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Day 23 (July 18, 2011): The Safi Life

July 18, 2011

Rick sits in a camp chair at a desk inside a green canvas tent. On the floor of the tent is a mattress covered with a wool blanket
Before Rick went to Lake Victoria, we caught him on camera inside his tent.
It’s Since I’m traveling today by road from Lake Victoria to Nairobi, I’ve asked Katie to post her impressions about camping at Olorgesailie. What’s it like to live in our research camp? By the way, many years ago the Kenyan crew decided on the name for our camp, which (in Swahili) means ‘neat (or excellent) camp’… Here’s what Katie has to say about Kampi Safi.

Living outside can be adventurous, as you know if you have ever gone camping for a few days. At Olorgesailie, our team camps for months at a time. This requires a very strategic and organized plan! Just like life anywhere else, we have to cover three basic necessities: shelter, food, and water.

For shelter, each person has their own tent. Our tents are green canvas and pole tents, kind of like what you may see in the army or on a safari. Each tent has a mattress on the floor with a pillow and woolen blanket, as well as a desk for work. Attached to the front is a short canopy for shade and privacy. During the day it can be pretty hot, so we often open up our tents to circulate the cool breeze.

Seven people are sitting outside in canvas folding chairs at a square wooden table underneath a large canvas tarp. On the table are plates of food, and pitchers of water
The research team enjoys a nice lunch. From left: Alison Brooks, John Yellen, Kathryn Ranhorn, Kay Behrensmeyer, Muteti Nume, Naomi Levin, and Rick Potts. Jennifer Clark is taking the photo.
Next on the list of priorities is food! With over 30 people living at Kampi Safi, feeding everyone requires a great deal of forethought and preparation. We have a weekly “food run” to Nairobi, every Tuesday, where we drop off a prepared list with our favorite grocer. Our weekly run allows us to keep the camp stocked with fresh items like fruit, meat, milk, and other necessities.

Matuku and King'ola stand at the back of an old Landrover. the rear door is open, inside vehicle is a green plastic water drum, outside is blue water drum sitting on a tire
Matuku King'oo (on the left) and King'ola Ndambuki (on the right) unload the water drums from the truck.
The third essential for life is water. Where do we find water here, in the arid basin? We actually gather our water from a nearby well. One of the crew members goes every day and fills several large drums. We need water for several things like drinking, cooking, washing dishes, and bathing, and for over 30 people, we need a lot of water!

Our eating times are scheduled on a well-defined regimen. We have three meals a day: breakfast at 6:45am usually consists of fruit with cereal, oatmeal, or toast with eggs. Breakfast wouldn’t be complete without hot coffee or tea or, as Muteti enjoys, coffee with tea (see Day 13). We then set out to the field for the day at 7:30, and come back at 1:00pm for lunch. Lunch can vary every day and can include things like soup, salad, potato salad, cheese, or the classic Kampi Safi meal— safari njema. Lunch is always followed by a delicious fruit salad with fresh mango, melon, papaya, oranges, etc. After such a big lunch, the camp takes a break from 2pm-3pm. This allows all of us to rest during the hottest time of the day. Then at 3pm it’s back to the field!

After a long day’s work, we return to camp at 6pm for chai time. This is when we sit around the table and drink chai (tea) while discussing the day’s events and watching the sunset.

under a tree sits a burlap wrapped structure. At the top of the structure hanging from a limb, is a solar shower bag
The Kampi Safi shower is a black solar shower bag hung from a tree, surrounded by a burlap enclosure for privacy.
Next it’s time to clean up – ourselves, that is. You must be wondering, how do you stay clean in the middle of the Rift Valley, especially after digging in the dirt? It’s very simple really, all with the help of the most clever invention—the solar shower bag. A solar shower bag is a black bag which is filled with water early in the morning. The bag bakes in the sun all day, and because it is black, it retains heat very well. One of our crew members then climbs the shower tree and hangs the bag up high from one of the branches and voila!—we have a shower! Of course, we have to conserve our water supply, so we rotate who takes a shower on which day. More often than not, a quick wash with just a basin, soap, and water does the trick.

A burlap covered structure with a small red flag flying above the top
The Kampi Safi choo (bathroom): a toilet is built and placed over a hole 10m deep, surrounded by burlap for privacy. The flag means that the choo is “occupied.”
By 7pm the stars are out and gradually the Milky Way and constellations like Scorpio and the Southern Cross come into view. Lately the moon has been very bright, and the moon rise beautiful. Around 8pm we make our way to the table for light snacks and drinks, chatting until dinner is served. Dinner also varies depending on the day, but typically consists of a soup appetizer followed by a main dish like spaghetti, pork chops, chicken, or curry. We also eat traditional Kenyan food, such as ugali, a thick cornmeal mix, similar to grits, which is typically eaten with the hands. We then have dessert, usually melon or papaya, or even homemade apple pie or mango cobbler! Delish!

It is late in the day and Alison is sitting at an outdoor table and Rick is checking his cell phone by a kerosene lantern. Cups of tea are on the table
Rick and Alison enjoy some tea during chai time as the sun quickly fades and lanterns are lit.
After dinner it’s time for bed. At night we can hear wildlife, especially hyenas, close to our camp. Therefore, as a rule, we always carry a “torch” or flashlight. Each person also has a personal kerosene lantern for their tent. A peaceful night’s rest is vital to our success in the field. Overall, life in the field is not just fun, it’s safi!