Brigitte Kasanpawiro's Diary


Monday, February 27, 2006 Friday, August 11, 2006
Saturday, August 12, 2006 Sunday, August 13, 2006
Monday, August 14, 2006 Friday, August 18, 2006
Saturday, August 19, 2006 Sunday, August 20, 2006
Monday, August 21, 2006 Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Wednesday, August 23, 2006 Thursday, August 24, 2006
Friday, August 25, 2006 Saturday, August 26, 2006
Sunday, August 27, 2006 Monday, August 28, 2006
Tuesday, August 29, 2006 Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Thursday, August 31, 2006  

Monday, February 27, 2006 Having read the Earthwatch diaries, I became more interested in the Alcoa fellowship program. Like many of the fellows, I also want to make a difference and contribute to a sustainable environment. By the end of December 2005, I finally submitted my application.
 
The New Year came, and time flew so quickly. Thoughts about the result of my application did not even come to my mind. After a month, when checking my email, I was very surprised to see a new message with the subject “2006 Alcoa Earthwatch Program.” As I opened the message, I could not believe my application was successful and that I am heading off to Kenya.
 
This was beyond my expectation. I was really thrilled with the unexpected, pleasant news. After reading the email twice, I called my coworkers that I knew had also applied. Kenneth Rensch was fortunate as well and is heading off to Maine Island. My family and friends were also happy to hear the good news.
 
I went on the Earthwatch website to read more about the research expedition on Mangroves of the Kenyan Coast. As described in the briefing expedition, I will help conduct pioneering plantation experiments for the rehabilitation of degraded mangroves in Gazi Bay on the South Kenyan coast. 
 
My country, Suriname, has a tropical rainforest, and all the time I have taken for granted the existence of the mangrove forests along the coastline. Now I realize and understand the importance of these tropical woodlands, for they provide crucial habitat and reduce coastal erosion. I find it very interesting and challenging to be working on this expedition to help restore important mangrove ecosystems. Since I do not need to have any skills—just be willing, have an open mind, and lend a hand—I am convinced my help will be a significant contribution.
 
The thought of traveling from Suriname (South America) to Kenya (Africa) seems like an adventure to me. I have never been to Africa before, let alone by myself.
 
The first preparations for this trip have been made. The travel agency advised me to book my seat well in advance, since I will be traveling during peak time.
 
Last Friday, the first press release about Suralco employees participating in Earthwatch research expeditions was placed in the local newspaper. There was also an announcement in the Suralco internal weekly communication letter (Bauxco Nieuws). To all, thanks for the positive reactions, for they have really encouraged me to look forward to this new experience. It was also great to receive a congratulatory mail from a coworker in Switzerland, whom I have never met in person.   
 
I feel fortunate to have been chosen, and I am grateful to Alcoa for not only giving me the opportunity to contribute to a sustainable future, but for also granting me a unique experience during which I expect to broaden my horizons and perspectives. It is also an honor for me to be one of the first Suralco employees representing Alcoa in an Earthwatch field research project, and I am definitely excited.

Friday, August 11, 2006 It is one day before my trip begins. I will travel from Suriname to Amsterdam, then, after a few days, from Amsterdam to Nairobi and finally to Mombasa.
 
For the last time, I am checking the expedition packing checklist. There is still one important item open, which is my visa to enter Kenya. Upon arrival in The Netherlands, I will apply for a visa at the Kenyan Embassy in The Hague.
 
I have completed and returned all the necessary forms, especially the health form, to Earthwatch. Yes, I am in good health, and I have received all the required inoculations.
 
In the meantime, I have shared travel tips with Ron Pettit, an Alcoa volunteer from Pinjarra, Western Australia, and with Emily, another volunteer from HSCB Bank in Mexico.

Saturday, August 12, 2006 Finally, it is departure time. With a mixture of feelings, I say goodbye to my family. On the one hand, I am very excited for a new experience. On the other, I am a little anxious, for I will be very far away from my loved ones.
 
After a delay of two hours, we take off around 9 p.m.

Sunday, August 13, 2006 We arrive at Schiphol Airport about 12:30 p.m. I am looking forward to seeing my sister, Carla, and her husband, Arti, who will pick me up at the airport.

