Foothill-De Anza Foundation Guest Blog
July and August 2018 - Student Expedition to Turkana Basin, Kenya
This year marks the fifth trip of De Anza students to join Instructor Isaiah Nengo in Kenya on a paleontological expedition to the Lake Turkana Basin. The Foothill-De Anza Foundation is proud to sponsor those underserved students and give them this life-changing opportunity. Take a peek and see what it is like to do fieldwork in Kenya by reading the blogs of the students who are on this journey across the world!
Featured Student Blogs
Cialysiah Washington - Blog 1
This will be my first International trip ever so I’m feeling quite excited to depart the States and get a fresh take on the landscape and culture of being in Kenya along with even seeing the differences (if there are any) between American airports and foreign. So I guess you can say I’m pretty excited for that experience but at the moment until I actually am on the plane and pass check in a little part of me is still saying “this opportunity isn’t real” because in all actually most don’t get to travel internationally especially to Africa. Let alone most don’t travel within their own country so I’m just very humbled to get a chance to experience something like this. At the moment I have no idea really how this trip will impact me. I think if I have an idea on the impact it perhaps may give me expectation of what I want to see and or experience from this trip. To be honest I know it will be life changing I just don’t know what to expect. Right now I am just very open to learning new things and having the opportunity to see through new lenses which will most likely give me a different way of viewing the world.
Riley Vance - Blog 2
I have not seen a lion and I have not seen a stick bug. Despite these slight let downs, I am far from disappointed. My first plane ride was only five hours, but I was certain I had died and entered purgatory. To anyone reading this I really do not recommend united airlines. The next two flights were not half bad though. Ethiopian airlines has a tendency to feed you everytime you so much as open your mouth. The movies were also quite satisfying. A 14 hour flight filled with Bladerunner 2048, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Hobbit, one short nature documentary on Ethiopia, and some awkward silence shared with two, not so outgoing, seat buddies. It does not sound like much time on paper, but when you are eagerly waiting to step foot in another country for the first time, those 14 hours start to feel like days or even weeks. One more short flight out of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and soon we were in Nairobi.
My first step out of the airport and my expectations were already blown. Little did I know this would be a perpetually common theme throughout my first experience in the African continent. Living in America it is easy to get the wrong impression of Africa. Popular media gives us the impression that Africa is the “dark continent”. For the most part, we think of it as a whole different world that is behind the times in, most if not, all aspects. It was not until I saw for myself that I realized, in many ways, the people here are just like us. Many of them have the same phones, wear the same clothes, and share the same hobbies. What is different about the people here though, is the happiness they seem to have through thick and thin. The genuine smiles they maintain despite a kind of adversity that could make the most well off American drop to their knees. We look at them like they have nothing. However, the products they lack, the items we think bring us joy, are the exact thing that keep us from ever knowing that genuity behind their smiles.
Our first destination was the Wildebeest Eco Camp, which I would come to realize is nothing but an enclosed and censored version of Africa for the westerners who wanted nothing but another check off of the bucket list. We stayed in our own personal “tents” which, in reality, were hotel rooms made of canvas. Made complete with two beds and a full bathroom. Though we got to feed some giraffes, this still was not the Africa I was yearning to see. That was still soon to come.
After one night at the Eco camp, we were already off to the next destination. This one being the next step into the real African countryside. After hours of driving on paved roads, we made it to where the asphalt ended. The beginning to a collection of my favorite things, camping in a tent, offroading, and a whole lot of animals. This was our journey to the Mpala Wildlife Research Center. This would be our home base for the next two nights, as we sat in on some lectures about the livestock and biodiversity, and went on a safari. With great luck, on the safari we saw multiple elephants, hippos in a river, kudu, and too many others to count. Definitely a day I will not soon forget.
