2007 Walleigh Travel Journal: Living & Working in Nairobi + Traveling Eastern Africa

in Africa, Blog, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Zanzibar

Dec. 3, 2007 – Still in Emotional & Physical Transit through December 5th

Though we landed in California late on Nov. 18th and spent the night at 1050 Fremont, we left again 36 hours later on Nov. 20th morning.  We had been warned of culture shock when re-entering our old lives. But we’ve spent Nov. 20 to December 5th in Washington D.C. at Rick’s mother’s house, with family. Being in transit at airports and places not-our-home seem perfectly normal! Rick has worked at TechnoServe headquarters in D.C. for 1.5 weeks, while I was also in Boston with my aunt and uncle or our kids for a few days. The reality—and surreality—will likely hit us on December 6th.

Lasting Impressions from our Last Days
It’s Always the People the Walleighs Miss Most

We are so lucky to have worked closely and gotten to know many local Kenyans—from our office especially as well as a few ex-pats and clients. They know who they are so all I’ll say is thank you.  Rick and I have been extremely fortunate that our love of adventure and exploring new cultures coincided so well with finding a way to use our technical, business and life experiences and skills. The benefits from our encore careers in Africa will reverberate through the rest of our lives and travels!

Two of our most memorable clients were both young women. One young woman was a finalist in our business plan competition.  During the final training week to prepare to present her business plan to the judges, she felt unwell on Monday; Tuesday she went to the hospital to have her appendix removed; Wednesday evening she returned to the training site with her mother and sister to help her recover; and Thursday she pitched successfully to the judges.  She was awarded the top cash prize of Ksh. 1 million (~US$15,000) on Saturday morning at “graduation.”  Talk about entrepreneurial drive…

The 2nd special young woman is Cecilia from our Young Women in Enterprise program (see her success story).

She already employs a few friends to do sewing piece-work for her knitted products. Rick and I are investing in Cecilia by loaning her the money for a new, more efficient knitting machine to meet her increased demand. Also TechnoServe has helped her rent her own small shop in anticipation so that she’s not working long hours in the dark at her non-electrified, Mukuru slum homestead. Cecilia was recently featured in the new Kenyan magazine, Business Women so we are hopeful about her business success.

All of these amazing, capable people who warmly allowed us into their lives, will help Africa move fully into the 20th and 21st centuries.  We will miss them for now but know we will see them again.

411 is 991 in Nairobi

Rick and I wanted to have dinner at the main dining room in the old Norfolk Hotel which has been under renovation near downtown Nairobi.  Our apartment didn’t have a phone book, so I looked up the number online.  One of the hotel’s listed main lines was continuously busy and the other was wrong.  But the recorded message sent me to 991, Directory Assistance. The operator was very nice and tried to be helpful but she could not find a working number for this Nairobi landmark either. So she asked for my phone number, said she’d continue searching, and would call me back shortly, which she indeed did  Meanwhile I’d also found 2 different phone number online, so between the 2 of us, I reached the Norfolk Hotel.  When I mentioned to them my difficulty in reaching them, the staff acknowledged that they’d been having phone problems…Except for the very helpful Directory Assistor, it was classic T.I.A!

Electricity Glitches

In early November, President Kibaki finally announced official elections on 27th December, kicking off crazy traffic everywhere as politicians flung their campaigns into high gear.  Coincidentally, our electricity in Westlands, where we lived and worked, began to have power outages even more frequently than usual.  I guess the fact this is a high ex-pat area means less local voters so who cares what happens to our electricity and traffic, right?

Last Weekend with Anna & Greg

Our closest friends in Kenya had moved to Arusha, Tanzania a few weeks before, but they recognized that a visit to Nairobi’s better food, shopping, and other amenities was a monthly requirement so they planned to visit before we left. The 4 of us went out to dinner at Orchid, a favorite gourmet Thai restaurant on Friday night and Talisman on Sunday for our favorite brunch. On Monday, just Anna and I had lunch at our favorite “coffee” shop, Java House, then spent the rest of the afternoon in serious retail therapy. Nairobi is a fun city to shop, eat and explore with great friends!

Nairobi to the U.S.

Another classic image of Africa was our time spent in the 1st Class Lounge at Nairobi Airport, which looked like an all-night diner rather than the typical Admirals Club in Western airports. Because our flights from Brussels to NYC then to SFO were in Business Class, we qualified for the special lounges at all airports. The Nairobi lounge’s most memorable low point was the ladies’ room toilet–1950s’ pink with no seat.  Oh well, one more T.i.A.!

Fast forward to our landing in Brussels, with the sun rising on a new day as we return to the west. Hoping that our luggage was with us, we headed for the Admirals Club where we settled in comfortably for our few hours’ lay-over. The 2 women sitting next to us seemed to know each other, as well as people in common from the U.N.  They were bemoaning the implementation of policy for Sudan. Their frustration reminded us of why we work for TechnoServe whose total focus is program implementation to create positive impact on the quality of life and incomes among the poor. We cannot imagine working for large NGO (non-governmental organization) bureaucracies like the U.N., World Bank, and International Monetary Fund.  We know that we have been very fortunate to have seen some results of our work with young women, entrepreneurs, and agriculture.

Taking off from Brussels on time, we luxuriate in our Business Class seats, watch lots of movies, and enjoy decent food. Being on airplanes and in transit seemed relatively normal for us. It still didn’t feel like we were going home.  It was only when we landed in JFK, picked up our luggage and dropped it back for our next flight after customs that we realized we were actually headed home.  I think it may have been the efficiency, speed and professionalism of U.S. personnel vs. Africa.  Even though our next flight to SFO was delayed, once we had boarded the plane, we were kept informed, given soft drinks, and watched taped TV. Six hours after departure we arrived at SFO which seemed familiar yet surreal at the same time.  A friend picked us up, we stuffed our 7 suitcases plus 2 carry-ons into her SUV, drove down Route 280, and arrived at 1050 Fremont. Home except for the last year and a half…

October 6 to 20 with Our Family and Friends in E. Africa

Rather than trying to review our daily activities and excitement with the amazing amount and kinds of animals we saw, I’ll focus on a few truly stellar activities.  All of our accommodations were updated and upscale versions of the old-style tent-safaris–except these tents had permanent floors, ceilings, and “en suite” bathrooms.  The worst hardship we faced was getting up in the dark at 5:30 for a 6:00 a.m. game drive!  And all of us shared 2 unique experiences for the first time: walking with chimps and trekking to see gorillas in Uganda.

Quality Time with Adult Children

First of all, having quality time with Adrian, Diana, and our nephew Nathan was a gift. We really enjoy our adult children!  1st Diana and Nathan arrived 2 days ahead of Adrian, and Nathan left 36+ hours earlier than Adrian and Diana, so we had quality time with each.  Rick and I have grown to be very flexible about our traveling conditions in Africa, so it was fun being able to joke about those standards with the kids without being mean-spirited.

More Leopard and Cheetah Sightings in 1 Week than all Previous Safaris

At Lewa Conservancy, The Mara, and even The Ark, with almost daily morning and evening game drives, we experienced more sightings of rare animals than our 2 weeks in 1997 in similar or the exact same locations. We saw leopards, cheetahs and lions almost daily where Rick and I saw 1 leopard and 1 cheetah from long distances a decade before.  I think what made it even more special for me was knowing that the kids and friends were experiencing these animals, landscapes, and cultures for the first time. That re-ignited our own excitement by sharing “our adopted home” with them.

Watching, Walking and Hugging Chimpanzees at Ngamba Sanctuary

Though Rick and I had experienced trekking to see wild chimps in Murchison Falls National Park’s jungle in northwestern Uganda, we would not have time to repeat that, so our friend instead suggested a Chimp Sanctuary near Entebbe, Uganda, the main airport for Kampala. It is situated on Ngamba Island, about 1-hour’s boat ride on Lake Victoria.

Unfortunately all of us had some negative previews of the island because the staff rigidly required proof of more inoculations than for any place we had ever traveled, including Hep B (for health and sex workers) and polio and meningitis boosters. However, if our expectations had been better set, we would have understood the cause for the aggravation and expense (Diana had to pay $700 for shots but not the extra $400 for doctors’ visits due to professional courtesy),.  Each family was actually going to walk, hold and interact WITH the youngest chimps!  More on that in a bit…

Leaving some luggage with our Ugandan travel agent before boarding the boat to the island, as we approached Ngamba we saw Robinson Crusoe-like thatched roof huts along the edge of the jungle. Our group took up the majority of tent facilities for the night.  In fact Adrian, Michelle & Chris were in mobile tents with an outdoor shower.

Rescued Chimps

Before lunch, we had an orientation to the sanctuary by the vet who told us how most chimps were rescued from pet traders (who had purchased young ones from poachers who had killed the family) to sell to Westerners who thought chimps would make great pets.  Though adorable when little, chimps are aggressive and violent as adults so sometimes they are abandoned after a few years as pets. The island’s forest is beyond maximum capacity for chimps to feed as they do in the wild, so adult chimps go to the jungle during the day but return to the camp for feedings.  Almost all chimps sleep in the enclosure where there are hammocks hung from the roof to simulate the nests they would make in the wild.  Each night, the chimps take fresh straw from the enclosure floor to make up their beds in a different spot from the previous night.

All females are on birth control because the sanctuary is too small to hold more than the adults and babies who are rescued.  However, that creates a problem for the little ones because females, who have no parenting experience, don’t know how to mother them. So the babies imprint onto the human handlers who give them intensive care when they are first brought to the shelter.  One exception was the young female who managed to remove the birth control implant from her arm, got pregnant, and raised the baby in the sanctuary.  Interestingly, other females are starting to mimic her mothering because one rescued baby has been adopted by a chimp mom.

Snack Time for Chimps is Viewing Time for Us

After our lunch, we headed to watch the chimps return from the forest to the outdoor enclosure where the handlers tossed fruit and veggie snacks to them. It was impressive to see a couple of them use sticks as tools to retrieve oranges that had rolled under the edge of the electric fence surrounding the enclosure.  It’s almost impossible not to project human thoughts and emotions when they seem to be happy, angry, selfish (hoarding carrots), wanting more treats, etc.

Walleighs Join a Chimp Gang

About 5pm as the Walleighs were preparing to walk into the forest with the smallest chimps, we watched the adults come into their cage-like enclosure to sleep for the night.  If even one did not return, the handlers would only have taken us out to the outer enclosure for our walk because the adults are so large and aggressive that even one feeling threatened in “its home” would be very dangerous.  But they all returned, ate their evening porridge—then begged for more.  The vet sprayed anti-bacterial medicine on a couple of chimps who had small injuries (e.g., cuts or scrapes from fighting).  Like little kids who want the attention, they kept putting their hands (or feet) out again for more.

Then Adrian, Rick, Diana and I, suited up in green coveralls like the handlers, went to the edge of the field and watched as about 7 young chimps scampered out toward us. Within moments we experienced truly how these primates carry more than 98% of human genes. We had been warned that some of these youngsters were about 40 kilos but it was still a surprise when the largest chimp jumped up into my arms. Even though I transferred Billy to my back, I could only walk a short distance.  Somehow Rick and Adrian carried the littlest ones.  Thankfully, we soon stopped in a clearing to play, tickle and groom them-and be amused by their farting a lot from their porridge dinner. At one point, there was a screech from Billy who had wandered off.  All the chimps in the clearing got scared, jumped into the arms of the nearest human, and wanted to be held.  I will never forget the moment that the little guy I was grooming climbed into my lap, put his arms around me and held on tightly. The hour walk was over too soon. The feel of his hairy body, soft hands and feet will remain in my mind forever.

Over dinner that night and breakfast the next morning, all we could talk about was the amazing feeling of playing with these close cousins of ours.  Less than 24 hours after we arrived at Ngamba, we were back on the boat to Entebbe.

Our 1st Charter Flights Ever are on Planes Also Used for Humanitarian Missions

Returning to Entebbe Airport, we left even more luggage with our driver in order to meet our charter plane’s allowance of 5kg. (~12 lbs.) per person, including cameras, changes of clothes, raingear, etc.

Air Serv’s Tourist Charters Subsidize Humanitarian Missions

We understood the weight limitations once we saw our 9-passenger plane.  Our flight over East Africa’s savannahs, jungles and mountains was enjoyable and enlightening for many reasons. Air Serv, the charter organization, subsidizes its many humanitarian aid flights by doing custom tourist flights like ours. These same highly-trained pilots fly into African war zones to deliver food and medicine. To date, the sign on the side of the plane clearly indicating there are no weapons on board, has successfully prevented so-called freedom fighters from shooting down Air Serv…

Diana as Honorary Co-Pilot Without Flight Duties

The pilot was an Afrikaaner (South African of Dutch heritage–for those who’ve not read Power of One…) fellow in his early 30s who allowed Diana to sit in the co-pilot seat.  She did look very anxious before take-off, but she was calm for the actual flight.  Diana later did question why the pilot was reading maps, not holding the steering wheel, and did he really know the way to Bwindi.

Some Airstrips are More Exciting Than Others

The short, grass airstrip at Kayonza near Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was fine to land 10 of us.  However, the pilot forewarned us that on the return flight to Entebbe, he would have to ferry half our party to Mbarara Airstrip about 30 minutes away then go back for the rest.  The good news was that the hard dirt airstrip at Mbarara is long enough for a 10-person plane to take off.  It was an bonus flight that we didn’t even have to pay for!

Pygmy Tribes in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

The benefits of saving the last remaining 700 or so mountain gorillas are obvious to anyone who supports wildlife conservation.  The downside is the displacement of Pygmy tribes who until a few years ago lived in the forest and hunt local animals as their main source of protein.  To complete the protection of the gorillas, the Uganda Wildlife Authority removed all the tribes to the forest’s border villages.  Thrust into a foreign environment, these primitive people suffered new diseases because they did not have a protein source to quickly replace the bush meat on which they had depended.  During our guided community walk, a nearby Pygmy tribe came out of the forest to sell us hand-made crafts and perform some of their traditional stomping dances.  All of us bought something from them in the hopes that the money will help offset their difficult situation.  The local medical clinic which Diana visited, is making some progress to help improve their health with education and medicine.  Intellectually it’s easy to say that the nearly-extinct mountain gorillas are critical to save. But after we saw the local human population’s further distress, we recognize how tough a choice it is to trade-off that animals being more important than people…

Armed Guards Accompany Us During Our Bwindi Town & Jungle Walks

We were only 1 km. from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has “freedom fighters” who are violent and unpredictable.  So armed guards with AK-47s accompanied us any time we left our lodge.  At night, men with large bows and arrows walked through our compound. The guerillas have in the past kidnapped and killed tourists but more recently butchered the 1st troop of gorillas to be habituated. Gorillas’ 3 “home” parks are within 100 km. of each other in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC.  The last baby gorilla from that troop was slaughtered at the end of Sept. 2007 only 2 weeks before we arrived. Bwindi guides were so upset by these deaths that at risk to their own lives, they trekked into the DRC park to rescue their “friends” and give their bodies a proper burial.  The courage on one side and the cowardice on the other, with so many innocents caught between…

10 Feet from Gorillas in the Rainforest

With shoes still wet from our disastrous hike through Bwindi Town and surrounding area in torrential rains, we all had an early breakfast then drove to the trail head where we were assigned to our group of 8 (24 people in 3 groups is the daily maximum allowed to see gorillas). By 8:00 a.m. we were trekking over a mountain into the rainforest.  It was a steep climb up and down dirt trails covered with vines—not as romantic when you’re doing it as it looks in the old jungle movies.  But when the advanced scouts tracking our “assigned” gorilla family radioed the primates’ location, we knew that this $500 per person (permit cost only, not including transportation, food and lodging) experience was about to prove its worth. Within 30 minutes, we were standing about 10 feet away from 7 of the last 700 Mountain Gorillas.  Unlike our chimp-cousins, gorillas are very gentle, definitely vegetarian, and pretty much ignored our presence.  They continued pulling vines into their mouths, calmly chewing away, while we stared and snapped hundreds of photos.  The only excitement was when Adrian accidentally (really, truly) came too close to the troop, so the silverback charged through the jungle to insert himself nearer to his family.  All of us had been “oriented” by our guides at our last stop before the gorillas, that if a gorilla should approach, we should stand quietly, heads down, and never look into their eyes.  Adrian immediately went into calm, submissive mode and the gorillas carried on as if nothing happened.

As soon as we returned to Buhoma Lodge around 2:00 p.m., we showered, had lunch, and sat glued to the veranda’s sofas to contemplate (with beer in hand) our adventure with the gorillas. Even without that brief scare, seeing these amazing primates in the wild rainforest was an lifetime experience to always treasure.

Diana Volunteers at “Special” Clinic at Nairobi’s Gertrude Hospital

Through a TechnoServe friend, Diana and I were able to visit Gertrude Children’s Hospital in the Muthaiga area of Nairobi.  It is the best pediatric facility in Kenya and possibly Africa. Briefly we met with the CEO who introduced us to the Chief Pediatrician.  He answered a few of Diana’s questions before handing us over to a pediatrician in the clinic, with whom we thought she’d spend another few minutes observing him with a patient. Diana and I walked into the patient examination room with a healthy toddler and her mother.  But the doctor insisted that for the patient’s (and probably his) comfort (and in the U.S., privacy laws), I would need to wait outside.

All HIV/AIDS Patients that Day in Clinic

Rather than sit in the patients’ lobby on this beautiful day, I sat in the garden outside. I noticed the sign above the clinic entrance said “Dental Clinic,” which was clearly through the next door, “Well Baby Clinic,” and “Specialist Clinic.”  As I watched children and mothers traipse in and out of the lobby, I assumed the patients were having well-baby checkups.  When Diana emerged about an hour later, she said that she had been quite surprised that she was volunteering to examine young HIV/AIDS patients.  After another hour, Diana came out, clearly upset by what she’d seen, saying, “This is all so preventable.  Pregnant HIV-positive mothers can in 99% of the cases prevent their babies from contracting this disease by taking freely available medicine in their last trimester then not breast-feeding.”  But she was also moved by the courage of two older children with full-blown AIDS.  One young girl was now blind and stopped going to school. Another young man was still in school but clearly ostracized from his school-mates, as is typical across Africa.

HIV/AIDS Children in the Hospital Lobby

Diana and I walked out past the front lobby to see if we could grab a taxi, but after a few minutes, we called our TechnoServe driver to pick us up where he had dropped us off.  We returned to the lobby to wait for him and saw very sick little patients.  Shortly, some young white women carried a transparent crate with 3 babies inside into the triage room off the lobby.  They went back out, brought in a few more crates, and also carried several toddlers in their arms.  Diana got up to help them, talked to the people in charge of the children, and found out that these were HIV positive orphans coming in to get tested so those without AIDS might be placed into Western families.

Several Sad Ironies

1.      Gertrude’s main campus is in Muthaiga, one of Nairobi’s highest-end neighborhoods, where many foreign embassies (and families) are located along with U.N. personnel.

2.      The Chief Pediatrician described Gertrude’s as a private, very successful hospital, #1 in pediatrics in Kenya and maybe Africa. About 80% of patients have respiratory illnesses, 10+% have stomach problems, and 10% other.  .

3.      However on Mondays and Fridays, they have a “specialist clinic” to see HIV/AIDS related children Our guess was that possibly up to 40% of total patients suffer from HIV/AIDS which is nearly totally preventable through free medicine available today.

4.      The babies and toddlers in the lobby were being re-tested because their prior tests done elsewhere had been done poorly. Several recently-adopted children now had full AIDS, despite being “certified” only HIV postitive  a few months earlier.

