Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Something new.

I am having a hard time writing about the last few days- not because they were sad and depressing, but because I have so many things I want to talk about and I don’t know where to start. One of our drivers, Safari Steve, told me yesterday, after we watched a bunch of baboons cross the highway: “In Kenya, there is something new every day.” I believe him! I’ll start with yesterday morning. The bunch of us- nurses and nutritionists- piled in the combis with Safari Steve and Driver David- and headed up the hill to Machaka to the children’s home. This was the adventure that most of us were looking forward to and dreading the most. We arrived and were greeted by Alice. Alice is a student, studying to be a sister in Nairobi, but is doing a placement at the children’s home. She is 23-years-old and wise beyond her years. She spoke softly, but with so much confidence and wisdom. And beautiful- she was absolutely gorgeous. She took us on a tour of the facility- they have crops and farm animals for food. We saw some chickens, cows, rabbits and some pigs- one of which scared the crap out of us! All of the pigs were tiny little pink guys that were snorting away at us, and then we looked over the last gate and there was this GIANT black pig face staring back at us. I’m proud to say that I wasn’t the one who screamed the lord’s name in vain in front of a soon-to-be nun! The facility is almost completely self-sufficient. They buy things, like sugar, that they don’t produce themselves, and some vegetables and fruits are donated by community members. As the tour was finishing up, we heard some giggling and looked up and saw two little children peeking out of a door and waving: the moment we had been waiting for. I really think that Alice wanted to continue the tour, but our excitement and the children’s excitement won and the tour was over! I don’t think I can accurately describe how I felt during those hours that we spent with the kids. One of the other students and I wondered if that is what having children feels like. My heart was broken, but at the same time, so full of love. The kids sang for us and we picked them up and high-fived them, and hugged them. As soon as we put one down, there was another pulling at us to pick them up. There are some children that live there, and another 50-some that come everyday for lunch. After lunch, they’d walk home- some of them 2 or 3 kilometers, unsupervised. They are all under 5 years old, by the way. It was an experience that I will never forget.

We left the children’s home and stopped at the Kiirua market to meet Irene who has a reputation of providing the best pedicures on this side of the globe. We will all be seeing her soon. Then Jennifer and I hoped in Safari Steve’s combi to go to another market to find mangoes. Silly white people… mangoes are not in season! We were laughed at. However, we met the cutest little boys and Jenn took their picture. She asked another woman if she could take hers and the lady pulled me in close so I would be in the shot too. We picked out fruits and vegetables and Steve negotiated the price. We bought the biggest avocadoes that I ever did see. Like the size of a cantaloupe! The trip to the market was honestly one of the most joyful moments of my life.
So the road between Kiirua and Meru (which is where the market is) is jungle-y and you have to be on the lookout for crazy animals. The other day, we saw an elephant, and that day, on the way back from the market, we saw baboons. A ton of them!! Steve threw one of the baboons this weird fruit that we bought at the market and we got some great pictures. Steve is supposed to let me know the English name of the fruit is- no one seems to know.
So that brings me to today. We went to the Ruuju school which is close to Micanduri. We had a meeting with the Ruuju Women’s group, and then Allison and I left to do some data collection with Kim and Kevin for a research project that they want to do. They are measuring lung function in women use wood stoves with open flames and without chimneys) for cooking compared to women who use these new, more efficient stoves that contain the flame, produce more heat, and have chimneys. Communication was a challenge. We will be returning to see the group at some point to do a blood pressure clinic. The women spend so much time caring for others that they really appreciate the assessments and attention that we’re giving them.

We went to the Nakumatt for lunch and then headed to see another women’s group (Muchui) and their newest members. We did similar respiratory assessments with 6 of these women, and again, we will be returning to do blood pressure clinics with them. I had to leave the session to take a few pictures. Amazing. Then Martin, who works for the group, took us on a tour of the greenhouses and showed us how they graft different varieties of mangoes, avocados (he says avocando!) He said that they take the bottom of the plant with the best roots and the top of the plant with the best fruit (the fruit is very ju-eecy!) and graft them to produce the best product. Stephanie wondered why we don’t produce humans that way. Martin showed us a tree that they grow that is used in rock quarries. They have strong roots that can penetrate the rock. Millipedes eat the leaves and excrete manure that becomes the soil, and when there is enough soil, other plants are able to thrive. Then we realized that it was getting kind of late and we high-tailed it back to the combi. Martin told us not to worry though- if they left without us, he would drive us back in his gypsy, which I guess is a small car. On the way home (over the bumpiest road that I have ever seen) we picked up a man who works for Mama Jenny. He had a chicken in his hand and was holding it by the feet. Driver David found a Nakumatt bag, he shoved the chicken in and handed it to Kim. And then it started moving!!! So we shared a ride home with a live chicken… incredible! So safari Steve was absolutely right- there is something new in Kenya every day!

