I ate a KitKat the other night. I think my mouth melted with joy. That’s all. Happy March!
Hello, world! So much has happened in the past week.
Last Wednesday we had our second Non-Program Day (our second day off here). We had the option to beading and make bracelets with Mamas or spend some time with Maasai warriors. I chose the warriors and we started the morning going on a walk outside of the camp. They pointed out different plants and the different purposes they serve. One of them you pull of a stem, bite the end of it till it becomes soft and bristly and you use it to brush your teeth. Its amazing how resourceful they are with every part of the land.
Then we did some spear throwing. Spear throwing is really big among the men in Masaai culture. Sometimes they may have to spear a lion to protect themselves, other times they just play around and can see who can throw the farthest (boys will be boys). The warriors had a good time laughing at all of us trying to throw.
Marni and I throwing spears
Then they danced and sang for us. The men with long hair like to flip all of their hair around while dancing, so I jumped in and joined the fun.
In the afternoon we went to a super touristy lodge right near Amboseli National Park (where we’ve done research). It was super nice, with a big beautiful pool. We all relaxed, got some local beer, played in the pool and took funny GoPro videos underwater. Our entire group felt sad that that is the only experience and impression of Africa many people get.
On Thursday we spent all day processing the data we collected for the census in Amboseli. In the evening our wonderful wonderful center director, Okello, threw us a goat slaughtering. We missed the actual slaughtering part because we were in class, but we got there while they were skinning it. I got to help skin it. I don’t know how I feel about it, but I couldn’t say no to the experience. Everyone went back to class but Marni and I stayed back to Okello. He was telling us about how some locals consider raw goat kidney a delicacy and love to eat it. Basically I would say he was egging us on. So Marni and I both went for it. It wasn’t that bad – it tasted salty and fresh. Picture proof:
Raw goat kidney, pre consumption
Then after class ended we went back to the goat roast and sat around the fire while it was roasting. The tradition of a goat roast is that the youngest male in the group has to eat the goat testicles. But the girls weren’t satisfied that – we wanted to try it to! So I am now proud to say I have not only eaten a raw goat kidney, but goat balls as well.
Sam, Emily & I thrilled to be eating goat
Friday we went to the Kimana Wildlife Sanctuary to identify different animals based on their tracks and dung. We walked around on foot, and got pretty close to some zebras. I proclaimed this day as D-Day aka Dung Day. We had worksheets with images of all different types of mammal poop (spoiler alert, they all look the same. Thankfully we had a guide there to help us). I’d like to think I’m an expert on poop now.
Saturday was community service day, and we visited a primary school in Kimana. My group taught English to class seven, which were 14 year olds. They were so excited that we were there, which felt pretty awesome. After class we set the camera up on self timer and took a goofy picture.
For the rest of the afternoon we ran around with them, danced, played soccer and took LOTS of pictures. All of the girls were amused with the American girls hair. They all have buzzed haircuts, and they thought our hair was “beaaaauutiful” and loved braiding it. We told them they THEY are the ones with beautiful hair.
My friend Peter and I had a really awesome talk with one of the teachers at the school. For anyone who doesn’t know, TOMS is a shoe company who donates a pair of shoes to a child in need every time you purchase a pair. Peter and I noticed that a ton of kids at the primary school were running around with TOMS on, so we asked a teacher about it. He explained that once a year they get a shipment of TOMS shoes for all the kids at the school and that it really helps them out, because most kids there can’t afford shoes. He said that all primary schools in Kenya receive them once a year, but he said this as if he was a little unsure. Regardless this was pretty amazing, because I’ve known about TOMS for years but have never gotten to visit somewhere where they are donated.
I’ve had my reservations about TOMS shoes in the past. For example, when they come into a local town and donate hundreds of shoes, the local cobblers are then totally out of business. That not only hurts the cobblers but also the local economy. I asked the teacher is this hurts the local cobblers business. He said that none of the kids can afford shoes from the cobbler anyway, and when their TOMS get holes in them they take them to the cobbler, so the cobbler still gets business. He explained that he was EXTREMELY thankful to TOMS shoes, because kids can’t attend school without shoes.
