Sunday, September 22, 2013

On the Westgate Mall Attacks

My heart is broken for Kenya tonight.

There are no words that will express the horror of what's happened at Westgate, and so I feel helpless. I cannot make a condemnation strong enough for this nightmare. Nothing conveys the anger. The pain. The utter unjustified horror of what an attack on hundreds of civilians feels like for a nation -- particularly one as new to democracy as Kenya.

I don't know what this will mean for Kenya. I don't know if this, combined with the Nairobi airport fire of just six weeks ago, will put a major dent in Kenya's tourism for any period of time. I don't know if this will worsen the already-difficult lives of Somalis in Kenya, or if it will alter the way we think about security in public spaces, or if it will burn a mark into the Kenyan character that is never erased.

I don't know what's going to happen to this city that I've fallen in love with (quietly, without realizing it), or these people who have settled deeply into my heart. I don't know tomorrow.

I do know three things:

I know that Kenyans are some of the most generous, most resourceful, and most unerringly kind people I've ever had the privilege of meeting. Kenya will come through this tragedy a stronger nation. She has to.

I know that the war on extremism and indiscriminate killings is not over.

I know that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. I know that the good guys outnumber the bad, and the good guys always win. The battle may be long, and the fight may be fierce, but the good guys always win.

My heart is with Kenya tonight.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Happy Madaraka Day!

Today is Kenyan Independence Day! And I'm celebrating enough for the entire country.

When I asked a few Kenyans how they were going to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kenya's casting off of the British shackles, I mostly got a few shrugs and some 'I don't know - what am I supposed to do?'s in response.

Never one to be deterred, I decided I'd celebrate Kenya's independence in the grand tradition of America's Independence Day, and I decided to go full-on Kenya Pride. Which means that today, I have done the following things:

1. Worn only Kenyan clothes. (A dress I bought in Aitong [for 200 ksh, sweet!] and my khanga all day.)

2. Drank only Kenyan beverages. (Tea instead of coffee for breakfast, then Stoney instead of Coca-Cola with lunch and Tusker instead of a G&T for sundowners.)

3. Tried to speak only Swahili. (But gave up when someone asked me a complicated question about decentralized government and states' rights in the US.)

4. Listened to Kenyan Music (I love Kagwe Mungai!)

5. Read President Uhuru Kenyatta's 2013 Madaraka Day Speech and reflected on the interesting facts of life in a new democracy. (Check it out if you're interested in a quick peek at this government's priorities and concerns for its country.)

Which leads me to my next point:

Some Interesting Facts of Life In A New Democracy
Living in a country that's only had a democratic government for about 50 years sure puts into perspective a lot of my own political-cultural expectations of leadership. Here are a few things I've observed:

Fact #1: It's Really Damn New.
While we proudly boast President #44 back home in the States, Kenya's welcoming in President #4. It's really damn new.

Fact #2: A young democracy is vulnerable -- to corruption, to exploitation, to violence.
In the States, we have the luxury of not worrying that every local or national election might potentially end in a horrible corruption scandal where it turns out that it was all a farce all along. Not that every election is all buttons and kittens (*cough*2004*cough*), but the possibility that we'll end up with a man who rules for 24 years and tries to establish a de jure dictatorship is slim to nil. The possibility of a violent eruption of displeasure with loss is also one we've rooted out early in our history, and no longer have to live in fear of. Here's a personally favorite quotation (spuriously attributed to George Washington, so not sure who the correct author is):
"What is most important of this grand experiment, the United States? Not the election of the first president but the election of its second president. The peaceful transition of power is what will separate this country from every other country in the world."

Fact #3: People don't yet know their own power. 
Part of living in a democracy (the best part, if you ask me) is that you get the privilege of telling the government what to do. Leadership positions are held by someone else, but owned by the people. Now arguably, it's a flawed system (lack of access/education limits the power of groups or individuals, etc.) but it's still a damned good model. Governor Martin O'Malley is not a miniature king of Maryland. He doesn't have some form of incorruptible claim to governnorship. He temporarily occupies a position of power because the good people in the great state of Maryland have decided to allow it. We put him in office. He works for us.

But switching the zeitgeist over to that after centuries of "Because I Said So" rule is a tough transition to make. So sometimes people haven't quite gotten the hang of it, and the fear of authority rules its ugly head.