Monday, June 28, 2010


Blog Four
Today is Sunday, and I am 49 (ulp) years old today. I decided to not go on Safari with the others at 630 because we had been on three yesterday (630 400 and 9 p.m.). I saw two lionesses and their cubs and a tree full of baboons against the full moon. What more could I see? We were concerned about being cold since the night before there was a cold wind. We put on all the layers we had- I was wishing I had jeans and sneakers. John our attendant brought extra hot water bottles and there were blankets in the combi. We were toasty. I fell asleep on the way home watching the spot light sweep the long grass and bushes. I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. My dear students and Colleen left balloons on the tent and streamers. How sweet is that?
I am having coffee in the restaurant and have had 4 people wait on me so far...I talked at length to a handsome young man named Steve. When I explained what I was doing here he told me that he was a chef and was trained in hotel/food management. He can’t get a job right now so is working as a waiter. I told him how difficult it was to come here as a (relatively) wealthy white person and wonder whatever can you do. He was encouraging and said “every small change is important”. Ann, another waitress who has served us before, stopped to talk too (finding it hard to write). I told her more details about our work, and that the Kenyan men seemed to be invisible around the farms. She shook her head and said “Some drink and come home late. Women are for running the shamba, cooking, getting water, giving birth and tending to the children.” I told her I wanted to come back every year and bring more students. She said- don’t just do Meru- there are many more tribes that need help. She mentioned the Masai and how they have no food, no water and some women have 10 babies. Africa has many problems, she says. Overwhelming, but it reinforces to me why it is so critical to have women generate an income, have easier access to clean water, and to lessen their crushing physical load and empower them to expect and achieve more than is the norm. The hardest thing about this work is that it is slow. You want to fix things right away and you can’t.
Last night (Saturday) we sat at our usual special round table in the corner and a large table of Americans (maybe Texas?) sat beside us. We think the food is amazing. Lots and lots of East Indian food which surprises me. Chicken Tikka, talipia fillets in coconut sauce, lots of veggies, always a cheese and cracker tray, loads of fruit and desserts. I had curried giblets for breakfast- a bit chewy but very good. An omelette station- Fri night there was a pasta station at dinner. I had goat, which was quite good. They recommended a mint sauce which was delicious. I even had a thin slice of coconut tart and bread pudding with custard sauce. Couldn’t resist!
Today we head home to Kirua and start our second stage staying at St Theresa’s. We have only four days to finish what we need to do to prepare Kaylynne and Christina for their summer’s work. We are going to sit together with the computer and revise the schedule Colleen has prepared. I have gone from worrying how I will ever leave them to admiring the speed with which they have adapted, begun to understand the nutrition and food issues here, and how well they interact with Kenyans.
We arrived at St Theresa’s around 4 after seeing Kim and the nursing students at the Equator! They were coming from Nairobi and we were coming back from Sweetwaters. It was crazy and wonderful to see them. When we got to St Theresa’s we were warmly welcomed by Sister Naomi and Jacinta. What sweet and kind women- I love them already. We unpack and hang up our things, which everyone is excited about. Little Stacey, Jennifer’s grand niece charms us. She loves Christina and Kaylynne and draws on a notepad and pencil I give her (from you Mom!). She made me a birthday card and said Happy Bithday in a very soft Kenyan lilt. When the nurses arrive and Kim realizes the students are three to a room and 6 girls to one shower, she says she will negotiate that they can get an extra room when we leave on Friday (and she does!). Kim has bought a pile of groceries and a box of Cabernet red wine for me! Woo Hoo! We visit and then head over to the Sister’s building for a welcome dinner. What an affair that was. Huge platter of fresh fruit, pop (always considered a treat for visitors), pizza (the sisters are part of an Italian order), chicken, mukumo (potatoes, maize and spinach), rice and more. The priest, the Deacon, some community members are there, so it is a crowded room with the food at the centre. At the end, I hear some singing and tambourines- the sisters and Jennifer M (from the bed and breakfast fame) and Salomi are singing beautiful welcome songs. And “trilling” with their tongue. They are holding cake, but I didn’t clue in that it was a birthday cake until the third song turned into “happy birthday”. Hoping to get the video uploaded but it is big. They taught me how to make the high pitch trill song and everyone laughed. What fun. Kim made a presentation of funds towards the AIDS outreach program from the PEI School of Nursing. I was wishing I had something, but it is our first time, and I need to figure out how we balance fund raising for Farmers Helping Farmers (precious cookhouses and water tanks for women and their families) and being respectful and grateful for the Sister’s work as well. So much need here...
On Monday, we toured the hospital which was very interesting. I held a baby that was only one day old and the Mom took a picture on her cell phone. I am trying to figure out how to get a copy of that. We saw a man with feet that were in the worst condition I have ever seen- he was still walking around. Lots of opportunities here at the hospital to reach new mothers through their immunization program. That is exciting for us since the students need to do some education around introducing solid foods (what when). We saw a small display of maize flour, sugar salt beans and rice in little bottles that they use for teaching. They are not supposed to be giving beans because of the low digestibility. We have some great materials that they gave us that we can use to develop user friendly resources for the Mom’s. I have great faith that Christina and Kaylynne will rise to the occasion! All six students and Colleen and I then headed to the Nakumatt to get supplies. We bought more food to last the rest of this week (feeding 10 people takes a lot!) and Colleen/Christina went with another driver to get the computer modem situation straightened out. Christina is our local computer whiz, thank heavens! We had a “Canadian” lunch at the Lion’s Den restaurant beside the Nakumatt, and we all enjoyed burgers and club sandwiches. Lugged all the stuff in, and Christina and Colleen arrived back with the new exercise bike and treadmill that was stored at Jennifer’s. The girls are really excited about that! The evenings can be long for them, and this will allow them to exercise safely.
Colleen Christina Kaylynne and I then sit down at the table outside in the sun and plan our week and remaining time for the students. Colleen had done a schedule before we came which was so helpful, but there are many opportunities and changes we need to think about. We agree on a good plan to get all the work done, with the target groups of schools (porridge and lunch program evaluations, some nutrition education with children), women (family nutrition) and new mothers (through the Women’s groups and the hospital immunization program). The nutrition students will also do some staff education here at the hospital regarding infant and family nutrition. They are going to finish the plan on their laptops and we will discuss it today (Tues).
One of the nursing students Jillian and I prepare curried coconut chicken, rice and carrots from the Sister’s garden (they supply us with any fresh vegetables they grow for a very low price). It was so fun to cook, and to eat together for the first time. I was so tired- hit the hay at 930 again. Today we go to Muchaka, the children’s orphanage, which will be a challenge emotionally. Many transitions in the past few days!! More later....Love, Jen

We're here!!

