Amboseli Field Component

Hujambo rafiki wangu!  Ninaitwa MacKenzie Juda na mimi na Meera na Darcy na Simon tungependa kusema kuhusu safari yetu katika Amboseli!

We had just arrived back from our three-week long urban homestays the day before we left for our field component in Amboseli.  Slightly exhausted from our choice of activities upon reuniting on the compound the previous night, we packed up the vehicles (three safari land rovers) and headed off for yet another week away from “home.”  I was excited: we were told that after spending two months trying to prove that we did not come to Kenya for purposes of tourism, we would finally have the opportunity to be tourists.  I can’t say any of us have ever thought it would be cool to be tourists in Kenya, but I, for one, took this to heart (see outfit in picture below).

After about four to five hours of watching the scenery go by and listening to my iPod (if you need expert advice, I highly recommend The Lizzie McGuire Movie Soundtrack for ANY road trip or long car ride that you take), we finally made it to Kibo Safari Camp!  The first order of business was to find someone to share a tent with for the week and move in.  These tents were unlike any tent I have ever stayed in in my entire life: firstly, they had floors.  Secondly, they had beds.  Thirdly, they had electricity (for certain hours of the day).  Fourthly, they had indoor plumbing.  Compared to our stay in Tanzania, we were living in luxury.

Mack Daddy getting stoked about the tent

Mack Daddy getting stoked about the tent

Normally I’m sure many of us would have stayed in our tents for a bit longer to relax and gush about how awesome they were or maybe even jump on the beds, but we were all on a mission: we were headed to the pool.  To everyone’s heartbreak, however, the pool was closed for the night.  To cope with such sadness, a couple of us ventured off to the bar where we met a man named Maurice who would become our friend for the week (DISCLAIMER: I’m 21 so I can legally drink in any country… OTHER DISCLAIMER: SLU did not cover our bar tabs).  Thus began the start of a weekly ritual; we would sit outside at our favorite table looking out over Mt. Kilimanjaro because I forgot to mention that WE WERE RIGHT THERE.  Along with Maurice, Samuel and Gona were serving us at meals all week, and they were incredibly hospitable.  I don’t always gush about the places I sleep, but when I do, I mean it: if you ever decide to go on a vacation to a safari camp in Kenya, you won’t regret Kibo.

After an evening of luxury, it was time to get to work: when we woke up in the morning, we got ready to head out and interview some farmers.  When I saw this activity on the itinerary, I was anticipating going to some sort of conference center where there would be farmers who had signed up and designated time to be interviewed by us.  However, what we experienced was even more amazing.  All of the vehicles parked on the side of the road after about a half hour of driving, and we met about six men who were our designated translators for the activity.  We then split into groups of three, were assigned a translator, and headed off in different directions where we would look for farms where people were working and ask one of the workers if they were willing to be interviewed.  I was amazed at how welcoming people were when a group of strangers approached them to ask about any hardships they may face with water, wildlife, etc.  No one my group asked refused an interview, and one of the men said he wished he could talk to us longer.  After each interview, we would hand the farmer a bag of sugar and tea leaves as a token of our appreciation and head off to the next farm.

Upon completing the interviews, we headed back to the camp for a quick lunch and then headed right back out for a visit to a cultural Manyatta, where we would learn about the Maasai culture.  Cultural Manyattas are catered to tourists, and Sinnary warned us before heading there that our Maasai homestays would differ greatly from these (I’ll let Simon elaborate on that later).  We were greeted by Maasai women singing and dancing and then each would grab a student or two to join in the circle.  The women draped beads over many of the females, but we were told upfront not to get too attached to these beads as they were not gifts and we would have to pay for them if we wanted to keep them.  A man wearing a Shuka led us into the Manyatta and discussed many cultural aspects of the Maasai.  What I remember him saying was that the Maasai feed on meat, milk, and blood (which made me incredibly nervous for the homestay) and that they rely on traditional medicine, showing us some of the plants that are used to heal stomachaches and pregnancy woes.  After that, half of us went to sit with the men for a question and answer session while the other half did the same with the women.  Of course, we had questionnaires already prepared for us as a guide to what questions we should ask.  Before we left, the women rushed us into the market to sell us their beadwork.  We came to learn later on in the week that selling beadwork is the only source of income for the women of cultural Manyattas; the admittance fees for visitors go directly to the men.  Because of this, every woman was trying to drag us to her shop.

Wei decorated in Maasai beads (she ended up buying the headpiece… We insisted)

Wei decorated in Maasai beads (she ended up buying the headpiece… We insisted)

To finish off a busy day, we had another evening watching the sunset and Big Kili, and the popcorn kept coming.

