Saturday, August 14, 2010
Maasai men making fire
Gathering water with Mamas. A leather strap attached to the container is placed on my head. I am holding both sides of the leather strap. It was about a 10 minute walk from the water back to the boma
Everyone left around 5, and it was time to crack down on our written report, which had us up until 3 am and then again at 6 am. Finally, at 9:30, we handed in our reports and headed to Amboseli park. We saw lions this time, and came even closer to elephants, hippos, and cape buffalo. At Amboseli lodge, we sat down and drank the most delicious and well-deserved cappuccinos I have ever had, while doing our best to protect our food from sneaky monkeys (unfortunately for one student, his chocolate bar was a victim). The next and final full day, we had a de-briefing of the program, packed, and later that night had a “Maasai prom.” We took over the kitchen to make food for taco night, and came to dinner in our Maasai gear. No one had the energy to dance, but a few friends and I spent some time jumping with the Maasai guards. The next morning we prepared to leave. I like to imagine Mt. Kili was saying goodbye to us, because she stood outside our camp more visibly than ever. After 5 weeks of being together, our goodbyes to the African students were short and sweet, and before we knew it they were gone. Twenty-four hours later, I was back in New York. I am thankful for the hot showers and running water, but I already miss Kenya. It was an experience I will never forget and will always appreciate. And to everyone involved (readers, family, SEBS, SFS, and my lovely new friends), I must say:
Asante Sana! (thank you very much!)… for everything.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
In other news, yesterday we were able to fit in some time for community service. We volunteered at a mobile health clinic, which was held on a Maasai man’s property. Signs were placed around the property to designate different health “sectors.” I worked in the nutrition sector and was given the task of handing out de-worming pills to mothers and children 5 and under. It was hectic for about 30 minutes, but afterward things quieted down and we spent most of our time chatting and playing with babies. I enjoyed meeting the community health workers and the head of the clinic, Dr. Kimono. Having a degree in nutrition himself, he was very excited to hear that nutrition is also my focus, and made sure that I received his contact information in case I decide to “marry a Kenyan man” (his words) and work here permanently. Afterward, we were treated to fresh fruit, sodas, and of course, more goat. Aside from that, our days and nights have been spent in front of the computer. Although I am feeling stressed now, I am looking forward to our presentation, when our chumba will be packed with community members here for the results of our presentation and the free lunch. Everything we have done so far has been building up to this point, and it’s hard to believe that tomorrow is almost here. It promises to be a very long (and hopefully rewarding) day. Wish us luck!
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
The best way to experience another culture is to experience their food. At least that's what Andrew Zimmern (from Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods) says. If culture is related to cuisine, then it must be a good sign that the food in Botswana is delicious. I have enjoyed everything I have eaten (except cucumbers, which I just do not like). Just a warning, Batswana love meat, so it is a little harder to be a vegetarian. My mom in Mochudi told me that eating a meal without meat is almost as if you didn't even eat at all. If you like meat, then you will enjoy the meat in Botswana, which seems tastier and fresher than in the US. I'm sure that it is indeed fresher and uses fewer growth hormones and chemicals in general. Many families raise their own cows, goats, and chicken so they know exactly how their animals have been raised and how fresh their food is. A traditional meal includes a maize or sorghum meal cooked so it has the consistency of mashed potatoes, vegetables that remind me of spinach, and usually beef. (I'm sorry if my description of food is lacking as I much prefer to be eating it than writing about it) There were a few things that surprised me about food in Botswana. For example, they eat pasta. My family enjoys covering it with a meat gravy, but other families add ketchup (their version of tomato sauce). They also have supermarkets, which provide almost everything that one in the US would. However, there are many street venders and small shops that sell food as well. Fast food gaining in popularity as KFC, Chicken Licken (a South African chain that reminds me of a slightly altered Chick-fil-a), and Pie City (serving primarily meat pies, which look like hot pockets, not fruit pies) are popular places to stop and get a quick bite.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Well a lot has happened in the days… almost too much to write!