Last night a bunch of my friends and I posted on the couch, set up my computer on a chair across from us, and watched the entire Beyonce visual album. Claire (fellow Beyonce adorer) and I dropped all of our Bey knowledge on them. I loved how into it everyone was. I also gave one of my professors a few Beyonce songs and he said he actually likes them. I have successfully convereted a Kenyan into a Beyonce fan. In exchange for the Beyonce songs he gave me two “music videos” that he was in the background of. Gold. Pure gold.
Today we had a field lecture on top of the most beautiful hill. The sky was clear and we had a perfect view of Kilimanjaro, as well as all the hills, homes and goats down below. We set up our chairs, sat under the sun and listened to our professor. This is how class should always be. Tomorrow we are doing our Kenyan homestay and I CAN’T WAIT.
All in all, 3 weeks in and I’m a happy happy happy gal.
On Saturday, we went back to Amboseli National Park to do the animal census for the Kenya Wildlife Service. We saw a bunch of animals, but I’m devoting this post to one animal in particular.
These pictures were taken on our drive to the park. The car is on the left of the picture, showing you just how close we were to the elephant.
Emily, Mary and I popped through the top of a Land Cruiser
Here, I’ll throw in a picture of two ostriches.
I keep telling the drivers that my dad taught me how to drive stick, and that I can drive us around in the Land Cruisers. It hasn’t worked yet, but I’m gonna keep trying and I’ll keep ya posted.
Do you think I like elephants?
Happy late Valentines Day! Ninakupenda means ‘I love you’ in Swahili.
The first week we got here, the SAM (student affairs manager) said that we could form committees if we wanted to. Some students started a coffee committee and bought local Kenyan coffee to brew for breakfast. Emily and I created the Sunshine Committee (shout out to EK), to keep up positive moral around camp. Em and I organized a secret Valentines Day exchange. We wrote names and put them in a bowl, and made everyone pick a secret Valentine.
Surprisingly, everyone has gotten really into it. Everyone has made cards for their secret Valentine and left them in each other mailboxes, and a lot of people put money in the duka (store) under their Valentines name so that their Valentine could buy a chocolate bar or soda or something.
My Valentine left me an adorable card in my mailbox and an avocado that they must have gotten from the chefs. I luv me sum avocado.
Even though they don’t really celebrate in Kenya, the crazy chef Arthur put flowers in his chef hat this morning to “be Valentines-y”. Adorable.
Yesterday was our first day of fieldwork! We were all so excited to go on our first safari in Amboseli National Park. It was pretty much all of my childhood dreams come true. I’m not gonna lie, I did tear up a few times.
It’s really wonderful and inspiring to be around people who are as big as animal geeks as I am. It’s nice having people to talk about my animal interests with. It’s not that my friends at home don’t care about hearing about my interests, but I’ve learned that its totally different and an amazing feeling to be with people who share the same enthusiasm.
So anyway we had to do a class exercise that required us to name the animal, count how many of them there were, determine their age class, determine their gender identify their habitat, and note their social behavior and the activity that they were participating in (like grazing, resting, running, etc). I’m still working on identifying gender and differentiating between similar species. A Tompsons Gazelle and a Grants Gazelle just look so stinkin similar to me. Also, this is the most scienc-y thing I have ever done in my life. I’m just a communications girl in a science world over here.
See, I’m science-y now.
We took the top hutches off the Land Cruisers and got to pop through the roof while driving around and doing our observations. It was straight out of National Geographic. I’ve never felt more cool in my life.
Even before we got into Amboseli, we passed an elephant and some giraffes. Inside the park we saw SO many things. Elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, warthogs, hyena, hippos, gazelles, zebra, ostrich, buffalo and impala. I know have a newfound love for warthogs (or in Swahili ‘pumba’). They’re just so cute and ugly at the same time. They’re also super skiddish, and would run away like little cuties whenever we approached them. They’re pretty underrated, and I think that everyone/animal should have someone backing them up. So pumba, I’m here for you.
My biggest regret thus far was not buying a zoom lens for my camera. Grrrr.
The counting was a lot more difficult than I expected. Most animals were hanging out in herds. One time we counted a herd of 98 wildebeest. The counting will continue tomorrow as we get to do THE COOLEST THING IN THE WORLD. Tomorrow we’re going BACK to the Amboseli National Park and will be counting mammals. Our research will add to the Kenya Wildlife Services census. The work that we do will be contributing to a GOVERNMENTAL CENSUS of animals in the park. It’s wild.