Jambo! (Hello)

I am Jillian. I am one of the 4 nursing students from UPEI. We arrived last evening at St. Theresa's Mission Hospital in Kiirua, Kenya. We had been in Nairobi for two nights at the beautiful Fairview Hotel- the same one that the nutrition students stayed at last week. Gorgeous! Saturday morning, we got up bright and early, and with our driver, Driver David, we went to Nairobi National Park. Pretty amazing. We saw a ton of animals: giraffes, jackals, warthogs, zebras (in the distance), a buffalo (from behind), and these beautiful cranes. They were HUGE. Our talented driver, David, spotted a lion in a patch of lion-colored grass. We saw him flick his tail a few times- the lion, not David. After the park, we went to the Kazuri bead factory. Over 300 women are employed there. They are mostly single mothers who otherwise would not have a job. The women and their families receive free healthcare. An amazing spot. And beautiful work…. We spent a lot of time picking out jewelry to take home. After that, David took us on a long drive through the city, back to the hotel. Lots of traffic, lots of sights, sounds and smells. I was experiencing a bit of sensory overload. I still am. The plantlife is incredible. A few of us were talking about how at home, we struggle to grow these beautiful plants and flowers, and here, they just grow willy-nilly all over the place. Did any of you know that poinsettias can grow to be large trees and not just piddly little plants that only live for a few weeks at Christmas time? Yep... they have those here!
So yesterday, we got up bright and early and piled into the combi (van). Seven people, each with a bunch of luggage, and two boxes of medicine makes for an uncomfortable 6 or more hours. Good thing we like each other! In Kenya, they drive on the “wrong” side of the road- literally. They drive on the left side, as a rule, but I think we spent just as much time on the right side of the road, avoiding people walking, people on bikes, donkeys, pot holes… Terrifying at times. But Driver David got us here safe and sound! David is great, by the way. Absolutely hilarious!
We picked up a few groceries (and a few delicious Kenyan beer!) at the Nakkumat (grocery-type store) and headed to the boarding house. This is when it hit me that I am in Kenya for three months. The four of us had a little moment in the courtyard... we were all kind of crying a little bit, but also laughing at something someone did or said- I can't remember what it was. Anyway, it was a crazy mixture of emotions and I had a hard time controlling myself. Soon, we headed over to meet the sisters. We were welcomed with an incredible greeting- which was so touching that I cried even more. The food was incredible- I can't remember the names of all of the foods, but we had a cabbage dish, a chicken dish, a dish with mashed potatoes, corn spinach and other things. They even made us pizza! Then we had our first Kenyan bananas- and holy moly, they are the best darn bananas I have ever eaten!!
This morning, we were all up bright and early- once again- and walked over to the hospital for a tour with Sister Jacinta. The hospital is incredible. They have a capacity of 86, but this morning they had 66 patients. They are renovating one section and will soon have enough room for 110. There is a men's and women's medical unit, a pediatric unit, the CCC- continuous comprehensive care center- a maternity unit and a surgery unit, also known as the theater. The hospital is made up of several small buildings, and all of them- like most other buildings that I have been in so far- are open to the air. The patients spend a lot of time outside either sitting on benches or even laying in the grass. It is a beautiful environment. Though it is very clean, it doesn't have the sterile feel that we are used to. We met some mom's with their new babies- only a few hours old! You wouldn't believe how beautiful these babies are! Incredible! Sister Jacinta told us that there were 149 babies born there in May. That is like 5 babies per day! We are going to get a lot of experience!! I will tell you more about the hospital as I get more familiar with it.
Jennifer Taylor and I are cooking supper together tonight. Sister Naomi just brought over a ton of carrots and onions picked fresh from the garden. I can seriously smell them from another room!!! I am so excited to eat garden-fresh carrots! I'll let you know if they're as good as the ones from my garden- I'm betting that they're better!!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's Uji Time!

Uji is the name for Kenyan porridge. Uji is typically made with maize, sometimes mixed with sorghum, finger millet, bulrush millet and amaranthus seeds, ground together into flour. And, unlike our porridge, uji is drunk from a mug. Uji is fed mainly to young children, including kindergarten, and standard 1 and 2 students, and nursing mothers and is part of the complementary feeding and weaning regime for Kenyan babies. Because it is mainly maize (think cornstarch) only a small amount of the ground flour is needed to prepare the thick 'drinking yogurt' consistency and thus the energy content is low. Fermenting the uji flour, similar to a sourdough but using naturally occurring yeast on the grains, may breakdown some of the starch in the mixture and allow more flour to be used to obtain the desired consistency, and consequently increase the energy content of the uji. The yeast may also produce B vitamins to add nutrients to the porridge.

Jennifer M. kindly showed us how fermented uji can be made. She washed the dried maize and finger millet in the evening and, after draining, placed in a plastic bag. In the morning we went to the posho mill and had the grains 'wet milled' adding about 4 parts of water to 1 part of grain. The bottled slurry was held overnight and then a portion boiled in the morning, with more water, to make the uji drink. With a little sugar it made a sweet almost lemony drink that Jennifer's children consider the ultimate comfort food. but is not to the liking of all according to Jennifer M.

