Hannah Canepa ’12

In a few short hours I will be leaving KBC.  I still am in denial.  I am not a very emotional person but over these past few hours I really have felt everything from sadness to excitement, nervousness to being completely overwhelmed, happiness to humbled.  I guess going back to America has left a lot of us a little uneasy.  Scared to try and attempt to answer the question, “How was Africa?” Scared to jump right back into the lifestyle of Americans.  Scared to go back to the “needing to make sure you’re in a socially appropriate outfit before stepping outside the door.” Scared to go to stores like Sam’s Club and Costco when here people are dying on the roads daily from food  and water scarcity.  And for me, scared that I will resent people that don’t understand that this other side of the world exists. And how excessive our lives in America are. And beyond scared that I will change back into that. I don’t mean to bash on anyone in America because that was totally and utterly me only 3 months ago. I just wonder if it’s possible to live out this lifestyle  in a college atmosphere? It’s tough.  Not to say we’re not all pumped to go back and eat cookie dough and see our families.  It will just be hard to arrive home during one of the most commercial and materialistic holidays of the year.  And I know I can’t base every future decision on standards of living in africa—“I can’t eat dessert because they don’t have that in Africa.” But I just hope we here are able to open the eyes of as many people in America that are willing to listen.  I just need to remember that not everyone was lucky enough to have their lives bring them here…and I can’t punish people for not understanding fully.  I will just be so thankful that those people are willing to hear of the realities of another side.  I guess it’s like one huge exercise.  We got here and it was tough.  We were winded; the adjustments were challenging until we found our pace.  We chugged along this whole trip, through the uphills and downhills, until today; it has ended.  After the exercise, you ache and hurt.  Leaving here will not be easy.  There are so many unknowns and there will be so much reverse culture shock; it’s going to hurt.  But from any pain or soreness, you build strength.  Whether we have realized it yet or not, we’re different people now than we were on September 4th.  Going back to our old lifestyles may be a smack in the face.  But once we find our pace again, we can embrace the mark that Africa has left on us & use it with the best intentions.  Thanks for all of the emails and support throughout this whole trip, you have no idea how nice it is to hear that people actually enjoy learning about this culture because it is one that we can grow immensely from.  So thank you for that.  See you soon!

☮ Hannah

After reverting to my coffee addiction, pulling more than a few all nighters, 3 rounds of rough drafts , waiting 20 minutes for each online article to download, getting thorn battle wounds in the blistering African sun, drinking way too much milk at interviews (haven’t gotten sick yet though 🙂 ), and realizing it is actually possible to write a 56 page paper in 1 ½ weeks, the process is over!   Right after we handed our papers in yesterday, we went on a trading frenzy at market day in town.  I remember how foreign the concept of trading was to me when I first got here, but now, it’s your first form of payment usually.  You do start to develop the “How many socks is that tapestry worth?” mindset.  There are probably 2 Holy Cross t-shirts circulating the Kimana area along with my Tom’s All Natural Soap bars and apparently little-boy sized soccer shorts.  Just to give you a better idea of this whole trading deal I traded my extra sheets for that red skirt, the orange purse= fold-up chair, my yellow earrings= 3 pens and clothes pins.  Moving on The bow and arrows= our watches, the spears are actually authentic Maasai spears from a staff member’s family so those we had to pay for   banana pants= a pillow, blue earrings= my REI to-go coffee mug, hairpiece= sewing kit and my old soccer shorts for the Maasai momma’s son, tire shoes= 4 packs of Trident gum,  ankle bracelet= bandanna, bracelets and rings (now you know why these are my best friends here)= basically our entire pencil cases.

Anyway, I know I said our group presentations were today, but I lied–pole.  They are actually tomorrow morning (12/9).  We’ve been preparing all morning.  So tomorrow there will be ~80-90 people from the surrounding area here at our home.  I feel like it’s the night before our relatives come for Christmas mom—SO MUCH CLEANING I WANT TO CRY. I am both nervous and excited for tomorrow.  Anywhere from 10-30 governmental groups will be attending alongside countless Maasai agro-pastoralists and many more community members.  Preparing for these presentations has been quite challenging because I have never had to utilize two translators before.  We will be having both Swahili and Maa translations and it’s tough…because every few sentences you have to pause for translation so it’s both easy to lose your train of thought and frustrating when you’re on a role explaining something and have to stop abruptly.  Furthermore, without going into too much detail, our research more or less proved that pastoralism is no longer completely sustainable given the implications of climate change.  From an ecological standpoint, the community must reduce their herd sizes to prevent overgrazing and soil compaction within the rangelands; however, you cannot simply tell these people to reduce their herd.  Especially after the completely damaging drought of 2008-2009.  Someone I interviewed went from 400 livestock to 30.  The cattle are these people’s source of livelihood; they are their food, money, and pride.  If us American students come in here and naively preach to them about reducing livestock number, it would just be terrible.  The drought is an extremely touchy subject to most here so it’s been a challenge to cater to the crowd’s sentiments.