Fact #4: Getting it right is really hard.
From the government's perspective, they just really want to get it right. The drive for Kenya to catch up with the world is overwhelming. But there's so much catching up to do (building infrastructure, strengthening the economy, etc.) that sometimes it's tempting to take shortcuts, particularly when the fair and democractic approach to problem-solving just takes so damn long sometimes.

But the Kenyan people have done a really brilliant and really admirable job of pushing forward, even into unfamiliar political territory, and I have nothing but hope in my heart for this country. And living in a new democracy can be pretty awesome at times -- particularly when you get to teach a fresh crop of  people to the critical importance of an independence day BBQ. :)

With love & pride from Kenya,

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Eight Things I Love About the Maasai Mara (And Two Things I Don't)

So, as you may or may not have been able to tell from the flurry of Facebook pictures and heartfelt articles about my work here, I'm in love with the Mara. I'm also insanely busy in the Mara, which is why I've been sorry to neglect my blog here.

But I'm back now, and I thought I'd start us off with a bit of exposition about what I love so much about this place (in no particular order):

1. The People
Two Maasai elders reading my wildlife identification books.
The Maasai are reliably kind, generous, funny, clever, and just all-around enjoyable to work with. I get to spend every day visiting people at their homes, sitting down for lunch with them in town, chatting on the side of the road about the goings-on of the day, and just generally being a part of the community. Everyone's been unbelievably welcoming to me -- I've been adopted twice and proposed to three times (with cattle, in case you were wondering).

2. The Landscape

Come on. Come on. Come on. Can you imagine ever growing tired of a view like that?

3. The Rain

The clouds come first, rolling over the horizon dark and heavy; in the distance, wide stripes of gray obscure the skyline. That's the rain, coming in. Everyone bets on the rain, and the rain is a point of daily conversation -- Will it rain today? No, don't think so. Better keep the cows out. Will it rain this evening? No, it'll rain in the afternoon -- better bring the goods back into the shop.

4. The Cattle

Two calves with the World's Cutest Guard Puppy.

Maybe it's my Aggie heritage (Texas A&M '09! Gig 'em!), or maybe it's all those agriculture classes finally kicking in, or maybe it's just the sweet, melodic (read: incessant) sound of the cowbells ringing in the hills...but dammit, I love these cows now.

5. The Wildlife

You guys already know that I live in the Garden of Eden. This shouldn't come as a surprise.

6. The Kids

Oh, come on. Look at those faces.

7. The Languages

My Swahili's picking up fast, but I'm also learning a bit of Maa (the Maasai language), and snatches of Kikuyu here and there. Many people in the Mara speak 2 - 3 languages, depending on where their parents are from and where (or whether) they've gone to school. But it's less an exhibition of skill and more a reflection of necessity - when every one of Kenya's 40+ tribes has its own language, cross-linguistic communication become the norm.

8. The Jewelry

Photo by Tim Lee, Knox College 2009 
Nobody does beadwork like the Maasai, and every day, Maasai women wear dozens of beaded necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. I've only got a few so far, but I can't wait for a really good market day, so I can pick up a ton more (plus as much cloth as I can carry back to the States!).

So those are some of the reasons that I love the Mara! But as I slowly turn Maasai (eating goat meat 4 days out of the week and wearing a khanga and beads everyday), there are a few things I'd like to see change:

1. The Lack of Education

By and large, the Maasai are a happy, well-off people. They're rich in cattle and (despite the fact that they personally don't cultivate it), live atop some of the most arable, nutrient-rich soil in the world. They're also an incredibly well-known tribe, and are fortunate to receive thousands of tourists every year - all of whom spend money on Maasai necklaces, bracelets, cloth, and other artifacts.

But schooling is limited among the Maasai, and most kids drop out by about age 14 in favor of tending cattle and goats. Girls, who can be married in Maasai culture as young as 11 or 12, tend to drop out earlier.

This puts the Maasai at a distinct disadvantage when dealing with the Kenyan central government; understanding contracts, land deeds, leases, and declarations of rights are all difficult when you can't speak Swahili, and only know basic math.

Fortunately, due to their own initiative and with the help of several aid organizations, this seems to be changing in Maasailand -- and we hope it's a change that will stick.

