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Preparing for My Trip


I have just completed the school year with my second graders, cleaned out my classroom, written report cards, and am now ready to really focus on my upcoming trip! I leave July 5, which is only about 12 days away. I am getting excited, realizing that it's really going to happen, and my months of preparing for it are about over. I'd like to let you know what led up to me going to Kenya to research monkey behavior.

I teach at Villa Academy in Seattle. We are an independent Catholic school, preschool through 8th grade, with about 400 students. I have taught there 8 years. Part of our second grade curriculum is a unit on Endangered Animals. The students really enjoy our work on this topic but I felt the need to bring it a bit closer to their lives and more meaningful to them. I learned about Earthwatch Institute, which conducts programs all over the world, helping animals and the environment. It has been around for 35 years doing great work, and I heard that traveling with them and working on a project was very rewarding. I also learned that they offer fellowships to teachers, which pay for the expenses of the trip outside of travel, passports, visas, etc. I applied in January and heard in early February that I had been accepted. I remember the feeling of reading that letter, "Wow, I'm going to Kenya!"

The project I will be working on is on the east coast of Kenya, along the Indian Ocean. These Sykes monkeys, which live in a forested area of ancient ruins (Gedi Ruins), are actually not endangered, though some of their relatives are threatened. They live in an area rich in tree fruits, but have been recently getting food from humans encroaching into their areas. Some they steal and some they have been fed. This appears to be causing aggression and competition in the hoarding or protecting of their food stores. Our job (myself and 6 other teachers from all over the US) is to record the behavior of certain females (they are the matriarchs of the troop), and to then see if they are showing signs of stress. The scientists that lead our program will also be collecting and testing fecal samples to see if stress hormones are present. They want to find out if these monkeys (a type of guenon) have behavioral changes, because of this provisioning, that affect their health.


Whew! All this sounds very scientific, and actually I tried my best to 'translate' into easier terms all the literature I got from the lead investigators. For my second grade students the easiest way for me to explain the work (before I even get there and really don't even know myself!) is to say that I am helping scientists learn what happens to monkeys', and maybe even humans' health, when they are stressed over something like food sources. We hope to learn how to help them before they become endangered.

My work thus far has been to learn all I can about Kenya, read some books and literature, watch videos, and to begin to memorize the faces and physical characteristics of about 9 of the female monkeys I'll need to recognize. That's the hardest part so far! I've been practicing with an on-line Monkey Quiz, made by our Principal Investigator, Steffen Foerster. Go ahead and try it and see how you do-I only got 7 of 9 right when I tried it and I've got to really practice!

I secured my plane tickets long ago, renewed my passport, got my visa for Kenya, got all my shots and medications to take along (malaria etc.) and have recently been trying to get in better physical shape. We will need to be able to walk about 3 miles carrying a day backpack, binoculars to our faces, with hiking boots on, long pants and sleeves (for protection from sun, insects and snakes!) in very hot, humid weather. Today I walked Green Lake and only got a few strange looks as I wore my boots, backpack and binoculars around my neck. I guess I looked like a tourist. I keep my binoculars by the kitchen window and frequently pretend that the squirrels and crows are monkeys and I need to follow their movements in the trees and on the ground.

My big question is: does closely following every movement of a stressed monkey, following them all day, make them more stressed? Maybe that should be MY hypothesis!


What a great opportunity for you. Congratulations. In my two years of teaching experience I have learned that if a lesson is not relevant, it is not important.
Being able to share the knowledge you have gained from your trip will make the lessons about animals so much more interesting for your students. I hope you can post photos on the blog. I look forward to reading more.
Bon Voyage!

As someone who used to live in Kenya (my parents still live in Nairobi), but is now a teacher here in the states, I really envy your opportunity. I long to return to that place. You will have a wonderful time! You are right, it is extremely hot at the coast. Have fun, and enjoy the Kenyan people as much as you can, they will be some of the nicest people you will ever meet! If you have any questions feel free to contact me!

I am a Kenyan who is attending college here in the US. I taught in high school in Kenya, and I am currently working on a doctorate in Early Childhood Ed.
I was recently back in Kenya(actually came back from Kenya a week ago) I just want to promise you that you will have a great time in Kenya. The coast is hot, but the people are cool, so that should help. I went to Malindi (A town at the coast) during my trip.
Enjoy the people and the Monkeys and the food and share photos with us. I long for the day I go back home to stay.

Congrats! We went to Kenya for 2 weeks in Sept 2005 for our honeymoon. It ws FANTASTIC and I saw lots of those Monkeys! I am working on a masters in Elem. Education and I have a deep love for Africa, the environment, and all animals. I will try to sign up for something like this as soon as I begin teaching! Good luck!

