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.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Election Season

As you may have heard, the Kenyan parliament was dissolved on October 22nd. Since the laws here wisely state that the electioneering season should only last sixty days, the government had just a few days to call elections and still ensure that they fell within the 2007 calendar year. The subsequent announcement that the elections would take place on December 27th was expected but still a relief for many who are waiting to participate in what is sure to be an exciting election.

As in any country, the first sign of the upcoming elections are, well, the signs. From small fliers stuck to any available surface, to huge billboards posted throughout the city, images of those appearing on the ballot are everywhere. Their slogans range from reminders that voting in an incumbent is good – Kibaki Tena
(Kibaki Again) – to promises of change from the opposition - being “Decisive and Dynamic.”

Lest anyone think that I am supporting one party in favor of another – I’m really not. I am simply enjoying being in the midst of a “young” nation exercising its democratic rights. The election season here is especially interesting given the excruciatingly long primary season going on back in the States.

The one downside about observing the Kenyan elections is that we don’t get any local TV stations filling us in on daily election news. The newspapers, naturally, have quite a bit of information, but the power of moving images cannot be dismissed. Or, for that matter, the power of being on the periphery of it yourself.

A few weeks ago, we witnessed what allegedly began as a political rally at a school near Hubby’s office. It ended in a riot that was broken up by teargas wielding police. I wish I had photos from that day, but I had forgotten my camera at home. Instead, I only have the memories of the scent of the teargas affecting those of us watching from the office almost a half-mile away from the actual site of the rally.

Today’s blog, however, isn’t about student protests or even campaign speeches being shouted out of bullhorns from matatus driving up and down the streets of Nairobi. Today’s blog is just an opportunity to show you some posters I photographed around town on billboards, light posts, and even the back of buses. Enjoy and don’t forget to vote!

Big Girl, I Am Beautiful

Mika’s new song is on permanent replay around our home.

Big girl, you are beautiful!!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance Day

In Flanders Fields
by: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Time Out

Since I’ve had several rather serious blogs in a row, I thought I’d take a quick break in my tour of Nairobi to talk about something more Typ0-centric. Back in May, Hubby promised me new shelves for our anniversary. Actually we discussed this in April but I don’t want to appear nit picky since I didn’t get them in either month.

An agreement was drawn up between us that I would purchase them before leaving for Canada. That agreement was then amended for the purchase to made in August. Then it was decided that my birthday was a better date to focus on.

However, since we were still paying off the car, we agreed to put it off until October after Storm’s last payment had been made. With the car successfully paid off, we even made it to the furniture store to pick out shelves that I liked aesthetically and Hubby liked financially. Despite finding bookshelves we liked, nothing was purchased due to a lack of credit card. Given that this story is about me, the punch line is that when I returned a week later (with the credit card) the shelves we liked had been sold. Aren’t I a lucky girl?

After a great deal of pouting and railing at fate, I returned to Odds and Ends last week determined to leave having spent money on a set of shelves for my sitting room. This plan wasn’t as easy to execute as one might imagine. First, the style of shelves we liked was mostly sold out and the one they had that was similiar was flimsy: a ply board backing and the shelves themselves were wobbly.

Crying inside, I went upstairs to see if there was anything I missed. And that’s when I saw them: shelves that screamed that they needed to come home with me! Best of all, they were solid wood – no ratty ply board in sight. The only hitch was that the beautiful shelves were twice as expensive as the ones Hubby had approved. Oops!

I called him and pointed out that these shelves were taller and provided more book space, not to mention that they were pretty! Hubby pointed out that I was, in his words, "a shelf whore," an insult I ignored since it was both inaccurate and mean. I think we can all imagine the pouting that was going on via my cell phone that day. After whittling down the price a wee bit, Hubby gave in and I went to pay for my lovely bookshelves.

