Saturday, February 4, 2012
my second week in Kenya
This is Saturday. We have been here for two weeks. The first week went slowly, with everything being new and unfamiliar. This week went faster and I am certain the last week will just whiz by. At the moment I am sitting in front of my tent in a private game park watching gazelles, zebras and ward hogs wander past on their way to a watering hole. Mount Kenya is on the horizon but it is too hazy to see the glacier on its side. Birds are calling. The breeze is stirring the air so that it is warm but not hot. The world is alive with the magic of life.
I have been trying to learn to say a few things in Swahili, the challenge is that Swahili is the common National language but there are also 42 local languages. People flip back and forth between Kikuyu and Swahili in this part of Kenya. I can now greet people politely in both languages and say thank you. After that words float around in my head and I try to remember which belong to which language and rarely bring the right one out at the right time.
I visited many gardens through the week, some on the back of a motorcycle some on foot. The sun is hot but even though we are on the equator the air is cool in the shade. Everything is very dry. There were terribly heavy, deadly rains in December but there hasn’t been a proper rainy season for the last two years. The rainy season should be starting in March and that is what hope is hinged on now. The women’s groups that are working with Farmers Helping Farmers are better off than others because most of them have gotten piped water from Mount Kenya’s glacier and FHF has supplied them with a water tanks to collect rain water so that they can water their animals and gardens. Even those lucky enough to have piped water and drip lines have trouble keeping their gardens growing though. The sun and wind dries the soil out very quickly.
It is true that I come with fresh eyes and notice things that could be done differently and perhaps make life easier. There are however serious consequences to encouraging people to change their practices, especially before taking the time to understand why they do things the way they do. When you live on the edge and every cent you make is committed before it gets into your hand, mistakes matter. It would be great to be able to stay for a while and really understand how things work before having to plunge in, but I don’t have that kind of time. So I am trying to suggest changes that will not be risky.
As an example it would seem that mulch would be help with water retention in garden plots. The women have tried mulch before and found that it encouraged ants. I suspect this was because the soil was dry and if they mulch the beds with drip lines the ants will be less inclined to move in. So I have been working on sourcing some UV protected plastic like what I use at home. I am only getting a small amount and helping to set up a trial. If it turns out that the mulch decreases the amount of water needed, reduces plant stress and keeps the beds wet enough that the ants don’t like it then the women will be encouraged to try the plastic mulch in their own gardens.
Next week my work will be a bit different. I will be doing workshops on crop rotations and composting. They all make compost but there are layers of knowledge and I hope I can give them some deeper understanding of how to make good compost. They all know that they should be rotating crops too but the finer points are a bit vague, such as which vegetables belong in which families and which crops should follow which crops.
But today I am in a beautiful natural area with incredible wildlife around every corner and over every hill; from the cheetah we saw last evening to the rhinosaurus we saw this morning. If I forget for a minute that I am standing in a safari van with binoculars I can almost sense the origins of our species and imagine how it was that we learned to walk on two legs and carry spears. Then I am captured by the moment held spellbound by the beauty of the animals and the landscape.
From a distant place that is also somehow familiar,