact that the research is already having, the growth in my practical skills, and, well…let’s be honest – the food.

Yesterday we visited a farm where the farmer had 2 cows and a calf.  After we had finished our work, he invited us in for tea.  His wife had
just passed away the month before.  He has a beautiful farm, and is taking our advice and rebuilding some of his pens to increase cow comfort.  He asked me if I planned to come back to Kenya in a few years.  I said I hoped I could come again.  I told him I would visit again in a few weeks – but he insisted that I come in a few years.  He wanted me to come back to his farm, because he wanted to show me the improvements he would make after 3 years’ time.  He told me he hoped to grow his herd to a maximum of four milking cows, because he knew that is all
that he could handle.  He mentioned that he has already seen a gain of 2 L per day in his milking cow for the past two weeks he has been involved in the study.  He was very pleased with this, and wanted to increase his ability to feed and care for the cows in the best way he could.

I sit with a person like him – someone who is realistic about their limits, trying really hard to take recommendations to improve the farm structure and cow production, and who is a proud Kenyan – and I can’t help but feel a little overwhelmed to have been given a little window into his life.  I think to myself – partnering with people like this are what makes Kenya a great idea.

It might even make me thankful for the manure in my armpit.