Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Demigods of Hospitality

Have you ever wondered how Fisi Campers in the Mara Triangle can collect data tirelessly day after day after day?  Well the secret is that Serena Camp has a backbone that few outside the project know about.  Actually, there are two backbones, and their names are: Philimon and Moses.  They humbly accept the title of “Camp Attendants”, but what they do on a daily basis is closer to quests of epic-heroes of ancient history, akin to Gilgamesh and Hercules.  Philimon and Moses cook our meals for us, clean the dishes, wash our clothes, cut the grass to keep venomous snakes at bay, wash the cars, purify our drinking water, sweep the tents, care for our guests, keep large game away from camp, care for our guests, fix broken tent zippers, maintain the tent tarps that keep us dry, prepare goats for inhibition trials, point out interesting wildlife around camp (like chameleons!), liaison with local farmers to get all the fruits and veggies we crave…I mean I could literally write an entire page for the duties they carry out on a daily basis – some of which aren’t even part of their job description, but they do it anyway just because they know it will make us happy.  Most of the time, they know what we need even before we ourselves know.  Fresh towels will mysteriously show up outside tents, zippers will be magically fixed before we even have the opportunity to report them as broken, cakes will be baked to take out as snacks on observations without prompting (Their excuse was that we had extra sugar that they wanted to use), and even when the Triangle is over 50% mud we will still have the cleanest cars in the Mara.  There are even whispers that Philimon and Moses can influence local weather patterns for short periods of time.  We go out many a night in the rainy seasons and look up at the sky to realize that there is a singular shaft of light shining over camp and the territory we’re working in, surrounded by torrential downpours.  It still remains unclear just how the guys channel this degree of environmental energy.
Philimon and Moses' pride and joy...behold the immaculacy of the Serena kitchen tent, the source of all of Serena's culinary happiness.
The most egregious example of their complete and utter desire to, not only go above and beyond their basic responsibilities, but decrease the amount of stress in our lives was when we were attempting to get a wiring guru from the town of Kilgoris down to the camp to perform a life-saving electrical overhaul on KAL.  We kept getting blown off by this fellow, who had one excuse after another.  Philimon deemed this situation unacceptable with the cruiser just idling away in the driveway and unable to be used for observations, so unbeknownst to us he called a bunch of mechanics and demanded to know where he could find a wiring specialist with the professional know-how to get KAL back into the fight.  The next day an electrician from Itong came to camp, completely rewired the cruiser in a single day (it was expected to be a three-day job) and we haven’t had an electrical problem with KAL ever since.  If you ask the guys why they do what they do, they’ll tell you: “We do everything we can to make [the RA’s] lives easy so [the RA’s] only focus on their work”.  The first time they said this to me was probably one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had in the last couple of years, especially given the amount of time they spend away from their own families to take care of us. 
Philimon (left) and Moses (right) with the lab tent in the background.

Philimon and Moses are truly amazing individuals.  So out of appreciation for their incredible daily efforts, I’d like you guys to get to know a little bit more about them.  Philimon and Moses are brothers, with Philmon being the elder.  They come from the town of Kilgoris which is about 75km from the Mara Triangle.  Grew up in the Naiguran family with five brothers and 3 sisters, and they hail from the Maasai tribe.   In Kilgoris, Philimon lives on the hill Shartuka with his wife where he has three boys and five girls of his own.  He owns five dairy cows and grows maize, beans, sweet potatoes, and bananas on his land.  Philimon has worked for the project for nine years, before which he was a sauce chef at African Safari Club.  Meanwhile, Moses lives on the hill Orongai.  His family consists of his wife, three boys and three girls.  He grows bananas, skuma (collard greens), and beans, amongst other small plots of produce.  For livestock, Moses keeps eight cows and seven sheep.  Before he worked for Fisi camp, Moses worked on a hot air balloon crew at Fig Tree camp, but he’s been going eight years strong with us.  When asked about their favorite meals at home – Philimon went with the age-old tradition of ugali (a maize flour staple in East Africa), skuma, nyama (meat), and milk from his cows; while Moses prefers ugali, gtherie (a mix of corns and beans), and chapatti (a soft flatbread originally from India).  In camp, their favorite chore (and pastime) is walking around camp in the early morning and inspecting the tarps, tents, and other camp belongings to ensure they’re 1) still present and have not been stolen by the fisi and 2) are in tip-top shape.  Hm? What’s that? You want to know what their least favorite activity in camp is? Stop being so foolish, this is Philimon and Moses we’re talking about! They love every aspect of their jobs, you can ask them yourself if you don’t believe me!

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