Monday, December 12, 2011

Taking the baby out the house
This is a short account of my weekend at my friend's shamba (small holding farm) in Jilore north of Arabuko-Sokoke forest. There's three parts which I wrote at different points throughout the day.

Evening of the 9th
I'm sitting in a shamba near Jilore surrounded by half a dozen kids who are reading every word I write. At the same time cheesy gospel reggae is booming out over the stereo hooked up to a generator. The kids are singing along religiously. Its very cute, but quite strange.
(After this they started drawing in my diary for a while)

Morning of the 10th
I'm currently sitting in the shamba of my friend Mathias from Mwamba. He's just gutted a great a goat to celebrate his baby's 1 month old “coming out of the house” ceremony. When he first invited me to this party I asked, “So you mean the baby hasn't left the house yet?” He just looked at me like I was crazy, why would anyone take the baby out before!? I then tried to ask if there was any significance of taking the baby out, if there was any ceremony. “We roast goat, then relax” So here I am anyway and we'll see if there's anything more to understand.
The generator stereo played until 1 or 2 last night and five of the men in the family finished a demi-john of the potent home made palm wine. If any of you remember the cider I made one year at university it was like that but worse! I politely refused and tried to sleep through the noise

Back at Mwamba on the 11th
In the end the baby was gently carried out and passed between different women in the family. Although there was no ceremony as such, it was a gentle moment of silence as the baby came out.
A little lesson on Giryama hospitality. As you get within eyesight of the house you are going to people run to meet you and your bags are taken and carried for you. Even my water bottle in my hand was fought over by two kids to decide who got to carry it. When you arrive at the homestead someone will carry a chair for you to sit on under a tree and if there's no chair free someone will sit on the floor and give you theirs. After that someone will serve you chai without asking, it's expected, and if for some reason you don't want any or have had enough you leave it and someone will silently remove it. At meals everything is served to where you sit; food water, sauces etc. Before and after the meal a girl will carry a jug of water and a bowl over which you hold your hands as she pours the water so you can wash them. Even because I was there over night I took a spare t-shirt and kikoi for using as a towel. In the morning an old lady had washed these for me and hung them to dry.
It was a very peaceful day. Mostly sitting or lying on a mat under a tree from the cool of the morning to the intense heat of the afternoon. The pace is so relaxed that you have time to watch everything, from how the mama was squeezing clothes for washing, to the gentle flutter of acacia leaves caught in a breeze, to the flowing chatter of people talking in Giryama. It was also special because it really was a family event, where everyone, whether they work in Mombasa, Malindi or Watamu returned to the family farm. It definitely had that character of togetherness which reminded me of our extended family when we gather. In addition it had the timelessness typical of rural African settings, both historically and literally. As I was getting ready to leave I asked out of interest what time it was. The only person with a phone on them merely replied, “Sorry, I haven't set it”. So I left on a motorbike at some point with someone, who drove around an hour to drop me home, only to return to the party, where life goes on with the unhurried rhythms of days, seasons and generations.

Matthias, his wife and his baby Rich

Sunrise over Sabaki river

Gutting the goat, starting with the testicles

Washing clothes

Sifting the rice

The big moment

The baby is out!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tropical Paradise

