News - September 27, 2012

'He said: switch off the webcam'

Who: Laura de Kubber, fifth year student of Nutrition and Health
What: looking at how yellow cassava affects children's health
Where: primary schools in Kenya

'I was doing an internship in Kibwezi, a village between Nairobi and Mombasa in southern Kenya. The streets are lined with mud huts and there are smouldering heaps of rubbish lying in the road. An image of poverty, but I had expected worse. My research was on cassava, a species of root that can grow up to a metre long. The idea is for this root to be consumed on a mass scale to prevent malnutrition. To this end a special yellow cassava has been selected which contains extra vitamin A. I worked with two other students on a project which compared the effects of the yellow and the normal cassava, with and without a nutritional supplement.  To do this we visited schools where cassava was cooked and served to children.
It was great fun to do, but communicating was difficult at times. For example, sometimes the cooks prepared too much or too little food, or were extremely slow. At moments like that it was easy to get frustrated, but I just had to find a way to solve the problem. 
It might sound funny but the thing I missed most was physical contact with people I am close to. A hug from my parents or sister, that kind of thing. During my stay my boyfriend and I broke up. He came on Skype and said, 'Turn off the webcam because you don't want to see me right now.' That was very hard for me. Looking back we had been growing apart for a while. I wanted to continue studying and he wanted to work and that often caused tensions. All the same, I didn't see it coming. Before leaving I had left my keys with him and now - back in the Netherlands - we haven't seen each other yet.
I came back to the Netherlands after four months. At first I had to get used to the dullness of Dutch life. Africans wear fantastic clothes in all sorts of colours, or old western clothes in combinations that we would never wear in the Netherlands. But I have also learned a life lesson. I am more relaxed and flexible. Poverty has taught me what is really important in life.