Touring tea farms and celebrating culture

It has been an exciting couple of weeks here in Kenya. The big news is that Linnea was Pupil of the Week at her school and Garrett won his grade’s cross country race. Linnea did well in her race too, placing fourth. The public university professors’ strike finally ended, so I began classes last week. I am teaching ECD 402 Environmental Economics and Valuation. There are about 150 students enrolled in the class, though it will take several weeks for the whole class to arrive. Students do not attend class until their school fees are paid, and sometimes that can be delayed. The classroom does not have a functioning electrical socket (nor do the adjacent classrooms), so I can’t use any slides or transparencies. I am kicking it old school, using only the white board and chalkboard. Hakuna matata – no worries. [Update – the socket was fixed – I’ll have electricity next week!]. The class seems to be going well so far.

The kids have been invited to several birthday parties since we’ve been here. We went to a party for one of the neighborhood girls a few weeks ago, and the last two Saturdays we’ve gone to pool parties at Braeburn (the kids’ school) and a party at a place called Children’s World (slides, inflatables, ball crawl, etc.). The pool parties had a bouncy castle and a “star jump” – a trampoline with an elastic harness. The kids really got some height, especially when the attendant would give it an extra pull. The whole family was invited to these events, so Jen and I were able to meet some of the other parents as well. It has been great fun. And guess where we will be this Saturday?

On Thursday I toured a tea factory and tea farm on the slopes of Mount Kenya near Meru. My colleague Dr. Thoruwa and I were invited to tag along with folks from the Greening the Tea Industry in East Africa (GTIEA) project, who were conducting a site visit of a tea factory which installed a small hydro-electric turbine. The Meru area was beautiful with lush green hills covered in tea bushes and banana trees. It was great to get out of the city for the day and see a different part of the country. Learning how the tea is harvested (by hand), processed, and packaged was very interesting. The tea factory uses grid electricity, but it is unreliable. The hydro turbine supplies a portion of the factories power so it buys less from the electric utility. The turbine also supplies power when the grid electricity goes out, replacing the inefficient, polluting, and expensive diesel generators. This particular project was very successful and can serve as a model for other tea factories across East Africa.

Friday was Culture Day at Braeburn school. Jen staffed the American table which was one of 29 different countries represented at Culture Day. It truly is an international school. Another American family supplied a flag, some decorations, and brownies and Jen baked 300 snicker doodle cookies. This process took approximately 6 hours for Jen as our oven is the size of a microwave and only accommodates one small cookie sheet. She finished baking about 15 minutes before the electricity went out on Thursday night. The kids (and parents) enjoyed sampling the foods from around the world. Some of the tables were quite elaborate. Some British moms wore Union Jack dresses. The Swedish table had a large model of Pippi Longstocking’s house Villa Villa Kula. The Indian table featured a large statue of a Hindu god and the Moldovans provided some sweet pastries. South Africa had the biggest display with drinks, meats, and desserts. Jen learned the secret for making really smooth hummus (boil the canned chick peas prior to pureeing them). Linnea liked the Swedish table best, while Garrett’s favorite was the Irish table (after America, of course).

All of the banquet tables were brought in by the women who work at Braeburn by balancing them on their heads – no hands. Very impressive. Garrett wants to know when Jen will be able to carry tables and bags on her head. Jen noted that none of the men did any of the heavy lifting.

The event really got exciting when some birds of prey (black kites) circled above the atrium and started dive bombing the barbecue. The birds, which are like medium-sized hawks, would swoop in and grab some meat right off the tray. One woman smacked a bird with a rolled up newspaper – it was coming in that close. The bird was stunned momentarily but flew away – with the meat kebab in its beak. The parents just rearranged the kebabs on the tray and served them like nothing happened. Just another day in Kenya.


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