I’ve been living and breathing rangelands for the past month so now…I need a break.  I am going to the Kenyan coast on Sunday!!!  I know this isn’t part of the program so technically I shouldn’t be blogging about it but sorry, I will keep it short.  Sunday morning after we are dropped at the Nairobi airport ( 🙁 ) a few of us are taking a giant bus through Mombasa and south to Diani Beach.  We are staying in a tree house…I kid you not thank god my childhood fantasies are finally being fulfilled.  We’ve already planned out our first day’s excursion: CAMEL RIDES ALONG THE BEACH! I mean it doesn’t have the romantic and classy vibe that a horse rids possesses, but seriously how beautiful are these creatures!  They walk through the ocean and bring you to sand bars…which brings us to our next stop, Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant and Bar.  It’s literally on a sand bar in a huge cave. HOW COOL. There’s also a dance club outback Kenyan music is so awesome.  We also bought CDs in the market (for a few pairs of socks) so that we don’t stick out like mzungus (we are no longer mzungus…we decided the title ends after living in Africa for 4 months). So anyway, as you can see, I have quite a bottle of emotions…and the fact that I leave Africa in a week?  I don’t even want to talk about it. Wish me luck!

☮ Hannah

– 13 hours until our 15 minute one on one presentations with our research advisors

– 24 hours until I hand in my research paper (currently on page 52/[?])

– 36 hours until our 30 minute presentations to the Maasai community

-108 hours until I leave Kilimanjaro Bush Camp

– 132 hours until this SFS program concludes

-133 hours until I go to the Kenyan coast to ride camels and see if the Indian Ocean feels any different than the Atlantic or Pacific 🙂

– 339 hours until I am making Christmas cookies back in OH with my family!

I feel like even if I stayed awake for the next 339 hours I still wouldn’t be able to finish this paper.  I know I always say pray for me…but this time…more than ever…please pray for me.

☮ Hannah

Every day, whether it be the ice water shooting out of the showers or the dung beetles you wake up with (literally wake up with, in your sleeping bag), it’s easy to become on edge.  I know when this “natural way of life” sometimes consumes us, it’s easy to start to complain & lose sight of where we actually are.  It’s like, “Ugh I hate having to travel everywhere at night with close-toed shoes, headlamps, and an askari…but then again, it’s because elephants sometimes hang around the latrines…because wait…we’re in Africa….that huge continent on the other side of the world…okay nevermind my life is pretty cool right now…I can handle the headlamp headband.” Hence in the midst of writing a behemoth research paper, I need to talk about something that I was more than fortunate to experience firsthand…in hopes that my optimism will come out from hiding.

Around our campsite, most of the land is divided up into group ranches (private ownership, communal land use…implemented to encourage pastoralism sustainably [rotational grazing] back before the drought, when it was possible) and wildlife sanctuaries.  As I have mentioned before, our campsite is smack dab in the middle of a wildlife corridor.  If you look on a map of wildlife’s migration routes from Amboseli National Park in the south to Tsavo National Park (where my expedition was) more north, we are just residing in this “hallway” between the parks.  During the wet-season, wildlife inherently leave the parks to allow for regrowth and travel to their dispersal lands or “buffer zones” around the parks.  I know I haven’t really talked about human-wildlife conflict too much but that has been the ongoing theme for my time here in Kenya.  This is also where human population comes into play again.  With Maasai mommas having on average 18-20 kids each, you can imagine the spread of bomas in this area.  Furthermore, because of the drought, the Maasai not only have livestock now, but they’re beginning to practice agriculture.  In addition, wildlife are experiencing food scarcity is an understatement.  So we have hungry wildlife dispersing into these communal ranches and the Maasai rapidly expanding both south and north into these buffer zones.  Not surprisingly, food/water conflict, crop disturbance, and death of cattle (from carnivorous wildlife) are huge problems here every single night.