Monday, August 14, 2006 With Carla and Arti, I am driving from Utrecht to The Hague. After driving around the Parklaan in The Hague, we finally find the Kenyan Embassy around 10 a.m.
 
It seems I have picked the wrong day for my visa application. The weather is very bad. It is raining, and the wind is very cold—not what I expected for summer.
 
When submitting my application, there seems to be a little confusion about the purpose of my trip. As instructed by Earthwatch, I check tourism/vacation, but the supporting letter indicates that I will visit a research site in Gazi. I have to wait for someone from the immigration department for an interview. I wait for 45 minutes. After the interview, my application is approved, and I have to pay the visa fee. We need to come back at 3 p.m. to pick up my passport.

Friday, August 18, 2006 My flight to Nairobi is scheduled for 9 p.m. Carla and Arti drop me off at Schiphol Airport, and once more I say goodbye with mixed feelings. Now, I am really on my own and heading off to a very strange country.

Saturday, August 19, 2006 I arrive at Moi International Airport around 10:30 a.m. It is nice weather—a sunny and warm day that is almost like my home country. A taxi driver is offering his service, and after agreeing on the taxi rate of 900 Kenyan shillings, we are walking to the parking lot where the car is parked. As we drive to the airport exit, we find we cannot leave since traffic has been closed by the police. The Kenyan president is on his way to the airport after a one-week visit in Mombasa. We have to wait until the president and his escort pass by. Finally, after an hour, we can leave for the hotel in Mombasa city.
 
As I am checking in at the front desk of the hotel, two other volunteers—Anil of HSBC Bank in India and Emily—happen to be passing by to get a taxi. They see my luggage with the Earthwatch label, so they stop and ask if I am Brigitte. What a happy coincidence. Now that I have met them, I am really feeling comfortable, so I decide to join them in driving around Mombasa city.

Sunday, August 20, 2006 The rendezvous place is the café/restaurant at a hotel that is about 300 meters (328 yards) from the one I am staying at. After breakfast, Anil, Emily, and I walk to the hotel to check if some of the other team members are already there. We meet with Ron Pettit, my fellow Alcoa counterpart, who is about to begin lunch. We return to our hotel, and Anil decides to stay behind with all of our luggage.
 
After lunch, Emily and I return to the hotel to meet the other team members. They are loading their luggage in the “matatu” (bus) in front of the hotel. We meet Mark Huxham, the principal investigator (PI), and the other team members—Lucy and Matthew of the United Kingdom; Belinda of HSBC Bank in Taiwan; Tina of Shell in Texas, USA; Laura of Shell in California, USA; and Deividas of Shell in Prague, Czech Republic. It is a diverse team with many cultures and different backgrounds from almost every continent of the world.
 
After picking up Anil and our luggage at our hotel, we leave for Gazi village.
 
The city of Mombasa is actually an island, so we have to cross the river on a ferry. After an hour, we arrive in Gazi village. Gazi is about 55 kilometers (34 miles) from Mombasa in the Kwale District on the southern Kenyan coast. It’s a nice, picturesque village of about 1,000 residents with a lot of palm trees. As we step out of the bus, we are surrounded by the children, all greeting “jambo jambo” (Swahili word for hello).
 
After being introduced to James Kairo, also a principal investigator and host, we receive a guided tour of the village. It is clear why the people of the village depend on “mikoko,” the Swahili name for mangroves. The mangrove wood is used as building poles. Most of the houses are built with mangrove wood and mud, and the roofs are made of palm tree leaves. The people are friendly, and some of them still live in primitive conditions with no electricity at all.
 
After supper, we have a brief discussion about the expedition. Mark stresses the health and safety concerns and hopes that we, as a diverse group, will get along with each other. Everyone shares their hopes and fears. In the following days, everyone will get a turn for an individual talk/presentation about their home country, work, hobbies, or obsessions.

Monday, August 21, 2006 Our first morning in Gazi, and it is obvious that this is a predominantly Muslim village. Not only have we seen the two mosques with loudspeakers on the roofs, we also hear the village people praying five times a day starting early in the morning at 5 a.m. For some of us, this is our wakeup call every morning. 
 
