Monday, December 31, 2007

Lock Down

Much to the seeming shock of official international observers, Mwai Kibaki has been declared the winner of last Thursday’s Kenyan election. Last night’s news was taken so well by the general populous that riots erupted almost immediately after the announcement. Helping things along, challenger Raila Odinga called for a rally of his supporters down at Uhuru Park for Monday afternoon to inaugurate the “people’s president”.

The first thing we found out this morning was that Kibaki had cancelled his opponent’s rally (that’s not to say it won’t happen, but it could get ugly if it does). He also suspended all live news broadcasts – both television and radio. International news agencies are now the only source of information about what’s going on and those reports, as I have previously said, are few and far between.

Hubby went downstairs and spoke with our guard, Askari, this morning to get an idea of what was going on from someone who has actually been out for the last few days. Askari said that things “were not good” and went on to describe seeing a car on fire nearby at the YaYa Centre today. He then told us that Kikuyu homes and businesses had been trashed by ODM supporters in Kibera.

He also mentioned that our immediate area was still safe and we had nothing to worry about at the moment. And so far (knock on wood), we have had no interruptions of power, cable, or Internet for which I am both surprised and appreciative.

Perhaps the most profound sentiment that Askari said was that the only way the current violence and unrest was going to end was for Odinga to come forward and say that he accepts the results (despite all the problems with them) and so should his supporters. It appears, however, that such wishful thinking is unlikely to happen given the ODM leader’s demands for a recount and accusations of vote rigging by Kibaki.

For safety reasons, Hubby has issued an embargo on my going out to get stories or photos on the ground. I’ll continue to update here as best I can, so stay tuned.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Election Update

Several hours have passed since my last post. Since then, watched over by numerous armed security forces, Kibaki was declared the winner of the Kenyan election. The response from Raila Odinga was swift – he demanded a recount saying that the results were flawed.

It is only 7:00 p.m. here – an hour or so since the results were announced – and already a small suggestion of the population’s response can be seen from our kitchen window. We aren’t sure where this fire originated but based on its distance from us, we suspect that it might be on or near Ngong Road (about 1-1.5 kms away).

In what may be the quickest turnaround ever, Kibaki has already been sworn into office which, according to news reports, is hoped will quell the protests that have already sparked throughout the city. While Hubby and I are safe, I only hope that tensions will die down soon.

Hubby Post Script

OK, I don’t normally contribute to this blog, but in the wake of the Kenyan election feel compelled to do so. My main purpose: to give a well-deserved shout out to Al-Jazeera for their excellent, timely, and frequent coverage of the events of the past four days. Their consistent and live coverage is in stark contrast to that of CNN, which to put it mildly, was appalling. Indeed, as the election results were unfolding this Sunday afternoon, CNN’s esteemed “Inside Africa” was not broadcasting live perspectives of the Kenyan election, but instead were showing Richard Quest recounting getting hit in the nuts by a renegade chimp (I am not making this up – go here - this is to be put on their website soon).

Still Waiting

Hubby and I returned from our holiday in Bahrain on Thursday just in time, we thought, to find out the results of the elections. While still in the airport, we heard that there had been problems at some of the polls, with people’s names missing from the roster including presidential candidate Raila Odinga’s. Due to this, we were told, some polls had to stay open longer and results probably wouldn’t be available until Friday.

Since it was popularly believed that the results of the elections might not be accepted terribly well, Hubby and I stayed at home on Friday and enjoyed some of our yummier shopping treats from our vacation. Due to our depressing lack of local television stations (darn DSTv), we relied on updates from BBC, CNN, and surprisingly from Al Jazeera which has had the most incredibly comprehensive updates.

I should note here that these updates have been hard to come by on international news channels due to Bhutto’s assassination on Thursday. Her death has been the primary story on every news outlet, making channel surfing a necessity. That evening, we were told that results would definitely be released on Saturday.

Despite any worries about the elections, Hubby and I had plans for Saturday that included a nice lunch out and food shopping since the apartment was devoid of any nourishment that didn’t come in potato chip form. But our day didn’t go quite as planned.

You’ve all read my rants about the crazy traffic in Nairobi so you’ll share my sense of eeriness when Hubby and I were greeted with empty streets on Saturday afternoon. There were no matatus, no traffic jams: there was quite simply no one out. Shops that are normally doing a brisk business on a Saturday were closed -- from Triangle Market to shops at ABC Centre. Those shops that were open were quickly running out of goods to sell – we were unable to find several common vegetables at Zucchini.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Our initial choice of shopping venue was Junction. I wish I had photos to share with you of what was going on there but both Hubby and I felt that a camera might only have made the situation worse. (The picture above is from Reuters.) Both sets of gates to the shopping centre had been closed and were being manned by several guards. From the vantage point of our car, we could see that guards were standing at regular intervals inside the parking lot and were ready to take on any trouble.

Trouble that Hubby and I had to drive through – two or three dozen men and boys armed with clubs and heavy branches were barricading the road and banging on the gates. We were waved through thanks either to our mzungu-ness or our red diplomatic plates (or a combination of both) but some people were not as lucky. The news later that day reported that cars in other areas were stoned and attacked.

Riots sparked throughout the day on Saturday everywhere from Kibera to nearby our own area. Kenyans were justifiably upset that the results of the election had not yet been released. It didn’t help that press reports stated that both men (Kibaki and Odinga) claimed they had won and the other man had somehow cheated. Indeed, in one constituency, the Elections Commission of Kenya (ECK) reported that voter turnout added up to 115 percent of registered voters! Due to all of this unrest and mischief, the ECK opted to delay the results until noon today.

Well it is almost 4:00 p.m. and we still do not have any official results. Some people are staying inside, hoping that everything (somehow) miraculously calms down when the results are announced but are preparing for the worst. Others are determinedly going on with their lives, having parties and going on with life as usual.

Hubby and I are doing all of the above – watching the news religiously, making hummus with a new Jamie Oliver recipe, and streaming radio reports as they become available. So keep reading and I’ll try to keep you all updated as best I can. In the meantime, let’s all hope that calm and peace prevail here in Kenya.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Democracy Draws Nearer

The Kenyan elections are literally around the corner – they’re next week in fact. With the days left until voting about to fall into the single digits, you would think that all of the parties election teams would be working 24 hours a day to keep their man in the lead. But the truth is actually more interesting – at least if you’re watching out for clues.