Anyway, a few of us decided to take a much needed break from chi-square and paired t-tests so we ventured off to the Kimana sanctuary.  Cool story: I guess 8-10 years ago human-wildlife conflict was still very prevalent.  Two female lionesses and a male were accused of killing a Maasai’s livestock and acting predatory around the community so they were unfortunately shot.  Luckily hunting is 100% banned nowadays but that’s another issue I will hold back from getting into.  After these lions were killed, 4 orphaned cubs were found.  A group of Maasai took these cubs in and basically raised them.  As you can imagine, the lions grew…a lot…and reproduced…so the facilities and food substance needed to nurture these animals were costly.  Consequently, the lions are now open to view by the public for a fee.  Although I think this is demoting them to a “zoo” environment, unfortunately it’s all they can do.  These cubs were not raised in the wild, so without our help, they don’t have much hope.  Anyway, these fees help pay for maintenance and goats…So yes, they actually let our research group watch these ravenous lions eat their dinner…3 goats.  They also let us get so close to the lions (shhh…but the armed guard actually let me touch the lion’s side as it was rounding the corner…I tried to pull my curious right hand back with my left but I just couldn’t resist).  The owners said that every so often, wild lions from one of the national parks will travel through the sanctuary and the fenced in lions   will somehow break out (kind of scary, right?…this is in my backyard…) and be gone for 3-5 days.   However, they always manage to find their way back to the fenced in area.

It’s awesome that these lions still have that innate need to be in the wild and are getting exposed to hunting on their own, but the fact that they willngly come back to this area makes releasing these lion extremely questionable.  The owners do intend to release the next generation of cubs but I think tremendous changes in their level of exposure to humans and dependency on humans for food intake need to be made first.  But all in all, it was breath-taking  (this is becoming a theme, huh?) to see the lions effortlessly break through the bones of this goat and to hear their territorial calls.  My camera loved this experience too .  Reminds me of myself when I am hungry.  Anyway, I have the first two sections of my paper due this afternoon so I have to get down to business…but then the last Wednesday open-air market is tonight! AKA I will be trading everything I no longer need (I must abide by the 50 pound airline limit this time…).  I am literally going to the market with not even 50 shillings (0.75 cents).  Let’s see what I can get!

☮ Hannah

Today has been almost as exciting as Thanksgiving was…LAST DAY OF FIELD RESEARCH AND INTERVIEWS ! Although completing this component of directed research felt extremely satisfying, today was a day like no other.  Going into Maasai bomas (synonymous for a little community, usually with 3-4 huts holding multiple families) defines being pushed out of your comfort zone.  During any ordinary interview, it is not uncommon for a goat to give birth, fathers to be brushing their teeth with frayed sticks, mommas to be completely exposed and breast-feeding, and children having flies literally crawling all over their faces to point you may witness 1-3 crawling up their noses and they will not even flinch.  It is a tough reality to take in while attempting to get an accurate idea of their perceptions regarding the surrounding land without too much getting lost in translation.  Today during an interview, another little boy I fell in love with (Emanuel) spent this 30 minutes playing “connect the dots” with the freckles on my arms.  Anyone that knows me is familiar with my pretty distinct freckles I have all over my arms.  Emanuel spotted them also…which was fine…until he had spotted the newly acquired “beauty marks” (oh euphemisms) on my nose.  I Iooked very interesting after this interview. To make matters even more exciting, the momma milked the cow in front of me, poured the fresh (understatement) milk through a strainer, into a mug, and then handed it to me.  Note: I hadn’t consumed real milk since being in the states…and usually I just drink soy milk.  However, milk is a delicacy for these people, I really couldn’t say no.  This would have been an okay happening maybe once…but I was lucky enough to get offered milk 3 times 🙁 . I pray I don’t get sick tonight. Told you I would get my calcium intake mom!  Additionally, the momma that I interviewed was 16, her husband 17, and they already had 4 kids.  The momma was one of 22.  The human population level here is both exponential and honestly sickening.  It is the foundation of all problems: poverty, conflict of pasture and water, spread of disease…everything traces back to it.

