Pangas and jembes


Tara Easter, International Intern

Date Published

“Tara Tromper” is a name that was given to me by a co-conspirator of the field for my high work ethic and intense drive. I have nothing on the men and women of Tsavo. In fact, I’ve never felt so useless in my entire life.

On Tuesday, December 10, Dr. Lucy King and the team met with the Mwakoma village leaders to discuss plans for the Elephants and Bees Project community, education, and research center. With a Memorandum Of Understanding and smiles all around, I watched two worlds collide and a suitable plan unfold that benefits both parties.

On Thursday, the entire community gathered for “Ngula” which is a Taita word for coming together and working for a common purpose. In half a day, with pangas (machetes) and jembes (hoes) alone, they cleared enough of our plot to hold our community center, camp sites, kitchen, toilet, storage shed, driveway and parking lot. I tried to jump in wherever I could, swinging my unsharpened panga, hopelessly trying to mimic their movements but recoiled after every pierce of thorns. Mostly, I was just in the way, so I was happy to stand back and document it all instead. It also just happened to be Kenya’s 50th anniversary of independence. We celebrated our hard work and Kenya’s birthday with rice and beans, and of course, tea.

The next day, building began. Our storage shed was up in a flash; two campsites and a 15ft deep hole for our toilet followed soon after. The Mwakoma ladies hauled in sand on their heads, earning money by the bucket that will soon filter through the village. The other interns and I found where we could be useful and slowly attempted to earn a better reputation for the work ethic of wazungus. By Thursday the 19th we had 20 men hastily passing karais full of cement and aggregate (it’s called gravel, silly Europeans) to fill in the foundation for our center while we served them tea and snacks out of our new kitchen. Lucy sat and wondered how this all happened so fluidly – her plans predicted a foundation to be set no earlier than three weeks.

We leave the Tsavo area tomorrow for a Christmas in Nairobi and New Years on the coast. With a break from construction and better access to internet, many more updates will follow. I, for one, am looking forward to a real shower and an oven to bake a cobbler with all these amazingly cheap fruits around me.