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Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Furaha Thanksgiving!" (Happy Thanksgiving!)

Every day I wake up and am confronted by a giant mountain. As the morning light breaks softly, it appears through the clouds, as if it were stalking me. No matter where I travel to on this landscape, I only have to look south to be reminded of its presence; Mt. Kilimanjaro is omnipotent and one of the mightiest sights to behold. This is not to say that you must be in E. Africa to be confronted by mountains. No matter who you are or where you are, you are standing on the side of a mountain fighting towards the top. This is the way life is. We all have our mountains to conquer, some are large and some are small. Some last a few days, and others an entire lifetime, but each is challenging and perfect in its own way. I don’t know which mountain you are on, only you do, but no matter what the challenge I wish you the best, as I do myself. In two weeks Mt. Killimajaro will be my mountain to conquer- sometimes the mountains you fight are literal; as for now my mountain is called Directed Research.

For the past ten days I have been intensely administering research in Wildlife Ecology. Specifically, we are looking at the rangeland quality in the Kajiado District of S. Kenya. As land use/tenure is changing in this region, the local Maasai tribes have become more sedentary, shifting away from their previous nomadic practices toward stationary pastoralsim and agro-pastoralism. However this is having a profound effect on the landscape. Too many livestock in a small area is degrading the land, causing a loss of valuable grass species for livestock and wildlife and increased erosion. Furthermore, climate change and drought are changing the landscape, making it inescapably clear that the locals will not be able to keep cattle forever. A drought in 2008-2009 was absolutely devastating in this region. People lost anywhere between 25-100% of their cattle, and when livestock are your only source of income, it is a big deal. Poverty is increasing in an already poverty-stricken land and people are turning more towards agriculture and business development to meet their needs.
Our study has been looking at two things:
1) The overall rangeland quality. We have finished our research in this topic, looking at both settled and unsettled areas. With 8 students and local guides, we have finished 12 transects (straight lines) 2 km long each. Each transect looked at woody vegetation (trees), grasses, herbs, and erosion. For a reference, 3 transects with all individuals participating took a full day to complete.
Sampling Grass Distances
2) We have been going out into the local community and conducting interviews with locals. We are asking them questions about what they think the current quality of the rangeland is, if they have witnessed any changes over time, and what they think should be done to minimize any future changes.
Community Interviews
Ok now that all the boring stuff is out of the way, let me get into the meat of this research; its time to give you the inside scoop. I think my DR advisor/professor Dr. Kiringe said it best that “DR will bring you down!” It’s pretty tough stuff. Out in the hot African sun for hours on end, sampling plants can only hold one’s attention for so long, even when you are as stoked on plants as I am. Every day we wake early, do research for 5-8 hours, and return to camp to enter our data or continue reading what other people have studied in similar areas. It can definitely bring you down if you let it. We still have a long road of research, data analysis, and writing up a 50 pg. paper in front of us; it a big mountain to summit. The community interviews have been very interesting to say the least. Simply because I am white and doing research, locals automatically have some skepticism about my intentions. Before I can interview anyone, my guide must persuade them in Maa (Maasai language) that I am to be trusted and that their interviews will only benefit themselves and their community in the long run. I have seen some wild things out there; women casually breastfeeding their children while speaking with me, boys/girls peeing shamelessly in front of me, and angry/crazy/naked old man wildly shaking their canes asking why a white man is trying to steal his land are only a few…….and so life continues.
Nelson (local guide) and Me.
A break from DR does take place every day however. For an hour we bask in the fun and dust of African football. About 3-4 of us white students will mix it up with 4-5 of the local staff and play some football. The staff are all amazing players- of course it’s a tradition here, everyone plays. But nonetheless, we all have a great time playing on our very small field, knocking each other over fighting for a ball, and laughing and helping each other up along the way. The best player here is a local Maasai staff named Daniel, who is competitive but has a great attitude always trying to include as many students in the game as possible. Harrison is a mechanic, and built like a rock; I always try to play on his team because he is impossible to get around. Ernest is long and lanky like me, and we have a great time matching up against each other. Jackson is the big guy, easy to get around but will take you down so easily. I always look forward to the sweat and laughter in soccer.
This is why I have not posted a blog in a while. DR has been rather intense, and I have had very little time for anything else, even sleeping or eating. Today we are taking a break from research (we will finish tomorrow) as it’s Thanksgiving, and as true Americans we must gorge ourselves in a ridiculous amount of food- even in Africa. Today we will have a turkey trot, parade, play American football, eat too much, and watch a film to top it all off. Of course these are the activities, but as always, today is the day to be thankful. I don’t know if I have ever had a Thanksgiving when I have been more thankful for so many things. First and foremost is education. Less than 1% of people in this world receive a university level education, and even less get the opportunity to study in foreign countries. This is a sentiment especially echoed in Africa and hits close to my heart. Children are lucky if they can even attend High School, and the odds are astronomical for them to attend a university. I cannot count my blessing enough to have an education, and to have caring people who have perpetuated my education. From every teacher I have ever had, to anyone who supported in my coming to Kenya and Tanzania; I give thanks for you. Of course Thanksgiving is a day for family. I can only imagine mine, around our kitchen table. My sister will be home from school, family friends all happily gathered, and my mom serving all kinds of Scandinavian foods. More than any other time so far I miss them all, and I wish I could be with them for just one meal. I know they are thinking of me, and if they could hear me I would say I am giving thanks for them, they have all changed my life. I love them and I miss them.