The drought of 2008 also added to the elevated level of destitution here.  Long story short, the Maasai have always been pastoralists…for as long as their culture has existed.  What exactly is pastoralism?  In a nutshell, cattle are the Maasai’s pride and joy…or in other words, their bank.  Cattle provide them with beef, milk, and secure them a spot in the cattle market (trading and selling desired breeds of cows).  Up until 2008, this way of life adequately complemented the ASAL (arid and semi-arid) rangelands that exist here in Africa (the grazing of the cattle would keep the growth of the grasses and other forage food in check). However, today I interviewed a man who had 400 cattle and lost 370 during the drought.  He currently has 30 livestock left.  He also has 16 kids.  Finally, he waits in line at the water hole for as long as 19 days just to get enough water for all of his kids and cattle.  He said his life was now in the hands of god—he had nothing left that he could do.

While we’re on this topic, I must elaborate. Whether you are religiously affiliated or not, the ubiquitous faith here, I know, would amaze anyone.  It is unlike anything I have encountered in the states.  Story #1: Reggie, the staff member I was closest with in Tanzania, would talk about his faith to me often.  He explained to me that he had had a near-death experience.  Somewhere between here and the heavens, he met god. He described his god’s face to me in detail.  He then proceeded to say that god had told him that his life’s purpose had not yet been fulfilled so he sent Reggie back down to Earth to satisfy his intentions.  Hearing someone 110% confidently explain their god’s features was one of the most moving experiences. Story #2: I have had the same guide for the past 3 days now, Gidison.  On day 1, after introducing myself, he told me that my name meant Grace.  He rattled off countless biblical references.  I asked how he knew all of this information.  He informed me that his girlfriend’s name was Hannah.  I then unfortunately asked him why they broke up and he notified me that she had died in a car accident 4 days ago.  I’ve never seen someone talk about death so stoically.  Frankly I didn’t know how to react to his overly tolerant behavior.  He explained that he was in the car with her and she died next to him…in his lap.  They were on their way home from Uganda after completing their University studies.  He had planned the next phase of his life with her; he was going to ask her father for his word this week.  On day two, upon entrance into a boma, one of the Maasai mommas started screaming and crying when she saw Gidison.  She thought Gidison had died in the car accident also and that god had sent him back down to Earth.  He, for the 20th time, accepted her condolences about Hannah and we carried on.  I couldn’t keep it in any longer.  I asked him how he was so accepting of these events.  I immaturely rattled off that I don’t cry that much either and whenever something sad happens I just get super standoffish so I understood but…he interrupted thankfully…  “God works in mysterious ways.  You cannot question his decisions no matter how tragic and unexplainable they are to you.  Because of her death, another was born 5 days ago also with purpose…maybe carrying on Hannah’s.  It is the natural cycle of life.” It really was and still is hard for me to wrap my head around.  Gidison was the most perfect guide to have on my last day.

Besides being grounded by his pure faith, he also helped me see a little bit more clearly regarding the ambiguity within the revered Maasai culture.  Long story short, many cultures here in Kenya have lose almost all of their traditions due to modernization; however, the Maasai have not.  Anyone who has read National Geographic has probably seen the vibrant color of the Maasai beaded jewelry, the drinking of their livestock’s blood, and the lifestyle of sole pastoralism ways.  After learning so much about cultural tourism (tourists paying a price to see the culture) taking away from the authenticity of the culture, it was drilled into our heads that preservation must be implemented! Nevertheless, after these interviews, I was left questioning that.  With modernization of the entire world happening, is it really feasible to 100% maintain their traditional way of life?  I completed 35 interviews over the past week.  The only 6 homes that stated that their household income had increased were families that went to get an education and were currently employed.  It is sad and a brutal reality, but pastoralism cannot exist in a world of climate change.  With global warming, the rains are limited and the dry seasons here are even drier and hotter.  In a market where product depends purely on precipitation, one can understand that the Maasai’s way of life is just not possible anymore.  Gidison told me, “Change is part of life.  Most of the time people associate change with bad, because it involves people to be uncomfortable initially.  But change is a sign that we are still alive.  In order to support your family with food, you need money.  In order take care of your own basic necessities, you need money. In order to outsmart the droughts, people must realize that they can no longer rely solely on cattle.  We have a rich culture…one that will be rightfully preserved in many history books soon enough.”  I didn’t know exactly how to feel after hearing Gidison speak like this.  To be honest, I felt this way for the past 2 months but “Preserve the culture!” was always the motto.  The Maasai culture truly is beautiful but I just don’t think it is a viable option anymore.  Sometimes I wish I could just turn my mind off because this type of wonder regularly consumes me completely (e.g. 3:00 AM contemplations in bed). Anyway, after quite the week of learning, we took our final Wildlife Ecology field research picture. Take 1:  success. Take 2: Emanuel spotted us and was not happy that he was not invited . Take 3: yet another African family .

