Science Trip to Kemu Salt (Malindi)
It was an early start but not as early as we hoped as the bus had first to drop off children at school. We were off to find out how salt is extracted from seawater. Evans Mokua, Marycollette Mukhamba and myself plus 28 excited teenagers set off on what was to be nearly a 5 hour bus journey without a risk assessment in sight!
The condition of the road seemed to get worse as hours passed but fortunately my bottom was so numb by then that I felt no pain! We made a brief stop on the way to pick up water and I couldn’t resist a cold Tangawizi straight from the fridge. Glyn had introduced me to this ginger beer type drink last year and I have become a big fan. With the students back on board we continued our journey and I was very glad that the sliding windows allowed a cool breeze in but unfortunately it didn’t stop me sticking to the plastic seats. During the journey it soon became clear why places had been reserved on the back seat of the bus. As we hit a bump or pothole the occupants of the back seat seemed to be catapulted several feet in the air with the accompanying screams and shouts that only teenagers can make.
At last we arrived at our destination with the last part of the journey being covered on a dirt track.
At the factory the owner and his general manager met us and we strangely started our tour at the end stage, the packaging plant. Here the finished salt was packed in sacks and small plastic bags. The sacks were filled by machine but the small plastic bags were filled by ladies scooping handfuls of salt from a large pile and sealing the bags. The students were happy to receive free samples. We proceeded to the first stage of the process, large lagoons which were filled with millions of litres of seawater. The sun evaporates the water at this stage over a period of 40 days until a particular density is reached. Careful evaporation at the next stage allows common salt [sodium chloride] to drop out of the solution not the other salts [magnesium chloride etc.] The solid salt is removed from the lagoon and passed via conveyors to form a mountain of salt. The site resembled the Alps but with the stifling heat I was in no doubt I was still in Africa. The salt mountains were solid and the students couldn’t resist the temptation to climb the “Salt Alps”. We took time to wonder at the size of the salt mountains and I wondered at the millions of bags they would fill. The final stages involved washing, centrifuging and drying to produce the pure white salt we put on and in our food.
The students were shown the laboratory where the salt was checked for purity. I was surprised to learn that iodine had been added to the salt during the final stages of production and that in the laboratory the level was checked. This important element is important for thyroid function and I can only assume that the Kenyan diet lacks this essential element and that goitres have been a problem in the past. It was good for the students to see the technician titrating the salt to check the iodine level as this involved the same pipettes/burettes and colour change that they had used back at school in the science laboratory.
After our goodbyes and a quick lunch we started the long journey back. We stopped briefly at Malindi to walk a pier out into the sea. No slot machines or ice cream here but a beautiful beach of white sand much like at Diani beach near Mombasa.
The long journey home commenced and I was glad that my bum [the students preferred me to say buttocks] had died on the outward journey as I felt little or no pain. On the way back there was the obligatory loo stop as several boys ran behind sisal plants to relieve themselves. The heckling from the students in Kiswahili and the roars of laughter needed no translation. It was only the skill of our bus driver that avoided a collision on the return journey as a bus and lorry headed towards us occupying both sides of the road. How the lorry in front of us didn’t roll over or hit pedestrians I will never know. I was glad when we arrived safely back at Tumaini and hobbled off the bus. Such journeys and experiences serve to strengthen bonds and I was pleased to have the time to talk to many students.
The Biblical relevance of the forty day factory process and the salt had not escaped me during the long day. I count my blessings and am reminded what a great country Kenya is and the people who live there.
Written by Glen Fyfe (Sleaford New Life)