Kjersten has just begun her internship with us and will be with us through the end of the school year. We are excited for her to help out in the classrooms, in the gardens and on the farms! She will also be doing some projects for us, including a research project where she will gather reflections from students who have had our lessons over the school year.
The following is a piece of writing Kjersten composed to share with us a little bit about her recent trip to rural Kenya. It is a fascinating and detailed look at daily life with the family of farmers she was able to spend a few weeks with.
During the month of January, I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks living with a Kenyan family near Kapenguria, Kenya. Kapenguria is on the border of rural Kenya and nomadic Kenya. If one desires to take the one-lane steep mountain passes and drive on almost non-existent sand roads to the west of Kapenguria, one would find oneself in the lowlands where the nomadic Pokot tribe lives. I took the jostling roads six hours past Kapenguria, an unobtainable feat during the wet season when the rains and rivers drown the roads, and found myself in a village called Alale. Since agriculture and livestock herding are large contributors to Kenya’s economy, especially in the rural regions, they became a part of my daily living.
The family I lived with in Kapenguria, the Kimpurs, is financially stable enough to not rely on subsistence farming. Instead they plant maize on several acres around their homestead to be used to feed the students of a primary school, Daylight School and Center, that the husband, Michael Kimpur, started several years ago. Because I was in Kenya before the long rainy season, which will begin in March, there were no crops planted. Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture is beginning several irrigation projects that will look similar to the large setups on commercial farms in the U.S., but most family farms depend on rain to water their small farms. Thus, because most crops were not planted yet, I learned most about livestock in Kenya.
If you travel to rural Kenya, one of the first things you will notice is the abundance of goats, sheep, and cows that seem to outnumber the people in some regions. Tending after the livestock is a son’s job, unless the family has no sons, then the job falls to the younger daughters. The family I lived with had two sons, ages 11 and 4 and around twenty cows, including 5 calves. Joshua, the four-year old, has been helping the older boys with the cows since he could walk and told his father he would rather spend time with the cows than attend his pre-primary class. The two sons attended school so the Kimpur family has hired a cow attendant to care for the cows during the weekdays, but on the weekends Nelson (the 11-year old) and his cousin Francis (also 11) are the caretakers. The family also had around twenty chickens that would wander around, eating food scraps and dried corn in the fields. Despite having numerous livestock, the family would only eat meat once a week or on special occasions. The cows were milked twice a day and I was able to help out the boys in the afternoon. The milk from the cows was boiled and drunk during supper and also used in the milky black tea Kenyans drink daily called chai.
When I went to visit the Pokot tribe in Alale, I learned members of the tribe who live in the lowlands rely on livestock and only a few fields of beans are planted because of the arid climate and poor soil. The Pokot tribe who live in the highlands are more involved with agriculture. In Alale, there are the typical goats, sheep, and cows, but the people also had camels. Instead of children, young men tend to the livestock as they move around on a lot of land to find plants to graze. People only eat their livestock on special occasions because they are concerned with the sustainability of their herds. Because I was a guest to Alale, I ate goat meat for every meal and was even required by tradition to slaughter a goat. Also in Alale, the milk of cows and camels are a large part of the people’s diet so I was taught how to milk a camel, which I found to be easier than milking a cow.
In rural Kenya, food does not come in boxes or packages. Everything that is eaten was grown locally and in the case of most vegetables or fruits, bought the same day it is cooked. Common foods are beans, matoke, a plantain and potato dish, rice, sukuma wiki, kale sautéed with onion and tomato, and meat stew. Ugali is present at every meal. Ugali is cornmeal cooked in water until it has a dough-like consistency and is said to make people strong. A typical meal will have ugali, sukuma wiki, and one of the choices of beans, matoke, potatoes, or stew. The daughters are in charge of preparing the food, from going to the market to buying ingredients, to preparation and cooking. My host sisters, Chepkite and Chelimo who are 13 and 16 respectively, did the majority of the cooking while the younger girls such as their sister, Chesung who is 7 and their cousin Jackie who is 9, would always help. In rural Kenya, the children are most involved with food, from tending to the livestock and crops to preparation and cooking.
Kjersten and her travelling companion, Rachel, making sukuma wiki over a portable charcoal stove.
Kjersten helping the Kipmur’s cow attendant, Ruto, to milk the cows.
A field in Southern Kenya (taken on a previous trip), probably growing green and red peppers or tomatoes