Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hello from Wamba!!
We are here in the northern Kenyan region of Samburu, where we are spending this week at the Earthwatch Kenya Drylands Research Field station in the small town of Wamba. We are into our third day here, after a long 6+ hour drive north from Lang’ata – the last hour or so of which was across a dusty sand track. The landscape here is dotted with ancient volcanic cinder cones, and is scrubby and arid, with water conservation and quality central to many environmental and social concerns.
The station here has been the site of many community-based environmental research projects conducted by Earthwatch Institute over the past several years. Before we left Lang’ata, Dr. Nick Oguge (Director of Eathwatch Kenya, and President of the Ecological Society for East Africa) visited us and gave us an overview of the various research projects that have been conducted here. These include an ethnobotany investigation into the efficacy of various local plants as medicinal cures, and a project focusing on the conservation of an endangered zebra species. This species, the Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi), numbers fewer than 3000 in the wild now. Once widespread throughout East Africa, it has been driven to extinction in all but Kenya and Ethiopia, with most of the dwindling population residing in the Samburu region where we are staying. Our first morning here, in fact, we set out into the bush to look for Grevy’s zebras – and were able to find a small population within an hour or two! We also stopped at a local regional market afterwards and wandered among the stalls of vendors from far and wide selling their wares.
The last few days have been spent doing fieldwork – including an 8km hike in the watershed up in the mountains behind the station (part of the Matthews range) to take water samples from the river running down into the village (to test for pH., conductivity, and bacteria as measures of water quality), and a visit to some nearby subsistence farms to collect data on herbivory and insect biological diversity. We’ll do some more water quality testing and some insect sorting and identification over the next few days – then we’ll head back south to Nairobi and out to the coast!

Message from Alysen:
Hamjambo! The Samburu region is absolutely gorgeous. We went up into the hills yesterday, taking water samples to test for quality, pH, and e. coli. The hike was beautiful: a clear day, trekking alongside the river stream, gazing up at the mountains and crevices. Overall, I have fallen in love in Kenya; the flora and fauna are unbelievable, the people are friendly, and the food is fantastic. Today, we studied insects at two of the local farms and on the way back accumulated a gaggle of children – holding our hands and walking besides us. They walked us all the way back to the Earthwatch compound where we are staying. Tomorrow we continue our work with both the water quality tests and the insect population. Then, the coast! Where’ll I get to play (I mean work) with sea turtles. Kwa heri!

From Taya: The Samburu and Masai morans have awesome outfits. They are brothers with very similar cultures. I’ve been thinking a lot about possible research directions. Talking with every local person I’ve met has helped me gather some information about the lore and attitudes toward wildlife and resource usage. I believe in community-based approach and community involvement, so I’m trying to warm up for possible future projects. I guess two things I need to work on that I’ve discovered so far are: 1. My sense of direction. 2. Crossing the water by foot. There are more.

From Latif:
We have spent the last days testing the water and setting traps for insects. I’ve never done this kind of thing before so its kind of interesting. Yesterday we got some samples and did some meter readings of the water. Today we placed some cups at ground level to catch insects. For the most part we have down time for leisure activities and to pick up on swahili. Its very dry here but not too hot and it’s peaceful.

From Charlene:
Humjambo! Everywhere we go, it’s new all over again, and I love it immediately. Here in Wamba, we tried some termites on our hike, as some of us were getting hungry : ) they taste like dirt. That’s all for now!

From Mayeli:
Hello Everyone! I am having a wonderful time, but do miss you all. I could get used to living here, the people are great, and I love the climate. We have been taking some samples of water a looking at farming practices. The safaris we have been on so far have yielded awesome sights, Can’t wait to show you all pics. Only a couple more weeks…I think it will go by quickly which is both nice, and sad since I do want to get home to my family but I enjoy what we are doing here. Ciao for now.