We went to a mangrove to study juvenile fish. It is a great place for growth and diversity because a mangrove is very difficult to manor in and can protect the young fish from more experienced pray. We snorkeled for about an hour in water that was less than 2 feet. The grass was just about as tall as the water and it was very hard to see where you were going because of all the sediments. Many of us experienced stings from stinging cells on the grass and had the marks to prove it afterwards! The trick to seeing life in this difficult environment was to remain still and let them come to you. When everyone was still schools of young fish flew by. One school went on forever and I could only estimate over 500 as they went by me in all directions. The important thing to know about mangroves is that they are great for protecting against storms. However, since they are beachfront land, they are often torn out for development. Here on LC, the mangroves are thriving because of lack of development. Already most mangrove ecosystems are gone, but those that are left should be saved- not only to help cushion the impact of storms but to help the declining fish population from decreasing further.
The next few days were filled with studying and learning the various coral types, fish and plant life of the sea floor. Every single student was amazed at how much information they could learn in less than a week. Corals and fish now have names instead of shapes and colors. We took a large quiz only to find out how much we all have come to know.
Scuba dives are amazing and I am enjoying every single eyeful. The reefs are so large! I think this will spoil me for future dive places. There are just so many places to look… and not enough air in your tank! I have done 6 dives already and each location seems to be more beautiful than the next!
In my dives I have seen Great Barracudas, turtles, and countless fish. It really boggles the mind at how little we know about the ocean. Its vast resources have been largely unexplored below the surface. Even as a student who has taken oceanography there is just so much more out there. I wish everyone could dive at least once here, to understand- or maybe even take a glimpse into another world.
Yesterday we were filmed conducting scientific research while diving. We took transects, quadrates, measured and even took notes on our slates. ( A transect is generally a large tape measure that is extremely difficult to place in the environment. Because of the moving currents and life, it always ends up fallings somewhere hard to retrieve!) We were evaluating biodiversity at the bottom. We were looking for sites of disease but luckily did not find much. The reefs here are in good shape.
Our second dive that day was a lion fish round up. We searched the dive site for these invasive species that have no natural predators in the Caribbean. There is much question about how these pacific animals came to these waters but many believe it was from the pet trade. Because of this, many researchers have permits to catch these animals. We were fortunate to witness 3 captures in only 30 min!
Today is a very special day….my Birthday! I have the unique opportunity to live immersed in research and who else could say they spent their 21st birthday in paradise? Today we will work on our final presentation proposals. It seems so quickly that we will all have to think about what we will be doing for the remainder of our time here. Two students and I are tackling sustainability issues of the research facility. As we all know, there is always room for improvement! This facility is cutting edge as an off the grid building but there some issues that we would like to see addressed. I will update you on that when the project is approved.
Today we will learn about the ICON station that is just outside our lagoon. It is a pole that was installed by NOAA ( National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) to record temperature, salinity, and a ton of other measurements. Central Caribbean Marine Institute pretty much overseas it and uses its data for studies. We are learning more info about the ICON today from one of the in house scientists.
Around 2 we will conduct Whelk counts and maybe even do some cliff jumping!
Hope all is well!
Friday, July 23, 2010
Gathering data is our purpose, but meeting people (“making friends”) is the source of inspiration. Like the children I met today, who watched with wonder and excitement as I turned paper into finger footballs, I am excited to be seeing the world in a different light, and learning to appreciate the simple things that life has to offer.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
Well I have landed! After making my way to Grand Cayman and hoping a 12 person plane to Little Cayman. Along the way to LC I found three other students to chat with along the way. (They all wore something Rutgers… I however did not. Go figure)
Once here, I was amazed by the sheer beauty of the island… LC itself has one road and one central location which encompasses the airport, post office, fire station and police station. By the airport( I mean a strip of paved road) with a wooden room. It has the cell phone numbers of the 2 police men posted and invitations to a island wide birthday party for some person….and nothing else. I think the general store is somewhere in that vicinity but we have yet to take an island tour. The first day was full of introductions and inquiry but we were all eager to learn. I dipped my feet in the water and instantly felt the need to go in – but we have the buddy system here.. You cannot go anywhere without a buddy off campus. What I mean by campus is running, biking, or anything on the water. The campus itself is a large beach front home like setting that you would see anywhere in the Caribbean. Its brightly colored walls have a few main places kitchen, bathroom dorms etc. The bathroom is an off the grid composting facility and there is very little water usage.(Its not as bad as you would think. Its not an outhouse, but there is no running water. ) Lights are conserved and internet is only available in the classroom. The classroom faces the ocean and is unlike any typical stuffy classroom. The sea breeze cools the room and makes the weather almost perfect.
