20/10/13 – NKIITO, KENYA
I get to come back!!
I was telling Jackson my plans for the rest of my excellent adventure here in East Africa and he was very upset that we would be passing through Namanga again and not coming to visit ....so into the itinerary spreadsheet of awesomeness it went (yes, I have an itinerary spreadsheet – have you met me?)
...Jackson told us that the maasai boys with the long hair braids are the trainee warriors, and he’s their teacher. The only way to qualify is to kill a lion (I held my tongue). Jackson has killed a lion! Despite my conservationist tendencies, that’s still beyond impressive. That’s how he was given his lion name, “Sengali”.....I did some interviews for the water documentary in the afternoon, with Jackson and his mama. The maasai drink one cup of water a day. Their bodies are more accustomed to it, but also there isn’t really enough to drink more than that. I feel guilty every time I drink water, so I tried to cut down, but that made me feel horrendously ill. I can’t get by on less than 1.5 litres a day, and we’re recommended to drink 3 litres when we’re out here.
The whole situation is heartbreaking.
I’m sat here feeling like I’m about to pass out because I’ve only drunk a litre of water today. I’m desperate to get more from the tank, but how can I walk past the children sat outside and take more when they only get one cup a day? As if that weren’t enough, the water hole has dried up since we arrived. The boys have to take the cows 120km every day to Lake Amboseli to drink. And that’s one way.
We’re here– practically on holiday. Having a jolly jaunt down to see the maasai. And at the end of the week we’ll go back to our hotel with its water cooler and showers and washing machine. Jackson and Katisia and Yonda and Baba and all the other amazing people we’ve met will still be here, waiting to see if the rains come this year. Waiting to see if climate change will hold off enough for them to make it through another year until - until... well, it doesn’t bare thinking about.
These are my friends. How – in this day and age- can people who have welcomed me into their family and put a roof over my head be threatened with death because of a lack of water? The government here hasn’t got round to providing them with that basic human right yet. And in the mean time, the rest of the world keeps gobbling up fossil fuels until mother nature isn’t able to provide it for them either.
I have to try to do something.
21/10/13 – NKIITO,KENYA
So I’ll start with baby steps – by making this video as truthful and raw as I can. Hopefully, that can start to make a small difference by assisting AVIF to raise money for the well they hope to build here. The first stage was a long, detailed, often incredibly distressing interview with Jackson. You will see the result in the teaser film I am hoping to upload on 9/11/13.
I saw an ostrich today. Resisted the urge to shout “Kevin!” and “have you seen a bird? My pack has sent me on a special mission.”
My triumph of the day was as teacher. We found ourselves once again mesmerised by the stars, and Jackson asked what the bara-bara in the sky really was. Where does one begin to explain the planet, the solar system, the galaxy and the universe to a maasai warrior? The – somewhat lacking– sketches in my journal were the glorious result of this endeavour, along with the wide eyed wonder usually reserved for children looking through a telescope for the first time which manifested itself on the face of our favourite maasai warrior.
22/10/13 – NKIITO,KENYA
There were no elephants on this morning’s walk. But that didn’t deter us from creating what turned out to be – in my opinion – our most adventurous day yet. I even shaved my legs in preparation – luxury!
We were lead to a tree just outside the village boundary under which a small group of mamas and their children were sat with a small fire, which had died now to only glowing embers. The little ring of copper wire nestled in between the charcoals, its fiery eyes locked on us; its prey.
I was first. I gripped Jackson’s hand like a vice as the mama swiftly pressed the burning metal into the flesh of my ankle. It was over in a flash. And just like that, I was marked for eternity as the newest member of this little family.
Tori went next. I would love – for her sake – to be the gracious storyteller and tell you the tale of how she sat still and calm, and did not scream either. But alas you know well that I am no such thing!
In the afternoon Jackson taught us how to make chapattis. A surprisingly simple process, onto which he projected the concentration of one trapped in a life or death situation. This was lovingly dubbed Jackson’s “serious chapatti face”,which we continued to imitate for the remainder of our stay.
23/10/13 – NKIITO, KENYA
The water pump is a long way away. And there are innumerable people, donkeys, cows, sheep and goats trying to drink from it. Getting up in the morning and knowing that there is a 3 hour round trip ahead of you before you can eat, drink or wash is not a pleasant experience.
At the pump, we witnessed the magical sight of a sheep being born and taking its first steps......The afternoon was the hottest yet, and the three of us lay on a cow hide under a tree for a hazy eternity, playing boules with rocks, noughts and crosses with rocks, and a similar maasai game that is played – you guessed it - with rocks.
