Meet Matthew Cole, Minerva Fellow and Newest Member of TSP's Kenya Team

Greetings from Samburu!

            I arrived in Kenya on the evening of July 15th, and after spending a day in Nairobi orienting myself and stocking up on supplies I flew on a single engine Cesna plane to Samburu County. If you have never had the experience of flying in a plane like this, I highly recommend it as the feeling of being so in tune with the air around you while you fly is unlike much else. After landing at the Kalama Airstrip near Archers Post, Samburu, I met up with the team from The Samburu Project and started my adventure. We first visited the well at Lolgerdad, a well drilled by TSP in 2011. This was my first experience with Samburu women and with a well community and I must admit the whole ordeal was incredibly overwhelming. After giving the children balloons and playing with them for a bit, the ladies gathered in a circle and performed a traditional song and dance as their way of saying thank you. Linda, the head of TSP, encouraged me to join in the circle with the women and follow along. The beauty in the way their beads moved in sync with the movements of their chest and head was hypnotizing and I couldn’t help but be moved by the whole experience. One of the women came up to me and put a bracelet she had made around my wrist, and when I tried to decline her gift, she just walked away. What an introduction to my first well! When we drove away, I still was quite emotional from the whole endeavor and just kept staring in appreciation at the women as they dispersed from the well.

The ladies of Lolgerdad singing their appreciation.

The ladies of Lolgerdad singing their appreciation.

These first few days in Samburu I have been staying at one of the safari lodges inside the Samburu Reserve. Just getting to the lodge requires 15 km of driving through the reserve. Eric Lekolii, TSP’s Samburu Project Water Manager, spent eight years as a safari driver before joining TSP. Thus, he knows all the best spots in the reserve to find all the extraordinary animals and is quite adept at tracking all of them. On my first drive into the park, I saw a group of elephants (which can be seen in the photo that constitutes the background of my blog), giraffes, dik-diks, zebras, oryx, warthogs, and I even saw a large lion eating a gazelle. Later, at the lodge, I also was treated to the sight of a rather large crocodile just chilling on the banks of the Ewaso river. All of this on my first day!
The next day consisted of more well visiting, and a stop at the Ntilal pre school. A word I will use often in my blog is “mzungu”. Mzungu is a common word to many African languages, and while it directly translates to “traveler” most often it is used as the word for “white person”. Upon entering the preschool, which has four grades combined into one, one of the youngest children started tearing up at the sight of me. Not only am I a rather large mzungu, but I have a beard and already have longer hair than most Samburu. So, the sight of a large, bearded, hairy mzungu in sunglasses was quite distressing to the young child who quite possibly had never seen a white person before. The school itself was quite bare bones, with two blackboards, no desks and around 30 children. The teacher, in an act of ingenuity, had actually taped Uno cards to the blackboard to display the numbers 1-10. But not all the children were scared of us, and they enthusiastically sang the alphabet, “Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star”, and “Bah-Bah Black Sheep”. After visiting the well near the school we headed off to lunch, where by luck, we encountered a shocking experience.

A reticulated giraffe in the Samburu National Reserve.

A reticulated giraffe in the Samburu National Reserve.

In the absence of a well, the way to get water is to either take it directly from the river, (and hope for no crocodiles) or to dig a hand dug well. The region has a number of seasonal rivers which form during the wet season. However, if one digs 5-10 feet down in the dry riverbank, one can encounter water. Hand dug wells produce brown colored water and they can be easily contaminated by animal or human fecal matter. But in the absence of any alternative, in the beating heat of Samburu, people have no choice but to dig hand dug wells. So while we driving to eat lunch, we found a woman digging a hand dug well, no less than a 5 minute drive from TSP’s well we had just visited. I would be lying if I were to say that it wasn’t deeply upsetting, seeing a woman dig for tainted water, because she thought it was the only option that she had. But in this moment, I felt such a reaffirmation for why I was here, for why The Samburu Project was here. Because we take for granted the fact that we can open a faucet and tasty, potable water comes out. Water is a human necessity, and everyone deserves the right to clean water.

An example of a hand dug well used when no other water sources are available.

An example of a hand dug well used when no other water sources are available.