Kenya Blog 1
By Julia Kenny
May 8, 2017
Hello! My name is Julia and I am a third year veterinary student at the Atlantic Veterinary College. This summer I am participating in an internship with the Queen Elizabeth Scholars that is focused on working with Kenyan dairy farmers in order to help improve animal welfare and production. It is hoped these improvements will translate into better food and economic security in these communities. In the upcoming weeks, I will be blogging about my experiences here in Kenya. This reflection is the first of many recounting my adventures this summer.
We arrived in Kenya a few days ago. We have been at the house in Naari for two full days now. I do not know where to begin. We have seen so many things in the past week that have opened my eyes to an entirely new world. It took almost six hours to drive from Nairobi to the house in Naari. The countryside is breathtaking. The trees and the grass are a vivid green and the flowers are abundant. The sky is a rich blue draped in majestic white and grey clouds which carry brief but heavy bursts of rain after which the sun emerges from the mist. The mountains are always looming in the background, often shrouded in the warm haze. The roads are red-black and bumpy due the volcanic rocks, and driving on them is like riding a rickety old roller-coaster. The countryside is hilly and serene but it is alive with the chattering of wild birds and the soft swaying of the gentle breeze. As we turned off of the highway onto a red dirt road, some trick of the mind reminded me of Prince Edward Island. I smiled and knew I was heading home.
On our first day in Naari, we spent a great deal of time with the members and administrators of the Naari dairy cooperation. I was immediately impressed by their love for their families and community and their passion for trying to do whatever they could to create a better future for themselves and their children. We discussed our summer projects with them for a few hours and then shared a delicious cup of tea with chapati (a delicious Kenyan flatbread). After our meeting at the dairy, we went for a walk around the town of Naari. The town is quite small and filled with brightly colored shops centered around the town square. The townspeople seemed very relaxed and unhurried. People were lounging on chairs and on the grass. Most were dressed quite nicely. Women were wearing colorful skirts and dresses while some of the men were wearing suits. They were all very kind and curious about us. We were asked where we were from, how long we would be staying and where we were going. Naari is also different from home in that animals wander freely wherever they chose in the village, with their care-takers somewhere nearby. Goats, sheep, cows, and donkeys grazing around the shops and the town center is a common sight. Like the people, the animals seemed in tune with the unhurried pace of life. We wandered around the town for about a half an hour before we left to go home.
The second day of our stay in Naari began with some delicious Kenyan pancakes and fresh fruit. We planned on visiting the Naari Dairy in order to pick up our guide early that morning. I am learning quickly that planning schedules in Kenya is tricky business as things can come up. Our guide had to make an emergency milk pick-up run. A while later, we were rattling along the rocky dirt roads up the mountain to visit our first Kenyan dairy farm. Kenyan dairy farms are, of course, quite different than Canadian farms but there are still many similarities. The farmers were warm and kind and welcomed us with the most beautiful smiles. They were eager to help with our project and quick to offer us a chair and a cup of Kenyan chai tea. Their farms were situated on a hillside overlooking lush farmland that was keeping the encroaching jungle at bay. The houses were modest but neat and well-kept and they possessed a quiet serenity that seemed to emanate from the land but also from the people themselves. I admired the quiet courage and warmth of these people and it is this that I think impressed me most.
Overall, it has been a very exciting first few days in Kenya. I am looking forward to many new adventures in the days to come, and I cannot wait to see what Kenya has yet to teach me.
“One our first farm visits – a typical Naari farm”
Kenya Blog 2
By Julia Kenny
May 12, 2017
The days have passed swiftly and already almost another week has gone by. This week was our first full week here in Naari working with the dairy farmers. We have been to many farms and have met many new people. Our days begin early in the cool freshness of the morning when the world is beginning to wake. Eggs, chapati, and fresh fruit are often on the menu for breakfast. One of my favorite things to do is to sit on our front step with my breakfast and a cup of tea and listen to the sounds of the morning. The trees and sky are filled with birds, some of which are singing, others are chattering, and still others are making some indescribably strange sounds. Roosters are crowing at regular intervals, dogs are barking and sheep are calling to each other. Our neighbors are also beginning their day. There is often a chatter of people from behind the hedges or the sound of a radio or two rattling off the morning news. The soft breeze gently rustles the trees as the hot African sun climbs quickly higher in the sky and beckons us to begin our day’s work.
