From Milton Keynes to Kenya Unfit: Diary of PhD Fieldwork in Kenya

Submitted by DPP on Tuesday, August 9, 2016 - 15:29

How My First Day in Fieldwork Pushed Me into Jogging 

It is the first day of my fieldwork. Actually it is not the first day, I have been in Kenya for four weeks, but today I am going to carry out the first interviews to pilot my data collection tools. I have been in Kenya for about a month but I have been making contacts in Nairobi with different organizations and individuals that are key to the success of my study. After four weeks of moving from one office to another, making numerous phone calls and writing heaps of emails, I am now ready to sit down with a group of farmers and have a conversation with them. Finally out of the comfy of Milton Keynes and Nairobi and into the roughness of the field! And I am excited! I am in Eldoret town, about 300 kilometers North of Nairobi, and it is a chilly rainy morning. It’s the middle of the rainy season here and the rain has been pouring since I arrived.

I am standing along a corridor to shelter from the rain and wind while waiting for the vehicle to take me to Kapyemit village deep inside Nandi County, where the farmers I am meeting are based. Kapyemit is a remote village and in the early morning hours, there are no passenger vehicles to take me there so I have been forced to hire one. The car pulls up and I get in, we begin the one hour journey, which should be shorter in the dry season but in the rainy seasons the journey is long because of the bad roads.  We pass through sleepy rural villages, sprinkled here and there with children going to school and men and women carrying milk urns to the local dairy. The villages are all green with maize plantations, patterned here and there with mud thatched houses and modern brick iron corrugated houses. The countryside is changing with the times, whereas the mud thatched houses were dominant a few years ago, the brick houses seem to dominate the landscape. 

The journey itself is not as smooth as I had anticipated, we twice get stuck in a mud botch and I have to get out and give the car a push which splutters mud all-over me and I am left panting! It’s been long since I was involved in laborious activity such as pushing a car out of mud! To add to the misery, we the get a puncture and I have to assist the driver change the tyre. It is a messy business, the tyre is all muddy and the ground where we are working on is a mud bath! When we are done there is no time to clean up, we have already wasted an hour from the missteps and I am afraid the farmers might get impatient and leave. When we are about to arrive to the village, I call the farmer but cannot get through to her! I wait for a couple of minutes and try again, no success. I am starting to panic. What if she waited and gave up, what if she has switched off her phone, what if her phone has run out of power, what if the place she lives has poor network reception! I try again to no avail and this time round I am in panic mode.

As we reach the next shopping centre in the village, we stop and I inquire around about the farmer’s locality using her name. I am lucky! The 3rd person I talk to points me to the farmer’s husband who happens to be in the local centre to re-charge the battery of the family mobile phone.  No wonder I could not get through to the farmer! I greet the husband and introduce myself. He informs me that his farm is on a hilly place so we cannot use the vehicle; we have to walk. As we start walking, I am not looking forward to the hilly climb. At first I am okay, but then after a couple of minutes of endless climbing, I begin to pant and sweat in the chilly morning breeze. The climbing goes on and on for 20 minutes, I am nearly worn out. To avoid collapsing I stop and pretend to tie my shoe laces in order to rest for a while. The farmer looks alright and fresh! Suddenly I realize how unfit I am! All those months sitting on the desk in Milton Keynes with no physical activity have finally caught up with me! 

By good luck the climbing ends and then we have to go down a steep slope. Well I don’t mind this compared to the climbing! But then at the end of the slope is a fast flowing stream with no bridge and we have to cross it! The farmer goes in first,  his shoes off. I am not keen on taking off my shoes as I am not sure what lurks beneath the muddy water. So I go in with my trousers pulled up to the knees but with my shoes and with the bag with the fieldwork documents and gadgets on my back. The water is cold and swift and on reaching the other side of the river, I am now muddy and wet! My shoes are particularly water logged. When I arrive at the farmers place, I am actually tired and look filthy, I put on a feigned smile have as I greet the farmer. She doesn’t seem to notice my filth and the tiredness. She ushers me inside her house with a hot cup of milky sugary tea. What a relief!  And so inside her house, with the rains beating on the iron-corrugated roof, a hot cup of tea on my hands, I finally begin my first fieldwork interview! Despite all the adventures I am exhilarated; my first PhD interview!  I forget all the misfortunes, put on my best smile and pose the first question, “how do you get your produce to the market?” At the end of it all I only hope that the fieldwork will not be as hectic as this has been and I vow to begin physical exercises when I am back in Nairobi. And that is how I ended up jogging around the block every morning to be ready for the next physical challenge in the field. 

Fredrick Ajwang is a doctoral student in the DPP and his research is focused on the governance of vegetable export sector in Kenya through the lens of food regime as a critique to food sovereignty.