Coffee, Tea and Tilapia: St. Gregory Students Explore Farming in Kenyaby kenya on Jul. 03, 2012, under Life
June 27, 2012
By Sawyer Burton, St.Gregory Class of ‘13
The day started off as usual with a breakfast that was tamu sana (very tasty). On the second day of our time here, we participated in a team-building program with the ninth graders from Mount Kenya Academy (MKA). They asked us if we would come for a visit, which was our first destination for the day. MKA is one of the top schools in the country and is boarding school for girls and boys located near the town of Nyeri. Nyeri has a population of about 60,000 people, and was a hot bed for Mau Mau activity in the 1950s. Many of the students at MKA are fromNairobi, with a few from the UK, so clearly it is a well respected institution. MKA teaches both the Kenyan school system and the European school system, similar to the International Baccalaureate system. There are 250 students in the secondary school and 300 in the primary school. Our visit began by sitting in on a grade 9 chemistry class which was very hands-on and interactive.
We then moved to the athletic field to find the ninth graders in their P.E. clothing and kicking a soccer ball. The teacher suggested we play a full game of soccer, but none of us were prepared to run around for such a long time. After a bit of discussion and some suggestions by Emily and Jaxon to play some games they used on the challenge course, we began with a major game of Monarch. Since the students had played this before at Batian’s View, everyone knew the rules. The game went on for a good 30 minutes until one of the fastest MKA students was the sole survivor. Next was Giants, Elves and Wizards, which is like Rock, Paper, Scissors, but is played with one team against another. It was tremendous fun and we all did a lot of laughing as each team acted out being either a Giant, Elf or Wizard. We could have gone on for hours, but before too long it was time for lunch. We had lunch with our ninth grade hosts and the rest of the student body. Unlike the lunches we can buy at St. Gregory, this was a set menu with beef stew, a side dish of mashed potatoes and bananas, and fruit salad. Within 15 minutes all 260 of us had been served and were sitting down to a delicious meal.
After lunch we said our farewells and were off to our next destination, a tour of a fish farm and coffee plantation. After picking up our guide in Nyeri town we drove along very bumpy roads into one of the most fertile areas in all of Kenya. Eventually our guide stopped our caravan and we left our vehicles to walk down a steep path to a lush valley. The path led us to a local fishery co-operative owned and managed by the local residents. On the valley floor were 22 man-made ponds that contained tilapia. Tilapia is an especially popular farmed fish because they require low amounts of oxygen, and can thrive in ponds without circulating water. Tilapia are also omnivores, which means feeding them isn’t much of a problem. This was a wonderful example of a successful community-based project, from which everyone in the area benefitted.
After our tour of the fishery we then traveled a few rough kilometers to a coffee plantation. This plantation grew many local crops such as arrowroot, but also several cash crops such as coffee and tea. The plantation had a modest shamba (farm) of about 25 acres. As much as 70 percent of the tea and coffee industry of Kenya is made up of small farms such as the one we toured today. All of the small farmers get together and agree on a price, like 160 shillings (about $2) for a kilo of raw coffee beans. We also learned how coffee and tea is picked and sorted. The coffee beans are picked in terms of color. The red beans are more valuable than the brown ones. Picking tea is an acquired skill, and, as a few of us experienced, a difficult one at that. To pick the best leaves and to also help the tea plants regenerate new leaves, one must pick two leafs and a bud. The pickers carry a wicker basket on their backs, but instead of having two straps around their arms, there is only one strap that goes around the forehead. Picking with both hands, they toss the leaves behind them into the basket. Picking a basketful of tea leaves takes about three hours, that is if you are skilled. Workers are paid by the basketful, which when full can weigh up to 35 pounds.
After a long day we headed back to Batian’s View for a short rest. Soon after, all of the teachers we had been working with arrived for a dinner of chapatti, irio, vegetable stew and roasted goat, a real banquet. Each of us then presented the head teacher of our respective schools with a book, which has been the tradition at this final dinner. Each of the books were from the works of John Steinbeck, Jack London, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, and each of the teachers were excited to begin reading. It was a very full day and to end it with the teachers we had become good friends with was a very fitting closure to our time in Kenya.