Cool! I'm a second grade teacher in St. Louis, Missouri. I've been to Kenya three times. I lived in the Masai Mara with a Masai tribe. I'm sure you will find that Kenya is a wonderful country full of wonderful people. I wish you the best of luck on your journey!!! The last time I was in the Mara, I stayed for 3 months. That was 3 years ago and I'm very homesick. Living in a traditional Massai village was a huge adjustment, but undoubtedly the BEST thing I've done with my life thus far.
Happy Trails...

Your 18 year old son will be fine after all he has a girl friend to organise him. Don't worry , he won't no hungry. I leave for Russia in November {People to People} with 13 other school counselors.

How inspiring and exciting! Your adventures sound like they'd make a great kids' book . . .

Hi Barbara,

I enjoyed reading about your preparations for your upcoming trip to Kenya. I graduated from UCLA in 1971 in the Theater Arts Department, Motion Picture Division, Specialty Screenwriting. I know that your adventure will not only enrich the lives of your students upon your return, but, additionally give you greater insights on endangered species and environments. Students are keenly interested in both of these areas since they know that they are the hope of the future and they want to make sure that their future is being taken care of, in the most responsible way. I know that the students are going to anticipate your return and you will be bombarded with incisinve, thoughtful questions that will really test you when you return.

Your son might surprise you and learn how to take care of himself. After all, if you can go there and do the things that you'll be doing, the least that he can do is follow in the footsteps of dear Mom when it comes to managing a household in a sheltered environment.

I went to Africa in 1967 as part of the UCLA Crossroads Africa Program. 18 college students from Canada and the United States were sent to the village of Mobaii in northeastern Sierra Leone to help to build a small hospital for the indigenous people. I kept in touch with the Doctor that we assisted for 30 years, Dr. Bockari M. Kobba. From that initial mud block & cement hospital, the village expanded to 7 revenue producing streams, including a palm oil factory and soap factory. You never know what additional insights you will gain from leaving the comforts of the United States and seeing how other people, animals, and environments require sustained and intelligent responses so that the resources are not depleted but maintained for the future generation.


Samoht Kcinep Rowlf
Los Angeles, CA. 7/7/06 6:15 pm

I was interested in your explorations because this year I have two students from Kenya. One arrived in my class from Kenya two weeks after coming to the US. I think it was cultural shock for him. I am a science teacher and would like to incorporate your findings. I was able to do a bioime unit that involved Kenya. Can you tell me exactly what the biome is where you are?

Hi Barbara,

I just discovered your blog at

What a wonderful opportunity for you. And, what lucky second graders to have such an fun-loving, down-to-earth, passionate teacher as you.

I am a substitute teacher in the Denver Public School. I enjoy my work especially with the younger students like your second graders.

I am following your blog and cannot wait for your next entry.

Have a safe and fantastic journey.

Chris Panczyk
Denver, Colorado

Hello Barbara~

How wonderful and exciting this adventure must be for you. I've never been in Africa but it has been my dream someday to visit such a place!

I found this piece through the site and your piece caught my attention. I took the Monkey ID quiz by the way and did pretty poorly, 2 out of 9!

What this tells me is that it is most important given this wonderful learning opportunity to help us understand how we can better improved their lives and their co-existence in a fragile planet we all inhabit.

thank you for sharing

I don't usually comment, but I had to today because you were in "my neck of the woods." We lived in Malindi for 10 years ('85-95). What a fascinating journey for you, and how special that you weren't stuck in a tourist atmosphere.

I have to share a story about the monkeys at the Gedi ruins. We had been in a boat in the marine park and I had warned my 2-1/2-year old son that if he dropped his pacifier in the water, the fish would get it. Soon afterwards we took a trip to the ruins. Sure enough, Caleb lost his pacifier there.(It was his last one from the States. The Africans thought I was cheating him because there was no milk in it.) He decided that the monkeys had taken it.

A few months later when we took his visiting grandparents to the ruins, Caleb asked his Pops to go get his pacifier from those monkeys. :)

I don't suppose you saw a monkey with a pacifier...?

Hi Barbara,
Your blog entries,observations, photos and fine activities for your students are of great interest and I will share these with my students in Comparative Education, many of whom are teaching at the elementary ed. level.

I also found some of your notes of personal interest related to a little 10 year old Kenyan girl I am sponsoring through World Concern.

Many thanks for your insight and shared experience!

Hope one day to visit Kenya!

I found your site and was wondering what shots you had to get for Kenya and about the malaria pills... I will be living in Kenya for 3 months at an orphanage near Nairobi. Your trip sounded great, I can't wait to go!

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