☮ Hannah

8:00 AM: I wake up feeling great because I haven’t slept in past 6:30 AM since being in Kenya

8:30 AM: After a quick breakfast, I hit the trail. Kili was stifling any chance of cloud cover…it was a beautiful thing

9:30 AM: I sit on my banda porch and contemplate how Thanksgiving would play out in Africa that day.  Some people in Africa seemed really into it while others were not very captivated

10:00 AM: After a week straight of field research, I decided laundry needed to be done.  After the soapy soak and first attack of the scrub brush, I began the second cycle.

10:30 AM: Faucet turns off, squawking commences.  I had my back turned and was a little bit unaware of what other events were taking place that morning (it was only 10:30 give me a break) but the staff had finagled a way to round up two extremely robust turkeys in honor of our American holiday.  For lack of other positive remarks…at least it was quick?  Daniel, my fellow Instigator teammate and SFS Swahili teacher grabbed a Maasai knife (the one I bought for you Ian and Ev) and executed one clean chop .  Not to be graphic but the body moved for about 6-8 full minutes after the detachment . Although I am guilty of not eating the meat, it was kind of cool to actually see where our meat was coming from and that they weren’t pumped with hormones and force fed with iron hollow tubes but anyway. It was quite the way to start Thanksgiving here in Africa.  While the staff prepared, along with a few other ambitious students, we went to a bar in Kimana to celebrate our holiday!  After we got back to our site, our chumba turned into a Thanksgiving wonderland . I know it’s not extravagant but this room is usually just stained brown with the light-espresso burlap and dark timber structures.  It was the first time I’ve actually realized that fall had come and gone in the states without me.  Although nostalgia was whisking through the air, it was so exciting because again, as cliché as it sounds, the students and staff here are without a doubt my family from another mother…does that phrase work?? But really, I have never felt this level of comfort and pure empathy with anyone but my own family so it was pretty cool to have this experience with them .  In order to truly capture the American Thanksgiving, upon entrance into the chumba, we were given a family member role that we had to carry out the whole meal. For example: the overzealous mother that is way too turkey-happy , the crazy aunt that is way too type A and obsessed with her children’s accomplishments, the father that seems to only get himself into sticky situations , the Grandma and Grandpa that only want pictures, pictures, and more pictures of their grandkids, and of course, I was the newlywed that was too in love to give a care in the world about Thanksgiving …and Kat was my child…figures.  Also guilty, I threw up after dinner. Yes I am dead serious.  I have never ever thrown up from overeating so I was actually genuinely concerned.  But that didn’t stop me from devouring the pumpkin pie later that evening.

☮ Hannah

[Ashe oleng: thank you/I am thankful in Maa]

I think I mentioned this before but my field research consists of both vegetation sampling and interviews within the Maasai bomas.  I could go into way too much detail and that even bores me so I will try to keep it short.  Essentially when we get into the field (field meaning wildlife corridors where common migration routes are prevalent) we are given our bearings (340 degrees NW).  My compass has been my best friend to say the least.  Each student has to complete 10 plots.  Plot…sounds like such a simple word but it now gives me nightmares.  Completing a plot takes about 45 minutes each.  Let’s take a closer look  Plot 1.  We have part A. and part B.  In part A we set down that wooden cross and do a PCQ measurement which basically means, looking for the closest woody species (within 20 m) within each quadrant.  You measure its distance from the point of origin and then its crown cover (taking two different diameters).  Following, we perform the Descending Step Method.  You hold a huge needle like stick, start at the origin, and then every step, stick the pin in the ground without looking (ensuring randomization).  You then mark the species of the closest herbaceous species and grass species and then measure then inter-tuft distance of the grass.  20 times… Next, we create a 4 m x 4 m square about the origin and estimate the amount of land covered by herbaceous species (in percentage).  Lastly, we pace a 40 m x 40 m square and look for either sheet, rill, or gulley soil erosion.  If erosion is present, we have to take our GPS coordinate readings at the beginning, middle, and end.  And that’s just part A.  Part B is pretty easy though–only another 4 m x 4 m herbaceous cover estimate.  It does sound pretty boring and monotonous but just after plot 2  we were so wrapped up in our plot measurements that we looked up and realized, woah wildebeest in our transect  obviously we climbed the thorny acacia trees to get a better view .   Our guides always keep us on track though (makes SURE I check my compass every 5 minutes). Post plot 3  an Acacia thorn literally swallowed me–and then they dug the acacia thorns out of my hands…using an Acacia thorn, TIA.   but we’re tough out here in the bush  even though I don’t have an AK 47 I have adopted quite the mindset.  Plot 4 (remains of rill gulley erosion)   Plot 5 Plot 6  plot 7   plot 8  plot 9  and plot 10 .  So we had to do this for 4 days straight but today was our last day!   Tomorrow we begin our interviews so we’re all excited for the change-up.  Usually people kind of dread interviews because of the almost staged setting (we are commonly just given the questions that we need to ask and usually it’s about problems we’ve never seen before), but I am actually so excited to conduct my own interviews because 1. I am becoming much more comfortable speaking Maa and 2. After having the rangeland degradation and much much more drilled into our heads for the past 4 days–I have subconsciously created my own explanations for the trends; however, the Maasai actually live there and it will be exciting to see if what they have to say matches up with what we’ve found.

