Le Festin

Le maintien d’un équilibre de vie est une formule très à la mode ces temps-ci. Ainsi, conscientes que s’accorder quelques plaisirs est essentiel pour rendre de bonnes performances au travail, nous nous sommes permis de nous gâter cette fin de semaine. Après quatre jours très occupés sur les fermes, Shauna, Jessie et moi sommes parties vendredi avant-midi pour un safari dans le parc national de Lake Nakuru.

Le trajet pour s’y rendre nous menait dans la légendaire Vallée du Rift. Quelle vue se présenta à nous! Les collines des highlands s’arrêtèrent brusquement et donnèrent sur cette dépression verdoyante que l’on appelle « le berceau de l’humanité » et qui s’étend sur plus de 6000 km du nord au sud du continent africain. Dominic (notre guide et chauffeur) nous fit également passer par l’équateur, nous laissant profiter du petit plaisir enfantin qu’est l’enjambement de la fameuse ligne imaginaire.

Notre hôtel dans la ville de Nakuru fut bien confortable… quoiqu’il nous semblait qu’il y avait trois fois plus d’employés que de clients (nous n’en croisâmes aucun, d’ailleurs).

Puisque nous partions tôt pour la réserve, samedi matin, notre déjeuner nous attendait dans des boîtes en carton à la réception. Elles contenaient une saucisse froide, quelques morceaux de fruits, un petit feuilleté, un œuf cuit dur, deux tranches de pain sèches, un jus d’ananas, puis de la confiture qui venait dans un sac en plastic à partager entre nous. Nos ustensiles : des cure-dents. Ce type de repas a son charme, avouons-le.

 

Nous passâmes les portes du parc national à 7h40 et nous n’en sortîmes qu’à 17h. Ce fut une journée des plus satisfaisantes.

Les zèbres grassouillets galopaient sur ce spectaculaire terrain de jeux; ceux qui taquinaient les autres se faisaient ruer sans plus de cérémonie, ce qui faisaient ricaner les hyènes. Les phacochères trottaient fièrement, la queue en l’air comme un étendard. Les girafes nous regardaient de haut puis, nous jugeant indignes de leur présence, s’éloignaient avec une lente grâce. Les buffles colossaux ruminaient de profondes pensées. Les flamands roses s’entassaient aux bords du lac pour se raconter les derniers potins de l’autre rive et s’envolaient si nous nous approchions trop, nous et nos oreilles indiscrètes. Les amateurs d’oiseaux s’accrochaient à des caméras si imposantes qu’elles devaient avoir leur propre valise pour être transportées.
Trouvez les voitures, trouvez les lions; voilà le jeu des réserves naturelles. En effet, un attroupement de véhicules immobilisés est souvent promesse de la proximité d’un grand félin. La troupe de lions que nous avons d’abord vue était à peine distinguable à travers les buissons et arbrisseaux. Seule une oreille qui bougeait parfois ou une queue qui se balançait subrepticement trahissait leur camouflage presque parfait. Puis, des lionceaux impatients se levèrent et s’approchèrent en douce de leur mère, qui se prélassait, ses quatre dangereuses pattes en l’air. Elle ne céda pas aux caprices de ses petits; ces derniers imitèrent donc la lionne qui prenait un bain de soleil et se recouchèrent, disparaissant une fois de plus dans les herbes dorées.
Quoique bien contente, je n’étais pas tout à fait satisfaite de ce bref aperçu des rois de la savane. Dominic, quant à lui, aurait préféré voir un léopard. Le destin fit un compromis : ainsi, en après-midi, nous eûmes une magnifique vue sur un lion grimpé dans un arbre – ce qui est tout à fait inhabituel, ce genre de perchoir étant plutôt préféré par les léopards. Sans doute le jeune mâle sentait-il le besoin de trouver un trône pour affirmer sa toute puissance, à défaut d’avoir une crinière digne de ce nom.
Le soleil décida de quitter le travail plus tôt ce jour-là. Ainsi, en fin d’après-midi, le ciel laissa libre cours à son tempérament orageux. Alors que les impalas cherchaient le couvert des arbres, les babouins ne se souciaient guère de l’averse et continuaient leur souper de famille en se servant dans le pelage de leurs voisins.
L’anthropomorphisme épice notre vie. Et quand notre plat de vie sauvage se compose du mordant de carnivores mythiques, des ailes d’oiseaux aux formes et au plumage impossibles, d’une brochette des plus grands gibiers de la planète servie sur un lit de salade d’acacia et d’autres plantes exotiques, le tout accompagné d’une coupe d’eau de pluie et de tonnerre en fin de repas, le résultat ne peut qu’être un régal pour les yeux, un festin pour le cœur du voyageur.

