Saturday, April 28, 2012


Soon, in a little over a week, I'll be headed back to the U.S.  I've been thinking about how the reconnect with my family will be.  I want to believe I'll be full of swagger in my tire shoes, striding into the baggage claim to see my parents, brother, and best friend, all smiles.  While I do believe I'll be smiling, I'm pretty sure I'll also have some big fat tears settling in my eyes.
To be honest with you - and I do so love to share - my parents are my tear-trigger.  Everyone has one, I'm sure. I know that my Dad's trigger are great movie-moments, such as the ending of The Champ (if you haven't seen it, do be sure to try).  My mom get's teary-eyed when she watches videos of soldiers' surprising their kids when they come home.  My brother when a door smacks him on top of the head, and my best friend when a book character she's particularly attached to has a rough time.  Well, okay, I get emotional over fictional characters too.
When I miss my parents, and they miss me, strange occurrences begin to... well, occur.  For instance, my dad likes to have my mother send me text messages with contents that will get me riled up, only to tell me it's a joke.  My dad and I have a special relationship built on love and little fibs that entertain us greatly.  It's a joke in the family that when we tease someone, it's how we show that we care very much about the individual (just ask my friends, or my brother's friends).
My mom and I keep in touch pretty well, and she's also my gossip go-to for the things happening at home.  She is also my liaison for the rest of the family.  We just figured out, after 13 weeks of being away, how to communicate via video chat through Facebook.  Did you know you could chat through Facebook? I didn't before about a few weeks ago.  She took the time to show me how the pet fishes were doing in the tank, and made sure to angle the computer so I could see my dog.  
In any case, my parents are my tear-trigger, meaning that if I see one of them with that shining, cry-eye then mine instantly well up.  This also includes my brother, but the men in my family rarely cry.  I'm not sure if my family will tear up, but I'm expecting it from at least my mother and my friend, so I was assured that tissues would be provided.
Who knows, I might just cry when I see a bag of M&Ms, or a cheeseburger.  It's the little things I tend to miss the most.  I even miss having my puppy stare at me with big googly eyes when I head for the bread-drawer in the kitchen.

Friday, April 27, 2012

We'll Swim to Kimana!

The road out of camp is completely flooded away.  Which means we cannot leave Kilimanjaro bush camp.
But that's alright, because we're metaphorically quarantined by the necessity of completing our typed research portion of the project.  Want to know the title?

Assessment of the impacts of land tenure and land use changes on local livelihoods in Loitokitok District, Kenya

Isn't it just lovely? Now, I know the title doesn't inspire any movie-contracts, or great works of fiction, but the project itself has given me some great stories to share.  And while I do not have the time today to share them all, I'm happy to give you one that is near and dear to my heart:

Our last day of data collection saw us traveling out into the farthest portion of the Kuku Group Ranch.  This area is catered more towards pastoralists, those who keep livestock as their source of income.  Riley, my partner for the day, our guide Ben, and I found ourselves to be the last group to be dropped off, which meant we were the farthest out.  The territory we traveled to was a full 2 hours in the direction opposite of any road, meaning the ride was slow, rough, and bumpy.  We took in our surroundings, noting the lack of water, the spiky vegetation, and the overall lack of any people.  
   By the time we had reached our destination I had caught sight of one man, clothed in full Maasai regalia of red cloths and colorful bead-work, and no one else.  Sipaya, our driver and a man who had dubbed himself my "Kenyan father," smiled broadly at the look of confusion on my face.  Our project was to seek out and interview several people every day.  Where were the people?
   We spent the whole of the morning in a deserted, dry environment.  Dust-devils were in abundance, and the sun was only too-happily coating every bit of exposed skin that it could.  Trouble started, however, when my partner alerted us of her feelings of sickness.  Protocol insisted we radio in to our driver to come pick us up immediately.  The other problem, of course, was that our radio was out of range, and we had no phone service.  Who would expect to, so far out into the bushlands of Kenya?  
   What were we to do?  Simple, in theory.  We were to find an outcropping, and climb up to the highest point to search for service.  The problem is that the area's hills were littered in plants with razor-sharp points, giant boulders, and, of course, any type of wildlife.  Once we found a good hill, Ben assured us that the area was a good one... and then pointedly directed me up the hill.  Ben had determined it would be best if he remained with Riley, and that I would take the radio, and his cellular phone, and climb up the hill.
   I won't go into detail about the scratches and gouges that I retained from the trip.  Also, I won't take long to mention the various critters I met along the way.  I did manage to get a call to Sipaya, and then made my way back down to our group.
   Ben took a moment to mention - quietly so as not to alarm Riley - that he was glad I had returned so quickly, as he had heard the yipping of a hyena in the direction I had been. Also, a few Maasai men had taken it upon themselves to watch over us as they sat, and I stalked the area for service.
   Fantastic.  I was not only an explorer, but a survivor.  It certainly had been an interesting day, and it's interesting to know that this was not my first, but my third time being in such close proximity to the laughing-dogs.  (Well, they're more closely related to weasels, but dogs are what I associate them with).
   We were picked up an hour later, and made our way back safely.  It was a strange ending to our surveying.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Unexpected Treats