5.      They were at Gertrude Hospital to ensure proper testing of the remaining children, though the lab was trying to charge Ksh. 800 per child (~$12).  The Hospital agreed to Ksh. 500.

6.      Free, good HIV/AIDS test kits are available in Nairobi and throughout Africa via U.S. PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief).

Kenya Wildlife Service’ Poor Administration Causes an Almost Fiasco

Our friends stayed one more day in Kampala before returning to the U.S. and our nephew Nathan had to leave the next morning, so just Rick, Adrian, Diana and I had an appointment with Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage to visit our adopted babies, Shimba and Lempaute.  Our travel agency had loaned us a driver for the afternoon. We knew that it was not a good sign when he picked us up at Village Market about 3:30 and told us that traffic was too bad to reach Sheldrick by 5:00pm.  Rick directed him onto a couple of back streets to which the driver reacted annoyed though we did make faster progress.  He drove us to the Sheldrick entrance, one of the back gates of Nairobi National Park, where we had entered with Diana and Nathan 2 weeks earlier.  Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) refused to let us into that gate and directed us back to the main park entrance.  We reached the main KWS facility to be told that we must pay full park fees to enter Sheldrick, and yes the policy had recently changed.  KWS officials directed us to walk to among several buildings until we paid $40 non-resident per person (Rick is the only official Kenya Resident but didn’t have his stamped passport).  One very nice guard felt sorry for us so he volunteered to accompany us back to Sheldrick inside Nairobi Park.  After stopping to allow several giraffes to cross the road, we eventually arrived at Sheldrick at 5:30 (even that was a miracle). The Sheldrick officials told us that 3 days prior, KWS sent them a letter notifying them about the new requirement of full park fee payment, and since then their visitors were down by 80%!  Excuse me, but who wins on this brilliant policy???

However, the next hour was a wonderful cure for the previous one because we touched, played, and talked to several small elephants, including our Shimba and Lempaute.  Though elephants are not in our human family tree, they exhibit (and we project) playfulness, need for touching, and bonding with their “parents” (human handlers).  In other words, they are totally cuddly and adorable!  By the time we left for dinner nearby in Karen at one of our favorite restaurants, Talisman, the world was a lovely place once again.

September 28 — You Missed the Party at Our House

Though some Americans are always fashionably late, here it is the norm to pop in much after the official start to a gathering.  Since we were hosting a 1:00 p.m. Friday afternoon lunch “Nyoma Choma” (barbequed goat with all the fixing’s), we chose to only serve juice, water and soft drinks.  By almost 8:00 p.m. when the last of our colleagues left, about 3 bottles of alcohol (they purchased) and several beers later, we had divided up the remaining food and sent everyone off happy and a bit tipsy.  One of our office-mates admitted that Kenyans do like their alcohol, so I guess that’s the Kenyan idea of a “pot-luck” meal!

September 27 — The Challenge of Giving/Receiving Directions in Africa

Unlike our life in the U.S., we hadn’t entertained friends at our home.  So we invited our office colleagues to what was originally going to be a pot-luck party. Apparently pot-luck is a very foreign concept.  I instead hired a local caterer to cook typical African food.  I got our apartment manager’s permission to host the party by the pool, so I wanted the caterer to see the layout to better plan what her staff needed.  We were to meet at our apartment about 5:30pm.  I had given her directions (there are no street addresses, no Google maps, and Africans generally don’t use paper maps).  She was late getting through the always-miserable downtown Nairobi traffic but called about 6:30 p.m. to say, “We’re lost!”  Since I couldn’t give her any more help than I already had, being directionally-challenged myself, I whisked downstairs to the guard-house so that a guard could give her directions.  A few minutes later she called back, further lost, so back downstairs to the gate I flew.  Another guard gave her directions.  This time it was lucky that I stayed by the gate.  A 3rd then 4th guard gave her directions after another few minutes.  One even went to the street corner, though we didn’t have her car description.  The 4th guard “talked her down” but by then she had parked the car and was walking.  She and her party manager turned up shortly, both embarrassed.

Sept. 26 – Working at Home

One more thing I brought back from Ethiopia was the Part 2 of my coughing cold from a couple of weeks before. After a couple days of “fighting through it” I surrendered and stayed at home to work.  Thank heavens for the Internet access at our apartment, lots of sunlight, plenty of liquids, etc.  Most of all I’m grateful for my inhaler left over from 2006’s asthmatic-like bronchitis.

September 23 — Stepping Forward 2 Centuries to Return from Fascinating, Haunting Ethiopia

On Sept. 14th the plane left Nairobi 2 hours late, but we were met on time by a driver and guide then were driven to the Ararat Hotel in Addis Ababa to meet Mr. Habtamu, our hosting travel agent.  The roads were definitely less pot-holed than Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.  Even though we hit Addis’ afternoon rush hour, by comparison there was much less traffic than Nairobi at non-rush-hour.

Despite its touting that it hosted the Ethiopian Olympic athletes some years back, the Ararat Hotel would have rated less than 0-Stars on the international hotel scale.  I strongly requested that Mr. Habtamu give us the names of the hotels at which we would stay for the next 4 cities, so he hand-wrote them on our itinerary.  He assured us we were staying at “all the best hotels.”  We had an early, tasteless dinner since we were to fly out of Addis at 7:10am the next morning, but at least we knew where we were going…

We WERE warned about Ethiopia

…by Anna and Greg that: 1) Ethiopian Airways flights delayed them each leg of their journey to/within Ethiopia on their trip earlier in 2007; 2) the country was dusty; 3) the hotels were low caliber (Motel 6 is luxurious by comparison); and 4) the food was mediocre at best.  The bad news was that they were right.  The good news was: only 4 out of 6 flights were delayed.  And it was muddy, not dusty due to the highest rainfall season in 30 years.  Thus went our 8 days.  On the 9th day, we rested.

Ethiopian Orthodox Calendar’s Millennium

It might have been worse if we were visiting during the actual Ethiopian Millennium, approx. Sept. 11.  The Ethiopian Orthodox calendar is seven years behind the “standard” Christian calendar, so the benefit is that “you can be seven years younger in Ethiopia.”  We could not find a really good reason for the delta, nor for many other events.  As Anna had pointed out before we left, despite the fact that Ethiopia’s many religious documents herald back to 4th century A.D. or earlier, no 2 stories were consistent from city to city about the religion or important events.  Ethiopians are proud of their heritage, which incorporates a lot of Jewish traditions since their kings “were all descended from King Solomon”.  In many ways Ethiopia has been arrested in time, having been an isolated kingdom in the heart of sub-Saharan Africa,.

Time Moves Slowly for the Ethiopian People

What I had begun to observe in Addis, hit me with a blast in Bahir Dar.  The Ethiopians were by far the gauntest, most ragged, barefoot people we had seen in Africa.  Even the donkeys, goats, cattle and sheep look scrawny and miserable.  Almost half of the people we passed wore traditional clothes, i.e., robes/shawls and hats or head-covering.  Additionally, many carried walking sticks over a shoulder, sometimes with bundles hanging off like “hoboes” and/or umbrellas either over their shoulders with or unfurled to block the hot sun.  Whether the streets were paved, muddy, rocky or clear, Ethiopians were walking for miles in all directions, though there were huge distances between villages.  This country of 70+ million people seems to always be moving, with not a lot of places to go.  The per capita income is $120.00 per annum so the time-worn phrase “starving children in Ethiopia” may continue to be a prediction for a while.

De-forested Countryside

Ethiopia is mountainous and generally high above sea level which contributed to its isolation for the last 2,000 years. Though normally very dusty, Ethiopia was a lush, green, dramatic landscape with lots of wildflowers, including small, yellow, mustard-like Mascal, for which there would soon be a major festival.  Most noticeable after a while, though, was the lack of trees which have been cut down by the exploding population for traditional firewood-cooking.  Some government effort is under way to re-forest, but it may be too late for this land to support so many people.

Feudal Kings and Government

Legend (with little proven fact) says that the Queen of Sheba (a.k.a. Sabea, Abyssinia, Ethiopia, Axum, etc.) visited King Solomon, her intellectual peer.  They exchanged more than knowledge.  She begat Menelik I, from whom almost all Ethiopian Kings were descended, including Emperor Haile Selassie who died in 1974.  The notable exceptions were the kings who built the majority of the stone-hewn churches for which Ethiopia is now famous and why we were touring.

Despite Italy’s attempts in the late 1800s, the Ethiopians are very proud that they were never colonized—except for their former region of Eritrea which Italy had conquered and Italy’s WWII occupation of Ethiopia for 4 years.

Bahir Dar, Where Time Starts Reversing

We left the Ararat Hotel at 5:30a.m., having had to push the barely-awake staff to serve us some breakfast.  The flight from Addis to Bahir Dar was actually on time, arriving at 8:00 a.m.  Our guide and driver drove us through downtown Bahir Dar where we saw so many people (75% Christian and 25% Muslim) traditionally dressed in shawls/robes and head-coverings, often walking near donkeys, goats, cattle, etc.  We checked in quickly to the seedy Tana Resort Hotel overlooking lovely Lake Tana, the largest body of water in land-locked Ethiopia at 70 x 60 km.  Our enthusiastic guide hustled us off to a boat ride across Lake Tana.  We stopped to visit Azuwa Maryam, a 700 year old monastery that is the oldest in the city.  The monastery’s outer shell and roof could be any home in Ethiopia, but the inner shell is covered with frescoes, telling the Bible stories about the birth/life/death of Jesus and his family.  After less than an hour, we were back on the boat, to visit one edge of Lake Tana, the “mysterious source” of the Blue Nile.  Due to the biggest rainy season in 3 decades, the silt in the lake and river turned the water brown.  That did not prevent many people from bathing, washing clothes, fishing and gathering drinks in the water everywhere we looked.  Our last stop for the day was the famous weekly market, where it looked as though thousands of people were walking through mud and garbage to shop for anything and everything among the crowded stalls.  By 1:00 p.m. we were back in the hotel for lunch and a free afternoon.  Lunch was mediocre and dinner looked like more of the same, so I skipped dinner for a Luna Bar and packet of almonds.  We went to bed early.

Day 2 was more of day 1, including the accommodations and meals.  We drove down the main street of Bahir Dar, where our guide proudly pointed to the 2 traffic lights (totally for show).  The Ethiopian Orthodox Church services are 5 hours long with no sitting.  The men stand separately from the women.  If people tire, they are given tall, crutch-like sticks upon which to lean.  We began to notice contradictions in stories, despite our seeing so many books written in Ge’ez (200 characters with a few letters looking like Hebrew), the ancient language for religious writing…

Frogs in the Bahir Dar Night

About 3am I woke to use the toilet when I noticed in front of the bathroom door, there was a frog about 2.5 inches long from nose to toes. We both minded our own business.  The next night, I looked forward to froggy’s return.  Instead there were 2 tiny frogs in the bathtub so we decided to leave in the tub and skip showering.  Those 3 frogs were my fondest memories of the Tana Lake Resort Hotel.

Slow Pace of Poverty Noted on the Road to Gondar

Rather than spend 2 to 3 hours at the Bahir Dar airport for a 30 minute flight, if it was on time, we were driven to Gondar, our next historic city on the tour.  Scattered across the countryside were homes that reminded me of the 3 Little Pigs’ houses:  most were made of straw, straw and mud, or sticks and mud.  Some were leaning.

Ethiopians still use wooden plowshares pulled by oxen to plow the fields they have sown with the same crops for hundreds of years.   Crops and grass are cut by a number of people squatting with small hand-scythes.  There’s little to no water-harvesting for home supply or irrigation. Women and children carry water from great distances.  Everything seems to be accomplished the hardest way with the most painstaking slowness.  But I guess poverty gives people a lot of time to fill.

Interest in Gondar due to Abyssinian Baptist Church Members

After we drove into Gondar, we visited the Deborah Birham Selassie Church built by King Isanyu in the 1600s, the only one of 44 churches not destroyed by the Dervishes’ (Whirling kind) attack on Abyssinia in about 1890.  We then checked-in and had lunch at the Goha Hotel (part of the  Govt. Hotel chain we found in this region).  A crowd of Afro-Americans came in to lunch as well.  We chatted with one fellow to learn that there were 150 members of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem, broken into 3 groups, tracking each other around the 4 cities we were touring.  Members ranged from 20- to at least 70-somethings.  For most of them this was their 1st time in Africa.  They literally took over most of the flights and accommodations in all locations.  Most impressive besides their numbers and range of ages was that their church was 200 years old, founded by local slaves and Ethiopian merchants so they were obviously thrilled to observe how their church/customs compared to the Ethiopian Orthodox.

Falasha Jews of Gondar Were Truly Inspiring

In the afternoon, we visited Fasiladas’ Castle and his weekend retreat, a small castle in the center of a huge pool.  Allegedly, he retreated to this location when the stress of governing got too intense and he needed to meditate.  However, our guide suggested that he might have also used it for rendezvous with mistresses.

Rick had read about the Falasha Jews’ Village and Synagogue remaining in Gondar, and since we were on a private tour, we asked to be taken there.  The Village was a joke.  It was non-Jews selling crappy souvenirs, made to look like the famous Falasha pottery, from a couple of mud huts with a Star of David plastered on.  They only had 1 or 2 plain, boring Jewish-themed woven baskets to sell.  No one really knew anything about the current status of the Falasha, so Rick insisted we go to the Synagogue, despite our guide saying that the security would be impossible.

As it turned out, Bet Yisrael Synagogue and Center had just concluded its afternoon mid-High-Holydays’ service.  We were introduced to the Manager who told us we had just missed 2,000+ Jews attending this service which had to end well before sunset to allow many of them to walk 2 hours back home before dark.  I said “Shalom” to the Manager and asked if we could still tour the facility.  He placed his Kepot/Yamalkah back on his head and showed us around.  The 1st stop was the Cafeteria which feeds 600 Falasha children under age 6 daily.  We then walked a bit further to the “sanctuary” which consisted of hundreds of low wooden benches, separated in the middle by a curtain (men vs. women).  There were a few posters on the wall with Hebrew sayings.  The Torah was hidden behind locked doors and curtains.  A few men were still hanging out, discussing the day’s service and probably us as well.  The manager was articulate in English, very sincere and friendly.  So we believed him when he told us that the morning service had been attended by 2,000 Jews; that there were 15,000 Falasha Jews in the area (as much as 2 hours’ walking distance); and that every Jewish family had sold their land, homes, possessions, and were waiting for the Israeli government to airlift them to the Holy Land as about 30,000 of their friends had been.  The Passover phrase “Next Year in Jerusalem” suddenly became full of meaning.  The Israeli Rabbinate had recently pronounced the Falasha as “True Jews” despite their different practices.  These people were suffering in suspension of their lives because they wanted to fully live their faith in Israel.  We made a donation to the manager who said it would be used to feed the children.  I hugged him, blessed him, and said good-bye.  In those few minutes, I truly was humbled by these people’s faith, dreams, and persistence.

Flying to and Visiting in Lalibela

Ethiopian Airways delayed us only 2 hours for our arrival into Lalibela, named after King Lalibela who had (according to most records) first started building the famous rock-hewn churches in the 1000s.  He was part of the Zagwe kings who took over after the Axum Kingdom was defeated by Queen Yodit (Judith) and her Falasha army, thus diverting Abyssinia / Ethiopia’s Solomonic descendants for about 200 years.  As we drove to and through Lalibela, we saw the poorest people to date, despite their rich history.

We checked into the Tukul Village Hotel, the newest and nicest of the 5 hotels we would stay in before returning to Addis.  Tukul is the name of the typical 2-story, local, stone home that housed livestock on the 1st floor and family on the 2nd.  Each of the 6 tukuls in our compound had 2 lovely hotel rooms—no chickens, goats, etc.

Ethiopian Food

We walked about 300 m. to the Bethlehem Hall Restaurant at the Jerusalem Guest House where Rick had the typical Ethiopian meal:  injera (a huge thin pancake made from fermented tef grain, grown mainly in Ethiopia) which is taken in pieces to lift vegetables (always cooked cabbage and carrots for 7 days’ meals); white rice; small chunks of meat, usually beef; and a couple of spicy sauces.  I had a similar pancake stuffed with cabbage, carrots, and egg, accompanied by cabbage, carrots, and rice.  When I asked, our waiter told us that my meal was “faranji food” (for foreigners).  Once you try injera, you never forget its sour, squishy-textured, unique taste, though in a year or so I wouldn’t mind having it again at an Ethiopian restaurant in the U.S.

Beggars, Shoe-Bearers, Shoe-Washers, Flea-ridden Carpets and Other Special Features of Ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Churches

After lunch our guide and driver took us to the northern cluster of rock-hewn churches which were monolithic or semi-monolithic–totally or mostly free-standing from the solid rock around it.  During one of our long waits at the airport, a couple of women tourists had suggested that we put bug repellant on our feet because the carpets covering the rock floors of all the churches were flea-ridden and all churches required us to take off our shoes before entering.

Our guide also recommended that we pay 50 Birr (= $7) to a shoe-bearer for the 2 days he’d be with us, to guard our shoes at all the churches we visited.  We thought that this was an honest way to earn money, so we agreed.  Our shoe-bearer helped us take off our shoes at each of the 8 or so churches over 2 days, moved them to a safe spot, then helped us put them back on as we emerged from each church.  Over the next 2 days, Mr. Shoe-Bearer especially earned his keep by holding my hand/arm so I could remain upright as we climbed up and down steep muddy trails covered with loose, small rocks (a.k.a. talus).

Another entrepreneurial activity that seemed worthwhile was shoe-washing.  At the end of the very muddy trails (and I imagine dust would coat shoes similarly), young boys approached us to wash our shoes.  For 10 Birr ($1.10) per pair, they spent 10 minutes squatting on the ground, washing our shoes with sponges and water.  This bargain enabled us to contribute a bit to the economy while teaching about hard work.  At least that was my rationale…

We were told by our hotel manager and our guide to ignore any children in order to reinforce the City Council’s edict not to beg tourists for money. That didn’t stop some a few old, shriveled people from begging.  We successfully ignored all hawkers, especially those selling “ancient” coins, books, etc.  We had also heard that even if a store tells you that an artifact can legally leave Ethiopia, some border agents stop you and confiscate it anyway.  This enables the same relic to be sold to multiple tourists and gain baksheesh for multiple guards.

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Name 5 types of crosses we saw in Ethiopia: Latin, Greek, Maltese, Swastika, and Lalibela.
Lalibela Mule-Ride to the  Mountain-top, Stone-Embedded Monastery.

Starting at 7:45 a.m., Rick and I began a memorable journey, accompanied by our guide  and 2 boys leading 2 mules, one of which would bear me for more than half and Rick for maybe one-third of our jaunt to and from a famous mountain-top monastery.  We would go for 16 km. round-trip up/down from Lalibela Town at 2,400m above sea level (ASL) to 3,100m ASL to the Asheton Maryam monastery.  The quality, rockiness, steepness, and narrowness of parts of this trail reminded me of the old “E-ticket” rides at Disney Land. In fact we walked the last 2.5 km each way because the mules couldn’t manage it with us on their backs.  They view of the lush green valleys and mountain range after mountain range was glorious.  And even though I’m better prepared to trek Mountain Gorillas now, I could have missed this adventure.  Because the mules were nervous on some areas of the trail, the boys held onto my arms as I held onto the mule with my knees clutched to its side and my feet stiffly against the stirrups.  When this adventure was over, I was grateful for having had a few horseback-riding lessons as a child. AND I was embarrassed by looking like such a dumb-ass on the back of an ass riding through town with the 2 boys around me.  Rather than looking like a “4th mule” Rick walked all the way down from the monastery.

