I spent a humbling weekend with Abraham and his family at their shamba [farm] in the Uplands Region of Kenya. Abraham is a full-time Field Sales Representative for LishaBora, the start-up social enterprise I am supporting through Engineers Without Borders Canada (check out our story by following us on social media @lishaborakenya). In addition to his work at LishaBora, Abraham also finds the time (somehow) to be a full-time farmer. He manages his farm, which was passed on to him by his father, with his wife Elizabeth and help from his two daughters. This land allows them to be completely self-sufficient, producing everything they need to survive with minimal impact on the environment. I made a little video for LishaBora with tips from a true dairy farmer (Abraham), and posted the video at the end of this blog post if you are interested in learning more about how to properly feed a cow.
The region of Uplands has very fertile soil, and thanks to this, farmers can grow a variety of crops. Abraham grows maize, beans, sweet potatoes, arrowroot, kale, pumpkin, cabbage, passion fruits and tree tomatoes to name a few. He has 6 chickens and a rooster which provide a sufficient source of protein through their eggs, and meat on special occasions like family gatherings at Christmas time. He currently has one cow which produces enough milk for his family, with a couple extra litres left over every day for sale. With the growth of LishaBora, his goal is to purchase a second cow and scale his own dairy farming business. A typical breakfast meal on the farm consists of a fried egg or boiled arrow root. Lunch and dinner consist of a freshly made stew with beans, rice and vegetables from the garden. Every meal comes with a warm cup of chai [tea] with lots of milk and sugar - Kenyan style - and chapati. Chapati - a type fried bread with similarity to naan bread - is best served hot, and is definitely the culprit of my weight gain here in Kenya. The source of water comes from a well 30m deep which is retrieved by hand, Abraham didn't even let me try because he knew it would be too difficult for me.
Me and my friend Kinau (meaning Cat in Kikuyu), and Abraham and DJ who are both Field Sales Representatives at LishaBora
The living spaces on his shamba are divided into separate wooden rectangular structures. The sitting area has a few couches, finely decorated in bright patterns, with 2 bedrooms on either end. The only light comes from a solar-powered bulb in the living room, so I found it a bit hard to manoeuvre in the bedroom after dark, but practice makes perfect! The cooking area is lit by the second solar lightbulb they own. All cooking is done over a fire pit, making the room too smoky for me to endure for long periods of time. This was my first experience showering out of a bucket, and for privileged Westerners like me, that definitely takes some practice as well.
I got a private chapati making lesson from Abraham's skilled daughter Josephine and her neighbour and best friend Julie. They let me try to make a couple of my own but it's really not as easy as it looks. So my chapati wasn't round, but hey, it still tasted good! The method starts with boiling well water over the fire to get rid of any pathogens. This water is then added to the maize flour and whole wheat flour which is mixed with cooking fat. The chapati is rolled into balls and flattened into a nice round shape and fried. Chapati is eaten on its own with a cup of chai, or dipped into meat stews for lunch. At first I found it a bit bland but I'm becoming more and more fond of it as a nice thing to snack on.
Some of the photos turned out a little blurry because there was not much light in the kitchen. But we had a lot of fun throughout the whole process and I'm motivated to keep practicing my chapati making skills!
The most exciting moment was when Elizabeth taught me how to milk a cow! She only let me milk it at the end because a cow is 'milk-able' for only 7-minutes after it begins to secrete the proper hormones. If you do it wrong, or scare the cow at the start, it's possible that she won't give you any milk! The family sells their extra litres to their community so it's very important that they optimize the milking! There are so many factor which go into increasing milk production. Having the right mixture of fresh Napier grass, silage and dairy meal and water based on the cow's weight and milk potential, and a clean, comfortable living space all heavily factor into the amount of milk a cow will produce.
I joined Abraham and his family for their weekly Sunday service at the Christian Restoration Church. Being raised as a Catholic and attending church for many years I can definitely say this was the most exciting service I have ever attended, the 3 hours seriously flew by because we were having so much fun. The dancing and singing that everyone was partaking in was so uplifting, and I truly felt like I was a part of the community. That feeling of community is what I admire religion for bringing into people's lives, as community brings with it a sense of hope, and a sense of purpose. With the help of the community members, the Pastor translated the entire service from Kikuyu (the local dialect) to English, just for me. They asked me to come up to the altar and say a few words too. It was an honouring experience and I am very grateful for everyone I connected with that day.
We finished off the weekend with a ladies photo shoot since we were all dress up for church. Here's a collection of photos taken amongst the trees on the shamba. I love taking photos of African's because they love posing, and they are naturals at it too.
There is no wifi at Abraham's shamba, and the opportunity to be disconnected, even if by force, was gladly welcomed into my life. I feel like I spend way too much time on the screen, and too much time in my head because of it in my regular everyday life. Being able to unwind from my daily "struggles" by helping out on the farm, sinking my feet into the soil which brings so much sustenance to our world and breathing in the fresh air was an experience I am definitely looking forward to having again in the near future. Reconnecting with nature and leaving urbanization for a bit is good for the soul.
A thought I had while sitting on Abraham's land, was the obsession with the Western world to scale every aspect of business, which is especially prevalent in modern agricultural technologies. I definitely understand the benefits of scaling, our population has grown too large and too urban for everyone to sustain ourselves on this soil....or has it? Maybe subsistence farming is the natural order of the universe, and we have strayed to far from it with all of our business and fast food packaged diets. Let me know what you think by posting below! Till next time. Xox - Monika