Mukurwe-ini and the surrounding farms

Mukurwe-ini is located in the highlands of Kenya. Therefore, the moment we take the car, countless green hills rise before our eyes, with Mount Kenya in background on days where the sky is clear.

The village swarms with activity all day. On one side of the main shopping street, you find stands – with a structure seemingly made of branches more than wood planks – where they sell clothes, fruits and vegetables; on the other side are shops cramed into a small but long building. That’s where we sometimes buy fries, which comme in a double plastic bag, mixed in with toothpicks to use as utensils – one who does not pay attention to his snack can easily regret it.

We have observed that certain kinds of shops seem more popular, or at least are spotted more often in this area. Indeed, in a same village, we counted many beauty salons, a good number of Safaricom shops (Safaricom being a local mobile network company), a lot of small bars seemingly deserted, and countless butcheries in a competition for the one with the most promising name :  « Quality 2013 Butchery», « Meat Garden » and « Pork City » are some seen examples.

As soon as we move away from the center of the village, the scenery changes completely. We leave the asphalt roads to take dirt paths where even 4X4 vehicules wouldn’t venture without thinking about it. The day before yesterday, for example, Ephraim (our driver) was forced to go in reverse gear on a slope on which we couldn’t heave ourselves up. But Ephraim is not one to give up that easily. He was actually reversing to take a run up, not to turn around. Concentrating as if his mind could increase the power of the old car, he hit the gas, reached the three-quarters of the slope, then stopped the vehicule – right in front of a group of children. There was no way he could lose face. And so Priscilla (our translator), Shauna and I got out of the car and started pushing. We had to run, followed by the children, to keep up with the car that constantly needed a push, wrapping us in a cloud of CO2 and reddish dust. Yes, we vanquished the hill! The kids stared at me with amusement as I shouted out loud to celebrate victory.

To get from one farm to another, we drive up (when we succeed to) or down, through or around hills and hills. We pass people – very often women – carrying loads of firewood or Napier grass on their back and with a strap going over their forehead. We also see cyclists that rather walk next to their bikes instead of getting on them, motorcycles (bota bota) and, rarely (you can understand why), another car. Streets have no names, doors have no addresses; it’s only with the indications Priscilla receives on her phone and sometimes with the help of an additionnal passenger that sits in the back with us – or even on the passenger’s seat with Priscilla – that we can reach the right place.

Then again, seldom have we really arrived when the engine is turned off : some farms have no roads that lead to it, others are accessible only by walking on the neighbours’ property or by going throuch a labyrinth of branches and exotic crops.

Few are the farms that have all their components – main house, kitchen, shed, outhouse, water tank, numerous pens and cages for different species – on a same landing on the hill. Therefore, before doing anything with the animals, we must climb up or tumble down slippery slopes on which our only help – when present – is what could hardly be called stairs unevenly digged in the reddish dirt. Since we have to carry our material in a cumbersome trunk, we barely see where we step. The cows are usually on a lower level and the path to get there is even more rustic. How on earth did the animals get there in the first place?

The landscape is certainly beautiful, but to drive and walk there is not an easy thing to do! Once I’m back in Quebec, my legs of steel will not deign to take the elevator anymore and will get me right up any real staircase.



Typically We…

6:40 am: Alarm goes off.   Grr.  Never been an early morning person.  Not going to start here.

6:55 am: Pull myself out of bed and head straight to the shower.  Start to feel less angst towards the world after hot shower.  Pause to be thankful for said hot shower.

7:15 am: Francis (our cook) has prepared a hot pot of coffee and has laid out our breakfast foods.  Bless his soul.  I consider bringing him back with me to Canada.  Drink coffee, angst is completely evaporated.

7:30 am: Eat breakfast, make PB & J sandwiches for our lunch.  Try to go to the bathroom at the last possible moment before leaving to prolong the inevitable trip to the outhouse on a farm.

8:00 am: Taxis arrive for the morning, we pack up all our supplies for the day, suit up in our scrubs/coveralls/steel toe rubber boots and
make our way out the door.  Discuss the plan for the day with Pricilla.  Greet Ephriam (our driver) with a big smile.

8:40 am: Finalize our plans and get in our taxis.  Head to the first farm of the day.  Kenya will forever be remembered in my mind by the smell of earthy dirt.  Red dirt l that sits thick in your nostrils and winds up and down the hills in impossibly narrow and uneven roads.

9:00 am: Arrive at the first farm.  Small bladder nags and my plan to put off the outhouse is ruined.  Ask where the toilet is.  Open door, go in.  Try to adjust eyes to the complete blackness and pray I don’t fall in the hole.  Clean out the pockets of coveralls so that things don’t fall in the hole.  Pee.  Hope no one can see through the holes in the boards.  Remind myself to restock the Kleenex in my pocket.  On a good day, avoid getting locked in the outhouse.  Okay, ready for work.

