Friday July 13th, 2018
Makutano, West Pokot County, Rift Valley Province, Kenya
The handshake is an important cultural greeting in Kenya. Every time you see someone in the street you know, you walk over and say “ujambo,” or another greeting and shake hands while maintaining eye contact. This ceremony is maintained when being introduced to strangers as well, and often occurs when two people happen to be in the same place for a short amount of time (e.g. walking through the hallway in the hotel). Sometimes, among close friends, the greeting starts with slapping hands, which then turns into an extended handshake and expressions of joy. It’s impossible not to feel like people are happy to meet you; each new person I meet here greets me like a long lost friend. I’ve shaken more hands in the past few days than in the previous 2 years.
After another short night of sleep, I got up at 5 am to get to the airport. This time I was going to Wilson, which handles regional flights. Interestingly, there are about 20 different terminals all spread out over a few miles, which turned out to pose a challenge. The 3rd party I had booked my ticket through didn’t mention what Kenyan airline it contracted with. I went to the wrong terminal initially, but with help I found my way to SarfariLink with plenty of time to spare.
The flight was about an hour long. As we descended below the clouds Kitale came into view. I first noticed the grid-like fields; later I learned that the area around Kitale and much of West Pokot is known for its agriculture and food production.
The lush green vegetation and impending thunder clouds seemed to indicate the climate was suitable for it. Kitale was bustling, with clouds of motorbikes darting every which way and brightly colored shops lining the sunset-red streets. In Kenya, motorbikes are taxis and a very common means of transportation. I think they’re especially useful because they get good gas mileage, are easy to maintain, and can transverse difficult roads.
I wasn’t in a good place to appreciate Kitale. The jet lag and busy day in Nairobi had taken its toll. I checked into my very nice hotel room – $40 USD a night gets you a bathrobe and slippers, a flatscreen tv, and a tiled bathroom – and took a 3 hour nap, which I desperately needed. In the evening, I went up to the rooftop restaurant to watch the semifinal World Cup game between England and Croatia. Ajay and his wife, both from Kitale, sat next to me. They were both Croatia fans, or at least anti-England fans.
As the night wore on and their bourbon glasses kept getting refilled, their exclamations of excitement when Croatia did well became more boisterous. Lets just say that there was a lot of hugging when Croatia scored that I happened to be involved with. Overall, the atmosphere was electric, everyone in the room exclaimed loudly when something happened. I seriously enjoyed myself. Also, Ajay put me in contact with a tour director who could get me a birding trip to Saiwa Swamp National Park – look for more on that in a later post.
The next day Wycleff, who’s name made me think of the Fuggees, drove me north to the Kalya hotel in Makutano, right next to Kapenguria. I saw a lot of livestock on the way, including cows followed by herders with long switches and goats grazing on the side of the road. Interestingly, there was usually a dog with the cattle, I assume to help with the herding. In general, the dogs looked like they were in good shape. After I got sorted at the hotel, I headed to the county offices with Peker, pronounced “Pee-kair.” He works for the county land commission, managing public lands, and has been roped in to helping me by his friend Sebastian, my Pokot contact at FAO.
We spent a lot of the day waiting for people (e.g. the director of public health), but I really enjoyed talking with Peker. He was curious about many aspects of the U.S., especially how agriculture works. We talked about the economics of scale and how in the U.S. large companies produce most of the food. I described Iowa to him, with it’s ubiquitous corn and soy – shoutout to Grinnell. In Kenya, most food production still happens on a small scale, with single plots of land being owned by a farmer. Peker also asked if most people lived in public or private housing. I got the impression he maybe thought that everyone was provided housing by the government. I explained the system is predominantly private, although based on what he said, it’s much easier to get a loan in the U.S.
Overall, it was a successful day. I used my rudimentary swahili to find an ATM, “iko wapi” translates to “where is it.” The public health CE indicated that with UoN clearance she would be happy to facilitate my research in Pokot. I also scheduled a meeting with the county director of veterinary services for Monday and identified who could help me with Alale and Konyau contacts. I’m well on my way!