I hadn't expected the trips to lodges for a spectacular buffeted-array of food.  I didn't expect to go swimming, to live with so many bugs in my banda, or to sometimes get a warm shower.
I didn't expect to meet so many amazing individuals, including my fellow students, the staff in Tanzania, and the locals everywhere.  I hadn't expected to fall so quickly into a lifestyle that is so unlike what I have at home.  To drink chai with my neighbors, don Maasai jewelry, or discover that the most comfortable shoes in the world are, in my opinion, tire sandals.
I certainly hadn't expected to be so torn between coming home to those I love, and how much heart-ache I'll experience leaving my new family here.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Vervet Visits

Vervet monkeys are distinguishable by not only their beige/cream coloring, but by their distinctly bright blue... *ahem*.  I admit, this is a strange way to begin the post, but I promise this fact becomes pertinent as we journey forward.
   Today was our first real day of data analysis.  Basically, we're making a whole lot of graphs, and a whole lot of sense of said graphs.  Charts and figures are important to any research, especially when you need to fill up over 25 pages of typed, single-spaced papers on Microsoft Word.
   My job for today was to collect research paper titles and questions from everyone in the group, edit our draft of the project proposal, and coordinate a basic outline for my personal paper.  The more I type, the more excited I get about the research outcomes.
   In any case, my friend Dana is making her way through the open air pavilion (chumba), a collective seating area where we have our meals/classes/meetings, when she is alerted by a distinct thump noise.  Looking up, what does she spy perched on one of the tables?
   A vervet monkey! With *ahem* the same color as the stunningly blue water bottle to the left.  Our little friend had noted that, yes, there was food left on the tables and, sure, why not take care of the leftovers for us humans?  Dana managed to snap a few good photos before the monkey needed to be chased away.
   According to the askaris (guards), monkeys are a lot like mice/ants.  Once they know where to get food, they'll keep coming back.  And this proved true, as throughout the day we found the little guy strolling in like he owned the place.  Most vervet monkeys are quick to move away from people.  This guy? We try to give him angry looks and yell at him, and he just gives us a look that says "nice try, buddy, but I'm not leaving without some toast."
   On another note, we're also in the process of swapping photographs.  We often focus our attention on the land/locals/animals of East Africa, and forget to take a moment to snap ourselves into the digital memory-bank. So we thought to make a hold of photos of our group to trade with each other.  Needless to say, we're ecstatic about seeing some photos that, not only prove we were here, but perspectives we hadn't seen before.  So, yes, I now have more photos to show my family and friends... I almost pity them.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose... Unless It's Me

It was Gertrude Stein who originally recorded, within her written piece "Sacred Emily," the line, "a rose is a rose is a rose."  This statement is often associated with the idea that things are simply what they are, while Mrs. Stein originally wrote these 8 words with intentions to provoke the inclination that simply using the name of a thing already invokes the imagery and emotions associated with it.
     So I have a question to ask you all:  when you hear a name, what sort of imagery and emotions come to mind?  Or, in this case, when someone says your name, what do you believe them to imagine and feel in conjunction to yourself?
      It isn't that I don't know who I am. It's simply that I've been given the chance to see myself through other eyes - or, in this case, other lenses.  Many times I recognize myself through the images projected back to me via a mirrored surface, or my own camera.  I look to present myself as I feel is best suited for me, as well as those around me.  We recently traded photos of each other (as I am a fan of photographing others) and it turns out that people have snapped several photos of myself that I was slow to recognize.