Eventually the heat over came Jackson and me, and we fell asleep under his “ohragarasha” – the shawl/cloak that the warriors wear. ....We headed out to the edge of the Amboseli park as night fell and caught a herd of zebra winding their way lazily across the sunset. This picture perfect image became all too much as the realisation dawned that this was our final night with our Nkiito family. It was difficult to tell by the light of the stars that shone from the bara-bara in the sky that evening, but if you looked carefully across the planes of the Amboseli you may have seen tears glistening on the cheeks of a cheeky maasai warrior and the two naroyeh (girls) sat side by side.
This is a small excerpt from the literary genius that is Robyn Forsythe's journal from her and Tori's volunteering experience. Enjoy x
"13/10/13 – CAIRO AIRPORT, EGYPT
We have silly hats, as all explorers should ..I’m wearing a pith helmet. We have used our travel time wisely, by learning some skills that will come in very handy in the African bush. As Tori put it, “Eddie Izzard says this is how you walk like a giraffe.....”
14/10/13 – DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA
Dar Es Salaam is a terrifying city.... the lady on reception is very kind –a ray of sunshine in this otherwise opaque mass of uneasiness...
15/10/13 – DAR ES SALAAM to LUSHOTO, TANZANIA
...We’ve stocked up on plenty of water for the journey – it’s unbelievable how much water you need to drink in this heat! The brand is Kilimajaro Water. I wonder if that’s the African equivalent of Buxton. ....Lushoto is – as the name suggests – luscious! It’s a beautiful mountain village surrounded by rainforests and steep views onto the planes. .. Irente View itself was breathtaking. I’ve honestly neverseen anything like it! The photos speak for themselves. We stood on the edge of a cliff which was easily 500m high and marveled at how the Usumbara Mountains seem to rise straight out the plains below. At this point we could contain ourselves no longer and sang the Circle of Life at the top of our lungs, muchto the confusion of God-Living, our guide.
17/10/13 – LUSHOTO, TANZANIA to NKIITO, KENYA
Today was the day we’d been waiting for! Tori and I could not contain our excitement at the prospect of being safely in the arms of Jackson, the maasai warrior who was to be our guide for the next week. The bus to Arusha was hot and packed with people, so I exploited my talent of being able to sleep anywhere ... when we caught our first glimpse of the wonderful Jackson crossing the road towards us; as Tori put it, “Oh my god he even has a stick.” Jackson is a traditional morran, or maasai warrior, and wears redcheckered clothes and beads, as well as carrying the mandatory stick. He is also the proud owner, as we were soon to discover, of a wicked sense of humour!
After shopping for everything we were going to eat for the next week (very difficult to decide on the spot), we hopped into a taxi where Jackson proceeded to attempt to teach us Maa, the maasai language. Tori picked it up much more quickly than I did, but hilarity ensued with mixed up words and Jackson’s pronounciation of words such as “gi-raf”(with a hard G) and “mil-ik”, as well as Tori managing to tell Jackson that tomorrow she would milk a giraffe. A proclamation which Jackson vowed he would ensure Tori completed.
We were greeted at the village like long lost family members, and I have never felt so welcome in someone else’s home. The maasai know how to keep the English happy, and we were soon nestled by a fire in Jackson’s Mama’s mud house drinking strong sweet tea. We were to cook dinner over the fire, and Jackson asked us to fetch the Ugali we had bought earlier in the day (no, we didn’t know what it was either) and a whale. “A whale?!” cried Tori. At which Jackson fell about laughing and explained that he had in fact said “oil”.
Ugali turns out to be… food. I’m not sure how else to describe it. If you were playing a simple computer game and had to feed the characters units of nondescript food – it would be ugali.It is made from maze flour and then boiled up to make bowls of tasteless, textureless… food. But it wasn’t disagreeable, and we were hungry, so we wolfed it down and said “ashi” (thank you) to everyone before excusing ourselves to our little sheet metal hut for the night.
18/10/13 – NKIITO, KENYA
The books are not wrong that the best views of Kilimanjaro are from the Amboseli. Through the morning mist it looks like a shadowy giant,silently watching as we scurry round preparing for the day, with its little snowy beanie as the only sign betraying just how distant and vast it really is.
The day began promptly at 5.30am as the sun rose with a trip to the watering hole. It was a few hundred meters from the village, and consisted of a small muddy water bowl in the ground. The cows came here on their way out in the morning, Jackson told us, after which the boys take them to graze. They walk all day and don’t return until sunset at 7pm.
