Thursday, October 22, 2015

Benjo in Kenya at last!

Watamu is a pretty insignificant place in the grand scheme of things. I mean anywhere is if you think about it. Why should one particular place mean anything in the grand scheme of the planet and all its people and places? However, because of whatever forces of fate I ended up here for 3 years of my early 20s. It was where I learnt many of the secrets of coral reefs, its where my perspective of the world and my place in it was drastically altered, and it’s a place full of friends and memories. After 18 months of being back in the UK, I’ve come back to Watamu for a brief few weeks to finish up some aspects of my research and PhD work. While here the past, present and future have all sort of blended together and given me a birds eye view of my life at the moment, which I needed to get down on paper.
            Arriving in Watamu initially was a little underwhelming, because obviously I recognised everything and I guess I just slipped back into looking around like I had never left. It was absolutely great getting to Mwamba and receiving this joyous reception of familiar faces of my old work colleagues and friends, but again this funny feeling of never having really left. After my first swim at the beach I stopped by the little fire shelter in the dunes and then it sort of hit me; all of the past experiences, memories and significant life steps I had taken within this area. It was like reconnecting with a side of myself I had almost forgotten in the UK. Over the coming days I met so many people, on the road, on the beach, that took me back to those times and that feeling of never really having left allowed me to almost touch my younger self and remember vividly where I have come from.
My PhD supervisor David on the left, colleague and fellow fish nerd Melita, and fellow PhD student Juliet on the right, out on fieldwork with me.
            A couple of days later I did my first workshop with local Kenya Wildlife Services personnel and other people in Watamu doing marine conservation work. In the build up to it I was really struggling to force myself to prepare the presentation and remember why I was out here in Kenya, when I should definitely be at home working on my PhD. However, during the presentation and the response I got from people afterwards it hit me that things had come full circle. All those plans and all the legwork we had put in from 2011 and onwards were now bearing fruit. People at the presentation congratulated Peter and I on the ‘amazing findings’ we had made through our research, which I guess in the long labourious process of finding, had escaped me a bit. Presenting the work back to people reminded me why I had started this whole crazy process in the first place and I think has probably given me a great little burst of enthusiasm to get through the final stages.
Presenting in Watamu
            So being back has crystallised a bit of my recent past, and through that has also helped me see where I am now. For one, I realise how completely burnt out I am with the PhD now. I am so so so so so ready to finish! But no major news there; I think this feeling is pretty standard at this stage in the process. I also realise actually how happy I am in Oxford. Quite a lot of people I’ve bumped into have asked me would I be coming back. On the one hand I am reminded by some of things I do not miss since leaving Kenya. Since being back getting a tummy bug, struggling to arrange meetings, organising transport etc. reminded me how tired I was with Watamu by the time I left and no amount of tropical sunshine and crystal clear water could cure. However being able to pop out for a quick lunchtime snorkel, while you are at work is not to be snubbed at! 

                But where does that lead me now? On my last day in Kenya, Peter and I were presenting to the heads of departments at Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters in Nairobi. A row of very important men in sharp suits surveyed us as we began our presentation, and I was struck by the fact that somehow I had ended up presenting my work to the highest level of governmental wildlife conservation in the country and also how young and under-dressed I felt! The presentations went down well, and these top guys congratulated us on our good work.  When I hand in my thesis in a couple of month’s time, I will be a qualified marine scientist, ready to start my career. This trip has helped me see that I can actually do this thing and that all the leg-work has been worth it. Exactly what that means for the future though I have no idea yet! For now I am just looking forward to seeing people back home and getting my teeth stuck into my last chapter.