Other options in making uji more nutritious include mixing the maize with the other grains which have higher protein and complementary amino acids, using maize which has not been dehulled (thus retaining B vitamins and oil), and adding milk to the uji during cooking. Chritina and Kaylynne will be evauating uji's and recommending to schools and mothers preparations that can benefit the nutrition for the children receiving uji as an important part of the diet during these periods of fast growth.

The school children love their uji and I certainly enjoy it, especially the fermented uji, after many sips over the years. It does seem to be an acquired taste. According to Kaylynne “the only thing worse [tasting] than uji is fermented uji”.

Colleen Walton

June 26, 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Roughing it in Ichamara, Kenya...

If you consider a guesthouse for you and your group, a personal chef, a personal driver, a flushing toilet, and someone to do your laundry to be “roughing it.” Though there are definitely luxuries in Canada that I am missing here (I really miss my bed!), I really could not have asked for more. Our living conditions in Nakuru and Ichamara (a small village by Nyeri) have far exceeded any expectations Laura and I had. And after every farm visit, I am all that more grateful for what Farmers Helping Farmers and VwB have provided us with here. The homes of many local farmers are usually composed of a few small structures made from wood and packed soil (like clay?). One structure may be used for sleeping and socializing while another is used for cooking. Running water or electricity is found in some homes, but not very common. The bathrooms are almost always outdoor latrines (ie. a hole in the ground), of which I have managed to avoid using despite our eight/nine-hour days out on the road, going from farm to farm. Something about peeing into a hole in a space enclosed by sheet metal just doesn’t appeal to me!

As I mentioned, we are now in Ichamara. Our first week has gone by very efficiently, with over half of the designated farms completed. We still have two more weeks here, but it looks like the last week will be spent relaxing in the house and being tourists before we go back to Nakuru to complete our second sampling. Ichamara and the surrounding towns/villages are gorgeous! The landscape is beautiful, as hills are everywhere (which kind of sucks when we have to climb them carrying our boxes of supplies!), and they are full of various flowers and fruit trees. Growing up in suburbia, my fruits are from the closest supermarket. But here in Kenya, bananas, avocadoes, papayas, and pineapples are hanging off trees everywhere! I have also seen numerous coffee plantations and the beans are nothing like I imagined. I know, could I not sound any more like I’m from the city than ever?! That’s okay, at least I’m learning and seeing a lot! Plus, when I have a question about the plants, Laura has a Masters in botany!

The people here have been wonderful. All the staff at the house, from Sportsman’s Safari, and from Wakalima Dairy Co-op have been so friendly and helpful. Despite English being the second language for many of them, they make a huge effort in talking to us and teaching us new things about the Kenyan culture. I have also found that many Kenyans are very politically aware about their own country and surrounding nations, so I’m definitely learning a lot about that. The farmers have also been very grateful and generous – they are always sending us home with food! However, I do find it a little intimidating when we are stared at everywhere we go, especially by the children. I understand that it is because we look so different and ‘strange’ to them, so I am slowly getting used to it!

Though everything has been going great for the most part, I am experiencing some difficulties with adjusting to how things are done in Kenya, or Africa in general, as well as with the language barrier. Whereas in Canada, I am so used to tasks being completed immediately and efficiently, it is hard when I have to sit around and wait for instructions, since I don’t understand what is being communicated between the farmers and the vet students that we are assisting. Communicating our findings to the vet students for recording has also been challenging at times because we may be working on different parts of the study without realizing it. It is certainly no one’s fault, but I definitely have to develop a lot more patience if I am to continue our work without getting too frustrated or a head full of white hairs!

Since Laura and I have working so hard and efficiently this past week, we both broke out with fevers last night and today! It was quite a scare when Laura started to get a fever when we were on a farm. Our fellow Kenyans suggested we go to a hospital just to rule out malaria. It was certainly smart to err on the side of caution, but then talks of typhoid fever began, which really started to freak us out. After four hours of waiting, two blood tests and a doctor consult, she was diagnosed with upper respiratory tract infection and sent home with an assortment of drugs. Over the course of the night, her fever got worse, but then came down. By the next morning however, I was getting severe lower back pains, a headache, chills, and a fever. After lots of blankets, and four ibuprofen tablets, I am feeling much better now. Let’s hope it stays that way since we are now a day behind and we are to continue working tomorrow!

That’s pretty much what has been going in our great Kenyan adventure so far! Things should get a little more interesting as we plan to visit the nearby market in Karatina (a town outside the village) and go on a safari adventure in Sweet Waters. Thanks for all the past messages and comments, I really appreciate it! I will reply soon, but understand that internet just isn’t the same as in Canada. I miss home and you guys a lot! Keep me updated on your lives as well!

love always,

PS. Erica, please be safe this weekend and return home in one piece!!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wednesday Post from Nutrition Team (3rd, not second!)