The post I had written for today was mostly dealing with the frustrations I have with one particular group, but as you should only post on the internet what you would want those people to read I haven't actually typed any of that entry, it is available on email request though! Besides you guys don't really want to hear about those things anyway, so here as some fun stories from tropical paradise.
Now I'm allowed in the water it has changed the whole dynamic for me here. I'm much happier for being able to go to the reef every day and I think I enjoy it more and more each time. There's something so exciting every time I go out because I notice new species, new behaviours and new details that weren't there before. In addition Bob, my supervisor from A Rocha UK, has come down for a few weeks to see how I'm doing and help me move forward. As a result I'm doing a lot of new things, like underwater transects and quadrants, which are darn sight harder in the water than on land!
I've also spread out and visited a lot more sites recently, including the reef crest, a good 2km swim from the beach. This beautiful sand bar marks the edge of the reef lagoon where big oceanic waves crash and the reef slopes gently into the inky depths, where coral and colour cease to be. Just off the reef crest is a very different dynamic to in the lagoon, with cooler and clearer water and obviously much rougher. As a result the fish species are quite different and so it was very exciting to stumble on a whole community of fish I didn't know.
Today Bob and I did a trip around a large portion of the park looking for patch reefs, as much of the park area isn't even mapped. Within this search we also went outside the park to the south over a channel leading from Mida Creek, where tons of water flows in rapid currents on the daily tides in and out the creek. On the other side of this current was an amazing patch reef with the best coral growth I'd ever seen (of course based on only Kenya and Costa Rica). There were much fewer fish than in the park, so fishing was taking its toll, but coral cover was much higher. This shouldn't be, because fish are theoretically supposed to prevent coral from being over grown by algae, so potentially something interesting is going on here, which people haven't studied yet! I certainly want to, just so I can spend time around those patch reefs. Stunning!
So in summary I'm becoming slightly addicted to the reef. The beautiful clusters of Acropora, the dainty butterfly fish and the confusing array of outrageously coloured wrasse. The other day I saw a baby angelfish, which have completely different markings to their parents and are even more outstanding than colourful elders. Even though I've seen them before, I was just as amazed by something as beautiful and, to my human sentiment, as precious as this little guy as the first time I saw one.  
Baby Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Way Forward

Last week I spent at the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) conference in Mombasa. The north part of Mombasa is certainly posh. There are supermarkets bigger than anything in the UK, cinemas, posh bars, flower-lined tarmac roads and impressive houses for about 10-miles stretching north of the city. Whereas in Kasiyani, water is carried for miles to thirsty homes, there it is sprinkled on lawns and golf courses. Going from one extreme to the other was a bit crazy. Its just confusing knowing what your normal point of reference is.
The conference was hosted in the poshest 5* hotel on the Kenyan coast although I stayed in a backpackers a couple of miles away I ate lunch there. There were things I just never see in Kenya like olives, pesto and chocolate cake! It was very cool.
Most importantly though, the conference had 500 delegates from Kenya to South Africa and east to Madagascar, Seychelles, Reunion, Comoros etc. all conveniently meeting effectively on my doorstep to talk about a wide range of fascinating marine ideas. I heard some great talks and got excited by a bunch of new ideas of how to move forward with research e.g. Locally Managed Marine Reserves by local fishermen to coral genetic marks and connectivity between reefs. It was stimulating and great fun to be really nerdy for a week.
A big debate raged in my head all week though, about an issue that I've been aware for a while, but was really brought to a point. I've always been suspicious of academia, e.g. how someone can be paid to look at the social interactions of crabs on a mud flat I do not know. How these people study the crabs next to hungry kids fishing for little silverfish boggles my mind. However, most of the talks at the conference did have practical implications, like plenty of socio-economic studies of poverty and marine resources to understanding the impacts of global warming on coral survival. Nevertheless as I have seen in the Isles of Scilly and with Kenya Wildlife Services, very little of this information reaches conservation on the ground. The actual impact of studies is minimal, so how are they any more important than to read about how crabs make friends?
I have spent the last four years studying and pursuing a career in conservation biology because I wanted to conserve nature, in this case saving coral. To consider that any study I did would be largely irrelevant to this goal was a bit shocking really and that week I even considered forgetting being a scientist and trying a career where I could have more impact. Of course data are a truth which is hard to argue with, so you can prove to people what is happening and demonstrate how it works, but it feels like that truth is not reaching the people who need it to change things. Maybe we need less information collection in the world and more information dissemination. For example, plenty of people understand the dynamics of coral fish ecology and how susceptible they are to overfishing, but none of those people actually are involved with fishing. The people fishing think there are less fish than 20 years ago because they are hiding or Allah wills it so.
There are plenty of great NGOs in the world, including A Rocha who are relaying conservation to people. Somewhere like A Rocha research and practical impact are rolled together in many projects, under one organisation on a local level. At the moment this is the best model I can see. Hopefully in a few years time I will have a great PhD, but also leave healthy coral behind as well.
In other news my permits are through, but I really don't want to celebrate yet it feels too premature! There's certainly a big weight off my heart though. I've had a blissful weekend before reporting to the KWS early Monday morning. On Saturday Heidi and I walked into Watamu for our traditional Saturday morning ice-cream. In the afternoon we played on the beach with Ivy, Belinda's eldest daughter and friends. We jumped waves, dug holes and pretended to be sea monsters. It really reminded me of beach holidays when I was a kid. I don't think I've had fun on a beach like that for ages. To top off a fantastic day we had a bonfire and nyama choma (grilled meat) for Heidi's birthday. Lots of people came, there was a guitar and even night swimming under a bright moon. It was a really perfect day