On a more humorous note, our professor/instructor in charge of our group research was quoted as describing our research, through the SFS Blog Site, as well as our work like this:
   "Along with a lot of data collection, hard work, sweaty backs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, students get the chance to meet new people, drink chai, snack on oranges and stop at the Royal Cafe Bistro for their famous ice cream." -George Ekisa, Ph.D. 2012

Final day of Data Collection

Tomorrow is our final day of data collection.  After over 200 surveys in just 7 days, our team of seven are admittedly pretty excited about never having to staple and interview again.
Vervet monkey
   Well, at least in the case of this semester's environmental policy research.  I'm sure that I'll see more surveys in my time, as well as research and field work.  And don't get me wrong, I woke up every morning rearing to head out and talk to folks.  To give you an idea, I was so enamored with meeting people that, even though we left each day before the sun rose every morning, I was probably beaming enough light from my own excited person to light all of Kimana Group Ranch.
   While our research is directed beneath the category of environmental policy, each of my group members has a specific focus for our final papers and presentations.  Some are focusing on alternative agricultural practices, others are looking at human-wildlife conflict causation and prevention.
   My personal focus is on human livelihood under current land use/tenure/management policy and procedural structures for the area.  Or, in less-boring layman's terminology, I'm looking to see how easy/difficult it is to make a suitable living while adhering to the current laws that concern natural resources, land, and wildlife.
   Many people, including myself, forget that the animals that farmers and pastoralists have to deal with each day are quite larger and closer than animals in the U-S-of-A.  While we do have wild pigs, coyotes, and gofers of such-like, people here are always dealing with giraffe, aggressive buffalo, large groups of zebras, and elephants.  A single elephant can destroy several acres of farmland in one night.
Corn field damaged by elephants the night before.
   While I adore and appreciate the wildlife, there's little or no benefit for locals.  It is such the case that many here cannot even afford to visit their own national parks and sanctuaries, because they cannot afford to.  Only tourists and travelers can, which I find silly.  At home I visit parks all of the time with family and friends.  And it saddens me to think that folk here only see wildlife when on their property, or harming their livestock.    Although, one father of four said that he enjoyed the animals, because his children always found them wonderful to see.

There are some common things that come up during every conversation with the residents in Kimana/Kuku/Kilimanjaro region:

  1. Elephants are the most destructive, and can hurt people.
  2. There is never enough water, whether it's for farming, animals, or the household.
  3. Companies that buy crops from farmers here often utilize fraudulent practices, leaving farmers without pay.
  4. Locals recommend that all wildlife be contained in the parks by electric fencing, and if they enter property then they should be allowed to kill the animal (it is currently against the law to kill/injure wildlife here in Kenya)
What many here do not understand (and I only had a small understanding until this semester) is that the wildlife also do not get enough food/water, and some animals are naturally migratory and need to move.  Wildebeest that are contained within parks die because they migrate constantly.
   Also, elephants move around not only for food and living space, but because if they remain in one area they develop severe depression.  This is because an elephant's memory is notoriously long, and one thing they never forget are places where family members have died.  When ever they pass a location that a loved member of their family had died, no matter how many years it has been, they stop to mourn their lost loved-one.  So, if they can't move, they are constantly surrounded by grave sites and sad memories.  It's a powerful notion.  Just think of what it would be like to lose a mother/father/sibling/child in your own home, and you were unable to leave the house ever.  It's a painful thought to contemplate.
   My hope is, by the end of the research, I'll have a better notion of living practices here, and be able to suggest new ideas to help both the locals as well as the animals, and those in the political-department.  If anything, I'll leave here with a better understanding of life here in southern Kenya, and the wonderful hardworking individuals who call the area "home."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Some Things Unexpected

