Monday, December 27, 2010


 I’ve been back in the US for almost 2 weeks now. A lot has happened since we stepped onto the plane in Nairobi, but at the same time some mornings I wake and expect to be under my mosquito net in Kenya again. Anyway, this post is just to give some closure (mostly for my sake because I doubt any one is still reading this) to my African adventure with a description of its final chapter. And I also want to extend my deep gratitude to all who read this blog and were interested in my experiences this fall. I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about East Africa and that I can share more with you now that I am back in the States.

So, here is a brief recount of my time since leaving African soil:

The return flights (Dec 12th) were long but that gave me some time to process and mentally prepare for being back in the US. I had a window seat on the flight from Nairobi to Heathrow and got to see the sunset over the Mediterranean as well as snow on mountains in southern Europe! Our layover in Heathrow was miniscule (aka I had my first, and hopefully only, sprint-through-the-airport experience) but we made it onto our Newark-bound plane with a few seconds to spare. A small contingency of SFS students arrived in Newark around 11:30 pm, US time (but about 17 hours after we got on the plane in Nairobi), and met up with some dedicated family members! I rode the bus in to Manhattan to spend two nights in my aunt’s apartment. Before I went to bed on my first night back in the US I took my first warm shower since Tanzania – glorious! My aunt Diane and I spent the following day walking around Central Park, eating delicious foods (like bread, cheese, yogurt, chocolate mousse!), and seeing the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. 
in Central Park

We also visited the New York Public Library and saw a few of my aunt’s old co-workers. My flight to Portland on the 14th was really short and exciting – I got to look out the window at snowy mountains and a bit of Portland Harbor. My dad and uncle picked me up and ever since I’ve been surrounded by lots of family members at home :) I think I started missing Africa as soon as I boarded the plane in Nairobi, but it definitely feels nice to be in a comfortable and familiar place. I’ve been swimming most every day, which is nice but kind of scary. Winter training with the Bowdoin team (which starts on Thursday) will be more of a challenge than usual this year... The days seem to go by very fast here (partly because it gets dark so early!). Even so, I find myself feeling a bit lost or bored – it’ll take a while for me to settle into my American life after being away. I am glad to be back, but also anxious to keep my African experience close by, in my thoughts and actions, so that I never lose it.

So, once again thank you for reading.

Asante na kwaheri, Catherine

Friday, December 10, 2010

traveling home

This morning we leave for the SFS camp outside of Nairobi. We'll stay there tonight and head to the airport tomorrow morning. Many of us are on a group flight from Nairobi to London to Newark, but about a dozen others are staying in Kenya or Tanzania for a while. A bunch are hiking Kilimanjaro (wooh!) and others are spending some time on the Kenyan coast. Here is my travel itinerary, I will spend a day in NYC with my aunt before flying to Maine. That will be really exciting, but also an overwhelming way to transition from Africa to America! I'm trying to get ready for the reverse culture shock that I'm sure will hit us all as soon as we see so many clean white people in London. It'll be hard to adjust to life back in the US after living in Africa for so long, where we have such opposite lifestyles as most Americans (think washing your hair once a week, never doing homework in doors, ushering bats out of your banda, wearing the same shirt for a week straight, seeing Kili everyday!). I'm excited for many things back in the US (seeing family and friends, eating foods, snow, clean clothes, no bugs!), so that will help me cope with how much I'll miss life here. So, hope to see you all soon!

12 DEC 10  -  SUNDAY
          LV NAIROBI  KENYATTA            1240P          EQP: AIRBUS A340-300
                                                         09HR 25MIN
          AR LONDON HEATHROW              705P           NON-STOP
          ARRIVE: TERMINAL 3                             REF: FF04ZJ
          LV LONDON HEATHROW              810P           EQP: AIRBUS A340-300
          DEPART: TERMINAL 3                             08HR 15MIN
          AR NEWARK                       1125P          NON-STOP
          ARRIVE: TERMINAL B                             REF: FF04ZJ

 14 DEC 10  -  TUESDAY
          LV NEWARK                       1030A          EQP: DH4
          DEPART: TERMINAL C                             01HR 59MIN
          AR PORTLAND      ME             1229P          NON-STOP
                                                         REF: CWC3Q5