Maintaining Protocol

While on my mule, closely-guarded by one of the boys who was carrying my purse across his chest and holding my water bottle, he and I began chatting.  I know he enjoyed practicing his English as well as learning a bit about faranjis (foreigners).   At the end of the trip in town, I took out pictures of our family that I had promised I would show him.  But suddenly he turned almost unfriendly among the crowd of children surrounding us as we completed our ride/walk.  I sensed that something was bothering him so later that afternoon, I asked our guide about that incident.  He said that if children or young people were caught “harassing” or even looking like they were harassing tourists, they could lose their jobs.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

After a couple hours’ recovery from the mule-ride and walk to Asheton Maryam, we visited the last cluster of rock-hewn churches, including Emmanuel and Golgotha.  Our guide took us through a tunnel connecting the 2 churches, turned off his flashlight/torch and, made it pitch-black.  Moreover, the tunnel was not tall enough to stand upright and barely 3-feet wide.  We literally put one hand on the ceiling and one on the wall then followed his voice until we saw a distant lighted area that was the end of the tunnel.  That was a really creepy experience.

Ark of the Covenant at Axum – Capital of the Oldest Kingdom in Africa

Ethiopia supposedly reached its zenith during the Axumite Empire, before Queen Yodit of the Falasha took it down.  In their heyday, Axumites had conquered what is now Eritrea, Yemen and Abyssinia (northern half of Ethiopia), built huge stone palaces, and brought Christianity to Africa.  What now remains are ruined buildings, stellae* strewn over several fields, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, pride in never having been colonialized by Europeans and supposedly The Ark of the Covenant hidden inside the Church of Maryam Tsion’s Holy of Holies.

According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Menelik I (Sheba and Solomon’s son) brought the single most prized possession of the Jews, the Ark of the Covenant, to Ethiopia for safe-keeping in order to prevent its capture by the Babylonians who destroyed The Temple in Jerusalem.  Only one man, the guard of the Covenant, is ever allowed to see it in his lifetime.  He is replaced upon death by another sole guard.  Even the Bishops and Priests have never been allowed to see this.  Nor, very conveniently, have scientists been able to test its authenticity.  Yet The Church somehow has reproduced the Covenant in several locations.  And Ethiopians have declared themselves God’s Chosen People.

*We are told that the main difference between Abyssinian Stellae and Egyptian Obelisks is that stellae are more intricately designed whereas obelisks are plain and simple.

Conflicted Feelings for 8 days

Another light at the end of the tunnel was the confirmation that our last night in Ethiopia would be at the Sheraton Addis Ababa. From 4pm on 21st Sept. to 2pm on 22nd, I luxuriated in the Sheraton, letting Rick fulfill our obligation to tour the Capital of Ethiopia.

Our stay in the Sheraton heightened and symbolized the 8 days of Conflicted Feelings that I had felt since touching down in Ethiopia: guilty pleasure at enjoying great food, hot shower, clean room, etc. vs. all the starving, barefoot people here.  Ethiopians are proud of the fact they are the Chosen People, living much like their ancestors.  The downside is that they have the barest trappings of the 20th century (not 21st) while the average person barely survives on $0.30 per day.  We wasted about 24 hours in airport delays while many of the people waste most of their lives doing every task in the most slow, primitive way possible.

I’m mostly left with questions about Ethiopia.  With Starbucks, Peets, Seattle’s Best, etc. growing exponentially, and since kaffe or coffee originated in Ethiopia, why is it one of the poorest countries on earth?  If there are Espresso machines even in the lowliest of restaurants and hotels, why are the tourist hotels so shabby and moldy?  On a different note, would Jews ever entrust the most holy element of their religion to the King’s concubine’s family? Is there no compromise between gaining the benefits of modern life and giving up an ancient, restrictive set of traditions?  For a country spanning at least 2,000 years, why is there no clearly, documented history to be examined?  Can Westerners tour places like Ethiopia and not feel guilty?

September 22 — No Stamp, No Free Entry

I still didn’t have my dependent’s visa stamped in my passport before we left for Ethiopia.  I was given a funny little “alien” card and a paper saying I’ve paid for the visa.  But unfortunately as anticipated, the plastic card and paper did not pass muster with Kenya’s Immigration Control. I had to pay $50 again to enter Kenya.  The good news is that the visa is good for 3 months and the next time we re-enter Kenya in October, since we are only going to Uganda, I don’t pay for re-entry.  Moral: unless you are moving to Kenya for more than one year, just exit and enter the country every few months and pay the darn $50 fee.

September 13 – Friends Moving and a Blur of Work

Once again, we have been buried in a blur of work with some occasional, fun evenings out with friends for dinner, especially Anna and Greg, who are “foodies” like us.  Sadly, Greg has started his one-year contract in Arusha, Tanzania as of Sept. 1st   Anna will be on a UN contract for 5 weeks in Europe for October.  We will see them for dinner for one night right before we return to The States.  But we’ll really, really miss them!

September 8 – Whimsical and famous ant sculpture from Pimbi Gallery

Those who know me well will understand that I occasionally enjoy retail therapy.  Friends Anna and Greg had introduced us to several wonderful craft and art shops, with products many notches above what is typically found on the streets or on safari.  Last weekend, we drove onto the Pimbi Gallery, aka Warthog Gallery, property to enter a sculpture and painting world covering the garden and house.  The paintings were colorful “African modern” for lack of a better term.  But I fell in love with the sculptures that are whimsical, metal, many with rusted finishes, and all made with recycled vehicle and building hardware. They ranged from warthogs, birds, other small animals, to tables with long-legged frogs as legs, camels’ heads holding up shelves, and life-size people and beasts.

While we were ambling, the artist drove up in a pickup truck with a larger-than-life-size, shiny, silver gorilla, sitting down with his knuckles on the ground.  Kioko told us that it was about to fly off to the Italian company which had commissioned it.  One of his elephants is featured at a major Nairobi roundabout. He began talking to us about his art and how his “standard, silly-looking animals” sustained the subject he loved most: people and fantastical creatures at work and play.  He showed us the sculpture of a female ant, looking like a women’s lib protester.  Apparently, Coca Cola Africa commissioned him to create several to use in an animated regional ad for Diet Coke.  The ants were protesting “diet” because they loved the sugar in the real Coke.

I asked if it was for sale, figuring anything displayed, is.  He said that he knew he had the right to reproduce them but had to contact Coca Cola to see if they were OK with his selling off their samples he made for them.  Also, he needed to decide the pricing.  We also talked about his wanting to sell his art in the U.S., having started with a contact in Princeton, NJ but without much progress.

We exchanged emails this past week (this was unusual in itself), when I suggested that he create a CD portfolio that I might show some people here and in the U.S.  Rick and I just picked up my diet-Coke ant protester as well as the CD.  Kioko invited me to come back to pick out more sculptures for his portfolio, which I will do.  Not only is he a talented artist, but a savvy businessman and living example of what TechnoServe is trying to catalyze.  With his permission, I’ll post a few of his pictures on my website, and take anyone who comes Nairobi to visit Pimbi Gallery.

September 1— How many days and people does it take to get WW a “dependent’s” visa?

Apparently many more than any aggie joke with light bulbs.  We fully accept that the pace of change, accomplishment, and way of life is slow in Africa—except for all the drivers who act like testosterone-poisoned 17-year old boys.  And we definitely recognize that government agencies globally move at a much slower pace than their private sector counterparts.

Oddly, Kenyans are reputed by their fellow Africans to be aggressive and entrepreneurial.  But when it comes to approval of any formally “registered” and/or an approved process or item, slow becomes glacial–before any melting.  The implications of that lack of movement is that hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars are wasted by anyone trying to move through that process or create that item.  Particularly non-black Africans or worse, ex-pats.

Our best /worst example is our attempt to obtain a work permit and visa for Rick as a TechnoServe Kenya contract employee then a dependent’s visa as his wife.  The over-riding problems consist of:

  • No one tells us/maybe even knows all the necessary documents needed for us to have with us.
  • If they tell us they need one or two documents, there are always more needed whenever the first round is submitted—all sequentially.
  • The Kenyan Immigration Agency, the U.S. Embassy, and TechnoServe don’t have a list of all the requirements.

TechnoServe tried to submit all the paperwork for Rick, but he had to call/fax/email both MIT and Harvard to get copies of his transcripts, proof of attendance for primary and secondary schools, and other items.  No one knew or told us ahead of time to have these items with us.  Rick finally received his work permit and entry visa in July, 5 months after he arrived.

However, this meant that I still paid $50 per entry into Kenya during all of our business and pleasure trips.  TechnoServe started the dependent’s process for me in March.  In May after minimal progress forward for me and a Canadian colleague who has moved here from Uganda, they hired an “enabler” who is not a lawyer but supposedly understands and can expedite the arcane processes.   No progress was made in June while I was in the U.S. because my passport was with me.  Since my return to Kenya, my passport has spent a lot of time with the enabler and in obscure offices inside Kenyan immigration.  3 weeks ago, all of a sudden after all other requirements were met–as we were about to fly to Uganda for 10 days–we were told that our marriage certificate was required for me to receive the dependent’s pass.  Logically we had locked such an important document in our safe deposit in California where only Rick and I can sign in.  So our enabler said that for only $75 he could have a lawyer create an affidavit where we’d swear to our marriage, putting in as many facts as we could provide.

Tuesday Sept. 4th, we received the affidavit, paid the lawyer, and went to the U.S. Embassy to swear “that what we were about to sign was true” even though this consulate member didn’t know us from Adam.  Even he asked, “Are you sure you have everything???”  I suggested that he request from the Kenya government, then post on the U.S. Embassy website, a list of all documents ex-pats might possibly need to get a visa. He laughed, said, “good luck,” and walked away shaking his head.

Our enabler rushed off to the Immigration Office to find it closed.  With my daily nagging, finally he came back Friday afternoon to have me sign yet another form and take my passport with him “for the final time.”  He knows we are leaving Friday morning for Ethiopia, so I can only hope that we’ll have my passport back by then.

A TNS colleague who shall remain nameless but is extremely knowledgeable said that it would have been shorter and simpler to: 1) pay $50 – 100 to the 1st govt. official and/or 2) just pay $50 per entry and leave it at that.

Now it is a matter of principles, dammit.  But it is also very clear that T.i.A., This is Africa or C’est L’Afrique…

August 15 – 24th – Rick and I go to Uganda on business again

At the TechnoServe Uganda Country Director’s request, we returned to Kampala to support his projects, including visiting plantations which grow Uganda’s main staple crop: matooke (ma-TOH-kay) bananas.  We were amazed by the changes that we viewed since our trip there in late April because of the upcoming international conference in November, CHOGM, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, including Queen Elizabeth.  All along the road from Entebbe through the downtown of Kampala, buildings were re-painted, landscaping re-planted, and neighborhoods cleaned up.

By the end of our visit, we observed (unfortunately) that all the refurbishing and new construction was mainly on the surface.  Inside, most of the buildings were still, by and large, “not quite” or “almost” well done.   Now back to the tale…

Fri. August 17

A couple of our meetings had been cancelled, and we were planning to visit the field on Monday through Wednesday, so we ended up driving for almost 6 hours to Queen Elizabeth National Park in Southwestern Uganda.  We were joining on this trip the son of TechnoServe’s founder, who had been invited on another related assignment by the Country Director.

As we left Kampala, we drove through Makerre University founded in 1922 where supposedly 600 faiths are celebrated.  We also passed by the residence and Parliament of Buganda, one of several Uganda kingdoms which are still recognized today.  Also of interest were the 3 major religious institutions each on top of their own hill in Kampala: an Anglican church, a Catholic cathedral and hospital, and the largest mosque in Uganda built by Khadaffi of Libya many years ago.

Outside of the city, we began seeing the unique Zebu cattle with horns so long and huge that the University of Texas Longhorns would be embarrassed.  We stopped for lunch at the Simba Highway Café where we had a buffet that would be repeated twice a day for the next week.  This included a couple of stews made from range animals (i.e. stringy and skinny) and ground-nut sauce on top of up to 7 starches: mashed matooke, rice, sweet potatoes, chapati (thin, fried pancakes), Irish potatoes, and possibly cassava and yams.

We continued on our way toward Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Rwenzori Mountains on the border with the DRC, Democratic Republic of the Congo.  If I had known ahead of time that we would be only 30 miles from that country, I may not have gone.  To complicate the uncertainties between Uganda and the DRC, apparently the official border is the Semiliki River which annually (or more frequently) fluctuates along its path.

Since everything was last minute, we were not able to stay inside the park so instead we arrived early evening at the Margherita Hotel just outside Kasese (kah-SAY-SAY) where our TechnoServe host had grown up.  The hotel was trying to re-build its business to appeal to tourists to the park (30 minute drive) and gorilla trekking (well over an hour away) after the Kilembu Copper Mine had closed and the Kasese Cobalt Mine was slowing down.

Sat., August 18

As we drove to Queen Elizabeth Park, we noted that the road was riddled with both unmarked and marked speed bumps.  Also, we crossed the Equator. We passed a herd of elephants, since we were quickly heading toward a 9:00 a.m. boat ride along the 33 km. Kazinga channel, connecting Lakes Edward & George.  As we approached the channel, we learned that the first official boat ride was 11:00 a.m. because a few busloads of local school children were on the boats for a field trip.  The park service encourages visits to help build support among the neighboring communities—and prevent poaching and other negative activities.  In fact, when we finally took the boat ride, we passed Kazinga Fishing Village, one of the few communities of 500 to 1,000 still allowed within park boundaries.

The boat ride’s highlights included the Saddle-billed Stork with Ugandan flag colors and Great Pelicans, both white and pink, among the colonies of many birds.  We also saw several crocodiles resting along the river bank with their mouths open to catch insects inadvertently flying onto the sticky tongues.  We were told by the guide that Cape Buffalos are probably one of the dumbest animal species, definitely among the Big Five.  Apparently they have poor sight, hearing, and memory and only a good sense of smell. Hence they always lift their noses in the air and face the most likely direction of possible danger.  Also Cape Buffalo males who lose to the herd’s alpha male in battle are shunned, so often seek the company of hippo loners and birds.  So we saw lots of hippos and buffalo in their own herds and mixed in loser groups.

We had lunch and a brief nap on the deck at the Mweya Safari Lodge, then we picked up a Uganda Wildlife Guide for a late afternoon game drive.  In the last 30 minutes, we saw the highlights of the whole drive. The sharp eyes of our guide spotted a pride of lions so well-blended with their environment while resting and playing. Our TechnoServe colleague saw tufts of 2 pairs of ears in the straw-colored grass, which belonged to 2 leopards.  Apparently the always-single leopards only pair for 1 week per year to mate. We watched awe-struck while one leopard sat for about 10 or more minutes in a thicket while the other, probably showing off to attract its mate, practiced hunting skills by crawling on its belly in grass that was at most 15 inches tall, barely making the stalks move around it.   Finally we will be eternally grateful to the lioness who may have seen us coming, wanted a better look, so climbed on the termite hill behind which she was hiding.  We sat mesmerized while she posed perfectly for us and thankfully Rick was the quick-fingered photographer, capturing her beautifully.

Sun., Aug. 19th

We left the Margherita Hotel near Kasese and drove to the Lakeview Resort Hotel in Mbarara where our TechnoServe satellite office and the matooke farmers were based. Aptly named for looking over a man-made lake, the hotel exterior was nice enough though a new wing was under construction, again to host CHOGM guests.  The inside was being refurbished everywhere, and we ended up moving rooms 2 or 3 times due to something(s) not working properly.  We ended up next to the new wing addition with workmen busy from 8am to 8pm daily, the sink hot water faucet never worked, the screens had holes, and the towels were skimpy at best.  We stayed there for 3 nights, having the starch-and-stew buffet for dinner (a repeat of lunch).

Mon. to Wed., August 20th to 22nd

TechnoServe representatives who work full-time with matooke farmers around Mbarara accompanied us to visit 3 different formalized marketing/ business groups they organized in the last couple of years.  There were recognizable patterns among them, including that with their “united” front the group they negotiated and received much higher prices per bunch—even the smallest farmers—than non-members.  All were able to now send their children to school or better schools.  They had begun to diversify their crops, pool savings, make loans among each other, and improve their homes and farms.  All of them seemed to be shocked that we could not help open matooke markets in other countries, especially the U.S. because no one else uses matooke. Please see detailed descriptions of our field experiences on the Uganda Work webpage.

Overall, we all the farmers we met were extremely grateful to TechnoServe and taught us so much about matooke, dessert/roasting bananas, livestock, and the Ugandan culture.  For instance:

–          Banana palms grow 2 bunches from 3 stalks annually, called the grandmother, mother and baby stalks.  The grandmother bears the 1st bunch then is pruned back along with others’ dead leaves. The mother bears the 2nd bunch 6 months later.  To allow greatest productivity for the next year, the best-placed daughter is selected from several possible little stalks.

–          Ugandans do not eat eggs so raise and slaughter chickens only to eat their meat—apparently they suspect anything emerging from birds.

–          Goats are also for meat only.

–          Despite their also raising dairy cows, Ugandans generally only drink the milk and do not process or eat cheese, yoghurt, etc.

–          Animal skins are dried to be sold but the hair and feathers don’t seem to be used in by-products such as yarn.

–          Despite the abundance of matooke, up to 40% of the children in the region are malnourished because their diet lacks enough protein and is so high in starch.

Wednesday night to Friday, August 22 – 24

After recovering from our long journey on Wednesday and the Kasese and Mbarara hotels, we (ok, I) requested that our last 2 nights be at the lovely Kampala Serena Hotel.  What we didn’t remember was that the Aga Khan (the leader of the Ismaili Muslim sect) was in Kampala to celebrate 50 years of partnership with Uganda—it’s where he was crowned.  So he and his entourage were staying at the Serena since he owns all the Serena hotels in the world.  So Erastus had been working with his hotel contact all day to find a cancellation.  This woman, the Training Director, was customer service personified.  She stayed with us in the bar at the end of her work day for 1.5 hours until we got our room, treating us to drinks until that was accomplished.  If only all the other non-Serena hotels in Africa could clone her then take her training, tourism would probably rise across the continent.

On Thursday morning, we said good-bye to our companion, the TechnoServe founder’s son.  We then accompanied Erastus and presented TechnoServe Kenya project information to current and future partners and funders.  The meetings helped them understand the range of programs that could be established with TechnoServe Uganda also.  We requested that that our last dinner with Erastus and William be at the first restaurant from our Kampala visit: the best Indian restaurant in the city, Khana Khazana.

Then Friday mid-day, we said good-bye to Uganda until October when we go gorilla trekking with Adrian, Diana and our long-time friends, the Hubers!

August 13 – Some phrases in Kiswahili
NOTES: “e” at the end of a word is a syllable pronounced as “ay”. M and n in front of words are almost an extra syllable or a hum.  “A” is mostly broad as in “ah”.  Almost all letters are pronounced, e.g., “asante” = ah-SAHN-tay”.  “I” is prounced “ee”.

In Kenya and Uganda most people in hospitality speak English (more British than American) and even people on the street speak a bit of English if you speak slowly and with gestures AND smile.

Useful phrases

Asante                                              Thank you

Asante sana                                     Thank you very much

Habari?                                             How are you?

Hamna matatizo                              No problem

Jambo                                              Hi

Karibu                                               Welcome

Kwa heri                                           Goodbye

Lala salaama                                    Sleep well

Mimi naomba                                   I want­­­­_________

Mizungu /Wazungu                           White person / white people

Nzuri sana                                        Very Well

Pole                                                   Sorry

Pole-Pole                                          Slowly

Saa ngapi                                          What time is it?

