A Community Based, and Non-Profit Organization

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.

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