Hello All,
I am up very early- 515 a.m. Kenyan time and have to get up and blog. Too much in my head: Wednesday was a day of highs and lows.
Jennifer started our day on Wed with Kenyan pancakes- more like a cross between crepes and roti- and I prepared a large fruit salad with bananas pineapples and my favourite mangos. We tried to roll the fruit in the pancakes but it made quite a delicious mess.
Off to Ruuju school- took the paved road (towards Mikinduri) and then down another very bumpy dirt road. I am getting used to the bumps- have to use the side handles to keep from falling out of my seat sometimes. And no drinking my coffee when we are on a dirt road (‘tide to go’ just can’t handle half a thermous of slopped coffee!) Many more children at this school than yesterday- about 500. Incredible. All the uniforms were an emerald green- each school has its own colour. Some ran over and greeted us as we got out of the combi- and right away I saw a little girl with clear signs of pellagra on her neck- a rough scaly patch from niacin deficiency. Identical to text book pictures, and Kaylynne Christina and I just looked at each other. Quite an experience after being a nutritionist for 27 years and seeing that first hand.
We met Godfrey one of the cooks who was the most pleasant young man who could chop kale like a Culinary Institute chef and ? who already had the maize and beans boiling for the githeri for lunch. The children get lunch at 12:40; little ones (preschool) get porridge at 10:30. The porridge had other grains today- amaranth and finger millet with the maize and no milk. The little ones filed into the dining hall (funded by Rotary Charlottetown!) and waited patiently for their breakfast/lunch. I got the kids all whipped up yelling “Yum” and making faces (see the video) was great fun. They think we “mazungos” are so funny. I am seeing quite a few children with signs of malaria- glazed eyes that you come to spot once you recognize it. And some with little arms quite wasted from a lack of food generally. But most are clearly benefiting from the feeding program- their weight is good, no signs of abdominal bloating (from protein deficiency) and lots of energy to burn. The head teacher tells us that since 2006 when the program started, they have seen a huge difference in the children’s attendance, their behaviour and their academic performance. We help serve the porridge but then stand back since the teacher and cook have a system of serving and we are getting in the way. They run out of cups, so some children have to wait till the others finish so their cups can be used. Christina and Kaylynne pledge to get more cups at the Nakumatt so this won’t happen. They insist on our having some, and we manage to minimize the amount so that it is not taken away from the kids. It is pleasant tasting, very thick and a bit sour but I smile and say “Yum” to their delight. Kaylynne Christina and I sit at the tables with groups of the children, and once again I am snapping pictures. I have become the nutrition team photographer, since my students and Colleen now have an efficient system of collecting the information they need for the recipes, method of preparation, portioning, etc. We will then look at the nutritional content of the foods served and make recommendations to the schools.
The githeri is boiling away in huge pots in the cookhouse. Nice and clean, concrete floors and minimal smoke due to the chimneys provided. It is hard to describe how important these cookhouses are- huge amounts of food can be prepared safely and the working conditions for the cooks and the children they serve in terms of less smoke have been vastly improved. We go to the school garden which our Jennifer M has been working on with Freda, the young woman hired by Farmers Helping Farmers to oversee the garden and Ruuju womens group farms. Neat sections of everything from kale (they say ‘kales’ or sukuma) to beans to sweet peppers and tomatoes. It is fertile, lush and well tended. We take lots of pictures, and then head back to the cookhouse to sample the githeri. We expect a “taste” but they have a plate with about 2 cups of githeri on it. Very tasty with pumpkin and kale added, and we enjoy it!
We head out on foot into the trees behind the garden to visit several women’s farms. The first farm is small, and the woman is excited to see us- she has a greenhouse with a big crop of tomatoes that is a demonstration project for the Ruuju women’s group. Two small boys dash in (who turn out to be neighbour kids) both with bloated bellies from protein deficiency. Even the pig and goat that she has look quite thin. I have ½ banana in my purse which I quietly hand to the boy while Jennifer Colleen and the farmer talk-and the peel went to the pig. Kaylynne, Christina and I hang back talking about what we have seen. We then move on to another farm which is run by a tiny thin older Ruuju woman. She has a rainwater tank (sponsored by Gulf Shore school and Womens Making Waves!) which is now almost empty (she was using it to collect water during the rainy season); later she will buy water from her neighbour who has it piped in. Her crops are not doing well- it is dry and in no way resembles the well tended farms we have seen thus far. There are several small buildings which house a son and a daughter- we are amazed to learn that one son is in university- the daughter works in Nairobi while she cares for the grandchildren. There are goats and a few cows, but she tells us that without her husband working as a ditch digger, they could not survive on the farm; it is only ¼ acre. Her frailty, the living conditions and the sad looking garden have us all with a lump in our throat. She then goes into her kitchen and presents Colleen with 4 or 5 eggs. We don’t want to take them, but Jennifer makes it clear that this would be a grave insult. We feel helpless and as we leave, we chat about the resilience of these women, and what we could possibly do to help her out.
Things look up- as they always seem to- and we visit another very jolly member who is drying pigeon peas on one huge tarp and mung beans (green grams) on another. Her farm is small but she seems to be doing well. Several small buildings house her grown sons and daughters and little boys peek around the corner of one at us. I am captivated by a young girl sitting on the grass under a tree feeding giitheri to an 18 month old girl with large soft dark eyes. I can’t believe she is eating this food which can be heavy going for an adult to chew. She is a bit shy but I have permission to take her picture. Her beautiful young mother arrives with green bananas mashed with potatoes- clearly she is waiting for her lunch. She brightens up and eagerly accepts spoonfuls of the creamy mixture. I take a picture of her with her mother and pledge to myself to send it back to them through Jennifer.
After visiting two more farms, and taking pictures of their cooking areas, we head back to the school. It is now about 3:15, and we discover that they have saved us lunch- mukimo (with pumpkin, bananas and potato) and a beef stew. We moan since our stomachs are still full from the githeri two hours before. But, again, we cannot turn it down so we eat some; it is really delicious! Very flavourful sauce on the beef..yum...

