Today’s guest post is by David Zarembka, who lives in western Kenya and works on peace making there, particularly in support of the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities International program. This post is excerpted from his weekly ‘Report from Kenya.’ He is a member of Lumakanda Friends (Quaker) Church in Kenya and Bethesda Friends Meeting in the US. I think this story gives a good perspective on rural life in Kenya.
Gladys and I are still members of Bethesda Friends Meeting outside of Washington, DC. I am on a list from the meeting discussing climate change and what needs to be done about it. As part of the discussion, one member of the meeting wrote the following:
“Fostering the creation of truly sustainable alternatives — sustainable both for individuals and for the planet — would be a really worthwhile endeavor. As it stands right now, I doubt that anyone reading these words has ever in their life met anyone who is living wholly within a sustainable carbon footprint. How many of us live off of foods that were grown only within walking distance of our home, or that otherwise were hauled here by a team of oxen?“
I know many people who are “living within a sustainable carbon footprint.”
Moore Misavo with his ox-cart, a source of low-carbon transportation in Kenya.
Let me start with introducing you to Moore Misavo, a member of Lumakanda Friends Church. Moore owns an ox-cart and makes his living by renting it out. He carries sand, rocks, gravel, water for building if there is no nearby source, and other building materials as needed. Others might hire his cart to carry firewood, bring crops from the field, or carry household furniture if someone is moving within town. For the transport itself we pay 400 shillings ($4) per trip. Since he can make about five trips per day, he can make up to 2000 shillings per day ($20), which is a good wage when the average daily pay is $2-$5. He is always busy and, when we need his services, we usually have to wait a few days before our turn comes up.
Notice also that the ox-cart in the picture above is made from an old axel from a vehicle and was locally built. In Lumakanda town and surrounding area there are at least four ox-carts and two donkey-carts. It is a thriving business here.
Most of the food that our large “family” of ten eat is raised right here. We cultivate one or two acres of maize (corn) each year, which is more than enough to feed ugali (maize mush, the stable food of Kenya that most people in our household say that they must eat at least once per day). Collard greens are usually served with ugali and grown, along with other greens, right in our small ¾ acre plot. Besides the chickens we slaughter ourselves, we buy beef from the cows slaughtered right down the road from us and sold in the local butchery shop. Most of the processed items – jam, butter, peanut butter, ketchup, and so on – are packaged around Nairobi which is 400 kilometers (250 miles away).
Fancy lunch in Kenya: rice, greens, chicken, tomato.
“As close to zero as humanly possible”
We live well compared to some people around us. For example, an elderly woman named Leonida lived up the street from us. She lived in an old mud and stick house with no electricity and a small field behind the house. Her “carbon footprint” would have been as close to zero as humanly possible. About a year ago, she moved away to live with her children. Her house was knocked down – the iron roofing sheets used for a fence, the windows and doors taken elsewhere, the wooden posts and branches used for firewood, and the mud returned to the earth which in a few years will grow crops again. I have met here in Africa, many, many people like Leonida, with almost no carbon footprint. I have read that the energy footprint for the average Kenyan is only 3% of the average American.
A tire garden at the CIFORD demonstration garden. This allows for maximizing of space for the kitchen garden. It also creates an ease of watering and harvesting, as well as protection from animals.
My point is that the American consumptive lifestyle is a choice, made not only individually, but in a societal context. Living simply in Kenya is easy since everyone is like that. Living a low carbon lifestyle in the United States is difficult because the society is structured to high carbon living.
Yet if we envision a sustainable world, then it is going to be necessary for the US to substantially cut its consumption. Yes, personal change is important, but the structural changes needed for the US to stop consuming so much are going to be much, much harder to accomplish.