Salaama                                            Peace (also hello)

Tafadhali                                           Please

Toilet /Gents / Ladies                       Bathroom, men’s & women’s bathrooms

Tutaonana kesho                              See you tomorrow

Unapenda & Ninapenda                   Do you like ______ and I like ______

Wapi                                                  Where is?

 

Numbers

Moja = 1                     Tano = 5                    Nane = 8

Mbili = 2                     Sita = 6                       Tisa = 9

Tatu = 3                      Saba = 7                    Kumi = 10

Nne  = 4

Food & Drink

Chakula                                             Food

Maji                                                     Water

Kahawa                                             Coffee

Chai                                                   Tea

Maziwa                                              Milk

Mboga                                                Vegetables

Matunda                                            Fruits

Nyama                                               Meat

Samaki                                              Fish

Kuku                                                  Chicken

August 10 to 12 – Watamu Beach for a Weekend with Friends

Kenya’s coast is beautiful and only an hour’s plane ride away if you don’t count almost 3 hours extra each way for Nairobi traffic and airport hassles.  So with almost the same group with whom we traveled to Tsavo, we rented a very Alice-through-the looking-glass beach house south of Malindi and north of Mombasa.  After food shopping several kilometers away, we drove down a long dirt road in the jungle, and were greeted Friday late afternoon at the house by the cook and cleaner responsible for making our weekend stay comfortable. The plan was lots of relaxing, fun, drinks, and great fresh seafood cooked to order!

The Kitengela Glass Factory owners rented us this house.  The whimsy of their factory, artistic efforts, and menagerie of weird pets outside Nairobi (seen on the updated Nairobi webpage) continues in their beach house in Watamu. The house is colorfully painted inside and out with people and animals and mosaic glass on everything.  There are wine-and-beer-bottle wind chimes and weird blown glass perched everywhere.  The back of the house, painted with bright geometric patterns, monkeys, fish, and African people, overlooked the nearby beach which could be reached by a dirt path through a thick jungle about 300 yards behind the house.  The beach views were amazing from both levels of the house:  the water was deep turquoise and dark blue, the beach was very white and pretty much ours alone–almost no people could be seen much of the time.

Other local characters were the huge geese that roamed up to the back porch when we were lounging outside, noisily honking in conversation at us.  If we ignored them they left little “gifts” of poop and pee on the back step.  Just a little more than local color…

We thought that we had purchased enough food for 12 not the 6 of us and we seemed to eat almost every 2 hours. Also our cook connected us with the local fish monger, fruit seller, and even a masseuse to be delivered to the house.  Dinner on Saturday night was an absolute feast of 4 Kg. of fresh, garlic-cooked prawns and 6 kg. of local lobster. Before dinner both Friday and Saturday nights, Rick and Greg created “dawa (Kiswahili for medicine)” drinks, made with vodka, sugar, and muddled limes. Despite a bottle of vodka, 4 bottles of red wine, a 6-pack of beer, and a small bottle of liqueur (Amarula), by Saturday 10:00 p.m., we actually ran out of alcohol.  By that time, Rick was playing ventriloquist with a just-eaten lobster.  We got him laughing so hard, we really thought he’d pee in his pants.  However, we stopped him just in time to play really silly card games until midnight.

The weekend was great fun, food, beach and relaxation.  Then we flew back to the reality of our jobs in Nairobi just slightly hung over.

August 7 – The Adventures of Walking To and From Work

Since Rick and I came back from the U.S. in late June and early July, we have been able to walk from our apartment to work.  This sounds like healthy exercise, right?  It is actually hazardous, not from a security point, but from the perspective of nasty pollution and crazy traffic.  The one kilometer walk is truly a challenge in avoiding obstacles: running creeks next to and frequent huge holes in dirt “sidewalks,” matatu drivers that are testosterone-poisoned, trucks that spew black smoke, darting pedestrians, and “regular” drivers who turn into maniacs just to survive the other bumper cars.  This is a daily African adventure we did not have in mind before we arrived in Nairobi.

August 2 – TechnoServe has Indeed Transformed Lives

It just occurred to us this week that you may want to know a bit more about how and who TechnoServe is affecting.  So please visit TNS Projects and go to the Kenya and Tanzania links to see some of the people whose lives are truly being transformed.  We’ve included some entrepreneurs from two Kenyan projects called Upscaling which tries to help growth-oriented micro-enterprises scale up to sustainable, larger economic impact, as well as businesses started by alumnae from the Young Women in Enterprise.  A few Tanzanian coffee farmers’ stories are written up on the Tanzanian webpage.  Rick and I are chipping away little pieces at the corners of the challenge known as Africa.  It helps to remind ourselves, too, periodically that we are making a difference.

July 31 – Following Crosby & Hope’s Footsteps on the Road to Zanzibar

Nairobi to Zanzibar

We could feel ourselves relaxing as we drove up to the Breezes Resort, which reflected the Kiswahili culture, a blend of Africa and Arabia.  The sun-washed hotel with its thatched roofs and native woods looked typically island-ish.  But the interior was definitely Arabic in bright colors, furniture style, brass lanterns and decorations.  As soon as we settled into our room, we walked out to the absolutely breath-taking beach.  Its crushed-coral sand is so fine that footsteps sink very deeply everywhere you walk.  Its whiteness looks like it’s mixed with the native-growing vanilla.  The water is so clear that you cannot not want to walk in it.  After drinks in the beach bar and dinner in the open dining room, we resolved to not move further than the beach until Sunday.

Flashing forward to Sunday

We arranged for a combined Spice Tour and Walking Tour of Stonetown, the oldest urban area on Zanzibar.  Abdullah, our tour driver, stopped on the outskirts of Zanzibar Town to pick up our guide for the day, Moody, then carried on to one of the many “spice farms” privately run but government approved.  Over the next 2 hours, we walked from plant to bush to palm tree, smelling and/or tasting then guessing what spice or herb it was.  Vanilla and clove are still key crops here.  Rick was much better at identifying the spices by smell than I was, but I’m still a better cook…  As we learned about the spices, etc. one of the farm guides wove palm fronds into hats for both of us, a necktie for Rick, a frog necklace for me, and a sack to carry the leaves they gave us to taste.  The highlight was watching another guide climb a 50-foot palm tree–his feet bound together by a rope to improve his grip on the bark–cut off a few coconuts which fell to the ground.  Then another young man cut off the green husk and opened up the coconut for us to drink the sweetest, freshest milk we’d ever tasted.  These were a very different variety of coconut from the small, round, fuzzy, brown ones that we’re used to.  Even Rick who doesn’t like coconut loved it!  At the end of the tour, we tasted many of the fruits grown on the island.  Then I bought $20 worth of vanilla pods, cloves, etc. for $2 or $3 a packet.  It was a bargain for us, and as Rick said, we probably made their daily sales target.

Former Slave Market for all of east Africa

We drove to historic Stonetown which today contains 300,000 people and is the oldest section of Zanzibar Town.  This tightly-packed peninsula represents about 1/3 of the whole island’s population. Some of its history is the typical Arab-African cultural blend found all along the coast.  But its centrality made it the unfortunately ideal location for THE east African slave market.  Unlike the Gold Coast and Ghana on western Africa’s coast, the Stonetown slaves were sent to the Middle East and southern Europe. An independent Sultan ruled the island until Zanzibar merged with Tanganyika in the mid-1960s to form the Republic of Tanzania.  In the 1870s, the ruling Sultan was coerced by the British into banishing slavery.  Only a few years after the end of the slave trade, the Anglican Cathedral was built on the slave market grounds though it preserved some parts, e.g., the chambers where slaves were chained to test their mettle, the platform where the survivors were auctioned, and some original chains.    When we returned to our hotel, Rick and I both agreed that Stonetown’s history made it more important, but was much less charming and quaint compared to Lamu.

Coral is not soft

On Monday morning, we decided to do what we’d also wanted to do since we had arrived Friday afternoon: walk to the coral reef at low tide.  After renting reef booties (like the girls’ old “jelly” sandals but more enclosed), about 9:15 a.m. we started walking in clear, knee-deep water to our destination about 400 yards away.  At first we were able to find clear paths through the sea urchins and coral growing on the sand bar.  By about half-way to the reef, the urchins and coral were very dense—and slippery.  I fell.  Though Rick helped me get up quickly, my lower arm, calf and tush were punctured and scraped, so we headed back to shore.

Not believing that anything I hit was poisonous but erring on the side of caution, I went to the hotel reception to request seeing the on-site clinic nurse.  After 10 or 15 minutes, the clerk said the manager was in a meeting so could I come back.  I showed him my bloody arm and leg and he scurried off again.  The nurse arrived, took us to a old-fashioned doctor’s office (clinic), and proceeded to search for the right tools to clean me up.  I stepped onto a stool, put my leg in the sink, she rinsed me with tap water, and then bottled water,  which she had to request from Reception.

The next step should be filed away for future reference for “when in primitive medical settings”: vinegar is a good astringent, but very painful wound-cleaner.   The nurse then finally applied some anti-bacterial cream and sent me off saying, “you should be fine to swim tomorrow.”

Moral of this story: don’t walk to a coral reef if you are clumsy.  I spent the rest of the day recovering on a beach lounger.  Then we changed and dressed to return to the airport.  The trip home was much shorter than going; it only took 5.5  hours.  It felt good to be home (?) in Nairobi.

July 27  – Traveling in Africa is Not Like America

Our 2nd island holiday (1st was Lamu in April) was to Zanzibar–very fun to say–where many spices including cloves and vanilla are grown.  It was only an hour’s flight, and our travel agent got us a last minute cancellation at the Breezes Resort & Spa on the eastern coast.  One of our office taxi drivers, David, picked us up at our apartment at 9:00 a.m. Friday morning and dropped us at the airport at 10:00 a.m.  Traffic is bad most mornings to the airport, but especially Fridays.  Hence at 20 minute ride becomes an hour.  Anyway, 10 to 11 a.m. or so was spent in at least 6 queues for luggage tagging, weighing, boarding passes,  immigration, hand luggage checking twice, and finally embarking onto the plane.  Boarding the plane from the terminal consists of:  first, walking down a long concrete ramp where a jetway should be, crossing the tarmac, then finally climbing one of two sets of mobile steps into the plane.  Miraculously the plane was not late in arriving or taking off.  The one-hour, snack-filled flight was uneventful, though the landing did consume pretty much every foot of runway.   We disembarked the plane down the mobile steps into lovely balmy weather.  Then the luggage took the next hour to unload.  We finally met the taxi driver who would take us to our hotel.  When we asked how long a drive, we were surprised to hear one hour.  But driving 30 to 40 Km per hour, even on their decent roads definitely took that hour.  We arrived at our hotel after 4:00 p.m. grateful to be on solid ground for the next 24 hours.

July 26 – Our Favorite Phrases

There are some words and phrases that Rick and I have agreed are either great fun to say or have funny meanings:

WORDS

 

Dawa famous East African drink, pronounced “DAH-wah” which uses Muddled limes, see below (dawa means medicine in Kiswahili)
Kakamega city in Western Kenya – OUR FAVORITE WORD
Kisumu another city in Western Kenya
Mombasa Kenyan coastal city with strong Kiswahili culture, pronounce “momm-BASS-ah”
Vergelegen name of 300 year old winery and working farm in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Pronounced “verr-cha-LECH-enn” with the “g”in AfriKaans said “ch” like “challah”.
Zanzibar Island off Tanzania that when it became part of that Republic, formerly known as Tanganyika

PHRASES

 

Muddled limes limes that have been cut and crushed into juice, including for Dawa drinks
Sort it out figure it out and fix it

 

July 22 – Giraffes Do Have Blue Tongues and Other Kenya Sightings

After being in Kenya for over five months, we finally toured a few places nearby that we had being meaning to visit:  Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, Langata Giraffe Sanctuary and Karen Blixen Museum.

Sheldrick Elephants

Sir David Sheldrick was the founding warden of Kenya’s Tsavo National Park from its inception in 1948 until 1976 when he returned to Nairobi to head the Planning Unit of the newly-created Wildlife Conservation & Management Dept.  Though he died six months later, his wife now Dame Daphne, founded the Elephant Orphanage in 1977 in his memory.

Orphaned baby elephants are rescued to live (up to 15 at any given time) at the center near Nairobi.  When they are 25 months old, they are transitioned over the course of up to 10 years into Tsavo Park’s wild elephant herds.  Since elephants are very social, the bab.iesy are only accepted into the family after a trial period and sometimes may need to try different families.  They seem to be most successfully habituated into families where their fellow orphans live.  Sheldrick Orphanage is open daily only from 11:00 a.m. to 12 noon to minimally expose the babies to humans.  After Rick and I watched 2 sets of residents, under 1 year and under 2 years old, I had to adopt a couple of them for Adrian and Diana. Shimba (boy) and Lempaute (girl) are the youngest of their gender in the Orphanage.  Once you are a foster parent, you can set an appointment to visit your child any day about 5:15 p.m.  Who could resist?

Langata Giraffe Sanctuary

Next we were driven to the nearby center originally started in about 1973 by Jock Melville on his private property to start rescuing Rothschild Giraffes. They are a sub-species of which there were only about 130 remaining on a private ranch in Western Kenya.  In 1993 with some additional funds, Mr. Melville opened The Langata Education Centre for rescued Rothschild giraffes, for which there is now a permanent fund.  Thanks to him, there are now 400 Rothschild giraffes roaming gracefully around Kenya.

Besides education, the most fun activity at Langata is feeding the giraffes from the 2nd story of the visitor center as well as from the pen next door.  We chose the 2nd story so they wouldn’t have to hurt their long necks…also to be eye to eye with them!  As soon as I approached one with food, out came the sticky blue tongue through slightly sloppy lips and the food was gobbled up in a couple of minutes.  It took 2 scoops of food for Rick to capture a picture of the blue tongue, with the very heavy giraffe head leaning on my shoulder.  Of course, it was absolutely worth it!  These giraffes permanently live in the sanctuary that is open daily all day long, but they are well cared-for and adorable.  Those big eyes and long lashes…

Karen Blixen Museum

If you picture white colonialist settlers living in huge mansions, think again.  Most of their homes are larger than a typical native’s but more like the size of a normal U.S. house.  The author of Out of Africa and other novels, Karen Blixen also wrote her first stories in 1934 as Isak Dinesen and then under a couple of other pen names.  She and her husband Baron Blixen, then her lover Denys Fitz Hatton, actually lived pretty simply though quite well from the 1914 to 1931 when she returned to Denmark.  Of course it doesn’t hurt to have hordes of servants, cooks, etc.  For movie fans, costumes worn by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford (Fitz Hatton) were displayed in their separate bedrooms.  Very cleverly, the home opened with funding from Denmark (Baron and Karen Blixens’ country of origin) as the Karen Blixen Museum in 1986, between 1985 when Out of Africa was shot and 1987 when it was released.

July 17 – Aug. 1 – Largest Earthquake Swarm in Kenya in Many Years

Holy cow, I thought we left earthquakes in California!  Apparently the Great Rift Valley has small earthquakes periodically since that is the site of 2 obviously shifting plates in the Earth.  But starting July 17th night, over the next week through August 1st, we had multiple temblors from 4.0 to 6.4 which shook our office building during the day and our apartment at night.  The epicenters were over 100 km away from Nairobi, mostly near Arusha.  When I felt the 1st one at the office, I rushed to the doorway.  Everyone looked at me strangely.  No Nairobian knows what to do in an earthquake since it’s been so many years.  So over the last week, many media articles have appeared with the tactics with which all Californians are familiar. Unlike California, the U.N. says that 90% of Kenya’s buildings are not “professionally built”.  Hmmm…Comforting… But the strangest communication was the U.S. Embassy’s email alert—which are mostly used to warn about safety issues or invite people to an event:

Embassy of the United States of America,  Nairobi, Kenya,  July 18, 2007

Recent Earthquakes: The Embassy would like to inform the American Citizen Community in Kenya that recent media reports stating that we have ordered an evacuation are unfounded and simply untrue.

July 14 – WW’s first massage in Kenya

Before Anna flies to Eastern Europe on work and vacation for 3 weeks, she and I got 1.5 hour massages at this lovely spa about 10 minutes from our apartment.  A little oasis of a house tucked in a jungle-y garden, the experience was relaxing from both physical and emotional perspectives.  We picked Rick and Greg up at our apartments and drove to Sierra Brewery and Bistro, a nouvelle cuisine restaurant in Nairobi’s industrial section along the Mombasa Road, not far from the airport.  We had a wonderful late lunch then hunted for a “African and Asian collectibles” store nearby where Anna and Greg purchased 2 items on their list: an old Bao game board and cabinet-sized, Mali-carved, wooden door.  Massage, food, and shopping: Nairobi life is pretty good.

July 13 – Edith Piaf Documentary at Alliance Francaise

Rick, Anna, Greg and I left the office about 4:45p.m. on Friday the 13th to our apartment where we could have snacks and gin-and-tonic sundowners (despite the dreary, gray skies).  This was the first official entertainment I had in any of our houses in Africa, a testimony to my actually enjoying the new apartment.  We then headed downtown to Alliance Francaise, the French cultural center established in many countries across the world. This was my 3rd visit where this time we’d see a supposed documentary on Edith Piaf, France’s famed chanteuse nicknamed the “little bird”.  The documentary was written, directed, starred in and promoted by Raquel Britton, who was in attendance at the showing.  Dead giveaway.  It was an almost 2-hour ego massage for her, not a full tribute to Piaf.  However, I did learn a few facts.  For example, her mother birthed Edith on a street on top of a passing policeman’s cape then abandoned her shortly after. Growing up, Edith was transferred back and forth from her drunken father to her grandmother who ran a bordello.  Thus, all the pain in Piaf’s story-songs was based on her experiences and observations of Paris life.  Adequately performed by Britton, the songs were more recognizable to me than I had anticipated.  Between scenes of Britton-singing-Piaf were Britton sucking up to Piaf’s former-friends and paying homage to a sad display of Piaf’s personal memorabilia, collected by an obsessed man in his Paris apartment.  Most unfortunately, Piaf’s most famous tunes, including La Vie en Rose, were poor, melodramatic imitations of her old recordings.  Lesson learned:  vanity publishing pertains to movies as well as books.

July 9 – Carnivore Restaurant

TechnoServe’s new VP and Senior Director of Marketing visited the Kenya office and projects for 3 days before heading to Uganda and elsewhere for 3 weeks.  They really seemed interested in understanding our needs, perspective, and preferences for interaction with HQ, which has sometimes been at odds, as is typical of “corporate vs. field tensions” in any company.   By the time a group of us finished dinner at Carnivore that evening, I felt that we would be having a strong, clearer relationship with the Marketing and Development team in the U.S.  I was particularly encouraged by their being open to re-positioning TechnoServe from the very-analytical approach influenced strong by McKinsey Consulting to a broader “entrepreneurship” position will integrate the current Value-Chain thinking into a softer set of messages, yet still supported by hard data and metrics.  I may be the only one, but I applaud these attempts.

July 7 – Yahrzeit for my Father in Africa’s Cycle of Life
Rick and I were dropped off mid-day on Saturday, July 7th, in time for me to begin a late “memorial” to my father on his birthday, where I light a candle for 24-hours on his birth and death dates.  I actually feel strong symbolism that I will have lit 3 6-month cycles of memorial candles in Africa each for my mother and father.  I attribute my own fascination with Africa to his stories and pictures from his approximately 2 years’ military assignments in Africa during World War II. Adrian says he has always wanted a pet monkey because of my father’s Africa pictures showing he had a pet monkey at one of his military bases.  I very consciously wonder if Daddy were here when I visit different places, and what he would have seen differently.  With the candles, travels, and my frequently wearing the heart pendant he gave my mother before leaving for Africa (with their pictures from 1937), I do feel a closer connection.  It may be melodramatic, and sound like Elton John’s song from The Lion King, but somehow I do feel the cycle of life in Africa a bit more when I light the memorial candles here.

