Biologist, Conservationist, & Portlander. My passion lives in Africa.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Sometimes we wash our hair in the rain.

4:27 AM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
Voi is a friendly little town just outside of Tsavo East National Park. It's our little bit of civilization that we escape to and get supplies from while camping in Mwakoma. The people are welcoming and not too pushy. If one store doesn't have what we need, managers kindly offer suggestions for where we can go to get it. A pitch fork, for example, was among these items in which we had to search multiple stores. I was the one who desired it so much; it's such a useful tool when dealing with brush piles filled with thorns! No one knew what I was talking about when I asked, so I drew a picture and they sent me on my way to a different store again and again. When Lucy pulled up with a pitch fork in hand the next day I squealed with joy... It's the little things.

Unfortunately, in all of Voi, there does not seem to be any tarp or tarp-like material that we desperately need for our dream shower. Situated just underneath a beautiful acacia, with views of the old boabab marking the corner of our plot and Sagalla mountain the distance, our shower will make bucket bathing a luxury.

While we have greatly appreciated the hospitality at Kileva Primary School, we are excited to create a space to unwind and get clean in the open air on our plot. Afterall, we can't always rely on a good storm to wash our hair in...

While in Nairobi, we will pick up some tarp and other materials to make this shower a reality. Enjoyable showers => Bathing every evening => Sleeping better => Brain power for further reducing human-elephant conflict => Happy farmers and happy elephants. And really, that's what it's all about.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pangas and Jembes

8:00 AM Posted by Tara Easter No comments

"Tara Tromper" is a name that was given to me by a co-conspirator of the field for my high work ethic and intense drive. I have nothing on the men and women of Tsavo. In fact, I've never felt so useless in my entire life.

On Tuesday, December 10, Dr. Lucy King and the team met with the Mwakoma village leaders to discuss plans for the Elephants and Bees Project community, education, and research center. With a Memorandum Of Understanding and smiles all around, I watched two worlds collide and a suitable plan unfold that benefits both parties. 

On Thursday, the entire community gathered for "Ngula" which is a Taito word for coming together and working for a common purpose. In half a day, with pangas (machetes) and jembes (hoes) alone, they cleared enough of our plot to hold our community center, camp sites, kitchen, toilet, storage shed, driveway and parking lot. I tried to jump in wherever I could, swinging my unsharpened panga, hopelessly trying to mimic their movements but recoiled after every pierce of thorns. Mostly, I was just in the way, so I was happy to stand back and document it all instead. It also just happened to be Kenya's 50th anniversary of independence. We celebrated our hard work and Kenya's birthday with rice and beans, and of course, tea.

The next day, building began. Our storage shed was up in a flash; two campsites and a 15ft deep hole for our toilet followed soon after. The Mwakoma ladies hauled in sand on their heads, earning money by the bucket that will soon filter through the village. The other interns and I found where we could be useful and slowly attempted to earn a better reputation for the work ethic of Mzungus. By Thursday the 19th we had 20 men hastily passing kurais full of cement and agrigate (it's called gravel, silly Europeans) to fill in the foundation for our center while we served them tea and snacks out of our new kitchen. Lucy sat and wondered how this all happened so fluidly - her plans predicted a foundation to be set no earlier than three weeks. 

We leave the Tsavo area tomorrow for a Christmas in Nairobi and New Years on the coast. With a break from construction and better access to internet, many more updates will follow. I, for one, am looking forward to a real shower and an oven to bake a cobbler with all these amazingly cheap fruits around me. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

So... I'm in Kenya.

10:51 AM Posted by Tara Easter No comments

It's been awhile, and for that I do apologize. Let me catch you all up.

On October 12 I went to the WCN Conservation Expo in San Francisco that I was so excited about in my previous post.

I met THE Jane Goodall. 

And Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton

Oh and they're best buds, by the way...

I told Iain that one of my best friends, Carley, was interning at Save The Elephants and that I hoped to follow her some day when I had the funds. It was a fantastically inspiring day.

A couple weeks later, having come down from my high on life from the conference, I went to Hawaii with some friends...

And I get a frantic call, post-luau, from Carley about an exciting project developing within Dr. Lucy King's elephants and bees project and that I quickly needed to apply to be a part of it. I had no time to waste, so as soon as I got home I sent her a letter, had an interview the following evening, and was booking a plane ticket for Nairobi in the next week. 

So, here I am, in Kenya! 

Here's the breakdown: 

Lucy builds beehive fences around farms to protect them from elephant crop raids because elephants are afraid of bees. She's been working outside of Tsavo National Park for awhile, and after gaining support in the community, backing from STE, and wonderful grants and donations, she is launching a new human-elephant conflict research and community center (title still to be decided on). And we (Lucy and her new team of interns) are starting from scratch. Tomorrow, we head out to Tsavo, where we will study our donated acre of land, and get to work clearing a plot and buying supplies. I cannot even begin to express my excitement for being here, and to be a part of this massive project that will lead to such positive impacts for people and elephants!

This morning I got to meet the STE team at their Monday morning meetings. As I sat there, surrounded by all these passionate, brilliant people, I thought of how lucky I am to be achieving my dreams. Unfortunately, Iain could not be at the meeting. I so wanted to say hello again.

Pssst... Internet access will be questionable throughout my stay here, but stay tuned for details about Save The Elephants, Lucy's amazing work, news from Kenya, and my experiences here!!!