Gustavo Maranes’ Diary
Tidal Forests of Kenya

August 4, 2009: Leaving Gazi
August 2, 2009: Food in the village
July 31, 2009: Day off
July 29, 2009: Walk on Gazi Beach
July 27, 2009: Visit to Gazi Primary School
July 25, 2009: Arrival in Gazi
August 3, 2009: Last day as a volunteer
August 1, 2009: Back to work
July 30, 2009: Mapping Gazi
July 28, 2009: Getting to meet the locals
July 26, 2009: First contact with mangroves
July 23, 2009: Ready for a life-changing experience

August 4, 2009: Leaving Gazi

Smallkids Leaving Gazi in the morning was sad. The wonderful experience had come to an end. We had worked and contributed to the project research. We had also made our small contribution to the welfare of this special community. I think it was a tough but fabulous experience and hope to continue helping the community the way I can. Thanks to all of you for this amazing time in Gazi! I will be back some day.
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August 3, 2009: Last day as a volunteer

We started our last day in Gazi planting mangroves in Kinondo. Planting three plots was a new and difficult task, especially carrying the small mangroves from the nursery. I had never planted a tree in my life and was excited with the idea of coming back some day to the region and looking for the trees I had planted. Hopefully they will be grown up and full of leaves the day I return there so that I can proudly show them to my family. Today we had a special lunch, huge and delicious crabs. And after a big meal we had a big event: the football match between volunteers and locals. The local team was formed by young kids but they looked professional and took the game very seriously. We had great fun seeing these kids running very fast and attacking our goal. We had to defend ourselves any way we could, but the biggest fear was the local referee, who clearly supported his team. The final score was 3-1 for them. After the match there was an exchange of School speeches and presents between the two teams. It was nice to learn that the village football team is more than that. It is a project where kids learn the importance of health, teamwork and discipline; once more a good example of a well run and helpful project for the community. It was not easy to start packing that night. I gave some presents to our Kenyan colleagues and felt there was a need to do much more for them in the future. The evening finished on the beach around a fire.
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August 2, 2009: Food in the village

Feast Today was a mapping day but there was a need for someone to stay in Gazi for data input. I stayed working in the canopy and took it easy. Then I joined the group for the village lunch. The women of the boardwalk project cooked for us very good local dishes and we ate them sitting on the floor of the oldest building in the village. There are many sites of historical interest on the coastline, including this ruin in Gazi that was once used by the Arabs as a concentration center for slaves before they were shipped to Far East countries. Some nicely carved wooden doors remain in the building. The village is thinking on opening a museum there in the future to attract tourism. At the moment the only creatures using it are big bats. I spent the afternoon on the beach where I relaxed and talked to some fishermen who told me that the fishing season had not been good. Nevertheless they have Tanzanian fishermen coming to their bay since apparently it is a rich area compared to others, probably due to the big amount of mangroves. The village dinner took place that day. We were split in groups and were invited to different houses in the village to have dinner with a local family. Robert, Ray and I were Meal invited for dinner at Abdulrahman’s place. He lives with eight other family members in a cement house in the main street. We ate on the floor with our right hand in the traditional way. Other family members were passing by the room all the time and watching with curiosity the new guests at home. We had a lots of food, and enjoyed taking part in the family dinner that night.
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August 1, 2009: Back to work

Field The month of August started with a sunny day working on plant biomass in Kinondo. Part of the group started counting weird animals in the plot such as spiders. The day continued with some laboratory work and a deserved nap. In the evening we had Dr. Kairo’s presentation on his work in Kenya Marine and his mangrove project. It was interesting to find out more about his work and his important role in the village. His projects have attracted researchers from many different places and he hires many young people in the village contributing to improving life in Gazi. In the evening we had our night out. Our Kenyan colleagues were very excited about it since there was a concert by a famous Tanzanian singer in Ukunda. We only had some beers on the club terrace and went later to another bar with some traditional music. We ended up going to bed exhausted.
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July 31, 2009: Day off

Fall_tim_and_gus Finally we got some holidays! Nevertheless, we decided to wake up earlier than usual to visit the Simba Hills National Reserve. It is a beautiful park not far from the coast. We could see zebra, warthogs, antelopes, elephants, giraffes, etc. The park is famous for its sable antelopes that are very difficult to spot in other parts of Africa. The game safari was fun although you can see much more in the famous national parks in the centre of Kenya. In the park we also visited a beautiful waterfall, accompanied by a ranger since anything can happen when you are surrounded by these wild animals. We spent the afternoon in Diani Beach swimming, sunbathing, walking along the beach and simply enjoying life. It is a wonderful beach and I spent most of the time in the water. It was our first contact with tourists. I actually felt proud of being part of the few foreigners that get to live in a village and get in contact with a local community, something that all these tourists will probably never experience. We invited our Kenyan colleagues to have the first pizza of their lives. For them the whole day was an interesting adventure since many had not seen elephants and other wild animals before. I was glad to see them so happy that day. Back in Gazi some of us decided to go to the movies. That was Beach another funny experience. People enjoyed having us in the hut watching the TV screen with them. Many were watching us more than the screen, but it is normal since they play the same movies all the time and some would know the film by heart. The whole cinema decided to change the movie for us since the one they were watching was in Swahili. We ended up with a Nigerian soap opera they loved and we found very funny. It was a great day!
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July 30, 2009: Mapping Gazi

