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.