Since I had promised that no romance novels would ever sit upon the new shelves, I moved our old (and dying) Ikea shelves across the room to make room for the new pretty ones and waited for the deliverymen to arrive. The moment my shelves were in place I spent hours organizing all of my books and deciding what looked best on which set of shelves. And then I sat down and stared at them lovingly – for several hours and from several different angles. Which either makes me a big nerd, or very scared about what will happen when Hubby finally sees the bill.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Going to the Office

The following photos were all taken from the car while driving to Hubby’s office. There are two ways to get there: one is via the main road of Waiyaki Way, and the other way – by driving through the top of Kawangere, one of the larger slums in the city. Either way, it is hard to escape the poverty that is so prevalent in Nairobi.

While expats live in fancy apartments and lovely “estates” and live lives complete with housekeepers, drivers, and gardeners, most locals do not live quite so comfortably. Kibera has now outgrown its South African counterpart to become the biggest slum area in Africa. I’ll admit here that I have yet to go into either Kibera or Kangeme, our two largest slums, despite their proximity to where I live – a short distance by car but a world away in reality. If you are a fan of American Idol, you may have caught a glimpse of these places when Simon and Ryan visited last season.

The garbage heap you see here is depressingly close to Hubby’s office – it is literally in their backyard. It is also far larger than you can tell from this photo. Garbage is trucked here daily and left to be scavenged for treasures and then burned. The scent of burning trash is a familiar one all over the city and small plumes of smoke can be seen coming from private gardens and street corners alike.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t hope for a positive future. Many believe that the upcoming elections will herald change for the poor of Kenya. The major parties both say that corruption, the biggest hurdle to overcoming the current economic situation, will be brought to an end under their leadership. Only time will tell if patronage will continue to be the M.O. of the ruling parties of Kenya.

I often joke about not wanting to be a do-gooder but many of those young men and women who come to Kenya for just that purpose do a lot of good. Charitable organizations and NGOs have numerous projects specifically to assist the most needy of Kenyan citizens – from Aids orphans and street kids, to abused women and the elderly. While I’m not about to go out and join the Peace Corps, perhaps there isn’t any harm in lending a hand once in a while to proven projects that truly make a difference.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Flipping Out

I promised that after I gushed about Namibia (which is one of the most amazing places on the planet, in case you didn’t get that impression from my recent entries), I would talk a little about Kenya. I thought that I would start by talking about one of the non-profit groups that the Association is thinking of supporting.

Back in October, we had a Welcome Back Potluck Tea at the home of the Association’s Honorary Chairperson. Considering that her embassy provides a fairly standard house, it’s actually quite lovely, as she and her family have decorated it with their own impressive art collection. Everyone (who isn’t lazy and named Typ0) brought mouthwatering goodies sure to tempt even the most ardent of dieters. From brownies and cupcakes to empanadas and wada, there was something there to please every palate. Luckily for me, I was just starting South Beach and had a vast selection of water to choose from. (Not that I’m bitter.)

While the company was tolerable, as always, everyone in attendance agreed that the highlight of the afternoon were the "Ghetto Girls," an acrobatic troupe from the Sarakasi Trust who wowed the audience with their talent and skills. Imagine having Cirque de Soleil perform for your intimate party of 50 and that should give you an idea of the fabulousness of their act.

After seeing these girls perform, there was only one topic of discussion for the remainder of our tea – how to help support their cause. Oh, and buying them sports bras because they *really* needed them. It’s taken just over a month, but on Monday, a group of ladies headed over to their headquarters to see first hand what the organization is about and how we could help.

Sarakasi means acrobatics/circus in Kiswahili. The Sarakasi Trust, which was established locally in 2001, aims to nurture raw talent in the performing arts in children from disadvantaged backgrounds and neighborhoods. The objectives of the Trust are to promote public awareness, appreciation, and access to acrobatics, music, dance, physical theatre, and visual arts. Simply put, as the director told us on Monday, Sarakasi “is a positive way to show Kenya to the world.”

The students are not simply the insanely talented girls we saw last month. At its roots, the Trust goes into the slums and teaches acrobatics and dancing to disadvantaged kids. The people who teach these classes are graduates of the program and, more importantly, come from the same areas where they are now teaching. They know what it is like to live and survive in the Nairobi slums. The truly talented and gifted artists who emerge from these classes are the ones who form groups and attend set rehearsals at Sarakasi’s headquarters at “Go Down” in the Industrial Area.