9:30 am: Use my stethoscope to listen to the heart of the mother cow.  Sounds weird, not a murmur, but muffled – suspect pericardial effusion.  Tentative diagnosis: traumatic reticuloperitonitis – nail puncture into the heart sac.  I’ve never heard this before so call over experienced veterinarian to confirm.  Using her stethoscope she listens carefully and states it is normal.  Ego slightly bruised, but glad for the cow that it’s nothing.

10:00 am: Finished all tests at the first farm, pack everything up, get in taxi and go to the second farm.

10:30 am: Admire beautiful Kenya as we drive.  Open the window, smell the dirt, look at the rising hills, try to see Mt. Kenya on clear days.

10:45 am: Arrive at second farm.  Listen for ruminal contraction sounds.  Sounds okay.  Flick around my stethoscope to listen for a ping (indicating abnormal gas accumulation).  No ping, but sounds strangely muffled.  Look at stethoscope.  Laugh as I realize the drum is full of water.  Duly noted.  Stethoscope full of water = sounds like pericardial effusion.  Dry out stethoscope.  Muffled sounds disappear.

11:00 am: See Ephriam playing with the kids on the farm.  Joke that he must be the Father of all Kenyan children, because he LOVES kids. Thankful for a driver that is kind, generous and so helpful.  I wouldn’t expect a taxi driver in Canada to be willing to jump in a manure filled calf pen to help hold the legs, or one who is willing to carry our box of supplies up and down the hillsides.

11:50 am: Say good-bye to our new friends.  Receive a bag of papaya or avocados or passionfruit or sugar cane or an invitation to tea.  Decide to start a new sport for the next Olympics: extreme mountain climbing in steel-toed rubber boots.  Out of breath.  But thankful for the calves of steel I’m developing.

12:00 pm: Hand sanitizer.  Eat PB & J sandwiches for lunch between farms.  Open the window and lean out to prevent car sickness on bumpy roads.  Thankful the breeze is cool – it’s winter time in Kenya.

12: 30 pm: Arrive at third farm.  Greet all the children.  They are afraid at first, but warm up over the course of our visit.  Wade in ankle-deep manure to move cow into the milking stall.  Take measurements, do physical exams, collect blood samples, check for mastitis, ear tag and deworms animals.  Walk over to the goats to say hi.  Finally the children are talking.  Repeating our names and everything else we say.

1:30 pm: Realize three of the cows on the farm have mastitis.  Collect samples for culture and teach owner how to treat using an intramammary infusion.  Avoid getting kicked by having the owner tie the cows legs in a hobble.  Sometimes this works.  Tail-jack and shove the cow
into the fence as a second precautionary measure.  Some cows are lovely.  Some are wild and blame every misfortune they have ever experienced on the one wearing the scrubs and rubber boots.

1:50 pm: Finish taking measurements from the 5 or 6 cows and calves on the farm.  Getting a bit tired and a lot hot.  Scrub down arms and boots for the 3rd time today.  Discover the manure on my arm I was trying to get off is actually a bruise, but have no recollection of where it came from.  Repack the car, hop in and head to the next farm.

2:30 pm: Arrive at fourth farm.  Through some miscommunication the calf is too old to participate in the study.  However, this was not realized until 20 minutes into the conversation and physical exam.  Pack up and continue on our way.

3:00 pm: Join the Indy 500, mountain-side dirt-road version.  Ephraim likes to go fast at the end of the day.

3:45 pm: Arrive at the last farm of the day.  Take measurements, head back home.

5:00 pm: Walk in the door.  Smell dinner.  It is a cruel joke because we are so hungry, but dinner isn’t until 7.  Walk into the kitchen to chat with Francis and see what the wonderful smells are.  Can’t wait for dinner.

6:00 pm: Clean boots.  Pick out mud and manure with a rusty nail.  Do clean up from today, load the boxes for tomorrow, do paperwork for tomorrow.

7:00 pm: CHRISTMAS EVERYDAY.  Francis leaves food in covered pots and we get to open them like Christmas presents each night.  It doesn’t get old.  Francis needs to get his passport ready – he’s coming back with me to Canada.

8:00 pm: Hang out, finish up any extra work for the next day.  Write, read, relax.  Sun is down, can’t go outside of the compound.  Armed guards have arrived for the evening.