The team is accommodated in two houses, where two people share a room. One group stays in the house next to Dr. Kairo’s house. A canopy built on the roof of the garage connects the two houses. This is our meeting place and where we will have our meals. I am with the other group staying in the annex house, which is about 100 meters (328 feet) from our meeting place. So, every day we have a one-minute exercise walk to our meeting place before having breakfast. 
 
We have mandazi for breakfast. This is a type of fried bread in a triangular shape that is filled with beans. It’s a little heavy for me to start the morning with. Instead of beans, I am filling the mandazi with jam, and it tastes good.
 
After breakfast, we receive an introductory lecture on the “Mangroves of Kenya” project by Dr. Kairo in the lab building. He has explained to us the nature of the mangrove environment, the adaptations of mangroves, the values of the mangrove ecosystem, the status of mangroves, and the mangrove reforestation program in Kenya.
 
Mangroves grow in warm, tropical climates, between mid-tide and high-tide levels and on sheltered shores. They provide protective, productive, and economic benefits. Mangrove forests are all designated as forest reserve, and there are nine species of mangroves belonging to six families in Kenya.
 
In addition to their economic significance as a source of wood and contributor to fisheries in the local community, mangroves are also of great importance in coastal protection. So, it is clear that the local people need to become aware of conservation issues and become more environmentally responsible. Here is where we, as an international group, support the mangrove reforestation program in Kenya—by physically helping local people grow mangroves.
 
After the lecture, we continue with the mangrove marathon. We trek to the main mangrove habitats at Gazi, receiving an introduction to the trees, crabs, birds, and other fauna present. We start walking from the village in the direction of the sea and are guided by Dr. Kairo. He shows us the various species of mangroves. The first one we encounter is Sonneratia alba, which can be recognized by round leaves and roots standing out around the tree.
 
As we walk toward the sea, it becomes a challenge to keep on Dr. Kairo’s pace. We are now at the Rhizophora species, with its typical elliptical leaves and looping aerial stilt roots that cross with neighboring trees and grow in fluid mud.
 
I have discovered that I am not wearing the ideal footwear, since my shoes get stuck in the mud. Honestly, I find it a little scary to dig in the mud with my bare hands, but I have to pull out my shoes since I still need to protect my feet against oysters with sharp shells on the mangrove roots and trunks. With some acrobatic climbing, we try to maneuver through these mangrove trees and make it to the sea side.
 
Now we walk in the water along the bank toward the mangrove boardwalk. The tide has come in faster than predicted, and the depth is too high to continue along the bank. There’s much discussion on how to proceed. The options are to swim along the bank or to go the same way back into the mangrove trees. We decide to stick together and return through the mangrove trees. As we proceed, we come at a point where we need to cross a creek. Dr. Kairo wades in the water and crosses over. Deividas tries to swing across on a tree branch. As he climbs in the tree, we hand over our bags to him. The rest of us follow Tina, plunging and swimming across. We are teasing Dr. Kairo, because his “only 15 minutes to go” walk has become almost an hour.
 
Finally, we arrive at the mangrove boardwalk, where a couple of village women are waiting for us with cool drinks—it is refreshing. The boardwalk has become a big attraction, pulling tourists and money to the fishing village (visitors pay a small fee per trek). It is run by the women of Gazi, and they are trained to conduct tours.
 
As we return to the village, I first need a shower to freshen up. Although the marathon was exhausting, it was a different experience to learn about the mangroves and their muddy environment.
 
After supper, Dr. Max Huxham explains the ecosystem services and biodiversity to us.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 The main goals of team three are to finish planting at the Kinondo site, finish taking data for the crab exclosure experiment, and establish a new experiment on root decomposition.
 
This morning, we are leaving with the bus to Kinondo village, and then we’ll walk about 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) through the bush to the Kinondo Bay. This site is the area for a diversity experiment, where combinations of two or three mangrove species are planted.
 
The team is divided into three task teams: one plants the remaining plots; the second excavates roots; and the third takes soil samples to measure the level of oxygen in the soil. Judith and Bernard, both native Kenyans and research assistants, are leading the teams.
 