Internet is generally good with some touchy times when everyone is on. Our meals are prepared by a cook but we were warned sometimes the supply boat will not come. From this, we have been warned we may need to survive on PB&J for a while. (that hasn’t happened yet) The food is ok, mostly a southern type that I generally do not care for but…. Everyone has to eat!
The night was hot and the bugs were EVERYWHERE! Thankfully they were not generally in our bedroom but I have never seen so many bugs at one time. Lights went out at 9ish and the entire island is pitch black. The only light that can be seen was the experimental sea column about a mile off shore and some lightning that broke over the ocean.
Days start early about 7 am and don’t end until 9 or so, so everyone was excited for the action packed day. After breakfast (cereal) 3 of us went out for a snorkel to Grape Tree Bay and were amazed that merely 50 ft offshore from our bedroom was an extensive coral reef. The reefs are shallow but beautiful. ( about 8-10 feet at max) I have taken some pictures and hope that everyone can see them! I also took a video… its hard to stay stable in the moving ocean! Hopefully I will get better with time.
At 9 the class went out for snorkel exploration. 30 minutes to explore some of the area and record what we saw on our dive slates…. writing underwater….. is like learning how to write all over again. We did another 30 minute dive using a quadrant and meter stick to record one small area and took a coral tour. All of this was less than 100 meters from our home.
Lunch (I made PB&J) and then an extensive lecture where we learned over 25 identifying ways to categorize coral and fish. The lecture was so informative that all students were actively trying to categorize their data with the information. Afterwards there was a knowledge quiz that was based on fish markings, fins and fish families. We all were amazed at how much we had already learned in less than a day at sea.
The rain has rolled in and has come down on and off the whole day. Rite now I’m waiting for our evening lecture and student presentations to begin. Our pre-course work was to complete a 10 minute presentation based on a topic from our textbook and article readings. I chose Marine Protectorate Areas and thoroughly learned a great deal in my Environmental Policy courses back home. An article even referenced Dr. Bonnie McCay (my professor)!
Tomorrow is a full day where we will snorkel again at the other side of the island at Preston Bay. We will do a cross section diagram and lobster, conch, diadema and lionfish distribution study. After that we will have an island tour….and hopefully I will be able to tell you a little more about LC.
There is just so much to tell…
I hope all is well… because I don’t think I ever want to go home!
Friday, July 16, 2010
The rest of the time spent during these last few days have been dedicated to academics. We have been given a crash course in public health research, being introduced to organizational tools such as conceptual frameworks and CSPro, a computer-base program. We also had the opportunity to learn about local health care in Kimana Kenya by touring a nearby health clinic. The impact of limited resources on the clinic was clear, but the staff was clearly dedicated to their clients. Ahead of us, we have two more presentations, one on a questionnaire we developed and another on research indicators. This past week and a half has been highly academic, but soon we will start our work in the field.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Last week, I stayed with another host family in the village of Mochudi, about 45 minutes outside of Gaborone. Mochudi isn't the typical African village that I pictured in my mind. Even though there were huts built from mud and straw as well as animals roaming throughout the streets, Mochudi was much bigger than I imagined, having a population of about 40,000. More like a small town than a village. Although my family was traditional in some respects, owning a cattle post (which I will get into later) and cooking traditional food, they were also westernized in some aspects (although slightly less so than my Gabs family). They owned a car (actually 3), which my Gabs family does not even have and enjoy cooking pasta and chips (french fries).
During my stay in Mochudi, I worked at a local clinic. To my surprise, the clinic there and the one where I worked in Gaborone were very similar. Maybe that was because Mochudi is more of a growing town than the tiny village I was expecting. I also noticed that the social and cultural customs that impacted the clinics in Gaborone also were present in Mochudi. For example, the lack of professionalism (from my viewpoint) that occurred when nurses interrupted patient appointments, which actually come from the absence of personal space, a cultural trademark.