Got to go come up with some Thanksgiving recipes (marshmallow sweet potato, yum).  The staff is getting ostrich instead of turkey, TIA. 14 days to write a 50 page paper—talk to you later!

☮ Hannah

First year at Holy Cross, I received the worst grade of my life…in my freshmen seminar, kill me right? The course was Environmental Studies & Policy.  Ironic because this program I’ve been raving about for the past 3 months here in Africa is 110% conservation & environmental sustainability-based.   I guess I always considered myself an environmentalist; however, after receiving this oh so scarring grade, I was almost offended that I couldn’t even get an A in a class centered on one of my passions (could I even call it that anymore?!).  Anyway, I actually despised environmental studies for my entire freshmen year because of this “near-death experience” until I decided that my little pity party needed to culminate. I then casually decided to venture off to Africa for an environmental studies study abroad program.  Oh my life….

As a Bio/Premed major, sometimes I feel like all of my courses are so extremely specialized and many people that know me well have most likely heard me venting and complaining about feeling “so unknowledgeable about the other half of the world.”  You’re probably wondering why I am telling you my life story right now but I swear it’s leading up to something.

I have a 50 page, single-spaced, research paper accompanied by a 30 minute oral presentation (in front of 200 professors and community members!) due in 16 days.  Never have I ever had to complete an assignment of such immensity.  Nor have I felt like an assignment of mine was of such significance.  It’s one thing to have motivation fueled by thirst for an A.  It’s another to be driven because the topic is of huge importance to you.  But I am on a completely different level for this one.  My directed research paper will be sent to KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service), a governmental organization of Kenya, and to the actual ministries of agriculture and environmentalism in Kenya.  In addition to these big-timers, the community that we have been interviewing and the group ranch members who live on  rangelands we’ve been surveying will be there too.  Sounds like a party, right? Not quite.

It’s sometimes extremely intimidating to try to convey your feelings and ideas to the community here.  A lot of the locals are very cynical about the rangeland issues going on in their ranches.  In my opinion, it’s because the government is completely failing in their enforcement of land management and tenure systems.  They attempt to implement so many land use changes and they don’t follow through.  For example, they put up a huge electric fence around the Kimana group ranch to prevent raiding of crops by wildlife…and then they just left…with no maintenance instructions or anything.   The million dollar fence funded by the European Union collapsed 4 years later and human-wildlife conflict has increased drastically.  Additionally, it is great that the government has allowed for irrigation of water form the Kilimanjaro snow-caps; however (of course), the irrigation canals are completely mishandled.  They installed a pipeline from the top of Kilimanjaro and have essentially allowed for group ranch members to access and divert these canals whenever they feel.  There is no control of allocation nor is there any regulation on the quality of the diversion.  So essentially families come across a canal of running water and they dig their own “diversion” of the canal so that it flows towards their boma.  However, these canals are not lined with cement so as you can imagine, gallons upon gallons of Africa’s already limited water is entirely wasted.

