Monday, August 22, 2011

Back from Homestay #1

Sunday night the first homestay group arrived back at River Camp. The second group is at their homestays right now, hopefully having a wonderful time.

On the way to our villages, we stopped at a big gathering of a local tribe (Sambul/Samburu?). It turned out it was a dancing competition of two age groups that only happened every couple of years! The dancing lasts for 4 days and nights until someone is declared the winner. During this time, no one sleeps. They switch out in groups so that they can eat and then get back to the dancing. It was a huge honor and really awesome to be able to see this. The eight Michigan students all joined in the dancing and tried to keep the beat. We were all incredibly tired after a couple of minutes of dancing. We couldn't imagine how this could go on for four days with no rest! Everyone was covered in colorful beads and dressed in traditional clothing. The men painted their heads red, and the women painted their necks red. Despite all the tradition going on, it seemed like everyone had a cell phone! We also met a Peace Corps volunteer here who was working nearby.

We all got dropped off at different manyattas/bomas in pairs. When we arrived at our boma, there was more singing and dancing going on outside. Our host explained that everyone was happy that there had been so much recent rain, so they were celebrating and also helping to welcome us. A boma is a group of homes that is surrounded by a fence made of acacia tree branches which are covered in thorns to keep the wildlife out and the livestock in. The homes are made of tree branches for the roofs with cow dung walls. Our manyatta (Alyse and Bridget) consisted of five of these homes, a bathing area, an area for goats, and an area for cows all surrounded by the thorny fence. The "toilet" was a hole in the ground surrounded by four posts connected with tarps (with no roof). Right at the beginning, the adults decided that there was no way that they could pronounce our American names. In a very serious ceremony, the elders and adults discussed what our names would be inside of a smoky room. We were finally presented with our names. Alyse was Nabaru, which meant that the community would be blessed with many people. Bridget was Nashaki, which meant that the community would be blessed with rain. They later dressed us up in traditional clothing and beads on our necks.

We were able to get familiar with the typical women's work for the Masaai. This included collecting firewood, fetching water, milking the animals, cooking, and cleaning. The first night we arrived, we milked the goats and went to get water. The goat milking was pretty unsuccessful. The whole weekend, the 2 year old showed us up every time by getting more milk than the two of us combined. The first morning, we were responsible for opening up the "gate" of the boma, which was really just more acacia branches. We also got our second try at milking the goats. Bridget thought she was succeeding until the goat kicked over her milk. We then cleaned out all of the goat's poop. The poop is collected in a large pile outside of the boma that is sold at the end of the year for manure. Later we helped take the cattle and goats outside of the fence to graze around the boma. The cows don't need to be watched to carefully because they won't go too far without being milked. The milking of the cows was not something we participated in, probably a good thing due to our lack of milking skills.

Next was fetching the firewood. With dull tools that I guess could be called machetes, we were supposed to cut dead branches into uniform pieces of wood and somehow smooth the edges.  As we sucked down water and missed the branches with our tools, the Masaai women just laughed at us. The wood is tied together with a long strap that is then used to carry the weight of the load on your forehead. This was super hard, and we finally made it back to the boma with about half the wood of the other women and tons of thorns in our hands. Next was collecting the water, which when compared to the wood gathering was relatively easy. The water was removed from a pool of brown standing water which looked like it may have been a perfect mosquito breeding ground in the right season. The water is carried back like the firewood, attached to a strap so that the weight of the water is concentrated on the lower back and head.

Though the children were all pretty scared of us when we first arrived, our host assured us that it was just because they had never seen white people before. They eventually warmed up to us on the second day, where we are allowed to participate in their games. Games included variations of hopscotch, and lots of hand clapping games. We were eventually overwhelmed with the amount of children around as they examined our skin and braided our hair.

There is a fire inside the homes that is always lit, which assured that they were hot and filled with smoke. The meals were all traditional Kenyan food. In place of breakfast was tea consisting of water, goat's milk, tea, and lots of sugar. The same tea is offered throughout the day and at every meal. For lunch and dinner, ugali (maize meal, water, and vegetable fat) was a stable. On the side, there was a dish consisting of vegetables, beans, or lentils. We were offered way more food than we ever could have eaten, but our host luckily told us we didn't need to finish everything since the children would eat the leftovers. Aside from the milk, getting food is a challenge for the people. There is a market a couple of times a week, but it is at least a 2 hour walk.
We were surprised to find out that the kitchen is the same room as the sleeping quarters. There were two raised beds with bed frames of sticks and animal hides covered in a blanket. Though we brought sleeping bags, they fire made it much too hot to begin with. Bridget stayed awake because of all the smoke, and Alyse stayed awake with sticks in her back.

After dinner both nights, we were told a number of folktales. There was one about a 8 headed giant who ate people, a couple about the hyena and hare, another about a man who ate children, and the last about a warrior retrieving his stolen property.

On Sunday morning, we were picked up from church and met up with the rest of the group. We toured an ecolodge where we ate lunch. We also toured a school where a portion of our fundraising money and all of our school supplies were donated. The school was clearly in need of school supplies and books, so we hope that our money will be put to good use here.

The homestay showed us a different side of Kenya that we hadn't seen yet. We now have two more days before the group departs back the the USA. We are planning on having a goat roast tomorrow night so we can thank the Mpala staff and say our last goodbyes.

See you soon!

- Nabaru & Nashaki (Alyse & Bridget)

Friday, August 19, 2011

August 18, 2011

Jambo !!! Mambo!!!! Ayiyah ... Poah Poah.

