Saturday, September 15, 2012


Mambo vipi. Habari gani?

For those of you just tuning in, or not really sure of what I’m doing besides having the vague idea of “Well, she’s in Africa,” this blog is really meant to be a way of documenting and sharing my second experience with the School for Field Studies in their Comparative Wildlife Management in East Africa and their multi-disciplinary, research-based approach to analyzing and solving environmental issues in two developing nations, Kenya and Tanzania. Hopefully I can be educational and enlightening as I pour my heart out about what I know is going to be another amazing incredibly emotional journey in East Africa.

Life is well in Kenya. The end of the first week is approaching, and I’m remembering well just how fast time can pass in a place whose motto is “There’s no hurry in Africa.” Kenya is a place entirely different from something I’ve ever experienced before (coming from someone who spent a month and a half living in Tanzania… hah!), though I have already found another home for a piece of my heart here in East Africa. SFS staff remain to be some of the most genuinely caring people I have ever met, and I am entirely sure that without their compassion, understanding, humor, and light-heartedness I would not feel so at home.

Yesterday we went to a Maasai boma, a homestead of a family belonging to the Maasai tribal group. We were welcomed with song and dance, which I was almost immediately pulled into.  Thanks to Irish dance, I am well practiced in the art of jumping vertically with your arms at your side. I think I would make a good Maasai because of that. I like to think I impressed them with my jumping skillz (I didn’t). After the Maasai women sang to us, we were encouraged to reciprocate. Our song choice was… questionable, however. I can’t say I ever imagined myself singing “row, row, row your boat” in round to a group of Maasai women before, but I think this journey will be full of unexpected (good) things. 

A few notes about the Maasai: they are an ethnic group (tribe) in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They originally occupied fertile areas in central Kenya before they were pushed out by British colonists. They are a historically pastoralist and nomadic group, moving constantly to graze cattle. However, in more modern times, many have settled and begun to practice agriculture to supplement income. There are a number of environmental issues associated with their sedenterization (though their shift to being settled was only prompted by the move to modern economic systems and increase in Kenya’s population, if you’re really interested I’ll send you literature so more on that later!). A typical Maasai boma consists of a large “pen” encircling one or more buildings, constructed out of mud with either a thatched or a tin roof. Maasai practice polygamy, and each wife typically has her own house in the boma. Several Maasai men (such as brothers) can share a boma. If two brothers live in the same boma, the fence surrounding the buildings will have two gates to represent the two families. The Maasai are an incredibly interesting group of peoples, and I’m lucky to have Maasai staff like Daniel and Ernest that are always very open and honest in answering any questions I have about them, as well as an entire class devoted to social/cultural considerations of the Maasai.

Back at camp, classes are in full swing. I’m working hard to stay on top of readings while also taking time to practice Kiswahili and enjoy the scenery. I try to wake up early and go birding each morning, though my sleeping bag is always so warm and my motivation is usually pretty low, haha. A few notes about the Kenya site, mostly so I remember all the things I initially felt when I’m talking to people considering this program or who are curious about my day-to-day life here.

Location, location, location: It’s big, dusty, and in the middle of nowhere. We’re about a four-hour drive outside of Nairobi, very close to the Kenyan/Tanzanian border. We’re right at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which, holy crap, is a sight to behold. Sadly it’s been pretty cloudy so Kili has only come out a few times, but when it does, it is AMAZING. On the downside, we are 6 km from the closest town, which is a bit too far to walk after class most days. That’s made me feel a bit isolated, but I think I can adjust.  I pretty much have no choice, though haha.

Wildlife: BIRDS. I am slowly becoming a birder. Send help. Seriously, though, the birds are amazing and plentiful here and they sit so nicely when I try and take pictures of them. Rollers and weavers and hornbills, oh my!

On the mammal side of things, it’s pretty wild here. A dik dik comes and hops around at night. Our wildlife management professor told us he’s challenging us to identify it. Outside, there were apparently a few giraffe prints earlier today, though I have yet to see a giraffe near camp. A lion apparently killed a cow in the area not too long ago. Oh, and did I mention the primates? Yeah, we’re getting some human-wildlife conflict experience first hand. Baboons and vervet monkeys have moved in. The baboons really like our pantry and kitchen.  They also like to drink out of the bucket of water I keep on my porch in case of fire. I don’t care for the baboons very much.

Food: I love the food. I may be weird and in the minority, but I don’t miss dairy at ALL. We had pizza with cheese on it last night and it was almost bizarre. Guac and chipati? Yes please. I’ll even eat the ugali if it has enough hot sauce on it.

Note: Ugali is a staple food in East Africa. It’s kind of like grits but not really. It’s made out of corn meal and water. It looks like mashed potatoes and tastes like nothing.

Living situation: Bandas that hold four people. No electricity due to fire hazard. I don’t spend a lot of time in there besides sleeping, mostly because I’m so busy otherwise! My banda’s name is Panya. It means mouse in Kiswahili.

Internet/communication/OUTSIDE WORLD: I literally have no clue what’s going on in the outside world. My internet works intermittently so this probably won’t be posted until a good several days after I’ve actually written it. Sometimes facebook magically works, sometimes not. Purdue’s email client seems to work. Most of the time. Maybe. My cell service is great though! And my airtime is super cheap. If you want to give me a call, I’ll send you my number. I can’t guarantee that it’s cheap for you to call my Kenyan phone, though, haha.

Typical day: There are no typical days! Okay that’s a lie. My basic schedule is like this:

0730 Breakfast
0800-1000 Class
1000-1100 Break
1100-1200 Class
1200-1400 Lunch and Break
1400-1630 Class

After that it’s generally free time with dinner at 1900 and reflections/announcements/presentations at 1930. Of course, that will change as we start having field exercises in the morning and full day expeditions and field trips (first one next week, whoop whoop) and it will be VERY different when we begin the directed research project..

During the breaks I usually try to work on readings for class or work on Kiswahili. I am amazed at how much I have been able to improve in just a week. There is a heavy emphasis on picking it up and practicing it with each other. It has been very challenging, but today I was reading a conversation in my Kiswahili workbook and I realized I understood it perfectly. I think my Kiswahili is better than my Latin now. And I took four years of that. Oops.

Ninakwenda kulala. Ninapenda Kenya! Lala salama.

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