Our DR Group
 So I leave you all now, hoping that you are doing well...and I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. All I ask is that today when, more than any other day, you are counting your blessings, give thanks for the country you live in and all the opportunities you have had in your life. If there is one thing I have learned in E. Africa, it's that life as I have known it could have been much more difficult and challenging if I had been born somewhere else; if I had been born here. As Americans, we are all so lucky and we should never loose sight of it.

Peace and Love
Seth Norell Bader- a voice of adventure

"I have loved watching you drench yourself in E. Africa. Thank you for showing us all how to truely love people" -An anonymous student's note to me.

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Nge kutoka kwenye kasiki fungu?!" (The scorpion came from the wood pile?!)

Oh my. These last 10 days have gone by faster than a dream moves through several hours of sleep. The longer I spend in E. Africa, the faster the pace of everyday accelerates. Before I know it I will be back in Washington, day dreaming of my time in Africa, only to awake to the stern look of a frustrated professor. I need to remember to cherish everyday here, because soon it will be gone, and I will be missing all the late nights of analyzing soil and vegetation data......I think.

November 7-11, 2010   

I woke up early on Sunday morning, blurry eyed and tired, but ready to start our journey towards Tsavo. On our way, we stopped, hiked a small hill, and had a lecture in Wildlife Management about various protected areas in the S. Kenya area, as defined by the IUCN (Int. Union on Conservation of Nature). A few local kids joined us, watching from a tree, and we gave them a few oranges after the lecture in exchange of using their bathrooms. Hiking down the hill, one of the bravest boys said to me "Give me my money", as if I had stolen it from him and he was demanding it back. I have been surprised to find how much more often I am asked for things in Kenya than in TZ......I'll continue to keep my eyes on this.

Down the dusty road we arrived about 15 km from the park gate at a security checkpoint. When entering Tsavo W., all tourists (especially if they are white) must hav a security convoy to the park entrance. A few years ago there was a small bout of robbings and hijackings of tourists approaching Tsavo W., but now there is not danger. The security is simply in place to ensure that tourists feel safe enough to visit the region, and it employs a few people along the way; not bad thing at all. Entering Tsavo W- unlike any other NP we have visited so far. Very very dense bushes and trees, you can barely see 30 feet past the roads on either side. Furthermore, the Tsavo NP system is the second largest NP in all of Africa (behind Kruger NP in S. Africa), so all of the animals are much more dispersed. Sadly, we did not see nearly as many animals overall during this safari as others in the part. However, the scenery in the Tsavo region is to die for. It lies on a plate riddled with geothermic activity. Sleeping volcanos and calderas protrude from the landscape almost as dramatically as if they were actually erupting, and cooled lava crusts the landscape like dry bread. Our first stop in Tsavo W. was at the Shetani Lava flows, which are over 500 years old. Amazingly, plant life still flourishes amidst the barrenness of the scraggly rock.