Earlier this morning we listened to a guest lecture from Professor Jesse Joker from the University of Nairobi. He explained the complexities of the dry lands in East Africa and we all learned a tremendous amount about the environment in Kenya. After the lecture we returned to river camp where we feasted on a tasty and scrumptious lunch :)

The rest of the day we researched our group projects and individual assignments. Everyone is getting really excited for our homestays with the Masai families over the next few days. It sounds like it is going to be a great experience which will provide us with insight into the diversity within Kenya.

During dinner a few of us ate with the River Camp staff. We ate with the the guards (azkari), the cooks, the waiters, and the other staff. They explained that they love us soo much and they feel like we are brothers and sisters since our President, Barak Obama, has kenyan roots. It was really interesting to learn about their goals in life. One waiter named Jon (who is also the pastor of the local outdoor church) said that he really wants to buy a motorcycle or car so that he can preach to the local people on sundays and also help people with their daily needs.

So as we say in Swahili - LaLa Salama (good night) and we are looking forward to sharing our homestay stories with you in a few days.

Later this afternoon, half of the University of Michigan students will depart to a nearby village for homestays. Groups of two/three will be staying in local bomas for two nights. The second group of UMich students will start their homestays on Sunday. We really don't know what to expect, but everyone seems very excited. Our University of Nairobi colleagues will be staying at River Camp during this time.

We've been hard at work on individual research and group research projects working on sustainability at Mpala. Everyone's individual projects are really unique, and the group reserach is coming along nicely. We should be able to make some great suggestions for Mpala to improve their environmental sustainability model.

In other news, I got pooped on by a white vervet monkey yesterday. Yes, I'm serious. Alyse thinks it's good luck... haha.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

August 9th, 2011

My group had to make it to breakfast by 5am, meaning waking up at 4:30am, which was not easy. It was so dark when I got up and I was scared some wildlife would be lurking around the corner. We went to see GPS put on cattle so we could track their movements for that day. We tried to help herd the cattle but because we were strange to them and they were not used to us it failed and we ended up doing more harm than good and scattering that cattle. We got to talk to the herders and it was awful to see their poor living conditions (two pieces of large metal together for a tent for two herders to sleep in with one blanket) and low pay for such a hard and dangerous job. We wanted to examine the bomas (areas where cattle were kept) and the effect on other wildlife so we measured bare ground, species diversity, and even got to play with dung in the areas around the bomas. Our group got to relax in the afternoon while other groups went to do measurements in the weir. The group dynamic is amazing and we are learning a lot.


**As a side note, internet access here is less consistent than we had originally anticipated, so our blog may not be updated daily. We will still be writing each day, and Bridgette or I will post the entries when we can.


August 6th, 2011

We are settling in very nicely into our home for the next three weeks. We are staying at River Camp at Mpala. River Camp lies on the west bank of the Ewasso Ng'yro River in the southeast corner of Mpala's property. In this area, the river actually defines the properties edge.

River Camp is comprised of a main tented communal spot (where we have all of our meals), a fire pit (which will be the setting for many late night discussions), and a constellation of sleeping tents along the river's bank (I believe 16 in all). We are two or three to a tent, with the University of Nairobi students spread out between the tents with one or two Michigan students. This is an amazing opportunity to get to know these students. I look forward to prying their minds to see what they think.

In addition to the living quarters, there is a tented kitchen, a washroom, two outhouses, and two bath houses. All of this is protected by an electric fence around the perimeter.

These living tents aren't just the small two person tents you take on your weekend hiking trip. These are 8' x 12' canvas tents - you know, the stereotypical "safari" tent. The tents sit on top of their own slab of concrete, and we are doubly protected by a thatch roof that the tent is under. This type of luxury was not expected.

Nonetheless, the wildlife is amazing. We wake up to black faced vervet monkeys in the trees every morning. You don't have to search hard to find an elephant or giraffe grazing, and there are so many dikdik that we will soon be jaded from all the animals. The birds are spectacular as well. There have been over 300 species spotted on Mpala.

Right now the trip has been comprised of getting acclimated in our new surroundings, and we will soon get to work. I'm really excited to see what kind of things we will get our hands on.

All the best,

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

August 7

Jambo, raffiki!

Our formal instruction in water issues began today, with Professor Wright outlining water problems that affect developing communities, both global and local to Mpala. We began with a discussion of a World Bank project in the Dead Sea that is attempting to mitigate the dropping water levels in that area, where the economy centers around tourism. The dropping water levels are having a negative impact on the community, so importing vast amounts of water from areas like the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.

Then, we moved our focus to Mpala. Water is gathered from the Ewaso Ngiro river, which is becoming increasingly scarce and polluted; water is also gathered through a borehole, but it is high in flouride and unsuitable for drinking; and from rain water catchment from the roofs of buildings. Current demand is greater than supply, and demand is projected to increase while supply is projected to decrease.

We also heard a lecture from Bilal about political ecology, and had a debate on whether our preconceived notions of Africa's "wild" and "natural" landscape are accurate, and the effects of cattle herding in East Africa.

After this lecture, we went on a game drive and saw many different species of plants and animals, it was so exciting! After dinner we celebrated Bridget's birthday, and our Kenyan friends taught us how to sing happy birthday and some Kenyan games as we all sat around the camp fire.

So far everything has been great, we hope all is well at home and with our friends in London. We hope to be able to blog more regularly about our experiences from now on.

Have a great day!


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fwd: Fwd:

>> We've all arrived at the Detroit airport! Everyone is excited for our adventures, but a little nervous. Most of us have boarded, but the group got split up on two flights :( We'll see the sunrise from the plane before we touch down in Amsterdam tomorrow morning. Then we're off to Nairobi!
>> -Bridget
>> Sent from my iPhone