Ce genre d’expériences reste avec nous toute notre vie, nous rend reconnaissants de la chance que nous avons d’explorer d’autres pays et nous ouvre l’appétit pour la redécouverte des merveilles de notre propre patrie, nous donnant le goût de les protéger puis de les partager avec le reste du monde.

 

Geneviève C. L.

The Feast

Keeping a balance in your life is a very popular forumula these days. Therefore, conscious that allowing ourselves a few pleasures is necessary to give good working performances, we decided to enjoy a little treat this weekend. After four very busy days on the farms, Shauna, Jessie and I left Friday morning to go on a safari in Lake Nakuru National Park.

The road to get there led us into the legendary Rift Valley. What a sight ! The Kenyan highlands stopped abruptly and gave way to this huge and green ground depression called the “Craddle of Humankind” and that streches over more than 6000 km from north to south on the African continent. Dominic (our guide and driver on this expedition) also drove us to the equator, letting us enjoy the childish pleasure to step across the famous imaginary line.

Our hotel in Nakuru city was comfortable… though it seemed that there were three times more employees than clients (we didn’t see any other guests).
Since we had to leave early for the game reserve, Saturday morning, our breakfast was waiting for us in cardboard boxes at the reception. They contained a cold sausage, a few fruits, a little pastry, a hard-boiled egg, two dry slices of bread, a pineapple juice, and a plastic bag of jam to share. Our utensils : toothpicks. Charming. And very funny.
We passed through the gates of the National Park at 7h40 AM and left only at 5 PM. It was a most satisfying day.

Plump zebras played around; those who teased the others received a kick as a warning, which made the hyenas snigger loudly. Warthogs trotted proudly with their tails straight up like a banner. Girafes looked down on us, then, judging us unworthy of their presence, moved away with a slow-motion grace. Colossal buffaloes ruminated deep thoughts. Flamingos swarmed on the shore to talk about the latest gossips concerning the other side of the lake and flew away if we came too close with inquisitive eyes and ears. Bird-lovers clutched at cameras so big that they probably needed their own suitcase to be carried.

Spot the cars, spot the lions; that’s game watching. Indeed, a crowd of halted vehicles is often a promise of a great cat nearby. The pride of lions we first saw was barely visible amongst the shrubs. A ticking ear or a tail moving surreptitiously were the only things that could betray their close-to-perfect camouflage. Suddenly, impatient cubs rose to their feet and came closer to their mother, who was basking in the sun with four enormous paws in the air. She would not give in to their desire to play, so the cubs contented themselves with some more rest and, laying down once again, disappeared in the golden grass.

I was not quite satisfied with this brief glimpse of the kings of the savannah. As for Dominic, he would have prefered to see a leopard. Our luck was a compromise : in the afternoon, we saw a lion climbed in a tree – which is rather unusual, since leopards are the ones who usualy rest on branches. Without a doubt, this young male felt the urge to sit on a throne to assert his might, since his mane was barely a tuft and could not yet be considered a worthy crown.

The sun decided to quit his job earlier that day. At the end of the afternoon, the sky gave free rein to it’s stormy temper. Impalas started seeking a shelter beneath the trees, but baboons did not care about the shower and carried on with their family dinner, helping themselves in their neighbours’hair.
Anthropomorphism spices up our lives. And when your wildlife course comprises fine bird wings with impossible colours, a tangy bite of mythical carnivores, a sweet selection of the greatest game on the planet served on a bed of acacia and other exotic plants, accompanied by a glass of rainwater and lightning at the end of the meal, the result can only be a  treat for the eyes, a feast for the traveller’s heart.

This kind of experience will stay with me for the rest of my life, makes me feel grateful for the opportunity I have to explore another country, and whets my appetite for a rediscovery of my own land’s marvels, which I will want to protect and share with the rest of the world.

 

Geneviève C. L.

The final days: paravet training and goat pass-on

It’s hard to believe that our time on the project is quickly coming to an end! This past week was one of our busiest. We held 5 days of training new paravets and managed to squeeze in our second goat pass out ceremony and paravet graduation on the same day.