There are three things I did not expect to learn whilst in Kenya.  I really should not be caught off guard by unexpected circumstances here, but I always am. 
Painting a tortoise, ocean theme, for the orphanage.
   I was perched on the front porch of the chumba (dining area), enjoying a cup of Kenya-temperature water and watching some vervet monkeys pop around the bandas.  Our center director, and one of my favorite friends here, Kioko, came out and caught me lounging.  A smile laminating his face, he and I began to exchange common conservations topics.
Leopard in Serengeti, she was gorgeous!
Jambo, Kristin.  Habari?” (Hello, Kristin, how are you?)
 Mzuri sana, bwana.  Na wewe?”  (Feeling great.  Yourself?)
Mzuri.  I had a lot of work today, and I decided to relax instead.”
“We finished our surveys early, so we came back to relax, too.”
   In any case, we settled into a lengthy chat.  Kioko found a permanent seat in the hammock.  I must say, there’s nothing like watching a grown man enjoy the swinging that a hammock can provide.  He laughed like a young child, it was a sight to see.
   It was during our talk that Kioko would teach me three very new, very out-of-the-blue facts:
1.       The Appalachian mountains are “block” mountains, and their formation pattern.
2.       Birthdays aren’t celebrated here in Kenya often.
3.       Native Americans (“Red Indians,” as termed by Kioko) make up a large minority group in Kenya.
   Where had this information sprouted from?  I’ll tell you, the infamous fountain of fun facts known locally as Kioko.  It turns out that he studied Geography, and in his spare time has developed a passion for random knowledge.  The Appalachian mountains he learned in class; the birthdays came from experience; and the Red Indians from historical knowledge of his home. 
Field exercise in Kuku Group Ranch
   “Learn something new every day”, they always say.  Well it turns out that I learn several things here, and I always crave more. 
   Also (because I’m very excited) some shots that are not a product of my own camera.  Some friends thought to share, and I thank them because I’m always so busy taking pictures of animals!
First time at Happy Days in Tanzania
Perched on a stump in Amboseli, with Kilimanjaro cast in clouds.
Playing duck-duck-goose with the kids in Tanzania.
Can you spot the lion cubs?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Elephant's Way to Kilimanjaro

