July 18, 2011
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!