I join the planting group, lead by Judith. First, we mark plots for planting that are six meters by six meters (20 feet by 20 feet). It is funny to see how such a simple task can lead to discussion.
 
Some of us go to the nursery to take some seedlings. Emily and I are carrying seedlings on an improvised stretcher, made by local people of canvas bag and tied between two mangrove poles. We are planting two species, Ceriops and Avicennia, at the remaining plots of the last team, which could not finish planting due to bad weather.
 
I am sad to discover that my camera has a malfunction. However, I can still set my mind at ease since Deividas has volunteered to be the cameraman during this project and that the team will also share photos.
 
Around 11 a.m., we take a break at the “Coconut Café,” sitting on the ground under coconut trees where we have some coconut drinks. The team also has some fun with a coconut-throwing contest.
 
At about 1 p.m., we return to the bus to Gazi for lunch. On our way to the bus, there are some local guys joining us and asking where we come from and what our names and ages are. After lunch, a few volunteers do some lab processing, and, like the rest of the team, I have some time for a siesta.
 
Later in the evening, Bernard gives a presentation on carbon cycle and climate change.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 Today, we continue planting at Kinondo. The species are Avicennia and Bruguiera. Besides planting, I also help with root excavation where crab exclosure experiments have been established. We dig out mangroves that are planted in nets to protect them from the crabs, and we collect the roots. Data are also collected from the surviving plants.
 
In the afternoon, Emily, Belinda, and I are doing some lab work. We rinse out the mud from the roots at a large tub of water and then put the roots in the sun to dry.
 
During the day, we all try to follow up on Laura’s idea to learn new Swahili words. Bernard has taught me how to pronounce chakula kitamu sana, meaning the food is delicious. A second phrase I have also learned is pole pole, meaning easy easy.
 
After dinner, Dr. Mark gives a short lecture on mangrove fauna. Later in the evening, Hamisi—a local fisherman—talks about the village and the people. There is a village committee headed by a village chairman that oversees the running of the village. As Islam is the main religion of the village guiding everyday life, certain habits are strongly discouraged. Also, a special committee has been formed to look at the affairs of Earthwatch volunteers.
 
Most people are fishermen. Their fish are sold to brokers, who sell the fish to restaurants. Hamisi also tells us about the Tanzanian fishermen coming to Gazi to fish during the good season.

Thursday, August 24, 2006 Another day planting at Kinondo. Anil and I are collecting data from surviving plants. We count and weigh the leaves and also weigh the stems and branches.
 
During the usual coconut break, it is funny to see how we improvise a kind of cricket game, using a dried palm branch as a bat and a dried coconut as a ball.
 
As usual, when we return to the bus, we are surrounded by the children of the village. They are very excited when Mathew shows them a very small portable fan, and they all want to try it.
 
Later in the afternoon, Belinda and I enter the data in the computer at the lab while the rest do some other lab work.
 
Tonight is our night out for some drinks at a local bar.

Friday, August 25, 2006 The group is split into two task teams. One is staying back for some lab work. I join the team planting at Kinondo.
 
Later in the afternoon, we visit the Rhizophora re-plantation. With pride, Dr. Kairo explains that the replanting started 10 years ago, and the results obtained indicate that it is possible to implement artificial mangrove plantations in Kenya. Our support in this experimental project will successfully enhance coastal reforestation.
 
As we return to Gazi, we make a stop for some soft drinks at bar that’s a nice, huge open hut. It is a magnificent spot to watch the sun go down.

Saturday, August 26, 2006 As scheduled, today is our free day, with a group excursion to the Kisite Marine National Park, where we can snorkel on a coral reef, watch dolphins, or just relax. It is one hour driving to Shimoni. We arrive at the marine park, where tickets are purchased and where we also can look at the pictures of the different underwater flora and fauna we may encounter. Next we get our snorkeling gear and go on board a dhow (wooden boat powered by a motor). Although we are moving slowly, I’m really enjoying the nice blue, clear water and the gentle breeze. We also have the chance of seeing beautiful dolphins and taking lots of photos.
 