Take PNU for example. They have the same poster up everywhere in city – Kibaki’s face big as life with one of two slogans – Kibaki Tena, or Kazi Iendelee (Continuing work). That’s why there are no PNU posters to show you today – you’ve already seen them all! That said they are working quietly behind the scenes to garner support. The flower seller at the bottom of Thigiri Road, for example, has small PNU flags adorning his stall and he’s not the only one.

The most interesting effort on behalf of PNU that I’ve witnessed actually happened in Amboseli last week. As we headed out for our final safari drive on Tuesday evening I saw an SUV pull up into the lodge. Since 4:00 is the universal time for everyone to leave for animal viewing it was odd to see a car driving up to the door. What really struck me; however, was the bright blue bandana the woman in the backseat was wearing to cover her hair. There were only three letters on the bandana – PNU.

While we were still out on our game drive I saw the same SUV (and bandana’ed woman) leaving in the direction of the Mombassa gate. I initially dismissed the entire episode but the next morning as we were tossing our backpacks into the back of our van I noticed something rather interesting – our driver had a PNU poster sitting in the front window. And it wasn’t just him - I counted at least three other vans with similar new window coverings. So PNU might not be working on creating interesting posters for me photograph but they do seem to be getting the message out.

Which brings us to the other big game in town – ODM. These guys have new posters every time I turn around including a new one encouraging people to call a number and donate money toward the campaign. Should Odinga win next week I hope he gives his campaign manager a really good job in his new cabinet as this gentleman has been working overtime getting his candidate’s name out.

Last week on our way back from the Elephant Orphanage, we came upon a mini ODM campaign parade – two vans and a huge open bed truck filled with supporters cheering for their man in orange. While the caravan was seriously holding up traffic in both directions it was a fun sight. Since someone (*cough*Hubby*cough*) was driving a wee bit too quickly we were unable to determine if Odinga himself was on the truck drumming up his own support.

With news of the upcoming “elections” in Zimbabwe hitting the news, the posters I’ve seen not only in Nairobi but also outside of town prove that Kenya is a country that has embraced democracy and believes in ensuring that everyone get out to vote. More than that, the elections are the topic of choice on everyone’s lips – who will win, who should win, and who will do the most good for the country. These last days leading up the vote on the 27th are sure to be exciting.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Elephants on Parade

One of the most popular stops on any trip to Nairobi is the Elephant Orphanage. For one hour every day the Orphanage is open to visitors who are given the opportunity to see the elephants up close and maybe even learn something about these incredibly interesting and oddly human-like creatures. Run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and located on the grounds of Nairobi National Park, the Orphanage is more than a tourist attraction – it is a living lesson in conservation. I was lucky enough to visit twice this month: first with Kimmy, and then just last week with Hubby, BBS, and Eleanor.

Last month, I was fortunate enough to be in attendance when the woman behind this amazing project, Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, spoke at an Association meeting. During her too brief talk she shared stories about individual animals, elephant ESP, and even the truth behind the phrase “memory like an elephant.” Dr. Sheldrick is an effective speaker who really believes in the Trust and the work it does of saving elephants (and rhinos) that might have otherwise died and then raising them to be full members of wild herds without any dependence upon their human caretakers.

Technically the Orphanage is free to visit but boxes have been placed near the entrance for people to make donations of what is hoped will be at least 300 Ksh per person. Since the Trust is run almost entirely on donations every little bit helps.

One of their other sources of fundraising is the Adoption Program which allows you to “adopt’ an elephant for one year. For a relatively small sum, adoptive patents get monthly emails about “their” elephant, keeping them up to date on how they are growing up, making friends, and developing. People who are physically in Nairobi even have the opportunity to return to the Orphanage in the evenings to assist/watch the elephant’s before bed snack.

The Nairobi Orphanage is currently home to nine elephants but the first to make their entrance are the five babies – the youngest of which is just a few months old. Compared to the big elephants one sees while on safari these babies are tiny. Most of the pachyderms have tragic stories – one was discovered after it fell down a well, another was found by locals who inadvertently hurt it in an attempt to mark it as their own.

The blankets you see on the youngsters are tied on to help keep them warm since we have had some surprisingly chilly mornings of late. Hypothermia and pneumonia, we were told, are both common killers of young elephants so this minor human intervention helps sustain their lives while their skin grows thick enough to keep them warm in any weather.

The next batch out escorted by their human handlers, was slightly older – these would soon be making their way from Nairobi to Tsavo for the next phase of their lives. The day I visited with BBS and Eleanor the older “kids” spent much of their time playing in muddy water and kicking the soccer ball around. The gentleman who was telling us about each of the elephants explained that soccer was one of the elephant’s favourite past times. Beckham better watch his back – these surprisingly nimble animals seem to be in training for the next World Cup.

Some of the elephants pictured may look familiar for fans of the BBC series Elephant Diaries, as the focus of that documentary was the Sheldrick Trust’s animals. The sequel, Elephant Diaries Two, will be premiering in the UK next month. So even if you can’t find your way to Nairobi to visit us, you can at least get to know Shimba, Emily, Dida, and all their friends on your television set every week. Which is almost the same… kinda...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Let the Countdown Begin

The 12 Days of Christmas

December 14, 1972

My dearest darling John:

Who ever in the whole world would dream of getting a real Partridge in a Pear Tree? How can I ever express my pleasure. Thank you a hundred times for thinking of me this way.

My love always,


December 15, 1972

Dearest John:

Today the postman brought your very sweet gift. Just imagine two turtle doves. I'm just delighted at your very thoughtful gift. They are just adorable.

All my love,


December 16, 1972

Dear John:

Oh! Aren't you the extravagant one. Now I must protest. I don't deserve such generosity, three French hens. They are just darling but I must insist, you've been too kind.

All my love,


December 17, 1972

Dear John:
Today the postman delivered four calling birds. Now really, they are beautiful, but don't you think enough is enough? You are being too romantic.



December 18, 1972

Dearest John:
What a surprise. Today the postman delivered five golden rings, one for every finger. You're just impossible, but I love it. Frankly, all those birds squawking were beginning to get on my nerves.