July 5 – 7 – TechnoServe Kenya Offsite in Nyeri

Not being a morning person, it was tough to be ready to leave the office at 7:00 a.m. for a 2 to 3 hour ride over bumpy roads to the Outspan Hotel in Nyeri.  But our TNS Kenya office had planned at the January 2007 offsite for this 2nd offsite in June.  Thoughtfully, Fred waited until I returned from the U.S. because the projects I would support for my remaining Kenya assignment were definitely going to change.  The 7-car caravan arrived at the hotel in time for mid-morning tea.

The next 2 full days were typical of any past review + forward strategy offsite (from Rick’s and my “industry” experience).  The main difference was that several current projects might not have future funding.  So different futures for those teams were being proposed, and understandably, the affected people were concerned.

Over the course of the 2+ days, I became acquainted with TechnoServe staff most often in the “field,” i.e. Western, North Central, or Coastal Kenya.  Particularly during the evening pub visit, we got to know each other in a less formal way.  This breaking down of industry “Silos” within offices is an important element for TechnoServe, all of which may be more focused across regions (East or Southern Africa) and practices (coffee, dairy, nuts, etc.) due to new funders.  I think those attending the offsite returned home more energized and clear what their activities must be.

July 4 – Hosting a Nike Foundation Representative in Mukuru

Yesterday I found out that I was going to be “team lead” to host a representative from Nike Foundation which sponsored the Young Women in Enterprise (YWE) program for the last year.  Esta and Joan had coordinated with a program alumna to arrange a tour of a few businesses emerging from the Enterprise Clubs’ business plan competitions.

On July 4th (not a holiday in Kenya) we picked up our American guest a bit late (T.i.A.) who had already called the office worried.  New to Nike, he was very enthusiastic about his first trip to Africa.  We drove 30 minutes out of downtown Nairobi into the large Mukuru slum.  All Nairobi slums actually consist of multiple villages though as an outsider, I couldn’t  tell where one ended and another began.

Led by TechnoServe’s Young Women in Enterprise team and alumna Cecilia*, we entered one slum village.  There were hundreds of rows of hundreds of one-room, tin-roofed-and-walled huts, most windowless, dirt floors, and cloth as doors when the solid doors were open to the streets.  The streets consisted of mud with a liberal coating of trash and garbage, often split by running water, the source of which I didn’t want to consider.  Due to these conditions, the main 3 modes of transportation are walking, pull-carts, and bicycles (all Dutch according to our Nike guest who lived 5 yrs. in Amsterdam).  We did have to move out of the way once for a small pickup and once for an older Mercedes sedan, probably a landlord.  All the slum lands are owned privately and tenants pay rent to the landlords.  Water is shared from a single faucet on most streets.  Electricity is usually pirated from the few paying customers.  Most often, shops are the “store-fronts” of people’s living quarters that line the main streets where people walk, children play, and the sewage system runs.  After a few minutes of getting our balance on the slippery road surface, we crossed a bridge over a river which just seemed like another branch of the sewage system.  As we entered the “main” area of the slum village, I made several observations: how cleanly dressed most people are, despite their homes and streets; most children and adults wear flip-flops everywhere, even when warmly dressed in hoods and sweaters; and like kids anywhere, large groups play together then run up to anyone with a camera so they can be immortalized while being silly.

Inspiring Visit

Despite the environment, the Mukuru visit was very uplifting because the tour was coordinated by Cecilia (see separate blog below on her) with a few of her friends from the Young Women in Enterprise program.  We were invited into the home of one of the Enterprise Club young women, where on the tarp-covered wall above the mother’s head was the plaque her daughter won at the Young Women in Enterprise business plan competitions.  This older mother had 7 daughters and 1 son.  The parents (read, father) decided to educate the son and not the daughters.  Unfortunately, the young man was electrocuted and the father disappeared, leaving the minimally-schooled mother and daughters to fend for themselves.  5 sisters still live with their mom in the one-room homestead. Nearby one daughter, the YWE alumna, runs a small kiosk where passers-by can purchase hot or cold milk in mugs (which she washes, re-uses).  We visited another YWE alumna’s shop selling sweets.  This single young mother of 2 had been divorced, though ex-husband was in the shop when we arrived, now attracted by her earning a living…

Cecilia – future woman entrepreneur of the year and/or member of parliament

Our final Mukuru stop was at the home of our tour guide, Cecilia, who won first prize for her knitted clothes’ business and was a speaker at the YWE final competition. A good entrepreneur, she brought product samples and sold a bunch at the competition.  At the event, I ordered 5 scarves in Kenyan colors, gave her my business card and asked her to call me when they were ready.  A week later she called to ask when she could deliver them.  Since I was in Uganda, I requested she come to the office on Wednesday the following week.  When I asked how much the scarves were she said Ksh. 500 (~ US$7)—I assumed per scarf.  The next Tuesday night she text messaged me (SMS is the local term) to confirm I would be in the office Wednesday afternoon.  She arrived on time, wearing one of her colorful scarves on her head.  I paid Ksh. 500 for all 5 scarves—her pricing.  I then told her that she could get much higher price in Nairobi proper and if she would come back to me with her competitive research, I would buy many more scarves at the higher price.  2 weeks later, she called to say that she hadn’t had the time to do the research, so we discussed meeting in July after I returned from the U.S. to research together.

In her Mukuru home on July 4th, she showed the Nike guest her products and knitting machine.  He bought a baby outfit and scarf, Esta and Joan each bought a scarf for Ksh. 200 apiece, and I took 2 samples to sell at our TechnoServe offsite the next day (which were auctioned off at Ksh. 500 apiece plus she got a few orders).  Cecilia explained how she almost had enough money to buy a more compact knitting machine for herself. Then she would hire and train another girl to use the current device, thus expanding her business capacity 100%.

It is people like Cecilia who are the hope for Africa, especially African women. Her smile and enthusiasm are contagious.  She is a natural leader, organizing her Mukuru YWE alumnae and friends to build better businesses through improved record-keeping, stock purchasing, etc.   I fully expect that in 10 years or less, with her entrepreneurial savvy, she will run a very successful business with multiple employees and locations. With her leadership skills, I predict she will be a Kenya Member of Parliament.  Short-term, I will mentor her to make more money for product and sales expansion.  Everyone should expect a Cecilia-made scarf as a gift from us!

July 3 – Nairobi

The good news was that my flights were uneventful and luggage arrived together.  It’s strange to be back in the office, even on my 2nd day.  We were preparing for a 2-day Strategic Planning offsite at the Outspan Hotel in Nyeri so I did not really have time to start new projects—only catch up on what I missed in the last month. There are new volunteers (aka VolCons), a few have left, and more are coming that I “hired” (VolCons are technically not supposed to hire anyone!).  Somehow it is free-ing to know that while I’ve been missed, I’m not critical to the operations as I supposedly was in my high tech career when just widgets and software were “on the line”.  Ironically, we now technically have more impact on individuals, families, and communities’ livelihoods with our many projects.   Though their survival is not at stake daily, what TechnoServe is doing will—hopefully—profoundly affect these people’s future.  The old tech buzz word “mission critical” has a new meaning now.  And if we don’t “have the bandwidth” to make a difference, who will?

June 30 – Back to Nairobi

For the week before I flew back to Nairobi, all I could think of was how Diana felt before she flew back to Dominica.  It is VERY hard to leave behind family and friends of many years.  I know it’s silly but I also miss creature comforts such as drinking water from the tap, walking safely around our area, calling long distance anywhere with no delay.  I did know that once I was back into my routine, it would be fine.  But if I hadn’t been heading to Rick, our new apartment and re-connecting with Nairobi friends, I may not have gotten onto the plane…

June 15 – 16 – Diana’s Graduation at Lincoln Center & Celebrations Later & including the Famous Giraffe Story

Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall

If anyone is going to graduate from university in NYC, it should be at Lincoln Center for its elegance, massive size, and central location.  Ross University Medical School may not have done too many things right administratively, but they were able to pull off a meaningful, coordinated ceremony for over 600 graduates with just enough pomp and circumstance to make anyone happy.  In less than 2 hours of total audience sitting time!  Because Ross has 3 starting classes of about 250 students annually, at the end of 4 years about 200 per class make it to graduation.  Just marching that many people in and out with 4 or 5 family members each was handled with aplomb.  The speakers were the President, 2 deans, and 1 doctor semi-famous in his specialty.  The point that we remembered best was what the President noted, that the families should be applauded because they were as responsible for the graduates’ success as the grads themselves were.

Doctoral Diploma Ceremony

The actual diploma ceremony was a thing of beauty: one row of graduating students lined up at one side of the stage. Groups of 3 walked onto the stage in front of 3 deans, faced the audience, then were conferred their actual doctoral hoods by the deans.  Each student handed their name card to the next dean, with pronunciation spoken by the student.  The names reflected a gathering of United Nations, with 1st generation young people from almost every country.  The dean coached the President to say the name correctly as the student walked to him and shook hands. The student then walked to the final dean who gave a leather diploma case to the student to hold as the two posed for a picture, and then the student walked off the stage and back to their row.  The Avery Fisher Hall was emptying at 11:45 a.m.!   The only glitch for Diana was that in typical Ross fashion, her student coordinator did not submit the grades for her last 2 rotations which would have increased her grade-point average to qualify for high honors.  So she got a green instead of gold tassel for her “muffin-shaped” cap.  At least her transcript is now correct and she’s outta there!!!

Dr. Diana’s Celebrations

There were 3 celebrations for Diana’s graduation.  The night before, about 14 friends and family gathered at our apartment for a casual late dinner of pizza and beer.  On the Friday of graduation, most of Diana’s friends were unable to get the day off so about 10 of us walked to the Café Luxembourg near Lincoln Center for a 3-hour luncheon.  Present there were Diana, Adrian, Rick, Wendy, Grandmommy, Jason (Diana’s boyfriend), Rick’s sister Wendy, husband Keith, daughter Tori, and Diana’s friend since freshman dorm days, Jessica.  We had champagne, good food, great conversations, and a finally relaxed graduate!

The final, official Dr. Diana Graduation Party was for Saturday starting about 4:00 p.m. at the Uptown Lounge on 3rd Ave. in the East 80s.  We had an area up a few steps and a bartender to ourselves.  Several couples from Wendy’s college days came from Philadelphia and Long Island.  All of Rick’s sisters and/or their children were there.  Diana’s friends came in from states all over the northeast, some of whom she’d known since 2 years old in California, who had migrated east as she had.  We took lots of group pictures:  Calif., Bucknell, Tufts, family, cousins, etc.  Uptown did a phenomenal job of keep the food and alcohol flowing at a very reasonable price for 40+ people considering the party ended closer to 8:00 p.m. rather than 6:00 p.m. as planned.  Diana looked terrific in her new red dress, purchased the day before with Mom, and really, really enjoyed being surrounded by her friends and family.

The Giraffe for Med School Graduation

Everyone was greeted by Sallie Mae, Diana’s just-named stuffed giraffe, as they walked up the stair.  Many people, sober and not, posed with Sallie Mae whether they knew the story or not.  When Diana was about 8, the whole family went to New York right before Thanksgiving.  Of course we visited the famous F.A.O. Schwartz toy store with its doormen dressed as bear soldiers, toys as far as the eye could see on several floors, and many (whining) children clutching expensive items.  Diana fell in love with a life-size (OK, its 6 to 8 feet tall, also seen in an old Visa TV ad where its head is sticking out of the sun-roof and gets chopped off as the car drives into an underpass.  I diverge.)  She begged her Daddy to buy it.  He told her that she’d have to earn it by graduating from medical school. Thus Diana has always had a dual reason to become a doctor!  The week before graduation, Diana received a huge package from UPS.  She was totally surprised and delighted with the long-sought-after giraffe, which remained nameless until the graduation party.  There, Diana’s NYC room-mate Elizabeth bestowed the giraffe’s name appropriately as Sallie Mae, representing all the government debt Diana owes for med school.  And Diana and Sallie Mae are featured on the med school announcements and thank you notes with the story explained. Finally, a dream realized!

Up on the Rooftop

Before he had to head back to Boston, Jason, Diana, Aunt Leslie, Grandmommy, Rick, and I went for drinks to where Diana originally had wanted to hold her party but for the high cost.  Hidden at the top of a mid-town high rise at 230 5th Avenue is an open rooftop bar by the same name.  It was mobbed even on a random Sunday afternoon.  It’s open all year round but as needed the guests are treated to heat lamps everywhere and robes and blankets to stay warm.  Why so popular?  The view of the Empire State Building (about half of the building is visible), especially at sunset, is absolutely stunning. This quiet, small celebration was a wonderful close to Dr. Diana’s celebration weekend.

June 5 to 30 – Too Many Wonderful U.S. Events to Detail

It was totally delightful to celebrate Diana’s graduation with all of our families and friends in the Bay Area, Bethesda, Boston and NYC!  Flying and taking the train for thousands of miles, criss-crossing the Atlantic Ocean and the American continent, watching lots of movies on a 5” x 7” screen, and visiting different people most days may not sound relaxing to many people, but it was a great month for me and 2 weeks for Rick.  Pictures do say it best though even they don’t convey all of our great times.   Go to our Walleigh.com website where we’ve updated several pages:  Diana’s Graduation, Friends and More Family.

We loved the Manhattan apartment where 4 to 7 of us could sleep and at one point 14 people came over for pizza and beer.  The North End apartment was even more spacious and new.  I definitely recommend Craig’s list, where you search by city then Vacation Rentals.  If you want to go specifically to the sites from which we rented, go to urbanlegendNY.com for NYC and zoerentals.com for Boston. You’re welcome to use my name.  We’ve had much cheaper and more comfy accommodation for the last 2 years in both cities than any hotel rooms.  Though I have to admit that I got a last minute bargain through Priceline.com for my room at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston…

Several Taxi Drivers from Africa–in Boston, NYC and D.C.

Probably because we are now tuned into Africa and their rhythm of speaking English, we noticed several different taxi drivers in Boston, NYC and D.C. were African.  In conversation with them, at least 2 were Nigerian, 1 from another small West African country, and 1 from Ethiopia.  Surprisingly, the Ethiopian and I discussed colonialism (he was slowly earning a U.S. masters degree) and even more surprisingly he defended the Italians as the best colonialists, treating the natives with respect and trying to integrate them into the modern world.  It seems there is no escaping a discussion about Africa including in the U.S.!

June 13 – Never Fly Northwest / KLM!

When Northwest emerged from bankruptcy, the remaining staff must have been those who HR found too hard to dismiss due to seniority.  With few exceptions, only rude people with no interest in their customers are stilling working for both airlines—from attendants to airport, reservation, and baggage agents.

On my return flight from San Jose, CA to D.C., I had to change planes in Minneapolis.  I was scheduled to arrive near D.C. about 10:15 p.m., go to Bethesda, re-pack, and take Grandmommy with me the next morning, Wednesday, June 13th, for a 10:00 a.m. train to NYC.  Diana’s medical school graduation was early morning June 15th.  After we boarded the flight on time, the plane sat at the gate for about 1.5 hours until the captain announced that the U.S. northeastern airports were shut due to weather.  As we disembarked, the flight bursar gave us an 800 number to call for re-booking.  With all the cancellations, the only flights I could reserve into any D.C. airport would arrive 24 hours later.  But I could arrive at Newark the next morning, so I booked that flight.  There were no nearby hotel rooms available at 10:00 p.m. by the time I had arranged for Grandmommy to get safely dropped off in Union Station and picked up by Diana in Penn Station.  So in an upstairs lounge, I slept on 2 chairs until my Newark flight.  After several times checking with Northwest before and after I arrived in Newark I was assured that my luggage would be delivered into Manhattan but it might take 24 hours due to all the cancelled flights.  By an amazing coincidence, I arrived into Penn Station shortly after Diana and Rick met Grandmommy.  Mid-afternoon, we went to the delightful and roomy Upper East Side apartment we had rented near Diana.  By late evening, Adrian had arrived from Boston, so we were all happily together.

Since my graduation clothes and shoes were still in my luggage yet-to-arrive, I began to call Northwest on Thursday morning, 24 hours after I arrived in Newark.  For the next 10 hours, I was told that my suitcases were still not in New York area, but the term “voluntary separation from my luggage” started popping into conversations.  However, until early evening, I was reassured that the suitcases would be delivered to Manhattan.  Then the phone-based Baggage Agent and his female Supervisor from Hell told me that due to my “voluntary separation” I would have to pick up the bags at Newark myself.  Despite over an hour of arguing, it was clear that in order to be appropriately dressed 12 hours later, I would need to be in Newark before Northwest’s Lost & Found closed at 11:00 p.m.  $130 and 1.5 hours later, I had my suitcase.  It would be almost impossible for an airline to be more un-helpful…And by the way, I haven’t heard yet from the CEO, VP of HR or VP of Customer Service yet…

June 3 – No electricity for 12 Hours, Train Breaks Down, Torrential Rain but it’s Bethesda, MD not Africa!

Ironically, on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. at my mother-in-law’s house, we heard a small explosion then the power went out around her Bethesda neighborhood. Meanwhile, totally unconnected to the explosion, torrential rain began for the first time in a few weeks in the area.

Diana surprised me a couple of hours earlier by calling to say that she was taking the train from Delaware (where she had attended a Bachelorette Party for her college room-mate) down to DC. And totally unrelated to either the rain or electricity outage, Diana called from her train to say that an hour into the trip, it broke down and they must wait to be fixed or rescued by another train.  The transportation gods definitely continued to give Diana a hard time.

The final blow was that KLM / Northwest refused to deliver my suitcase because they claimed that it had been at Dulles when I arrived, despite my searching diligently for it.  So my brother-in-law Keith, who is a total angel, drove me back and forth to Dulles early Monday morning.

But the 3 generations of Walleigh women—Diana, Grandmommy and I—had a terrific time together!

June 2 – I and Half my Luggage Arrive in a Totally Disorganized Airport but it’s D.C. not Africa!

The 8-hour flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam was uneventful.  During my 6-hour layover in Amsterdam’s lovely Schipol airport, I visited a mini-version of the famous Rijksmuseum right in the terminal!  I also had to listen to threatening gate announcements every few minutes, where a woman announced in both Dutch and English that Mr. X and Mr. Y were delaying the flight to Z and if they did not immediately arrive at the gate, their luggage would be tossed off the plane.  Despite remaining in the transit area, all international passengers and our carry- ons now must queue up for X-ray again then queue up a 2nd time to board.  The flight into D.C. was also uneventful. But despite the hour-long process to connect between Dulles airport terminals AND the 6-hour Amsterdam layover, only 1 of my 2 suitcases arrived.  Then I queued up to claim lost baggage and again for the taxis. I finally safely reached Rick’s mother’s house in Bethesda 3 hours after touching down in D.C.

June 1 – One Last Reminder of the Highs and Lows in Africa

On the day of my flight to the U.S., I relaxed to watch the Kenyan TV version of Animal Planet–from 50 years ago.  I never tire of watching animals cavort in their homes.  This is the last time I’ll see animals in Africa for a month, so I especially enjoyed the sequence of ten or more animal species who love to eat marula nuts when they fall off the trees during the short harvest season, then all get stumbling drunk.