After breakfast Jackson came to say “mahbey” (let’s go) and took us out into the bush. We were amazed when our destination turned out to be the slaughtering of a cow. This always takes place away from the village, so as not to attract lions .....In the afternoon there was a community meeting, which was fascinating to watch even though neither of us could understand a word of what was being said. The men sat opposite the elder women, and the young women and children sat at the side. A man would stand up to make a point, and then another was invited to present a counter point. This was directed at the elder mamas, who then delivered what seemed to be a verdict. The final point on the meeting itinerary was the arrival of the “muzungus” (the Swahili word for western/foreigners). Jackson asked us each to stand up in turn and introduce ourselves, he then translated and told everyone that we were there to make a film about their lackof water, with the aim to raising money to build a well for the community. The whole community then sang for us, which was amazing and really interesting. Miss Longdon raved about tonal similarities, and pentatonic scales (orsomething!) for days!
19/10/13 –NKIITO, KENYA
The first adventure took place at 5.30am before we’d even been awake for an hour. Jackson can’t help but grin as he points out the “gi-raf” poking it’s head over a distant tree. The two silly muzungu stalked nervously towards the tall stranger – tripping over bushes and scratching our ankles before finally coming to rest behind a prickly tree. We stared and it stared back. Eddie Izzard was not wrong with his impression of a giraffe running. They look like they are in slow motion, and not in fact moving anywhere much at all.
Whilst watching the cows being brought in for the day in the evening – they are surrounded by a fence made of thorns for the night – we learnt a curious thing. The maasai never point at the sky. It would anger the gods ...instead, they put their thumb between the first two fingers (like we do when we say “Got your nose!”) to hide the fact that they’re pointing at the stars. Stars which are, by the way, unparalleled. The Milky Way really does look like a burning bara-bara (road) in the sky out here and the constellations which I always thought the people who drew the books made up a bit, really are all there.
More to follow .....
At this awful time I've already gone through a range of emotions and am now only left with a sense of pride for those in Nairobi but also for all of our volunteers and the people I've met over the years connected to Kenya. Knowing the struggles that Kenya has fought through on its own, way before social media, before 9/11, before people truly started to understand what religious fanatics were .. knowing just some of the battles they survived I'm just so proud to see more of the strength and pride of a country I have long had a respect and love for.
We have two young volunteers who were about to come over to help before the terrorists targeted Westgate Mall in Nairobi yesterday lunchtime. They were due to travel over and experience another culture and assist in spreading awareness of what we do - which is really to get more people to visit to experience another culture and assist in spreading awareness of ... its VIRAL. Just like the positive unity that these moronic al-shabaab / al-quaeda idiots just don't get. They think they're spreading terror and fear but it manifests into something much more powerful.
The terror quickly dissipates and the voids caused by loss are quickly filled by strength and courage, pride, unity and understanding.
How many years are going to pass?
How long will it take for these al-whatever plebs to evolve if only just enough to realise that they will never win? They are like children throwing tantrems. But. With AK-47s and grenades.
Aesops fable of the north wind and the sun should be part of their teachings. You need to know that the harder you blow @HSM_PressOffice the tighter we hold our cloak round us but when the sun shines warmly we gladly open our arms .. and the sun shines a lot in Kenya!
Right now there is great hardship and suffering and people are still trapped by the crazed, mindless militants, the same militants that honestly believe they are fighting to avenge the deaths of their own people, people who have flocked to Kenya for safety, people currently living in squalor and fear in refugee camps just to get away from the militants, people who are growing to hate the militants as they realise that they only stand for power, greed and stupidity. Stupidity and mass-delusion that any belief of any religion would ever ask them to kill an innocent child. Al-shabaab started losing a long time ago. 'Jihad' is about as useful as the death of Christ, which is a lesson, only. I refer to the words of David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Baylor University, Texas :
".. the holy books were written millenia ago by people who never had the opportunity to know about DNA, other galaxies, electricity, other cultures ... we know too little to commit to strict atheism and too much to commit to any religion."
It takes a special kind of person to walk up to an innocent man and shoot him point blank, then turn around and randomly shoot people and children for going shopping on a Saturday lunchtime. It take a special kind of bitch to kill a pregnant women and child because you believe its just, jihad. It takes a special kind of organisation to live-tweet a massacre and it takes a special kind of idiot to still do the same. old. thing. even after the rest of us have listened and learnt from our mistakes, evolved so much higher that we literally make a movie mocking the "special" ones. If you haven't seen the satirical Four Lions go rent it or buy it now, in honour of those that just lost their lives.
