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.