But the Trust doesn't stop at simply honing the innate artistic skills of their students. They also teach them life skills including health and wellness, finance and money management, legal issues, and cultural transitions. These lessons will come in handy for many of the boys and girls supported by the Sarakasi Trust - their world-class skills have taken previous students around the world from the Netherlands to China.

One way they raise money is to have their groups come out and do shows like the one we enjoyed in October. In addition to putting on a good show and more than earning their fees, these shows also serve as free publicity. For example, from the demonstration they put on for us, we’ve advertised for them in our newsletter, I’m blogging about them, and several people are talking to them about performances at their own parties.

During our visit they also told us about new programs they were instituting including a “girl’s empowerment program” and perhaps even a daycare for those artists with young children at home.

What struck me the most about the first time I saw the Ghetto Girls perform was reinforced when we visited this week – everyone seemed sincerely happy. I have visited other projects before where the people who worked there and the people these projects were helping seemed unhappy, like they didn’t want to be there with that group of people. Sarakasi was different – people weren’t just smiling for our benefit, they were laughing and seemed legitimately happy to be there. I don’t know if I am explaining the feeling I received from them well enough but being there made me happy and I left with a smile a mile wide.

Sarakasi, of course, is only one story. With more than a million people living in areas like Kabete, there are many worthy causes and charities in Nairobi and many people who need assistance – not just money, but teachers, nurses, doctors, and capable people willing to help. But I chose to tell you about Sarakasi because it is important to remember the one thing that these talented acrobats, dancers, and artists have no shortage of – hope.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Our Best Hobbies

You may have gathered by now that Hubby and I had a good time in Namibia. It was a trip filled fabulous firsts and wonderful second chances. From having what he described as “the best calamari ever” while I enjoyed a huge pot of amazing muscles (I’m now officially an addict), at the Raft in Walvis Bay to shopping trips that made our credit card companies proud, we had an all around enjoyable time.

When we last visited Windhoek in 2001, I saw a beautiful hand crafted wooden Nativity scene that I loved. Only I didn’t buy it at the time. Whether my restraint was due to the amount I already bought that day at the Craft Centre or Hubby’s pointing out that we already had (an ugly) crèche at home, I’m not sure. What I do know, is that I’ve regretted it ever since. But no longer! A return trip to the capital gave me an opportunity to track down elusive memory.

I would have been very happy with my fairly inexpensive purchase since it was the main item on my “’Gotta Have It” list but I think we all know that the shopping didn’t end there.

Although the popular “Tusk” t-shirt shop in Swakopmund has almost doubled the prices of its wares Hubby still managed to leave Namibia with two new shirts: a garishly orange golf shirt from the Desert Explorers, and a lovely Namibian rugby jersey to add to his already large collection of national sport shirts. He also purchased yet another pair of “vellies” or “Swakupmunders” the famous locally made kudu leather shoes. (Before anyone worries about animal rights, don’t forget that Hubby had Kudu for dinner on Thursday night, so using the leather for a new pair of shoes was his really him being circle of life friendly!)

So I had a wooden Nativity scene, and Hubby had two shirts and a new pair shoes. I obviously needed to get shopping before his purchases managed to eclipse mine. I weighed my options between a new carpet/wall hanging that Hubby liked and the chance to purchase another necklace and restore my status as “the necklace whore.” I decided that I could live with blank walls.

We were in the jewelry store for at least 45 minutes trying on different necklaces to see which we liked best. We narrowed our choices down to three – one with a lovely blue stone, one with a mahogany pendant, and this one. It was then that I was again reminded that my plumpness could occasionally come in handy because where a skinny woman would have looked silly wearing the slightly chunky necklace I eventually chose, it looks great on me!

But all these purchases meant only one thing: that our budget was shot and our vacation was over. It was time to return north to Kenya. As we drove back to toward the Windhoek airport we reminisced about our brief Namibian holiday… and started planning our next return.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Beautiful Shade of Desert

If you’ve been following this blog through our last few vacations then you know that Hubby and I like to do something someone adventurous and cool whenever we go. Whether it’s parasailing in Mauritius or visiting famous porn sites in the Seychelles we like to be able to say that we left our mark and tried something new on every holiday. Well, October’s trip to Namibia was no different!