You know in Princess Diaries when Princess Mia is obsessed with the idea of a perfect first kiss? She says that according to the movies, all of the best first kisses are so good that your foot naturally pops. Then when she gets her first kiss her foot pops but gets tangled in nets because she’s in some weird beach shack. Well, being in Amboseli yesterday felt like my foot pop moment.
Em & I
(I got some better pictures today in Amboseli. Will upload them sometime when I can get a strong enough internet connection)
Yesterday (Feb 10) was my favorite day here yet. After our Swahili and Social Culture class we visited a boma. A boma is a local Masaai community that consists of a bunch of homes. Masaai women are called “mamas”. It doesn’t matter if they are ACTUALLY a mom or not. They wear beautiful fabric and tons of jewelry.
When we got there they stood in a line and sang a song for us, then broke into Masaai dancing. This dancing consists of jumping up and down as high as they can. They started jumping towards us like jumping beans, grabbed our hands and had us jump around with them. It was really moving and wonderful that they were ready to accept us into their culture with open arms.
The Mamas have a strong connection with SFS. Since they live a 4 minute drive away, SFS always brings students there to see and experience the local culture. Mamas spend time beading, making jewelry and sewing fabric. When SFS comes it really means a lot to them, because they get to sell all the things they make, and in turn support their families. It is not common for a group of 30 people to come to their boma just to buy things, so this really supports the local community.
They all sat in a circle and laid out their little stations of goodies.
As soon you as you walked up to one, they would start throwing necklaces around your neck or putting bracelets on your wrists. I bought some fabric from this Mama.
The kids who live in the boma were standing far away, just staring at us. I don’t think they get to see white people a lot, and we really terrified some of them. I started saying ‘Hello, my name is Sarah’ in Sawhili to this little girl who was a solid 30 feet away from me. She immediately burst into tears and her brother had to carry her out of sight. Great. Also, everyone here is totally amused by the heard of white people that all travel together. When they see us, they scream “mzungu”, which means ‘white’.
Update on the sling shots: They have backfired on two of my friends, so Sam and Anna now have blisters on their hands. Meanwhile, the baboons are more in control as ever. But don’t worry about me, I know how to operate my weapons.
-I’m obsessed with my Swahili professor, Daniel. He thinks he can do Taekwondo. He lies all the time to try to trick us, so I tried to trick him and told him I have 7 kids. He said he’s a biologist and he can tell when people lie. I took that as a challenge, and made him play 5 rounds of two truths and a lie with me. He picked my lie out every. single. time.
-Playing soccer in Africa doesn’t make you better at the sport, but it does make it way more fun. Especially when the sun is setting in the horizon.
-Everything is a lot bigger and a lot more beautiful here. The bugs all seem oversized. Like they were put in that machine from “Honey I Blew Up the Baby”. Slugs, caterpillars, beetles, you name it.
-We are encouraged to write down food suggestions in a box for the chefs. I was going to write tacos. I didn’t even have to, we’ve had tacos TWICE since we’ve been here. BOO YAH. Then when I was on cook crew I told the chefs we should have pizza. Arthur, the chef, said he didn’t know how to make pizza. The next night for dinner we had pizza. They are wonderful. And crazy.
Disclaimer: This was supposed to be posted Feb. 7th, but East African Internet did not allow that to happen. I also wanted to upload a lot more pictures, but it was IMPOSSIBLE. I tried probably 30 times.
Today was my first full day in Kenya at the Kilimanjaro Bush Camp (aka where we live). We landed two nights ago around 9 at Kilimanjaro International Airport and a wonderful wonderful mane named Moses from SFS was there to pick us up.
This is Moses at the duka (‘shop’ in Swahili), which is located in the chumba (‘room’ in Swahili). The duka is Moses’ baby. He’s the one who works it. They sell snacks, chocolate, soda, shirts, all kinds of little things.
This time I had no help carrying my bags, so I wore my backpacking backpack on my back, my daypack on my front, my duffle bag over my left shoulder and pulled my huge rolley bag with my right hand. I’m surprised I didn’t topple over. We drove to a hotel in Moshi, Tanzania for the night. When I woke up in the morning, THIS was my view. Un. Real.