Onsite The morning started with a different exercise than other days: ground truthing for a map of tree biomass distribution in Gazi. It was not easy to mark sample areas of 10x10 m in the deep mangrove forest but the work was done and we survived. The afternoon started with data input in the laboratory. Afterwards we had a presentation on the Kenyan education system. It was sad to learn that only 2% of the young people reach university. Most of them go to primary school in their villages and only around 25% of them attend the secondary school, mainly because most kids start working with their families and girls start a family very young. There are private schools but most of the families cannot afford sending their kids there. Education is in English, which I found a very good thing, and makes it possible for them to communicate with us and with the rest of the world. In the evening, Robert, one of the Kenyan volunteers, explained to the group his career until Nakuru University, where he is currently studying marine sciences. He can be really proud of being one of the few students from the Gazi primary school that has gone to University. Apparently you need to be a very good student, then you need a sponsor to continue your studies and then a loan to study at University that you will have to start paying back to the Kenyan state once you find a job after finishing your studies. It was unbelievable to hear that he had to walk 10km per day to get to primary school and sometimes he could not make it because he found buffalos on his way and had to go back home. I was next and I made an informal presentation about the region where I come from, the Canary Islands, and the work I am doing as a government relations manager in Alcoa. I made it as interesting as I could but could not avoid some people getting asleep with the help of the lack of electricity during the presentation that night.
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July 29, 2009: Walk on Gazi Beach

Camels The morning was as usual; working hard and coconut break. In the afternoon I went for a walk on the beach. It was beautiful to see the storks catching crabs and the eagles looking for small fish. Fishermen were coming back from a tiring day out fishing. They were catching many small fish. These are attracted by the mangroves to this area. At the same time, some big fish are attracted by all these smaller fish, and squids. Some fish is consumed by the locals but the best catches are usually sold to intermidiaries that then sell them to hotels and restaurants; big crabs, squids and lobsters. Fishermen saw me around and everyone would know I am one of the volunteers working with Earthwatch and living in the village. They would respect us and we would feel always safe and somehow part of the Gazi community. That afternoon I had my first swim in the Indian Ocean. Volunteers would be the only “mad people” swimming in that area. I also went for a look at a small resort hidden in the palm trees Netpay not far from there. It was a well kept secret and no one around would know much about what was in there. It was a luxury retreat. Locals were upset since the resort had not employed anyone from the village. In the evening we had a presentation on payment for ecosystem services and it was explained to us how the next morning we would be mapping Gazi mangrove carbon.
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July 28, 2009: Getting to meet the locals

Lab We went back to Kinondo to continue with our plant and animal research. Again the coconut time was the best moment. After lunch I went to the laboratory where we had to input the data collected during the morning. The laboratory is one of the main buildings in the village. It is in the main street and I liked sitting in the porch from where I could watch daily life in the village. Afterwards I took my camera and walked around the village saying hello to people and taking pictures of the smiley children. Although the people live in very basic conditions they seem happy and are very hospitable. I was invited to visit some of the houses and managed to talk to some interesting people. I recognized the students' representative of Gazi Primary School, Abdallah, and spent some time talking to him. He had many questions about our lives back home, our families and friends, our jobs and of course about football. I also had some messages to pass regarding the importance of studying in order to get a good job some day and be able to travel around the world. I ended up seeing him every day and I Kids and steps found him sometimes in the afternoons in front of our house waiting for our daily chat. In the evening the team had a presentation about women in Kenya and the mangrove boardwalk project where many local women are involved. After dinner we went for our first Kenyan beers in Michael’s family bar in Msambweni. The bar had been burned by another tribe in 2007 during the post-electoral riots and was now refurbished.
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July 27, 2009: Visit to Gazi Primary School