Shetani Lava Flows
Our final stop on Sunday was at Mzima Springs, locally known as "Mtu Mzima" (the River of Life). The water in these springs play host to a great varity of fish, alge, and plant species, as well as crocodile, and is famous for the Hippo. The water in the springs are also important as they make their way to Mombasa, on the coast of Kenya. After walking around the springs for a few hours, we made our way to our camp site. The rest of the day was spent setting up camp, and settling in. Aaron, Daniel (local worker), and I spent an hour trying to assemble a complicated mess of metal pilings and tarp into a suitable shade structure for 35+ people......of course leave it to three young and capable men, we got it done eventually. The remainder of the day was spent resting.

6 A.M. on Monday morning I am mounted on the roof of a car, sweeping dead bugs off the roof. A lantern had occupied the space the night before, and exterminated over 500 insects (poor biodiversity). The lay strewn across the roof and hatches, wreaking of dead bugs, which actually smells like dead fish. I find that my shoe is the most useful excavation tool.....I still should wash it. Not too many animals spotted on the morning game drive, like I said they are well dispersed. We did however run accross many elephants who, like the soils of Tsavo, have a very dark red hue. After returning to camp and having a lecture on the Tsavo ecosystem from a KWS (kenya wildlife service) ranger, we spent the afternoon in groups, preparing presentaions for the faculty on the differences between conservation issues and solutions in Kenya and Tanzania. A very hot day turned into a tiring day, but after the excercise we were rewarded with a trip just outside of the park, to the nearby town of Mitito Andei which lies on the Nairobi/Mombassa highway, squarely in the middle. A little time to walk around turned into persuading some local drunkards that I didn't have enough money to put down against them in a game of checkars.......the longer I stay here the more and more confusing and random it gets. I like it. That night spelled out as ghost stories told around the campfire, and the neccecity to squash a few too adventures scorpions.

Solitary Bull Elephant- Very Aggressive

Tuesday we loaded up the Land Cruisers and set off to the SE, toward the Chyulu Hills. An hour and a half of dirt, rocks, and branches laterm one of our cruisers had high-centered over a rock and the battery died. It took a while but we were eventually able to pull it out and continue upwards. The Chyulu Hills are a 60km long, North/South running plateau of beauty. They provide a perfect persective on the entire S. Kenya region. After a lecture in land use in the Chyulu Hills, we hiked the largest bluff in our vicinity (took about 30 minutes), and were rewarded with an astounding view to the NW of lava flows, volcanos, Kimana, and the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Were were escorted by a few male rangers which worked for KWS in the Tsavo area. One of them (I can't remeber his name, only that he had a pencil thin mustache) and I "dirt skiied" down the hill and walked back to the cars together. He told me a story about when he was in a gun-fight with a poacher who he witnessed killing 3 elephants, and ended up actually shooting the poacher......crazy, crazy, crazy.

Climbing to the TOP

On top of Chyulu Hills.

Chyulu Hills- Looking NW. Kili just to the West,

Wednesday was our final full day spent in Tsavo W. That morning (again after cleaning away a healthy residue of dead bugs), we sped toward Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary which is within Tsavo W. National Park. On our way we were exposed to a very speical treat- a pack of 30+  wild dogs. They are a very rare species, and are becoming more and more endangered due to habitat degredation and retalitory killing from local farmers (the farmers usually poision them). This particular pack was doing very welll, as it had young pups, immatures, and full grown adult dogs. We chased them down the road for about 15 minutes before they disappeared again into the bush. All of our drivers/professors were equally excited; most said they had not seen any wild dogs in Kenya for over 6-8 years. After arriving at the sanctaury, we were met by the local rangers who gave us a lecture on Rhino Conservation in Ngulia. They have fenced in 90 square kilometers of land which is now home to over 70 Black Rhinos, and apparently the populations are recovering slowly, but healthily. Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to see any Rhinos, but we did find their tracks and scat at one of the 3 watering holes in Ngulia (which was almost as exciting). We left the sanctuary and proceeded to one of the local tourist lodges where we spent the rest of our day relaxing and resting. My highlight was talking to Daniel (a local Maasai) about the universal nature of women and men. I told him (jokingly) that women will pay more attention to you if you have money, so lots of men in America drive fancy cars to gain the attention of women. I then said, for him "A Maasai women will not pay attention to you if you just walk by, but if you walk by with 50 cows following you, then you are in buisness." Together we laughed, and our laugher carried us back to camp.

