Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Conservation Indoors: Meetings in Nairobi

Hello there! Thanks to everyone for visiting our blog. In just our first week in Kenya, we have already had so many experiences we want to share with our friends and families, and we look forward to keeping you all updated...

So, Chris already gave you all a great update on our first days in Kenya. Today was the first day of real meetings, and I'm pleased to report that everything went very well. Again, the politeness and kindness of the Kenyan people really made the difference. We started the day by visiting the offices of one our main NGO counterparts in the region. What a fantastic group of people! They were eager to share data, knowledge and publications with us, and they easily conveyed their enthusiasm for community-driven conservation.

This afternoon, as Chris was driving around Nairobi searching for research equipment and learning about the culture, I was meeting with a colleague of ours at one of the National Ministries. He was an incredibly enthusiastic and animated fellow, and afforded me a half day of his time explaining the details of Kenyan water laws, his research in the Mara and helpful ideas for my work in the Basin. He also graciously introduced me to one of the Directors of the Ministry, although I didn't know it right away. I just thought we were headed to the copy machine, but suddenly I was being led into a corner office with a view, and a large desk presided over by a very impressive-looking gentleman. He was clearly busy, and it was already after 5 pm, so I was a bit taken aback when he offered me a seat and looked at me expectantly. I introduced myself and, slowly gaining confidence, explained who I was and why I was here. He asked me several questions, looking somewhat skeptical, paused thoughtfully (as I pondered what else I could possibly do for a career) and suddenly agreed to help! As we talked about the path forward, our colleague brought me a Coke in a bottle and a straw, and I sat there sipping it, looking quite ladylike, thank you very much, as we discussed the ongoing conservation crisis in the headwaters of the Mara. Illegal settlement has led to the deforestation of more than 25% of the river's headwater forests, leading to erosion, high sediment load, more extreme floods and droughts, and altered climates, among other concerns.

There's much work to be done here in the Basin, but Kenya certainly has the progressive laws and dedicated folks to address it. I just hope to be able to contribute to the effort. As I told folks several times today, I have been learning about the Mara since I was a child, although I didn't know it then. Every National Geographic and Discovery episode you see has some clip of this amazing river and the abundance of wildlife for which it provides...getting to work on this river is really a dream come true.

I miss being in the field, getting my hands dirty, catching critters, working until you're exhausted and then breathing in the clean outdoor air with satisfaction... but I am both excited and challenged by this new job, and I feel very grateful for all the opportunities it is affording me already, especially opportunities to meet new and inspiring folks. With more meetings and more research-supply-hunting in front of us, I look forward to what tomorrow brings...!
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