When we are near the coral reefs, we get prepared and wear our snorkeling gear. First, Dr. Mark and the tour guide jump in the water, and then we follow one by one. The others find it funny to hear me screaming while jumping from the boat into the water. I have never snorkeled before, so this is my first time. I think I was too excited, because I almost swallowed some salty water. Honestly, only the thought that I am somewhere in the middle of the sea makes me a little nervous.
 
The guide is very patient, and he guides me along the reefs until I’m comfortable enough to snorkel on my own. I’m truly enjoying this great experience, and I can’t have enough of the beautiful pristine coral reefs and the different shapes of colored fish I see down there. I’m so amazed and, in fact, I can’t find the right words to describe this awesome underwater life.
 
After snorkeling, the dhow is moored, and we swim about 50 meters (164 feet) to a nearby white sandbar. We find some pools of water, where we lie and enjoy the warm water. It feels like a sauna in the open air.
 
We return and stop at Wasini Island. This is also a primitive village with no running water and electricity. Things to see are the ancient Swahili ruins and the coral gardens, which is a bizarre landscape of exposed coral reefs with a boardwalk.
 
After lunch at Shimoni, we also have the chance to visit the Shimoni Slave Caves. Villagers have opened up the old slave caves as a tourist attraction. A lady takes us around the caverns to illustrate to us that millions of slaves were captured here and sold to households and plantations across the Middle East. This is a painful, dark chapter of the East African history.
 
As we return to the village, we are informed that tonight is the official village reception. This was supposed to take place at the beginning of the week, but due to a funeral in the village, it has been rescheduled. After dinner, we go to the main street of the village where all the village people are gathered. Some boys are playing drums around a camp fire. I feel like a very important person (VIP), because there is a special bench for us and we are surrounded by the children. The chairman welcomes the Earthwatch team, and he expresses his appreciation for our work. We all get the chance to introduce ourselves and say hello in our native language. Some youngsters are pulling us to join them in their local traditional dance. This is another different cultural experience I enjoy.
 
What an exhausting day, but I have absolutely memorable unique experiences.

Sunday, August 27, 2006 This morning, we do some work at the marathon transect to establish a new experiment on root decomposition. This experiment is to determine how mangrove roots of one or two different species decompose. We start at the most landward end of the mangroves and bury root samples that have been prepared the last several days. We mark the stations with PVC pipe poles and paint the tops with bright yellow paint so the plots can be found after six months.
 
Today is also the village lunch. We have lunch at a historic site—a sheik’s house built during the colonial periods. The sheik was notorious for torturing local people. It is also said that bodies are buried in the foundations of the house to give the building strength. Even though this sounds chilly, it doesn’t keep us from enjoying the sumptuous lunch especially prepared for us by the village women. We all manage to eat sitting on the floor and also, for the first time, enjoy chai, a Kenyan tea that is a national obsession.
 
We are also invited for the village dinner. The team is divided into small groups, and we go to the home of a village family. Laura, Anil, Deividas, and I are taken to the Hamisi family. We enjoy dinner and, as traditional, sit on the floor. We are discussing the different customs, and Hamisi shares his experiences with us on how he runs his transportation business. He also encourages his daughters to educate themselves. It is obvious that this family is one of the well-to-do families of the village. After so many days without television, we finally see one in this house.

Monday, August 28, 2006 Today, we continue with the marathon transect. We are heading toward the sea and look for suitable sites to choose the plots. We do the same as yesterday, digging and burying root samples. I love the artistic job of painting the top of the PVC pipe poles with yellow paint.
 
We trek closer to the coast. Although the mud is fluid and deeper, this is no barrier for us to progress well. We know now what to expect, and we are even more skilled and confident than the first day. When we are almost at the coast, some of us are having trouble wading in the mud. It is so deep, and at a point, Belinda and Ron get stuck. While others try to help Belinda, Mark runs to rescue Ron. Some of us can’t help laughing and taking photos, but finally we have all made it.
 
In the afternoon, we play a football (soccer) match. It has become a tradition for the local boys to challenge the Earthwatch teams. Men and women have to participate, and it doesn’t matter whether you can play or not. Matthew is our captain, and following his instructions, we start the match. It’s very funny to see how we as adults are running after the small boys and a ball. The boys are too fast and skilled, so our team is in desperate need for some substitutes. Some of us mingle and have fun with the local children.
 