Most of the paravet training was carried out by the supertrainers Janet and Saphina. We had a very eager group of community members ready to learn about goats and pigs and get some hands on experience.  As part of the training, we explained to them the importance of having a good goat pen, including a demonstration of a small scale model of the pen complete with a goat figurine inside. On a few occasions this week, we’ve had to carry this diorama around with us. We didn’t understand why, but people would stop and stare at us while we carried it around, cars would even slow down and almost stop to look! (Although we are quite used to standing out in a crowd at this point, this was a bit extreme!) I even had a man come out of a crowd and touch the pen while I was walking with it. We had no idea why this model was attracting so much attention; did they never make models or play will makeshift dollhouses as children? We realized what all the fuss was about when a man yelled out: “Madam, madam! Is that witchcraft?!” In a country where many people still use traditional healers we could understand everyone’s interest in it. Once we explained that it was used for teaching purposes people seemed to understand why a muzungu would be carrying such an item.

Saphina teaching the new paravets

Getting some hands on experience
Learning how to determine the dosage of dewormer

The rest of the training went off without a hitch and the paravets seemed to get a lot out of it and we know that they will be of great benefit to their communities. While the training was going on, we also had the task of finding, brucella testing, and purchasing goats. We managed to find 46 goats for the pass-out ceremony and had the new paravets do all the treatments and processing. (Tara and I even got to herd goats to the FAOC demonstration farm, with minor objection from some of the goats!). They were very excited to practice their new skills and became more confident with every goat. Once the goats were processed, we had the paravet graduation ceremony, followed by the goat pass-out. It was a very full day! (Did I mention that there was also a goat kidding in the background while all this was going on?)

 

 

Paravet graduation
Just born

It was both a happy and a sad day for us, as it was one of our last out in the field. We’ve really gotten to know a lot of the beneficiaries and see them come a long was this summer towards improving their households. One of these beneficiaries I got to know is Carolina. She benefitted one goat at a previous pass-out but has never built a pen so has not been loaned another. She is an elderly grandmother who has young grandchildren to take care of and send to school. She has been having difficulties paying school fees and lacks the money needed to put up a pen. Later on in the summer, we suggested that she, with her neighbour who is also a beneficiary, put up a pen together by borrowing money from the revolving fund. They thought that this was a feasible idea and agreed to get a pen ready for the next pass-out. We were passing through their community and I decided to stop in to see how the pen construction was going since the pass-out day was quickly approaching. I was disappointed to see that they had not even started building and that I had to tell them that they had to be removed from the list as they did not have a pen in place. This must have given them the push they needed, and a few days later, the frame of a pen was up! They were very proud what they had managed to do together and were excited to show me and have their picture taken. I’m happy to say that both Carolina and her neighbour Rovina got to receive goats yesterday! We have many great stories of the wonderful people we met and got to work with and I’m sure that we will miss them and hope that they continue to move forward.

Carolina and Rovina with the beginnings of a pen
Group shot with a few of the people we worked with this summer

The People You Meet

We came at night – it felt strange because we typically don’t go out after dark falls.  As we walked to the door, I could see a beautiful set of smiling teeth and a pink dress suit.  Our host greeted us warmly, and took us up the front stoop.  As we were about to go in, she whispered that she was just finishing hosting a big celebration for a recent graduate of IT school.  She apologized that they hadn’t quite left yet, but were about to leave shortly.  We took off our shoes and she opened the door.  There were about 30 people inside, all with their heads bowed – they were praying a blessing over the new graduate.  We paused at the door to let the prayer finish.

As we entered, we shook the hands that came from every direction and were quickly shown a seat.  All of a sudden cake appeared before us, and food started to multiply on the kitchen table.  We chatted with some of the guests, then filled our plates to overflowing with mokimo (potatoes), githeri (bean stew), lamb, chapattis, fresh fruit, and rice.  It was delicious.

Then our host was freed up enough to sit and have a chat with us.  I was already in awe of this formidable women and her hospitality.  There had been a little mix up.  We were supposed to stay with her over the weekend, but somehow the dates got miscommunicated and she already had a houseful of guests from the graduation celebration.  She insisted that we still show up for a meal – all without ever having met us before.

Jennifer Murgocho works in association with an organization that were are working with in Kenya called Farmers Helping Farmers.  She is based in Meru – and we were visiting for the weekend.  She told us about her involvement with Farmers Helping Farmers.  She detailed the schools, women’s groups and communities that she has worked with, and the changes she has been a part of in the years past.  As we sat and listened, I reminded myself what a privilege it is to listen to someone talk about their true passion.  It’s even more of a privilege to see that passion turn into reality through the course of their life work.  There are some people that I have sat with in my life that leave me deeply inspired and hopeful.  Jennifer was one of those people, with one of those incredible stories.

I was reminded that a life well-lived goes far beyond a job.  A life well-lived is passionate enough to host a graduation celebration with a large guest list.  To invite complete strangers into your home for a meal.  To make people feel welcome, cared for and understood.  To be compassionate enough to see areas that need improvement, brave enough to act and committed enough to follow through.  These are great life lessons for a veterinary student to learn and remember.
I can’t say I’ve ever had milk directly from a cow.  It was boiled of course – to kill all the nasty pathogens that raw milk can harbour.  I’ve never been able to directly attribute my milk products to a specific cow.  It’s kind of an odd feeling to look at a cow while you are drinking the milk it made a few hours earlier.  But when I think about it, and it’s really not all that odd at all.  And it’s far more rewarding to see a product go (as we say in food safety courses) from ‘farm to fork.’

It was freezing on Monday, and the warm milk was a welcome gift.  There were four of us on the farm that day and we each had a glass.  I’d estimate that we drank roughly a litre of the farmer’s milk.  In Kenya, farmers are paid 27 Kenyan Shillings per kilogram of milk produced.  That’s just over 30 cents Canadian.  For many farmers, the milk proceeds are a large proportion of income for the household.  Most cows in Kenya are producing roughly 9 kg per day, compared to a typical Canadian cow which produces roughly 32 kg per day.  It’s also important to keep in mind that most farms in Kenya have less than 3 actively milking cows at any given time.

So this hot milk on a cold Monday morning was not just a simple gift.  The farmer’s name is Waruguru.  She told us how two of her daughters passed away, so she is responsible for feeding and caring for the cow.  She has one daughter left, who was there to help answer some of our questions and help with the farm.  Her grandson was there as well.  The teachers strike ended on Monday, with most students heading back to classes.  His presence on the farm likely means that school fees are too expensive, and he is not able to attend classes.  He was incredibly helpful – holding the calf, getting me soap, moving the cow into the milking pen, and holding supplies for me.
While Jennifer inspired me with her courage and commitment, Waruguru inspired me with her kindness and generosity.  Her gift to us was of high personal cost and I’m deeply appreciative for it.  Two stories from two strong Kenyan women who have big enough hearts to give – at times beyond their means.

And this is why I love veterinary medicine, and why it’s so much more than just a job to me.  Students that want to become vets because they love animals and dislike people are misled.  People are our job.  A veterinarian gets unique insight into the lives of the people owning animals and the ability to make a real difference in both the lives of the animal and it’s human.

And once in a while, their humans make a real difference to us, too.

Manières locales et matières fécales

Les habitants du Kenya ont la réputation d’être un peuple chaleureux et accueillant. Après quelques semaines passées à les côtoyer quotidiennement, je ne peux que réitérer cette affirmation. Non seulement les Kenyans sont-ils des hôtes attentionnés, mais ils font également preuve d’une politesse et d’un savoir-vivre parfois incompatibles avec nos habitudes de Nord-Américains placides, planificateurs et pressés. En effet, quel citadin canadien ne serait pas suspicieux, voire dédaigneux d’une poignée de main d’un parfait inconnu croisé sur la route? Et qui serait prêt à faire – ou même à accepter – une invitation à prendre le thé lancée à l’improviste en plein milieu d’une journée de travail déjà bien chargée? Ce sont là pourtant choses courantes dans ce pays qui m’accueille si généreusement.

 

Les bonnes manières d’ici exigent que toute rencontre débute par une poignée de main franche et par un « Habari » cordial, souvent juxtaposé à une série d’autres salutations. Collègue, nouvelle connaissance ou individu qui restera un étranger, la question ne se pose pas : on se salue avant d’échanger quelque autre parole. Ainsi, lorsqu’Ephraim arrête le véhicule pour demander à un passant si tel fermier habite bien sur ce chemin, une main pénètre par la fenêtre ouverte du conducteur et doit faire le tour de tous les passagers, accompagnée par autant de « habari », avant que son propriétaire, penché sur la voiture, ne nous donne les indications désirées. Même celui qui a la main mouillée ou sale ne peut échapper à ce contact humain, puisque dans ce genre de cas, il doit présenter son bras, le carpe fléchi, et l’autre personne lui prend alors l’avant-bras juste en haut du poignet.

Les Kenyans ont aussi l’habitude de dire « désolé » quand quelque chose d’indésirable vous arrive. En effet, à chaque fois que je perds l’équilibre sur une pente glissante, que j’échappe mon crayon ou que je me cogne la tête – ce qui arrive immanquablement à tous les jours, vu les acrobaties que je dois parfois faire pour rentrer dans les enclos – les témoins s’empresseront de dire « sorry », même si ces désagréments sont uniquement de mon fait.

