Friday, July 13, 2012

A Few More Bumps Along The Road

Up until now Jen has done all the writing for this blog but this week I figured it was nigh on time I put in my two senses as well. My blog likely won’t be nearly as detailed or eloquently put given that I hold no English degree but I hope you will enjoy it nonetheless. So here is my perspective of the events of the last week or so:

The project continues to go very well. Jen and I calculated out how many more return visits we have for each farm to reach the 2 month follow up period and were shocked to discover that next week will be the last visit for 5 of our farms and the following week will be the last for at least 15 more. This realisation put us into a bit of a panic because Jen had brought along a small photo printer and we wanted to give each of our farms a picture of us and them on their farms before we leave. This meant that in order to get the pictures to them on the last visit we would have to take the photos this week and next. I never would have imagined this small task would cause so much havoc! We struggled on every farm to get the calf into a manageable position and ensure that everyone was smiling and had their eyes open. We put Priscilla on camera duty and I think part of the problem is that she is not very familiar with photography. As we were holding our positions and smiling we could see the camera wavering back and forth in her hands and tilting every which way. We could only hope that if we got her to take enough of them at least one would turn out. Instead, Jen and I shared many a good laugh examining the resulting photos each night; in many photos the picture was captured just as calf was bolting from our grasp and we are all reaching after it with the most ridiculous facial expressions. Or in many of our photos Jen and I are smiling and the calf is perfectly positioned but the farmer has a very bland or strange look on their face (No one seems to want to smile in photos here!). We had to discard yet more photos as you can only see our mid-drifts because all our heads have been cut off or a huge and obvious board is blocking the entire shot. I included a few of these for your amusement. Enjoy! I can only hope our pictures next week will turn out a little better.

This week we also introduced the topic of blocked teats at each of our farms. We gave each farmer a small factsheet and explained the three major causes of blocked teats- injury, mastitis and genetics. We’ve noticed that many of our farmers use a very vigorous stripping technique to milk their cows so this week we demonstrated to them the proper, more gentle milking technique in which you squeeze rather then pull on the teat. Many of them were curious and promised to try the new method. Overall they seemed very eager to learn and grateful for the information.

On Wednesday of this week we had a pleasant surprise at Grace’s (one of our farmers). When we finished the survey and taking measurement on the cows she told us we must stay for tea since she had already prepared it. Her cows are housed at the bottom of a steep rocky hill with a staircase of rock steps leading up to her house. So she climbed up and then came back with her arms full of mugs, thermos and tray. We formed a small fire-line down the hill, passing items from one person to the next until we all were gathered next to the cow shed with tea mugs in hand. Grace poured us each a cup and then opened up a pot full to the brim with freshly baked (and still warm!) chipati! It was the perfect way to warm up given the cool, wet morning. What a kind and generous soul Grace, our adopted mother, is!

Last Saturday, Jen and I also had the pleasure of been hosted at Priscilla’s (our translator) house for lunch. We called the night before and she told us which matutus to take to get to her house. So around 9:30am on Saturday we took a matatu into karatina and boarded another matatu into Karengo. Once the matatu departed we sent Priscilla a text message to inform her we were on our way and to request that she meet us at the matatu stand in town. She replied that we should ask the driver to let us off at estate n i after karugmo high school. That caused Jen and I some concern. We were at the very back of the 14 passenger matatu bus, which was then carrying at least 18 passengers, and neither of us could speak enough Kikuyu or Swahili to inform the driver were we would like to get off, let alone shout loudly enough for the driver to hear us over the blasting music and roadside noise!! Eventaully, I peaked over the seat and pleaded to the people in front of us for help. They were very pleasant and graciously offered to assist us. When we approached our stop one of them simply knocked on the roof of the bus and the driver pulled over to let us off. We called Priscilla to let her know we thought we had arrived and I think we were both very relieved when we saw her emerge from around the corner. We passed a wonderful afternoon at her house where we enjoyed a delightful African meal and she introduced us to her two little boys, her husband and her neighbours. It seemed far too soon when we had to leave.

Finally, I have yet another installation to add to the car troubles segment of our blog. After the numerous times Jen and I have had to walk to farms because the car could not make it, or push the car up a hill or over a ditch, or watch strangers on the road literally lift the car back onto the road after it became stuck we finally thought that last week we were turning over a new leaf. Fredrick’s demeanour seemed changed; he was tackling the hills and rough roads with a new confidence and no longer spoke of “fearing” this road or that one. In fact last week we had no car troubles at all. And then came this week...
It all began on Monday as we made our way out to the first farm in the bleak and dreary rain. This time were taking Godfrey’s car, which has proven less troublesome than Fredrick’s on the whole. In fact I think we have only ever had two or three incidents in Godfrey’s car one involving replacing brake pads and another involving running over a stump. Anyways, Godfrey himself was unavailable on Monday and sent another driver in his car. We arrived at the farm without incident and managed to get through all our tasks in an efficient manner. However when we climbed back into the car, it would not start! The driver popped the hood and fiddled around with a few things before trying to start the engine again but it was no good. The driver got on the phone and 10 minutes later Godfrey himself shows up on the back of one the popular Chinese motorbikes. Godfrey surveyed the situation and within a minute or to determined that our problem was that the driver had left the fan on and drained the battery. He boosted the car and I think we were all relieved when we heard that characteristic “chick-chick-voom” as the engine started. Luckily the rest of the day ran smoothly.
And that brings us to Tuesday. On Tuesday Jen and I took Fredrick’s car out to all the farms. It was yet again raining all day long and as the radio does not work in Fredricks car we were instead accompanied by the “squeak, squeak” of the windshield wipers which after every two or three sweeps would become momentarily stuck before resuming their course. With the low temperature and the moisture in the air the windshield also became fogged up and every now and again Fredrick would rub the back of his arm against the window to clear a line of vision. This is how we proceeded throughout the day. I believe it was after the second or third farm that a peculiar burning smell filled the car and Jen shouted that she could she could see smoke. I looked over Fredrick’s shoulder and at first I could see nothing but then there was a thin wisp of smoke rising in front of the steering wheel. Fredrick must have seen it as wheel because her pulled over, popped the hood and took a look. Jen and I also clambered out of the car to investigate and document the cause. It appears that with all the bumps on the road the battery had been jostled loose. Not surprising given that it looked to be held in place by a piece of recycled metal bent into shape! Fredrick jiggled the battery back into its “rightful” place and then hammered the metal strip back over top of it with his fist- all fixed!
After that we made it to another three or four farms before the car was again filled with a burning smell and we had to pull over to the side. Fredrick popped the hood and went around to inspect. It seems that this time there was a problem with the coolant system. He fiddled with it for a few moments before slamming the hood closed and getting back behind the wheel. Luckily we had only one or two farms remaining because after that it constantly sounded like the engine was going mad while we were only going maybe 30-40 km/h. Also, when I peered over Fredrick’s shoulder I was rather alarmed to notice that the arrow indicating engine temperature was well over the letter H marker! I’m glad we made it home before anything more could go wrong.
Sadly, it seems that come Wednesday Fredrick’s car did have a major break down. Jen and I had gone out to the farms in Godfrey’s car on Wednesday while Silvia had gone out in Fredrick’s car. When we met up at the end of the day Silvia told us that after her last farm the car had completely broken down and they had had to call another driver to come and bring her home!
While these incidents are amusing to look back upon, at this rate I fear that Fredrick’s car will not make it to the end of the project.

That’s all for now,

No comments: