Getting to know you

Breakfast, work, lunch in a hurry, more work, dinner, paperwork, sleep.

Except for the delightful landscapes and the often impassable roads, one might think that our everyday looks just like everyday in the life of a veterinarian in the large animal practice. What makes our daily life extraordinary, our summer internship in Kenya so unique? Without a doubt, it is the people we meet. And especially the pleasure of getting to know them, of bonding and hoping to keep contact in the future.

So then, how can we make the most of this human contact? It is by sharing the everyday life of those around us.

That is why, last weekend, I left our home in Ichamara to stay at Esther’s house – what we call billet. Esther is a sixty-year-old woman who has been involved in many community development projects. She’s been a director in a few women’s groups, she participated in building a primary school, she is one of the directors in Wakulma Dairy Ltd… and (I don’t know where she found the time) she has raised five children now successful in their carreers. She is still involved in her community today, and still has to take care of her farm. She lives alone, since her husband works in Nairobi and seldom comes home, and her children now have their own families to take care of. Therefore, she seemed rather pleased to have company and she’s been a wonderful hostess. Soon after my arrival, we sat down in her living room and she showed me tons of pictures, either sticked inside photo albums probably older than I am or scattered in a drawer. The next day, we went for a walk in the village so she could show me the school she helped to build and present me to all her friends. Though most of them could barely speak a word of English, we got along quite well : a smile and friendly gestures and voice will take you far. Armed with a panga (some sort of short machete), I cut Napier grass and harvested sweet potato vines with Esther. Those plants would be used to feed her cows. We put them in a big bag that I swung over my shoulders before walking the few kilometers stretching between her crops and her farm. In the afternoon, I helped preparing corn cobs for storage; then, we sat on a bench and patiently took the kennels off dozens of corn cobs– canned corn being a rather rare sight in rural Kenya.

I was quite happy to have spent a day at Esther’s – she and her friends wanted to keep me for at least another night – but I had yet other plans for the weekend. In the afternoon, I took a taxi to go to Priscilla’s house. Our translator had invited me to stay at her place for a night, knowing that I wass keen to get a glimpse of “real” Kenyan life. Priscilla does not exactly live in the countryside; it’s more like a residential neighbourhood, a fifteen-minute drive away from the city of Karatina. The rythm of this evening and of the following day was still this African-flavoured relaxed beat, but life for a young family (Priscilla just turned 32 and has three boys, including a baby) in the suburbs is very different from the routine of an older woman in a rural area. Instead of spending the day outside, we mainly stayed in the livingroom, except for a short walk and to go to the “corner shop” (more of a small stand) to buy vegetables. Yards and houses are smaller, but better equiped, for example with a refrigerator and an inside bathroom (which Esther would consider with admiration as « well advanced » facilities). Priscilla is a very busy woman : she gets home late (just like her husband) during the week and her cellphone barely gives her any moment of peace, even on Sundays. Luckily, Mercy, the young housekeeper, is there to help her with the chores and the children. On last Sunday, though, Priscilla made sure to be available. She taught me how to cook chapati (a brilliant cross between a crepe and a naan bread), we talked of many things, we looked at pictures (I guess it’s a quite popular hobby) and played with the boys. Their toys were mostly slippers and any ordinary object that they could find. I noted that at any time of the day, the television was on, wether someone paid attention or not.

Talking with the people around us is a simple pleasure and we should take advantage of every opportunity to echange a few words. Therefore, when John (taxi driver and employee at Wakulima) drove me to my destinations this weekend, there were few moments of silence in the car. We talked a lot, complaining about the weather or comparing Kenyan reality with Canadian reality. When I asked him if he had a farm, he just took a detour to introduce me to his family and to show me his cows.

These experiences I share with all these people are so much more than just sharing knowledge on dairy cattle. As Mrs. Anna said it so well in the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, « I’m bright and breezy because of all the beautiful and new things I’m learning about you day by day ».


Geneviève C. L.