Breaktime It was a difficult day. We were working for the first time after having made contact with the project and the mangroves the day before. Unfortunately, the African sun did not come out, and instead we got wet under the rain. Immediately after arriving in the Kinondo mangrove area we were split into two teams: plants and animals. The plant team counted the height of the trees, diameter of the stem, total number of leaves and number of damaged leaves, in different plots. The animal team counted the snails and crabs per plot, taking random areas. This would give the biomass of the plot and show how trees had grown up and how fauna had settled in the area attracted by mangroves. The best moment of the tough morning was the coconut break. We could stop working for 15 minutes to drink and eat a wonderful coconut. One of the magic moments of the expedition came that afternoon when we visited the Gazi Primary School. The school is very basic but kids spoke good English, Schoolkids were wearing a uniform and seemed to enjoy it. There was a nice performance by some students. We also had a small performance where we sang the Kenyan anthem and I sang a short song in Swahili everyone knew, and a funny Spanish song. The kids were laughing at us like crazy. Our team offered some presents to the school that were received by the student representatives. Pens and notebooks were welcomed mainly by the teachers, and candies and balloons by the youngest children. Nevertheless, the most important present for them was the football. They became really excited. Some speeches followed by our local colleagues explaining how working hard at school and with big discipline they had managed to get to university or get a job. It was an important message for these children since many of them stop education after primary school. In the evening we had presentations on the Kenyan medical system and we found out that many people still believe more in sorcerers than in doctors and would therefore arrive at the hospital only when little could be done to save them. We sadly heard that diseases like malaria are very common among the population, and the prevention programme only includes giving people mosquito nets. AIDS is also a very common disease transmitted very frequently among the population. Later Ms. Kairo presented her research thesis on aquaculture in Africa. She is an Alcoa fellow and thanked our company for having given her a great opportunity to conduct her research. I found out that she had attended the Alcoa Sustainability meetings in Barcelona last years, where I was also present.
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July 26, 2009: First contact with mangroves

Boardwalk At 5 am the loudspeakers from the village mosque woke me up. The day started with presentations from Dr. Kairo on the research project and by Martin on the mangrove fauna before we jumped into the fieldwork. From the laughs of the experts before we started our “mangrove marathon” we could already feel it would be a difficult start. It was indeed, since we had to find our way through a very dense mangrove forest and mud. We all ended up with scratches and mud above our knees and one of us even lost his pants. After the big adventure we ended up having lunch in the boardwalk built by the village people to show mangroves to Kenyan schools and tourists. It is an incredible project run by women of Gazi to show mangroves to tourists and Kenyan schools. It was a nice surprise to find out that the first phase of the project had been funded by the Overijse town council in Belgium, not far from where I live. After a well deserved shower and dinner, Hamisi presented the village and their customs and traditions. It was funny to hear during his presentation that men have to pay the bride’s family whatever they ask for to be able to get her out of the house and marry her. His story was even better since, scared of losing his future bride to another suitor, he had taken her with his mother far away while he was making some money to be able to pay her family. Now they are happy and have two children, but during the time we were there his wife was seriously ill with malaria. We could feel from the beginning it was a very united community.
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July 25, 2009: Arrival in Gazi

Jambo After having spent some hours in three different planes I finally arrived in Mombasa, the most important town in the Kenyan coast. I met the other Alcoans (Bronwyn, Ray and Tim) and the Earthwatch researcher (Martin) at the lobby of the New Palm Tree hotel and we all started our adventure in Kenya. The first walk in the old town of Mombasa and the road to Gazi village already gave us a glimpse of Kenya. It was a mix of colours, smells, noises and movements that made it very special. We arrived in Gazi and felt from the first moment very welcomed. We were received by Mama Nico (housekeeper) and Dr Kairo (main researcher in the project) in the house where we were going to spend the next 10 days. It was probably the nicest house in the village. The living room/meeting room/dining room was a cozy canopy were the team would spent very nice moments. The group went for a walk around the village passing by the beach. That first contact with locals was great. All kids would come to see us and say “Jambo”. They are not used to seeing that many foreigners around the village. People received us as very special guests, since we were going to work on a project Earthwatch_hut that would directly impact positively in the local community. The day finished with the introduction of each member of the expedition including five locals that would be part of the team: Tima, Zulekha, Robert, Michael and Hamisi.
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July 23, 2009: Ready for a life-changing experience

Gustavo_Maranes My name is Gustavo Marañés, I am Spanish and work as Government Affairs Manager in the EU Affairs Office of Alcoa in Brussels. This office closely follows the activities of all EU institutions, anticipating and responding to EU proposed legislation and seeking to secure the best possible outcome for Alcoa. To my surprise, on 19 March 2009 I got the following message from Earthwatch and Alcoa: "Congratulations! You have been selected to be a 2009 Alcoa Earthwatch Fellow...With the commitment to action of employees such as you, Alcoa will truly be part of the solution when it comes to climate change and environmental issues facing our planet." And here I am now, packing my luggage to go to Kenya and join the "Tidal Forests of Kenya" Earthwatch expedition. Volunteers in this project will be involved in mangrove planting, measuring biological and physical variables and analyzing data. So I will be helping to maintain and restore a vital ecosystem and thus helping people who rely directly on natural resources. And I will be doing this by working with the local community in a peaceful Kenyan village. As an Earthwatch volunteer, I will have the great opportunity to make a small contribution to our world while having a life-changing experience.
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