Given this, a team of three Research Associates (including me) were invited to Kenya. Kenya was a land of many ‘firsts’ for me. This was the first time I was going unescorted to a place outside India and that too for an official purpose; my first stint of being a ‘foreigner’ (the last time it was Lahore, so one could argue that that didn’t count!) and the most important one of them all… it was my first trip to Africa!
We reached Nairobi at night and were to leave the next morning for the training centre at Voi. So it was only in the morning that we saw Nairobi. Our first reaction – awestruck! It was such a clean and green city!! Hadn’t we learnt somewhere that India was an economically more prosperous country? Then why were the streets cleaner in Kenya? Why were people better dressed? Why wasn’t there litter, not even around the smaller shops?!We drove past Nairobi with these questions in mind, determined that we would see the ‘real country’ in some of the places we were due to visit.
|Voi Safari Inn- Abode for the week-long training|
Yes! That’s exactly where the training in Voi held…A SAFARI INN!!!Its thatched roof and wooden structure made it a welcoming home to a few whirlwinds but kept us well protected against straying lions (Repeat: straying LIONS!). No guesses for how well this worked in ensuring that participants did not wander about at night and willingly tucked themselves into bed after supper.
As with all ASER-Pratham trainings , the theoretical sessions were followed by three days of field visits. The bright sun, hot sand, and wide spread villages put more than just the tools and procedure to the test! It seemed like a strategic way of executing Darwin’s theory of ‘the survival of the fittest’. The field visits were spent ‘panting-testing-huffing-panting-testing’. Voi being a semi arid area the villages were sparsely populated and spread over large areas. To cover 20 households with the 5th household rule as well as the left hand rule proved to be a herculean task because at some places the houses were at least a kilometre away from each other! The only respite were the welcoming families and the sweet little innocent faces which we had to dupe into testing (and we looked…we really looked looked for dirty by lanes..and open drains..and carelessly strewn garbage..but were hugely disappointed..how could India be dirtier?)
And to ensure that we did not forget we were in Kenya: Our village, along with a few others in the vicinity, was the target of a herd of wild elephants on the rampage that had been coming every night in search of water. They left enough evidence of their visit by trampling over a few farms, knocking down trees and breaking into all the stored water at schools and within the village. Hence, to avoid chance encounters with elephants, all field visits had to be wound up by 4.30 each day lest you met the elephants on way!
Now to come back to Snigdha Jain – the Jain who accompanied us to Kenya and who was the other source of learning for me while away from my country. Kenya, if I may put it this way, is a land of meat eaters. You get to eat meat (various kinds, shapes and in various curries) for all three meals. There is often one vegetarian dish which served with each meal (either beans, or spinach). Jains, as you might know, do not eat anything grown underground. Their list of ‘inedible food’ includes: potatoes, onions, garlic, and some of them abstain from cauliflower, egg plant as well. Our dear Snigdha Jain did not eat any of them!! Result: she survived on boiled cucumber, tomato soup with rice, tomato paste with spaghetti etc.
And so the week long training came to an end. We learnt a lesson or two about how there was no direct correlation between poverty and hygiene (I still need to figure out why places are so dirty in India), how Kenyans are as friendly and warm and gushy as Indians, and above all – how people in both countries love to eat ‘chapattis’ (yes they eat ‘chapattis’ too!)