Our days consist of visiting various dairy farms in the Naari region. Our goals at each farm are similar, namely, to explain to the farmer the projects we will be doing and then to do an assessment of the cows, their management, and their environment. In doing this, I have learned a great deal over the past few days. I have been able to apply some of the many things that I had studied in school that I had never had the opportunity to practice. I have also begun to build my Kimeru vocabulary. Kimeru is the local dialect that is spoken in this region. It consists of combinations of vowels and consonants that do not exist in the English language. Consequently, I often struggle with the pronunciations. We have started greeting the dairy farmers and the people we meet in the Kimeru language which never fails to bring a smile and a laugh to their faces. I’m not sure if they are smiling because they are pleased that we know a little bit of their language or if they are amused by our (probably) horrible pronunciation of the words. I somehow have a feeling that the latter is the case.
I am continuously amazed by the generosity of the people here, as they want to thank us for what we are doing to help them. The other day, we were given about fifty avocadoes, a large bag of carrots, several ears of corn, a large stalk of sugar cane, a bag of oranges and a bag of tree tomatoes. We were wondering what on earth we could do with so many avocadoes but the predicament was soon solved with a guacamole making contest. The results were quite delicious and made an excellent dinner.
With our first week of work completed, I am beginning to better understand our work here for the summer and really look forward to the weeks to come.
“Julia doing a California Mastitis Test on a cow.”
Kenya Blog 3
By Julia Kenny
May 14, 2017
Today, I joined the nutrition students in their visit to a primary school here in Naari in order to assess the nutritive value of the school lunches. We were greeted by the principal and were given a tour of the cookhouse. The cookhouse is a small wooden shed with the cookware at one end and a large fire covered in large metal pots at the other. It smelled strongly of smoke and uji (a Kenyan dish that is similar to cream of wheat) which was being prepared as a mid-morning snack for the younger school children. The nutrition students gathered their data by measuring and noting the ingredients and through conversing with the cook. It was interesting to observe firsthand the work that they are doing here in Naari. I think that I now have a little better insight into the effort and, to a certain extent, complexity that is involved in feeding hundreds of students every day.
After the data collection was done, we had the opportunity to visit the students in their classrooms. We visited the youngest class first which consisted of seven children of about five years of age. Each wore a maroon uniform and was sitting attentively on dark wooden benches with a table in front of them. They seemed rather shy when we first came in and were hesitant to say hello until their teacher said something to them in Kimeru. They smiled and then one of the students suddenly stood up and strutted to the front of the classroom. She picked up a long stick that had been lying on the floor. On the blackboard were written the numbers one through ten. She pointed at the number one with the stick and shouted in a surprisingly loud voice, “One!” “One!” her classmates shouted back. “Two!” she shouted and once again her classmates responded “Two!” and so on until they reached ten. We could not stop smiling and laughing for the little girl had led the class in reciting their numbers with such gusto and confidence which seemed rather at odds with her tiny stature. We gave her and her classmates a resounding applause when they finished.
“A child teaching math at Muruguma Primary School”
We visited each of the classes in turn. We introduced ourselves and told them about what we were studying and about our work here in Kenya. We then offered to answer any questions about the students had about Canada. I was very impressed with the questions the students asked. We were asked about Canada’s system of government, cash crops, agriculture and climate. All of the students seemed very bright and as eager to learn about our country as we were of theirs.
The highlight of our visit to this school was playing with the students during their recess. We played a Kenyan version of “Duck, Duck, Goose,” a very exciting game called “Kill the Rats” and ran a race around the playground. Needless to say, we did not win the race. After this, we were shown how to do some traditional Kenyan dances and songs. Kenyan music and dancing is very lively and seems to capture the joyful spirit of the country. The children seemed very excited to have us participating in their dances and asked us to come back again soon. I sincerely hope that we will have the chance to do so because they were so kind and so much fun to be with.
“School kids after their lunch program at Muruguma Primary School”