Darcy hapa, na ninasema kuhusu safari yetu katika Amboseli National Park!  Our third day in the Amboseli region was dedicated to yet another classically “touristy” adventure: game drives throughout the National Park!!!  As a Conservation Biologist major with a thing for lions and other large mammals, African fauna is what first got me interested in this continent.  Needless to say, I was pumped out of my MIND.  Of course, taking Sinnary’s Conservation and Management in East Africa course this semester has opened my eyes to the pros and cons of national parks and all the crazy conservation methods involved in saving species, often for the sake of tourism, so it was really interesting to be a tourist in Amboseli while simultaneously learning the effects of tourism… I was still super pumped, though.

We woke up early to increase our chances of sick animal sightings and drove the 1 minute journey to Amboseli’s gates; not only is Kibo great in terms of glamping facilities, but it’s conveniently located, too!  After providing gate security with our passports and student ID’s, the SLU KSP rolled on inside, half our bodies popping out the open roofs on our three safari jeeps, sunscreen on and cameras ready to see some wildlife.  The first thing I noticed was the vastness of the land within the park—it was all green scrubby grass atop an expanse of flat dry dirt, interrupted occasionally by trees and bushes, Big Kili dominating the left side of our far sighted vision, and perfect clouds distributed throughout the crazy blue sky.  And within that vastness, almost immediately we spotted zebras, some birds, and Thompsons gazelles.  As we continued driving, more zebras in larger numbers and with babies were seen, as well as grand gazelles, wildebeests, ostriches, cape buffaloes, and giraffes.  Because about 70% of Kenya’s wildlife exists outside of park boundaries, we had actually already seen some of these animals prior to entering the park—including a giraffe family with a baby which crossed the road in front of us the day before.  Still, seeing so many different species coexisting in such a space was definitely a unique and awesome experience.

Megan Kloeckner’s sweet shot of a singular elephant from the herd in from of Big Kili.

Megan Kloeckner’s sweet shot of a singular elephant from the herd in from of Big Kili.

After driving for a bit, we spotted a large mass of grey in the distance.  Upon further inspection, we realized that a massive herd of elephants was walking our way, and it was freaking incredible.  Never in my life did I think I’d actually be able to observe wild elephants from such a close distance, and right in front of freakin’ Kilimajaro no less. They were huge and wrinkly and slow and quiet and we loved every second of it.

We continued seeing more of the same, while adding grey crowned cranes, impalas, warthogs, and hippos (that were quite far away) to our list.  Before leaving for a lunch break, we drove out to a more tree-heavy area of the park in hopes of seeing lions, which tend to stay away from open savannah as they have little opportunity to hide from potential prey in such places.  After driving the loop and scaring a ton of zebras in the road (some of which farted in surprise and my 5-year-old self thought that was hilarious), my jeep came back to find the other two cars excitedly looking at something far off in between two palm tree clusters. They found a lion!!!!!!!!! She was real far off and basically couldn’t be seen without bino’s but STILL.  I got to check another one off of Darcy’s list of life goals, so I’m not complaining.

Another sweet shot by Megan Kloeckner of the lioness we spotted off in the distance

Another sweet shot by Megan Kloeckner of the lioness we spotted off in the distance

We headed back to camp for lunch and had the option of staying to relax a bit or going on game drive round 2, so I did the latter.  We saw more of the animals seen in game drive round 1, PLUS about 6 hyenas right next to the road.  Those guys were SO cool to see, because they’ve got such a unique body structure and there was even a baby hyena who was the cutest thing I’d seen all day. Nerd fact: their feces are white due to all the calcium they ingest from eating so many bones.  That’s pretty neat.

At the end of the drive when I thought life couldn’t get any better, a massive rainbow appeared over the area where the lion was, and I was proved wrong once again by Kenya’s awesomeness.

We drove back to camp, had a drink by the pool, and celebrated Lindy’s birthday with a cake made by the ever hospitable camp staff since she’d be at the Maasai homestay for her actual 22nd. All in all, I guess it was a decent day.

Photo credz to Cecelia Hyland for capturing the safari dream team under a casual rainbow. (Left to right: Lil Wei, Dar Es Salaam, Simom, Jenny, Jeff, and Meera)

Photo credz to Cecelia Hyland for capturing the safari dream team under a casual rainbow. (Left to right: Lil Wei, Dar Es Salaam, Simom, Jenny, Jeff, and Meera)

Simon hapa tuliishi katika Masaai kwa siku moja. We stayed with the Masaai for a night. Each of our groups had a translator because we weren’t good enough at Swahili and the Masaai weren’t good enough at English for us to get through the night. The translators were all either from the family we were staying with or from a neighboring Manyatta, our translators name was Mary. We got there in the afternoon and of course the first thing that happened was they offered us chai, like any good Kenyan would. It was strange staying with them after being at the cultural Manyattas because, surprise surprise, the Masaai are pretty much just like any other Kenyans. Most of the family that I stayed with wore western clothes and only the older generation wore the traditional dress.