Though the time at Mpala was monumentally memorable, it was short lived. At 7am on a day I do not even recall, we left on a plane to our next stop, the Turkana Basin Institute(TBI). The view from the little pond hopper was extraordinary. When I was not reading a book on TBI and it’s creator, Richard Leakey, I was staring intently out the window at the Rift Valley. Once we landed and got settled, we took a tour of the facility where we saw fossil after fossil that predate the oldest known book 100,000 times over again. Though these fossils were quite influential, there was little time for tours and leisure, class started the next morning. Digging for fossils takes years of preparation. However, we only had a week of 8 or more hour class days, followed by some fairly long reading assignments. Despite the intensity, I left each class period with a growing desire to change my major to anthropology if not some earth science. But that is easy to say while in the comfort of a classroom. The true test to that hypothesis was yet to come.
Tuesday, June 10th (I think), we took off to be apart of the real deal. A sickeningly bumpy six hour ride to the middle of the desert to look at fossils. Yet another date I will never forget, our own version of Judgement day. Once again, leisure was no option. The moment we got out of the truck, we had to set up camp. There were tents, canopies, a kitchen, and some showers to build. Toilets to dig, bags to unpack, hungry stomachs to feed, but most importantly this all needed to be set up with haste because there were fossils to be found. After a week of hiking, searching, digging, moving dirt and sand, all in the unforgiving African sunshine(when we were not being saved by the clouds), I can confidently say I felt right at home. I could stay at the sight for years if only someone would bring me an oil drum of sunscreen, known colloquially as Mazunga(white people) Juice.
Few elements of this trip have been expected, and many of those have left me nearly speechless. I have felt a wide range of emotions on this trip with little time to truly feel them, usually having too much work to think about anything else. Despite that, there are a few moments that capture the emotion of this experience.
While on the safari in Mpala, we came within 20 meters of a bull elephant. This could be my dramatic side coming out, but I felt like it looked me right in the eyes for maybe 10-20 seconds, which to me, was a lifetime. A prime example of a moment that left me entirely speechless. Almost even motionless, as it seemed to take all my strength snapping a photo to, one day, share that experience.
My next experience came at TBI when a little unidentified bird flew into my dorm. The bird hit the window and fell to the ground, seizing on the floor. Once it came back to consciousness, I carefully picked it up and took it to the sink to get some water. After some time regaining its bearings, the bird seemed to be ready to fly away. However, over this time it become used to me, and sat on my shoulder for awhile despite it being able to fly. Though I was a little sad to leave the bird, I had to go work on some readings in the cafeteria. I left it on the ledge next to my dorm so it could fly away when it was ready. After maybe half an hour working in the mess hall, I came back to the dorm and the bird was still where I left it. I had half a mind to believe it waited for me to come back before I left. I walked up to it, gave it a pet on the head for one last time and as I turned to go to my dorm, it flew away. I do not even know how to express what I felt, but it was definitely something good.
As I watched the bird fly away I walked into my dorm to get ready for my next great experience. We loaded up in a truck with some of the staff of TBI to go play futbol with the local people known as the Dasenech. I realized that afternoon, futbol is loved and played religiously in almost all parts of the world, except America. The greatest American soccer players seem to be on the same level as the average futbol player in most other places. The locals on our team were our only fighting chance, along with a the hopefully admirable defense executed by yours truly. We finished the game 2-2, but regardless of the score, just getting to meet the people that make up the Dasenech was an experience in itself. I am unsure if we will get the time, but I really hope we can spend some more time playing such a great sport with some truly incredible people.
I could not possibly say what will make up the rest of this life altering adventure. But I know it will continue to be a beautiful experience that will leave a lasting impact on how I see the world. I know as well, that I will have the ability to shed some light on the people back home, and show them that if there is any “dark continent” it is the one we are already on. We have so much to learn from the people we think we need to teach the most.