All my love,


December 19, 1972

Dear John:
When I opened the door today there were actually six geese laying on my front steps. So you're back to the birds again, huh? These geese are huge. Where will I ever keep them? The neighbors are complaining and I can't sleep through the racket. Please stop.



December 20, 1972

What's with you and those silly birds? Seven swans a swimming? What kind of joke is this? There's bird poop all over the house and they never stop the racket. I can't sleep at night and I'm a nervous wreck. It's not funny. So stop with the birds.



December 21, 1972

O.K. Buster:
I think I prefer the birds. What the heck am I going to do with 8 maids a milking? It's not enough with all those birds and 8 maids a milking, but they had to bring their cows. There is manure all over the lawn and I can't move in my own >house. Just lay off me, smarty.


December 22, 1972

Hey Doodoohead:
What are you? Some kind of sadist? Now there's nine pipers playing. And boy do they play. They've never stopped chasing those maids since they got here yesterday morning. The cows are getting upset and they're stepping all over those screeching birds. What am I going to do? The neighbors have started a petition to evict me. You'll get yours!


December 23, 1972

You rotten thing:
Now there's ten ladies dancing. I don't know why I call them ladies. They've been flirting with those pipers all night long. Now the cows can't sleep and they've got diarrhea. My living room is a river of poop. The Commissioner of Buildings has subpoenaed me to give cause why the building shouldn't be condemned. I'm calling the police on you!


December 24, 1972

Listen ?#*!head:
What's with those eleven lords a leaping with those maids and ladies? All twenty-three of the birds are dead. They've been trampled to death by the lords and ladies and pipers. I hope you're satisfied, you rotten vicious swine.

Your sworn enemy,


December 25, 1972

Dear Sir:
This is to acknowledge your latest gift of twelve drummers drumming which you have seen fit to inflict on our client, Miss Agnes McHolstein. The destruction, of course, was total. All correspondence should come to our attention. If you should attempt to reach Miss McHolstein at Happy Dale Sanitarium, the attendants have been instructed to shoot you on sight.
With this letter please find attached a warrant for your arrest.


Law Offices of Badger, Bender and Chol

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Need a Tow?

While I work on the posts I promised in yesterday's blog, please enjoy these photographs I took of different types of tow trucks in Kenya.

The easy way up the hill.

No tow truck? No problem!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Catching Up

I apologize for my silence over the last week or so. I’ve been rather busy since BBS and his wife Eleanor arrived in town as I have been taking them around Nairobi to show them the sights – from elephants and giraffes to traffic jams and Kazuri Beads I’ve been trying to show them everything that this town has to offer. The three of us also went to Amboseli for a few days to see what cool animals and rare birds we could spot.

In case you’re curious why Monday’s birthday boy didn’t join us on safari, Hubby is in Thailand this week and will be off to Egypt for the weekend. Must be nice to be a jetsetter like him, eh?

In any case, I plan to catch everyone up on my exciting trips to the Elephant Orphanage, the latest in election posters, Swahili lessons, our animal adventures in Amboseli and much more… All within the next week. *eek* Hubby and I will be off to Bahrain next Wednesday, there may soon be yet another long silence for you, my Devoted Readers, to endure.

To help assuage my guilt about this lack of blogging, and in hopes of amusing you as much as I was amused when I saw this sight coming down the road last Saturday, I am sharing these pictures of the portable giraffe. So please keep checking back for news, and I promise to keep you in the loop – even if belatedly so.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Regarding Henry

After a morning spent adoring baby elephants at the Sheldrick Orphanage, my guest Kimmy and I made our way up to the Village Market for that most honored of all Friday traditions – the Masai Market. Like the good price conscious shoppers we are, we first walked up and down all of the rows of “shops” to see what everyone had to sell, and more importantly, what prices they were quoting.

Since most of the vendors have exactly the same wares, shopping around for the best pre-bargaining price is an important part of the experience if you don’t want to be ripped off. Kimmy’s goal that day was to find a Kikoy that she could take with her as a reminder of her trip and use as a shawl to keep warm. Plus, as a traditional Kenyan item, it made for an easily packable souvenir. With the exception of one guy who thought that we were stupid wazungu (white people), we were quoted the exact same price by everyone – 350 Ksh.

In the end, we headed back to the very first “shop” for Kimmy’s Kikoy and began the process of convincing the owner that we weren’t going to pay such an outrageous price for our treasure. (Note that these cost about two and a half times that in the shops.) The seller refused to budge below 300 Ksh saying that if she went any lower she would not be making any money off our purchase. Since neither party wanted to move, we left the stall and headed for the next one up the aisle where we found a lovely light blue Kikoy. This time, the sales boy was willing to let us have it for 275 Ksh – a compromise that made us feel that we were at least getting a bit of a deal.

Since we all know that I am unable to go into any shopping venue without buying something, I purchased a really pretty beaded reindeer to match the beaded Christmas tree I bought last time. Beaded animals and other “tchakis” (as Mr. Net called them) are very popular here. Indeed, I’m thinking about buying an entire menagerie before my time in Kenya is up. Hubby, I’m sure, will object.

The sad conclusion to this story is that while we were enjoying a cup of tea, we somehow lost Kimmy’s Kikoy. I felt horrible (and still do) as we ran all over the food court looking for it, only to realize that someone else had walked away with our hard won treasure.

So Henry the Reindeer is my souvenir from the Masai Market this week. But someone out there has a bad karma Kikoy that I hope will bring them nothing but sorrow since it has made our new friend Kimmy so sad to see it go.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Posters Tena

I hope you’re ready for your weekly dose of Kenyan election posters. This time around I was aiming for some posters I hadn’t shared with you yet. Unfortunately that means that there are not a lot of PNU ones today as they seem to have decided that the only poster they want to create is the classic “Kibaki Tena” you’ve already seen. And since his billboards are larger than life, so has everyone else in Nairobi.

We do, however, have a new candidate in the mix with Kalonzo signs making his first appearance here. This candidate is putting himself forth as the alternative to the mainstream parties. Much like ODM, Kalonzo’s ODM-K party also emphasizes that they will not tolerate corruption, which they maintain is still rampant within the PNU party.

