Roughing it in Ichamara, Kenya…

If you consider a guesthouse for you and your group, a personal chef, a personal driver, a flushing toilet, and someone to do your laundry to be “roughing it.” Though there are definitely luxuries in Canada that I am missing here (I really miss my bed!), I really could not have asked for more. Our living conditions in Nakuru and Ichamara (a small village by Nyeri) have far exceeded any expectations Laura and I had. And after every farm visit, I am all that more grateful for what Farmers Helping Farmers and VwB have provided us with here. The homes of many local farmers are usually composed of a few small structures made from wood and packed soil (like clay?). One structure may be used for sleeping and socializing while another is used for cooking. Running water or electricity is found in some homes, but not very common. The bathrooms are almost always outdoor latrines (ie. a hole in the ground), of which I have managed to avoid using despite our eight/nine-hour days out on the road, going from farm to farm. Something about peeing into a hole in a space enclosed by sheet metal just doesn’t appeal to me!

As I mentioned, we are now in Ichamara. Our first week has gone by very efficiently, with over half of the designated farms completed. We still have two more weeks here, but it looks like the last week will be spent relaxing in the house and being tourists before we go back to Nakuru to complete our second sampling. Ichamara and the surrounding towns/villages are gorgeous! The landscape is beautiful, as hills are everywhere (which kind of sucks when we have to climb them carrying our boxes of supplies!), and they are full of various flowers and fruit trees. Growing up in suburbia, my fruits are from the closest supermarket. But here in Kenya, bananas, avocadoes, papayas, and pineapples are hanging off trees everywhere! I have also seen numerous coffee plantations and the beans are nothing like I imagined. I know, could I not sound any more like I’m from the city than ever?! That’s okay, at least I’m learning and seeing a lot! Plus, when I have a question about the plants, Laura has a Masters in botany!

The people here have been wonderful. All the staff at the house, from Sportsman’s Safari, and from Wakalima Dairy Co-op have been so friendly and helpful. Despite English being the second language for many of them, they make a huge effort in talking to us and teaching us new things about the Kenyan culture. I have also found that many Kenyans are very politically aware about their own country and surrounding nations, so I’m definitely learning a lot about that. The farmers have also been very grateful and generous – they are always sending us home with food! However, I do find it a little intimidating when we are stared at everywhere we go, especially by the children. I understand that it is because we look so different and ‘strange’ to them, so I am slowly getting used to it!

Though everything has been going great for the most part, I am experiencing some difficulties with adjusting to how things are done in Kenya, or Africa in general, as well as with the language barrier. Whereas in Canada, I am so used to tasks being completed immediately and efficiently, it is hard when I have to sit around and wait for instructions, since I don’t understand what is being communicated between the farmers and the vet students that we are assisting. Communicating our findings to the vet students for recording has also been challenging at times because we may be working on different parts of the study without realizing it. It is certainly no one’s fault, but I definitely have to develop a lot more patience if I am to continue our work without getting too frustrated or a head full of white hairs!

Since Laura and I have working so hard and efficiently this past week, we both broke out with fevers last night and today! It was quite a scare when Laura started to get a fever when we were on a farm. Our fellow Kenyans suggested we go to a hospital just to rule out malaria. It was certainly smart to err on the side of caution, but then talks of typhoid fever began, which really started to freak us out. After four hours of waiting, two blood tests and a doctor consult, she was diagnosed with upper respiratory tract infection and sent home with an assortment of drugs. Over the course of the night, her fever got worse, but then came down. By the next morning however, I was getting severe lower back pains, a headache, chills, and a fever. After lots of blankets, and four ibuprofen tablets, I am feeling much better now. Let’s hope it stays that way since we are now a day behind and we are to continue working tomorrow!

That’s pretty much what has been going in our great Kenyan adventure so far! Things should get a little more interesting as we plan to visit the nearby market in Karatina (a town outside the village) and go on a safari adventure in Sweet Waters. Thanks for all the past messages and comments, I really appreciate it! I will reply soon, but understand that internet just isn’t the same as in Canada. I miss home and you guys a lot! Keep me updated on your lives as well!

love always,
vi

PS. Erica, please be safe this weekend and return home in one piece!!

First Week in Kenya: Sawa Sawa

We are finally here in Kenya after many long months of preparation and anticipation. We arrived July 14th at 3 AM. We began our journey July 12th in the evening, departing from Toronto for Vionna and Charlottetown PEI for myself. We endured two red eye flights and many long hours in airport terminals, but the welcome we have received upon arrival very much made up for any discomfort we might have experienced.

We were greeted at the airport by our travel guide, Henry Macharia, who has arranged for all of our transportation needs during the whole of our two and a half month stay. I noted the stark contrast of his silvery curly hair to his dark skin as he took both my hands in greeting and said to me, “Do not look at your watch, night or day, no matter where you are, if you need me I shall come for you.” The warmness of this karibu, or welcome, has been a constant during the whole of our travels so far and I have come to associate Kenyans with firm handshakes and friendship.