Our initial plan had been to go dune surfing, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You strap on a snowboard and sail down the huge dunes that dot the Namibian coast. For those people who are not as adventurous, you can also fly down the sand seated on a sheet of plastic. The downside to this bit adrenalin rush, according to our guidebooks, is that you need to be really in shape. Unlike skiing, you have to walk up to the stop of this hill before every run.

Based upon this information we quickly reassessed our plans for the day and consulted the guidebooks for further inspiration. We eventually realized that a compromise was in order. The desert was beautiful and deserved to be explored, but we were in no shape to be climbing those giant sand hills all day. Riding ATV’s, or quad bikes as they were called here, was the only answer.

After a bit of research, we chose our quad bike company – the Desert Explorers – who were quite proud of the fact that Brad and Angelina visited them numerous times during their Namibian stay. For only $50US per person we would have an hour and half out on the dunes with our guide, Paulus and two German guys out for a similar adventure. Paulus later told us how luck we were to have such a small party; during their high season some groups would be as large as 70 people.

Since none of us had ever been quad biking before, the first order of business was a very quick instructional and safety review. “If you do that you will die. If you fail to do this you will die.” It was a fabulous boost to my self-confidence. The first decision we had to make was whether we wanted to ride the blue manual bikes or the green automatic ones. Hubby and I looked over the foot-operated clutch and gears on the blue bikes and immediately signed our uncoordinated selves up for the green ones.

Paulus, the guide, knew the confusing maze of dunes like the back of his hand and took us several miles into the dessert. We laughed that if he left us we would likely never be able to find our way out. He also knew his smaller and more lightweight bike so well that he kept popping wheelies whilst I was struggling to keep up and not stall my bike.

Which brings us to m confession – I got stuck not once, not twice, but three times. Did anyone else get stuck? Not a one. Hubby will point out that he did, but that was actually my fault since I was riding in front of him in the line. Not only was our guide good about it, but also so were the Germans who were very patient with my slightly slower pace and occasional “get Typ0 ‘s bike unstuck” moments. While I seemed incapable of getting myself to the top of some hills, Hubby, on the other hand, had problems steering his bike. This meant that neither of us (me due to my slight cowardice and fear of tipping over) fully took advantage of the “roller coasters.”

The Typ0 inspired breaks, I should note, were greatly appreciated and needed. While some members of our party quoted the chilly air as the reason for their numb hands, my problem was the constant vibrations of the bike itself. And since I couldn’t let go of the handle (since that’s where the accelerator was) I found my hands unable to unclench on those rare occasions when we paused for a moment.

Only two times was the entire group paused and warned to take the next downward hill slowly. Each of those was a very sheer drop straight down. My way of confronting these slightly scary moments was to drive my vehicle to the very edge until gravity took over and dragged my bike and me over the edge with a cry of, “Damn! Here I go! Gravity sucks!!!” Hubby’s approach was slightly different – he just went right over the edge with a bit of humor in his own kamikaze yell. “I’m Richard Quest in Namibia!”

Let me pause in my adventurous story to tell you how incredibly beautiful the desert is. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t seen it first hand. But the very starkness of all that sand is breathtaking. The undulating dunes, the vast colors to be seen the in sand, and even the stillness and peace of standing in the midst of all of this combined to take everyone’s breath away.

When we turned our bikes back toward the Explorer’s home base, we stopped for a break near the ocean and we were dumbstruck once again. Here we were standing in the midst of what most people would describe as complete lack of water – the desert – and yet we were only a short distance from the gorgeous blue wildness of the ocean. But that’s Namibia – a country of contrasts where all these things that shouldn’t fit together simply do.; and in a way that makes you wonder if the fabled Eden might not have been a bit like this wonderous African country.

Our quad biking adventure, we both agreed from the very moment we arrived back into the Desert Explorer lot, was one of the most exhilarating of our entire lives. Racing over the dunes following the jacket in front of you and the tracks they left behind them, all the while learning the new skill of quad biking on the fly was both terrifying and joyous. A little bit like real life – only so much more beautiful.