Our first day out into the fields for our directed research... and we find ourselves packed into a Land Cruiser.  There were six of us students (one of our group is sick), along with three guides to help us in our interview process.  We drove for an hour off the road, towards the slopes of Kilimanjaro, into the vast farmlands ahead. The road was bumpy and rough, hardly something to be named "road" at all.  As we jumped and bounced around in our seats our mouths were flying a mile-a-minute, all of us excited for the prospects of the new day.  It was our first try at interviewing, our questionnaire, and inherently our research collection.  We were ready to begin.
   Along the way we spotted several giraffes, their heads towering above the acacia trees.  There were also elephants, gazelle, as well as local animals of the livestock variety (cows, donkeys, goats...).  I stated absently that seeing these majestic animals was a good omen.  My friends nodded their heads in agreement.
   Our first group of two students + one guide was dropped.  Then another.  And then it was time that I found myself, along with my partner Dana and our guide, Benson, at our destination.  We were the farthest out, the last dropped off, which meant that we were closest to the mountain.  I could never have asked for a better place to spend several hours walking.  We were designated to spend the next eight hours trekking as many kilometers as it took to interview over ten local farmers/pastoralists, and we’d be doing it in Kilimanjaro’s backyard.  We had found ourselves only a ½ kilometer from the Tanzanian border, the edge at which the mountain perched.  Every breeze that whipped through me came careening down from its snowy peak, and even with the random clouds floating about we could clearly see the mountain at all times.
The majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro.
     In Kenya and Tanzania, it is common practice for best friends to hold hands.  Whether they be little girls, or grown adult men, friendship is shown by the ease of clasping one’s palm to another. Our guide, Benson, must’ve considered us to be good friends of his, because often we were traipsing through corn-stalks while holding onto his hand.  There were times he grabbed me up in a head-lock, laughing at something I had just said, and then abruptly letting me go in favor of grabbing up a juicy red tomato to snack on.  If ever I could showcase the physical embodiment of the ease of which I fell into a friendship, it was within the short time I was with Benson.  Helping us to translate our questions for those we were speaking to, he was quick to respond efficiently.  There were several times that he helped us to greet folks politely, whether they be cheeky bibis (grandmothers), small children, or flirtatious young men (don’t worry, Dad, we were sure to abstain from any coy behaviors ourselves).  It was along the way that we were able to hear stories of elephants frequently making their way through the crops, and we could see their large footprints clearly in the dusty, fertile ground. 
Local farmland.  Look at these gorgeous clouds!
   It occurred to me then: we were treading the same paths that elephants walked every day.  Granted, this was not good news for the farmers (as a single elephant can destroy a few acres of crops on its own in a night), but what a thought!  It was here that elephants made their way up onto the escarpments of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and back again, stopping at random to snack on some corn or tomatoes. 
   It also occurred to me, during our research process, how much I enjoyed engaging with the locals.  I love talking (I’m a regular chatter-box, no one will deny), but in this I am developing a penchant to listen.  I’ve learned much about not only human-wildlife conflict, but the overall impacts on opinions of animals and conservation in the area.  It’s a heady feeling knowing that you’re discussing a topic that is both important and personal to every individual in the area, especially in the case that I have no concerns close to theirs… but this is a topic for a later post.
Maasai tire shoes, hand carved and nailed together. Super comfy!
   In any case, at the end of the day I had won a new friend in Benson, aching muscles from walking across uneven turf, and a set of pink sun-kissed cheeks.  Nothing, however, has been able to wipe the exaggerated, goofy grin from my face since my first glance at Kilimanjaro up close.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Until We Don't Get What We Want

Yesterday was our Non-Program day, and it was full from sun-up to sun-down.  We began our morning making our way up into the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro in search of a waterfall, before the sun had even peaked its head out to brighten the skies.  All of us were excited to find our way into the only lush-green lands in southern Kenya, as we'd been looking at dry savannah grasslands for a long time now.  The rains were temperamental, the winds cool, and the skies overcast with clouds labeled "unpredictable-keep-cautious." The mud grabbed at our boots as if trying to hold us still, and to take in the fantastic landscape surrounding us.  The hike was long and beautiful, and the prize at the end of the trip worth every scratch along the way.

This is a beetle's shell. Naturally formed, it's stunning!