We head to the Nakumat, pick up some chicken (only frozen available) and prepare African chicken, ugali (a white cornmeal moulded polenta type dish) and yummy kale. I make mango salsa from the wonderful mangoes. A wonderful cooking lesson from Jennifer, and I write down the recipes. We loaded up steaming plates and took them out to the three security guards who keep us safe. Must head out for our next adventure: today the Dairy and meeting with Helen the nutritionist.

I would love to post pictures, but the internet is painfully slow and it crashes my computer. No luck here at the Nukumat either. Maybe later...

Love to family and friends...Jen

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Nutrition Team Blog 2

Hello All,
Yesterday was the first real day in the field. We started with African tea flavoured with tea masala (must get some to take home- tastes like chai). And chapati which I smeared with peanut butter (a very starchy diet so I need to add some protein). Jennifer takes her own wheat to the mill and makes the chapattis from that. She told us that she adds baking powder unlike many other women. They are delicious and light.
Then off in the combi with Steve around 930 through Meru to Kirua. First paved road, then dirt road with the biggest boulders and pot holes I have ever seen. Steve wasn’t used to them so Jennifer helped navigate. We went to her farm (shamba)- so lovely, with baby chicks and roosters crowing. We saw dried maize, sweet potatoes and the majestic hills overlooking the farm. The planting cycle is Oct/March. We arrived to a warm welcome at the Machui women’s centre: Martin and Salome are the horticultural/business people at the centre. The centre acts as a support for women farmers to grow and market their crops. We sat in the office for awhile and chatted to Martin and Salome about how the drought resistant crops are doing (amaranth, manage, crotalaria, saget), and how the women are incorporating them into family food. For example, cow pea and pumpkin leaves are mixed in with mokemo (mashed potato dish). Very interesting and overwhelming amount of information- Colleen knows so much and we are playing catch up. We toured the greenhouses and saw papaya, mango, even pomegranate! Many women then arrived- the management committee- to select new members for the centre which took them most of the day. They have 62 members and are aiming for 100. Lots of interest- I am just amazed at the women who lead and the women who work so hard growing and selling their crops to feed their families. The wind which comes with the dry season and is blowing hard. Martin tells us that it has blown the roof off the green houses more than once. It also can blow dust in your mouth and makes my hair look like a birdnest!
We ate our lunch on a pile of rocks near the centre- peanut butter sandwiches, boiled eggs and the most delicious bananas I ever ate! Then piled into a smaller truck with Martin to visit two “far away” farms- likely about 5-6 km but took a long time since you have to creep over the crazy holes and boulders. People waving and smiling as we pass- you sure stick out here. We yell “Jambo” and smile. The little kids are just adorable.
The women on the farms humbled me in a way I haven’t been before. Backbreaking work and raising children and cooking doesn’t stop them from growing a large number of different crops and maintaining a large farm. They gave us bags of guava and one woman Magdarena gave me two perfect small eggs- maybe because I kept taking pictures of chickens and roosters for June! I was so touched. I took a picture of her and her husband and I am going to send them back here to the Women’s centre to take out to the farm. Least I can do...
Last night was very exciting for Kaylynne and Christina- they have decided to have a local young woman Esther make aprons out of kikoy (a fabric) and sell them. If they sell 70, you will get enough for two water tanks and gutter systems for two farms. Here they were with fabric laid out on the floor and making a pattern out of newspaper. Jennifer M (Mama Jen) pitched in and helped too. I am going to help sell them to faculty students and my family and friends...water is everything here. If there is not enough rain, the crops don’t do well and there is not enough money to feed the family. Farmers Helping Farmers plan to provide water tanks has worked beautifully and I have seen the evidence of that.
Today we awoke rested for the first time: took four days, and it felt great! And it was another amazing day- and our visit to our first school: Kinyenjere. What an experience: about 200 children smiling hopping and yelling when we arrived because they knew we were coming. The head teacher had the children wait until we got there to have their porridge. After a HUGE breakfast of three kinds of sweet potatoes at Jennifer’s and my ½ English muffin with peanut butter, I then was given about 8 oz of a think Uji which they had added sugar to (Oh, my diabetes!). None of us could finish it. The children lined up, class by class and very orderly received their mug of very hot porridge. No spills, no complaints, no burns. I took many pictures- with permission, of course. Only thing is, every picture we took we showed to the children, and then all wanted their “pitch-ah” taken. I had great chats with the kids while dear Kaylynne and Christina asked all the important questions about the recipe for the porridge, how the githeri was prepared, etc.... They sang songs for us in both Kimeru (their local dialect) and in English. I have the video! The school staff were so welcoming, and they have assured Kaylynne and Christina that they can come back anytime and can do education with parents and kids- whatever they want. Really nice given that this school is reasonably close to where they will be staying at St Theresa’s. And they made a beautiful lunch of rice, beef stew, fresh chapattis and our driver donated a fresh delicious pineapple. They got carrots just for us to put in the stew. We didn’t eat until 230 since they only had one cook there today, and I was getting the shakes. A wonderful experience, for sure.
The day ended at the Najkumat where we got more water and wine, and the ingredients to make mango salsa tomorrow. And used the internet at the Cybercafe which was nice since the connection here is slow. When we got home, accompanied by dear Muchui Jennifer’s hired man, Jennifer had a wonderful Kenyan dinner prepared: fried cabbage with spices, mukomo (potatoes, black beans, green bananas) and a spiced beef stew. Delicious! I found the spices at the Nakumat and I am taking some home!
The young’uns are here doing resistant bands to a CD they brought. We also had a good walk home from the Nakumat...and had one this morning as well. The bed will feel good again tonight.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Vet students in Kenya: Week One

First Week in Kenya: Sawa Sawa

We are finally here in Kenya after many long months of preparation and anticipation. We arrived July 14th at 3 AM. We began our journey July 12th in the evening, departing from Toronto for Vionna and Charlottetown PEI for myself. We endured two red eye flights and many long hours in airport terminals, but the welcome we have received upon arrival very much made up for any discomfort we might have experienced.

