Warm greetings to you all,
I am writing to you from Vancouver. I just got back last night after spending the last week at GESA. Week three was full of lots of interesting discussions. We spent the first two days of the week in a TED talk style workshop where we presented our improved versions of the talks, I mentioned in the first week’s update. The organizers have put a lot of effort in helping us improve our speaking and presentation skills and we could all see significant improvements in the delivery and content of these talks. These should be available online once they finish editing. I will share the link with all of you so that you can see my talk as well as those of the rest of the participants.
We also visited the IUCN HQ which is based in Gland (about 1.5 hours) away from Bern. We had another discussion on spirituality in conservation and got to learn about some of IUCN’s work on disaster preparedness, climate change and application of indigenous knowledge to respond to climate change. I was quite pleased to meet a Nigerian scholar, John Agbonifo who talked to us about the struggles of the Ogoni peoples against the desecration of their landscapes by oil drilling activities of Shell and the Nigerian state. The struggle of the Ogoni was led by amongst others, Ken Saro Wiwa who was executed by the Nigerian government. You can read more about that here. He told us how the Ogoni people have to this date managed to keep Shell out of their land. I knew about this struggle but I think I need to read more about it and it is nice to know that there are African scholars who study this resistance.
My Ugandan, Mauritian and Indian colleagues and I presented the ethnobotany break together. From Uganda and Kenya we had Ugali, Kachumbari, spinach in peanut sauce, masala chai and something called ROLEX(!). The latter is a a fusion of eggs and vegetables rolled in chapati/friend bread. Our Ugandan colleague told us that this is mainly eaten by university students and the those in the lower income brackets in the city. So, if you are in Uganda and ask for Rolex, you will not get a watch…you will get Rolex :). One of the funding partners of the academy is Rolex(the real one) so there was much laughter about that.
Since we had to speak about the food I had a chance to reflect about Ugali – how it has become a staple food in Kenya and in many other parts of Africa as well(the name of the dish varies across countries), irrespective of the fact that it is not indigenous to the continent(Maize was introduced to the east coast of Africa by the Portuguese who brought it from the Americas in the 16th Century). In Kenya for example, if the price of maize flour rises there is a national outcry. The Swahili name for flour is Unga. So, it is common to hear people say something like “Kutafuta unga” which translates to looking for flour but in actual sense it is a metaphor for earning a livelihood. When there was a increase in commodity prices in 2011 Kenyans launched what became known as the ‘Unga revolution’. I came across a short documentary that was made about this and I thought I would share it Unga Revolution Kenya.
We have also been talking about what to do next in order to keep the network alive as well as to initiate regional experiences on similar subjects. The African ‘delegation’ is working on something similar in Ethiopia.
To finish this off, I would just like to say this has been an amazing experience and it is not lost to me that it has been made possible because of your generous support and kindness – I will never forget this. It is really great to know that there are people who are passionate about the same issues that I care about and I can get in touch with them for advice or other support. It is also very encouraging to hear of community driven initiatives that seek to resolve environmental and or governance challenges and that are doing so successfully.
I now feel very energized to start planning for my field work in Kenya. Once again, I thank you all for making this possible for me. I truly appreciate it.
Gloria Kendi Borona