Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mukurwe-ini and the surrounding farms

By Geneviève 12:36 pm
Mukurwe-ini is located in the highlands of Kenya. Therefore, the moment we take the car, countless green hills rise before our eyes, with Mount Kenya in background on days where the sky is clear.
The village swarms with activity all day. On one side of the main shopping street, you find stands – with a structure seemingly made of branches more than wood planks – where they sell clothes, fruits and vegetables; on the other side are shops cramed into a small but long building. That’s where we sometimes buy fries, which comme in a double plastic bag, mixed in with toothpicks to use as utensils – one who does not pay attention to his snack can easily regret it.
We have observed that certain kinds of shops seem more popular, or at least are spotted more often in this area. Indeed, in a same village, we counted many beauty salons, a good number of Safaricom shops (Safaricom being a local mobile network company), a lot of small bars seemingly deserted, and countless butcheries in a competition for the one with the most promising name :  « Quality 2013 Butchery», « Meat Garden » and « Pork City » are some seen examples.
As soon as we move away from the center of the village, the scenery changes completely. We leave the asphalt roads to take dirt paths where even 4X4 vehicules wouldn’t venture without thinking about it. The day before yesterday, for example, Ephraim (our driver) was forced to go in reverse gear on a slope on which we couldn’t heave ourselves up. But Ephraim is not one to give up that easily. He was actually reversing to take a run up, not to turn around. Concentrating as if his mind could increase the power of the old car, he hit the gas, reached the three-quarters of the slope, then stopped the vehicule – right in front of a group of children. There was no way he could lose face. And so Priscilla (our translator), Shauna and I got out of the car and started pushing. We had to run, followed by the children, to keep up with the car that constantly needed a push, wrapping us in a cloud of CO2 and reddish dust. Yes, we vanquished the hill! The kids stared at me with amusement as I shouted out loud to celebrate victory.
To get from one farm to another, we drive up (when we succeed to) or down, through or around hills and hills. We pass people – very often women – carrying loads of firewood or Napier grass on their back and with a strap going over their forehead. We also see cyclists that rather walk next to their bikes instead of getting on them, motorcycles (bota bota) and, rarely (you can understand why), another car. Streets have no names, doors have no addresses; it’s only with the indications Priscilla receives on her phone and sometimes with the help of an additionnal passenger that sits in the back with us – or even on the passenger’s seat with Priscilla – that we can reach the right place.
Then again, seldom have we really arrived when the engine is turned off : some farms have no roads that lead to it, others are accessible only by walking on the neighbours’ property or by going throuch a labyrinth of branches and exotic crops.
Few are the farms that have all their components – main house, kitchen, shed, outhouse, water tank, numerous pens and cages for different species – on a same landing on the hill. Therefore, before doing anything with the animals, we must climb up or tumble down slippery slopes on which our only help – when present – is what could hardly be called stairs unevenly digged in the reddish dirt. Since we have to carry our material in a cumbersome trunk, we barely see where we step. The cows are usually on a lower level and the path to get there is even more rustic. How on earth did the animals get there in the first place?
The landscape is certainly beautiful, but to drive and walk there is not an easy thing to do! Once I’m back in Quebec, my legs of steel will not deign to take the elevator anymore and will get me right up any real staircase.