10:00 pm: Inspect bedroom for spiders.  Kill all the insects.  Give verbal warning to those in hiding.  Get ready for bed and crawl under the mosquito net.  Make new hole in mosquito net as I pull it over me.    Read.  Sleep well after a long day working outside in the fresh air.

June At a Glance

As we established in May, we thought it would be nice, for you and for us, to write a blog to reflect on each month we’ve been here.  Another month has flown by and it’s time we look back on the events of June.  Overall, June has been a busy month!  We’ve settled into life in Ushirika, made a lot of progress on the Poultry Project, and visited some local siteshere in Rungwe District.

We had practically mastered the daily grind in May and we’ve now settled into a routine here at home in Ushirika.  We seem to have come to a truce with the majority of the bugs in our house.  We see some every now and then but overall they steer clear of us and our killer flip flops.  We have regular spots for everything we need in town – from our banana ladies, to Baraka our egg guy, to our favourite rice and beans place.  We have become very widely known in town as well.  We even have ‘regulars’ that chase us down to give us high fives and ensure they’ve said hello or goodnight to us daily.  It’s nice to have familiar places and familiar faces and as Kellie said one day “it’s like the whole town is our Cheers”.  Even though we’ve established our favourite food spots, we’ve also taken to cooking a lot for ourselves at home.  It takes a lot of time and preparation but in the end it’s turned out to be a nice relaxing activity and gives us a break from rice and beans!  With our stellar navigation skills in the market and our regular produce stands, we’ve managed to whip up some delicious dishes and make modifications to dishes from home so that we can enjoy them here.  Breakfast has featured omelets, scrambled egg “burritos”, pancakes, and yummy fruit salads.  For dinner, we’ve managed pasta sauce with “mushrooms” (definitely NOT mushrooms – they are labelled as “tasty soya pieces” and are similar to meat-alternative products in Canada), and two versions of stir-fry vegetables.  We’re planning a stew and soup coming up and have a market day planned today in Tukuyu – the market is bigger and has more variety and we’ve really enjoyed exploring it when we stop in the city for internet.

The Tanzania Poultry Project has made incredible progress throughout the month of June.  It has really taken off!  The beginning of the month, we began our initial meetings with the farmers in both Ilima and Lubanda villages.  It was very nice to get the opportunity to visit all of their chicken coops and talk to them about their chickens.  It was eye-opening for us to be able to hear firsthand some of the successes of the project to date as well as the areas of struggle for some of the farmers currently.  We were optimistic that the issues raised by the farmers were something we could tackle over our time here and we were excited to really get to work on the project!  After visiting all the farmers, we set out to design a training program to touch on the biggest challenges faced.  We settled on five main areas of focus which would be offered to the farmers as in-classroom teaching sessions.  The five focus areas included: advantages of keeping local chickens, complete nutrition, vaccinations and common diseases, coop building and chicken care, and the importance of record keeping.   The farmers seem very engaged and enthusiastic about the material and we are so happy that they are interested in what we’re teaching.  It is not mandatory for anyone to attend but session after session everyone continues to show up!  We are both thrilled 🙂  Each session has also raised questions and discussions and we’ve been able to provide information that was previously not known. Each session also features a Unit Test which helps us assess if we’ve been effective in our teaching and to help determine the areas that need more focus.  With only a few tests done currently, the averages are high and we are excited our training program is making a difference!  In addition to the in-classroom sessions, we planned two hands-on lab sessions in nutrition and coop building that would allow the farmers to touch, feel, and see some of the things we talked about in the classroom.  We have yet to tackle the coop building lab (it’s coming up next week) but the nutrition lab was a huge success.  The farmers were so excited to be able to learn about complete, balanced nutrition and take a sample home with them!  At the end of the all the training sessions, we will bring both villages together to see the best coops in each village and to share knowledge, ideas, and experiences with one another.  We’re very much looking forward to it!

Working alongside Gaga, the village extension officer for Ilima and Lubanda, during the Poultry Project has also given us the opportunity to see some interesting cases through his extension work (the equivalent of veterinary field calls in Canada).  We have gone to several farms to visit cows, goats, and pigs to treat them and give preventative medicine.  It is a very unique experience for us because many of the diseases here are not seen in Canada!  We’ve had the chance to do some hands-on work and have learnt a lot about how certain diseases can be treated in the field here in Africa.  One of the very cool things we’ve gotten to do, as we briefly mentioned in our previous blog, is perform post-mortems on chickens in the field.  It’s great hands-on experience being able to diagnose the illness that lead to the chickens death, it contributes to the knowledge and training for the Poultry Project, and it gives us the opportunity to learn field techniques that can be applied in a very rural setting.  We are used to learning in pristine environments with sterile stainless steel tables and sharp new scalpel blades but it’s a whole different learning experience using a banana leaf as a table and pair of school scissors!  It has been an amazing experience to be able to experience another world of veterinary medicine.

