Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Home is where the heart is...

We are down to our last 13 days in the SFS program. It’s hard to believe that I have been in Africa for almost 90 days or so.  Although, it is a lot easier to believe when I think about all that has happened since I have been here.  I have developed lifelong friendships, I have been to seven different national parks, I have lived in Tanzania, I have lived in Kenya, I have studied very hard, I have seen the most unbelievable skies at dusk and at midnight, I have seen so many wild animals, I have been in the most uncomfortable situations, I have slept in a tent in the middle of the Serengeti,  I have been on a hyena chase, I have been to an African Catholic Church, I have bartered my way through the markets,  I have interviewed Maasai, I have done so many things there are too many to name; however, most of all, I have grown.  Mind you, I am the same height I was when I left, but today, I look at myself in the beetle covered mirror outside the bathrooms and see a new desire in my eyes, a new idea of who I really am, a new perspective of the person I want to be.  I’m not saying that you have to travel to Africa to “find yourself”, but I am saying you have to put yourself in a crazy/foreign/new atmosphere to get away from living in such a habitual way.  Do we live following a pretty regular schedule here?  Yes, absolutely.  What is life without order and time and due dates and etc.  My point though is that this world that I have been waking up in for the past 3 months is completely different from my world back at home and at school.  I have realized that at home I have forgotten to truly take advantage of where I am and recognize the world and all that it possesses around me.  I have failed to truly BE where I am.  
In Kenya and in Tanzania, recognizing the world you are in is easy because everything you see makes you think and makes you open your mind and your eyes because it is entirely distinct.  At home, a tree is a tree, a house is a house, blah blah blah… it’s like home is a beautiful painting that never actually gets stared at; it’s seen through more of a glance.  Of course, I love my home, I love my family, my friends, etc.  I think it’s more about recognizing that love that is the most important thing.  Recognizing why it exists and why you feel the way you do…knowing the “because” behind things.  I’ve learned to dive under the surface of things here; simply glancing at something gets you nowhere and leaves you ignorant.
 For instance a tree (most likely an acacia species)  in Kenya is a home for the blue starlings, a food supply for browsers (giraffes, elephants), and a resource for the people (fuel, building material, medicine), a home is a small mud hut that most likely has two rooms (one for sleeping all family members, one for the livestock), a meal is a blessing especially if there is meat available (most consist of ugali, which is essentially corn flour and water, along with maize and beans), a friend is family in all cases (no one is ever left out or forgotten), a life is a battle (the average lifespan of a Kenyan man or woman is 54 years old), a smile is something you will find on every Kenyans’ face.  Let me go further and tell you that 45% of Kenya’s population is unemployed; those who are employed most likely work for the tourism industry or are subsistence farmers.  82% of those making money make less than $1 a day.  These images should make you stop and think.  Look around you and don’t just glance at the world, stare at it, find the meaning in all you have and all you want; if you analyze something and discover no value right off the bat, then you can probably live without it.  Everything in a Kenyan’s life has pertinent value; everything they have ever known, they appreciate immensely.  In some way or another I guess I am saying that you should adopt the mindset of a Kenyan.  Treat all that you experience in your life as an opportunity, as a blessing, and cherish it to the best of your ability. 
I wouldn’t say that I have changed who I was when I left the states.  I would say that I have added several solid bricks to the life I have developed so far.
My research project, which has been going for the past week, is on the evaluation of the rangeland conditions in Mbirikani group ranch.  My group and I spent a solid week collecting data from the field.  We gathered information from unsettled and settled areas within the ranch; settled meaning places where Bomas (Maasai homesteads) are found.  Each of us, equipped with a clipboard, compass, GPS, and tape measure, gathered data regarding herbaceous cover, soil erosion and species abundance/diversity for four solid days.  Two days were spent in settled areas, while the other two were spent in unsettled areas.  The best part of our rangeland condition field work was the unsettled days where we had a Maasai guide as well as a ranger with a gun to protect us from any potential animal encounters.  No lions, or leopards, or buffalos ever showed up, but we did get to do an entire transect (20 separate plots) with giraffes to our right and our left.  It was incredible to be doing scientific work out in the open rangelands of Africa alongside families of giraffes.  What could’ve been better than that?!