Un autre aspect de cette culture est la générosité. Lorsque nous visitons des fermes, il n’est pas rare que nous repartions avec un régime de bananes, des papayes, des cannes à sucre, des œufs, des épis de maïs ou des avocats gros comme une tête. Nous disons aux fermiers qu’ils n’ont guère besoin de nous offrir quoi que ce soit, que leur participation à notre étude nous suffit amplement, mais ils sont heureux de partager le fruit du labeur de leur sol en plus du temps qu’ils nous accordent déjà. D’ailleurs, Francis, notre cuisinier, ne pourra jamais faire assez de pains aux bananes pour épuiser toute notre réserve.

Le partage est une valeur primordiale ici. Même ceux qui ont peu à offrir vous laisseront leur chemise si vous en avez besoin. Cette fin de semaine par exemple, nous avions planifié d’aller visiter les étudiantes de l’Université de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard installées à Meru, elles aussi parties au Kenya pour des projets avec l’organisme Farmers Helping Farmers. Un quiproquo nous empêcha d’être logées chez Jennifer(membre active et ancienne présidente d’un groupe de femmes pour le développement de la communauté), qui pensait plutôt nous recevoir la semaine prochaine et avait donc rempli ses chambres d’invités pour samedi soir. Consternée par ce malentendu, elle voulut nous laisser sa propre chambre pour que nous n’ayons pas à dormir dans un hôtel un peu plus éloigné. Nous ne pouvions tout de même pas accepter sa proposition, alors elle nous ordonna presque de venir souper chez elle, au moins, et elle nous reçut avec attention malgré sa soirée déjà bien chargée.

La générosité kenyane n’a d’égale que l’hospitalité locale. Nous recevons souvent des invitations à nous asseoir et à prendre le thé. Nous avons des journées bien occupées et avons tendance à décliner, mais les fermiers insistent, certains ajoutant même qu’un refus serait vexant. Ainsi, à moins d’être très pressées – ce qui n’est pas coutume, avec le rythme africain que nous commençons à attraper – nous nous laissons guider vers des chaises, des bancs de bois ou même à l’intérieur, dans un petit salon, pour nous asseoir et prendre le temps d’apprécier la compagnie de nos hôtes, ce qui constitue une marque de reconnaissance très appréciée. On nous sert parfois de la nourriture et, quand c’est le cas, souvent en quantité effarante. Évidemment, il est impoli de ne pas finir son assiette…

Les fermiers veulent tellement faire preuve de bonnes manières en tant qu’hôtes qu’ils tiennent à ce que nous nous asseyions sur un morceau de tissu décoré plutôt que directement sur une bûche de bois et qu’ils nous disent de ne pas nous donner la peine de retirer nos bottes en entrant chez eux. Ne voient-ils pas que nous sommes déjà recouvertes de boue et de d’autres saletés encore? Qu’importe! Ils n’accepteraient pas que le peu de poussière sur la bûche ou sur le plancher touche les précieux scrubs de leurs invitées. À ces gestes fort – trop? – attentionnés, nous sourions, mais leur faisons comprendre que ce serait nous qui ferions affront aux manières locales en recouvrant les lieux de matières fécales.

 

Geneviève C. L.

Manners and Manure

The inhabitants of Kenya are known for being a warm and welcoming people. After spending a few weeks in their company, I can but confirm this fact. Kenyans are not only thoughtful hosts, they also show a politeness and manners often incompatible with our North-American placid, planning and always-in-a-rush habits. Indeed, what Canadian city dweller wouldn’t be suspicious, sometimes scornful, of a handshake from a perfect stranger met on his way? And who would actually make – or even accept – an unexpected invitation to have a cup of tea in the middle of an already busy work day? Yet these things are common in this country that welcomes me so generously.

According to good manners here, you should greet anyone you meet with a good handshake and a cordial “Habari”, often followed by a series of other greetings. Whether it’s a collegue, a new acquaintance or someone that will remain a stranger doesn’t matter : it’s greeting before talking. And so, when our driver stops the vehicule to ask someone passing by directions to a certain farm, a hand enters by Ephraim’s opened window and must meet the hand of every single passenger, accompanied by many “habari”, before the person, bent over the window, will give us the desired answer. Even one with a wet or dirty hand cannot escape from this human contact : in those cases, he must present his arm, flexing the carpal joint, and the other person can then grap and shake his forearm, just up the wrist.