We got up early and drove to the field station in Kenya. We were driving between 8 and 11 am, so it wasn’t 100000000% degrees outside. I noticed that everyone walking on the side of the road was wearing huge puffy jackets, or fleece. If its 80 degrees outside is everyone cold since they’re so used to the scorching heat? Moses was wearing a fleece and I asked him if he was hot in it. His only explanation was “I’m getting there”. Such a way with words that Moses. Besides the wearing a coat in 80 degree weather thing, a lot of the landscape and wild goats/cows wandering aimlessly reminded me so much of India.
We got to KBC and the other 25 students all welcomed us by holding their arms up over their heads like an arch and making us run through. The camp is so cool. There’s one big room, called the chumba (which means ‘room’ in Swahili), where we have class and eat all of our meals. Attached to one side of the chumba is the kitchen, and the library is on the other side. Then there are 10 bandas outside of the chumba in a semi-circle where we all live. I live with 2 other girls, Molly and Megan. We live in the banda called duma, which means cheetah. I learned to tuck in the mosquito net hanging above my bed under my mattress when I go to sleep so the bugs don’t get in.
A lot of things at the field station are kind of summer camp-y. We all wash our own dishes, and rotate being on cook crew. Cook crew gets to the kitchen at 6:20 am (!!!!!!!) to help the chefs cook breakfast. You’re supposed to flick a switch to turn on the hot water in the shower. There is no hot water. It’s a myth here.
Also, there are baboons that run around all of the field station. They think they own the place. They apparently will steal things from people and could sneak into our bandas if we don’t lock the doors. SFS is providing us with slingshots to defend ourselves against them. You think I’m kidding. I’m not.
Today all of our professors gave us little orientations about our classes. They’re all so hilarious and enthusiastic. We all have to pay extra attention while we’re getting used to their East African accents though. After orientation stuff a bunch of us went on a walk around the running trail that circles around the camp. It had just finished raining and Kilimanjaro was poking out of the clouds. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of Kili, so I’ll apologize in advance for all the pictures about her that are about to come.
Oh and today I learned that in Swahili that grandma and tomato are the same word. I don’t remember what the actual word is, but that’s not the important part. The important part is that you can say “My tomato got this shirt for me!”
Also I learned that all that singing in the beginning of the first scene of the Lion King, which sounds like nonsense (you know, “aaaahhhsimbetayaaahh”) ACTUALLY HAS MEANING TO IT. MIND. BLOWN.
It’s Zulu, a South African dialect. Here’s the translation. Enjoy.
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba — Here comes a lion, Father
Sithi uhm ingonyama — Oh yes, it’s a lion.
Nants ingonyama bagithi baba — Here comes a lion, Father
Sithi uhm ingonyama — Oh yes, it’s a lion.
Ingonyama — Lion
Siyo Nquoba — We’re going to conquer
Ingonyama — Lion
Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala — A lion and a leopard come to this open place.
My adventure is off to a shambly start, but I can’t say I would expect anything less.
I was supposed to fly out of Richmond to JFK yesterday, February 3rd. Apparently NYC decided that would be a good time to snow everyone in, and very few planes were flying into the city. My flight got cancelled. My mom and I (meaning my mom – thanks Momma) tried to find a way for me to get out of the country. We tried seeing if I could fly through ATL, but all flights were booked. I’M STUCK IN AMERICA.
Alas, now I am taking all of the same flights just 24 hours later. Heres my itinerary:
Richmond (12:30 pm) — New York (1:56 pm)
New York (5:55 pm) — Amsterdam (7:20 am)
Amsterdam (10:15 am) — Kilimanjaro (8:50 pm)
You can do the math for the amount of time I’ll be traveling, because I don’t think I want to know.
The extensive packing list for this trip required a lot of large every day items, such as sheets, a pillow, a sleeping bag and rain boots, but also obscure things like a headlamp and Tupperware. I (again I mean my mom and I — mostly my mom) crammed all of this stuff into 4 bags. FOUR. BAGS.