I also visited my family's cattle post, which is simply a farm where animals are raised and, in some cases, crops (mostly maize and sorghum) are grown. To get there, we drove 45 minutes away from Mochudi, half on paved roads and half on dirt, leading to what seemed to be a cattle post located in the middle of the bush. Cattle posts are common in Botswana and many family own at least one. My family kept about 100 cows, 50 goats, and 25 birds (a mix of chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese). They let the animals roam free at certain times of the day to graze. Cows graze at night while the goats graze during the day to avoid the hyenas and jackals. My brother also showed me how to catch a chicken with my bare hands (go for the legs). What is not surprising is that my family slaughters these animals whenever they need meat. And later, I even got the pleasure (if this is the right emotion) to slaughter a chicken. While I am against animal cruelty (don't worry about the chicken, it was a quick death), I also enjoy eating meat. Somehow, I think it's better to know where exactly your food is coming from even if you have to slaughter it yourself than simply buying a mass produced product from the supermarket.
During my stay in Mochudi, I realized just how little time I have left in this beautiful country. As of this typing, I have just over a week left. It's sad to think that I will be leaving the place I have called home for the past 6 weeks. My host mom even told me that when I get married, she will fly out to my wedding. There's a certain kind of friendliness and hospitality that is unique to Botswana, something I will dearly miss.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
My program is based on research about the prestine reefs of the Cayman Islands. Every student needs to pick a research topic and I have chosen Marine Protectorate Areas. I hope that my stregnths as a policy maker and semi- scientist will help me to not only learn, but create some meaningful work. I have already learned from my readings! Although I do wish I paid more attention in Intro to Oceanography freshman year!
At present time I am day dreaming about my beach front residence and opportunity for new friends....
I will let you know that I considered myself a semi pro photographer and plan on having a ton of pictures... and hopefully even some video. I recently purchased a special diving camera so that I can take pictures and video while I am scuba diving! I hope that I can share my once in a lifetime experience with all of you.
One of the scariest things I would have to say about this travel is that the remote island of Little Cayman has less than 150 people living on it and no doctor! I come from Bayonne, NJ with over 70,000 people in 2 square miles. My view of the Hudson River is not quite what I have seen in pictures of Little Cayman (LC). I know things will be different but I am looking forward to its challenges and promise of adventure!!
4 days and counting!
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Friday, July 2, 2010
So last week, I started working in a clinic for part of the week. I happen to be working in the Old Naledi Clinic, Old Naledi being the original neighborhood of the city of Gaborone. Because it is so old, all of the homes are falling apart and overcrowding is a problem. The clinic, while more modern than many of the homes, has its own share of problems. The most significant one is its lack of water. Lack of water?...in a clinic? Yes it is true. During the day, construction nearby forces the entire neighborhood's supply of water to be shut off, including the clinic's. This means no running water for washing hands or sanitation as well as no bathroom use. To compensate, the staff fills tubs full of water when there is water available. One thing I have noticed is that hand washing is not a very popular activity in Botswana, especially with soap. Sanitary practices are apparently not very prioritized here. There are also different cultural norms that affect how the clinic runs. In Botswana, there is no such thing as personal space. At home, my brother will often barge into my room to talk to me and take note of the various items I have sprawled out. Once, he spotted the cookies I left out and he insisted that we eat them immediately. The cookies, as you may have guessed, are no more. In the clinic, it is normal to see nurses take phone calls while treating patients or disrupting conversations with patients to have conversations amongst themselves, behavior we, as Americans, commonly see as unprofessional. While these cultural differences seem to affect how the clinic runs, I think that these problems can be relatively easily remedied. The major medical problem affecting Botswana is HIV/AIDS. As of now, 18% of the entire population (all ages) are HIV positive and if certain age groups are measured, the percentage can jump past 35%. But in the last decade, Botswana began offering anti-retrovirals free of charge to all affected Batswana. Even more, the government also offers TB drugs for free, as TB incidence rates are directly related to HIV incidence rates. The outlook of this medical pandemic is getting better as within the past 5 years, the percentage of HIV/AIDS patients has started to decrease.