Wild Dog Pack

That night a storm pulled us in close, and didn't let go. Within minutes of the sun setting, I saw lighning in the distance, and thunder persistently approached. Finally the heavens opened and drenched our camp within minutes. Our debrief meeting was cut short as we all retreated into our tents. I stayed up next to the fire, and eventually found Askari Olikenny, sitting solemly. He told me that in his rush to feed the fire with dry wood, a scorpion had popped up and stung him in the hand. He refused to go to bed however, because he said he needed to keep guard that night- there was no other option. Locals here, like Olikenny, are pretty intense; not even a scorpion sting can stop you from doing your work.......Beat that Chuck Norris.

November 12-15, 2010
Back Home and Back to Work
Thursday morning we packed up (a very soggy) camp and hit the road back toward Kimana. It was an exceptionaly clear day and Mt. Kilimanjaro stood strongly amidst a few wisps of clouds, illuminated by the rising sun. It was overall a rather normal day travelling; crazy roads, swarms of locals trying to sell us jewelrey and wood carvings at the park gates, children chasing to keep up with as our cars pass by their front yards. Arriving back at KBC (our camp) everyone was tired, and took the afternoon to rest and decompress from our latest adventures.
Friday morning I awoke to the painful truth- we had a culminative final exam in oly two days. Oh well, no class today, lets go play. Instead of studying, most of the students went with some staff members past Kimana and Loitokitok Town to a path extending from the side of a muddy road. We walked down, through a large cornfield where about 30 farmers were tilling the land, appearing like bobbing polkadots in their respective rows. Past the field and down into a ravine, better known as "the Gorge". The sound of running water slowly gets closer and closer, and soon we are greeted by a roaring 30ft. waterfall pouring out of a hillside of vines, leaves, and trees. The stream actually formed the Kenya/TZ border- it was nice crossing the stream and for a few miniutes returing to TZ and remembering my friends left behind in Rhotia and Karatu. After eating my lunch streamside, I went into Loitokitok, specifically to the Voluntary Testing Center (VTC), which does free HIV/AIDS testing in this region. We spoke three women named Mary, JoAnn, and Monica who all had been diagnosed with HIV in recent years, and were members of a womens support group operating in the VTC. Their stories were heartbraking of course, but their outlooks on life were optimistic and more than refreshing. They viewed everyday as a gift, and intended to make the most of their time on this planet- just as anyone should. They almost saw it as a gift to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, and do so much that "our next generation can be HIV free" -Monica. As we left they invited us back to meet with them on Dec 1- World AIDS Day, to help raise awareness of the issure and the VTC in this region. Returning to camp with the slap in the face that I have an important test to study for.....so I began.

Fastforward past a day of studying and review sessions- nothing really worth writing about. Let's just say I studied hard, did well on my exams, and now it is over. But out of these ashes does not rise a pheonix like a break or vacation, etc, but a monstor called DIRECTED RESEARCH. For the next month I will be doing intensive research with our professor of Wildlife Ecology Dr. Kiringe, specifically in the changes and trends of rangelands in the Amboseli ecosystem. We will be assesing the overall quality of vegetation and soils in this region, and how they have been impacted by locals. Furthermore, we will be going into communities to investigate how locals view their rangelands- specifically whether or not they think the rangelands are healthy or ecologically threatened. So from here on out this is what I will be doing. First I will write a project proposal, followed by 8 days of reserach/data collection, 4 days of data analysis, then 7 days of writing my paper. Finally followed by a presentation of our findings to the local communities............Here we go baby!