However, delight was dowsed by reality as I later watched Aljazeera broadcast news about the misery in Sudan, rebels in Somalia, and drought in Ethiopia.  The vast differences between where I was and where I’m going this evening was punctuated by a clip on water consumed per capita, reflecting access to clean water.  On average each American consumes 103 Liters/day, Chinese 30, and Ethiopians 2.5 Liters.  Still so far to go…

June 1 – Last Day in Africa for a Month

I spent the morning re-arranging the boxes and suitcases that we’d hastily moved hours before.  Then Anna and Greg picked me up for lunch at La Rustique.  The owners create Fusion menus that continuously innovate, resembling California more than Kenya.  After lunch, they went back to pack their house for their own move in 1 week.

I was picked up for the airport about 7:15pm and arrived slightly after Rick flew in from Kisumu.  Fortunately he kissed me hello and told me where to meet to have a drink and bite to eat with him once I checked in.  Unfortunately, the Byzantine check in procedures at Jomo Kenyatta airport prevented me from doing more than handing Rick the apartment key almost 2 hours later.   Bags were screened and weighed separately; there were long queues to check in/weigh bags/check passports/get boarding pass.  Even after going through official passport control, there was one more screening of carry-ons.  After awhile at the gate, we began to board.  Typical of Africa, people aggressively elbow each other out of the way to get an already-assigned seat.

May 31st – Not Quite the End of the “Long Rains” 

The “long rainy season” was supposed to have ended.  Or if the rains are heavy, they stop within minutes.  Shortly after 7pm Rick and I left the office to go back to finish packing our 3-bedroom apartment, but the sky opened up with torrential rains so were we unable to move our boxes, suitcases, and food.

It was still storming when Fred, the TechnoServe Kenya Country Director, picked us about 9pm to have dinner with Bruce, the TechnoServe CEO who was flying into Nairobi.  We realized that our umbrellas were in our computer bags at the temporary apartment.  So we dashed out into the rain that was causing flooding already after an hour, grabbed our umbrellas, and drove less than 2 miles to the Holiday Inn across from our offices.  Sitting on the hotel restaurant’s veranda, we watched the water pouring down all the spouts to flood the garden.  After Bruce arrived within minutes, we moved to a table for dinner and had a delightful, wide-ranging conversation (this was my first time meeting him).

Fred dropped Rick and me back at our complex at 11:15.  Since the rain had stopped, Rick and I moved the remainder of our stuff.  After midnight, we tumbled into a bed at a colleague’s apartment in the same complex (he’s in Tanzania).  Poor Rick was picked up 5+ hours later for the 7:45 am flight to Kisumu in Western Kenya with Fred and Bruce.

May 27 – New Apartment so Old Issues Stop

Since our return from Uganda when the plumbing work supposed to be completed in 3 days was not completed in 10, our apartment issues have continued.  We had slept in another apartment for a night, dealt with no water two or three times when we moved back in, and showered ourselves and the entire bathroom for the rest of the time.  The “fix” for the plumbing forced us to escalate the shower water flow to fire-hose pressure unless we wanted to listen to loud clanging in the pipes.  Meanwhile, all of our clothes are still in a second bedroom.  Supposedly our apartment will be painted (to hide all the stains, nails in walls, etc.) so we don’t want to move our clothes back in until our bedroom is painted, dried, and the drawers filed to open (most are warped from previous moisture leaks).  Our rent, paid by TechnoServe, continues to be held hostage until all of this is fixed.  Our apartment complex manager has told us that our bedroom will be painted Friday (despite my request for Wednesday) next week, but meanwhile, if we wanted to move into the apartment upstairs permanently, we could.  This apartment also had suffered from lack of water and leakage issues, but according to the manager, fewer than ours.  I wonder why the tenant moved out in the last week or two…

So instead, on June 4th, we will move into a brand new 2-bedroom apartment in a new building.  It is walking distance—at least in the morning—from work and shopping!  However, we must hold our breath the whole walk so we don’t inhale the nasty fumes from all the cars passing by!

May 25 – Musings on Lizards  and Other Creatures

After our visit to Tsavo and the Lizard Talent Show (see below), I have a definite respect for the role of lizards in keeping down the bug population.  I was vegging and watching crappy TV when I saw a gecko-like lizard appear for what I thought was the first time in our apartment.  Rick had kept his previous gecko meetings to himself, but I was now prepared for mutual respect.  Also I was grateful for minimal bugs (except mosquitoes which bomb-dive me only during the night).  The lizard emerged and skittered across one living room wall for 2 nights in a row.  It’s now gone back to its hiding place to do its much-appreciated business quietly.

May 20 – Potholes, Crazy Drivers, Potholes, Giraffes, Potholes, Camels

To look at the glass half-full, there are stretches of Kenyan roads that are very nice 2-lane highways and even some of the roads inside Tsavo West National Park are smoother than we anticipated.  From the half-empty perspective, the road from between Nairobi and the main port for East Africa, Mombasa, is an embarrassment to Kenya. The potholes are sometimes so large that it is safer to drive on the wrong side of the road than chance breaking an axle. However, due to trucks overloaded with cargo which leave Mombasa for Nairobi that cause the ruts to be significantly deeper than the lead heading to Mombasa.  Getting behind several stinky, smoky trucks going 20 Km per hour up hill is so frustrating that you almost understand the crazy drivers who are obsessed with passing even as they crest a steep hill, just to get a bit ahead of these trucks. One bus driver was so irresponsibly passing everyone that we cheered as we drove by him pulled over at a police stop.  Did I mention the potholes?  The last two hours of road to Nairobi was so riddled with holes, it made our excursions on Tsavo Park’s dirt roads seem like a picnic.

Back to the brighter side of our trip back to Nairobi, our 2.5 days in Tsavo had been so totally tuned to sighting animals that it took us at least an hour not to scream out “buffalo” or “dik-dik” every time we passed cows and goats.  However, our keen vision proved helpful because we saw 6 giraffe about 100 feet off the road on the far outskirts of the city, as well as about 25 camels grazing in a nearby field.  Though there was a very high likelihood that the camels were being raised to supply Carnivore Restaurant, at least they were feeding on green pastures.  Maybe they were content with their short lives? Our final animal sighting was at the major traffic circle connecting Nairobi with the Mombasa Road.  There were several Maribou Storks feeding on the well-stocked, landscape in the circle.  And there were many of these two to three feet tall birds hovering on the trees right above the highway.  The Maribou totally ignored the busy fuming vehicles, seemingly content to have become city birds.

May 18 to 20th – Private Wildlife Viewing from our Guest House in Tsavo National Park West

Anna, Greg, 4 of their friends, Rick and me were caravanning in two cars. We had seen a few animals on the road into Tsavo as we approached the Kamboyo Guest House around sunset.  We pulled into the driveway, unloaded enough food for a week not just three days and chose our rooms for the weekend.  Anna and Greg had stayed at this place previously so told us to climb up to the 2nd floor viewing deck to await the animals that would visit the water hole in our backyard.  With our gin-and-tonic “sundowners” in hand, we all watched as a couple warthogs and Cape Buffalo ambled up to the water hole followed by a family of elephants.  The magnificent pre-dinner show was followed by a magnificent dinner of steaks, salad, wasabi mashed potatoes, garlic bread and homemade tiramisu for desert.  This was far superior to Treetops—at about 10% of the cost– with much more to come.  From Friday night through Sunday afternoon, we saw a delightful assortment of animals, including tens of buffalo who deferred the “executive” waterhole to 2 elephants.

Lizard Talent Show

When we were not entertained by large animals or our gourmet dinners, we also treated to a gecko-like lizard talent show on the brick wall above our outdoor dining table.  5 of these clever, slightly creepy creatures (naked tails swishing around…mmm) were hovering around the veranda light.  The light of course attracted moths and other bugs. The lizards would eye them beadily, chase and toy with them, then consume the bugs with the flourish of wings beating against their sticky mouths.  During this joint party, they left our food alone and we left theirs alone… We clearly had too much alcohol because both nights we cheered as the lizards captured then swallowed whole their frantically flapping prey.

We observed (to be loosely sung as “Partridge in a Pear Tree” verses):

Lots of Golden Weavers

Many water-and bushbucks

12 Dik-Diks darting

11 Buffalo roaming

10 Impala leaping

9 Bushbucks hiding

8 vervets begging

7 Warthogs trotting

6 Hornbills flapping

5 Elephants…

4 Gamma Lizards

3 Bats a-swooping

2 Hippos chuckling AND

CHOOSE YOUR OWN ENDING:

1 Verreaux Owl in a tree

OR 1 Leopard skulking

OR 1 giant spider in our bathroom (definitely see the website)

Kilimanjaro Uncovered 

Both Saturday and Sunday mornings, Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania appeared above the ring of Kenyan mountains about 50 km. away.  Though generally covered by clouds during the day, the mountain was clearly visible 100 km. away because the house was surrounded by fresh, clean air, a huge, flat savannah then a ledge of low hills. We were happy to see glaciers still intact.  We’re also sad that they are shrinking.

Close Encounters of a Disgusting Kind

During Friday evening dinner, one fellow used the bathroom off our bedroom.  Shortly after emerging, he stated that there was a “monster in our bathroom sink.”  Rick went in to check and his “Oh my Gods” echoed out to the veranda where we were eating.  One by one, everyone except for me went into the bathroom and left exclaimed loudly about the monster’s dimensions, number of legs, long antennae, folded pincers, etc.  Rick digitally documented the beast (see our Tsavo webpage) then was going to kill it when one brave but kind-hearted woman in our group swept it between a placemat and plastic container, carried it outside, and set it free.  I refused to witness any of this or even look at the picture, fearing nightmares and insomnia for my two nights in the house.  I really did only look at the picture Sunday afternoon.

Only during the evenings, the other 2 bathrooms in the house were visited by multiple little frogs.  They were quiet, hiding in corners, shower stalls, edges of floors AND in the toilets.  The poor fellow who had discovered the creature in our sink the night before, was doing his business in a bathroom with a frog-fest, when apparently a frog leaped out at him when he flushed the toilet.  We don’t know who was more frightened…

May 13- Quiet Mother’s Day at Dinner & a Movie

Recovering from the drive to and from Embu took most of the next day, but my request for Mother’s Day was dinner and seeing “The Namesake” at the Junction movie theater, about 10 km. from our house.  We had to walk through a bookstore to get to the cinema.  After the wonderful movie, based on a book I had loved about an Indian family, we walked back through the Borders-like store and had to shake ourselves that we were not in Palo Alto… we were in Nairobi.

May 5th and 12th – Rick and Wendy work at the critically-needed Believe Begin Become business plan competition sites in Nyeri & Embu

Since 2000, TechnoServe has conducted annual national business plan competitions, now all branded Believe Begin Become (BBB), in 5 African and 4 Latin American countries.  We were peripherally involved with the Swaziland BBB, and I’m integrally part of the team in Kenya until November 17th, the final award ceremony and the date we leave permanently for the U.S.  The best submissions qualify for intensive entrepreneurial and business training with the intention that the business plans are well-prepared, bankable and implementable.  Here in Kenya, TechnoServe is partnering with the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs (yes, in a presidential election year).  So from April 28th through May 19th, there are 23 one-day workshops across the country to “train” and inform hopefully 10,000 18 to 35 year olds in how to participate in Believe Begin Become, Kenya’s 1st national business plan competition.

Arriving at the TechnoServe office at 7:00 a.m. for the last two Saturday mornings to then drive for 2+ hours, each way, over pot-holed roads is not our idea of a great time.  But, Rick and I accompanied teams of people from TechnoServe, the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs and a youth-oriented marketing/PR agency to Nyeri and Embu, 2 provincial capitals. We spent 8 t0 10 hours both days helping at the Believe Begin Become workshops.

While the journeys and extra work days have been exhausting, they have also been incredibly insightful and inspiring from many perspectives.  Karatina was one of the major cities we drove through, where there are 2 clients in another project in which I’m involved, Upscaling Growth-Oriented Micro-Enterprises.  Nyeri is a provincial capital with well-known residents including current Kenyan President Kibaki.  In the Kenyan national government, the President remains a Member of Parliament for his district so uses his extra powers to ensure Nyeri’s people are well-supported.  Our BBB Program Manager, Wamuyu, and I believe her husband also came from Nyeri.

T.i.A. (This is Africa) has forced us to become even more flexible

Kenya is in its “long” rainy season, so the open-field venues for both locations were quite muddy.  Rain threatened and actually briefly came down at both Nyeri and Embu.   Pamoja was to have the stage set up, local entertainers, and an M.C. ready to begin by 10am at both venues.  Both events started around 11:30 a.m. due to setup and other delays.  Pamoja neglected to procure any required porta-potties.  The field was so bad in Nyeri that our shoes wore half-inch-thick mud-coats for the whole day.  Embu’s ground was less saturated.  BUT without telling the Embu TechnoServe team, Pamoja decided to significantly scale down the event there because they had not received the Ministry’s promised payment.  Their other excuse was that they were not staffed for 3 simultaneous provinicial-captial events, despite their being responsible from January forward. Instead, they sent a sub-contracted PR team to recruit attendees in a van with a loudspeaker starting late afternoon the day before through mid-day of the event.

Despite our scrambling to set up at both venues and starting 2 or more hours late, both events were successful in their own ways.  Nyeri-area youth had been better recruited by the Youth Affairs Officers and Pamoja, so despite a very slow start, about 2,000 people attended the event during the day, with about 500 still enthusiastically entertained at 5:00 p.m.’s closing.  Though only about 200 people attended in Embu, the majority stayed from about 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., even without lunch being served.  Both events’ M.C.s were excellent, high-energy entertainers who kept the crowds engaged, yet managed to mention the sponsors, introduce speakers, and fit in our trainers throughout the day.  At Nyeri, the music was so loud that it was very difficult to hear never mind answer the many questions from people with widely varied English accents (being their 2nd or 3rd language).  Semi-professional volleyball games may or may not have been officially part of the Nyeri entertainment, but they certainly had unbelievably great players.

Some funny, random things

Rick and I were the only white people—“wazungu” in Swahili—for perhaps many kilometers around Nyeri, and were two of three in Embu (with a Peace Corps volunteer).  Some attendees introduced themselves to us—one asking permission from our colleague—because we were the first white people they’d ever met.  One little boy came up to touch my back.  Several children shook Rick’s hand.  Virtually any child that saw us stared.  On a different note, for the good of the Nyeri show, I stripped off my official event polo behind the TechnoServe car, put on my long-sleeved shirt (brought along for warmth), and handed Francis, the M.C., my slightly-sweaty shirt so he could look official for the event’s start.  Pamoja’s own official t-shirts did not arrive till later. More than a few people in the audience were clearly stoned.  One crazy girl put her purse on the registration table, took out, sprayed on, put back her deodorant, then walked away.  Finally near the end of the Nyeri workshop, I heard the M.C. to whom I had given my polo shirt, call my name.  My colleagues and he forced me to get on stage and dance next to several pretty young women, the singer, himself and his colleagues. For some reason he gave me the Kiswahili name “GaCheri” which my colleagues translated to something like “frequent visitor”.  I definitely proved the saying “white people can’t dance” and in fact discussed my lack of skill with these same colleagues afterwards.

Overall both events certainly served their purpose

They helped youth understand that they can create their own businesses rather than be unemployed or barely subsist in the “informal” economy.  Lots of people came back with friends, asked questions, and seriously studied the application and workbook* despite the entertainment and volleyball..  As we left both venues, no BBB applications were thrown away on the ground or in the trash.  These young people recognized this opportunity to better themselves.

*I created a very abridged version of the student manual from the JA Company program, with help from my Kenyan JA contacts, as a reference guide to supplement the workshops.

The drives back from both Nyeri and Embu

Seemed endless, particularly after a long day mostly on our feet.  It is truly amazing that there are not even more accidents on roads.  Speeding drivers pass barely in time to miss oncoming traffic.  Almost-invisible pedestrians cross highways at random places but especially near Kigurai and other slums where there are shabby stalls or kiosks and matatu drivers pulling over all of a sudden without signaling.  Near Nairobi we saw a camel dressed up to give rides being led along the side of the road.  Nairobi traffic is scary:  2-lanes become 3 or 4 lanes just because… Ironically we heard Paul Simon singing a song on the radio from “Going to Graceland” with an African chorus.  All I wanted to do was scream and get out of the car.  But we survived.  In fact we concluded the Nyeri trip with a wonderful Indian dinner and lots of beer at Open House, one of our favorite Nairobi restaurants.

May 11 – Kitengela (Fantasy World of Glass) and Other Shopping and Dining Adventures

Over the last few weeks, Rick and I have regularly gone out with Anna and Greg, who are contractors for TechnoServe and other NGOs.  We’ve had some wonderful meals and finally found some unique gifts.  In fact, Anna and I have expanded another TechnoServe volunteer’s list of shops and restaurants to create a guide for “the discriminating VolCon in Nairobi.”  We plan to update it as we explore new places.

On Sunday, May 6th the four of us drove out to an ex-pat artist’s glass factory cum guest house and garden fantasyland.  The last 10 to 15 km of road was a short version of the worst of the previous day’s experience, but with retail therapy at the end.  The glassware is different from Swaziland’s Ngwena products.  And definitely the factory compound was just like Anna’s description: Gaudi meets Tolkien.  Mosaic glass covered most paths, walls, and buildings.  Wild statues and shapes mostly in mosaic glass were around every corner.  We met the eccentric artist herself, a 2nd generation talent whose son has also inherited her skills.  Greg commissioned her to create a glass panorama outlining the distinctive Ngong Hills, a beautiful vista just outside Nairobi.  Though Rick was bored out of his mind, we strolled, gawked, and purchased some unique gifts.  Our next stop was the Talisman restaurant in Karen where we had a delicious late lunch around 3pm.

Purely for the sake of research, Anna and I met the following Wednesday for another shopping exploration of her favorite gift stores.  We hit about 10 shops in 3 different malls scattered over Nairobi, had great success with more retail therapy, then picked up Rick and Greg at TechnoServe and drove to La Rustique (only open 1 night a week for dinner).  We sat by an outdoor fire while drinking red wine, chatted with the owner, then moved to the covered veranda for a fabulous dinner.  Definitely worth a return visit.

On the rainy Friday night, Rick, another VolCon, and I had no luck getting a taxi back to our apartment when Anna came by to pick up Greg.  We accepted their offer of a lift home with a stop for a drink nearby.  Unfortunately we ran into the worst Nairobi traffic we’d yet experienced.  After sitting stuck, turning onto different badly obstructed streets, and being stuck again for almost 30 minutes, we decided to turn totally around and take the only open road to downtown Nairobi where we went to the Norfolk Hotel (100 year old colonial landmark) for “bitings” (aka hors d’oevres) and a local cocktail, Dawa (vodka, limes and honey served over ice–yummy).  Rather than sitting inside the Lord Delamere, Norfolk’s official bar with a colorful past, we sat outside on the veranda.  Apparently Lord Delamere was a notorious drinker among the Nairobi colonials.  He supposedly got drunk regularly, shot up the bar, then shouted, “Put it on my bill”.

Finally we toddled home with the traffic much diminished.  Another trying evening…

April 30 – Our Jungle Trek to Visit our Distant Relatives, the Chimps

Our final morning in Murchison Falls Park was our most exciting 3-hour animal adventure since we rode elephants in Zambia and drove quietly a few feet from strolling lions in Kruger Park, South Africa.  Rick and I walked through the jungle for almost 3 hours–about 5 miles–with a guide.  At one point I half-thought that our guide was actually just walking us in circles because he wanted us to feel that it took a long time to find the chimps.  However, we realized he knew what he was doing when we approached the troop of maybe 15 chimps and they escalated their hooting and hollering in the trees above us to scare us out of their territory.  Our guide had warned us to “hold our ground”, standing tall and confident unless a chimp came close, in which case we were to crouch submissively, eyes down, and pretend we were eating.  Never under any circumstances were we to run.  If we ran, the chimps would chase and kill us.  We thought he was exaggerating until we saw the chimps aggressively shaking the trees, knocking down branches, swinging above us screeching and howling.  At one point their hooting indicated that they surrounded us. A few minutes earlier we had seen a small colubus monkey fly through the treetops.  Then we heard horrible screaming and growling.  Four-feet tall from head to toe without raising their long arms, these chimps killed the colubus monkey as we stood beneath them.  Thank goodness chimps think humans are intimidating, because our guide told us they are 5 times stronger than humans.  If chimps ever figured out how wimpy we are, people could never visit them in their jungle home.  We can certainly understand where man gets his territorial, tribal traits.

