I'm glad this week is over.
I am feeling increasingly comfortable with my role at FSD, and this week I started feeling like I was running out of things to read and do to prepare myself, especially when we won't see interns until early June. Yes, you read that right, early June. It's been really interesting working as part of a team in Kenya when the other half of operations is ten hours behind. I guess it's nice in that if I don't get around to doing something right away in the morning and have to put it off until the afternoon, it's not always a huge deal, since they're sleeping and won't see it until I've left work anyway. It can be frustrating though, since if someone is out of the office, or doesn't respond within the day, it means another full day of waiting. The first few days this week involved a lot of waiting. Welcome back to Africa, Katie.
Thursday was tough for other reasons. Even my run in the morning wasn't great. I woke up feeling off, and was on the verge of getting upset with myself, but when I got to work and realized the date, I understood (or at least partially rationalized). It would have been Dan's 29th birthday. It's interesting - I think that because some of my fondest memories with him were traveling around Europe, and some of my most enjoyable travels after studying abroad were with him, he's on my mind more when I'm traveling or in unfamiliar places.
After almost three weeks in country with little "real" social interaction (spending time with people, by choice, outside of work, for the purpose of enjoyment), I decided it was time to venture out of Kakamega to meet up with several friends from grad school who are also working in this part of Kenya. In fact, one had a birthday on Friday, so I met a handful of the expat staff and we had a lovely potluck dinner. I was also fortunate to be able to lump this visit in with an invitation from One Acre Fund to come to Bungoma and see where they operate, as well as some of their programs. If you're not familiar with One Acre Fund, look them up. Really, do it. They're an incredible organization, working with farmers in four different African countries, and doing seriously amazing work.
To give some idea of the scale of what they do: I had the opportunity to go into the field with a field officer (one of over 30 for Bungoma's south district alone), who is the contact person for 110 local farmers; some field officers work with closer to 140 farmers (in Kenya, they work with ~135,000 farmers... that's quite a few). We were driven (along with two others from the office) maybe 20 minutes outside of the center of town along rural (very bumpy) dirt roads until I was completely turned around, and then got out at a field where half a dozen people were planting. They were not One Acre farmers, as One Acre farmers had received their farming inputs and planted a couple weeks prior, but told us they were using One Acre methods, and hoping that they could enroll next season, as they had seen the benefits of being One Acre farmers. They then invited me to help them plant a row of maize.
Let's talk for a second about humbling experiences. Seeing the rope they'd stretched the width of the field (with knots tied every 8-10 inches to mark where each individual seed should go), and seeing how they worked across the field, perfectly aligning the deepest part of each hoe-swing with the little knots in the rope was pretty remarkable. I was then handed the jembe (hoe) and they insisted it was my turn... to take the jembe down the row, followed by a small scoop of fertilizer in each hole, then covering it up with a thin layer of dirt before placing one maize seed in each hole and covering it with more dirt. Wow.
My family has always had backyard gardens with the iconic summer fruits and vegetables (lettuce, carrots, raspberries, tomatoes, etc), and I've helped plant those. I even had my own garden in Lesotho, and a shared garden in Minneapolis, but this was something entirely different. This maize in this field likely represented a fairly significant portion of their entire livelihood, and not only were they planting it seed by seed, they were entrusting a portion of that to me, a mzungu (white person) with zero legit farm cred (as could be seen in my crooked row, unevenly spaced maize seeds, and embarrassed laughter). Maybe maize is something that even I couldn't really screw up, and they weren't really risking much by letting me work that row, but I don't think that would've changed their dispositions or eagerness to share their pride in the field and in their work with me.
|Opening the bag of fertilizer|
|Apparently dirt feels good on your bare butt|
|The marker stick - you can see the knots along the rope|
|Demonstrating how to appropriately space the spots for seeds|
|My turn to try!|
|Laughing because it is more difficult than it looks|
|Small scoops of fertilizer into each hole|
|Another demonstration: how to cover something with dirt :)|
|Planting maize seeds (which are pink!)|
I realized later that it was Earth Day, and couldn't help but grin.
|Weeding the older plot|
|Two weeks old! So cute.|
|Lots of chickens -|
Seeing familiar faces (and meeting new faces) in the evening was a treat, and a very enjoyable way of ending the day. I know some very motivated, talented people who are doing some really meaningful work. Even a slight change in environment has been refreshing. The gorgeous banda (round hut) where I've stayed the last two nights has wifi (not to obsess over having internet access or not, but wow, is it nice), and I've been able to stream the Current's Prince tribute while writing this... it feels right.
I'm optimistic that this next work week will be busier and a little more interesting. It's hard to believe that May is just around the corner.
Love from Kenya,