The best part of my day, however, is lunch time when I go over to the soup kitchen next door to volunteer. The soup kitchen serves the underpriveledged children of Old Naledi, many of whom have been orphaned because of HIV or are HIV positive themselves. Volunteers help cook lunch for the children as well as play with them. Seeing so many children enjoying themselves and eating tasty, healthy food (sometimes the only meal they will eat all day) is such a heartwarming feeling. Mathata, the man who runs the soup kitchen, grew up in Old Naledi himself, one of the roughest places in Gaborone. Through his hard work as well as the many volunteers he's had over the years, he changes the lives of children by not only giving them sustenance, but also providing a role model to look up to.
On a different note, this past Monday was special in Botswana. The last Monday of the month is payday. While that means happiness, it also means danger. Many people go out and drink...and then drive home. Drunk driving is a problem in Botswana, as is driving altogether. Many of the people are aggressive drivers and it is fairly common to see combi drivers driving on the shoulder of the road or jumping the curb onto the sidewalk to move past traffic (which during rush hour is horrendous). A few days ago, the combi I was on happened to fit 19 passengers (yes I counted) on a vehicle that can safely seat 15. And when I said safely, I actually didn't mean safely as there are only 2 seatbelts on the combi. One thing I find funny is that combis, while on the verge of falling apart, will often have very nice stereo systems. Many also have names, which are represented by stickers on the back window. Some include The Big Fish, Twice as Nice, and my personal favorite, Ninjas. Ninjas has recently been put up for sale, so the back window reads "Ninjas For Sale."
I just wanted to mention one last thing before ending the post. A trip to Africa this summer would not have been complete without attending the World Cup. Luckily, I can say that I was there. Everyone in my program got tickets to the US vs. Ghana game. What's even more unbelievable is that we secured transportation and our tickets the day before the game. The experience was amazing. Words cannot describe all of the emotions that I felt. The tens of thousands of fans cheering, the pulsing of the vuvuzelas, and the sheer excitement of being at the World Cup still seem like a dream. I even met a woman who attended Rutgers but was living in Joburg. The only disappointment was that the US was knocked out. It was a country against an entire continent and, unfortunately we lost. But at least Africa's World Cup hopes are still alive. Hope everyone is enjoy's what's left of the World Cup.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Less than one week from now, I will be living my first day at Kilimanjaro Bush Camp (KBC) in southeastern Kenya. During the past few weeks my feelings about this trip have been a random mix of excitement and pure intimidation. I've read the field journal, gotten my shots, done my shopping, conducted some background research on the Maasai tribe, and have repeatedly hyped myself up by watching Shakira's World Cup music video of "This Time for Africa." And I'm still not sure I'm ready.
But I'm not going to let fear get in my way. Yesterday I received my pre-course assignment from the instructor. I have been assigned to the "sanitation" group, which means I will conduct a literature search on information involving sanitation in developing countries. The topics are meant to be very broad, perhaps to get us thinking of the "full picture" of public health issues before we narrow them down to those that specifically involve the Maasai tribe we will be working with. In many ways I am thankful for this assignment. Having something academic to do makes me feel like I already have one foot, or perhaps my big toe, in the camp and the goals that go along with it.
Speaking of goals, I have a few of my own. Although I have been assigned the topic of sanitation, I want to investigate issues involving my own personal interest, which is the relationship between food, environment, culture, and public health. One thing I have learned is that the Maasai's staple food includes meat, blood, and milk, and that the Maasai are a traditionally nomadic tribe that relies heavily on goats for food. However, I wasn't able to find much information about their rates of nutrition-related disease, if any exist. Another goal of mine is to get to know our neighbors, the Maasai tribe. I want to learn first-hand their customs, view-points, and their general perspective on life. While I hope that our group of students becomes tight-knit, I don't want this camaraderie or the sense of familiarity that other students provide to prevent me from branching out and discovering what it means to be a Maasai tribesmen living on the foothills of Mt. Kilmanjaro.
A brief description of what we will be doing at KBC:
- Taking courses on the regional ecosystem, Kenya politics and economy, public health, and research methods
- Getting "hands-on" research experience through field work and by using software to create questionnaires and data entry screens as well as to analyze data
- Developing part of a monitoring and evaluation plan to determine the impact of public health systems already in place
- Exploring the Maasai culture
With an approximate 10-hour work day, 6 days a week, I expect this experience to be intense, exhausting, and of course, extremely enriching.