Kenya field trip, part 2

The next four days were spent with our guides walking around the village doing research. Farida and I interviewed a lot of people: households, the village doctor, the chief, and the school headmaster. We also took samples from the river to test for faecal coliforms, in order to assess its safety.

There were some frustrations, all of which were very educational. Here are a few examples:

  • We had trouble getting people to agree letting us record interviews. A lot of them were very uncomfortable with the idea of being recorded, even though we explained it was only for the sake of getting the information right and that we wouldn’t do anything funny with the recordings. This often made it a bit of a challenge to interview people and get everything down. This is something I now know that I need to prepare  myself for in the future. I hadn’t even thought about this being a potential problem.
  • There was a bit of a debate because in the past people who had been interviewed had been given gifts in return for their participation, such as sugar or soap. From this year on we’d been urged to stop doing this for ethical reasons I can’t be bothered to get into here. Farida and I had some people refuse to talk to us because of this. Fortunately it was only to begin with and once word got out people more or less stopped bringing it up. I felt really guilty about it, but at the same time the logic behind the decision is sound.
  • The water sample testing took a lot more time than we had anticipated, so I had less time to do interviews with households. I had been hoping I’d be able to get enough people to do at least some statistical analysis, but I ended up not having enough people to do that. Again this taught me to be better prepared.

According to my results, although I haven’t begun the analysis of my data, all the people in the village get their water from the river, except for a few who cross the river to get to a borehole pump some distance from the other side of it. The only people who do this live close to the river so there isn’t that much of a distance. There are three locations on the river where people get their water, depending on how far away they live. Some of them have to go to the river 2-3 times over the day to get water and it takes them up to 2 hours every time.

There are two boreholes in the village, but both of them are broken. One since last summer, and one since December. This means that instead of getting safe water from the boreholes, people have gone back to the river. According to our water samples the river water is not safe for drinking, so this is a serious problem. The problem is that they do everything else in the river as well as drink from it. They bathe in it, they wash their clothes, they fish, they pan for gold, and they play in it.

I had no more problems with the heat after that first day, but the heat did get pretty intense at times. I started burning soon after we got there, much to Thomas’s confusion. At one point he pointed at my arm and asked if the red was because of the sun. I told him yes and that it was quite painful. It was strange talking with someone who isn’t familiar with sunburn.

On the 22nd we wrapped up our research in the morning. Farida and prepared samples of water from the field centre’s borehole, because according to another group that had been there the water wasn’t safe, and we spent the morning getting as many interviews as we could. After lunch everyone got together to talk about our research and prepare for presentations of our findings which we had to do later in the day. People from the village came around and put together a sort of market for us. We spent some time just walking around buying a few things in an effort to help the community. I bought some beaded jewellery and two gorgeous bowls.

In the evening we presented our findings to the chief. It was wonderful to be able to tell him what we’d been doing there and he graciously accepted all of it. The water situation was made clear to him and we were told that efforts would be made to bring an engineer into the village to fix the boreholes and to collect money to put together pipes that would pass water from the boreholes to the villagers so they would be less reliant on the river. It was great because it made me feel that despite everything what I was doing there had led to something positive.

That night a goat was slaughtered for us. Fortunately we didn’t have to actually witness it. I didn’t actually eat any of it because I’d just spent the whole time there walking around absolutely adoring all the goats, so I wasn’t exactly excited at the prospect of eating one. There was vegetarian food on offer as well, so that was ok. A group of dancers from the village arrived after dark and danced and sang for us. It was very funny because occasionally they would run into the group and drag some people off to dance with them. I was able to elude capture. I know that makes me a massive bore, but at least I got some pictures! :P

We got up early on the 23rd. Farida and I checked the water tests for the centre and figured out that as far as we could tell there were not faecal coliforms in the boreholes. At 8am we left Marich Pass and drove for 9 hours back to Lake Elementaita. We stopped for a picnic at the equator, which was awesome!

This time when we got to the Lodge it wasn’t just very nice, it was HEAVEN! We were met at the doors with hot wet towels which were very welcome. We had a really nice dinner that evening and entertained ourselves by playing pool or watching TV. It was incredibly sweet. I also absolutely adored getting a hot shower for once and being able to wash of some of my underwear for the trip home. At this point everything I had was dirty and dusty and I felt absolutely filthy. I was able to pack most of my stuff before I went to bed in the evening because I knew we’d be getting up early the next morning for the game drive.

The 24th was the longest day I have ever experienced. We had to get up at 5am so we could have breakfast and head out at 6am. The sun rose while we were on the way to Lake Nakuru National Park. The drive through the park was awesome. The mini buses had roofs that we could lift up so we could stand on the buses and take pictures. It was really cold to begin with, but once the sun was properly up it warmed up quickly. The first animals we saw were buffalos. There were a lot of buffalos. Shortly after that we saw some lions from afar. I wasn’t able to get any pictures of them, but I had binoculars so I could see them pretty well. One was carrying just killed pray, which was super cool. Soon after that we saw a rhino asleep in the trees. We were so excited and eventually it stood up and walked all the way over to us and crossed the road. It was funny how excited we got at that point, because we actually saw quite a few rhinos later on.