Naomi Hayes - Blog 3
As our final week is promptly presenting itself and my chapter here in Turkana, Kenya is coming to a near end, there is a very distinctive sensation I seem to be left with. A perception that has been strongly prevailed upon as a reflection of altering and reconstructing of my original fundamental notions of time, humility, and passion. Possibly if I were to rephrase, it’d be more appropriate to say the aligning from original thought to an elevation of consciousness. Now the question being conjured is where did this progression from original thought to transformative thought arise from? What inspired me to advance to this point in present time? Well, since we’re entering the question of time, I might as well begin there. Within the last week of being at Buluk, my fellow classmates and I were pushed nearly the most operose we have been throughout our entire stay. From incredibly dry heat, a constant strain on our muscles from extendedly hiking up and down hills and distributing dirt, and prospecting for fossils. I found myself having an immense amount of time to ponder and a constant thought seemed to remain on an incessant loop in my mind. As my muscles are aching and there is an uninterrupted amount of sweat beading down on my forehead, I begin to wonder how many hours we’ve been in Buluk, and how much time we have spent excavating these fossils. In a shortness under my breath, I commence a sweet whisper that it must be endless, the strenuous and almost callous hours we’ve spent working from sunrise to the afternoon.
This cognition became almost definite prior to going back to Turkana Basin Institute (TBI). However, when we arrived to TBI, I received such a gracious chance to assist the top chef as he prepped for dinner. His name was Edwin and he was a father of three, he has been working for TBI along being a personal chef for Richard Leakey’s daughter, Louis Leakey for roughly fifteen years. He is the top chef there and has three students that have been working under him for three to five years. Given the opportunity to meet Edwin was nothing less of a blissful interaction; he held such a demeanor of purity and selflessness. Granted, I was able to get to know him quite well in the short span of time given to speak with him. He expressed to me that he enjoys being a chef and that has hopes for one day opening his own small restaurant in Nairobi with his family. However, before his dream can become a reality, he is focused on getting his children into private schools and providing them with the best education possible. Amongst all of the subjects we spoke on, he begins to tell me his work schedule. He generally works sixteen hour days, from five o’clock in the morning to nine at night. Hearing this I was perplexed and in absolute hysteria; how does one remain sane working such long hours and never allowing their smile to flee from their face. I believe this is where my initial concept of time derived; more so it can be intertwined with the idea of humility as well. Throughout life I held a definite belief that time weighed the same and was equally yoked for many of us. If I worked an eight hour shift I would most likely have experienced a daunting sensation of utter exhaustion and some irritability; majority of the time my co-workers would have felt that as well. But time was different for Edwin. It was not measured merely by the hours, minutes, or even days that he spent in that kitchen, it was accounted for by what he wanted to accomplish, what he wanted to teach, and how he wanted to leave his footprint. Cooking was his passion nonetheless, but he was not seeking for instant gratification within that and he is aware of the priority of his family always coming first. Furthermore, I found myself recognizing that comforting sensation once again. The idea of humbly walking into your blessings and not anticipating or expecting it to come “on time” because you want it to. Which welcomed a wave of realization, or more so acknowledgement of our entitlement and greediness of time in America. We hold such a strong ideology of “if i don’t have it now, I don’t want it” in which leads us to a constant path to nowhere. I remember a quote from a pastor from Oklahoma, Michael Todd, and he says, “it’s not how long you wait, it’s how you wait”. This quote is true for me, because it grasps the concept of humbling and patiently walking into your purpose and dreams without the obscured mentality of expecting time to provide it for you sooner.