We only need to continue to love our children and educate them in Peace Love and Unity, to help those who've suffered and promote a better world, because soon enough the militants will become extinct. Natural selection favours the strong and the brave and al-shabaab are neither. Israeli Special Forces united with the KDF also help!
I want to take this opportunity to thank all our volunteers for everything they've ever done for others, for everything they continue to do and for everything they've endured too; malaria, typhoid, theft, tears, heartache - things that only make us stronger and appreciate the good, honest, kind, caring souls that make up the vast majority of this world. And Kenya. I want to thank them because despite everything they are still travelling over, still opening their hearts and minds to new experiences, learning more, realising more and enriching their lives.
To all those lost in this tragedy, in every tragedy:
"To live in the hearts of others is to never die".
I can only leave you with this humbling extract from my hero, Carl Sagan, from his book "The Pale Blue Dot" and the image itself taken of planet Earth in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spaceprobe looking back on us from approximately 6 billion kilometers away, sent for discovery, for adventure, for knowledge.
Message to Anupma "get well soon", and to Robyn F on your first visit "so proud of your courage"
This is a long one so you should go grab a coffee (or in my case a chai)
Social media at its best!
I woke up this morning and fired up FaceBook to see whats been occurring around the world. A lot of people still slate FB and get wrapped up in privacy issues but what they're completely missing is how to set up a good Newsfeed; add + add + ADD and get a wide collection of input. Make it global, across the genres, anyone and everyone (and then cherry-pick afterwards). I'm lucky enough to have been adding to my newsfeed regularly for many years now and have acquired some amazing friends and colleagues over the years. mainly through volunteering. One of them is Moki Kokoris, a polar explorer and Ambassador to both Polar Bears and the Indigenous Peoples of the Far North. Originally from the Ukraine, Moki spends a great deal of time teaching about the Arctic and Climate Change, well-placed with her multiple positions of UN liaison at The Arctic Institute, Center for Circumpolar Security Studies, Arctic Editor of "The Polar Times" journal & Managing Editor ofthe website at the American Polar Society. It would take too long to list all her accolades on here, LinkedIn does it fairly well but visit her website too for tales of her North Pole exped and more. I would highly recommend following her FB page too for incredible photography of the beautiful landscapes we're rapidly losing!
Moki has opened my eyes further into whats happening up there at the top of the world, and at the bottom. Antarctica is also starting to change drastically and those effects will be felt around the globe too. Its all connected!
The trouble with people though is that not everyone has their eyes open. Luckily we have celebrities to cover those bases and with the world awash with "climate change" stories it sometimes takes the celebs to bring home the truth.
This powerful Youtube does the job. For now.
This is what has inspired me, woken me up this morning.
I've contacted Greenpeace and want to help assist set up an office in Greenland or Iceland. I have the Summer of 2014 to fill after Year 2 at the University of Leeds and I want to do something meaningful. I was simply going to apply for an internship with them but there's no offices listed in the Arctic, north of Oslo?? There's a Finland office but .. anyway .. I've started a conversation and hopefully that will lead to more than just posting this article or sharing the video .. but please do. Pass it to all your friends because this is the reality.
All this information, by the way, I get via Facebook! Next to all the LoLCats and Game invites there's a little 'down arrow' which leads to a powerful "I don't want to see this" option. I use it a lot.
So .... (much to say) .. this morning it finally clicks that a large majority of what I'm seeing from a vast range of people is about that video up there. My awesome friend Alexandra lives in Perth and is seriously considering emigrating rather than endure another Australian summer. Her beautiful daughter just spent time in Alaska and shared many photos including this one. Photos like this will be precious in less than a decade.
My wish is to learn more and help more and thats why I'm writing this and of course why I run AVIF. I truly hope to see the Arctic before the drillers and miners cut it to pieces. I know we need the resources, I know the economic arguments and I know that many indigenous people would welcome higher incomes but I also know that most would rather have their traditions upheld and saved and lets face it .. we have much to learn from their simplistic basic lives. One thing I love about Kenya and the Amazon and Tibet and all the far flung regions I get to learn about is understanding and perspective of just how far we've overstepped our mark on "development". Electricity and transport are essential to development but I've always been a country girl and believe we HAVE to find a midpoint, negotiate a way through without wrecking the planet.
Basic lifestyles have that key.
Living off the land is easier said than done but there's a common ground and people like Moki know how important it is to get into dialogues with the indigenous people of the Far North. We all know (I hope) the iconic photo of the crying elder from the Amazon Xingu region but how many take time to fully appreciate the power of this image.