When we’re not hard at work, we spend a lot of time with friends and exploring the Rungwe district.  We’ve had the pleasure of joining several friends (Gaga, Jeffrey, and Henry) at their homes for dinner.  We enjoyed roasted bananas and grilled pork, spaghetti, and a plantain and vegetable stew.  It is great to be able to get a taste of what people eat in their everyday Tanzanian life.  It’s also nice to be able to join their families for a meal – it makes us feel more at home!  Jeffrey, a teacher at Ilima Secondary School, also invited us to a family wedding so we were able to experience some unique Tanzanian culture.  We had a great time and may even adopt some of the customs for our own celebrations.  We have also been able to do a few trips in the area to explore the natural beauty more closely.  We spent a Sunday afternoon biking to Kaporogwe Falls and enjoyed lunch behind the waterfall.  It was a great bike ride and despite the rough roads and difficult trip home uphill, we had a wonderful time!  Last weekend, we were able to celebrate Kellie’s birthday with a weekend getaway to Lwifwa village where the beautiful Lake Masoko sits.  We camped beside the lake overnight and enjoyed a home-cooked meal from the local villagers.  We were welcomed openly to join in the funeral celebrations of the chief of Mambwe village and got to watch a traditional drum dance called kitulu.  We hiked in the mountains and did a six hour round trip to the bubbling hot springs.  The views were amazing and it was great to be in the fresh air and sun!

June has been a great month for us in Tanzania.  We’ve settled into our life in Ushirika, made a ton of progress on the Poultry Project (we are so excited about how it’s going), learned a lot about rural African veterinary medicine on our adventures with Gaga, and seen some amazing local sites.  At the half-way point through our travels here, we are excited for the upcoming weeks and the adventures to come!  We hope you are too…

Beatrice and African Time

The teachers across Kenya have been on strike since we arrived.  No students are going to school right now.  It’s been two weeks, and everyone I have talked with is hopeful it will end this week.  I’ve spoken to many worried parents, a frustrated teacher, and children who are disappointed to be staying home.  Most of the children I have met love school and wish they could be there.  The teacher was worried that they are missing out on a crucial time of year.  She also let me know that while there are no teachers in the schools, kids are not able to access the materials needed to continue their studies (like textbooks).

So I wasn’t surprised in the middle of the afternoon to hear ‘Hello?  How are you?’  in short, clipped English.  Not just once, but four or five times.  I couldn’t see a face to match the high little voice.  I walked behind the house to the hedge, and saw a face just barely able to peer over the top of it.  The young girl must have been standing on something to look over the 8 foot hedge.  I waved and replied to the young girl.
I asked her what her name was, and she told me it was Beatrice.  I told her I was glad to meet her, then walked back a few meters to finish washing my laundry.  As I worked, Beatrice kept popping over the fence to show me her greatest treasures.  First a little puppy, then a small child.  She raised the child, then suddenly they both disappeared and I heard a thump, then a little commotion behind the hedge.  Oops.
No screams though, so I assumed they all landed safely.

Since then, every evening as I scrub my boots I hear a little voice shouting ‘Hello Jessie.’  I’ll walk over, and Beatrice and I will have our daily chat.  The other day, I heard her quietly repeating over and over – ‘Please, make yourself at home and feel welcome.’  Not quite loud enough to really convince me that she wanted my attention, but that I could tell she was practicing for our next chat.

Kenyans have a different use of ‘you’re welcome’ than Canadians do.  To me, it’s an acknowledgement after a thank-you – mostly an empty sentiment that is kind of devoid of any true meaning.  The Kenyans will proclaim it before anything else is said – they want to make it clear that they are happy to see you and that you are actually welcome.  It makes me smile a little each time – both at the discrepancy in meanings between the two cultures and at the genuine sentiment behind the delivery of the words.

We’ve joked often with people about ‘African Time.’  As Canadians, we are in a rush to get things done, complete the task, have that meeting, and move on to the next thing.  The people of Kenya are more focussed on relationships.  It’s important that everyone has been greeted properly (with a hearty handshake and ‘You’re welcome’), that everyone is present and that everyone can contribute.

It can easily be a source of frustration for us goal-driven Canadians.  We have a limited amount of time here, we have ambitious goals for out project, we have checklists a mile long to complete.  However, ‘African Time’ seems to have evolved out of a desire to center life around relationships.

I don’t think that’s a bad way to approach things.

Connection and a feeling of community is rooted in relationship, and relationship is essentially based on shared experience.  If you haven’t invested in shared time to create relationships, you probably won’t leave a strong impact.  I’ve always believed that people rub off on
each other – whether it be positively or negatively.