Over all we saw zebras, several kinds of antelope-like animals, rhinos, baby rhinos, giraffes, lions, buffalos, lots of baboons, all sorts of birds, flamingos, and pelicans. I might have forgotten something. It was a huge success and I’m so happy I went. Oh yeah, we also saw some giraffes mating and a rhino-mom accidentally shit on it’s rhino-baby’s head!

We arrived back at the lodge around noon and had lunch. Before lunch I went and showered and finished packing. So after lunch I was completely ready to leave. We left at 2pm. Two of the buses went straight to the airport while the other two dropped the people who were staying on in Kenya off at various places. Unfortunately we were at the airport at 5pm, but the plane didn’t leave until midnight. Let me tell you, waiting for 7 hours at an airport is seriously uncool.

After sitting around talking and wandering about a few of the girls and I sat down on the floor and played Good Morning Queen. It was hysterically funny because we were so tired and we kept messing up and it was just a mess.

The plane ride back to England was looooooong. I had a sleeping pill so I slept for most of it, but I kept waking up every now and then and just wanting to cry because I was so uncomfortable. I sort of remember waking up enough to eat at one point. If anyone had been watching me then it probably would have just been funny. Eventually we made it all the way to London. I took the underground to St. Pancras with a girl called Kat. She had a train to catch at 9am and I had another one to catch at 10am. I was half brain dead with sleepiness the whole way home, but I made it there shortly after noon.

So that’s that. Kenya. :)

Kenya field trip, part 1

Ok so I went to Kenya, spent some time in a field study centre in a very poor, very remote village in the rift valley. I did some research, it was very hot and I saw lots of goats. I also went on a half day safari and saw wild animals.

Umm. You’re saying this isn’t enough? Oh fine, I’ll write a proper post about this. *sigh*

My Kenya trip was packed full of “firsts” for me. The first “first” was simply the fact that I was using a rucksack instead of a suitcase. I tried to pack as wisely as I could and I think I was fairly successful at that. I made a list of things I’d need and I stuck with it. I also had to buy a lot of things, such as a first aid kit, a torch, candles, all kinds of medication, hand sanitizer, etc. All this I packed with as little clothing as I thought I could get away with. Turned out I didn’t really get away with it, I could’ve done with some more clothes.

Another first was the aeroplane. It was one of those huge planes with three rows of three seats. I’d never been on one of those. The plane ride was also incredibly long, 9 hours. I’d never done that before either. On the way out I sat next to two old ladies who were going on a safari in Kenya. One of them was terrified of flying so when we got quite a bit of turbulence over Italy she had a hard time keeping herself calm. The turbulence didn’t bother me, but I felt sad for her. Fortunately I had some sleeping pills so I was able to sleep most of the way.

The third first was Africa itself. I’d never been there before.

We landed in Nairobi early in the morning on the 16th of January. I felt excited and nervous at the same time, as well as absolutely exhausted. It was sunny and warm, and since it was 6 in the morning and the sun had just risen, it wasn’t too warm. We all piled onto these safari-mini-buses and drove through the city on our way to the Lake Elementaita Lodge. The ride wasn’t too long, only about 3-4 hours. I was tired and probably should’ve tried to use the time to sleep a bit, but I was too excited. I basically sat by the window and ogled everything I could see. What I saw wasn’t far from what I’d imagined, I suppose. The nature was a strange combination of green and very dry. I saw big houses built for rich people surrounded by areas full of rickety wood and iron sheet houses for poor people. There were a lot of donkeys and goats, and we also saw some zebras and baboons.

The Lodge was very nice. A lot nicer than I expected. In hindsight I am glad we had that day to spend in comfort before moving on. The surroundings were incredibly green and beautiful and we slept in these little houses spread around the main building. The food was excellent, the waiters were very helpful and professional and the pool was awesome. I slept for a bit before noon, spent some time by the pool, and then some of us went on a walk to the lake with a Maasai guide who told us a bit about the history of the land…and a lot about flamingoes.

I was exhausted that night and fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. At one point I woke up to my roommate Sabrina pulling the mosquito nets around the beds and I was so asleep I spoke to her in Icelandic. It actually took me a minute or two to realise something wasn’t quite right and to switch back to English.