Until I have more to share, keep it classy.
Missing you all

Seth Norell Bader- a voice of adventure

Saturday, November 6, 2010

"Yangu Nyumbani Mpia" (My New Home)

This is proably going to be my shortest blog yet, but I want to do a quick update before I leave tommorw for 5 days- we're going on a expidition to Tsavo National Park (the largest National Park in Kenya and Africa).

Here's some news from the past week:

October 30
We had an early morning class on an amazing hill called Olosoito- took us about 20 min to climb to the top. The peak was riddled with hughe bolders I couldn't help but climb all over (it made me miss rock climbing so much). We also had an amazing view of our new surroundings- ranging from the beautiful Chyulu hills to the east, Amboseli NP to the west, and Mt. Kilimajaro to the South. This sure is a beautiful part of the world. 
On top of Olosoito. Kind of a sketchy climb.

October 31- HALLOWEEN!
Well needless to say, but Halloween is not really celebrated in Africa. Nevertheless, all of us dressed up as best we could. Personally, I impersonated a man we have named "Father Shikamo" who was a resident of Rhotia, TZ. He ixbasically a crazy old man who spoke no Swahili, walked past our camp everyday at 4PM (of course all knobbly kneed), brandishing a wooden spoon which he used to terrorize school-children....I couldn't help but do him the honor of dressing up like him as best I could. It was an interesting day in our camp site, riddled with confused and almost scared looks from our staff- not exactly sure what we were doing.

Father Shikamo!
Most days of this past week we have had anywhere between 3-7 hours of class. Although we already gained a solid background of the main env. issues in E. Africa while in TZ, many of the issues here are unique to Kenya, so we have spent a great deal of time learning them in detail. especially through two field activities.

1) We administered a survey of residents of the Kimana Group Ranch (KGR), learning about human wildlife conflict in this region. The most prominent issue we learned about is Elephant raiding farms during the night, and trampling the crops of local farmers. Attempts to build eletric fences around KGR have occured, but have been futile because of poor planning and a lack of maintanance.

2) We performed transect walks and vegetation sampling of a rangeland in KGR in order to determine the overall site quality, which we found to be poor. We sampled such things as erosion, grass/herb species and height, and layers of canopy.
I just finished writing papers analyzing the results of these two sudies...both took a long time, but they were overall very interesting!!!

November 2
This day was a break from class. After working on assignments in the morning, I went to the market in Kimana, Kenya which takes place every tuesday. Recently, all of my socks blew away after I washed them, so I boght some in Kimana. As I arrived I was immediatly bombarded by Maasai Mamas trying to sell beaded bracelts, necklaces, and other jewelrey...I bought a couple and traded for a few more. After the choas, I met a man selling/making rubber shoes named Charles. He was a great man, and together we sat and spoke of life, love, and politics for about an hour. He was so happy to learn that I spoke Swahili, and together we practiced langauge. We became friends, and as I left he offered to fix a pair of my shoes.

November 4
This morning a woman from the Amboseli Elephant Project came and spoke with us about their research over the past 35 years. For many years she worked side by side with Cynthia Moss (an American) and a legend in conservation around these parts. She had all sorts of crazy stories- one of them being about a particular Bull named Eli who was in Musth (mating behavior) and plowed through a tourist vehicle when they got too close. In the afternoon we had a game drive through Amboseli NP itself. The morning was kind of a bust (even though we did see a chettah) because it was rainy and very cold. The afternoon was amzing however, it stopped raining, and the residual clouds were breathtaking. We drove through a swamp on our way out and found a HUGE (about 80) herd of elephants feeding. We watched a small male in musth, challenging larger bulls for mating ground. He was surprisingly strong and aggressive, but after being rejected by a large female elephant, turned, trumpeted, and charged toward one of our land cruisers which quickly sped off. Although it was beautiful, Amboseli is known as Kilimajaro's Royal Court, and we could not see Kili on the cloudy day....soon I hope to go back and see Killi in its full glory (WOW I CAN'T WAIT TO CLIMB THAT SUCKER!!!) We did stop at a lodge in the park to relax. Amazingly, I met a Maasai man (Kennith) who worked at that lodge who spent 6 months in Seattle, WA a few years ago. Together we spoke of all things American and Washitonian......I was thrilled to find that he loved it there and wants to go back. He was also happy to speak to me in Kiswahili, and he told me that Kiswahili was born Zanzibar, was raised and lived in Tanzania, died in Kenya, and was buried in Uganda. This is a reference to their different uses accross E. Africa (TZ is attributed with being the most pure)

