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Conducting Interviews

Monday, Nov. 22, 2010

Well it’s official.  I am now into the last 3 weeks of living in Africa. We are done with classes and have started our final research projects. My project is on the assessment of rangeland conditions, trends, and implications in regard to Mbirikani group ranch, which is one of the six group ranches located in the Amboseli region in southeastern Kenya. Yesterday, we conducted home interviews with the local people of the group ranch. I felt very official walking around with a walkie, a clipboard, and a translator named Wipa. In America, if you go up to someone’s door to interview them about something, chances are they will pretend no one is home or they will simply peer through the window and avoid answering the knock. In Kenya, door bells, driveways, and front doors don’t exist; in fact, neither does hostility.

We walked right up to Maasai women sitting around their Boma, we were welcomed into a Maasai man’s mud hut, and we even talked to a Mama on a walk with her children. They were all interested in answering my questions in regard to the group range conditions; although it was not their responses that taught me the most. Yesterday I realized how little I have actually experienced in Africa. I have never felt so comfortable and so uncomfortable at the same time. I will fill you in on one interview scenario. Picture a beautiful green rangeland that is very open and has sporadic Bomas throughout its area. A Boma is essentially a group of mud huts set up in a circular formation around a centered homemade fence where the livestock are kept. The majority of the men were absent due to livestock grazing and agricultural work. Thus, the Maasai women were the only ones home, along with close to 25 of their children combined. The average number of children per woman is 4.6 and the human population is increasing at 2.56%, meaning the growing population is critically damaging the rangeland in the group ranch because there is such an increase in resource needs and land for Bomas.There is a huge youth bulge; the younger generation of 0-15 year olds is almost equivalent to the amount of 16-65 year olds. This fact has no influence on childbirth. Women are treated solely as baby makers and mamas; while the men are praised for their amount of wives and children. Yesterday during my interviews, I saw very young and pregnant girls. They were all together, caring their second child or their mother’s child on their back as well as their unborn babies; all of them were around 16 years old or younger.

My interview at the Mama’s Boma started with introductions and then we all sat in a large circle, while four of the six mama breastfed their newborns. All the Mamas varied in ages; 29-60 years. We talked about my interview questions and they responded well for the most part. They mentioned that it would be best to wait until the men came back home because they do not know a lot about the area they live in and they lack the power to say what they think. My mind went around in circles as I scanned these women and their happy faces sitting next to me. Yes, there is happiness in their life and yes they work incredibly hard to support their large families, but from my point of view there is so much missing in their lives. Women are not empowered; in fact, they are barely acknowledged by their husbands or by the government.

But, who am I to say what’s missing and who am I to think I can change anything about a culture that has been around since the 15th century?   I think the only thing I can do is learn, breathe, and find appreciation in all of my experiences. We have two more days of interviews to conduct before we are done with field data collection. I am sure I will experience even more than what I am expecting. There really was no way to prepare myself for yesterday except to simply have a very open and gracious mind in hopes that I will be able to absorb everything I see and feel.

Be free wherever you are and find gratitude in the life you have.


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Tags: Katharine Kurtz (Kenya

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