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

High and Dry

No sooner had I wrote that positive entry than my permits were suspended for some unknown bureaucratic or political reason. Last week I managed to fill time with data entry and other little tasks, but was plagued by growing frustration and not to mention heavy rainfall and long periods without power, (apparently rain causes transformers to short). On Thursday I woke up to torrential rain, no permits and no power, so not even my computer worked. Some how I managed to fill the time, but on Friday morning I awoke to torrential rain, no permits and still no power. What is the point!?
Over the weekend some cool guests showed up including a guy called Jeff who is friends with Heidi, a researcher working from A Rocha at the moment. He was leaving on Tuesday, so I decided if nothing was sorted by then I would go with him for a little safari and trip around. We headed to Mombasa and spent the first night there hanging out in the old town and doing some shopping. On Wednesday we travelled up country to where he was working in Kamba land about 3 hours east of Nairobi on the Western edge of Tsavo East.
Its a really poor area up there. No tourism or industry, just farms of barren red earth, waiting for the rain, which has so far only blessed the coast. Its the kind of place where no one has ever seen a Mzungu, so I attracted a lot of attention where ever I went. Even the prices for piki-pikis (motorbike taxi) are lower than the coast, despite that petrol is the same price everywhere, showing how much poorer people are and how little they live on. I don't know how people make any money, never mind the $1 a day statistic most of them probably fall in.
The place where I stayed in Kasiyani was probably the wealthiest apartments in the place for people like the school teacher opposite. The “apartment” is a single 3mx3m room with corrugated iron roof and cement floor. There are communal long-drops and washrooms. All water comes from a single tap in the compound when it works, or from the tap in the village when it doesn't. We take bucket baths and water is always on the mind as a precious resource. We are the lucky ones, some people on the shambas (farm land) have to walk several kilometres to the nearest water point an then somehow carry the 20 litre containers, I struggled with across our courtyard, back to their homes.
Standing on koppie in Kamba country
Stay tuned for updates from my time in Mombasa at the marine conference. I'm quite behind in writing, but lots of cool stuff happened when I got back down to the coast.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Work begins