2. The Limitations of Women-Children

The two oldest female students (center) at this all-ages school.
I say women-children because often, a Maasai will refer to his wives as part of his children (as in, "Go to the house and ask one of the children to bring us some maziwa."). This is not entirely inaccurate; as I said before, girls can be married as early as 11 or 12 in the polygamous Maasai culture, and not-uncommonly to men 30 - 50 years their senior. So I'm sure they do seem like children to him.

I say that, however, at the risk of incorrectly making the lives of Maasai women seem bleak. They're not; I meet every day with sweet, funny, happy Maasai women who think it's the saddest (or strangest) thing in the world that I'm 26 and unmarried.

Still, I'd like to see a Maasailand that offers women both: (i) the opportunity to grow up and become educated and decide their own fates and the (ii) opportunity to celebrate their identity as mothers and wives and keepers of the Maasai culture.

I'd like to see women live longer, healthier lives without the risk of death or the lifelong complications that teenage births and 8+ pregnancies can bring. I'd like to meet little girls who can read just as well as their brothers, and it frustrates me when they get chased off of the books we've brought by even their younger male siblings. I'd like to see more schools, and more opportunities for women to live in a sphere separate from their sexual value; a space to be just young, growing people -- and not children or wives or too-early women.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Wild Dogs, Water & My First Week in the Maasai Mara

Jambo, everyone!

 I've arrived in the Mara! Apologies for the long delay in updating, but getting between getting settled, starting my research, and taking fabulous pictures of amazing animals, I've been a bit busy.

Where I Live
So I've finally landed at Olonana Sanctuary, where I'll be based until June as I work on my research. It's a beautiful lodge run by Sanctuary Retreats, and has fantastic staff and a beautiful dining room that looks out over the Mara River. I like to sit out on the veranda in the afternoons to drink milky Kenyan tea and read while I listen to the hippos grunting and playing in the water.

I've been in Kenya for a little over a week now, and I can already tell that I won't want to leave in July. This part of the country is beautiful, with vast sweeping plains dotted with trees and and sharp green mounts just teeming with life. 

There are animals everywhere, and if you know anything about me, you'll know that this place is just heaven for me. There are lizards and geckos running to and fro, and Sykes' blue monkeys, vervet monkeys, and coppertail monkeys jumping about in the trees with galagos and genet cats. There are hippos and crocodiles in the river, and black kites and martial eagles soaring overhead. At night, I can hear hyenas (fisi) making their walking-around sounds and bushbabies crying. When we drive the plain, we pass elephants (tembo) and ostriches and lions (simba) and giraffes (twiga) and all manner of ungulate. Kenya is the closest thing to the Garden of Eden that I can imagine. 

Dad teaching baby elephant how to bathe in a small mud puddle.

Buffalo always look so completely unimpressed with whatever you're doing.

A Masai giraffe, just trying to get a morning snack.

standing tall under the big blue Mara sky

Concerned hyena wonders why you're staring at him. 
Just layin' around, sleeping, doing lion stuff.
What I Do
My work is going well so far, although we've only gotten a few days in! For those of you who don't recall, I'm here working with a local organization that builds predator-proof fences (read: fences made with aluminum and chain link, rather than sticks and thorns) to protect people's livestock from lions and other predators. Protecting the livestock means people won't need to kill predators -- so it protects lions, too. My job is to assess the effectiveness of the fences: what works, what doesn't, and why. 

An mzee at his boma, inside the manyatta. This is an unfortified boma, built with sticks and thorns, rather than chain link.

So that means that I work about 6 days a week in the local communities, paying visits to the manyattas to interview the families living there about their experiences with predators and any problems they've had. I try to get a sense of whether the fence has had an impact on their livestock losses by comparing predation rates before the fence to afterward, and looking at how things have changed.

Interview time with two of the mzee's wives, his neighbor, and the best baby ever.

Looking for leopard footprints at the site of a predation event (see the giant hole in the boma roof behind me? Yeah, that would be where the leopard broke through).

I'm working with the best team anyone could ask for -- Elias Kamande, a staff member at the Anne K. Taylor Fund, is my right-hand man/bestie/home slice, and we work together with Saitoti, another AKTF teammate and a respected member of the Maasai community here. Saitoti speaks Maa and some Swahili, so he helps us translate when we visit families who don't speak any English and only limited Swahili (this is most of the families).

