We got a call from Brian about an hour before arriving in Kisii. “Is it raining where you are?” he asked. There were a few clouds in the sky, but nothing we hadn’t seen in the past 4 days of scorched travel though Naivasha and Nairobi. “No, all clear. See you in an hour!”
An hour later, we met Brian with a brusque handshake through a cracked window in an absolute downpour. His face was obscured by a full-face shield helmet as he muttered in rapidfire Swahili to our driver, Frederick, and motioned for us to follow. Hopping back onto his still sputtering Yamaha, he quickly turned down a rain-swollen side road and we were off to our next field site. Like the river it was becoming, the road narrowed to smaller and smaller tributaries as we first descended and then climbed back up the green forested slopes that are hallmarks of this tea-growing region. I was impressed he didn’t go down on numerous slippery occasions as our Nissan SUV struggled to keep up.
Eventually we pulled up a narrow drive and the rain began to clear. We had arrived at Arrive.
Brian is Brian Ash, the founder of Arrive, a residential school and, for lack of a better word, family for children found living homeless, diseased, and often addicted to huffing glue on the streets of Kisii. Brian is also a friend of Zach’s good friend. After an initial email asking him if we might cross paths, perhaps share a beer in Kissi and be on our way, the Beenomics team found itself welcome guests for two days of bee sampling at the Arrive compound in the beautiful agricultural highlands that surround the busy city center.
There is much more about Arrive that we can fit in this blog, but every bit of it is worth reading here. Aid work in Africa has its share of critics, and occasionally I am one of them, but this is absolutely NOT one of those times. Everyone at Arrive has their heart and soul into their project, and more importantly, you can clearly see its positive impact on the 40+ boys and girls that live on site and the others it aids remotely in the broader in the community.
Fortunately from a bee gathering perspective, we were not left wanting for collecting opportunities. Arrive’s neighbor had recently set up an apiary, and on our forays many kilometers away from the compound we ran into numerous fields of flowers, wild colonies, and friendly farmers curious about a couple of Wazungu were doing with tubes and nets staring at flowers (other than just acting like weird Wazungus).
We’ll go into more details about our two days at Arrive in subsequent posts, but what has struck the ecologist in me is the extreme contrasts in the landscapes and climate that we’ve traveled through in the past 4 days. From careening down the edge of the Great Rift Valley on our way out of Nairobi, to the ideal flower growing climate surrounding the hippo filled Lake Naivasha, the ‘typical Kenya’ scenes of the expansive Masai region, and the lush tea slopes around Kisii, one thing is now abundantly clear to me – Kenya is an incredibly diverse place. I suppose the wiser individuals (Zach and collaborators at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Penn State) had a clearer idea of this while planning the sampling route, but it’s striking to see it on the ground. Despite their relative proximity, there is an incredible wealth of environmental, cultural, and climatic diversity along the few hundred kilometers we’ve already traveled. Can’t wait to see what greets us next.