Compared to last week everything has gone well. On Monday I went out on patrol with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in the morning (after sitting on the beach waiting an hour for them to come!), and Sgt. Tinga mentioned that the warden was in his office. Immediately after the patrol I went over to his office to speak to him.
Roni had told me that when you speak to an African park manager imagine you are entering his kingdom. Show absolute reverence to his position and only talk of what you can do for him and not the other way around. His desk and outfit certainly fitted this model as does the whole KWS pseudo-military structure. People have titles, like Sergeant Tinga and Corporal Saidi, and khaki uniforms with boots laced up to the shins. As I sat down at this Warden's desk I was quite nervous.
I explained about my study for the coral gardens looking at tourist behaviour and he was excited about that. He was also interested in what baseline data I could bring back for him, so right there and then he approved my access to the park! One interesting stipulation was I had to work with a KWS intern called Anthony, whenever I was doing work.
He studied tourism at Moi University up in Eldoret and said he really wanted to understand more about marine parks. Based on this first week I think he could be a useful partner, he quickly understood the tourist study and added some useful input while we gathered data. He even volunteered to make an excel spreadsheet for data, showing a rare skill for most Kenyans at being confident with a computer. He also has a rare thirst for travel and adventure, telling me storied of camping on the side of Mount Kenya with no water or driving from here to the Suez canal in Egypt! He does however share his Kenyan countrymen's lack of confidence in the water and while better than many, he gets tired much earlier than I'd like. I'm sure he'll get better and better though.
So this week I have been snorkelling around taking pictures of colourful fish and riding around on the patrol boat in the sunshine. Its a rather lovely existence really. On Tuesday I went back to the forest with David Ngala to catch up with his work there and saw an elephant, which was a great treat too. Here's a few of the best photos from the week.
Ngala doing his thing in the forest

Releasing a turtle caught by local fisherman and rescued by a local turtle charity

Playing in the sea during a storm

Peppered Moray I spotted on Friday

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Tattoo and Progress

Hi Guys,
After Nem's request here are some photos of the new tattoo. It's maori ankle band, with maori marine and sun patterns within it, which I arranged to form the band. As you can see Africa is in a lovely sunshine :-). More recently; my permits have come through! I've been out on the reef the last few days its been great. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 30, 2011

I'm Back

As I write this I am sitting in my hammock in the fragrant evening breeze at Mwamba. It was like coming home, when I arrived back here. As the little 16 seater plane flew over Lamu I could see the sand dunes where I had played; driving through Malindi it felt like I had never left. I had a great welcome from everyone here, some who were surprised to see back I think.
I have tentatively started work although as yet the stuff I want to get stuck into is closed off to me. They haven't yet got formal permission for me to go on the reef and so I am land bound. I did get to explore some cool rockpools on super-low tide and play with the new project camera. There were some outrageously coloured starfish there, which was exciting.
Today instead of snorkelling I planned to go our on the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) patrol boat to make notes on tourist numbers and behaviour around the 'coral gardens', as KWS have a concern about too many visitors potentially negatively impacting the coral. However, this morning the KWS sergeant, Mr. Tinga, called and asked did I have money for fuel. I politely explained that I wasn't chartering the boat, but merely tagging along with their usual routine. He said that was fine, so I went off to pack my bag ready to head out. Five minutes later the phone rang with message, “No patrol today because there is insufficient fuel.”
Frustration is a part of life in Africa, as Colin reminded me when I got back. Not able to go snorkelling or on the patrol boat I sat in the office doing what ever silly tasks I could think of, like organising paper references, all the time miserable and angry at the boredom and futility of it. Its tempting not to bother at all and write the day off, but ultimately that would feel even worse. As an impatient person, by even European standards this place is going to teach me some hard, but worthwhile lesson on patience and serenity and a stronger relationship with God as I cry out, “Lord, give me strength!”  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

On a positive note!