What if this were your Grandfather?
I was lucky enough to live in China for a year when my kids were only small. Taking a 4 & 6 yr old on an overnight municipal ferry up the Yangtse to sail past the almost completed Three Gorges Dam and through the Gorges themselves was a trip of a lifetime. It cost us $40 to sail past the many villages lying below the waterline markers. We met an old woman at the turning point village who gave my daughter a present, a butterfly brooch. A local woman translated for us as she told us that she would stay in her house when the dam was finished and the water rose above her. She had lived by the river her whole life and couldn't die in a concrete block of flats that the government were building inland and downriver. I have no idea what happened to her but I'll always cherish her. The Belo Monte Dam will bring development and power to a massive area of the Amazon but at what cost?
Mining and drilling in the Arctic will also bring development and power (of all kinds) to the Arctic, but at what expense? Hurricane Sandy last year killed 117 in the US, Canada and the Caribbean and is estimated to have cost New York state $41.9 billion in repair, restoration, mitigation and prevention. Over 100 million miles of shorelines beaches are severely eroded. Sandy had the lowest (worst) barometric reading ever recorded for an Atlantic storm.
Now watch the video again .. please?
I'm surrounded by robotics and programming right now and also within a very closed, conventional environment. My boss is desperately trying to make me conform but he won't win. I'm a stubborn bitch and although that closes me off to some things it keeps my mind fresh and open to innovation.
That's what's important.
I had an established member of the National Nuclear Lab come over to me yesterday while I was playing with the Kinect pointcloud and ask me simply "where is the excitement ?" He was talking about the lack of excitement in industry for an area that should be in every corner of every company; someone just playing with code to develop improvements in every area of every aspect of life.
Take some time to think this weekend and make plans to help.
You'll have to forgive my silence over the past few weeks as I've been doing 12 hr days commuting to the National Nuclear Laboratory, on placement with their modelling and simulation team. I've been working on robotics simulation bringing together all my knowledge acquired over the past year at the University of Leeds on an Artificial Intelligence BSc.
As part of the course I was invited to a function hosted by Google and the University of Aberystwyth for a British Computer Society Womens event. Since that event I've been in frequent contact with Google as I'm hoping to do an internship with them for part of my Year in Industry 2014/15. Through these links I'm realising more and more about the extent of support given to Women in Industry, particularly science and engineering by large organisations such as Google and realising the potential that is literally up for grabs.
I've just been offered the chance of a trip to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women 2013, in Minneapolis, MN to "Join exceptional women leaders in computing as they explore this year’s theme, 'Think Big, Drive Forward.'" Hosted by the Anita Borg Institute, Anita was the inspirational American computer scientist (1949 - 2003) who founded the Institute for Women and Technology and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Her legacy remains in The Anita Borg Institute that seeks "to increase the impact of women on all aspects of technology, and the positive impact of technology on the world’s women."
'Amazing' Grace Hopper (1906 – 1992) needs little introduction as the American computer scientist and United States Navy Rear Admiral. "A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers and conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She also developed the first compiler and is credited with popularizing the term "debugging" (motivated by an actual moth removed from the computer)". She has both a U.S. Navy destroyer USS Hopper and the Cray XE6 "Hopper" supercomputer at NERSC named after her! [Wikipedia]
I was asked to submit a possible project that Google would support and I instantly thought of Viviana in the Amazon. I first met Viviana's mother as she worked in the clinic on the island of
Ilha do Combu, a 45 minute boat trip from the vibrant city of Belém in northern equatorial Brazil. The islands are still very much isolated from the mainland in development. Most of the community live off the river without electricity and despite 'Brazil’s women’ lowering the fertility rate for the entire country there are still many island women who do not realize the choices that IT can offer them.
Having visited the clinic and the local school with the incredible local organisation Ama Zon Art Viviana's mother invited us to spend an unforgettable night on the river staying in their house on the riverbank. There I met her daughter, Viviana, and learnt how she had had to give up college when her father was killed by a snake bite. He worked every day in the rainforest collecting acai berries, a staple food for the area, and literally couldn’t get to the clinic in time to receive the anti-venom.
I believe young women like Viviana should be allowed the same chances that the internet brought me. Simple as. I will find out in the next few weeks if we can provide that support but in the meantime I can only smile at the memories of that amazing night on the river and how truly strong some women can be.
[Viviana (in blue top) on her ponte/ bridge that connects her house to the river and their small boat, the only transport they have. With the Ama Zon Art team, 2012]