Happy new year Oltumo friends supporters! We hope you had a joyous and fulfilling transition into 2015. We really appreciate all of your support, both in reality and on Facebook. Now that I'm back in Nairobi on a break from our project to take anAdvanced Permaculture Consultancy course, I thought I'd do a little summary with some more pictures and details of our progress during the past 6 weeks or so.
To see a slideshow and avoid reading, here it is. If you want to read more, click 'Read More'.
It's no doubt that the realization of Oltumo Maasai Project's goals and greater vision will be a very lengthy and tedious process. We must find ways of re-strengthening the Maasai community, as well as continuously improving our home communities back in Canada and wherever our network grows to. But considering the future timeline of our project, it's still astonishing to see what we have accomplished in just 2 short months here in Kenya, as well as inspiring for what is possible in the coming months.
In early January I went to Narok (largest city between Oltumo and Nairobi) with the impossible task of getting all of the supplies we'd need to finish one major project. The mission was to build our much-needed roof extension around the pump control house.
The first order of business was to help out these poor trees that just survived the journey from Narok in the back of that truck. Pemba and his friends and one of Maura's wives put up the mini-nursery in just an afternoon. The trees we bought include papaya, passion fruit, orange, avocado, pine, cypress, bougainvillea, and croton. These are the only trees we plan to buy for now, the rest of the trees we will harvest from saplings in the area and bring them to the well to grow up and be used as demonstration, education, living fence, and for medicine or food.
Greywater Swale System
We didn't start on the roof right away though, instead we opted for building a shower and wash station to help deter people from using the drinking water taps for washing. Of course, we also just really wanted a shower on those 30+ degree days! A major aspect of this shower was to emphasize the use of greywater to revitalize the land and grow food, but also a simple and clear demonstration of not wasting such a precious resource, as typical shower/washing systems generally do.
The idea was simple in theory: build the shower as high up on the slope of the land as possible, dig infiltration swales on contour connected to diversion ditches to direct the shower water through as much of the land as slowly as possible, allowing it to sink and spread under the surface.
A great learning experience occurred during the construction of this system. After about 2 weeks of periodically digging, when they were all finally connected and we could flood the system to be sure of the flow, the Maasai, who had been witness or even a part of the construction of these swales and ditches, watched and realized what the heck we had been doing. This realization that explaining totally new concepts to a tribal culture is futile, and can possibly only be accomplished by showing them a functional system, is crucial. The Maasai facilitators at my course had also confirmed this same notion, that nothing they had presented to other Maasai was actually realized until a product or clear beneficial result was to be witnessed. Lesson Learned!
In this picture, you can see the 2 directions of what we've dug. The ones going downhill are called 'diversion ditches' with the purpose of moving the water to a desired location. The ones going across are the 'swales', dug on contour with no slope so the water can sit and sink in. However, due to the fear of mosquitoes, we have added the slightest slope possible on the swales, this is because the risk of malaria brewing in standing water is too high. We have plans to fill the diversion swales with rocks so we can move easily over them and the water can still flow through. Ground cover crops will also be planted along the tops of the mounds of dirt we call 'berms'. Maybe some peanuts, as they are great nitrogen fixers and also help build rhizobium which are a soil bacteria that help the fixation of nitrogen in the soil through the roots. Soil stabilizer, Free fertilizer, AND fresh peanuts!
Above the shower we've made a washing station that also connects to the swale system. That cage around the wood frame will be cemented to make a sink, with the outlet coming straight out the bottom to be used as a foot wash. So nice it is to scrub your feet on these flat stones! It's also right by the entrance so anyone coming to get water can stop by and wash a bit.
I opted not to ask a Maasai for a picture while using the shower, so here I am being the willing demonstrator! It's been so nice to have people using the shower freely, many of whom have never used a shower like this before! I've heard a little boy with his grandfather and I could not for the life of me tell if he was laughing or crying or both! Every time the water turned on, the sounds he created were both hilarious and heart-warming, full of the energy of a first time experience. I'm also happy and relieved because I was told that women wouldn't use it due to it's location near the door and lack of privacy, but they are! We attached some wood at the bottom that the blankets are tacked to so you can't see in, and there's a steel ring sewed onto the bottom of the door-blanket that hooks onto a bent nail to close it, perfectly private! Also in under a year, when all the plants around it grow up, we'll be showering in a mini-jungle and picking passion fruit as we bathe!
Finally, we got in contact with some local Fundi's and decided that paying them to build the roof would ensure it was finished quickly, properly, and we could focus on all the other areas that needed our attention. James is the main Fundi, and he was such a pleasure to work with. We discussed all the plans which I had made, and how he could combine his ideas with mine to make a roof like no other in the area. One could observe that most construction here is done in a hurry and just 'good enough'. We opted to take it a bit slower, but ensure that time was taken to build a solid roof that would last and not leak, be used to catch and store rainwater, provide shade but also light through a mix of iron and transparent roofing sheets, and lastly be able to withstand the extreme winds that come in the rainy season.
The chisel became the key tool in this construction. Something that most Fundi's here may never even use.
The last photo I took before I left the Mara on the 27th. So excited to see it completed when I get back!
Plans for the coming months
We have a roof! Now the fun in comfort can begin.
Being a Permaculturalist, and having just finished a rejuvenating course on Permaculture design and consulting, I have had more than enough time to ponder over our coming projects. Firstly we need an accurate base map of the well area, including all the key elements both visible and non-visible. As well as future plans and ideas so we can envision the bigger picture before we work on the details and end up putting things in the wrong place and wasting energy and resources. Once we have a map, then we can begin working out the finer details of the design and get busy. Our needs include:
Should be fun! We have a handful of volunteers joining us as well, all committed to a month or more, and have been informed of our ethics and goals and current situation as clearly as possible. The extra hands will really help work progress and some tasks become more of a pleasure than work. We also hope that this will increase the interest of the local Maasai and inspire them to join in more and also feel that they are really a part of Oltumo.
Meetings are going to be held soon with the Maasai, with a focus on simply asking questions about life, past and present, challenges, ideas for solutions, etc. Oltumo has ideas, but we are only a dream until we get the local Maasai community more involved and really feeling like they are a part of this movement and understand that they have the support and network to really affect some positive change in their lives. With a balanced combination of Maasai culture and knowledge with other ideas and experience from around the world, we believe a that truly regenerative change can occur.
Positive Connections we have made