I realised that all my entries up to now have been quite negative and mostly about my coping mechanisms in the first month. However, of course, I’ve been doing some really fun things here. My main project is working with a mzee (elder) called David Ngala, who is a self-appointed guardian of the forest. Arabuko-sokoke is 420km² of a forest which once stretched from Somalia to Mozambique and is the only significant chunk left. It is one of Myer’s 25 hotspots for biodiversity and endemicity with 500 plant species, 270 birds and 52 mammals. Even this last chunk is threatened by illegal extraction of bushmeat and trees, most of which is for subsistence by the extremely poor communities around the forest.
                David and I go into the forest looking for evidence of these illegal activities, recording information about stumps or traps we find in order to build up a picture of what’s going on. Once we even met someone carrying building poles out of the forest. David just said that he was guiding me on a bird hike through the forest!
                We see a lot of logged trees, many of which only a small portion is taken and the rest left. It can be really sad to see, but it’s good to remember that at least in Kenya the park has a boundary, some legal status and protection. That’s a lot better than most African countries! We see some traps, but not too many, so thankfully the poverty doesn’t quite stretch to this level of need to provide food from the forest. Also unlike in Western and Southern Africa there is no cultural attachment or prestige about bushmeat, hence there is no illegal trade. What does exist is the insatiable hunger for wood, for building, fuel, charcoal and the carvings sold on the coast.
                We spend all day in the forest. It’s a real privilege to work with him. He’s a wealth of knowledge about the woods and animals and even traditional medicine. No day is complete without some casual racism about wazungu! For example, “why does a mzungu only half fill his cup of tea? So he doesn’t burn his long nose!” lots of funny nasal accent of wazungu speaking Swahili too. Aiesh! He calls me his son, which perhaps is his way of rationalising that he has a mzungu for an assistant. I do everything for him from writing his blog, data entry and report writing. It’s really good.
                Two weeks ago I took a half-way holiday to Lamu for the Maulide festival. Lamu is an ancient Swahili port on an island near Somalia. Maulide is to celebrate the Prophet’s birth and seems to be an extended and very disorganised party. There are people from all around the world, you see Swahilis from everywhere, Somalis, West Africans, Arabs etc. all in their traditional dress. It was nice not to stand out for once! There were donkey races, dhow races, swimming races and lots of singing and drumming. It was quite a spectacle. The one day I walked up to Shella on the north part of the island. In the morning I trekked through the dunes. It was really beautiful; lots of birds, no people and the first natural beauty I had just seen without having to pay or report to the office why I wasn’t paying. That afternoon I just lay on the empty beach at the back  of the island; very indulgent! The day after I went out on a dhow with local fishermen. We set off at 3am in the dark of a moonless night, the phosphorescence in the water was spectacular, The sun rose as we headed out to open water. It was a really basic narrow dugout with two outriggers to give stability. We used single lines and bait to catch predominantly triggerfish and white snapper. We finally got back at 1pm and I was quite sea-sick, sunburnt and tired! It was a good experience though, especially because it was just some local guys. Lamu was amazing, but I paid for it when I got back. After packing a lot into 3 days I got a really bad fever. I was wiped out for the rest of next week!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