Saitoti, myself, and Elias Kamande

We've had a great time visiting the manyattas, speaking with local community members, coming up with great new ideas for education programs, and seeing the Mara.

What I've Seen
Oh! And a bit of awesome luck: on one of our trips up the escarpment, we saw African wild dogs! This is a huge deal, because wild dogs (also known as Cape hunting dogs or Painted dogs) are very endangered, and were pretty much locally extincted from this part of East Africa in the late 1980's. In our conversations with local people, we'd been hearing a lot of reports that they'd been seen in 2011 or early 2012, but we hadn't had any more recent confirmation. Now we know that Lycaon pictus is coming back, and can start thinking about how to integrate them into our thoughts and plans for fence-building and conservation in the area.

This wild dog met us on the road to Olkurruk. Note the distinctive mottled coat pattern.

The two, meeting at the edge of the escarpment. 

Lying down to take a rest.

As a final note, things have also been generally quite quiet in Kenya politically, since Kenyatta's swearing-in earlier this week. We're all thankful for a peaceful transition, and look forward to watching Kenya's development over the next five years. Maybe the wild dogs will be a good omen for the strength of Kenya's economy and identity as it moves forward into the future -- I'm definitely hopeful and happy for this beautiful country in the middle of the East African coast.

Love from Kenya,

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Spears, Shotguns, and Open Spaces: All Equally Dangerous for Lions?

Well, Kenya did it, guys! The election went over without a hitch (or at least with only minor hitches) and Uhuru Kenyatta, 51-year-old son of Jomo Kenyatta, is the early victor.

Uhuru Kenyatta, from his website.
See? I told you the BBC was in a tizzy over nothing.

So what does this mean for me?

Well, it means that all final changes to my travel itinerary have been made, my ticket's been bought, and I'll be leaving the US and heading to Africa (via England) in exactly 8 days.

I'll be stopping over in England to present my work at the Student Conference on Conservation Science, hosted at Cambridge University. Then I'll be headed off to visit friends & researchers at Oxford University, before returning to London to finish any last-minute preparations for Nairobi.

And not a moment too soon, it seems, as a couple of pivotal things have happened in lion news of late.

What's up with Lions?

A lot! First, back in December, a group of researchers based at Duke University (ahem) published a Very Important Paper that detailed exactly how much lion populations have declined over the past 50 years, and how fast. Spoiler Alert: The answers are 'way too much' and 'way too fast', respectively.

Lion populations have declined from 100,000+ fifty years ago to just 30,000 today. National Geographic has a really lovely animation that illustrates this.

Lion Countries & Population Range in the 1800s 
Lion Countries & Population Range Today 
Lion Countries & Population Range Tomorrow?

The new data publicized by that paper helped, in part, to spur the Born Free Foundation to take action in January to petition the United States Fish & Wildlife Service to list the African Lion under the Endangered Species Act.

"Well, that's nonsense," you might say to yourself (because you're a skeptic and you like to jump to conclusions), "There are no African lions in the United States."

While we obviously have no wild population, African lion parts are a surprisingly popular trade here (more than 60% of lion trophies exported from Africa were U.S.-bound), meant to be wall-hanging byproducts of eager hunters' (or wannabe hunters') trips abroad. While I have no problem with sustainable fair chase hunting, I do have a problem with recklessly driving a species to extinction.
Map of lion range declines, 1909 - 2009, from Panthera's State of the Lion report.

So since all those happy tourists in the Tilley hats and rented jeeps are funding an unsustainable industry that contributes to the loss of the species, something must be done. Listing the lion would make it harder to ship one's ill-gotten trophy gains back into the U.S. and would hopefully cut down on the industry's appeal.

Then this week brought more lion news out of Tanzania, where Craig Packer, Professor at the University of Minnesota led a group which published the bold assertion that lions are better off in fences than in open space landscapes.

Photo by Luke Hunter/Panthera, from the original Science NOW article

Mmm, fences. Our dear old friend.

Guys, fences can be great. Really great! Sometimes they do exactly what they're supposed to do: keep animals safe from human activity.

And sometimes they do this:

From Mbaiwa & Mbaiwa's 2012 paper in the International Journal of Wilderness

Yes, conservation is expensive. Yes, human-wildlife conflict with lions is incredibly difficult to resolve. No, I don't want people losing their livestock or their lives. Yes, I understand the value of occasional fencing, particularly for veterinary or conservation purposes. And no, I don't think fences are the answer to all our problems.

Fences limit the ability of ranging carnivores to disperse, restrict genetic variability over time, and may have a host of other unintended effects on a population -- and that's before we even get to the landscape-level problems (e.g. vegetation changes, herbivore population restriction, impacts on other species) that large-scale fencing can cause.

There's also a social-psychological effect - a fence shuts people out, something we can't afford to do in wildlife conservation.

And beyond this, there can be significant socioeconomic impacts to human populations as a result of changes in local biodiversity, reduction in ecosystem services previously provided by free-ranging wildlife, and loss of access to fenced areas.

When these kinds of impacts are known, considered, and accepted - and the alternative is the complete extinction of a population or the utter decimation of an ecosystem - then fencing might indeed be the go-to option. I'm happy to get behind the judicious use of fences in certain areas with certain needs. But I'm betting that those certain areas and certain needs make up a very small percentage of the landscape in Africa. That means that there's still a big, bad world out there for people and wildlife, and we need to keep looking for more solutions.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Elections & Itineraries

The best laid plans...

International work is always a challenge -- trying to coordinate people, letters, permits, vehicles, and facilities from a different continent (or two) means that no matter how tightly we plan, an element of stochasticity always creeps in. was your turn to refuel the plane, right?

In my case, it's related to elections.

Specifically, it's related to the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled to take place in Kenya on March 4th, 2013.

Elections & Corruption
Now, elections are contentious at the best of times, and in the proudest of countries. But following widespread accusations (and in some cases, verification) of corruption in the 2007 Kenyan elections, civil disagreement turned to violent demonstration -- and claimed 1,300 lives.

The Meat of the Story
With my limited East African experience and scant (read: none) political science credentials, I couldn't begin to hope to do justice to the complexity of reasons behind the 2007 Kenyan election crisis.

Mwai Kibaki
President Mwai Kibaki via
However, a Cliffs Notes version is this: Big Guy (Mwai Kibaki, who won in a landslide in 2002 and has a propensity for expressive faces) had been president a while, and simply wasn't ready to give up all the fancy hats and mahogany desk chairs that come with the role. So when it came time for everyone to line up politely for democratic elections, he may or may not have slipped his own name onto a couple thousand extra ballots.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, via Nehanda Radio

At the same time, New Big Guy (Raila Odinga), suspecting that something looked not-quite-right when Kibaki sauntered out of the election station trying to look casual and whistling Dixie, decided he'd rather be safe than sorry -- and did the same.

Overlay all of this with the ethnic tensions already simmering in certain parts of the country (Kenya is home to almost 60 culturally and/or linguistically distinct ethnic groups), and trouble abounded. In the government arena, police action (including shooting unarmed protestors) turned peaceful demonstrations violent. Among civilians, ethnic identity briefly trumped national cohesion as attacks began to target members of Kibaki's tribe, the Kikuyu.
Note: The Kikuyu comprise ~22% of Kenya's population, but are believed by some to hold a disproportionate number of seats of political and economic importance.

 Nevertheless, bipartisanship and a desire for peace triumphed, and a coalition government was established to share power in late 2007, with Kibaki as President and Odinga as Prime Minister.

The Big Question
Could it happen again this year? I deeply doubt it, but the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, CIA, United Nations, the Council on Foreign RelationsPresident Obama, and my advisor all disagree with me, so in this case, I am obliged to defer to their authority. [Note: the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development remains confident that all is well.] Most sources voicing concern point to recent ethnic clashes as evidence of mounting tensions in the run-up to the elections; in the most recent Tana River tragedy, 39 people - including 13 children - lost their lives.

Thus, I'll be postponing my arrival to Nairobi in order to give the election period a wide berth; this means I'll be leaving the USA in mid-March, staying on in England (Hi, Fred!) and attending the Student Conference on Conservation Science at Cambridge University for a week, stopping by Scotland for a weekend (Hi, Kev!), and then heading on to Nairobi closer to the end of March.

In an ideal world (i.e. one without bad weather, security lines, rainy seasons, customs officials, permit delays, lost baggage, bad sushi, etc.), I should arrive in Kenya - research permit in hand - on March 25th.

Wish me luck.


P.S. Here is a picture of a giraffe.

You're welcome

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

One Month Out

Hi, Everyone!