Tonight is also our night out. Dr. Kairo drives us to a local dancing bar in the nearest town, Ukunda. First we have a few cold drinks while others are playing pool. Finally, all of us enjoy shaking our legs. It is obvious that everyone is happy. On our way back, we laugh a lot at the amusing moments with some local women on the dance floor. It has become a late night, and we are all glad to hear that we can start tomorrow at 8 a.m., an hour later than the usual start time.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006 Although breakfast starts at 8 a.m., most of us are very slow and remarkably quiet this morning. I wish I could sleep longer, but still the work must go on.
 
Today is our last field day. We are leaving for Kinondo to collect some data on the crab exclosure experiments. After digging out some plots of mangroves, some of us are collecting the roots. Others cut off the plants, count and weigh the leaves, and also weigh the stems and branches. Later, the data will be entered into the computer.
 
We return to Gazi earlier than usual. After a delicious lunch, we start packing our stuff so we are prepared for our departure tomorrow morning. We also have some small financial settlements to take care of, and Dr. Huxham has asked us to write down our feedback.
 
Shortly after supper, Dr. Kairo unexpectedly surprises us with a nice cake with text that reads “team 3 asante sana,” which is Swahili for thank you very much. All of us are glad to have successfully participated in this project and to get along with each other very well, in spite of all the different backgrounds and cultures.
 
Some of us decide to close this last night at the beach. Bernard and Fred also join us in walking to the beach. After many attempts, we succeed at making a bonfire. As we stand around the fire, we share our greatest moments and impressions over the last 10 days. We have been touched by all the happy faces of the children, contrary to their circumstances.
 
For the first time, it starts raining while we are returning to the houses. This symbolizes a kind of sadness that our journey has come to an end.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006 At 7 a.m., we all say goodbye to Anil, as he is leaving early for a safari before returning to India. The friends we have made come and say farewell. Our bags are loaded on the minibus, and around 8 a.m., we are ready to leave for Mombassa town.
 
We have been invited to join Dr. Kairo for the official launch of an electronic Kenyan coast map and the opening of the new building at the Kenyan Fisheries and Marine Research Institute, where he is employed. The minister of Fisheries and Agriculture is also attending this official launch and, as with the previous speakers, he mentions Earthwatch’s work and our presence. The highlight of the day is that we also have a delightful lunch at a restaurant. We truly enjoy eating on the terrace of this grand Moorish building overlooking the water, and we are all happy with this unexpected ending to the mangrove project.
 
After lunch, we say goodbye to Dr. Kairo and his wife. The bus takes us to the hotel, where some of us will check in for one last night in Kenya. Others step into a taxi to leave for the airport. Again, I have to say farewell to my teammates.

Thursday, August 31, 2006 The time to leave Kenya has come too quickly. It seems like just yesterday I was arriving.

I arrive in ample time at the Moi airport for my check-in. Unfortunately, my flight from Mombassa to Nairobi has been changed to an earlier time, and it has just left. It seems that I am not the only one left behind—there are also three Italians. Luckily, the lady at the terminal is very helpful and immediately transfers us to another airline. The rush is stressful, but I am reassured I will be just in time for the connecting flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam.
 
Finally, I arrive safe and sound in Amsterdam. I am so glad to see again Carla and Arti, who are waiting for me at the airport. What a relief. I can talk Dutch again. For 24 hours a day for 12 days, I have been conversing in English only, which was a good exercise for me. However, sometimes I needed to express myself in Dutch!
 
Acknowledgments
Thanks to my family. Your support and prayers have strengthened me.
 
Thanks to Dr. Mark Huxham, Dr. James Kairo, and all my teammates. It has been a pleasure to work with you.
 
Thanks to Alcoa/Suralco and Earthwatch for allowing me this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I will cherish and treasure the memories of this research, the people, and the cultural experiences all my life.
 
To all my Alcoa/Suralco colleagues, this is an amazing experience, and it is absolutely worth a try to apply for the Alcoa/Earthwatch Fellowship Program.
 
Van Harte Bedankt!


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