However, the initial question still remains; where did this progression from original thought to transformative thought arise from? What inspired me to advance to this point in present time? This furthers me to my final point, passion. As stated prior in the paragraphs above, Edwin had such an intense mark on my perception when it came to time and humility. In addition to that, a conversation with Professor Isaiah Nengo also brought me to a rasing perspective. With it being palpable that we (African Americans) were born into a system that is institutionally and systematically ridged against us, the brutal social control that is embedded into our society and culture today is inevitably a reflection from our past. We continue to deal with racial indiscretions and linear hierarchies in American and Africa in this present time. After an incident with another individual on the camp, it left with the boundless feeling of rage and anger. I felt the familiar sensitivity that I can so easily receive back in America. The emotion of white supremacist waving their entitled flag, being ⅔ of human being, being castrated and hunted. I felt it all, the anger inside of a black women being fueled by her ancestors. However, I was placing all of that anger into the unrecognizable palms of someone whom did not deserve it. I was allowing myself to triggered by the gripping words of another being and having it distance me from my defined purpose. If I allow unconscious minds to steer me from my passion and purpose than I am allowing them my soul. Slavery is a blanket mindset for many African Americans today and we need to take back our narrative. So, we all that I have endured in the past week or even these last view days, my mind has reached a level of awareness and consciousnesses that I plan on furthering. This transformation we be ongoing and I am excited to see where it takes me in the next week.
Raynesha Dawson - Blog 2
I honestly didn't know what to expect. I’ve been in Africa for about two weeks now and my experience so far with the people have been amazing. They are so nice and genuinely seem happy to see us, every time we ride by people and villages they always wave, acknowledging our presence and the hospitality is amazing. I honestly, came to Africa because I wanted to get to know the culture and learn about different Kenya traditions. Back in America, African Americans don't know nor practice any of our ancestry African traditions. The reason being because everything that we've ever known was stripped away from us as soon as the enslaved Africans stepped foot on " American" soil. From our clothing, language, our names, to even the religion that was practiced. If coming to on this trip was a way to reconnect and understand a little bit of real African culture, I was all for it.
To my surprise, while visiting the MPALA Research Center, my anger hit an all time high. I was so angry that all I could do was cry. While visiting this beautiful 48,000 acres of land, filled with different exotic animals such as lions, zebras, antelopes, elephants and etc. I learned about how the European settlers came onto the Kenyan land, kicked off the indigenous people, colonized them, murdered, raped, and dehumanized them. Later, realizing that what they were doing was wrong, they then tried to sell the Kenyan people back the land that belonged to them in the first place. I then started to think about how Europeans colonized so many other people of color and all the pain that they have caused while continuing to cause more pain. I have asked several locals about slavery and what they told me was that they knew that Europeans took slaves, but they didn't know in depth what the enslavement period consisted of. This is their history; the enslavement period is a big reason why Africa is in the state that it is in. Mind you, the Transatlantic Slave Trade was the most traumatic thing to have ever happen in the Western Hemisphere. That period of time was so traumatic to the African people that they literally had to forget what had happened to cope with the suffering and agony that was inflicted on them.
However, what I love and admire most about the Kenyan people is that they still walk around with the biggest smiles on their faces. They are such a resilient group of people because regardless of their circumstances they wake up every day ready to make the best of what they have and keep on pushing, standing together as one. Honestly, I can't do nothing but respect that and every chance I get I talk with the men that are aiding us on this trip. I'm learning about who they are as people, their traditions, dreams, what they like, dislike, and that is exactly why I came on this trip, even though the main purpose was to study Anthropology. Their smiles are everything, such beautiful smiles and they are so friendly, it blows my mind how kind they are being everything they have been through.
What I enjoy the least about this trip is the actual digging and looking for primates. We literally go out for long hours digging for fossils trying to differentiate the rocks from the bones. I am not an archaeologist nor am I an anthropologist. I despise looking for primates; I am not interested at all in that field of work, although I know this is what we were going to be doing when I signed up. I did not think it would be this intense. It is a definitely a challenge but I cannot seem to enjoy that part of the program at all. The thing that keeps me going are the fellow students that also came on this trip, because it wasn't for them it would be an unpleasant experience. I definitely recommend for future applicants to really look into the study abroad program that they are interested in attending because if not they will be highly disappointed. I have to push through because we only have two weeks left and I am so close to the finish line.