November 5
After taking a break from my work, a few of us went to the closest Primary School (5 km away) and met with the students. We mainly played volleyball and soccer. I must admit that I had great challenges inyteracting with these students, especially in compared with my time at schools in TZ. The students here were rowdy, unruly , and would not listen to anyone. I had the hardest time dividing up teams to play soccer...some of them would yell and even beat one another to assert their dominance. I got tired of breaking up fights and simply walked away....sometimes thats all you can do. It was amazing to watch some of the older boys play volleyball however- some of them are very talalnted and amazing jumpers especially. I got in on a couple of games, and I thought I held my own pretty well (even bloked a few spikes :)....

November 6- HAPPY 59th BDAY DAD!!!
Today we just finished up assignments and packed in anticipation of the upcoming Tsavo trip...

For the next 5 days we will be in Tsavo NP.....home of the "maneaters" The folklore is that during colonization, a pair of two male lions killed over 130 railroad workers in a few years. Furthermore, accounts of lion attacks on people have continued to this day in Tsavo (a couple were pulled out of their tent a few years ago). What I understand is that Tsavo is nothing to mess around with..........let's go see how far I can push the limit (safely of course).

The results are in, and they are what was expected. Incumbent Pres. Kikwete (CCM) took 61% of the overall vote, and Dr. Wilbrod Slaa (Chadema) took 21% of the overall vote. All in all, only 45% of the registered 20mill voters in TZ turned out- which was expressed as being very very poor. Slaa has challebged the results, demanding a recount and insisting that the election was rigged by Kikwete and CCM (he could easily be right). I am saddened by this result, as I think Chadema is the best direction for TZ, but obviosuly the people don't agree....what do I know anyway? However, this year is the best that Chadema has ever performed in the election. Who knows, maybe next time they will overtake CCM? As the old TZ saying goes, "kidogo kidogo hujaza kibaba" (a little bit and a little bit fills up the cup).

One more thing! I also finished up my post-study travel itinerary. I'm happy to say that my Mom, Dad, and Sister will be joining me. As I climb Kilimanjaro they will go on a safari with a friend of mine from Rhotia, TZ and visit all the amazing Nat. Parks in N. Tanzania. Afterward, we will meet up in Arusha , TZ, and here is our plan...

Itinerary, Post Kilimanjaro

Sat 18- Finish climbing, meet parents in Arusha, spend night.
Impala Inn.
Sun 19- Bus from Arusha to Dar E. Salaam, spend night
Mon 20- Ferry to Zanzibar in morning, stay day/night in Stown Town
Tues 21- Stay 1 day in Stonetown.
Wed 22- Travel to N/E. Coast,
Kwenda Rocks in Kwenda, just S. of Nungwi.

Thurs 23- Spend day in Kwenda/ Nungwi
Friday 24- Spend day in Kwenda/ Nungwi
Saturday 25- Back to Stowntown, ferry to DES, stay night in DES
Sunday 26- Bus North, stop in Mombassa, Kenya. Spend night

Safaris are the BEST!!! I'm looking
forward to Tsavo.

Monday 27- 1 Day in Mombassa
Tuesday 28- Travel to Nairobi, spend night
Wednesday 29- Fly out of Nairobi

Its looking to be pretty sweet. I'm very excited to return to TZ, travel around, and see what more this great country has to offer!

Next post will be on the Tsavo Expidition. Hopefully I make it through the man eaters, and return to update you all (think happy thoughts)

Until Then
Seth Norell Bader- a voice of adventure