World's Apart

Frances' whole family. He is above his dad

As I wrote this in my diary I was surrounded by a rural African scene: A few bird are calling, people are chatting gently as they go about morning tasks. The living space is centred around a couple of mango trees with three corners marked by small mud huts made out of the red earth and thatched with palms. A few chickens and ducks run around as well as a goat or two, while the women cook on open stoves. This is my friend Frances' home.
From the coast is took two hours by matatu. When we arrived I met the whole family, Mum, Dad, his 9 siblings, his older brother's wife and their 3 children too. All living and subsisting on what can be produced from the same small shamba (small holding). Only his older brother has a job as welder and is an important provider for the whole family. Frances is the only one who has completed his high school education and can speak English.
During the journey on the previous day Frances had told me about his time at school. He was sponsored by the ASSETS programme from A Rocha, which helps the poorest families around Arabuko-Sokoke forest to go to high school, which isn't free in Kenya, but essential for any kind of stable employment. The programme provides a bursary for a portion of the fees based on need, which in Frances' case was 60%, so his family had to find the remaining 40%. Unfortunately they couldn't provide this so Frances had to work as well, which often meant doing casual labour at home and missing portions of school. His final mark was a D plain.
After leaving Frances' home we went to Pwani university in Kilifi to look for a college course for Frances. It transpired at Pwani that he needed a C plus minimum to get on these courses. In a very polite way he explained his whole story to the admissions officer, about his hardships and problems of getting to school. Of course the admissions guy couldn't change anything, he just tried to get Frances to understand that, “Unfortunately you can't make orange juice into passion juice.” Frances was devastated; he had his plans dashed. Everyone meets difficulties when they try to achieve in life. Myself, I am struggling to get into Marine Biology because I don't have the diving experience, which is so expensive to build up. For Frances I think it is harder for him to deal with these challenges because no one in his family can give him that support. He even said that when he was working so hard to get money for school people in his village would laugh at him for putting himself through such hard work. We had a really good chat on the matatu home about his future. Nevertheless I couldn't help feeling sad that he had such a long way to climb compared to me.
The next night I was due to give a talk about the ASSETS programme at Turtle Bay, one of the hotels here on the coast in Watamu. Visiting Frances' home had given me great preparation for understanding what was going on. Walking into the hotel was so shocking. Everything was so ornate, clean and beautiful. Compared to what I've seen over the past weeks it was the most luxurious place I felt I'd ever seen. I was led to the pool area where everyone was dinner and gave my speech. The dozen people or so that came were interesting in what was going on, although it was clear that they didn't have a very good idea of what was happening outside the hotel walls. On woman even asked, “What do you mean poverty surely there's loads of money here because of the tourist trade?”
Tourism here is not great. Sure it brings in for some, but much of it doesn't filter through, one reason being many of the tourists never leave their cozy compounds. As a result many locals only see wazungu (white people) walking round in their skimpy clothes, driving in flashy cars with their gold and accessories. In addition many people walk around giving out sweets to children and money to people who look poor. Of course the locals have got wise to this and some exploit this misguided generosity, e.g. there's a guy with elephantisis in his leg, and has been given money many times to get it treated.
Sadly many tourists also want not particularly wholesome holidays and in fact many Italians come for sex holidays so there are many prostitutes and even “spouses” who are hired every year when their “husbands and wives” come to Kenya for their two months. There are also many drugs and other problems as, mostly young local men, try to emulate westeners, funded by petty crime and conning gullible tourists. What this all means is that society on the coast is quite broken and steeped in sin and ordinary Kenyans are constantly reminded of their inferiority as they sturggle to get a slice of Mzungu's money pie. Of course what I've mention are extreme cases and not 100% of the time, but what seems universal is the polarised view that Kenyans have of Wazungu. A Rocha is the only place I've seen so far where the distinction between white and black is almost non-existent, which can have funny consequences outside the centre, Mwamba. One time when shopping with Henry the Indian shop keeper looked at me and said, “get this one for your job boss,” adter a moment to figure out what he meant I pointed to Henry and said, “Hey, he's the boss, I'm the assistant doing the carrying.” At Pwani university the admissions guy said to Frances', “Sorry I can't help, but don't complain; look even your donor has come to the Uni with you!”
The reason for this drawn out explaination of these two world's and their interaction is because for a long time I was very uncomfortable with the situation. I felt a lot of guilt compared to Frances and a lot of embarrassment being lumped with the Italians. After a talk with Roni (wife of the director, Colin) I realised its not the material difference that's the problem it's the inferiority that many Africans feel, or as Roni calls it, the yoke of oppression.
As I'm sure you know, Jesus had a huge heart for the poor and as Christians we need to remove any concept of superiority. In Romans 12 v 10 it says, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves,” and v 16, “Live in harmony with one another, do not be proud; but willing to associate with people of low position. Do not think you are superior” A message repeated so many times in the bible.
In summary the best thing to do is to show humility and kindness (obvious huh?) in a wholesome way, not lording around handing out sweets to the poor African children. It's a a big task, especially when people have so many preconceptions, but one friendly encounter can have great repercussions. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A steep learning curve