As promised last week, I have taken a few pictures of our local campaign buses. These are often matatus with posters stuck to them and bullhorns affixed atop so that they can “share the message” as they drive around town. Although not pictured here, there are also numerous pick-up trucks around town with their beds filled with teens shouting support for their candidate of choice. The locals that I have spoken with often say that these kids are often troublemakers for all that they are encouraging people to “get the vote out.”

Which brings us to the latest in “vote peacefully” billboards. I took this picture on my way to Karen and it encourages people to “chagua amani,” literally asking them to “choose peace.” Everyone I have spoken with has told me that elections here are not violent but that “the constant reminders can’t hurt.” After quite a bit of zooming, this poster was brought to us by numerous organizations in Kenya including the Partnership for Peace, Hindu Council of Kenya, National Council of Churches of Kenya, among others whose names I was unable to read clearly.

Our final campaign issue today will be the parties. I realized last week that I hadn’t told you what any of the party names meant so I am going to try to make that up somewhat belatedly and very simplistically. First off we have Kibaki’s party - PNU, or the Party of National Unity, which is actually a party made up of a lot of other parties that wanted a seat at the table. Next up is Raila Odinga’s party – ODM, or the Orange Democratic Movement. And finally, for the purpose of today’s blog, we have Kalonzo’s ODM-Kenya but I'm not entirely clear on how they are different from their ODM namesakes.

I’m sure that, as usual, a number of my facts are wrong, and for that I apologize. The campaign season here is becoming incredibly interesting and I’m really pleased to be here during such a dynamic time. People are divided about whom they want to see in power. Some talk about who will do the most good. Many seem to talk about who will do the least badly for the country. Either way, the next few weeks should be exciting.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

We Have a Winner

You may recall that last week I blogged about my surprisingly awesome trip to Nairobi National Park. It turns out that the reason we saw so many animals was that they had finally started a process of controlled burns throughout the park. This shortens the grass and encourages more animals to venture in for grazing.

But today’s post isn’t about KWS’ park keeping methods. Today, we are following through on a promised “shout out’ for the person who correctly (we believe) identified the mystery animal we spotted on our way out of the park.

Hubby’s erstwhile girlfriend, She of the Gratuitous H, posted that our animal was a Waterbuck. According to this website which SGH provided:
There are 2 forms of Waterbuck, Kobus ellipsiprymnus, found in Kenya. The Northern or DeFassa Waterbuck has a whitish rump while the Southern Common Waterbuck has a large white ring on its rump (or, as it was once described to us "a target painted on its bum"!). They are stout and strongly built with a rough coat. They have sweat glands across their whole body and these produce a waterproofing fluid which coats the whole body. They mainly eat grass but will also browse on leaves, buds, shoots etc. We particularly like walking through the woods around Lake Naivasha where you can pass alongside small groups of Waterbuck grazing in the dappled light, the combination of colouring and their apparently large, liquid eyes is very peaceful.
So thanks for the info SGH and hurry up and visit us in Kenya so we can introduce you to the newly christened “SGH Buck” in person!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Moo You!

Back in March, our friend Dobhi Wallah described Hubby's job as "counting cows." Hubby said that this was an over-simplification of what he claims is an interesting and complex career... or something like that.

That said, he took this picture. And a picture is worth a six-page résumé.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Watching For Signs

I have writers block and can’t think of anything to write today. It’s caused, I think, by this odd feeling I’ve had all day that I’ve forgotten something. Yet for the life of me I’m not sure what it is that I've forgotten and it is driving me crazy. My guest isn’t due until Wednesday; my newsletter isn’t due until January; the book I haven’t started yet isn’t due to be discussed at Book Club until Thursday; and I don’t think that today is anyone’s birthday.

While I try to solve this maddening dilemma that is making my head pound with frustration, I’ll leave you with this photo Hubby took at the National Park.

Truth in advertising.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Time to Vote

On the heels of this weekend’s vote in Australia, I have some more photos of Kenyan campaign posters from around Nairobi. As always, the posters were everywhere – huge billboards on main thoroughfares; small posters stuck on any available wall, light post, or fence; and even the sides of cars.

As I drove around town on Friday and Saturday, it was interesting to note that PNU (the party currently in power) didn’t seem to have many billboards up at the moment. Indeed, with the exception of the “Kibaki Tena” poster I showed you last time, every billboard I saw was for the ODM party. I’m sure that this observation will be temporary and cyclical as the parties put up new posters and try to get different voters on their side.

At the roundabout near ABC Centre is a billboard advising voters to vote wisely. I’m not entirely sure which party or organization has paid for this advertisement but it is one that I hope the voters see and remember. As with politics in any country, people here vote along family, tribal, and party lines often without consideration as to who or what they are voting for. As I mentioned, this is not a uniquely Kenyan problem although the various groups do seem to exploit this to their best advantage.

In addition to the federal elections, people will also vote in local polls for their MP’s. Campaigning in this area seems, at this juncture, to depend upon the candidate’s war chest – those with more money have large billboards, while those with a more modest purse make do with smaller posters stuck around their jurisdiction and campaign teams
shouting slogans from matatus. (I’ll try to get some photos of these teams for next time.)

With the date for the elections drawing nearer, the political climate in Nairobi is sure to change, with popular opinion swinging from one side to the other depending on with whom you speak. As December 27th gets ever closer, the tactics around town will change, the campaign teams will become more aggressive, and the posters will hopefully become even more interesting and plentiful. At least that’s what this photographer/blogger hopes!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Titanic Part Two

As many of you know, Hubby and I have been planning a big tenth anniversary blowout trip for next Christmas. The trip, which although not yet booked, is going to be one of the best trips we’ve ever taken and ensure that we are one of the few people in the world who can say they’ve been to all seven continents. Our plan, you see, was to take a cruise to Antarctica.

With that great idea in mind, you can imagine our bliss when we spotted this article this morning while checking out the headlines. Oh yeah, our trip is going the way of the Titanic – right up to and including the iceberg.

Rest assured, we are not going to be daunted and will still be going – assuming we get off our duffs and start planning and booking. So basically there’s a 50/50 chance.
Ship sinks off Antarctica
(CNN) -- More than 150 passengers and crew aboard a sinking ship in the Antarctic, which is believed to have collided with an iceberg, have been rescued to safety, officials said.