Typically We…

By Jessie July 9, 2013 5:56 pm
6:40 am: Alarm goes off.   Grr.  Never been an early morning person.  Not going to start here.
6:55 am: Pull myself out of bed and head straight to the shower.  Start to feel less angst towards the world after hot shower.  Pause to be thankful for said hot shower.
7:15 am: Francis (our cook) has prepared a hot pot of coffee and has laid out our breakfast foods.  Bless his soul.  I consider bringing him back with me to Canada.  Drink coffee, angst is completely evaporated.
7:30 am: Eat breakfast, make PB & J sandwiches for our lunch.  Try to go to the bathroom at the last possible moment before leaving to prolong the inevitable trip to the outhouse on a farm.
8:00 am: Taxis arrive for the morning, we pack up all our supplies for the day, suit up in our scrubs/coveralls/steel toe rubber boots and
make our way out the door.  Discuss the plan for the day with Pricilla.  Greet Ephriam (our driver) with a big smile.
8:40 am: Finalize our plans and get in our taxis.  Head to the first farm of the day.  Kenya will forever be remembered in my mind by the smell of earthy dirt.  Red dirt l that sits thick in your nostrils and winds up and down the hills in impossibly narrow and uneven roads.
9:00 am: Arrive at the first farm.  Small bladder nags and my plan to put off the outhouse is ruined.  Ask where the toilet is.  Open door, go in.  Try to adjust eyes to the complete blackness and pray I don’t fall in the hole.  Clean out the pockets of coveralls so that things don’t fall in the hole.  Pee.  Hope no one can see through the holes in the boards.  Remind myself to restock the Kleenex in my pocket.  On a good day, avoid getting locked in the outhouse.  Okay, ready for work.
9:30 am: Use my stethoscope to listen to the heart of the mother cow.  Sounds weird, not a murmur, but muffled – suspect pericardial effusion.  Tentative diagnosis: traumatic reticuloperitonitis – nail puncture into the heart sac.  I’ve never heard this before so call over experienced veterinarian to confirm.  Using her stethoscope she listens carefully and states it is normal.  Ego slightly bruised, but glad for the cow that it’s nothing.
10:00 am: Finished all tests at the first farm, pack everything up, get in taxi and go to the second farm.
10:30 am: Admire beautiful Kenya as we drive.  Open the window, smell the dirt, look at the rising hills, try to see Mt. Kenya on clear days.
10:45 am: Arrive at second farm.  Listen for ruminal contraction sounds.  Sounds okay.  Flick around my stethoscope to listen for a ping (indicating abnormal gas accumulation).  No ping, but sounds strangely muffled.  Look at stethoscope.  Laugh as I realize the drum is full of water.  Duly noted.  Stethoscope full of water = sounds like pericardial effusion.  Dry out stethoscope.  Muffled sounds disappear.
11:00 am: See Ephriam playing with the kids on the farm.  Joke that he must be the Father of all Kenyan children, because he LOVES kids. Thankful for a driver that is kind, generous and so helpful.  I wouldn’t expect a taxi driver in Canada to be willing to jump in a manure filled calf pen to help hold the legs, or one who is willing to carry our box of supplies up and down the hillsides.
11:50 am: Say good-bye to our new friends.  Receive a bag of papaya or avocados or passionfruit or sugar cane or an invitation to tea.  Decide to start a new sport for the next Olympics: extreme mountain climbing in steel-toed rubber boots.  Out of breath.  But thankful for the calves of steel I’m developing.
12:00 pm: Hand sanitizer.  Eat PB & J sandwiches for lunch between farms.  Open the window and lean out to prevent car sickness on bumpy roads.  Thankful the breeze is cool – it’s winter time in Kenya.
12: 30 pm: Arrive at third farm.  Greet all the children.  They are afraid at first, but warm up over the course of our visit.  Wade in ankle-deep manure to move cow into the milking stall.  Take measurements, do physical exams, collect blood samples, check for mastitis, ear tag and deworms animals.  Walk over to the goats to say hi.  Finally the children are talking.  Repeating our names and everything else we say.
1:30 pm: Realize three of the cows on the farm have mastitis.  Collect samples for culture and teach owner how to treat using an intramammary infusion.  Avoid getting kicked by having the owner tie the cows legs in a hobble.  Sometimes this works.  Tail-jack and shove the cow
into the fence as a second precautionary measure.  Some cows are lovely.  Some are wild and blame every misfortune they have ever experienced on the one wearing the scrubs and rubber boots.
1:50 pm: Finish taking measurements from the 5 or 6 cows and calves on the farm.  Getting a bit tired and a lot hot.  Scrub down arms and boots for the 3rd time today.  Discover the manure on my arm I was trying to get off is actually a bruise, but have no recollection of where it came from.  Repack the car, hop in and head to the next farm.
2:30 pm: Arrive at fourth farm.  Through some miscommunication the calf is too old to participate in the study.  However, this was not realized until 20 minutes into the conversation and physical exam.  Pack up and continue on our way.
3:00 pm: Join the Indy 500, mountain-side dirt-road version.  Ephraim likes to go fast at the end of the day.
3:45 pm: Arrive at the last farm of the day.  Take measurements, head back home.
5:00 pm: Walk in the door.  Smell dinner.  It is a cruel joke because we are so hungry, but dinner isn’t until 7.  Walk into the kitchen to chat with Francis and see what the wonderful smells are.  Can’t wait for dinner.
6:00 pm: Clean boots.  Pick out mud and manure with a rusty nail.  Do clean up from today, load the boxes for tomorrow, do paperwork for tomorrow.
7:00 pm: CHRISTMAS EVERYDAY.  Francis leaves food in covered pots and we get to open them like Christmas presents each night.  It doesn’t get old.  Francis needs to get his passport ready – he’s coming back with me to Canada.
8:00 pm: Hang out, finish up any extra work for the next day.  Write, read, relax.  Sun is down, can’t go outside of the compound.  Armed guards have arrived for the evening.
10:00 pm: Inspect bedroom for spiders.  Kill all the insects.  Give verbal warning to those in hiding.  Get ready for bed and crawl under the mosquito net.  Make new hole in mosquito net as I pull it over me.    Read.  Sleep well after a long day working outside in the fresh air.

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