Kenyans also have the habit of saying “sorry” when some undesirable thing happens to you. Therefore, every time I fall on a slippery slope, every time I drop my pen in the mud and every time I hit my head – which happens every single day because of the acrobatics I perform to get inside the pens – the witnesses will immediately say “sorry”, even though these troubles are entirely my fault.

Generosity is yet another aspect of the Kenyan culture. When we are visiting farms, we frequently leave with a bunch of bananas, papayas, sugur canes, eggs, corn, or avocados as big as a head. We tell the farmers that they don’t have to give us anything, that their participation in our study is more than enough, but they are happy to share the result of their laboured soil, in addition to the time they already spend with us. Besides, I doubt Francis, our cook, will ever be able to make enough banana bread to empty our stocks.

Sharing is an essential value here. Even those who haven’t got much will give you all they can possibly offer if you are in need. This weekend for example, we had planned on going to visit the students from UPEI staying in Meru (they are also travelling for some projects with the Farmers Helping Farmers organization). A misunderstanding kept us from staying at Jennifer’s house (she is an active member of a wowen’s group for community development and used to be their chairperson), since she thought we were coming on the next week and had therefore no more rooms available for Saturday night. Dismayed by this misunderstanding, she wanted us to sleep in her own room rather than to have us staying in a hotel a bit further away. We simply couldn’t accept such an offer, so she almost forced us to at least come at her house for dinner, and she nicely received us even though she already had a very busy evening.

The Kenyans’ generosity is only equalled by the local hospitality. We often receive invitation to sit down and have a cup of tea. Our daily schedule is quite busy and we tend to decline those offers, but the farmers insist, some of them even adding that it is not very polite to refuse. Therefore, except if we really are in a hurry – which seldom happens, with the African beat we are starting to catch – we let ourselves be guided towards chairs, wooden benches or even inside the house, in a small living room, to sit down and to take the time to enjoy our hosts’ company, a much appreciated token of gratitude. They sometimes serve us food and, when it’s the case, it’s usually in enormous quantities. Of course, it is considered rude not to finish your plate…

Farmers wish so much to show good manners as hosts that they insist on having us sitting on a piece of decorated material instead of directly on a log and they tell us not to remove our boots when we come inside their house. Can’t they see that we already are covered in dirt and other filthy things? They don’t seem to care : they wouldn’t accept to see a bit of dust from a log or from the floor going on their guests’ precious scrubs. In front of those very – too? – thoughtful hosts, we smile, but we let them understand that we would actually be disrespectful to such good manners by covering the place with manure.

 

Geneviève C. L.

The vaccination campaign

These past two weeks have been amazing. Almost every day we have been out in the communities doing vaccination days with the paravets.   As we go from house to house we check on the people’s goats and pigs, vaccinate and deworm the goats, and ensure that the beneficiaries use the paravet for regular check-ups. Although most paravets get paid, we have found that some community members delay in their payment or do not pay the paravet at all.  One of the reasons for this is that in much of Uganda, the people live very much day to day with their finances. For instance, our ‘special hire’ (aka: taxi) driver gets the smallest amount of gas possible every single morning and most people buy miniscule amounts of airtime for their cell phones and end up purchasing it almost every day. Also, savings do not really exist for most people here, and if somebody has extra cash on hand they have been known to tell their neighbor to dig a hole and hide the savings in the matooke plantation so it could not be spent until they needed it. It is for these reasons that we get unlucky some days with households having no money available for vaccination or deworming.  To help change this pattern, we have been quite cut and dry and we would not treat any animals unless we received payment first. The paravets, for example Supertrainer Janet and paravet Namusisi, were very pleased with this rule.

Supertrainer Janet with Tara

On one of our house visits, Tara noticed that one of the goats was walking with a limp. After vaccinating it, Ilse and I thought we would check its front legs just to see if we could see what was wrong. Not expecting to find anything we started palpating the joints and looking for anything out of the ordinary. I noticed a little stick stuck to one of its hooves and tried to pull on it but it was pretty stuck. After giving it a bit of a wiggle and a stronger tug, a two-inch acacia tree thorn came out! Poor goat had a massive sliver. We just hope that the hole has closed up and the goat can walk normally now.

the Acacia thorn from the poor goats foot

We have also been attending the last of the community meetings which have been going very well. In addition to answering any questions the beneficiaries may have, we created a small lesson which we discuss that highlights seven steps to good goat management. In short they are: providing fresh water, feeding fresh and varied food, maintaining good hygiene, building strong and clean goat pens, vaccinating, deworming, and spraying for ticks. We remind them of these important aspects at the end of each meeting, complete with one of our translators quizzing them to ensure the women understood each step.

Myself, Elad, Paravet Molly, Tara, Ilse, and Joseph

Dr. Card arrived on Saturday which was awesome! She has joined us in the field and has been teaching us more about eye problems, body condition scoring, and several conditions that could be differentials for certain clinical signs. Adam from the ‘Students for Development’ group has also joined us for the week to help us in the field which has been great. This past Sunday we had a dinner party for one of the FAOC interns named Shafiq. He works with us as a translator and he has been an incredible addition to the project this summer. He requested a strawberry cake and as luck would have it, we somehow found a cake mix here to make it for him! We also had fresh baked cookies and a delicious dinner courtesy of Dr. Card and a few of us helping. It was quite a Canadian birthday and I think it was fun for him to hear our birthday song and eat cookies and cake. Another intern named Tom and their friend Brenda joined us as well. It was a great night!

Shafiq's birthday gathering! From left to right: Brenda, myself, Tom, Ilse, Shafiq, Elad, Adam, Dr. Card

We have a busy week ahead of us as we will be doing our five day paravet training session, as well as our goat pass out at the end of the week. As of now we have purchased most of the materials for the paravet kits we will be handing out so this weekend will be spent tying up the loose ends and planning our lessons for each day. We also have goat records to type up and pictures to print for each community. I can’t believe there is only 10 days left of the project! Time has flown by. I will write again soon with an update on next week.

Cheers!

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.

 

 

Our Favourite Africa Things

While Kellie and I walked to a farm to see a sick chicken, we chatted about some of the things we were going to miss about being here.  Things like walking down dirt paths to farm calls in the bright warm sun (like we were doing during our conversation).  We joked about creating a song parody like The Sound of Music’s “My Favourite Things” sung by Maria.  Turns out the joke turned into a reality and we composed a parody (sung to the same tune) for everyone’s enjoyment.  Some of the song is in Swahili so there is a legend at the end for translation purposes.

 

“Our Favourite Africa Things”

By: Jodi and Kellie

Buying ndizi and ripe parachichi

Drinking a Tusker or Kilibaridi

Goats on the roadside tied there by a string

These are our favourite Africa things.

 

The days with maji and the nights with power

Having clean feet and a long, moto shower

School kids surrounding us, starting to sing

These are our favourite Africa things.

 

Responding “poa” when greeted with “mambo”

Eating our wali / maharagwe combo

Jammed in a bus like a can of sardines

These are our favourite Africa things.

 

When the bus breaks

When the kids scream

When the stove won’t light

We simply remember our Africa things

And then everything’s alllllllllllllright

[Repeat all verses]

 

Legend:

*Ndizi – Bananas (one of Kellie’s absolute favourite things!  We had to look up if eating too many could kill you…)

*Parachichi – Avocados (sold right next to the ndizi’s at our favourite roadside stand)

*Tusker/ Kili (short for Kilimanjaro) – two Tanzanian beers (Kili is Jodi’s favourite, Kellie prefers Serengeti but it doesn’t work in the song)

*Baridi – Cold (you have to specifically request for a cold beer and it rarely ever shows up that way even when you do)

*Maji – Water (our house’s tap runs dry often and there is never any warning when it does)

*Moto – Hot (we use hot loosely because showers are never hot.  Lukewarm water from a MEC camping shower is usually the best we can get and it is much more enjoyable than bathing with cold water so it makes it favourites list for that reason!

*Poa – Cool (poa can be used as a slang similar to English.  It also can mean that you are cold or that you want a piece of soap – poa is a brand of soap here too)

*Mambo – What’s up? (sometimes it is also said as “Mambo vipi” or just shortened to “vipi” which means “how’s it going” or literally “how”)

*Wali – Rice

*Maharagwe – Beans

Mukurwe-ini et les fermes environnantes

Mukurwe-ini est situé dans les highlands du Kenya. Ainsi, dès que nous prenons la route, d’innombrables collines verdoyantes défilent devant nos yeux, avec en arrière-plan le Mont Kenya, lorsque le ciel est assez dégagé.