Anyway I have already gone on way longer than intended.  The point I just attempted to make was that these governmental/environmental issues, specifically regarding the perceptions of locals, clearly intrigue me.  I just hate the feeling that most of the Maasai and other ethnic groups have essentially given up because their voices are not heard.  Initially I really wanted to do my directed research on wildlife management because your transect sampling walks consist of literally walking until you nonchalantly spot an elephant, lion, wildebeest etc. you then walk to its initial position and takes its GPS coordinates.  How cool right.  But I chose wildlife ecology.  The whole soil erosion, annual vs. perennial species, and herbaceous cover of ecology have never really been of undying interest to me.  I never knew if it was just because it solely wasn’t one of my fascinations, or that I was still scarred from my freshmen year seminar (I think the latter was the case).  So I am officially forcing myself to have an intensive one month of ecology.  Still sounds so scary to me.  This DR (directed research) really engrossed me because not only would it further my understanding of vegetation but it also incorporates the people.  This post is entirely too long so I am signing off.  I don’t know how I have managed to ramble for 3 full paragraphs without actually explaining my research in detail, but my proposal is due tomorrow so I will post that ASAP…I just know you all are dying to read about vegetation on the weekend but for all of my science friends, I hope you thoroughly enjoy it.  Pray for me.

☮ Hannah

Moving onto week 11 here in Africa, we all have habituated ourselves to the normal everyday occurrences that present themselves each day…that actually are really not so ordinary.  It’s funny, we’ll casually advise each other, “Guys, bring a flashlight to the bathroom, clans of elephants have been hanging out behind the water tank all day.” …as if that’s a routine warning to give someone.  A few minutes after making statements like this, we usually just laugh at how ridiculous we sound…”The monkeys behind my banda stole my pants from the clothing line.”  or “How many pens do you think that bracelet is worth?” Thus, we invented the saying TIA (This is Africa).  TIA replaces the lengthy justification for any nonsensical statement you may make.  Yes, you could explain to someone that we judge a bracelet’s worth by pens because here in Africa we trade and the Massai love pens and you usually can get a bracelet for about 2 pens on a good day but sometimes if you bring a Sharpie…etc…you get this point.  So this phrase basically rationalizes any bizarre statement.  It means, “Life is beyond different in Africa, accept it, and get over it.”

I know I posted a Culture Shock 101 course back in TZ only a few weeks into the program.  Since then, we have compiled quite a lengthy list of “TIAs” beginning on Day 1 of this crazy journey.  Hopefully it gives you a better sense of how Africa has made us, one could say, more open to the “treasures” that life has brought us here. Enjoy.

TIA [This is Africa]

1. I changed a flat tire 3 meters from a sleeping lion, TIA.

2. It is Saturday.  It is 7:30 AM. I am in class, TIA.

3. I haven’t seen a napkin at any meal since August, TIA.

4. I went on a one km drive and had to stop for 6 different cows, TIA.

5. I’ve seen one paved infrastructure. It was not a road but the lining of an irrigation canal, TIA.

6. Every time I consider taking a shower, I have to think twice: Am dirty enough that exposing my body to the black mambas in the ceiling is worth it? TIA.

7. It is 90 degrees and  I am shampooing my hair in an outdoor shower while watching a blizzard swallow the summit of Kilimanjaro, TIA.

8. Awkward silence is a beautiful thing, TIA.

9. I have never eaten dinner without a headlamp strapped around my forehead, TIA.

10. I’ve eaten peanut butter & jellies at 7 different national parks, TIA.

11. Seeing men armed with rifles at dawn and dusk is an everyday occurrence, TIA.

12. Instead of saying, “She’s pregnant!” I said “She is in her gestation period.”  Instead of yelling at you guys for not saving me a seat in the land cruiser yesterday, I said, “You displaced me from your habitat.” TIA.

13. I got invited to a wedding in Rhotia and wore a skirt to my toes, smartwools, and hiking boots, TIA.

14. When I wear flip-flops at night, I worry about either A) potential death by snake bite or B) jigger infestation, TIA.

15. Hyenas are like raccoons, elephants are like deer, baboons are like squirrels, and dik diks are like chipmunks, TIA.

16. I think I’ve talked about diarrhea, at least once, with every single student here…during breakfast, TIA.

17. I live in a place where flies give you acid burns (Nairobi flies), caterpillars leave fiberglass material in your skin,  and monkeys steal lunch from your hands, TIA.

18. Our Directed Research “prep talk” consisted of a professor telling us that last session a student ended his transect count early because he was chased by a cheetah, TIA.

