CFSIA Day 52: Amboseli

Somehow it’s been a month since I last posted! The Internet has been unpredictable and very slow even when we do have it. Now we’re back in Kenya for a few days on our way to Tanzania, and we’re staying at a lovely camp near Amboseli National Park that has WiFi along with an awe-inspiring view of Mount Kilimanjaro (I’m supposed to climb that thing in a month??). So first of all, a quick recap of Mbita before I fill you in on the Uganda leg of this journey.

Our time spent at ICIPE on the shores of Lake Victoria mostly consisted of finishing up the first course (Natural History for me): submitting final assignments, leading a nature walk, and writing the exam. We also went out on a boat ride to see the huge numbers of birds and a few monitor lizards on a couple of small islands in Lake Victoria, and walked into town to buy swaths of fabric and have seamstresses turn them into pants, shorts, skirts, and dresses. Following the culmination of the class, we had two days of a health module. Guest lecturers presented to us information about the health care system in Kenya and the health issues of Mbita and Suba District more specifically. The big concerns are definitely HIV/AIDS and malaria, but also issues of maternal health, sanitation-related illnesses, and more. For one of the field trips I chose to visit the Tom Mboya Health Clinic, which was really interesting. Although much of the equipment was lacking or outdated and some aspects of the clinic made me uncomfortable (such as the chickens just wandering through the ward and the way the staff presented sick patients to us as if they were zoo animals), the facility was clean and the staff don’t turn away people who can’t pay for their treatment. My second field trip was to a discussion with local community health volunteers, who work with their community to bridge the gap between people and clinics/doctors. I was amazed by the passion of the volunteers and how much good they do despite lacking drugs and funds. To end the module, we were visited by representatives from various HIV/AIDS related groups: the healthcare system, a support group for those who are living positively, etc. I don’t really know what I had been expecting from people who are HIV+ (perhaps more physical feebleness?) but I think a lot of us were struck by how energetic, happy, and proud our guests were. It shows how effective the proper treatment can be and how much stigma has been reduced. It was a really encouraging note to end our time in Kenya on.

The morning of February 8th, we took a one-hour ferry from Mbita to Kisumu, where we spent the day and night in a hotel with a swimming pool (it was pretty much heaven). Then the next day we crossed the border into Uganda and drove to Kampala, where we stayed the night at Namirembe Guest House. The view over the capital city was amazing. We drove across the country for most of the next day, arriving at the Makerere University Biological Field Station in Kibale National Park in the late afternoon with plenty of time to unpack and settle into our home for the next couple of weeks. Along the way we had picked up our two professors for the second session courses, of which I was in Conservation Ecology with Lauren Chapman.

The following twelve days practically flew by. Despite not leaving the field station or the park very often, I was never bored. Everything about the rainforest was so different from Kenya- I loved the greenness, the humid warmth during the day, the late afternoon thunderstorms, the night coolness, the butterflies and monkeys, the damp earthy smells, the rolling hills and pine trees and farms in the village. Days fell into a rough routine: yoga in the back field by sunrise with baboons and red colobus monkeys watching, breakfast, field exercises for Ecology, lunch, a brief nap time, more lectures or class work (usually data analysis), tea and snack time, guest lectures for the context course, free time in which I would sew up the holes in my friends’ clothes or read in the cute little library or learn the guitar, dinner, then movie nights or time to journal or play cards followed by calling home just before bed while standing on the certain concrete block with the best reception. There was a campfire to relax at almost every night under the stars, and we soon got used to the sounds of warning gunshots from the local farmers trying to scare away the forest elephants. One night we even saw a civet rooting around in the garbage.

For Ecology, our field exercises at Kibale included a study on edge effects between the forest and the grounds of the field station, a mammal census that we did with the Primatology class, a butterfly diversity study, and an investigation into aquatic bioindicators (macroinvertebrates such as snails and dragonfly larvae). It was amazing getting to hike for hours through the trees, learn signs of different animals, watch monkeys (I didn’t see any of the chimpanzees although I did hear one that some of the other students saw), catch and identify butterflies, and sort through tiny creatures in the papyrus swamp. The analyses of our results were actually really fun and I got to put the stats I learned in Biometry last semester to good use. We had a project where we developed a mock research proposal in small groups, which was hard work but also good practice. Other activities (some for the context course) included buying jewelry and fabric from the local women, going to church one Sunday morning, visiting the health and conservation center that provides medical treatment to the local people and also educates them about conservation issues, and touring one of the field assistant’s farm and tea plantation. We had guest lectures from a snare removal program team (removing illegal bushmeat snares from the park), a man who runs an ecotourism company, an expert on conservation within the park, and a man who knows a lot about Uganda’s political history.

On the 22nd, my birthday, we headed to Lake Nabugabo. I wasn’t really ready to leave Kibale and I wished I could have spent more time there, but at the same time it was nice to be on the move again. The 8-hour drive through the colourful Ugandan landscape was beautiful. We got to Nabugabo in the afternoon, when the breeze off the lake tempered the strength of the hot sun. We had time to settle into our little bandas (I got the master bedroom with the queen bed- birthday benefits), a delicious dinner with several of the resident dogs hanging around and wanting to be petted, and then a huge campfire. It was a great day to turn 21.

During the next four days at Nabugabo, we did our last field exercise (comparing the lake and the wetland next to the lake) and wrapped up the Ecology course with an exam. We also went out on the lake to watch the fishers, visited the village, and saw the fish landing. We learned a lot about the Nile perch, and the struggles of conservation and livelihood sustainability faced by the community. This site was similar to Kibale in terms of language and culture and some parts of the environment, but also very similar to Mbita in terms of fishing and all the related issues.

On the 27th we left Nabugabo for Jinja, the source of the Nile, where we had our two-day fisheries module. We visited an aquaculture farm and NaFIRRI (the National Fisheries Institute for Resources Research), where we took on roles relating to the fish industry in order to have a mock stakeholders’ discussion. We also had an afternoon to wander around town, which was lovely. With a couple of other people I walked through the market, got iced coffee at a cafe, and browsed shops. Jinja is a very unique place- there’s such a contrast between the poverty of the people who rely on fishing and the relatively high number of white people (mostly ex-pats) that we would see walking down the main street. It was a fascinating place to end our session in Uganda.

On March 1st we drove back to Kampala and spent the night at Namirembe again before flying back to Nairobi the next morning. From there we drove here, Amboseli, where we’ll be for two more nights. Hopefully I’ll post again before we leave, but I make no promises! Also please note that some of my photos are having trouble loading, so I might add more later. The last three photos here were not taken by me and are from our program blog (cfsia2015.wordpress.com).

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The birds on the island at Mbita.

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View from the village at Kibale.

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Emmanuel’s tea plantation.

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A field assistant holding a butterfly.

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A chameleon we found in the village at Nabugabo.

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The sunset at Nabugabo.

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