April 30 – Strange Sights on the Road Back to Kampala, Uganda

Just after leaving Murchison Falls National Park, in the town of Masindi, we saw 15 Maribou storks lined up along the roof peak of a building.

We gave a ride to Dennis, a UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) guide from Murchison Falls who needed to go to Kampala then onto another city to take a 3-week course on birding.  Dominic told us that his “civil” guide association always invites the UWA to join but this is never reciprocated by UWA.

The drive from the park back to Kampala took less than 4 hours, hurtling down roads so pot-holed that the remaining tarmac was only one lane wide.  In many places, the road edges were so worn down they looked eaten by a gigantic animal.  Dominic took the flying-over-potholes strategy on the road back vs. slowly, carefully avoiding them for hours on the way to the park… We had a couple of adventures with “road diversions” where all the dirt detours are totally unmarked.  Sometimes we were forced to back up for hundreds of feet to find a less steep shoulder to track across.  One time at an obstruction consisting of 2 huge pavement rollers, we bribed a guard just to let us inch past the construction equipment.  We saw a double trailer truck over-turned on the road, likely hitting one pothole too many to maintain control…

The views contain many colors and textures:, lush, tropical, green rolling hills and valleys;  brown thatched-roof kraals built of wattle and daub; women in brightly colored clothes; heads bearing large loads of bright goods; clay-pot-red dirt sidewalks, fields, and termite hills of all sizes; grey sacks of charcoal topped with straw lined along the road; multi-hued garbage strewn everywhere; rickety wooden kiosks selling tired-looking vegetables; entire homes and stores painted with advertisements such as Celtel (red and yellow), Safaricom (lime green),  MTN (sun-colored), Omo Detergent (black and white stripes), and Sadolin paint (royal blue).

April 30 – What Varied Items can be Carried by One Bicycle? 

Throughout the bumpy journey on the 4-hour ride back to Kampala, we saw many, many bicycles carrying some of the most amazing loads: one baby pig, 2 goats, 100 pounds banana leaves, 20 empty Gerry cans, 8 banana bunches, 6 sacks of veggies, 6 stacked crates of empty soda bottles, 3 suitcases, 3 enormous charcoal sacks, 2 huge sacks of potatoes, a giant load of used clothes, a small hardware store’s worth of household items including mops and brooms, a bundle of about 30 sugar canes about 6 feet long and about 30 pieces of 8 foot long lumber.

April 29 – In Murchison Falls on evening game drive

We relaxed most of today, disturbed only by hippos laughing all morning then 7 baboons below the veranda and a large lizard almost in my purse during lunch.

Dominic took us on a late afternoon game drive which started with a cranky bull elephant, flapping his ears and shaking his head as he chased our car.   As we headed back to the hotel a baby elephant darted from the bush into the road in front of our car. He screamed, we screamed, but after slamming the brakes and swerving around the frightened little fellow, Dominic kept driving.  We knew that where there was a scared baby elephant, close behind would be a big angry mommy elephant.

Birds, birds, birds: black bellied bustard bird with a long ostrich-like neck, banded swallows, mourning doves, starlings, sparkle mouth bird, northern carmine bee eater, fire finches, hamerkop which build the biggest nests, couriers, cross ibis, palmnut vulture, northern red bishop, crested crane (Uganda’s national bird), squacco heron, yellow ox peckers (both on and off giraffes’ backs), African pied wagtail (tail short in mating season), white browed coucal, water thick-knee, terns, sacred ibis, fish eagle, grey heron, rosy-patched shrike, chowgra, pyack-pyack, 1000s of swallows which feed on the millions of lake flies in season, and a wattled lapwing.

Animal sightings in between elephant incidents: huge herds of waterbuck and oribi, a bushbuck, a large hippo crossing the road ahead of us, warthogs backing into the drainage ditch where they sleep and a huge herd of Cape buffalo.

Most unusual: 2 groups of giraffes 15 in 1 group & 20+ in 2nd rounding-up for the night to protect the young and each other from predators.

We ended the day serenaded at dinner by 2 frogs “boiping,” definitely not ribbiting.  It was so odd back at the Humura Hotel in Kampala for one night. Every time I heard a car going by, my 1st reaction was “it’s a hippo growling.”

April 28 – Game Drive and Nile Cruise in Murchison Falls Park, Uganda

Our driver/tracker, Dominic, took us on a game drive from about 6:30 to 10:30 a.m.  After we returned, briefly relaxed in our room, and had lunch, he drove us back to the Nile where we cruised on a river boat up to see Murchison Falls.  Thank heavens we had a seasoned captain because the wide, hippo-and-croc-infested Nile was made scarier by rain, thunder, and lightning for almost an hour.  Our intrepid boat was about 30 feet long with a tarp-like cover to shelter about 10 passengers.  But the torrential rain blew almost horizontally, so everyone was soaked.  After stopping twice under trees—a better shelter from lightning than mid-river–we eventually reached the view of Murchison Falls, then soggily drifted back down to the ferry crossing.  Despite being sopping wet for 2 out of the 3 hours and more than a bit scared by the weather, the cruise was definitely worthwhile.

We saw a wide variety of animals on both trips: and so many bird species it was amazing.  I’ll just list as many as I could jot down:

–          Birds seen just today: Maribou storks, white egrets, Senegal plover, fish eagles, Pyack-pyack birds on elephants’ backs, grey heron, goliath heron, saddle-billed stork, Abyssinian hornbill, African darter, Egyptian goose

–          Hundreds of antelope-related creatures: Jackson’s hartebeests (including 2 males in battle), bushbucks, oribi, waterbucks, Ugandan Kobs.

–          Over 150 hippos including one badly injured and one which roared, open-mouthed about 10 meters behind our boat

–          20 crocodiles about 25 meters away

–          Primates: baboons and Pattas monkeys

–          Usual suspects: giraffes, lioness, twin baby elephants, warthogs

–          1st time ever: a jackal!

It is clear that when we return to Nairobi, we must purchase an East African bird book if we are ever to remember the tens of species we observed.

April 27 – Ferry Across the Nile and Dinner with Elephants

Our car and we boarded a 2-engined, flatbed ferry which pushed us across the Nile River  from the jungle side of the park to reach our hotel on the savannah side.  Among the 7 vehicles and probably 30 people on the boat was a truck so weighed down by about a hundred yellow “Gerry cans” full of banana gin that it could barely get on and off the ferry.  It crossed my mind that this local moonshine fermented from a certain species of banana–could create a spectacular fireball if hit by a spark from the nasty diesel engines. However, we safely crossed the Nile, disembarked from the ferry, and drove to the Paraa Safari Lodge.  Self-promoted as the “jewel of the Nile,” it was a truly lovely hotel, well-integrated into the green and golden surrounding landscape.

One of the first to arrive for dinner, we were seated on the second-floor veranda overlooking the Nile in fading twilight.  Between us and the hippos lolling and laughing in the river was a steep, brush-covered woods edged by a “fence” of thick poles set firmly into the ground about a meter apart.  No standard, chubby hippo could get through.  However, as we waited for dinner, a huge family of 5 elephants neatly stepped over the poles, crossed the lawn and headed for the lobby.  They were much too tall to get through the door.  In fact if they extended their trunks, the elephants could almost reach us on the veranda.  Unable to share our food, they lumbered to the hotel’s water hole, aka swimming pool.  The guards knocked sticks together to annoy the elephants who eventually found less noisy environs.  Excitement over…

April 27 – Domestic and Wild Animals along the Wild Ugandan Roads

Traveling from the outskirts of Kampala to the national park’s borders, we saw the longest- horned cattle we’d ever seen, making the Texas long-horns seem puny.  Truly, some horns stuck out 3 feet on either side of the cattle heads.

Tall, red-dirt anthills dotted all the roads and in the fields, sometimes several feet high and sometimes like small heads sticking above the vegetation.  The hills’ occupants, white ants and large termites, lived harmoniously and symbiotically together.  The termites were the hill-builders and soldiers who were called up to defend any attack or repair any damage.  The white ants were the imperial colonists whose queens literally directed everyone in the hill.  Humans are not the only master race…

Before we entered Murchison Falls National Park, the largest in Uganda, Dominic drove us into the Ziwa White rhino sanctuary.  The 3 of us left the car to walk about 15 minutes into the bush.  We stopped merely a few meters from Bella & Kori, two very pregnant rhinos who were guarded by Umoja, a bull rhino imported from a US zoo.  He substituted for the babies’ father who was busy siring more babies on the other side of the sanctuary.  There was no barrier and only a short trot between us and them, so we were lucky they were not cranky.

Within the hour we were inside Murchison Falls Park.  While Dominic obtained our entry passes, we observed the strange antics of an orange-headed and tailed lizard. The gamma lizard darted quickly from one spot to another, pausing to bob his head up and down several times, then took off again at a fast clip.  We would see many of his cousins throughout the next few days. Passes purchased, we entered the Murchison Falls’ main gate.

We stopped for a walk to the 45-meter high Murchison Falls, accompanied by a park guide who seemed to appear out of nowhere from the forest.  Here the many hundreds of feet of the Nile River (the so-called Victoria Nile) actually narrows dramatically down to a narrow gorge.  There the water is almost choked to descend dramatically in a combination of cascades and falls, with lots of mist hovering above.

Relative to the Ugandan highways, our 35-kilometer, hour-long drive to our hotel seemed short and calm, interrupted only by animals feeding at sunset, including: a tortoise, many Ugandan Kobs (similar to an impala but unique to Uganda), warthogs, a Cape Buffalo herd, some Jackson Hartebeests, waterbucks, hippos, a small crocodile, baboons, and to name just a few variety of birds, e.g., guinea fowl, fish eagle, African parrot wagatail, and yellow weaver.

April 27 – Bad Roads in Beautiful yet Raw Countryside on the Way to Murchison Falls

Except for the highway from Entebbe to Kampala, no other Ugandan road reminded us of Swaziland or South Africa.  At best the roads are bumpy and at worst they have so many potholes that drivers must decide to either slowly and carefully play dodge ‘ems or just fly across, ignoring them.  Dominic, our fearless driver and animal-tracker for the next few days, gave us the experience of both driving strategies which led to nausea, bone-rattling or both.  In fact, the experience was sadly reminiscent of the terrible Tanzanian roads from our 1997 safari.  In some places, 2-lanes became 1.5 because the edges the road looked as if some bizarre animal had taken bites out of it. Farm tractors, donkey carts, fume-ridden diesel trucks, and modern cars all shared the tarmac, which turned to dirt shoulders then ditches within a couple of feet of the vehicles. The scariest part for me was how closely people walked along all these roads.  We even saw a baby crawling in the dirt only about one foot off the road, with no one around to supervise or rescue it.

Other depressing observations included the barefoot, ragged people, especially children, typical dusty red dirt everywhere and mud shacks with no running water.  In contrast, in Kenya we’d see clean, nicely dressed people emerging from the same type of miserable hovel.  Another curiosity in all the cities, towns, and villages are the brightly painted, advertising-bearing buildings. Bright red for Celtel and yellow for MTN-Uganda wireless cell services.  Lime green for Safaricom wireless or Kenya Commercial Bank.  Omo detergent, Sadolin and other paint companies, Senator or Bell Beers, and many other companies’ logos and colors were repeated across the countryside.  Adjacent to them were twig, tin, and plastic-built kiosks selling fruits, vegetables, auto parts, furniture, you-name-it.  And weaving along everywhere were the bikes, carts, bodabodas, matatus, and pedestrians always in a hurry to pass the vehicle or person just ahead.

We stopped for lunch in a large town named Masindi at the New Court View Hotel and Restaurant, which was neither new nor had a view of a courthouse.  Our driver told us it was run by an old British woman.  I suspect some of her guests were visiting their family members at the large Masindi prison (a main source of revenue for the town).  However, most people in the restaurant seemed to be tourists like us, taking a break from the bad roads.  We did enjoy decent food as we sat quietly in a structure with a thatched roof, low cement walls, and flowering vines creating the upper walls.  Then on the road again…

April 23 – 26 – Next Impressions of Kampala, Uganda

Our colleague and we stayed at the Humura Hotel because of its free wireless internet (we just needed to use special codes lasting 1 hour) which lasted until Monday evening.  After that, the Humura’s internet never connected again while we stayed there through May 1st.  So instead, we worked at the Business Center in the Kampala Serena Hotel, the most luxurious, largest hotel in the city.  In fact Queen Elizabeth II will occupy the Presidential Suite (rumored to be US$8,500 per night) when she leads the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in late Fall 2007.  This Serena, part of a high-end international hotel chain, has one of the truly loveliest lobbies I’ve seen: stone, marble, earth tones, water ponds, fountains and falls. It has the most exquisite native sculpture I’ve seen in Africa to date. One of the Serena’s restaurants, The Explorer, is decorated with old trunks, canoe paddles, dark paneling and black and white photography that one could imagine in use when Stanley, Livingston or Speke explored Africa prior to colonization.  However, according to the restaurant’s history, an Italian immigrant was supposedly the first Westerner in Uganda.

In contrast to the Serena’s current beauty was the story our colleague told us.  The Serena was re-built from the old Nile Hotel where Idi Amin used to torture victims. Erastus told us that supposedly people could hear the torture victims’ cries that would go silent about midnight, presumably when they were killed.

As soon as we landed in Uganda, memories of Entebbe and the Idi Amin fiasco associated with 1972 Munich Olympics began to haunt me, prompted by the movies “Entebbe” and “Last King of Scotland.”  Uganda and the city of Kampala have come a long way since the 1970s.  Even with or despite the semi-democratic government, the people’s energy has enabled Uganda to move forward dramatically and become a leading economy in Africa.  Though some of his nepotism and other negative traits are still present in Africa, Idi Amin’s ghost seems to have been laid to rest in Uganda.  In a way the Kampala Serena’s replacing the horrors of its predecessor symbolizes Uganda’s progress.

April 22 – First Impressions of Kampala, Uganda

The drive from Entebbe Airport into Kampala was almost as long as the short flight (less than 1 hour) from Nairobi to Kampala.  The Uganda government has cleverly landscaped and re-paved the road to take advantage of the area’s views of huge Lake Victoria and lush rolling hills and valleys.  Kampala originally was built on 7 hills and now occupies 25.  The vistas remind us a lot of Swaziland with a bit of green Singapore thrown in, especially with the daily rains.

We were driven to our small hotel, Humura (means “get rest” in the Ugandan language) where we met our TechnoServe colleague, Erastus.  We immediately dropped our bags into our lovely, quiet room overlooking a small, green valley with banana palms and corn growing, then went to a late lunch in one of the outdoor cafes in the old, colonial, Speke Hotel in nearby downtown.  Speke was evidently a famous East African explorer along with Stanley and Livingston.  The restaurant was overhung with huge trees (like banyan, with lots of air roots) and opposite a lovely hillside park. We were very surprised to see Maribou Storks (remember Babar?) resting on top of the nearby buildings.

Kampala is much safer than Nairobi.  However, the drivers and pedestrians are just as crazy if not more.  There are many more cyclists carrying multiple people and piles of goods.  Matatus (the mini-bus and taxi combination) are out-crazied by the BodaBoda motorcycles which act as small taxis, weaving through traffic, across sidewalks, in opposition to the flow of cars.  They often bear 2 people sitting sideways–sometimes a mother and child, often dressed for the office in dresses or suits–in addition to the driver.  Of course virtually no one wears a helmet. The term BodaBoda is slang for Border to Border.  These light motorcycles used to be a key mode of smuggling from one border of Uganda to another.  The bicycles and BodaBodas replace the many human-pulled carts in the cities.  Donkey carts are reserved for the countryside.

After we spent a couple of hours house-hunting with Erastus, we returned to Humura Hotel for a quiet dinner in the outdoor courtyard café.  Despite the urban setting, the quacking (yes, like a duck) and croaking of the nearby froggies was loud but nothing compared to the almost deafening whir of cicadas.

April 13 – Meeting Government V.I.P.s Lands WW on Kenyan TV—Twice!

In the last 2 weeks, I’ve accompanied TechnoServe colleagues to meetings with Kenya’s Vice President, the Minister of Youth Affairs, and Permanent Secretaries of Youth Affairs and Education Ministries.  Strangely I have now been seen on Kenyan TV TWICE!!!  The second time was during the formal launch of Believe Begin Become, hosted yesterday by the Minister and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs.  All the TechnoServe people present were shown on TV.  There was a bevy of media with lots of young reporters from radio, print and TV.  My first appearance was as a result of serendipitously sitting between a Board Member and the Corp. Social Responsibility Director of Kenya Commercial Bank during the meeting with the Vice President.  2007 is Kenya’s big election year, so politicians want visibility wherever, whenever.  And big corporations want to ensure continued favor so find many opportunities to hobnob with the important politicians.  Sound familiar???

I was particularly impressed by both the Vice President and the “P.S.” of the Youth Affairs Ministry.  And the Minister of Youth Affairs was very knowledgeable and quick-thinking when responding to questions from the press.  While listening and watching the VP, I felt as though I was in the presence of a venerable African chieftain who truly wants the best for his people.  The P.S. is incredibly bright, articulate, suave, politically astute and very accessible to “us common folk,” sort-of an African Bill Clinton.  I can absolutely picture him as President of Kenya someday.

April 9 – Weekend in Aberdare Includes a Night in the Princess Elizabeth Suite at the Famous Treetops Hotel

Our boss and family (including adorable 2 and 4 year old boys) very kindly drove us up to Aberdare National Park.  The 3-hour ride to and from the area once again starkly contrasted the poverty along the way vs. our hotels, safari drive, amazing animals, views of Mt. Kenya, and lush landscapes.

The roads were only partially rattling, but the poverty we saw was truly rattling.  Sidewalks and side roads are dirt.  Bicycles, donkey carts, and walking are the main modes of transportation.  People are generally dressed in clean but extremely worn-out clothes.  Flip-flops and bare feet are prevalent and not because it’s hot out.  In one typical town, we briefly stopped by Nyala Dairy, a TechnoServe client.  Despite the heavily pot-holed main street, the busy citizens were teeming at the local market.  The Nyala Dairy contributes greatly to the town’s economy, so the people have relatively better living standards / conditions compared to other places in Africa…maybe living on $2/day rather than $1.

On the outskirts of Aberdare National Park, we stopped for lunch at the Outspan Hotel where our friends spent 2 nights and we spent our 2nd night.  Then Rick and I were driven to the famous Treetops Hotel which resembled a rustic, old game lodge that could have been in a mid-1900s movie on colonial Africa. We were upgraded to stay in the Princess Elizabeth Suite (Royal Family pictured on the paneled wall above our bed).  In 1952 Princess Elizabeth of England stayed at the original Treetops–before it burned down later in the 1950s. It was the night her father King George died.  According to Treetops’ P.R., she climbed up a Princess and climbed down a Queen.  I hope her suite was bigger than this one named after her because it was only a few feet wider than our bed.  I had to stand in our bathroom to take a picture of the “suite” which really only deserved the name because it was one of the only rooms with an “en suite” bathroom.  The majority of guests had to wander down the halls for toilets and showers.

