Egerton University

First of all, sorry everyone for the long delay! From here on in I’ll have reliable internet but for the last few days I was stuck without. I know I left you on a “I’m sick in bed” note… I wish I could have told you I’m feeling better! I’m at Mpala now (healthy) and I have internet so it shouldn’t happen again!

Mpala is amazing but first let me update you on what all we were up to at Egerton University.

On Wednesday morning Walker, Kayla and I met a new driver named Saleh. He’s born and bred stock of Nairobi and proud of it. He gave us a whirlwind tour of Nairobi as we were working out way out of the city. Its an incredible city – full to the gills with people walking, bicycling and driving. I couldn’t believe it. The driving was… stimulating. Roundabouts in the wrong direction, everything on the wrong side of the road, parked or just broken down cars in the middle of streets, nonexistent street lines (enforced only by the biggest or most aggressive car) and completely fearless jay-walkers. I’m glad we weren’t driving, I don’t know that we’d have made it.

After leaving the city we had a much more pleasant 3 hour drive through rural Kenya. I was really surprised by the countryside. I was expecting rural communities to feel very much as they did in South Africa – mud, walled houses with only 2 or sometimes 3 rooms, closely packed together in tight little neighborhoods. Instead these communities are even more impoverished with only corrugated metal walls surrounding a single small room and with three of your walls serving the same purpose for your nearest neighbors. I didn’t take any pictures on the trip, it felt insensitive but I’ll share some with you if I find a way to do so in the future.

We arrived at Egerton University for a conference on Pastoralism and Climate Change in East Africa. Egerton University has a massive campus and much of it is really beautiful. With only a little trouble we found the hostel/hotel we’d be staying at on campus and where the conference would be taking place. After the day of traveling I was still feeling pretty miserable. We arrived around lunch time and I immediately fell into my bed in a sound sleep.

My bed, an important character in this posting.

Another important, though unmentioned character… notice the lack of seat… bother…

Kayla and Walker arrived back to check in on me at about 8:00. They had spent the afternoon at the conference but instead of talking and listening to lectures they went on a bus tour of the area as far away as the Egerton Castle – a crazy mansion built by the namesake of the university – about 35 km down the road. After they returned we started work on our presentation for the group the next day.

I woke up early on Thursday feeling better but not yet perfect. Unfortunately I didn’t have the luxury of rest though because we’d been asked to give a short presentation about our proposed project in Kenya. Luckily it was a presentation we’ve given formally and informally many times over so it went off without too much prep. It was fun getting good feedback from all of these professors and researchers from all over. There were at least 15 countries represented at the conference!

Unfortunately I don’t remember much of the morning session. I was operating in a bit of a haze still with a fever. After our presentation I immediately went to bed. One of the other presentations that morning though was a women suggesting beehives as an alternate income source for pastoralists. I wrote her a quick note on a notecard asking if she had also heard about the recent studies showing that bees were effective deterrents of crop-raiding elephants. Unfortunately I retreated to my bedroom before she read the note but Kayla and Walker said she was really really excited about learning more about this. Thank you very much Waterville Morning Sentinel and Mom and Dad!

After a nap over the lunch hour I returned to the conference for the final round table discussions and closing remarks by the organizers. The round table discussions were especially fascinating with researchers, NGO’s, government staffers and even the chief of a pastoralist community discussing the issues that the pastoralist lifestyle faces from Climate Change. After the closing remarks Walker, Kayla and I returned to my room. I was ready to crash and we talked and watched a movie.

Each of those bottles is half a liter and all of them were consumed by me in less than a 36 hour span (and for a lot of that I was sleeping).

Friday we had an entire day to ourselves at Egerton. The conference was closed and no one was around so we had the run of the place – though we didn’t really feel all that adventurous, we’re pretty conspicuous. In fact, by this point I’d only seen 6 white people in all of my time in Kenya, one in a car, 2 at the conference, and the remaining 3 in my party (one in my mirror). Everything felt very safe but we drew a lot of attention as we walked down the road. Still, we headed out and decided it’d be nice to get some fresh air and sit under a tree for a while. We managed to do just that until one of the staff members of the hostel walked down the road, noticed us and scolded us for not remembering to go to breakfast or morning tea. We hadn’t been told when or where these things were talking place and when she heard that she took it upon herself to walk us all directly to lunch right then.

After several days of next to no food due to fever and boisterous GI complaints the food was welcome but in their anxiety to be super accommodating we got fed a king’s portion. We had breaded and fried half chickens (it seemed), a huge pile of boiled bitter greens (much like kale, with garlic and onions chopped into it – Delicious!) and a mountain of rice. We were all groaning after the meal (me most of all) and we rolled down the hill to our rooms. I immediately plopped on my bed to start digesting. Luckily lunch was at 2 and served completely satisfactorily for my lunch and dinner but Walker and Kayla, feeling a sense of obligation to our hosts’ extreme generosity took it upon themselves to endure another massive meal at 6. I was impressed and still absolutely stuffed.

After several more hours the chicken began to settle and I was able to start the packing process. The next morning we were finally heading to our final destination: Mpala!

 

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