 Not only did we do rangeland observations, but we also conducted interviews with the Massai people living in the group ranch.  We did all of our interviews individually for the most part.  It was just me and a translator who walked around the rangeland in search of a Maasai interviewee.  My interviews were all wonderful, all comfortable, and all uncomfortable.  I interviewed one man who fathered 69 children and had 9 wives…pretty crazy to imagine huh?   It’s hard to explain to you everything I experienced during these interviews.  Let’s just say I will be thinking about my mixed feelings for a while.  Finding a balance between the happiness, the pain, the frustration, the gratitude, and everything else I felt during these interviews has been very difficult to do.  I am still grappling with it all.  Perhaps once I finish my report I will have a better understanding of my thoughts.  Speaking of my report… it is officially due in 8 days and I have yet to start typing.  50 pages or so seems like a lot, but since we finished data analysis today, I am starting to feel a little better about getting things done.  This research project has been a great learning experience thus far and I am excited to see the finished product.
What else…. Let’s see, a couple days ago my roommates and I were obnoxiously woken up by what we thought was a lion outside of our banda.  I was the first to hear the loud stomps alongside of our walls.  I laid in bed, staring up at the dead bugs covering my mosquito net, hoping the sounds would just fade away.  An hour later, my eyes still wide open, I finally yell across the banda…”Jeanne!  Wake up!  Do you hear that sound?”  “Yea...what the heck?” she says.  “I think it’s a cat of some sort!” I hastily said back to her.  We listened for the next ten minutes or so before we woke up our other roommate.  All of us were up, scared, and worried about what might be outside of our banda wanting to get in.  Arima was the brave one who got up out of bed in hopes of scaring away what was making the loud noises.  She banged on our front door.  We heard it run from our front door to our back door alongside of the wall.  “Oh my God, it’s a lion.” I said.  “I think it’s a mouse.” Arima said.  “In fact, I can see it.”  AHHHHHHHH Jeanne and I screamed as we heard it run out of our wall and across the floor.  The next couple minutes were spent trying to get the mouse out.  Finally it ran out the door and I laid back down to fall asleep around 2 in the morning.
Also…Happy Belated Thanksgiving from Keyna!  Even though I missed being home for the holidays a ton, I still had a great Thanksgiving abroad.  The day started off with a 5k turkey trot around camp followed by some arts and crafts (I colored for the first time in a long time) and then a trip to the tailors in Kimana.  After we got back everyone was helping in the kitchen and decorating the chumba.  Around 5pm or so we all said a prayer around the table and sat down to begin the feast.  Let me tell you, you haven’t had real turkey until you go pick up live ones from a random Kenyan’s backyard, drive them back to camp, play with them for a little bit, kill them, pluck them, chop them up, and roast them.  Some of my campmates are still sporting their feathers that they decided to keep in honor of the Thanksgiving turkey.  All in all, dinner was delicious.  Turkey, potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green-bean casserole, etc., we had it all just in a Kenyan kind of style.    
 I have discovered my favorite insect here in Africa.  Who knew I would ever sympathize with gross crawlies? I surely didn’t until I saw the first stick bug in my life.  They are the friendliest, non-biting insects and I love them.  I now make friends with everyone I see.  I also saw the very first praying mantis of my life, which was really cool.  Their body structure is so complex and they way they hop from blade of grass to blade of grass is incredible.  Oh right, I do have one last bug story that I should mention…. Me and two other girls stared at an ant troop for almost 30 minutes one evening.  We watched the ants carry this giant deceased beetle across the stall floor, over the ledge, and into their hole that was half the size of the beetle.  In order to get the whole beetle into their ant city, they had to break the beetle into pieces, which we also watched them do.  They broke off the outer shell with their jaws, and then pulled off the wings, and eventually got the entire beetle into their home.  Ants are pretty impressive insects; I suggest you Wikipedia them.                         
I hope all is well wherever you are and that you are listening to Christmas carols!  Remember to recognize the beauty around you.


  1. What a lovely and insightful entry, Katie. Thanks for sharing your profound thoughts and observations. I will try to remember to take in all the beauty around me and appreciate all I have. I wish you all the best as you complete your stay in Kenya and climb Mt. Kili.
    Claudia (Devin's mom :)

  2. Your entry reminds me of that classic line from Forest Gump--"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get". You've been able to see a part of the world that has opened your eyes. Opened them to more than just your surroundings. You're looking deeper into yourself, trying to understand how you fit in and how you can make a difference in the world. Maybe this will be your last blog but I want you to know you've helped open my eyes as well. I make sure I say hi to everyone on the streets when I pass them, I look up at the stars more and count my blessings. I don't take for granted the gifts God has given me. Be safe my daughter, I can't wait to see you again. Pop

  3. Happy Thanksgiving to you too Katie. Can't wait to see you at Christmas. Be safe on Kili and safe travels home too!