Most of you who'll be reading this blog are my friends and family - to be honest, most of my readership is probably going to be my mom and dad (Hi, Mom & Dad!). The rest of you will probably be my academic friends and family - my labmates, classmates, and awesome advisor (Hi, Stuart!). My equally awesome hostess might read as well (Hi, Anne!), but I'm sure it'll all be run-of-the-mill to her, as she's grown up in Kenya! Regardless, as I keep this blog up, I'll try to be more broad than brief, and more fun than factual. I'll also try to include a bunch of pretty pictures (for now, just enjoy the ones in this post, left over from Tanzania).

Left front, left rear prints of an adult male.

So what am I doing in Africa, exactly?
For everyone who doesn't know: I am going to be spending 5 months in Kenya, from February - July, working on a lion conservation project just outside of the Masai Mara National Reserve. From me work, I'm hoping to learn whether or not the 'predator-proof' fences that a local organization, the Anne K. Taylor Fund, has been installing have kept local people from losing livestock to middle-of-the-night lion thieves. This may sound more like animal husbandry than wildlife conservation, but it's not -- when lions kill cattle, people kill lions, sometimes in large numbers and often indiscriminately. It's one of the biggest problems we are facing in East African carnivore conservation, and hopefully my work will do a little something to help.

To help measure the impact, I'll be looking at old reports of livestock attacks, talking to local people about current lion attacks, and collecting evidence of lions prowling around livestock enclosures (more commonly, and therefore henceforth, called 'bomas'). With the kind help of two brilliant scientists/software developers/wildlife experts, Zoe & Sky, I'll be using some fancy new software by the name of WildTrack to take photographs of lion footprints, then analyze them to identify the species, age, sex, and (hopefully) individual animal.

Bandas and tents at field camp in Ruaha, Tanzania

So where am I staying? In a tent under a tree, right? Although bandas (see picture at left) are awesome, I've gotten spectacularly lucky and my wonderful hostess, Anne, will be putting me up in her home for part of the time. For the rest of the time, the Abercrombie & Kent safari company has been kind enough to donate lodging: a rondavel at one of their nearby lodges.

So why am I doing this? Well, if all goes well, the data I'll collect will help shape the way we deal with lion problems throughout Kenya, and maybe even in other countries in East Africa. This project will also be the basis of my Ph.D. at Duke, and thus forms the bulk of my dissertation.

So I'm one month away from my (alleged) departure date, and I couldn't be more excited. And panicked. Mostly excited, but a little bit panicked. This is because my to-do list looks like this:

Equipment I Have Known (Because I Bought It Years Ago):
+ Hiking Boots
+ Pocket Binoculars
+ Compact Rain Jacket (the rainy season in Kenya is from March - May)
+ Sun Hat(s)
+ Cool Folding Sunglasses
+ Smartphone (needs to be unlocked) - this is essential in Africa
+ Pocketknife & Multi-tool
+ Camelbak water-carrying backpack (I'm sure it's somewhere around here; I used to use it all the time in Colorado)
+ Map of the Masai Mara National Reserve
+ An entire Burt's Bees stash for dry lips
+ Lightweight Running Shoes

Equipment I Have Not Known Yet Because I Still Need to Buy It:
+ Canon Rebel Digital SLR Camera (who could possibly go to Kenya without the chance to take some great shots of wildlife in the Mara?)
+ A drybox/set of drybags (to keep the dust out of cameras/binocs/everything else)
+ A GPS-enabled point-and-shoot camera (for my research)
+ Proper binoculars (for long-range viewing)

Not Quite Equipment, But I Need It Nonetheless:
A store that sells everything, outside Iringa, Tanzania.
+ Nairobi-ready clothes: cute long skirts in bright prints, cute but practical sandals and heels (NOT flip flops), t-shirts & inexpensive but pretty jewelry
+ Bush-ready clothes: chambray & cotton camp shirts, khaki shorts, and a jacket with loads of pockets and/or a hip belt
+ Personal care items: As many wet wipes as I can get my hands on (these saved my life while in Tanzania); bunch of hand sanitizer packs; shower shoes; multipurpose soap (for washing hair, body, clothes)

To be honest, I'm the least worried about personal care items; in my experience with Africa, you can buy just about anything you need or want in a market or a store somewhere.