That day we didn’t have that much to do because it was so late in the day. We herded the goats a little but it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, they kind of knew where to go and didn’t really need us to help. As we were waiting for dinner Jeff started to make friends with the family’s children, there were about ten of them. He showed them his binoculars and they were amazed, they looked at Kilimanjaro and for people who saw the mountain every day it was the first time they had seen in so close. The children were amazed by the binoculars and looked at everything they could. Even our translator who was 20 was amazed by them. After that we started to play soccer with the children. We tried to make teams and play an actual game but soon enough it just turned into everyone trying to get the ball.

A little bit later the animals got back from grazing and it was time to milk them. I tried and wasn’t the best at it, Jeff was much better than I was. We talked to our host mother about the animals and she said that they weren’t producing as much milk as they had in the past. Part of the milk was given to a calf whose mother had died shortly after childbirth. It was given the milk from a bottle by our Masaai mother. We talked to Mary about this and she said the cow saw our Masaai mother as its mother and would even go into the house to find her, the cow was adorable. We ate dinner a little bit later and looked at the stars as we did; they were some of the most beautiful stars I have ever seen. After dinner we went to sleep on the bed. Except it wasn’t a normal bed, it was a traditional Masaai bed which is a platform made of sticks with some dry bean plants, with some cow hides on the top. It wasn’t the worst sleep I have ever had but it wasn’t a good sleep by any means.

Jeff and I were woken up around 4:30 in the morning by the sound of a rooster crowing, the rooster was under the bed along with all of the other chickens. It kept crowing about every twenty minutes. Eventually we were able to get back to sleep and we woke up around 8:00. We had a breakfast of chapatti, although it was more similar to a very thick crepe, or very thick, very greasy Kenyan pancakes. After breakfast we went with Mary to fetch water from a nearby well which the government had made. After filling the jugs with water we headed back to the Manyatta. After that we went out herding again but the animals were already too far away for us to reach them. We went back to the Manyatta and then we worked on beading with the mother and Mary. I made a bracelet and a ring and Jeff made a bracelet. After that we ate lunch which was ugali and cabbage. All of the meals we had there were regular Kenyan meals that wouldn’t have been out of place at our homestays in Nyeri. After lunch Mary showed us how to plant in the field that the family owned. This didn’t last long as the car that came to pick us up arrived shortly after we started to plant. The stay with the Masaai was a very interesting, and enjoyable experience and one unlike any other experience we have had.

(Left to right) Wei, our Maasai mom and Meera

(Left to right) Wei, our Maasai mom and Meera

Meera hapa sharing the rest of our time in Amboseli: After an incredible week with animals, some amazing Maasai men and women, and Kilimanjaro we finished off our week by interviewing different groups of people of Maasai people.  We interviewed groups of: Community leaders where there was a Vice Chairman and a committee member, Elders where we got the opportunity to chat with two older men, traditional women where the influence of modernity was evident because they had cell phones, handbags and weave however traditional culture was evident also because they wore shukas (a.k.a. Maasai blankets) and lots of beautiful beading, and last but not least, we had a group of educated women who shared the differences within their culture now in comparison to the past.

The Community Leaders group talked about how things are being done in the community to ensure that the community is safe and people are living in harmony together.  Some of the duties they carry out consist of ensuring that bride wealth is paid and making sure that people who owe people are paying them.

The group of elders talked about pastoralism and the role that it plays in their culture.  They told us about the importance of cattle in their culture and also how why they stopped being nomadic. In order for them to survive the Maasai people used to move from one area to the other to ensure that their cattle have enough to eat!  This is why Maasai people used to build semi-permanent houses since they did not live in them all their lives.  The elders said with the introduction of modernity, education and Christianity their culture is bound to change however the things that will remain the same are: one the wearing of their traditional Shukas, if it is not the everyday dress it will be worn at ceremonies. Two the scaring of the face will never change because it is a mark of identification and the people of Maasai society will always have cattle weather it is five or twenty, they will always have cattle!

The traditional women shed light on the improvement of access to medical services.  They said that nowadays more and more women are using the hospitals for childbirth compared to the traditional methods where they do a homebirth and have their co-wives help them or their friends in the community.  We were curious to know why they are using hospitals and what we were told is that the government has insisted that they use the facilities by making it more accessible to the population and also made the services free of cost.

The educated women shared some of the changes that have come to their culture which include the change in food they eat, farming as a way to gain access to different crops for domestic use and helping with providing food for the cattle also, permanent houses which are now being made for iron sheets and wood, education and the change for men to have only one wife which came about with the influence of Christianity.

While staying and traveling around Kenya we have meet so many different people and learned about their culture.  While the Maasai people have for long resisted change and modernity our trip to Amboseli has taught us that culture will not change but only evolve with the different influences.

Kwaheri wanafunzi, walimu, wazazi na marafiki!

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