We left early the next morning (17 January) on the same mini buses. The ride out to Marich Pass took about 9 hours. To begin with it was all right, but the further we went the worse the roads got. It was also interesting to see how much more pronounced the poverty was the further away from the main highway we got. We stopped twice, one for a few minutes on the equator, and then again in Eldoret for lunch. There was a supermarket there that we went to and it was a strange thing to experience because it was just like any other supermarket I’d ever seen. It didn’t quite make sense to me in all that poverty, but it was cool and we were able to stock up on some snacks and candy. Our priorities were flawless!

The last hour or two of the drive were really bad. The view was stunning, but the roads were horrifying. Reaching Marich Pass was a massive relief. We arrived between 5 ad 6 in the afternoon so the hottest part of the day had passed. We all slept in these round white concrete huts with straw roofs, and again I shared with Sabrina.

Before I got there I’d been incredibly nervous about bugs. When I first saw the hut I’d be sleeping in I had a minor internal panic attack. There was a mosquito net hanging over the bed and once I’d been given a mattress and everything I wrapped the mosquito net around the bed and tucked the ends under the mattress (thanks Lucy for that tip).

The first two days or so consisted of a series of fears I needed to face, such as using the long drop toilets, showering in a dark room where I couldn’t see if there were bugs or not, and actually sleeping in the hut. Bit by bit I calmed down and before long a lot of my fears were overcome. I found that sleeping in a bed completely surrounded by a mosquito net is actually quite nice. As soon as I’d climbed into the bed and closed the net completely around me I felt quite safe and slept easily. It was wonderful because I’d worried that I’d have trouble sleeping.

On the 18th, after breakfast (which was a strange semolina porridge of sorts), we were given guides to show us around. I was teamed with Farida because we were doing very similar research. I was going to look into access to water in the community and the differences between different households, distances and such. Farida’s research was more qualitative in that she was studying what people know about water usage and sanitation. Our guide’s name was Thomas. He grew up in West Pokot and knew he area well. He showed us all around the village. We realised that it was actually bigger than we’d thought. On our way in the day before we hadn’t seen much of it. We found out that the houses are well spread out around the main road that runs through it. According to Thomas the people who live nearest to the Moruny river are usually the most affluent ones, while they are generally poorer the further from it they live.

Shortly after we headed out that day I started getting a headache. It was probably a combination of being too hot and dehydrated, and minor caffeine withdrawals. After lunch a part of the group left us to go spend a few days in Mbara, another village higher up on a mountain nearby. The rest of us were taken to Sigor to see the weekly market. The ride over was quite bumpy so by the time we got there I was already feeling pretty crappy. We spent some time walking around the market and it was fascinating. There were so many people and animals all over the place. They were selling vegetables and fruit as well as traditional medicine, clothes, and beads. I saw a big pile of chickens that had their feet tied together so they couldn’t move. They just lay there breathing really fast and panicked. It made me very uncomfortable.

A few of us bought some mangos and some bought beads. It was a bit chaotic though. The people were of all sorts. Some dressed in clothes that are pretty regular (to me), but others in very traditional clothing. The most fascinating of them were the pastoralists in their colourful clothes, with so much colourful jewellery, and the bright red hats with feathers in them. They were beautiful. Here’s a picture I found of one of them.

There whole time we were there we got a lot of very odd stares. For the first time I felt like maybe I could understand what it must be like to be non-white in Iceland. It wasn’t a nice feeling. Thomas the guide had told me earlier that morning that the little kids there would joke about me looking sort of like a banana. It was funny, but I would only face this kind of scrutiny and amusement for a few days, while for many people they feel like this all the time.

After the market we went to take a look at Tikeet, another village in the area. Or well, we meant to. Some of the group went to Tikeet to do their research every morning. I didn’t envy them because it was difficult to get there. The drive from Sigor took a while and the roads were the worst yet. We stopped by a small hanging bridge over a river and then had to walk from there. It took us about 30-40 minutes to get to the Tikeet Health Centre (which we have been collecting money for, click the link to read about the fundraising efforts). At that point we stopped and didn’t go further. It would have been another 15 minutes or so into the village, but it was too hot and a lot of people weren’t feeling well. We were also running late and had to get back in time for dinner.

At this point I was feeling particularly bad and I was starting to realise that I was in danger of overheating. The walk back was very difficult for me and then the 1.5 hour drive back to Marich was torture. By the time we got there I felt very sick and was just about to lose myself in a panic attack. I stepped off the bus and one of the teachers, Dan, asked me if I was ok. I burst into tears. Oh god how embarrassing!

Deborah (another teacher) had me pour some water over my head and Dan gave me a rehydration sachet. I went to my room and took some painkillers. Unfortunately those came straight back up again. It seemed my stomach had decided it had had enough of all this tomfoolery. Eventually I was able to keep the painkillers down, drink a lot of water with the rehydration salts and then I slept until morning.

After this I made sure to add rehydration salts to my water once every day to be sure I wouldn’t be dehydrated and I had no more problems.

Click here for part 2.

Click here to see all my pictures over on Flickr.