So in addition to the above-mentioned items, there are a few more questions left to fully resolve before I can peacefully sip a gin and tonic before slipping off to sleep on the plane to Nairobi. These are (in no particular order): 

Who's going to take care of the dogs? I have two dogs - Fish, a Catahoula Leopard Hound and Boh, a Shiba Inu. Boh's going to be staying with my friend Katie. Fish will hopefully be staying with a friend, or doing a homestay kennel. In a worst case scenario (hoped to avoid), he'll stay in a group kennel.

What about malaria? What about other diseases? First: yes, malaria is endemic to the regions of Kenya in which I'll be traveling. In the past, I've taken Lariam (bad idea) or Malarone (which worked fine). In Ghana, the Lariam gave me such a horrible reaction (nightmares, hallucinations, seizure auras) that I quit after two weeks and went the rest of the time without any antimalarials. Didn't get sick then, but it's wise to be careful. 

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania - viewed from my hotel room
However...Malarone runs about $9/pill, and must be taken daily. Since I'll be in-country for over 5 months, we're looking at a $1,400 bill, not including the cost of any potential complications. I think I'll do best to take the Malarone only before and after my time in Nairobi (read: a week on either end), when I believe I'll be at highest risk of transmission. I'll see what I can do about picking up some Coartem or Cotecxin (two CDC-approved malaria treatment meds) just in case I develop any kind of symptoms.

And I should be just fine for anything else - the Yellow Fever vaccination is suggested, but not required to enter the country (and besides, between China, Ghana, Tanzania, my post-college Peace Corps application and losing my yellow card four times, I've had so many yellow fever shots I can probably cure other people). I've also had shots for Typhoid,  Hepatitis, Tetanus (again, x4) and MMR a bunch of times over. For everything else, the key is to be smart, be sanitary, and safeguard your own health - don't ignore any symptoms.

I bet if I were a lioness, they wouldn't make me file for permits.
Lions don't need no permits.
What about permits/visas?
Traveling to Kenya as an American tourist is a piece of cake. Just buy your ticket, bring your passport, and when you arrive at the airport in Nairobi, pay $50 - $100 and carry on your way. 

Traveling to Kenya as an American student wanting to do wildlife research is a huge pain. Your first step is to make friends with someone either in Kenya Wildlife Service or the National Council for Science and Technology (preferably both). You'll want to do this ten years ahead of time. If you have not done so, then you can apply for a research permit at least two months ahead of time, pay $400, wait for a rejection, apply again, wait for a (potentially) second rejection, pay $700, then apply again and hopefully be accepted with the proper affiliation. And that's after you've jumped through all the hoops on the American end.

Obviously, I have had to do the latter. More specifically, I have to do this:

American Forms
I. Project Proposal & Literature Review - Simple enough. Drafted eight different versions to suit each of the funding applications I submitted, as well as my advisor, department, and university.

II. Institutional Review Board Training & Application - The IRB is the university office that makes sure you aren't doing something horrible to someone vulnerable (e.g. impoverished children).

Kenyan Forms
I. Research Permit for Non-Citizens - " FORM B - Application for Authority to Conduct Research in Kenya" [$400 USD] - must be handed in to the National Council for Science & Technology in Nairobi.

II. Local Organization Affiliation Form - "FORM D - Affiliation Form" [$700 USD] - must be mailed/handed in to the National Council for Science & Technology in Nairobi, after being filled out by a representative from the Kenya Wildlife Service who has agreed to affiliate with you. 

III. Student Visa - "Form 8 - Application for a Pupil's Pass" [$0 USD] -- must be handed in (in person) to the Department of Immigration in Nairobi, and must be filled out by a Kenya Wildlife Service representative.

IV. Re-Entry Visa - "Form 16 - Application for a Re-Entry Pass" [$0 USD] -- must be handed in (in person) to the Department of Immigration in Nairobi. Although not required, some anecdotal evidence suggests that this is helpful for work in/around national parks, as Park officials may sometimes request to see a re-entry Visa at boundary parks.

I know, elephant - I want to slam my head into a tree, too.

Three months after my first application, I still haven't gotten my research permit approved yet. But that's OK! Because I have confidence that everything is going to work out (even if it's at the last minute), that all my plans are going to come to great fruition, and that I'm going to get to have the adventure of a lifetime. 

I can't wait.