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.