I've now been in Kenya for one month and it has been a huge learning curve. Africa is the most culturally distinct place I've ever been too and it's not even that different on a global scale. The first impressions when I arrived from my transfer plane into Malindi was of the colour of the place . Vibrant flowers of pink and red lined the main road where women in brightly coloured lessos walked past red ochre huts and wandering goats. Boys were selling mangos, men chatting on motorbikes waiting for a fare, chickens, cows and goats galore. A typical African snapshot!
The A Rocha centre (Mwamba) itself is a secluded collection of small buildings surrounded by beautiful bushes and flower filled trees just back from the beach. From the centre all you hear is the crash of the Indian Ocean, crickets and the trade winds blowing in the coconut palms.
My first week was blissful coming from the freezing cold of the English January, the heat was delicious. I would stand in the sun and just soak the energy. The beach was incredible and and especially the water, which is warm and clear. Only 15 minutes swim off shore is a coral reef, perhaps not the best in the world, but for me it is just astounding. The colours and diversity of fish and life is so intense that you have to just float and stare in order to take it all in. As I gfot out after my first swim with the evening light sparkling on crystal waters and white coral sands it was one of many times in that first week that I had to pinch myself.
The best part however is the people. A Rocha operates as a community; eating, joking, praying and working together. People care for every part of you, which is such a contrast to other places I've been. I think Christians are particularly good at this. God is so good to me!
The second week I started to discover more about Kenya, which was a steep learning curve. Firstly I saw in the news that the Northern areas of the country were suffering from drought and famine. Although it wasn't happening here on the coast, it was so much more real that when one hears about things like this in the news at home. I also realised how badly the incredible wild areas of Kenya were threatened. I basically had a large injection of the need here in Kenya, which filled me with passion for the work ahead.
After this I began to realise that some aspects of the Kenyan culture were just wrong from my perspective. Through stories and some of my own encounters I came to realise that the pole pole (slowly slowly) pace of life in face just wastes time and oppurtunites. Worst is the way people interact with money here. As a mzungu (white man) they will charge you any price they can get away with. Even when I went to a hair salon that Belinda, the hospitality manager at Mwamba, recommened and called to let them know that I was coming, did they try and rip me off. Maybe many tourists here just pay without realising, but it must annoy some. In addition there is an "aid" mentality here of people expecting something for nothing. Colin, the director of A Rocha Kenya, does really useful work in the area, but the park wardens still expect him to pay; they don't even help! There are so many stories of people not doing their job, or doing the bare minimum but still expecting to be paid. If some Kenyans just tryed a little to provide quality service they would make so much more money, but they just squeeze their assets dry. The worst way that this is expressed, of course, is in corruption. Nothing gets done, because everyone is taking their cut. The other day I saw the govenor of shipping's plush mansions with green lawns sitting above a cracked mud/dust bowl, which used to be a lake dotted with people trying to catch the last few catfish in the drying waters.
Just inland from the thin coastal strip with its tourism money is extreme poverty. The other day we were doing a bird count. The surrounding hills were bare of bushes and the numerous skinny cattle tramped about in the basin which should have been full of water. In the middle of this environmental disaster a group of children were pulling a mosquito net (probably donated by Western NGO concerned for their health) through the shallow water trying to catch fish. I was told that these tiny sprat only 1 inch long would be dryed and eaten whole. I just stood on the bank looking at the stinking black mud on their skinny legs and prominent ribs not really knowing what to say or do. Finally in a bizarre act of compassion I jumped into the water with them, to which they laughed and screamed with delight. Only after was I told the water is full of disease like Bilharzia.
Whoose fault is it these kids are scrapping food from disease ridden mud? Is it colonialism which suppressed the African psyche not to think for the future and just squeeze resources or is it corruption which prevents any meaningful organisation of people and resources?
My work here is also frustrating because there are so many little problems which get in the way of work. For one the national grid in Kenya is extremely hazardous with power cuts every day and on Thursday's there is no power because of rationing. The internet is through a mobile phone dongle only, for the whole centre. It used to come on a high speed cable, but the cable was dug up and stolen for the price that Chinese scouts would pay for the copper. Perhaps this could be a worrying hint for the African continent. Selling their future for pittance to a new colonial era of China. Despite it taking a long while trying to understand all what's going on here it is a great learning curve, one which is teaching me a lot of patience. Power goes out ... change tack. When I do sucees with something it's all the more sweet!