I’ve also always believed that although you may meet thousands of people in your life, the ones that you remember are people that have taken the time to show an interest in you, and genuinely care about you.  You may only know them for a short time, but they remain in your heart because you created a shared experience.

The benefit of ‘African Time’ is that it lends itself to creating opportunities for relationship.  A few days ago, we stumbled upon some disorganization that could be attributed to African Time.  I sat outside on the stoop for over an hour with Shepelo (a Kenyan graduate student
heavily involved in the project).  We laughed about some of the funny experiences in life and consoled each other over some of the more difficult ones.

I learned a lot about Kenyans in that conversation, and I’m sure Shepelo learned more than she wanted to about Canadians.  Earlier in the week she was shown a pamphlet created by the government of Canada about working with Canadians.  As she carefully read each page, she smirked and with a great measure of wit intoned; ‘This will teach me how to work with Jessie.’  And here I thought sarcasm was a fairly advanced and characteristically Canadian form of humor.  Shepelo learns quickly.

It’s not always easy understanding each other’s cultural quirks and usually a lot of meaning can be lost in translation.  But there is one thing that speaks across cultures – a big smile and a ‘You’re Welcome.’

A Child’s Heart

One of the first things you may remark when travelling in rural regions of Kenya is the presence of children. You can imagine that they remark us quiclky too, since we are wazungu*; they approach and watch us with an endearing ingenuousess. Indeed, as soon as we set foot on a farm, they gather around us, young eyes scrutinize us with curiosity and small mouths can hardly help giggling as we contort ourselves to get into a pen.

Kenyans seem to hold their children (and all the neighborhood’s) in high importance. Of course, young people are a precious help for parents with a more modest educational background. It did happen that the eldest daughter of a family, the only person who could read English, assured us that she would help her mother follow the feeding instructions correctly. However, you can perceive in their eyes that Kenyans care for their youngsters more than just for help.

It’s true that this youth is lovable : lively, keen to help and equiped with intellectual curiosity. At the moment, teachers are on a national strike but, unlike what is expected at home, kids are not cheering at the idea of not going to school. All desire to increase and perfect their knowledge of the world.

Jessie is amazing with kids. She is always ready to take the time to present herself and to ask their names and age. I like them too – in fact, I am a bit disappointed when we don’t meet any children on the farms – but I have to admit that I focus on my task first. Yes, my darlings, you can play ith my hair; I won’t mind, but after I am done with the CMT** on this cow that’s trying to knock me out. Once we finish gathering the information, if we have some time left there, we are happy to speak to them even more, to teach them hand games or to let them try our stethoscopes – the joy that appears on their faces is worth the patience it takes sometimes to get them to stop hiding behind their big brothers or sisters.

We cherish those moments of happiness, like yesterday, when the children gave us lovely colored charms that they made themselves – we first had to wash our hands marked by farm labour before we could accept them decently.

More than the hills and lakes, more than the plants and wildlife worthy of a poet’s dream, the real treasure of this country is the pure open heart of the children and the loving care that adults give them.

This blog entry does end with a sentimental touch; you just have to deal with it.


*Wazungu : Plural form of muzungu; Swahili word meaning « European » or « something strange », but mostly referring to any white person.

**CMT : California Mastitis Test

Coeur d’enfant

Une des premières choses que l’on remarque dans les régions rurales du Kenya est l’omniprésence d’enfants. Vous pouvez vous doutez qu’eux aussi nous remarquent, wazungu* que nous sommes, qu’ils s’approchent de nous et nous observent avec une candeur attachante. Ainsi, à peine mettons-nous le pied sur une ferme que déjà ils s’attroupent; de jeunes yeux nous scrutent avec curiosité et de petites bouches retiennent mal leurs gloussements quand nous devons nous contorsionner pour rentrer dans un enclos.

Les Kenyans semblent accorder une grande importance à leurs enfants (ainsi qu’à ceux de tout le voisinage). Certes, les jeunes sont une aide précieuse pour les parents qui auraient une éducation plus modeste; en effet, il est arrivé que l’aînée, seule personne présente pouvant lire l’anglais, nous assure qu’elle assisterait sa mère pour suivre adéquatement les instructions concernant l’alimentation. Toutefois, on peut percevoir dans leur regard que l’affection que les Kenyans prêtent à la jeune génération va au-delà de leur désir d’avoir un coup de main.

