While I’ve been galivanting around Kenya, banding and birding….and then Greece, Nancy has been working really hard monitoring our Snow Buntings (and Horned Larks and Longspurs). As a welcome back treat (I got back last night), Nancy lured some birds into the traps this morning so I was able to band 15: 13 Snow Buntings, 1 Horned Lark, and 1 Lapland Longspur. So now I can honestly say that “we” have banded just under 2500 birds this Winter: 2,226 Snow Buntings, 245 Horned Larks(!), and 16 Lapland Longspurs. And if you didn’t know any better, you would say: “boy, those two have been working really hard on that Snow Bunting project….”
I wasn’t able to post blogs from rural Kenya so I’ve decided to write up aspects of that experience in a series of short “Vignettes”. Here goes:
Kenya Vignette #1: “Africans Are Lazy….”
“Africans are lazy…..” The phrase hit me like a sledge. This young Norwegian was part of an 18-member group of young people that I was sharing the dining room with at the Free Pentecostal Friendship in Kenya Guesthouse in Nairobi. I’m not a religious guy but I like this guesthouse; it’s reasonably priced, clean, safe, the staff very pleasant, and the food great. And you get to meet a wide range of people….some of whom are doing interesting and meaningful things in very remote parts of Kenya. But this group, it seemed to me, was here for the “feel good factor” – doing superficially good works so they can go home feeling that they’ve done their part to help make the world a better place. This was their 13th and last day. They’d spent a week “working” at an orphanage – doing what I’m not sure – and then had gone on a small safari to take in the real Africa. Travel had been in those shiny white suburbans that have become synonymous with NGO’s in Third World Countries – travel in which separates you from the life on the streets. Somehow, in these 13 days, this guy had come to the conclusion that Africans are lazy.
What had he not seen that could bring him to this conclusion? Had he seen the high school kids walking along the road at 5:30 in the morning in the pitch dark so they could get to school on time? Some of them travelling 10 kilometres…one way. Had he seen the students in the residential high schools, separated from the support of home, getting up at 4:30 to read and study for an hour and a half before breakfast (usually just porridge) and going right through to 9 at night in order to give themselves a fighting chance of going on to college….assuming, that is, that the money required miraculously appeared? Did he watch the women, each morning, hoisting 50-pound pails of pond water onto their heads and carrying them home….after they’d got the children off to school…before going out to collect firewood? Did he see the children of those women carrying those same 50-pound buckets in the evening – sometimes making a round trip of 4-5 kilometres? Did he get up with the men at 3:30, before the sun, to run a team of 6 oxen and force a one-share plow firmly into the ground in order to turn a sun-baked soil, getting it ready for the rains…which may or may not come? And had he watched the steady stream of men and women heading down the streets in Nairobi after searching all day for a job that quite likely did not materialize, all heading for their metal-roofed shanties in a slum that numbers over half a million…without running water or electricity? Had he spent time in a classroom of 60 grade 8’s teaching them the facts they would need to know to pass the nation-wide exam that would determine their life – whether they moved on to high school or not? All this teaching responsibility, for so many children, done for a pittance. I don’t think he saw these things or, if he did, simply glossed over them because if he had, if he had truly opened his eyes to the life around him, he could never come out with “African are lazy”…and believe it. There is none so blind as he who will not see.
It certainly isn’t gumption that Africans lack. It’s opportunity.
I spent 6 weeks in Kenya, most of it in rural Kenya, in the “village” of Matangwe. I spent a lot of time with villagers of all ages. I told them about their birds, caught some of them to show them, and talked with them about their land and their life….and what they might like to see happen to the area they live in. This year’s experience was different than last year’s in that I spent most of my time with adults rather than with school-aged children. Quite simply: it was wonderful. And what was wonderful was their attitude. Despite the hardships, the poverty, the scraping just to get by, they never failed to greet each other – and me – with warmth and a smile and to stop, drop whatever they were doing, to say hi and catch up. Getting water wasn’t a chore, just an opportunity to socialize with your friends.
Perhaps the most memorable day for me was the “community day” we held for the adults of the area. Anyone that was interested was invited to come out in the morning and learn about birding and banding – what we were doing and, more importantly, why. We attracted a group of over 40, from young mothers to aging grandmothers and boda boda (motorbike) drivers to plowmen finished for the day. For most it was the first time they had ever used binoculars. And the guidebook….!? “You mean we have all these birds in Kenya?” (And, by the way, spoken with pride.) Kenn and Dan took them on a bird hike that lasted for an hour and a half and went 5 km’s – no one stopped early or lost interest….and one of the most interested had only one leg and did the whole thing on crutches.
Afterward we all had a chance to talk and se drifted in the direction of preserving the land that they have. And it became clear: they know what the problems are (cattle/livestock destroying the waterholes/ponds and firewood gathering denuding the countryside) they just don’t have the wherewithal to do something about it…..until now. And folks, all of you that contributed to this project, you would have been deeply touched when I pointed out that I could provide enough funds to begin to fence off one of the main ponds and buy seedlings to retree the banks, thus buying some breathing space so the pond could recover….and WE could then look for some funding/grants to save both ponds for people and provide trough alternatives for cattle.
About this young man with the blinders on: he was bound and determined that “the Africans” were the problem. I wasn’t going to change his mind. But I did tell him about my experience in Svalbard – arctic Norway. For two summers I worked on seabird projects there but never with a Norwegian as a member of the team. When I asked about this I was told that they didn’t want the job – too much work for the money paid. Hmmmm….so about being lazy……??