I got to eat my sandwich perched on top of a large boulder, while the spray from the waterfall cooled my heated-self (this hike was intensive!).  After playing around in the water for a bit, we took time to hike along the foothills some more, and came across a decoratively colored beetle.  This small bug has the most unbelievably beautiful shell imaginable, it looks something like a bead, or as if this little fellow has his very own African kanga garb to wear.
   After our trek in the wilderness, we drove a short ways into the town of Loitokitok, where we first visited the VCT.  The Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center for AIDs (or VCT), is a facility that provides those who are tested positive for HIV with counseling, as well as opportunities to increase their household income to provide for their families.  We spoke with 5 women and heard their individual stories, and I was in awe of their determination to accept their status, and work to ensure their husbands and children are taken care of.   One woman determined her status only after her son had tested positive, and another had been locked away for 3 months by her family after revealing that she was HIV positive.  While there are 84 members in the counseling sessions, only some participate in bead-work and sales.  This money is dispersed to the women to help pay for other familial costs, and after we got a go at their store we were happy to hear that they had raised enough for school fees for their children.  I'm sure I paid for three or four children alone with the shoes I bought.
   After our visit we ventured into Loitokitok for a day at the market.  Saturday is sokoni day (market), and the area was alive with color!  There were bags, shoes, fabrics, hardware, vegetables, fruit, and just about anything you could imagine floating about the wooden stalls.  Markets are always interesting to visit, and I'm always buzzing about in excitement, thrilled at the prospects for a day of bargaining.  Finding items that you want is always good, but getting the price you want to pay for it is even better.  Why there isn't more bargaining in America I'll never understand, because the process is electrifying.  I dare say I even have become adept at determining the giving-point of shop owners, because I never walk away without paying a price I am comfortable with.  The give and take, the bartering, the knowledge that you can choose a price for yourself is a powerful feeling... and, well, it's fun!
   A lovely woman, my new mama Lisa (I have so many mamas now!) was a wonderful sort of character to meet.  Her smile touched the heavens, and her laughter echoed out over the mountain.  She is a shrewd saleswoman, and after she's sold you a bag she's quick to invite you to dinner.  With a chuckle and a "God bless you," she would sell us her stock and then send us on our way.  
   From the market we sped away to Club K, a local joint for dancing, drinking, and chapati.  While I only partook in the dancing and chapati, I found myself struck by a poignant thought in mid-twirl: here I was, dancing and snacking, with locals in Loitokitok of Kenya, and I felt right at home.  There was no feeling of awkwardness or insecurity, just an overall feeling of joy.  I do not know if it had really occurred to me before how much I love being here, and I no longer think it's too much of a stretch to think I will be returning.
   Today is Easter Sunday, and it was a day for hiding and hunting eggs.  Yes, indeed, there was an egg hunt in the Kilimanjaro Bush Camp, and the competition was astounding.  You never really know how competitive someone really is until they're on the hunt for colorfully decorated eggs.  My friend Fumika was practically biting the metaphorical bit to sniff around for the small treats.  Some eggs had student names on them, and they were filled with local candy.  I have found that the Kenyan form of an Air-Head is a Maoam Stripe.  They're so tasty sweet.
   My itinerary for my flights home is finalized, and I'm very excited for the prospects of seeing my family and friends in Charlotte.  I'll be starting my departure-process on Sunday, May 6th, at 11:45pm and finishing on Monday, May 7th, at 7pm.  However, I'll be parked in Nairobi airport for 8 hours before we leave.  
   Still, I'm excited.  First, however, will be to finish and present this research project, and I'm quite happy with the prospects ahead.  The only snag in the line so far, however, is that some individuals are placed in a research group with a topic they did not want.  Tempers flared, because it is easily determined that science majors want nothing to do with environmental policy.  It was disheartening to hear some people complaining that their experience is ruined by having to participate in a different topic than they wished, because I don't think anything could bring a bad taste to this sweet experience.  Hopefully they'll find that getting to personally interact with locals for several days, and trekking across the countryside, is worth not getting your research topic. 

Friday, April 6, 2012


My humblest apologies for the delay and, frankly, lax writing format of my recent posts. Things have been pretty hectic around here, and busy days are a constant.  Tomorrow is our first day off in a long while, and even it is filled to the brim with activities. A morning hike, visit to Loitoktok market, Club K, and some various other things to do.  It will be our final day before diving into directed research, and I'm hoping to enjoy every blissful minute.
   For a bit of good news, however, I've finished with 4 of my five classes here with our last exam today.  Now all that is left is DR.

   For now, I'm leaving you with some reminiscent pictures of my days in Tanzania.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Through the Lense

My computer has been fixed! My photos, documents, and all other technological aspects of life are still here, and I have our fantastic tech, Njao, to thank!  In celebration, I'm posting some of my favorite photos, enjoy.

