Another Enjoyable, Non-routine Day
On Wednesday, we (Ryan, the four students, Duncan, and John) drove to Segera Ranch, which is a neighboring ranch to Mpala and the location of several of the burned experimental plots. Ryan and Duncan helped facilitate a day of training for a group of about 15 naturalists who are employed by the Zeitz Foundation at Mpala. The Zeitz Foundation is a non-profit organization that has as goals sustainable development and conservation of biodiversity. The international organization was founded in 2008 by Jochem Zeitz, who is the owner of Segera Ranch (and the CEO of Puma).
Once we arrived at a small meetinghouse at the ranch, our morning began with a round of warm introductions. Ryan and Duncan both gave short lectures, and we listened. At teatime, we helped set up a dung identification “quiz” for the naturalists. It was fun to watch them discuss their knowledge and opinions with each other. Ryan then followed with pointers to help with the identification of similar scat. Duncan’s lecture focused more on the importance of monitoring and keeping close and precise records of what is observed in the field, especially with regard to plants. It was a wonderful experience to listen to this young, Kenyan Ph. D. candidate (who we have gotten to know some during our fieldwork) speak as a teacher. Another aspect of the day that was special to me was the emphasis that was placed on learning from each other and sharing our enthusiasm for the Kenyan landscape, flora, fauna, and people.
While we were waiting to eat lunch we enjoyed a discussion, sparked by Ryan, about how cultural characteristics play such key roles in the ways people learn. It had been obvious to us that when Ryan asked questions, most of the naturalists were reluctant to answer because they were conscious of not wanting to seem like they were bettering themselves in front of their friends and colleagues. Then, when they were free to explore the dung and plant specimens, they became very engaged, inquisitive, and excited, now that they were able to work more as a team.
Also while we were waiting for lunch, we learned that the woman who usually does the cooking there had lost her father in the night, and therefore some of the men would be cooking. The staff there was apologetic that we had to wait so long for our food, but to me, it was one of those poignant moments in which language differences made me unable to communicate how little I felt they should be worrying about my comfort at such a time. Our late lunch of ugali was delicious and filling. Following that, we led all the naturalists in a short experience in one of our burned plots, teaching them some of our methods, and letting them help collect data. It was fun to watch John throughout the day, especially as he was regarded as the expert that he is by fellow Kenyans. Our day with them ended with many enthusiastic and thankful goodbyes. I wished that we could have spent more time with them, to get to know some of them more, and learn more of what they had to teach.
-Luke Zehr, for the team
(photos by Luke and Ryan)