19. Our pet dog’s name is Rabies, TIA.

20. I woke up in the middle of the night because my mosquito net had collapsed and was suffocating me, TIA.

21. I haven’t spent more than 5 minutes alone (sleeping excluded) in 2 ½ months, TIA.

22. I have 27 roommates, TIA.

23. You don’t need toilet paper, TIA.

24. We listen to “ABC, 1, 2, 3” during breakfast crew because that’s the most recent CD our campsite has, TIA.

25. Today we taught Maasai mommas the electric slide, TIA.

26. I forgot to wear my seat belt in the car once and I got an egg sized bruise on my head, TIA.

27. Lions cubs will hide under the car if you stop for longer than 5 minutes, TIA.

28. I was given the cold shoulder last week for 3 full days because I killed a beetle, TIA.

29. I crutched through the Serengeti, TIA.

30. I haven’t showered for 17 days, TIA.

31. My leg hair is longer than my boyfriend’s, TIA.

32. I am anxious because the internet hasn’t cut out for a full hour, TIA.

33. The first day here, I was sold a black shirt that said mzungu [white person] in cool white writing. The vendors told me it was just a popular Swahili word that they liked!  Immerse yourself into the culture right?? …Now because I only have 2 t-shirts left, I have to wear a shirt 3 times/week that says “I am a white person” on it, TIA.

34. I forgot my water bottle one day and was then sick, from dehydration, for three, TIA.

35. I brushed my teeth using sink water one time and got dysentery, TIA.

36. I prefer to go in the woods over the latrines, TIA.

37. Every single letter I have gotten from the US either says “Hakuna matata!” or “Tell simba hello!” TIA.

38.  Today I spent 3 hours explaining that head balls actually are executed using your forehead. And that “football” really does mean using your feet, not your hands, TIA.

39. Our site manager said that if you ever feel like you need some alone time, turn around, close your eyes for 5 minutes, and then you should be fine, TIA.

40. I just made reservations at a hotel on the coast for a 4-man “tree-house” TIA.

41. I’ve gotten fleas twice. And yes, I am a homo sapien, not a canine, TIA.

42. We’ve been sitting here for 3 minutes and I’ve already seen a spider the size of my palm, TIA.

43. This is where we hang out between lectures, TIA.

☮ Hannah

(Written by another SFS student, I can’t take the credit!!)

You feel humble as Kilimanjaro once again reels in a perfect sunset…

There are very few precious moments each day where the suns’ vivid rays of light catch the clouds

in such a way as to illuminate the silver lining in each.

The light is soft enough and the time is slow enough to let us attempt to breath it all in.  Futile, but wonderful to try.

Have you ever been so content to simply exist?  So aware of the activity of all your senses?  Have you ever felt a feeling you would be happy to feel forever?  This place has, can, will, and does that.

At KBC I’ve felt an almost constant sense of peacefulness and happiness and purpose of life.  I would be happy to feel that feeling forever.

I’ve also felt a constant sense of living for the moment, taking everything day by day, and the feeling that every day is a new adventure.  This is a feeling that I want to keep with me when I go home.

Life is an adventure, and every breath I take, I learn a new lesson and am enthralled with the journey.

I’ll tell you what it is about this place.  It sentences you to freedom, and then it becomes very difficult to settle for anything less than this.

Coming to this land was a dream, now it is a reality, and it will be the best memories in the future.

Not knowing what to expect, still not knowing what’s to come.

So why should I wait?  Why should I question everything?  Why don’t I just hold my breath and handle my challenge with style?

I refuse to hold my breath.  I want to breath it in, take it all in and learn to appreciate my surroundings.

A world of opportunity and beauty presents itself to me.

You feel humble when laughter is the only suitable response to experiencing something for the first time.

Tears brought on by laughter are the sweetest tears to the tongue.

Smiles spread contagious beyond the glimmer of eyes or lived hands.

It all makes sense, in a way that I never want to completely absolutely understand.

I look around me in awe and wonderment, and I can’t believe this isn’t a National Geographic Special.

How extraordinary it is, that nature can bring friends together and at the same time takes them apart.

But in the end the earth remains our source of vitality and spirit.

A complicated maze where we search for our own straight line.

With all five senses working overtime to formulate the experience of a lifetime.

To enjoy the time that we have here and in our hearts remain truly dear.

For the good things must always come to an end, but the best things…the best things last forever, far and near.