Il est vrai qu’elle est belle à voir, cette jeunesse : vive, prompte à l’entraide et dotée de curiosité intellectuelle. Les professeurs font actuellement une grève nationale et, contrairement à la réaction attendue par chez nous, les enfants ne sautent pas de joie à l’idée de ne pas aller à l’école. Tous sont désireux de décupler et de parfaire leurs connaissances du monde.

Jessie est formidable avec les enfants. Elle est toujours prête à prendre le temps de se nommer, puis de demander leur nom et leur âge. Je les aime bien aussi – en fait, je suis même un peu déçue quand nous n’en rencontrons pas sur les fermes – mais j’avoue que je suis d’abord préoccupée par la tâche dont je dois m’acquitter. Oui, mes petites chéries, vous pouvez jouer dans mes cheveux; ça me fera plaisir, mais après que je termine le CMT** sur cette vache qui essaie de m’assommer.

Une fois notre cueillette d’informations terminée, lorsqu’il nous reste un peu de temps à passer sur place, nous sommes contentes de leur parler davantage, de leur montrer des jeux de mains ou de leur faire essayer nos stéthoscopes – la joie qui se peint sur les visages vaut bien la patience que cela prend parfois pour qu’ils cessent de se cacher derrière leurs grands frères ou grandes sœurs.

Nous chérissons ces petits bonheurs, comme hier, lorsque des enfants nous ont offert de charmants bijoux colorés qu’ils ont eux-mêmes confectionnés – il nous fallut cependant laver nos mains marquées par le labeur de la ferme avant de pouvoir les accepter convenablement.

Plus que les collines, que les lacs, que la végétation et la faune à faire rêver les Rimbauds, le trésor le plus cher de ce pays, c’est le cœur pur et ouvert des enfants, ainsi que l’amour que leur portent les adultes.

Vous devrez accepter que cette publication se termine sur une note sentimentale.




*Wazungu : Pluriel de muzungu; mot swahili signifiant « Européen » ou « quelque chose d’étrange », mais plutôt employé pour désigner toute personne de peau blanche.

**CMT : California Mastitis Test

107 Years

After we had finished our work yesterday, we had the opportunity to visit the family home of our translator, Priscilla.  There we met her mother and her grandmother – who is 107 years old.  She greeted us with handshakes and warm eyes, although she could speak
no English.  It is a rare opportunity, even in Canada to meet someone with this many years behind them.  I stopped for a minute to appreciate how many steps those feet have taken in a place like Kenya, and how much change her eyes have seen in the past 107 years.  It doesn’t matter where you are from, it’s always a humbling experience to meet the elderly and appreciate some of their life story.

We’ve been in Kenya for a week now, working on our project for 4 full days.  We are doing research in partnership with Farmers Helping Farmers, the University of PEI and the University of Nairobi.  The purpose of the research is to see if dairy farmers in Kenya will be able produce more milk and higher quality offspring if the nutrition of the cows is increased.  The farms are small by Canadian standards, with 3-5 cows on average, and the farmers are primarily women.  We hope to find that improved nutrition will increase production and be cost effective for the farmer.  Increased production should be obvious, but the higher costs for good quality feed may be an unreachable goal for a farmer.  The decision to feed a cow or a family is a real consideration here.  The money must be taken from somewhere else – on subsistence farms there may not be a large pot to shuffle money around in.  Our challenge will be to prove that feeding better will be more economical in the long run for the family.

I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable that the ‘birth lottery’ landed me in a place that doesn’t struggle for basic daily needs.  I’m a proud Canadian and thankful for my home, but it has always bothered me that a large percentage of the worlds’ population has to struggle to meet basic needs.  There are some things l think people everywhere should have access to – respect, health care, water, a shelter and food.  Despite the wealth available in the world, I have met many people that still aren’t able to satisfy these needs (even in developed countries like Canada).  I’ve seen it myself, it’s impossible to ignore.

My decision to participate in a summer internship with Veterinarians Without Borders this summer was heavily influenced by a desire to be involved in a project that has potential to increase equity among people.  Although I expect to have opportunities to contribute in Kenya, my larger hope is that I will go home with ideas on how to promote and participate in international development from Canada as well.  I hope
I can begin to develop realistic expectations of what international development really means, and an appreciation for some of the methods used.  My expectation is not to save the world, but to provide a small piece of the puzzle that our skill set as veterinarians will allow us to contribute to.

So our past few days have been spent knee-deep in manure, slipping down steep hillsides to reach the cows, and having kids stroke our strange-looking hair while we are busy listening to ruminal contractions.  We will have ample opportunity to fine-tune our veterinary skills and hopefully provide meaningful resources that can help increase milk production – which has already been a rewarding experience.

