Saturday, 19 October 2013


Some geography, just because it seems appropriate to describe the surroundings...

The Taita Hills are a collection of mountains (I really don’t know whether to call them small or big. The Highest peak, Vuria, rises to 2200 meters, but then again the surrounding plain lies at about 700 meters) located approximately at 3°25’S, 38°20’E. The hills are part covered in fields and part in cloud- and rain forests. It’s said to be one of the important biodiversity hotspots in Africa.

The area around the hills is good old Lion King Land: a dry savannah where you should be able to find all those iconic animals. I bet one of the cliffs down there is where Simba was first presented to his future subjects (much like what has happened lately in Britain and Sweden...) Great Safari-country that is!

So there’s a general and not surprising tension between the (relatively) green, fertile, humid, prosperous and developed hills on the one hand and the red-and-brown, dry and barren plains, where people are said to be relying on food aid, on the other. The hills with their forests have been described (somewhere here) as natural ‘water towers’, serving as the source of local rivers. Now, due to climate change, God or anything else people like to attribute large-scale changes to, those rivers are carrying less water each year, and it seems rational that the lowlanders blame the hill-dwellers for this. General disappearance of forests of course accounts for some of this.

It’s a pity that the blame misses its target. As I’ve understood it, the rivers from Wundanyi don’t run south to Mwatate but west to somewhere else. But these things usually don’t stop people from collectively blaming something or someone outside ‘us’ (vs. ‘them’) for trouble, once they've decided so.

They get two rainy seasons here every year: one from March to July and one from October and December (now). The collective memory and experience points out that the rains have grown more irregular lately . When the rains seldom show themselves down on the plains (I’m again forced to refer to Toto’s Africa), they come as heavy downpours that cause floods instead of fertility. In between are long, dry stretches that cause suffering, tensions and conflicts over resources. Added to this is a sturdy population growth, which really doesn't help.

I've divided the study area where I will be doing interviews into three parts. It consists of two river catchments: Wundanyi (up in the hills, where the research station is located) and Mwatate (down on the plain), originally both mapped and named (for the biggest towns located in them) by people smarter than me. In addition I've divided the Mwatate catchment into two parts, since it’s a lot bigger and can be divided according to physical features (a bit hilly vs. flat, not so dry vs. very dry etc.) and because I was advised to do so by a trustworthy source. So I have three areas, differing in topography, soil, vegetation and climate.


And there it was, one day... We we’re on a schoolyard in Mwanda, where Mwadime was checking some sensors or other scientific gadgets and I was shooting the nice view towards the west and the savanna. Mwadime mumbled something, which I didn't react to. Soon he repeated: “Oh, you’re shooting the Kilimanjaro”... Of course, I had no idea. I hadn't even noticed the vague, blue shadow so much above everything else, including some small clouds, that it didn't attract my attention simply because I couldn't conceive it as anything else than the sky. I didn't cross my mind that I was watching one of the world’s great mountains for the first time in my life.

It’s weird how seeing something far away, that’s always been there, and doesn't affect your well-being in any way can make you happy for the rest of the day, whatever may come.
You can see it too...

PS. Lion King is, and will always be the best Disney Classic ever. I still felt a tug of sick pleasure stemming deep down from childhood memories when we saw a hyena that had been transformed into roadkill on our way from Nairobi...

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