1/15 – SPECIAL TOPICS DAY
One of our group members, Dionne Buck, visited the Caribbean Broadcast Corporation. As a Broadcast Journalism major, she chose to explore print and broadcast journalism in Barbados and how the two compare to those in the United States for her special topic project. During her tour of the facility, she and another student had the opportunity to be featured on the pop and calypso radio station, 98.1 FM with DJ and show host Kashi.
At first Dionne thought she would just gather information from Kashi and learn about radio in Barbados. Before she and her peer knew it, they were handed a pair of studio headphones and were interviewed on the air. It was an unexpected experience, but it proved to be fun, fulfilling, and inspiring. On her way out of the station, Dionne got called back to meet the host of The Mid-Morning Mix. As she set foot in the studio, Dionne was whisked away to hair and makeup, and in the blink of an eye she was rushed on to the set and put in front of the camera for the live production. Although she was nervous, Dionne loosened up in a matter of seconds and enjoyed the interview. She spoke of the Barbados program and the several topics she and her peers are studying here in Barbados. After a fulfilling day at the CBC, Dionne and her peer had more than enough information to use in our project presentation.
Another one of our members, Mark Holmes, went to the Barbados Olympic Center and met with Sasha Sutherland to discuss the state of professional sports in Barbados. Having been a former well rounded athlete, Mark chose to investigate sports in Barbados for his special topic project. Sutherland not only spoke about sports here in Barbados, but also spoke of sports throughout the West Indies. She gave Mark along with his project member a tour of the facility, which features a museum of past Bajan Olympians. The museum also has memorabilia of the most renowned athletes and historical awards. Sutherland focused on informing Mark of the anti-doping committee in Barbados. This committee and initiative is also taught to children in schools across Barbados. Apart from anti-doping, children are taught the Olympic history and other essential sporting facts. Having investigated the history of Olympic sporting in Barbados, Mark has ample information for his special topic presentation.
1/16 – ST. NICHOLAS ABBEY & BARBADOS WILDLIFE RESERVE
To learn about the history of the St. Nicholas Abbey (one of just three Jacobean architectural structures in the world), our class viewed a film that was still intact from 1935. After sitting in a desk drawer and being forgotten about for decades, the footage was rediscovered and put to good use. We got the sense of going back in time to see what Barbados and St. Nicholas Abbey were like long ago. We saw scenes from activities on the boat to Bridgetown, Bridgetown’s port, and how sugar cane was cut down in the fields. During our tour, we were all able to witness how a steam generated grinder produced sugar cane syrup, and we had the opportunity to try pieces of sugar cane! It was really sweet and a bit awkward to bite, but refreshing for a hot and sunny day. After witnessing how sugar cane gets crushed, we participated in a tour of the plantation house. One part of the tour that stood out to our group was the “gentleman’s chair”. This chair contained so many things, including a foot rest, a table for food, a cup holder, a rack to rest one’s newspaper on, an attached lamp, and even wheels to transport the person sitting from room to room. We’ve never seen anything like it!
After St. Nicholas Abbey, we all ventured to the Barbados Wildlife Reserve. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but we soon fell in love! Our group was not given much warning regarding what animals were in this reserve, so we were very surprised to see how many there were. The first sign of wildlife we saw were tortoises on the paths. They were much quicker than they looked! Next, we heard monkeys playing in some nearby trees and scurrying around on the fences. Other animals spotted were deer, mara, caiman, birds, and snakes. None of the animals were in a cage (except for the snakes), yet they were all able to coexist and live peacefully amongst each other without barriers. Some of us walked over to see the deer, and only a couple (out of around 20 in the area) scampered away from us. The others were very comfortable with human presence and remained calm as we got closer to their area.
1/17 – NORTH POINT & ANIMAL FLOWER CAVE
Today we went to North Point for our challenge activity. North Point is the northernmost point of the small island of Barbados. It provides some of the most beautiful views we have seen so far. The large swell crashed up against the cliffs, spraying water more than 100 feet into the air. The combination of the waves, cliffs, and the deep blue color of the ocean was breathtaking. We all stood there in silence as we gazed off the cliff. After some time passed, we went into the shack where we would buy our tickets for the Animal Flower Cave. When we walked inside the shack, we saw all of the walls and ceilings covered with business cards, pictures, and signed monies from around the world. It was crazy to see how so many people from so many places had come to that spot in Barbados and left their mark.