We were greeted at the airport by our travel guide, Henry Macharia, who has arranged for all of our transportation needs during the whole of our two and a half month stay. I noted the stark contrast of his silvery curly hair to his dark skin as he took both my hands in greeting and said to me, “Do not look at your watch, night or day, no matter where you are, if you need me I shall come for you.” The warmness of this karibu, or welcome, has been a constant during the whole of our travels so far and I have come to associate Kenyans with firm handshakes and friendship.

We were delayed in Nairobi for the first two days on account of our luggage and medical supplies being held up in Cairo during a very tight connection. It arrived early Wednesday morning, and we were able to head out for the rift valley that same day. At the moment we are staying in Nakuru with Troy and Rebecca Sammons, and their three daughters Dakota, Kate, and Hope. Dakota and Kate are 4 and 2 years, and Hope is just 5 months. They are quite a busy house and have been very kind to keep us for the first week. The drive to Nakuru was overcast, but even so the views around the Ngong mountains (the same from Out of Africa!) as we drove down into the valley were truly spectacular. The mountain roads wound in and around the rock face and the African plains stretched out as far as the eye could see hundreds of feet below. We saw many beautiful acacia forests and, to our extreme delight, baboons, zebras, and gazelles along the roadside. Kenyans seem to enjoy a different sort of relationship with their wildlife than we have in Canada. Where we displace and convert, they seem to overlap and cohabitate in a way that seems very harmonious. And everywhere along the road you see young trees being planted by the Green Belt movement, an NGO started in the early 1908’s by Wangari Mathi who was the first African woman to win the noble peace prize.

Nakuru is a small town, and it’s farms tend to be in the range of 4 to 10 cows, although they may have as many as a thousand which is very large in Kenyan standards. The countryside is full of rolling hills which are still lush and green from the recent rainy season (March to May). All around are the huge mountains of the rift valley, their peaks long and worn compared to the Rockies of North America. The view from the Sammons house overlooks Lake Nakuru which is part of Nakuru National Park. The lake is in the migratory path of many species of birds and is the winter destination for many European species. An interesting phenomenon you can’t help but notice is the roadside farming. Because many small holder farms don’t have enough land to feed their animals, farmers allow their animals to roam free along the roadsides all day long to eat. In the evening they are brought in again. You will see all sorts of domesticated species grazing along the road including: Cattle, Goats (huge massive herds of goats! Hundreds of them!), donkeys, sheep, pigs, and chickens. The farms themselves are small, and in some cases require updating, but they are very charming. Each farm is a little walled in island all unto itself, and everyone has a garden full to bursting with produce. The most common crops are corn, beans, kale, and bananas. Fruit is incredibly prolific, and we have been eating locally grown passion fruit, mangos, and avocado on a daily basis.

We began sampling as soon as we arrived in Nakuru. The field study we are conducting involves us gathering data from small holder dairy farms in the Nakuru and Nyeri areas west of Mt. Kenya . We hope to visit over 100 farms and collect samples from around 700 cattle. So far, we have been to 7 farms and collected data from 44 cattle. The data is a tad convoluted because we are coordinating three separate projects from two masters students, and one PhD from the University of Nairobi. The topics of each study include GI tract parasites, mastitis, and abortion which requires the collections of fecal, milk, and blood samples respectively. The hope is to discover what factors and practices contribute to mastitis, the distribution of GI parasites, and the causes of abortion in Kenyan farms which can be as high as 10% per year in some cases. Some of the factors are stall proportions, grazing techniques, and stall/pen cleanliness. It was a little difficult to organize everyone at first, but we have a very efficient system now and can average about 30 minutes per 4 cow farm. Vionna and I have become masters of the CMT (California Mastitis Test) paddle. The two master’s students are Kabaka and Roiford, and Abuom is the PhD student. They are all great and we have become good friends. It is now Friday and they have gone back to Nairobi for the weekend. We will stay with the Sammons until Sunday at which point we will pack up and head for Ichamara, a small village outside of Nyeri.

That is all for now I think, the next post is Vionna's, I'll talk to you guys again in a couple weeks!


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Nutrition Team Lands in Kenya

It is hard to believe that we are finally here in this beautiful country of many contrasts. We (Colleen Walton, Christina Tucker, Kaylynne Parkes and myself Jennifer Taylor) landed in Nairobi last night after a long trip. There was a fair bit of turbulence flying over the Maritimes (ironically), flying over Ireland and again between Brussels and Nairobi. Colleen had the arm squeezed off her and the very kind flight attendant brought several cute little bottles of wine, which helped immensely! Two funniest moments: I reached down to pick up a water bottle on the plane and rammed my head rhino style into the flight attendant's bum who was bending over at the same time and 2) when I was eating my very frozen ice cream and flicked a large chunk through the air which landed on the shirt of a nice quy sitting behind us in the middle aisle. And then starting babbling- "So sorry- it is really good- you should have some!" Colleen was wiping her eyes today laughing about it.
Nairobi airport could not have gone more smoothly- luggage arrived in no time; Henry from Safari Tours lived up to his reputation and whisked us through line-ups and to the waiting van like we were movie stars.

