It’s already our fourth full day in Kenya! Seems like only yesterday my family was dropping me off at the airport in Montreal on Saturday. Getting here was pretty long- a 5.5 hour flight to Paris, 2 hours in the airport there, almost 8 hours to Nairobi, then getting our visas and baggage and driving to where we’re staying. By that point it was very late on Sunday night here. This week we’re staying at ICIPE, the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology, in a neighbourhood just to the northeast of Nairobi. It’s a very beautiful compound with lots of trees and flowers, open spaces, and rooms with balconies (and WiFi!). There are also so many birds, some of which I saw on Monday morning: mousebirds, weaverbirds, black kites, pied crows, sacred ibises, swifts, maribu storks, and more. The food here is very good (lots of veggies, fruits, beans, potatoes, rice) and they are extremely generous when serving. I think I adjusted pretty quickly to the jet lag, probably because I hardly slept on the flights and was able to fall right asleep the first night. It’s still weird though to be waking up when people at home are just going to bed. The temperature here is very nice, especially when compared to Canada right now. In the day with the strong sun it can get up to 25 degrees Celsius, but it’s much cooler at night.
So what have we done here so far? On Monday we visited Nairobi National Park. After having a lecture from the Kenya Wildlife Service about the park, we watched the orphaned baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust be fed and play in the mud. Then we went on safari! We saw so many animals: antelope, giraffes, buffalo, hippos, ostriches, giraffes, rhinos, secretary birds, warthogs, zebras, wildebeest, baboons… It was weird to be surrounded by wildlife while also seeing the skyline of Nairobi in the background. No lions, unfortunately, but we’ll have other opportunities to see those later in the program.
On Tuesday we visited the University of Nairobi. We had talks from a couple of professors there about the history and demographics of the capital and the country, and then some students led us in groups around the campus and downtown. Our guide, Claire, showed us Uhuru Park and some historic buildings. She was really awesome (and stylish) and it was cool to ask each other questions about our lives.
Yesterday we went to ICRAF- the International Centre for Research in Agro Forestry, where we toured their seed and soil labs and learned about what they do there. Their machines (for genomics, x-ray diffraction, IR radiation, etc) were all really new and sophisticated. I found it really interesting how they are developing the production of nutrient-rich plants (such as the baobab tree) and plants that are useful for cosmetics or other products (ex. Allanblackia, a tree whose fruit contains an oily fat) to improve the health and economics of the local agricultural communities. After ICRAF, we visited the Canadian High Commission, a beautiful building in which we spoke with the High Commissioner himself along with several other high-ups about issues of defense, security, trade, etc. To be honest I couldn’t always follow along because politics is not my area of expertise. Although it was all interesting and I recognized how lucky we were to have the chance to hear from those people, I couldn’t really ask any educated questions. This is definitely an area I need to learn more about.
Throughout these days we have started our academic journals for our context courses, gotten inexpensive little cell phones in case of emergencies, met some of our African staff and drivers/cooks, registered for our courses for the Kenya session (I’m in Natural History! Yay!), gotten to know each other more, begun to burn/tan a little, and seen a lot of the streets and people of Nairobi. Hopefully in a few days I’ll post again before we leave for our first field site!