Le village grouille d’activités à toutes heures de la journée. Sur la rue commerçante, on retrouve d’un côté des kiosques – dont la structure de bois évoque plus des branches que des planches – où l’on vend principalement des vêtements, des fruits et des légumes; de l’autre, il y a des commerces, collés les uns aux autres dans une même petite, mais longue bâtisse. C’est là que nous achetons parfois des frites, qui viennent mélangées avec des cure-dents en guise d’ustensiles, dans un double sac de plastic – le gourmand distrait peut vite regretter son manque d’attention.

Nous avons remarqué que certains types de commerces semblent plus populaires, ou du moins plus nombreux dans la région. En effet, dans un même village, nous comptons plusieurs salons de beauté, une bonne quantité de magasins Safaricom (compagnie locale de téléphonie mobile), beaucoup de petits bars semblant désertés et qui mériteraient plutôt l’appellation de buvettes ainsi que d’innombrables boucheries qui se font la guerre à savoir laquelle aura le nom le plus évocateur de délices : « Quality 2013 Butchery», « Meat Garden » et « Pork City » en sont des exemples.

Dès que nous nous éloignons du centre du village, le décor change complètement. Nous quittons les routes asphaltées pour emprunter des chemins de terre plus ou moins battue où même les véhicules 4X4 ne s’aventureraient pas sans hésitation. Avant-hier, par exemple, Ephraim (notre chauffeur) fut contraint de reculer devant une pente sur laquelle nous n’avions pas réussi à nous hisser. Mais Ephraim n’est pas homme à abandonner si facilement. Aussi recula-t-il non pas pour rebrousser chemin, mais bien pour prendre son élan. Se concentrant comme si son esprit pouvait augmenter la puissance de la vieille bagnole, il mit plein gaz, monta jusqu’aux trois-quarts de la côte, puis immobilisa son véhicule – juste devant un groupe d’enfants. Il n’était pas question de perdre la face. Alors, Priscilla (notre traductrice), Shauna et moi sortîmes de la voiture et nous nous mîmes à pousser. Il nous fallait courir, poursuivies par les enfants, pour suivre l’automobile qui avait constamment besoin d’une poussée supplémentaire et qui, dans cet effort suprême, nous enveloppait d’une bouffée de gaz carbonique et de poussière rougeâtre. Eh oui, nous triomphâmes de la colline. Les enfants me dévisagèrent d’un air amusé quand je criai victoire avec force.

Pour nous rendre d’une ferme à l’autre, nous traversons ou contournons, montons (quand nous y arrivons) ou descendons colline après colline. Nous croisons des personnes – souvent des femmes – qui transportent sur leurs dos de lourds fardeaux de bois ou de « Napier grass » (Pennisetum purpureum), tenus par une courroie passant sur leur front. Nous voyons aussi des cyclistes qui marchent à côté de leur vélo plutôt que de l’enfourcher, des motocyclettes (bota bota) et très rarement (vous comprenez pourquoi) une automobile. Aucune rue n’a de nom, aucune porte n’a d’adresse; ce n’est que par les indications que Priscilla reçoit par téléphone et parfois avec l’aide d’un passager supplémentaire qui s’incruste à l’arrière – ou même sur le siège avant avec Priscilla – que nous parvenons à bon port. Et encore là, nous ne sommes pas toujours arrivés lorsque le moteur s’éteint : certaines fermes n’ont aucune route qui se rende jusqu’à elles et d’autres ne sont accessibles que via le terrain des voisins ou en traversant un labyrinthe de branchages et de plantations exotiques.

Rares sont les fermes qui ont toutes leurs composantes – maison principale, cuisine, remise, toilette (ces bonnes vieilles « bécosses »), réservoir d’eau, nombreux enclos et cages pour diverses espèces – sur un même palier de la colline. Ainsi, avant de pouvoir faire quoi que ce soit avec les animaux, il nous faut escalader ou dégringoler des pentes escarpées et glissantes sur lesquelles notre seul appui – quand il y en a un – est un escalier constitué de cavités inégales creusées à même la terre rougeâtre. Comme nous devons transporter notre matériel dans un coffre encombrant, nous voyons à peine où nous mettons les pieds. Les vaches sont habituellement logées sur un « étage » plus bas que la maison et le chemin pour s’y rendre s’avère encore plus rustique. On se demande comment diable elles ont fait pour atterrir là. Une fois notre travail terminé, nous devons bien sûr revenir sur nos pas pour tout ramener à la voiture.

Le paysage est admirable, certes, mais s’y déplacer n’est pas de tout repos! De retour au Québec, mes mollets d’acier ne daigneront même plus prendre l’ascenseur et me mèneront en un instant au sommet de n’importe quel vrai escalier.

 

Geneviève C. L.