The Explorer finally slipped beneath the waves Friday evening, about 20 hours after the predawn accident near Antarctica's South Shetland Islands, the Chilean navy confirmed.

No injuries have been reported among those rescued after being forced to abandon the sinking vessel and travel on lifeboats in sub-zero temperatures.

The Norwegian cruise ship MS Nord Norge took the stranded passengers and crew on board, said a spokesman for Gap Adventures, which owns the sinking vessel.

The Nord Norge is now heading to King George Island, the nearest point, in the South Shetlands, the spokesman added.

Passenger ship Explorer reported problems near the South Shetland Islands, south of Argentina. The area is in a sector of Antarctica claimed by the United Kingdom.

The ship was on the 12th day of a 19-day tour of the southern Atlantic and Antarctic Peninsula.

It had already been to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and was on its way to the Danco Coast, on the peninsula's tip, when the incident happened.

Capt. Carlos Munita of the Chilean navy said they received a distress call from the Explorer, saying the vessel had hit an iceberg around 10 p.m. ET Thursday.

But Gap Adventures spokeswoman Susan Hayes said it was not an iceberg but a "submerged piece of ice."
The Explorer, which carries a Liberian flag, had a number of different nationalities on board including 24 Britons, 17 Dutch, 14 Americans, 12 Canadian and 10 Australians, Gap Adventures said.

Other nationalities include Argentineans, Belgians, Chinese, Danes, French, Irish, Japanese, Swiss, Colombian, Swedes and Germans.

John Warner, a spokesman for Gap Adventures, said the captain and chief officer initially stayed on the ship to make sure everyone was evacuated and to see if they could repair the damage, but they later abandoned the ship.

British Coast Guard spokesman Fred Caygill told The Associated Press the ship had a hole "the size of a fist" in the hull.

"We believed it has been hulled, it has a hole the size of a fist and some cracking in the hull of the ship, it's taking water and it's listing about 21 degrees," he said.

The temperature in the area is said to be at around minus 5C, with a sea temperature at around minus 1C, forecasters told the Press Association.

Stephen Davenport, senior forecaster with MeteoGroup, said: "It wouldn't take long for hypothermia to set in at that kind of temperature in the sea.

"They do get very bad storms down that way, and gale force winds especially, because there is no land in the way," he told PA.

Lt. Matt Alex from the US Coast Guard Atlantic Area command center said the boat is owned by Gap Adventures, based in Toronto, Canada.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Kiswahili Part Mbili

Before our start in on Swahili lesson number two, I thought I would share an amusing tale of two teachers. You see, it isn’t enough that I attend weekly classes with Tulip – I also have a full time, self-appointed tutor who is determined that I will be fluent by the end of year. And unlike Tulip, I can’t avoid my tutor and his daily tests to improve my comprehension. Or rather, what he hopes will someday be my improved comprehension.

Who is this mystery educator? My driver, Rock, of course! Disappointed that I didn’t start taking classes sooner, and frustrated with how much further along my classmate Wrestler is, Rock drills me daily on everything from greetings and goodbyes, to numbers and everyday phrases. He has also begun to make a weekly worksheet of words and phrases for me to study.

Those of you who know me well may recall that I’m a lousy student. My memory is only slightly superior to that of a Pavlovian dog. Heck, I can’t even remember the names of all the ladies in my book club and I see them all the time! How am I supposed to learn an entirely new language quickly enough to please my harsh taskmaster?

Luckily, Rock has proven to be more patient than Tulip. Last week she taught me the phrase kazi nyingi (a lot of work) and I think she was trying to tell me something. Of course, it might help if I ever studied, read my flash cards, opened my Swahili book, or spent any time at all forcing my brain to remember my lessons. But that seems like a lot of effort.

Today, instead of studying, I’m going to teach you guys some new words taught to me by both Rock and Tulip.

So get to studying people because there will be a test. Now, if you’ll excuse me, all of the effort I’ve been putting into avoiding studying is giving me a kichwa (headache) and I need to lie down. Kwaheri!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turkey Memories

Today is Thanksgiving for those of you in the States and those Americas strewn around the world. Since Hubby and I have been abroad, we have found ourselves rather disconnected with this holiday. Even before moving to India it was never really a banner day for us – I usually had to work the next day, and a proper turkey dinner was beyond our personal culinary skills, which meant that we always spent the holiday with other people – usually his family.

This is now our third Thanksgiving abroad (Hubby edit: and my fourth!). Our first was spent at the Duke’s home in Jor Bagh. Thanks to the Duke and the Embassy, we had a turkey and everyone else brought side dishes and desserts. Since we didn’t have an oven, I was unable to make my famous pumpkin pie but the maple-glazed carrots I made turned out quite nicely. All in all, it was a lovely evening with great food and company.

Last year, despite being posted in Kenya, we managed to once again spend Thanksgiving in Delhi. This time, we found ourselves in Bird’s house with a collection of locals and other expats – many of whom we recognized. Between Bird and her visiting mother, we had a fabulous dinner with all the trimmings. Since we were staying in a hotel, our contribution this time was a bottle of red wine that we purchased at the duty free in Dubai. That night, with its yummy food and pleasant company, was one of our best Thanksgivings ever.

This year, we don’t have anyone to mooch off. At least, no one has invited us over for a perfectly cooked turkey with pan gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie. (Not that I’m pouty or bitter about it.) Thus I’m not sure what we’ll be having for supper tonight, but I’m fairly sure that none of those things are on the menu.

Lest any of you comic geniuses decide to pipe up and say that I could make this dinner myself – get real! Do you know where they wanted me to put my hand to clean that bird?! Yes, well, it wasn’t going to happen. Ewww!

Finally, I want to take this day of thanksgiving to thank my mother for cooking my family countless (Canadian) Thanksgiving dinners with all the trimmings. There wasn’t a single year when it wasn’t decidedly delicious and perfect, which is a memory I learned to cherish during my years of American Thanksgivings spent with Hubby’s family. So, thanks Mum. (And, if you feel like flying here and making us dinner tonight, we won’t object!)

Last minute edit: We just decided to make risotto with spicy baked squash, sage, and pancetta. Since squash and sage are both Turkey Day ingredients, this seemed like a reasonable compromise.

Happy Thanksgiving from Kenya!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Chasing Dinner

The problem with being an omnivore on safari is that every time you see a gazelle or ostrich, at the back of your mind where you least want to acknowledge it, you wonder how easy it would be to “accidentally” run one over and take it home for dinner. Not that I ever would – since that would be wrong. Not to mention that the park ranger folks tend to frown upon things like that. But it doesn’t stop the thoughts from popping up of their own volition.

Our mini safari on Sunday was rife with several herds of walking dinner – all of which we admired from a safe fork-free distance. The zebras we saw being chased by the lioness earlier in the day were only the first of several herds wandering through Nairobi National Park that day. And they often hung out with several antlered friends such as gemsbok and gazelles. The latter tended to spook easily and were often rather skittish as our car drew near.

During a washroom break at the picnic area near Leopard Cliff, we spotted a large group of baboons at the bottom of a beautiful valley. Oddly, they were also hanging out with a stray gazelle. These baboons can often be seen hanging around the picnic area looking for scraps of food left behind by negligent diners. This time around, however, we had to hunt them down and were initially unable to get very close to them.

Since this was our second time in the park, Hubby and I were guiding our small tour group mostly around areas of the park we had already visited. After seeing the baboons, we were emboldened enough to try a new direction. So instead of heading back into the valley, we turned toward the opposite direction with a goal of seeing the less popular back end of the park.

Here, we found numerous herds of various animals including more zebras (or zedbras as the British call them), impala, and even some wildebeests in the distance. Several of the herds had babies with them, making for an interesting contrast of sizes between the large bucks and their tiny offspring.

On our way out of the park, we found ourselves face to face with an animal we couldn’t identify in any of our books. We think that they may have been klipspringers but they were much larger than the ones in our animal books. (Anyone who wants to be smartie pants and tell us the answer will be rewarded with a shout-out and a great deal of thanks.) With their huge rabbit-like ears, our mystery antelope were a great find and wonderful note on which to end our day-long safari.

I have since told several people about my animal-filled day at the National Park and no one seems to believe me. Everyone here is too used to the Park being a nice day’s drive but not really a Mecca for actual animal sightings. So whether it was a gift from the rainy season, a fluke, or just a lucky chance, we’ll take it and treasure our memories of that fabulous day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Miracle Day

This past February when Gordon Keith was staying at chez Typ0, he and I went to Nairobi National Park and discovered what apparently everyone else in Nairobi knows: the park sucks. At a cost of $40USD for non-residents, the park is a complete rip-off with very few animals to speak of. In fact, the day GK and I went, I think we saw maybe ten total animals – I felt horrible.

Well, today I feel worse because Hubby and I went back on Sunday with some visitors and had a fabulously animal-riffic day. Before we left for the park, we told our guests that they likely wouldn’t see many animals since the Kenya Wildlife Services run park isn’t well known for its plethora of animals. Boy were we wrong!

As soon as we entered the park, we saw a giraffe that Hubby claimed was placed there by KWS to give people a false sense of hope. (There was a matching one at the exit gate we used thus supporting this theory.) At first it seemed like any other day at the National Park as we kept our eyes peeled for any elusive game. Noting a grouping of cars in the distance, we decided to head that way in hopes that maybe they had found something more interesting than a guinea fowl.

Following the bumpy dirt road we spotted two herds of zebras off in the distance. Assuming that this was as close as we were going to get to any zebras, we stopped the car and started zooming our camera lenses in their direction.

Suddenly, the herd bolted and we all looked around to try to determine what had spooked them. We, after all, were too far away to have caused their fear. That’s when we saw a lioness chasing after the lunch-worthy equines. She mustn’t have been terribly hungry, as she gave up the hunt after only a few moments.

We all sat in the car with our mouths agape at the amazing sight we had just seen. The lioness continued to stalk her striped prey with lethal casualness – looking around to see if there was anything of interest for her to nibble on. The entire episode took place about 150 meters away from our car – close enough to be wowed, far enough away to be safe.

All of this happened within our first 20 minutes in the famously “animal-free” park. Hubby and I couldn’t stop chattering on about how rare a sight this was for this park, and how thankful we were that we were able to see it due to it being the rainy season. I’m not sure our guests fully appreciated the awesomeness of our local safari but then the day had only just begun.

I will share some more of our photos tomorrow – including the one of the animal we can’t seem to identify. I just wanted to say sorry to Gordon Keith that his Nairobi safari was far lamer than recent our weekend adventure. Next time you visit, we’ll import some better animals for you – promise!

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Last Virgin

Ok, despite the title, I think I can safely say that we all know I’m not a virgin. Sorry, mum, but its true. But what I am is seemingly the last person I know who doesn’t have children. Now that KC has given birth to her adorable Veronique (Congrats!), I believe I am officially the only person left from my high school without a short person at home.

I mentioned the other day that being without child wasn’t something that bothered me. And it doesn’t. Although Hubby and I have “the talk” every month or so, we both realized quite a while ago that we’re somewhat ambivalent about the whole process. Well, not the process – we quite enjoy that – more like the result, shall we say.

However, it came as something of a shock when I realized that pretty much the only people we knew in our situation were single – and not even all of them were part of our child-free club. It’s as if having a child is the secret password into a world where those of us without maternal instincts are unwelcome.

As an expat, this becomes even more obvious since having children is the easiest way to meet people and make friends. Dropping your kids off at school, joining the PTA, and hosting sleepovers seems to be the way to meet other parents and expanding your circle of influence. Even those people with grown children who are off at university are still part of this celebrated circle with their shared experiences and memories.

But when all is said and done, I’m surprisingly ok with it all. Given the current rate of global overpopulation, Hubby and I have probably made the best decision possible. And our lack of children gives one or two of you the opportunity to have extras and not worry about having any negative effects on global resources. Best of all, we can enjoy your children for the wonderful short people they are, fill them with sugary treats and naughty words – and then give them back. Sounds like a win-win plan all around!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Monument to Me

I’ve been thinking for a while that I need some sort of permanent reminder of myself to leave to future generations. I realize that every mistyped word out there is really a small commemoration to my greatness but I think we need something a little more permanent, like a building, sculpture, park, or country named called Typlandia – so nothing too big or ostentatious.

My inspiration in this endeavor is former Kenyan president David Arap Moi. Few men have ever had quite so many things named after themselves in quite so short a time. But the subject of my current admiration is Nyayo Monument, downtown in Uhuru Park.

Nyayo means “footsteps” in Kiswahili and was Moi’s nickname. It is also the name of the local stadium and a government building among other edifices. This is a man who understood the importance of brand recognition – and of branding everything in sight.

The reason that the Nyayo Monument is a good place to start for my own future memorial is in the architecture, which, I’ve been told, Moi oversaw himself. Before I let you in on the insights my friend Rab shared with me, check out the picture above yourself for a moment or two and see if you can figure out the brilliance of the design.

Built in 1988, each of the four sides of the monument has a different disk representing a different aspect of Kenyan culture and life. Although slightly difficult to see in my photo, in front of each disk is a set stairs rising to meet the center of each circle. Finally, there are also several fountains shooting water on each side of the edifice.

So why is it so cool? Each inverted V-shaped wall looks like an M from far away. The disks form perfect O’s. And the stairs are the final I. That means that no matter which side of the monument you view, you are subtly reminded of the man who ordered it built – Moi.

With the Nyayo Monument in mind, I am now accepting bids from anyone with similarly brilliant ideas for my Typ0-themed monument. I’m thinking something small and understated like the Typ0 Dome, or Mount Typ-more. But I’ll leave that to your discretion.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kiswahili Me

I started taking Swahili classes a few weeks ago. So naturally I’ve already missed one class, am way behind my other classmate, and am struggling to keep up. You know, just like real school. In an effort to force myself study, I have decided to torment… err… teach you, my Devoted Readers, the few words I’ve learned so far.

Tulip, my teacher, would be the first to tell you that written Swahili is pretty much the same as spoken Swahili. Which means that all you need to do is sound it out almost the way you would in English – every letter mind you – and you’re halfway there. There are also a lot of Arabic based words (like Salama – peaceful) in the language.

In case it wasn’t clear, that was your entire lesson on Swahili pronunciation. Which leads us into lesson two – everything else! Since this is your first day, I thought I’d start with what I learned during my first my class.

So now to put all those little bits and pieces into a very basic greeting slash conversation.

Ok, so that wasn’t every good. And I’m sure that I’ll get comments regarding my spelling and interpretations. Indeed, there are a few points in the above conversation that I’m positive on, but its close. Hey, this was day one – give me a break!

Tuonane Kesha!
(See you tomorrow!)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Things That Bug Me

Maybe I’m getting old because suddenly more and more things bug me. Things have always annoyed me but now things bother me to a degree that I can no longer simply ignore them. More and more things are driving me crazy enough to make me snap at offenders whether in person, in literature, or on TV. Is it too much to ask to have everybody do things my way?

Anyways here is a short list, in no particular order, of things that make me want to scream:
  1. People who mispronounce the words library, Arctic, and Antarctic. Is it too much to ask that people notice and value the letters that make up these words? For Pete’s sake, they aren’t pronounced Ar-tic or Li-bary! There are letters in there that deserve your respect. Arrrghhh!

  2. People who chew gum. I loathe the sound of chewing in general and having to listen to people chomp on their gum and blow bubbles is enough to make me want to kill myself. This, of course, is yet another reason why Singapore is one of the best places on earth – chewing gum is illegal.

  3. People who bring oversized suitcases on board airplanes and fill up the overhead bins. It’s one thing when *I* have four carry-on items that I have sneaked in past the watch guards at the boarding gate – that’s different. When other people think that full-sized cases and giant bags can fit into those small bins it’s simply rude!

  4. Baby corn.

  5. People who assume I’m American and then don’t care when I correct them. Canada is the second largest country (in land mass) on the planet and yet so many people seem to think it is just a slightly more northern state belonging to the U.S. Just because I have a non-accent (Hubby edit: Yeah right, eh!) doesn’t mean that my birthplace was south of the 49th parallel!

  6. Bad customer service. I’ve worked in customer service for more years than I can remember – in call centers, libraries, book stores, charities – you name it, I’ve probably put in my time. So when people can’t be bothered to show me general politeness due to any customer it drives me nuts. Please and thank you are not by-words, they’re courtesies – learn to love them!

  7. TV shows with stupid morals. I love the old “very special episodes” as much as any child of the 80s but some shows take it too far. My favourite example of this is “Seventh Heaven” the WB’s ultimate preachy show. While this show drove me nuts early on, the final nail in that coffin was an episode that said that drinking any alcohol made you evil. The main character in the episode was convinced to sink a 20-year-old bottle of liquor because his foster child believed that taking one sip of wine or liquor would mean the end of the world. Morals are great and everything but telling people that life should be lived in extremes is just wrong and highly annoying.

  8. People who think all children are cute and my lack of children is a sign that I’ve been possessed by the devil. Yes, there are many cute children on the planet and I’m sure that yours are the cutest of them all. But not everyone wants to have short people running around screaming, crying, breaking things, and being uncute. Being child-phobic does not make me evil – it just means that my brother got my share of maternal instincts. (Besides, children are just as typ0-phobic and you don’t see people criticizing them!) I’m sure your children are lovely and I’m equally positive that they’re even lovelier when they’re not around me.

  9. Skinny people. I realize that Hubby could be included in this list but his amazing hotness doesn’t make his sort any less annoying. I’m fat, I get it! I should lose weight, I get that too. If I were an alcoholic, you would feel bad for me and try to help me. But since I’m fat you skinny folks assume that it is something I have done to myself and I deserve to be looked down upon and mocked. It isn’t as if I can take a magical pill and be skinny, or just stop eating all together! Besides, it isn’t as if being able to count your ribs when you’re wearing a t-shirt is so sexy.

  10. People who read pet peeve lists just so that they can replicate the behaviours to drive the author crazy. Really, please don’t. Ever.
So there you have a few of my pet peeves. And I think that we all know that there are many more that I haven’t bothered mentioning for fear of seeming like too much of a hater (scuffing shoes, people who chew with their mouths open, things I’m not good at, people who don’t like me, mortadella, etc.). I am, after all, nothing if not a big ball of short nerve endings waiting to turn on any innocent bystander at the chomp of a piece of gum. But the one thing that doesn’t annoy me is people who comment on my blog. Subtlety, obviously, is another thing that doesn’t annoy me.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Barbed Wire Lives

The one question we get more than any other about our lives in Nairobi is, “How bad is the security situation there?” Although it seems like a simple question to the uninitiated, safety in Nairobi is actually an unendingly complex issue that no two people answer the same way.