However, I think the moments that will last with me and continue to inspire passion in my heart for international development are the ones like yesterday, when we met Priscilla’s 107 year-old grandmother.  Her hunched back and worn face tell the story of a hard life.  I hope that we can be a very small piece of the puzzle that could improve the quality of life for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Stay tuned, between me and my Francophone counterpart, we will fill you in with more details of the trip as it progresses!

Kenya 2013 Introduction

Introduction au projet Kenya 2013

Bonjour à tous nos lecteurs,

Nous achevons notre première semaine au Kenya et, après six jours de travail, nous profitons d’une journée de repos bien méritée. Jessie et moi avons maintenant le temps de vous tenir au courant des débuts de notre périple au Kenya. Nous avons conclu qu’étant la French-Canadian du groupe, la tâche m’incombait de rédiger un article en français, ce qui est loin de me déplaire. Cette première publication sera plutôt une mise en contexte; les suivantes seront sans doute plus descriptives ou anecdotiques.

Notre projet au Kenya, en association avec l’organisme Farmers Helping Farmers, consiste à collaborer avec une coopérative locale, Wakulima Dairy Ltd., afin d’évaluer le rapport coûts/bénéfices d’une meilleure alimentation pour les vaches laitières en lactation ainsi que pour leurs veaux nouveau-nés.

Je suis arrivée à Nairobi le lundi 24 juin vers 1h30. Après un semblant de nuit dans une auberge (« Guest House »), j’ai rencontré mes deux mentors, Dre Shauna Richards (la responsable canadienne du projet de recherche) et Dr John Van Leeuwen (son superviseur). Nous avons passé l’avant-midi au Nairobi College of Veterinary Sciences avec Dre Gertrude Shepelo (la responsable kenyane du projet de recherche) afin de réviser les documents et questionnaires du projet.

En après-midi, nous sommes retournés à l’auberge, où nous attendait Jessie, arrivée quelques heures plus tôt. Nous avons fait connaissance et avons clarifié quelques aspects du projet. Le lendemain, nous avons pris la route de Mukurwe-ini, village au cœur de la région où se situent les fermiers associés à la coopérative. Ce n’est que mercredi que le vrai travail a commencé.

Wakulima Dairy Ltd. nous fournit à chaque jour une liste de fermes comprenant une vache en fin de gestation ou qui a vêlé il y a moins de cinq jours. Pendant que Shauna et Shepelo remplissent un questionnaire avec le propriétaire de la ferme – non sans l’aide de notre traductrice Priscilla – Jessie et moi nous chargeons de l’examen général des bovins, de vérifier la présence ou l’absence de mammite chez les vaches en lactation, de prendre un échantillon de sang pour chaque veau à l’étude, d’étiqueter (« tager », en bon québécois) la vache à l’étude ainsi que son rejeton, de repérer les éléments du logement à améliorer, etc. Les fermiers reçoivent également des instructions à suivre concernant l’alimentation de la vache et du veau à l’étude. Les deux premiers jours sur le terrain, nous travaillions tous les cinq ensemble, mais désormais, nous sommes séparés en deux équipes pour couvrir plus de fermes : Shepelo avec John; Shauna avec Jessie et moi.

Chaque équipe visite de cinq à six fermes par jour; chaque ferme comprend habituellement d’une à quatre vaches, de zéro à quatre génisses et de zéro à trois veaux. Nous ne parcourons pas nécessairement de longues distances, mais il faut considérer que nous conduisons sur des chemins de terre étroits serpentant à flanc de collines escarpées. Cette géographie particulière nous donne droit à notre petit orchestre privé, composé du chant de la suspension, du roulement tonitruant du moteur, du vibrato des portières, des percussions dans le coffre arrière et d’autres sons dont il vaut sans doute mieux ignorer l’origine.

Le soir, nous retournons à la maison que nous louons, non loin de la coopérative, où nous attend Francis, notre cuisinier, avec un souper constitués de plats locaux. Une fois repus, nous préparons la paperasse pour le lendemain et discutons de sujets divers.


L’interaction avec les habitants de la région, les différences culturelles, les paysages exotiques et l’expérience que nous acquérons sont des sujets trop vastes pour être abordés dans une première publication.


Au plaisir de vous faire rêver davantage dans les semaines à venir,


Jessie et Geneviève

Uganda – Goat Pass-Out & Paravet Refresher

Last week we made our way through the villages surrounding Mbarara to find goats to blood test and purchase. We had some long days and long drives but managed to round up 35 brucella negative goats for our first goat pass out day!  During that time we also made many house visits to the beneficiaries to see how they were doing and to find women who were ready to receive goats. The goats purchased this week were graciously provided by the donations to Tara, Elad, and Devon’s Global Vets group through a fundraising account put in place by Tara’s mother Barbara Souther. We still have another 55 goats to hand out from donations from this fund as well as from those of you who contributed directly to Katie and I!  Thanks to all of you!