Thursday, December 9, 2010

community presentations

Yesterday was a big day here in Kenya. We gave presentations to the community about our directed research projects, the culmination of all that we’ve learned and done here in East Africa. The presentations went really well and we had a huge and engaged audience. We were asked some hard questions by Maasai. The coexistence of wildlife conservation and pastoralism (the main livelihood of Maasai) is a big concern and there was genuine interest in our findings and recommendations concerning how to balance livestock grazing in the wildlife sanctuaries that we studied. Even though I would not usually be a fan of speaking in front of 90+ people, I actually really enjoyed it. This is mainly because everything we said was translated into Maa so that our guests would understand what we were presenting. I really liked having to pause after each sentence so that Daniel could translate – it was definitely the most composed public speaking I’ve ever done! Other highlights of the presentation were seeing all of the local guys who we worked with when we collected our field data and hearing from major stakeholders in our research after the three groups completed our presentations. It was very informative to hear what people’s main thoughts and concerns are about the area, and also nice to hear from people who were truly appreciative of our work and excited to use the information we collected to implement improvements. here is a photo of my DR group and our advisor Shem.

Today we are packing, completing program evaluations, and receiving grades. It is hard to believe that we leave KBC tomorrow morning. It seems like just yesterday we were making the switch from Tanzania to Kenya! I’m excited to return home and see my family and friends, who I have really started to miss these past few weeks! But I will be very sad to leave East Africa, and will especially miss all the amazing people that I’ve spent the semester with. I’m not sure how I’ll handle all the alone time that I will return to in the US – we are constantly surrounded by people here and I am used to the constant presence of 27 best friends! We will definitely all keep in touch and are already planning reunions. In the meantime, though, we all have to welcome the close of one chapter in our lives and the beginning of another. It’s very bitter-sweet, but I think I am ready for a change. I look forward to reconnecting with many people when I get home, and sharing stories about what we’ve been up to all fall. Best of luck to all the people who are finishing up their fall semesters, wherever they are! Kwaheri, Catherine

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

DR is almost complete!

Yesterday we turned in our final DR papers and gave presentations of our findings to the faculty. It felt great to finish and I finally slept in past 6 am this morning! Here is a brief recap of my DR experience, done with numbers just like what we’ve been obsessing about for much of the last month:

days of field data collection: 7
sanctuaries surveyed: 5
kilometers walked: over 40!
elephants seen along our transects: 29
times our car got stuck in mud: 1
dreams I've had about DR: 4
cups of coffee I've drunk (my first ones ever): 4
pages of final paper: 28

Now we are preparing for the community presentations that we will give to the community tomorrow. We’ll present to the people who we interviewed and worked with, as well as to community leaders, sanctuary funding agents, Kenya Wildlife Service officials, and anyone else who is interested. Everything we say will be translated into Maasai. It should be a crazy day – about 90 people should be here! After our presentation we are on the home stretch – we leave for Nairobi on Saturday and all go our separate ways on Sunday morning. It has been a crazy last month in Africa. These last days are sure to be the same! I can’t really place what my feelings are right now about everything, but I know that I am looking forward to a huge salad and clean clothes when I get home. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Here is a map of the five sanctuaries that we performed animal counts in. There is no title or labels because it will appear in the middle of my paper's results section. We used a grid system to determine the extent of spatial overlap between wildlife and livestock within the sanctuaries. Livestock should only graze in sanctuaries during the dry season, but we saw huge herds of them during our data collection, as well as lots of other human activities, i.e. farms and bomas! Sanctuary management is not very strict and our overlap info is one way to show that there is potential competition for the resources between wildlife and livestock. 

"It will haunt you in your sleep..."

The end of semesters always feel crazy, and in Kenya it is no exception! We finished our data collection on Friday and since then we have been doing data analysis, GIS work, and starting our papers. I always underestimate data analysis, and these past few days have reminded me of how I definitely don't enjoy statistics. My brain has been full of species richnesses, Simpson's diversity indices, Jaccard's similarity indices, t-tests... Nevertheless, I am still enjoying myself, and am especially proud of the work I've been doing on GIS. I've got the most GIS experience in my group and have been heading up all the visual stuff we need. In terms of learning GIS, it has been kind of like learning to fly once you are pushed off of a cliff. I will try to post a map that I will use in my paper, I'm quite proud!

We have a day off from DR work tomorrow and we'll be going to Amboseli National Park again. I'm excited to have a break from staring at a computer screen! We'll do a game drive and spend some time at the lodge (swimming!). Then it will be back to the grind of paper writing - everything is due by Tuesday and we present our findings to professors and to community members and officials next Thursday.

Happy December, and also remember that today is World AIDS Day!