From Terri:
Sopa! Every new town or village we visit has their own variation of Kiswhali, and the locals laugh at me when I try to repeat their words. Of course mimi poa with getting laughed at – it helps me grow and I’m happy to brighten anyone’s day in this way. This country is even more beautiful than Washington – the tropical vegetation is immense, and in contrast with the bright colors of the Samburu and Maasai people, mesmerizing. We have to be careful of taking photographs of the locals though, and so images we can share will be rare. The simplicity of life here is a glaring reminder of the wastefulness of our culture – I will have a hard time readjusting to all the “stuff” back home. Finally, it is true what they say about absence making the heart grow fonder - but only of the ones you truly love. Love to my family, friends, and my one and only, forever yours… Terri

From Brenda:
Sopa rafiki wangu! I’m in love with the landscape of Wamba and the Samburu region in general. The geology and flora are exactly what I used to imagine Kenya to be like. The towering hills of volcanic rock dotted among the valleys of acacia (all rooted in red soil) are absolutely breathtaking. I loved our short hike upland to take water samples; the day made me miss my hiking friends very much. Love to you guys… The insects here are fantastic! I’ve seen and handled so many new species, my mind reels with all of the diversity. As our days wind on and the sun goes down I find myself meditating on the brilliance of this country and all of the culture we are finding here. I miss you, friends and family, in the quiet hours. Love love love.

From Chelsie:
Hamjambo rafiki na familia kipenzi wangu! Ninapenda sana Kenya na watu wa Kenya ni warembo, lakini ninakosa wewe! (Translated: Hello friends and darling family! I love Kenya very much and the people of Kenya are beautiful, but I miss you!)
Before coming to Samburu we visited Maasai Mara, where I fell in love with the land and the people. Lucky for me, Samburu people are ‘brothers’ to the Maasai and their land is of almost equal beauty (if you are reading a slight bias in that sentence, you would be correct). J While we were visiting Maasai Mara, Isaac (our fantastic driver) arranged a visit to a Maasai village near Talek where the Maasai Maron (warriors) danced for us and gave us a tour of their village.
At this moment I am sitting in a lodge at the Samburu Earthwatch station. To my right Jim, Charlene, Alysen and Taya are counting e-coli colonies present on the test strips from our visit to the river yesterday. To my left Mayeli, Brenda, and our native guide and conservationist Jeremiah are discussing the many different ways to say elephant in Kiswahili: tembo, jumbo, ndovu. All the while, I am sitting here writing to you and drinking a Tusker beer. Life could be worse.
Until next time, rest assured that all is well. The food is fantastic, the people most kind, and the landscape absolutely breathtaking! My next address shall be Kenya. You can quote me on that.
Love you! Chelsie

From Mwalimu Jim:
What a big difference here in Samburu! This is acacia filled, thorny, dry scrubland dominated by the Samburu people, relatives of the Maasai and the Turkana. They eat almost exclusively milk, blood and meat from their cows, goats and sheep which they herd long distances during the dry season to find water and forage. This is much more rural than anywhere else we have been and so the 12 of us get a lot of attention whenever we go anywhere! Today we picked up an entourage of kids as we returned from collecting data at two farms (pretty much the only vegetables growing locally). Then as we were relaxing on the porch 4 of the cutest little girls came by carrying loads of wood on tumplines on their heads. They yelled hello and we answered and that started a whole back and forth exchange and then dancing and singing!!! We had a great time and we told the girls we would see them tomorrow.
We hiked up the nearby watershed yesterday (with elephant poop piles all along the trail) with a Kenya Forest Service ranger along for safety (from the elephants and hyenas). We were there to collect water samples for basic water quality indicators and bacterial contamination. We “incubated” them in the equatorial sun (pretty close to 35C) and counted them today (gotta love improvising in the field!). Definitely seeing the numbers of E. coli increasing downstream, and the staff here are very interested to see what we come up with. I’m hoping that the student work might help inform the community on good places to draw drinking water.
I’m having a great time with the wanafunzi and I am looking forward to our next adventures in Kenya!!!

1 comment:

  1. Love hearing about your experiences with the Earthwatch Research Centre and its work in the Wamba region with Grevy's endangered zebras and other critical environmental issues! Keep up the great work and keep us posted!