The Fairview hotel was a welcome sight, and we marvelled at the beautiful inner courtyard, romantic lighting and warm welcome. Hot showers felt wonderful and we had a quick chat in my room before we toddled off to bed-very tired but happy to be here. Fantastic breakfast this morning- fresh fruit, omelets made to order, excellent coffee and wonderful friendly staff. Dear Henry arrived with Steve our driver and off we went again to downtown Nairobi to pick up re-usable menstruation kits that the nursing team will be distributing next week to young girls in the Meru/Kirua area. Then off to shop...and poor Steve showed that he has the patience of five Kenyan men! Beautiful scarves and fabric, exquisite cherry wood animal carvings..and a chance to see Christina's bartering in action. I had chosen several carved animals, some pottery, earrings etc, and several of the "artists" who were in the store stood around to watch the haggling for the final price. I obviously looked like a person who wouldn't put up much of a fight, but Christina pulled up a chair, we placed all my bootie on a large wicker basket and the jesting began. 1800 shillings- Christina says, No, that is too much. 1600 shillings- she shakes her head and said "this is our first day shopping- we can't buy all of this". When we started to put some things back, the artists whose wares were being put aside protested, and we quickly settled on a compromise. All of us were smiling at Christina- a few of the Kenyans were shaking their heads as if to say "Who would've thought little miss brown eyes was so tough?". Great fun! The best was yet to come, as Steve buzzed us through the busy streets to visit the Kazuri handmade bead craft store on the outskirts of Kenya. So, so many beautiful colors and varieties, and authentic pottery. We were there a long time and I spent the most. Still having trouble with converting back and forth between Kenyan Shillings and dollars. Christina Kaylynne and Colleen all come to my rescue when I start looking glazed eyed.
We were amazed at the traffic whizzing by (on the opposite side of the road, but sometimes in the middle with a bike loaded down on one side and pedestrians on the other-yikes) and Steve
s calm and expert driving. I yacked and took pictures after checking with Steve when it was okay.
Tomorrow we head to Meru and Kirua to begin our work. This rest and relaxation after a long trip was invaluable- and a wonderful time to bond as a team and appreciate the long standing friendships between Farmers Helping Farmers and the Kenyan people. Truly we are benefiting from all who have come before us.

Nurses and nutritionists have interesting summer jobs in Kenya

Nutritionists at Charlottetown airport before departure: Left to right Colleen Walton, Christina Tucker, Kaylynne Parkes and Jennifer Taylor

Student nurses at last orientation session. Left to right: Stephanie Barlow, Allison MacDonald, Amy Somers, Jillian Grady

Four UPEI student nurses and two student nutritionists will spend the summer working in Kenya out of a rural hospital in Kiirua. In addition they will work in the community doing out-reach clinics and work in local schools and with members of womens groups.

The nutritionists, Christina Tucker from Cornwall and Kaylynne Parkes from Toronto, left PEI on June 17th accompanied by Dr. Jennifer Taylor, Professor of Nutrition and Colleen Walton from Farmers Helping Farmers.

The nurses, Gillian Grady from Summerside , Allison MacDonald from Charlottetown , Amy Somers from Cardigan and Stephanie Barlow from Miscouche, accompanied by Dr. Kim Critchley, Dean of Nursing will leave PEI on June 24th. This is the third team of nurses who have worked at St. Theresa’s Mission Hospital in Kiirua.

The students will all be stationed at St. Theresa’s Mission Hospital and will return to PEI in time for classes in mid-September. The professors will return to PEI after two weeks.

In addition to working in the maternity and surgical wards of the hospital, the nurses will work at five of the Kenyan schools which are twinned with Island schools.

The nurses will carry out hand washing demonstrations at each of the schools using the new sinks installed by Farmers Helping Farmers. They will also speak to the girls who are old enough to have their periods about their personal hygiene during menstruation. Farmers Helpings Farmers has learned that girls usually have no sanitary pads to use during their periods so the nurses will give each of the girls a set of reusable sanitary pads. These were obtained through Huru International (Huru is swahili for freedom) who manufactures them in Kenya.

Kenyan girls often stay home during their period because they’re afraid the pads they’ve improvised with rags or newspapers will fall out at school, embarrassing them, said Lorna MacLeod, executive director of Huru International, a New York City-based nonprofit that has distributed backpacks containing reusable pads to Kenyan girls since 2008.
“Girls and teachers have described a sharp drop in absenteeism among the girls who have received kits,” she said.

The nutritionists will assess the nutritional value of lunches offered to students at the Ndunyu Secondary School (twinned with Three Oaks Senior High in Summerside) and the Kinyinjere Primary School (twinned with Mount Stewart School) where cookhouses were built with the 2008 and 2009 proceeds of the Village Feast in Souris. They will offer suggestions on how to improve the lunches, where required. They will offer nutritional advice on the lunches provided to over 1400 students at the Ruuju Primary School (twinned with South Shore United Church Sunday School) and Kamuketha Primary School (twinned with Kensington United Church Sunday School ) and the Kiirua Boys Secondary School (twinned with Montague Senior High School).

The nutritionists will make recommendations to mothers about babies diets. They will develop recipes that will include the more nutritious crops, grown in the Crop Diversification projects (funded by Farmers Helping Farmers and the Canadian International Development Agency) by the members of the Muchui Womens Group and the Ruuju Womens Group

The nurses will also participate in HIV/AIDS Outreach clinics and will assist with caring for the children at the Mother Maria Zanelli Childrens Home.

Farmers Helping Farmers has partnered with UPEI for these summer internships with funding from the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.