We descended down into the Animal Flower Cave after receiving our tickets. It was an extremely steep staircase, which some of us almost fell down. Once we made it down the staircase, we were in a room with large puddles and rocks scattered around. On the outer walls, there were large holes that overlooked the ocean that were up to 40 feet in diameter. This gave us a window out from the cave allowing us to admire the ocean from within this amazing cave. We continued through a couple areas that gave views to the ocean and made it to the final room in the cave. The room was significantly bigger than the other areas and had a large pool of water which some of us swam in. Some of the waves were so big that they were breaking through the hole of the cave and into the pool of water, so we had to be careful not to get knocked over.
We finished our tour and needed to find a way back to our hotel. Since we were way out in the country and didn’t want to get lost, we decided to ask for directions. The local we talked to said that we could walk down the road and wait for a bus or take a two hour walk along the cliffs and then wait for a bus. Naturally, we decided to take the long route so we could see even more of the heart stopping views. As soon as we started the hike, it started pouring rain but we didn’t let that dampen our spirits. We put our swimsuits on and trekked on through the rain, which eventually blew over. Along the walk, we saw blowholes, cliffs, massive waves, and secluded beaches all resembling beauties of their own. We couldn’t stop taking pictures once the rain stopped. Needless to say, we were all glad we decided to take the less traveled path to get back to our hotel.
1/18 – BARBADOS NATIONAL TRUST HIKE
Two of our group members, Brian Serany and Katie Beech, went on a hike near the east coast of the island. They were the only two who were willing to wake up for the starting time: 6:00 a.m. There were approximately 60 people, both locals and tourists alike, surrounding them. The excitement was all they felt. The hike they chose to go on had around 30-40 people and intended to be 10-12 miles long at a medium-slow pace, but the pace was much quicker than they expected. On a paved surface, the quick pace was doable. However as soon as the trail went through terrain, their pace slowed and they started to lag behind compared to the faster and more prepared hikers. Mud clung to their shoes as they trekked through sugar cane fields. All of a sudden, they turned a corner and saw two incredible sights. The first was a huge and steep hill that they needed to walk up. The second was a beautiful and full rainbow that began and ended on each end of a gigantic hill. Automatically filled with motivation from the rainbow, Brian and Katie conquered the hill nonstop as almost all of the locals on the trip fell behind them. After walking around the top of the hill on roads for a good amount of time, the leaders of the group suddenly turned into grass and straight down a cliff. After watching some of the experienced hikers maneuver down the brush and sharp rocks, Brian and Katie slowly got the hang of climbing down. The leaders of the group were very helpful and offered helping hands to get them safely down the cliff. The gigantic hill and cliff were the midway point of the hike, and after that, the group went back by walking through more sugar cane fields, roads, and old pastures. There were moments of pure happiness with beautiful surroundings, but also anxiety about not knowing how much further it would be until the end. While walking in fields, Brian and Katie were offered a piece of sugar cane! They were unsure how to eat it at first, but after learning the proper technique, the two loved every refreshing bite. Throughout the entire excursion, every person was very friendly and offered smiles, advice, and encouraging remarks. Finally, Brian and Katie reached the parking lot where they were originally dropped off to begin the hike. Although unsure about how to get home after Dr. Walker dropped them off at 6:00 a.m., a random friend they made on the hike offered to take them back to the St. Lawrence Gap, where their hotel was. Sitting in the car felt glorious after a 9-mile hike through terrain. The experience was unforgettable.
Dionne Buck, Jessica Jones, Katie Beech, Mark Holmes, and Brian Serany
That’s right. Tomorrow.
Tomorrow I’ll be leaving to spend 4 months in Africa. I’m studying Wildlife Management through The School For Field Studies in Kenya & Tanzania. That means that I’ve been running around all day preparing last minute things and packing my bags, right?
Wrong. It’s 5:12 pm and so far today I have spent an hour and a half on the phone with Apple because iMessages weren’t sending on my phone, and I finished the last Harry Potter movie (who knew Snape was good after all? Not me).
For the most part, all of my stuff is laid out just waiting to be stuffed into my suitcases. So here goes nothing!