We were delayed in Nairobi for the first two days on account of our luggage and medical supplies being held up in Cairo during a very tight connection. It arrived early Wednesday morning, and we were able to head out for the rift valley that same day. At the moment we are staying in Nakuru with Troy and Rebecca Sammons, and their three daughters Dakota, Kate, and Hope. Dakota and Kate are 4 and 2 years, and Hope is just 5 months. They are quite a busy house and have been very kind to keep us for the first week. The drive to Nakuru was overcast, but even so the views around the Ngong mountains (the same from Out of Africa!) as we drove down into the valley were truly spectacular. The mountain roads wound in and around the rock face and the African plains stretched out as far as the eye could see hundreds of feet below. We saw many beautiful acacia forests and, to our extreme delight, baboons, zebras, and gazelles along the roadside. Kenyans seem to enjoy a different sort of relationship with their wildlife than we have in Canada. Where we displace and convert, they seem to overlap and cohabitate in a way that seems very harmonious. And everywhere along the road you see young trees being planted by the Green Belt movement, an NGO started in the early 1908’s by Wangari Mathi who was the first African woman to win the noble peace prize.

Nakuru is a small town, and it’s farms tend to be in the range of 4 to 10 cows, although they may have as many as a thousand which is very large in Kenyan standards. The countryside is full of rolling hills which are still lush and green from the recent rainy season (March to May). All around are the huge mountains of the rift valley, their peaks long and worn compared to the Rockies of North America. The view from the Sammons house overlooks Lake Nakuru which is part of Nakuru National Park. The lake is in the migratory path of many species of birds and is the winter destination for many European species. An interesting phenomenon you can’t help but notice is the roadside farming. Because many small holder farms don’t have enough land to feed their animals, farmers allow their animals to roam free along the roadsides all day long to eat. In the evening they are brought in again. You will see all sorts of domesticated species grazing along the road including: Cattle, Goats (huge massive herds of goats! Hundreds of them!), donkeys, sheep, pigs, and chickens. The farms themselves are small, and in some cases require updating, but they are very charming. Each farm is a little walled in island all unto itself, and everyone has a garden full to bursting with produce. The most common crops are corn, beans, kale, and bananas. Fruit is incredibly prolific, and we have been eating locally grown passion fruit, mangos, and avocado on a daily basis.

We began sampling as soon as we arrived in Nakuru. The field study we are conducting involves us gathering data from small holder dairy farms in the Nakuru and Nyeri areas west of Mt. Kenya . We hope to visit over 100 farms and collect samples from around 700 cattle. So far, we have been to 7 farms and collected data from 44 cattle. The data is a tad convoluted because we are coordinating three separate projects from two masters students, and one PhD from the University of Nairobi. The topics of each study include GI tract parasites, mastitis, and abortion which requires the collections of fecal, milk, and blood samples respectively. The hope is to discover what factors and practices contribute to mastitis, the distribution of GI parasites, and the causes of abortion in Kenyan farms which can be as high as 10% per year in some cases. Some of the factors are stall proportions, grazing techniques, and stall/pen cleanliness. It was a little difficult to organize everyone at first, but we have a very efficient system now and can average about 30 minutes per 4 cow farm. Vionna and I have become masters of the CMT (California Mastitis Test) paddle. The two master’s students are Kabaka and Roiford, and Abuom is the PhD student. They are all great and we have become good friends. It is now Friday and they have gone back to Nairobi for the weekend. We will stay with the Sammons until Sunday at which point we will pack up and head for Ichamara, a small village outside of Nyeri.

That is all for now I think, the next post is Vionna’s, I’ll talk to you guys again in a couple weeks!

Laura

Kenyan odyssey draws near!

The time approacheth! The Kenyan odyssey is drawing near. I can hardly believe it really. I think the best setting for this adventure is to describe my thoughts as they stand right now for posterity’s sake. So that I can compare the person I am now with the person I will be when I get back. At the moment I feel like I know absolutely nothing that could possibly be considered even remotely useful to anyone, and I’m more than a little worried that when I arrive in Kenya this will be painfully obvious. So many people have helped me get to this point. My VWB support team, my Mum, and of course my wonderful family and friends. I know that I will not be alone in my travels or my work either. But surely at some point I must contribute something useful. Something in the way of a unique talent that could buoy and support my team. Now what shall that be I wonder? Hmmm… I have it! I’ll make sandwiches! I make a delicious peanut butter and banana sandwich, and since both ingredients are plentiful in Kenya, surely this is a task at which I cannot fail? Brilliant!

Oh dear, the bar for personal growth has been set quite low hasn’t it? I believe a wise person (likely of asian descent) once said that to learn something new, one must empty their cup (cup = brain) of all preconceptions and prejudice and allow it to be filled again with the truth of real life personal experience. Or something along those lines. Anyway, the point is that I feel as though my cup is as empty as it can possibly be. I’m hoping that my travels in Kenya will help me understand my world and the people who inhabit it a little bit better, and possibly fill my cup with something useful. Well, more useful than peanut butter and banana sandwiches anyway. I know this may sound selfish, especially when considering that my mandate is one where I’m to be a volunteer working to improve the lot of the farmers and dairy cattle of Kenya. I can’t, however, deny the very real possibility that I will benefit from this experience more than the wonderful people I will be working with in Kenya whom I cannot wait to meet.

I think I will sign off now. It is late and I’m getting more foolish with each passing minute. I will write again soon with details concerning itineraries and flights schedules.

L