Testing for brucellosis.


On Monday, we did a few more house visits and picked up all the goats and brought them to the demonstration farm. We rented a small truck and driver and managed to fit all 35 goats in the bed of the truck! We stayed at the demonstration farm into the evening deworming and vaccinating all the goats so that they would be ready for the next day’s pass-out.

How many goats can you fit in a truck?


Hoof trimming


We made our way back to the farm in the morning to finish processing the goats, making sure each had received the treatments and had their hooves trimmed. The beneficiaries were arriving just as we were finishing up. They all came dressed in their best outfits for the ceremony! We began the day with some husbandry training and explanations of the goat pass-out scheme and revolving fund. We also talked about the social business, goat ownership and ideas for theft prevention.

Goat care 101

After having a lunch of matooke, sweet potato, posho and beans provided by the paravet Margaret, we began the exciting task of giving the women their goats! The women were overjoyed to receive their animals and that their hard work and dedication was recognized by the loan. It was a great day to be a part of!

Breaking for lunch.


Group picture once the pass-out ceremony was complete.
Fastest way to get your goats home.


The next day we kept on with our busy week by having our paravet refresher training. Sixteen of the local paravets were able to make it to the day. We were able to have very productive discussions with them about some of the common problems they face and brainstormed ideas as a group. One of the highlights of the day was when we were able to give them bags of colostrum donated by WCVM’s own Dr. Debbie Haines from the Saskatoon Colostrum Company. They were so happy to receive this product and learn about how to use it. They had many questions about its uses and looked forward to being able to try it out. We concluded the day with details of the community husbandry day this Friday and upcoming vaccination days.

The paravets learning about colostrum powder.

Looking forward to a busy month ahead!

Adventures and Answers

We are sure everyone is excited to find out the answer to our challenge from our last blog “Who Wants to Be a Veterinarian”.  However, instead of providing the answer, we thought it would be more fun for you to search for the answer like we searched for Kaporogwe Falls on Sunday.  Throughout the story of our Sunday adventure are bolded, underlinedletters that spell the disease the chickens were sick and died from.  We hope you enjoy this adventure (and reading about ours) as much as we enjoyed it!

We heard a rumour that there was a waterfall, Kaporogwe Falls, you can walk behind somewhere at the end of the road we live on.  Our friend Jeffery, the teacher at Ilima Secondary School we’ve mentioned before, provided us a hand-drawn map of the directions and helped to arrange bicycles for us to rent.  We picked up the bikes on Saturday evening and made sure they were fit to go (e.g. working brakes, tires full of air, etc).  We had completed steps 1 and 2 – map and bikes

On Sunday morning, we started our day with a delicious breakfast!  We decided to make a breakfast that reminded us of home – pancakes – and attempted it on our charcoal stove.  After a few trial and error pancakes, we perfected our technique and enjoyed delicious pancakes topped in pineapple liquor sautéed bananas with tea and coffee.  Step 3 complete – breakfast done.  With our bellies full, we set off on our bike ride to find Kaporogwe Falls!  Jeffery warned us that it would be 15km to the Falls and we’d likely have a harder time on the way back.  (Looking back, we realize he was absolutely right – we didn’t peddle at all on the way there and it kicked our butts on route back!) Along the way, we enjoyed the scenery of the ride – fields of tea, banana trees, and epic mountain views.  The small villages we biked through were beautiful and serene – they were a far cry from the road and cars and the busyness of larger cities!  You also wouldn’t believe how many children came rushing to the road side to wave.  It was incredibly cute.  Passerbys also got very excited when we greeted them in Swahili and Nyakyasa (the local tribal language).  We were joined by a village boy who self-appointed himself as our guide.  If we fell behind, he waited.  If we somehow got ahead, he’d point the way.  He never said a word to us but he was a great help.  He even carried our bikes over a river while balancing on a log bridge!  Before we knew it, we had accomplished step 4 – we were at Kaporogwe Falls!  The view was amazing; it looked like a scene from The Land Before Time or Lion King.  We took lots of pictures and enjoyed our lunch behind the waterfall.  With our bellies full again, we decided to head back home.

Only one more step to go in our adventure: step 5 – getting home.  It would prove to be the most difficult of all!  Jeffery had warned us it would be difficult and he was right.  It was exhausting!  We spent more time walking beside our bikes than peddling on them.  Most of the trek home was uphill and we were tired and hot when we finally arrived.Despite the hard work getting back, we had a great time exploring our neighbourhood.  Definitely a fun day!