It doesn’t help that the US government has erroneously listed Kenya as a “dangerous” place to visit thus needlessly worrying people about what is, in reality, a beautiful and amazing country. Part of the problem is the media: one of the first things anyone hears about life in Nairobi is the semi-regular occurrence of carjackings and muggings. These realities colour people’s views about what would otherwise be a lovely place to live – because they do happen. I’ve known people who have been carjacked and someone who was almost mugged outside of the restroom of a popular expat coffee house.

Here is the reality – most carjackings happen to matatus. The spouse of one of Hubby’s colleagues has been carjacked five times, three of which were as a passenger in a matatu. Moreover, with a bit of common sense – locking your doors, not rolling down your windows, and not stopping on the side the road – you can help to avoid this fate in your own personal vehicle. There are also schools here that offer courses in defensive driving and classes specifically geared toward avoiding being carjacked and what to do if you are.

Driving around Nairobi, one of the first things you notice is that all of the houses are like miniature Fort Knox’s. Our own apartment is guarded 24/7 by guards and is surrounded by not only barbed wire by also an electric fence. To get into compound just to see us, the guard will call up to verify that the person has permission to visit – this includes everyone from people from Hubby’s office to food delivery people.

Home invasions and burglaries here are frequently “inside jobs” where a maid, gardener, or other employee is responsible. Which doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t trust people or open up your home and hearts to the wonderful local people. What it does mean is that just like everywhere else in the world, there are some bad apples in the bunch. Locking out the outside world to fear and whispers of potential wrong doings is the fastest way to miss out on the amazing things that happen here everyday. Plus you’ll go crazy which isn’t much fun either.

The simple answer about security in Nairobi is that it is a big city and one has to be smart about living in it. Unfortunately, you can’t leave your guard down here and you always have to be aware of your surroundings, but the same can be said of most large urban areas. You watch your purse when you walk around or are sitting in a café. You don’t flash money or expensive jewelry around where people might be tempted.

And keep your wits about you. As Hubby says – don’t be stupid. Most crimes here, like in many places, are crimes of opportunity – leaving money in their car where it can be seen, leaving a door to a house unlocked, or leaving a purse sitting on a chair unattended.

All that said I wouldn’t change our experience of living here. Yes, knowing these things go on outside our peripheral view can be scary. But so can watching the evening news or going to the dentist. Some things are simply worth it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Get Around Gang

Last month, my usual group of Association ladies took a tour of Nairobi’s history. Our main pit stops were scheduled to be the Railway Museum and the August 7th Memorial Park – the site of the bombing of the US embassy in 1998. The nine of us who boarded the bus that Tuesday morning had no idea what amazing sights and insights into Kenya’s past awaited us.

After passing through a matatu depot in downtown Nairobi, our bus made its way along a dirt road past the main railway station to the museum itself. The first thing that stuck us as we neared the small building that housed the museum was the sheer number of “retired” train engines in its front yard. My brother, BBA, could probably tell you better than I, but engines that dated back as far as a century ago bear a strong resemblance to those used today to haul our coal, cattle, and persons across the country.

The history of the so-called “Lunatic Line” is one plagued by everything from man-eating lions and malarial mosquitoes, to angry locals and bacterial dysentery. Finished in 1901 through the determination of its British overseers and Indian workers, the line stretches through Tanzania and Kenya to some of the highest elevations of any railway in the world.

On display in the museum was everything from model trains to the chair that Queen Elizabeth II sat in when she visited the museum several years ago. The fine china on exhibit would come in handy nowadays for a midday snack, since the 6-hour drive from Nairobi to Mombassa takes 17 hours by train.

Mombassa itself used to be a very rail-friendly town. My modern Nissan with its wonderful driver had its equivalent in 1900’s era Mombassa – a man-powered rail car that was pushed throughout the city wherever its occupant needed to go. One man, who didn’t want to have to rely on porters to push him around, redesigned his own bicycle so that it could run on the rails –complete with a small motor for those days when his own legs couldn’t be put to the test.

We were allowed to board several trains sitting in the yard including one that we were told is the largest engine in the world. Why is it not in use, you may be wondering? Well, it was too big and heavy to make it up and around the high mountain tracks on the Kenyan lines. We also saw the actual car that was attacked by a lion one night when its occupant was trying to hunt big game. The game, instead, got him.

From the museum, we headed over to the August 7th Memorial, which is an amazing tribute not only to those poor souls who died that day, but also to those who survived. Situated on the site of the bombed US Embassy, the first thing we saw as we entered the park was a sculpture called “Body, Mind, and Spirit.” Made from some of the building debris from that tragic day, it is a stark reminder of the carnage of that day.

A black granite wall in front of the main building bears the name of all 219 victims of the blast. We were told the stories of some of these people who ranged from passers by to a young man who was visiting his father at work for the first time – both father and son died that day. In front of the wall is a yin-yang shaped pool that was designed to remind visitors of the interplay between turmoil and peace.

Inside the Visitor’s Centre were large photographs taken that day. They range from groups of men and women running toward the scene trying to help to photos of people beginning to realize what was happening around them. One of the most amazing exhibits was of small pieces of debris and shrapnel that people are still having removed from their bodies to this day due to being in the vicinity of the bombing – everything from small shards of glass to wedges of metal from the structure of the building.

This attack by Al Qaida amazingly did not succeed in beating down the people of Kenya – as can be seen all around the beautiful grounds of the Memorial. There is even a section of the Visitor’s Centre devoted to photos of the “August 7th Babies” who were born in the immediate aftermath of that day. In addition to educating visitors, the Centre also helps to support the widows and orphans of those who died that day.

Our final stop of the day was to Upper Hill Road where we could take in a panoramic view of the city. Dharma, who organized the trip and whose written memories of that day I am borrowing from to write today’s blog, perhaps said it best when she observed that our monthly outing had given us a unique view into Kenya’s past, present, and future. From retired rail cars to beautiful memorials of horrific events to the skyscrapers that continue to go up every day, Nairobi is a city that grows and changes before your eyes.