Gabriel's Lament

Finding time to acclimate into life here in Kenya was non-existent.  Some would even say demanding.  With a quick change from a "penda" (like) to a "taka" (want) lifestyle, there were only a few short weeks to find any footholds in the Kenyan loose soils.  In just three short weeks we had several field exercises, a week-long expedition to one of the country's notable national parks, a day living in a Maasai home, a day-long excursion for research in Amboseli NP, as well as 3 papers due in the space of 3 days.  To top of this hot-list of to-dos, I'll be diving head-first into a dashing ocean known only as Finals on Friday morning, only to surface from the dashing waves of graded-answers to find myself swimming towards my next destination: Directed Research.
   It is a time of great turmoil here in the second session of the semester.  We were told the next four weeks would be hell, but that we should trudge through like the merry-men of Malarky, pull on our caps, and forcefully whistle a happy tune to the beat of research and development.
   But in truth, I'm more at peace here in East Africa than I have been in the past 2.5 years of studying at UNC.  Not to say I haven't enjoyed my time on the Hill, because I most certainly wouldn't trade my Tarheel experiences for anything.  However, stepping outside of my plans in politics and law enforcement, my two majors (political science, and peace, war & defense), to flail about in an environmental management and ecological studies setting was one of the best decisions I could've made.  When one finds themselves distressed by swimming in the same pond for a long time, I have found that it is best to swim to shore, step out, and find what adventures there are to be had outside the waters.
   My findings have drastically altered my feelings.  It's quite a thrill to know that I'm successful in a setting so unlike my safety-net I find at home in North Carolina, and it has given me quite a confidence boost.  I'm walking on air here in Africa, and there's nothing quite like knowing that air is filtered directly from the majestic snowy peaks of Kilimanjaro (in fact, it's so defining that even the chill it brings while you're in the outdoor shower is powerfully bracing!). 
   It occurred to me earlier today that I am acclimated to the lifestyle here.  I am a citizen in my heart.  I laugh with the locals and play with their children.  I dance with the Maasai mamas, and lounge in the shade drinking bah-nah-nuh bee-uh with the papas.  I've milked goats, helped with the birth of a baby cow, have conversations in Kiswahili daily, and I've even become a master of drop-choos (also known as squat-pots, or holes in the floor for restroom activities).  Baboons are as regular an occurrence here to me as gray squirrels at home, and I'll surely miss waking up to having them sleeping on my front porch every morning.
   The more I hear from my family and friends, the more excited I become.  Excitement, however, can be applicable to several situations, including positive and negative feelings.  I'm nervous about leaving here because life is so simple, and direct... and to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I'll be comfortable driving on the right side of the road back in the U.S. anymore.  But I'm also very happy about walking out of baggage claim in Charlotte and into the arms of my parents, as well as the flailing ones of one of my best friends. Plans are being made, both now in the present, and for the future... and I know I can handle them all.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Amboseli, iPods, and Maasai Rain

Today we will be spending the day in Amboseli.  This will be our last trek into a National Park, because as of this Saturday we have our final-final exams, and then we start our Directed Research Project.  The DR comprises the bulk of the reasoning behind the creation of this program SFS, and will consist of:
  • 8 days of data collecting in the field.
  • 4 days data analysis
  • 3 days for write-up (minimum 20 pgs)
  • 3 days for presentation to staff, group, and community figures.
After this, I will find myself with three days left in Kenya for debriefing, and then I depart for home.  This list seems long on a scheduled paper, but after putting it into a bulleted numerical list, it seems very short.  Finishing our last expedition, homestay, and now trips to the parks is bittersweet, as I know it will likely be a long time until I am able to visit East Africa again.
   However, on a brighter side of this fleeting post, Amboseli is world-renowned for their elephants, and these elephants are the most documented and highly studied in the world... oh, and we were told that there were 117 new baby elephants!
   Another note-worthy occurrence: last night was the first full night of rain in the Kimana area since December, and the Maasai rejoiced!  We awoke to a soft wet ground spread across our compound, and I felt a shimmering joy race through my body.  It is quite an experience to know that the smile absently fixed to your face is one in reaction to the rains, which are so important to the people here.  I've never felt so apart of this place until I found myself grinning at the prospects of a fresh start for the local farmers, as well as the people who need the water for their animals and their own livelihood.

   Life here in Kimana, at the base of Kilimanjaro, in Kenya of East Africa, is sparkling in the rain-covered grasses.
My mama at the homestay watching me cut cabbage.
One-week old calf wants some attention from "Mama"