Category: SP 13, General HORTINLEA, PhD & Master theses
Two Months in Kenya
When I landed in Kenya on February 24th, 2017, it was the first time I was touching Kenyan soil but also my first time in an African country. This huge continent, so rich culturally speaking, was a mystery to me. Having the opportunity to go there for my field phase, under the HORTINLEA Master’s thesis programme, was a chance I did not hesitate to take. I knew that while exiting my comfort zone, I was also going to confront myself with many new discoveries.
At first, the general atmosphere of tranquillity, with things taking time to be done, can be a bit unnerving, of course. But after some time, I got permeated with this ever present feeling of relaxation, and was able to start enjoying it, with a good day starting with a good handshake. And I think I had more handshakes in two months in Kenya than in my entire life. There are plenty of small things that I enjoyed about this country. To begin with the food; I had no idea what to expect and I was positively surprised by the way I adapted to local dishes: chapatis with local vegetables are just the best. Just by writing about them now I would like to have one more. I tried to learn how to prepare them, but who knows how good they would turn out now. Another thing I appreciated very much was how easy it was to get in touch with people. There, everyone just speaks to everyone. You will not find a silent bus stop, where everyone is on their cell phone or looking in the emptiness without smiling to the other people waiting. The parts of Kenya I saw were very colourful. The nature is beautiful, magnificent flowers covering the trees and bushes, where dozens of birds never stop singing. And if you get time to visit some national parks, you can experience the impressive wildlife.
Going into the field
The core of my field phase took place in Kakamega County, in Western Kenya. The small village Iyala, lost in the middle of nowhere emanating a feeling of serenity, reminded me why I love research and my field of study. When we arrived there was already a representative from another organisation taking a lot of pictures of a new solar water pump. My interviewees – the farmers of African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs) - were very welcoming and open. We were sitting in the shade, looking on the plots and talked with the help of a translator. To my surprise a lot of interviewees even in remoted areas were completely fluent in English and eager to provide information. Without relying on the translation it was possible to go more in depth on their knowledge and years of experience with AIVs. I especially fell under the spell of an elderly lady whose eyes were wrinkled by too much smiling, and whose kindness was overwhelming. With her, it was not an interview anymore. It was a passionate conversation and a real exchange of local knowledge.
Rather than leaving right afterwards I stayed a bit longer in this lovely village, where even the houses and gardens were inviting me to relax. I laughed with some women, taking nice pictures, I played with a shy and really cute little boy, and I sat down to discuss with the “innovator” of the place and another man, trying to show them how to use my camera. But when the time to leave came, waving from the motorbike, I remembered how full of surprises life can be. In my memory, Iyala will represent Kenya. I will forget about the surcharged matatus, the loud music in the buses, the warmth and the mosquitoes, the lack of internet or cheese and insecurity lying in darkness, but I shall not forget about this small village, lost somewhere in Western Kenya.
© Manon Lelarge