Within 20 minutes of our arrival at Treetops, we decided to take a safari drive rather than wait with 90% of the other guests for the animals to visit the water holes on either side of the hotel. Boy, we were glad!  Not only did we have the car to ourselves, but we saw some sights we had never seen or been so close to before. This park was thickly forested and more jungle-like than the typical savannah and sparsely-covered bush.  Early on the drive we were delighted by 4 black & white fluff-balls called Colobus monkeys leaping from tree to tree.  We saw very close to the car some elephants eating and playing in the mud. One sat in the mud then rubbed his sides and butt very noisily against a nearby tree to relieve what we believed were his itchy hemorrhoids.  We were also really lucky to photograph our first elephant fight where one elephant charged another, locked tusks, and butted heads.  Boys clearly will be boys.

Our big highlight, though we were not fast enough to take a clear picture, was seeing a leopard in full view less than 25 yards away!  That was our best and closest view ever of a leopard in the wild!  And finally as we drove back to Treetops, we viewed some rare Giant Forest Hogs that we had never seen before though we’ve seen many of their smaller cousins, the warthogs.

From our room’s balcony at Treetops, as well as from the garden at the Outspan Hotel, we were lucky to see Mt. Kenya in the distance on all 3 days we were in Aberdare.  Normally mist and clouds cover it, day and night.  The snow / glacier at its peak is melting and unfortunately may disappear in another 20 years.  But there’s no such thing as global warming…and no impact from the choking fumes of Africa’s poorly maintained old trucks and cars everywhere…

April 2 – Tree-planting at Stanrehe Girls High School

Even nonprofits have “corporate social responsibility.” Arranged by a few TechnoServe colleagues, about 20 of us were driven out to Stanrehe Girls High School on the outskirts of Nairobi to plant the first group of 300 trees we purchased for the girls.  As is typical of my experiences in schools and youth activities, the TechnoServe staff was greeted with singing.  Then each of us was assigned to a Form One student (14 or 15 years old) who dug the hole and helped us plant our individual trees. One of the women I work closely with is Chair of Kenya Girl Guides (yes, the whole country) and she is a founding member of this 3-year old school.  Virtually all its girls are disadvantaged so their tuition is partly subsidized by sale of the school garden’s vegetables.  The school’s milk is supplied from their own cows.  The school staff continues to seek innovative ways for the girls to take responsibility for themselves.   Again, the young girls and this school are some of the reasons we have hope for Africa.

March 30 – I Shook Hands Today with Kenya’s Vice President, Minister & Permanent Secretary of Youth Affairs, etc. (part of my 15 minutes of fame?)

Through my working on the Believe Begin Become business plan competition, I tagged along today to a presentation of checks to TechnoServe, hosted by Kenya’s Vice President at his office!  I shook the VP’s hand as well as the Minister and his Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs (the latter oversees all the daily ministry activities).  Besides the TechnoServe Country Director (who spoke) and the Believe Begin Become Program Director, there were several other senior executives from private sector companies: Managing Director of Lenovo for Eastern & Southern Africa, the Chairman of the Kenya Pipeline Company, and one of the Board of Directors from Kenya Commercial Bank (largest in Kenya).  If we can get copies of pictures, I’ll post them.  TechnoServe was receiving a dummy check for 45 million Kenyan Shillings from the Youth Affairs, 7 million from Lenovo, and 1 million + other programs from Kenya Commercial Bank (70 Ksh = US$1).  The press were snapping photos, the Ministry recorded and video-ed the speeches.  Not bad for 1 30-minute meeting (with 2 years’ of work behind it).  Now we wait for the checks to clear…

March 27 – Lauren, our Niece, is Volunteering at TechnoServe Peru

Our “it’s a small world” continues when we found out that our niece, Lauren, who has been traveling throughout Latin America is working for TechnoServe Peru!  And the introduction was through friends–we didn’t introduce her!   I know that she will be valued as a volunteer consultant, as all of us are in Africa.

March 26 – Inquiring Minds Want to Know About our TechnoServe Projects

Rick is fully enjoyed his role as unofficial Deputy Country Director for the TechnoServe Kenya office.  He is a sounding board, mentor, and strategic and tactical advisor to the Country Director, who’s a very competent and visionary man and who started his job Jan. 1, 2007 after being a senior staff member for about 8 years.  Rick is also working closely with the new TechnoServe Africa CFO and many of the other Kenya senior staff, playing part-time devil’s advocate and part-time Solomon.  The projects and managers he supports run the gamut of industries TechnoServe Kenya assists:  dairy, bananas, legumes, the new coffee and cashew efforts, and entrepreneurship programs.  No piggies this time, but he’s learned all sorts of new fruit, veggie, and dairy vocabulary!  His title is Senior Adviser.  We’re not sure if the “Senior” refers to his level in the organization or his age.

My role is to advise and support TechnoServe Kenya’s 3 entrepreneurship programs: young women, piloting a model to scale up micro-enterprises, and Kenya’s 1st annual business plan competition which TechnoServe brands as Believe Begin Become (BBB).  Though conducted since 2003 in Latin American, BBB ran for the 1st time in Ghana and Swaziland in 2006 and is now in Kenya, South Africa, and again Ghana and Swaziland in 2007.  Kenya’s Believe Begin Become team anticipates receiving about 10,000 applicants, training about 8,000 for 1 day in 23 locations across the country, then providing intensive coursework for over one week to 300 semi-finalists in 8 locations.  Since I have peripheral experience from Swaziland’s BBB event, I can give some advice.   But the team has an experienced leader, so my role with this group will be smaller than the other two.  I am very active in Young Women in Enterprise, Upscaling Micro-Enterprises and other marketing projects.  Along with grant/proposal writing, I’ve judged 3 of the Enterprise Club competitions as described below and started to “build the capacity” of TechnoServe’s implementation partner, Project Baobab.   My activities with the Upscaling group are starting to scale up now, pun intended, so stay tuned for more in a future blog.

March 23 – Finally our Boxes from Swaziland Arrive and 2 Dinners with New Friends

On Tuesday night after we returned from Lamu, we were driven to Karen, a very high-income southern Nairobi suburb, where we were finally able to have dinner with my Brazilian friend, Deborah, and twin daughters Alice and Daisy.  Though I would guess the 15-year olds were mostly bored, the 3 adults really enjoyed learning about what we were all doing in Nairobi.  The food at the Talisman Restaurant was great and apparently their goat cheese and cilantro samosas are loved throughout Kenya.  To fully catch up on Deborah’s and my 40-year hiatus will probably take the rest of our stay in Kenya.  Later in the week we would learn that Deborah’s husband, David, who was traveling in the U.S. and U.K., had met with the sister of our TechnoServe Country Director’s wife.  The coincidences continue…

On Thursday evening, Rick and I went out to dinner with office colleagues, Anna and Greg, at Open House, the best Indian restaurant we’ve visited in Nairobi so far. They had recommended the Kijani House and Peponi restaurant in Lamu, so they clearly know their food.  The evening flew by with lots of getting-to-know-you conversations.  We talked about all of our people coincidences to date, saying we would have expected that everyone knew everyone in Swaziland with just 1 million people.  But Anna told us that Nairobi is viewed, especially by the ex-pats and professional workers, as really a village with so many people connected that our coincidences are actually the norm.  So far it seems that way to us…

One of Rick’s and my running jokes is waiting for the boxes we had left in Swaziland mid-December to arrive in Nairobi.  Had we known the agony and expense involved, it would have taken much less time to fly everything back to Calif. then back to Kenya.  Over 3 months after we packed them, our boxes finally got through several days and trips to customs.  It had been so long that it was hard to remember what we shipped.  Friday night felt like Christmas as we explored the surprises in our boxes.  T.i.A.–another funny quirk we have accepted about our African experiences (T.i.A. is described below in another part of the blog).

March 17 to 19 – Touring Lamu Island Allows Us to Step Back 50 to 100 Years in Time

We wanted to visit the Kenyan coast which is predominantly Muslim and where the Swahili culture and language (spoken across Tanzania and Kenya) had begun.  Arabs had come to the coast and islands hundreds of years ago to trade then conquered (loose term considering the actual resistance) Lamu and nearby islands forming an archipelago.  Lamu Town is Kenya’s oldest town still existing.  It symbolizes everything Swahili and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001.  So less than 48 hours ahead, we arranged to fly to the Island of Lamu off the northern Kenya coast (about 100km safely south of Somalia) to see for ourselves the fascinating origins of Swahili.

Our flights in a 40+ seater 2-engine prop-plane were on Fly 540, a relatively new airline with bright orange planes.  The hand-written boarding passes maybe should have been the 1st clue about service levels.  We almost missed getting onto our flight because they never announced that the flight was going to Lamu after continuing from its 1st stop in Malindi on Kenya’s southern coast (we didn’t know that (there or Malindi) was a stop on our supposedly non-stop flight).   The rest of the flight was uneventful.

The arrival, however, was definitely interesting.  The smallest actual airport we’d flown into was Livingstone in Zambia to see Victoria Falls with Carolyn.  In 1997, we landed on an airstrip in the Masai Mara.  The least efficient, small airport to which I’d been was Dominica in the Caribbean.  Lamu was in a different league altogether.  Actually we landed on an airstrip with 2 other passengers on Manda Island.  As we disembarked from the plane, we observed that the Arrival and Departure Lounges were open air, with wooden beams supporting the thatched-roof, and comfortable wood plank-topped cement benches.  Our luggage was available within a few minutes and was picked up by a young man wearing a t-shirt with our hotel name, then carried about 200 yards along a dirt path to the dock.  After 15 or so minutes, Mr. Hamid, our official greeter and guide, arrived by speedy-ish boat.  Rick and I plus 2 young women, who had arrived on Air Kenya around the same time, were going to the Kijani House Hotel in the village of Shela.  We all climbed into the boat for a 10-minute cruise to the hotel.  The driver and a friend pulled the boat up to a rock-pile wall in front of Kijani House and we climbed out.  I was certainly ungraceful for all my boat entries and exits because of the uneven sand or rocks and my recovering broken ankle.

Kijani House is a lovely inn right on the Indian Ocean with 2 swimming pools, lovely landscaped grounds, and good food.  Our hotel room was actually two-storied with shutter-windows, no glass, and a balcony overlooking the sea.  I almost immediately sat on that balcony, put my leg up, and read until it was too dark.  Rick walked around the hotel grounds and up the shore to a large compound supposedly owned by a German couple whose husband had cancer but wanted to come back to Lamu where he died recently.

Dinner was in the open-air bar and dining room.  If we wanted something other than the day’s prix-fixe dinner, we would have to order it in advance and we could eat about 45 minutes later.  So we ordered lobster, salads, and a shared crepe dessert and sat down with a Tusker beer to wait.  We joined the 2 young women from our earlier boat ride and ended up sitting with them for dinner.  They knew each other from work.  The one named Wendy was returning to Wisconsin soon to tend to her sick mother.  The other woman was Erica who had grown up in Beverly, Mass. less than 25 miles from my home in Swampscott, both on Boston’s north shore.  Both worked for another NGO in Nairobi.  More amazing little coincidences…

The next morning after a delicious fresh breakfast (the best yogurt I’ve tasted), Mr. Hamid helped us into a boat in front of the hotel to go into old Lamu Town where he guided us around for the next 2 hours.  There are no cars on Lamu Archipelago and donkeys are used for movement that can’t be hand carried.  Though I’ve yet to visit Arabic countries, Lamu Town felt like a town we’d find in Egypt or Morocco. Some of the oldest houses, originally built from coral reef “stones”, are being restored with more modern materials but we could see part of the old coral walls.  The streets were about 5 feet wide between 2 or 3 storey buildings, wide enough for 2 loaded donkeys to pass if we stood in a doorway (which we did a few times).  We walked by an old and a new mosque, the old built in the 14th century.  The new one was built by Saudi Arabia in the mid-1900s but the “congregation” was founded in the 1890s by a well-known Swahili scholar.  We visited the Donkey Sanctuary for orphaned and ill donkeys, the Swahili Museum, and shops (I bargained for a cotton kikoi cloth sarong), then stopped for a fresh juice at a small café.

After our boat-trip back to Kijani House, we changed into our swimsuits, I put on my new sarong, and we walked to the dining area, passing by a turtle over a foot long (we later heard and then observed that turtle and friend mating, a picture which Rick had go back to capture. We had a delicious small lunch of prawn, avocado & mango salads with curry & coconut milk dressing (and yes, I plan to make this for our gourmet group).  We couldn’t leave Lamu without taking a ride on a dhow, the old African wooden sailboat, so Mr. Hamid arranged for a private sunset dhow cruise around the edge of the island that is covered by mangrove forests.  For many years, Lamu’s main revenue was from mangrove logging .  The Kenyan government under pressure from global environmentalists stopped the logging.  It’s taken quite awhile for the island’s economy to recover, but that’s been helped by Lamu tourism and community leaders creating an Art Festival and two dhow competitions annually that draw large groups of visitors.

Back to the dhow cruise, we saw a beautiful sunset and were heading back to Shela and our hotel when the junior of the 2 dhow sailors managed to sail us onto the edge of the beach.  What was supposed to be less than 1.5 hour sailing turned into almost 2.5 hours, with the return trip powered by the junior sailor pushing and the senior guy poling the dhow all the way back to the hotel—in the dark.  However, the evening ended with a wonderful dinner at the nearby Peponi Hotel.  The highlights of that meal for me were the spicy mango soup, incredibly fresh white snapper, and the gooey chocolate dessert with nuts and cookies chopped up inside, accompanied by homemade vanilla ice cream.  Rick boldly asked the owner/hostess if she’d be willing to give up the recipe for the soup, which he went back the next morning to get since the computer with her recipes had been already shut down.  More food for gourmet group.

After 2 nights sleeping under a mosquito net with ocean breezes wafting through the room and 2+ days of reading, ocean, and wandering through an ancient town, we were totally relaxed.  We took a boat back to the Lamu Airport on Manda Island.  Our luggage and we were hand-screened; we waited in the open-air Departure Lounge, then flew back through Malindi again to Nairobi where we fast-forwarded 50 to 100 years in time.

The time-warp on Lamu is what I imagined my father experienced during World War II when he was stationed in different parts of Eastern Africa as a pilot, including on the island of Madagascar.  When he left there, he said something like, “I bid a fond farewell to this jewel on the Indian Ocean.”  Exactly, Daddy.

March 16 – Multiple Musings: Matatu = Crazy Taxi; Pedestrians Constantly Jaywalk with Impunity; Random but regular Police Roadblocks; and W.t.A. or T.i.A.

As we drive around Nairobi and elsewhere in Kenya, we are continually flabbergasted by the craziness of the matatu drivers.  A matatu is a mini-van with a regular route to/from certain villages or cities.  Drivers probably take lessons from the kami-kaze school of driving.  Their cars are beat up but tank-like so they don’t care about frequently darting into and out of your way.  It’s astounding that they don’t cause or get into many more accidents.  Kombi drivers and vehicles in Swaziland seem tame, and Micro drivers in Chile are downright boring by comparison.  But they must all be genetically related or mutated though living thousands of miles apart.

Kenyan culture has a wonderful, though crazy-making tendency toward assertiveness which emerges as amusing insanity among pedestrians.  They blithely cross multiple highway lanes despite speeding traffic.  In a congested area, they either don’t look at drivers at all or just glance up at the car that almost hits them.  It’s as if they dare you to hit them.  When they do acknowledge the nearby presence of a car, all pedestrians seem to have this cute mode of looking as though they are scurrying the last 2 feet of their casual challenge to cross an incredibly busy street.  I’ve begun to giggle and admire them in a bizarre way.  It may prove Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest…

All our trips outside of Nairobi are on brain-rattling, pot-holed roads. Our drivers dodge in and out of lanes past slow trucks spewing nasty black fumes or crazy matatu drivers who stop often and without warning to drop off/pick up passengers.  Then there are the ever-changing police roadblocks every 25 km or so which force us to merge quickly to the right lane to pass one row of spikes then veer quickly left around the second row of spikes.  Our driver never really knows whether he will be stopped.  Supposedly these are random checks for contraband (if our car is stopped we open the “boot” or trunk) or vehicle safety.  95% of the time we sail—or slowly jerk—through the roadblock.

Because of all the above, it is quite understandable that Africans at multiple levels of society say either T.i.A (This is Africa!) as in Blood Diamond or W.t.A. (Welcome to Africa!). Rather than lose our minds or be depressed at the aggravation that continually pops up (e.g., the 5 or more times per day that electricity goes off and on and therefore internet and phone service—electrically-based phones), we have come to accept and laugh at the antics.  Truly most of the things that happen are inconveniences or attributable to cultural differences (speedy customer service vs. slower, hang-loose attitude).  However, T.i.A. or W.t.A. are spoken everywhere by most everyone.

March 15 – More Differences between Kenya and Swaziland: Haunting Poverty Affects Both Man & Animal

Rick and I have now spent several days being driven out and back into Nairobi on work-related and pleasurable day trips.  Nairobi is a huge, sprawling, rather- sophisticated city of over 3 million compared to 100,000+ population in Mbabane or Manzini, Swaziland.  So poverty inside and on the edges of the city is exponentially more severe.  Even on Nairobi’s main streets, we periodically see men pulling large, rickshaw-like handcarts of goods.  Bicycles are prevalent in villages and in Nairobi.  It is not unusual for an older man to be pumping up a hill slowly or young men with 5 plastic crates filled with bottles or food piled 5-high on the back of a bike, tied down with a bungee cord.  Unlike southern African women who mostly carry huge loads on their heads with babies tied to their backs, here we see most young and old women with a strap or tump-line around their foreheads attached to huge loads on their backs, with babies sometimes tied in blankets to the women’s chests.  As you can imagine, posture of these poor Kenyan women is terrible (though I’m sure a head-load compresses the spine, at least the body is upright).

20 km or less out of Nairobi is when we start seeing donkeys pulling carts piled high with bales of hay, bags of rice, or other assorted goods, often with a man standing at the front edge of the cart holding the reins and a small whip.  Donkey- and human-pulled handcarts are widely used in towns and villages off the main roads.   Also there are lots more bicycles and individual human load-bearers seemingly walking long-distances as well.  Obviously bicycles and donkey carts are better than a person bearing the load.  But in addition to not having a choice of transportation other than those and matatu taxis, these methods are ways people have adapted to the terrible road-conditions.  Yes, the roads are being improved, slowly, but dusty, bumpy “diversions” to the road shoulder on one side then switch to the other side of the highway can be ignored by the donkey, bicycle or human mode.

Just a side-note, it is scary for us in our comfortable cars to closely pass these along a fast road.  They donkeys, cyclists, and people barely glance at the inches by which we miss them.

March 12 – Adrian, our Son, is 30 Years Old Today

How did we get to be old enough to have a 30-year old son???  We were sad to not be celebrating Adrian’s major milestone in person. Diana was our proxy, heading up to Boston for the weekend to be with her big brother and a few of his friends for dinner.  He’s living in his new condo, enjoying his new job, dating actively, and knows his way around Boston now as well as D.C. (actually better than the SF Bay Area any more). Pretty good life!  Happy Birthday, Adrian, and many, many more.

March 11 – Flamingoes of Lake Nakuru

We took another day trip to Lake Nakuru, 2.5 hours and 100km north of Nairobi.  Our driver, Steve, did his best to stay out of pot-holes and bumps, but the ride each way did seem never-ending.  We passed through many towns teeming with cyclists, donkey carts, and people visiting each other and going to market.  One unique characteristic that I hadn’t seen elsewhere was the style of displaying fruits and vegetables in kiosks along the highway.  Rather than the typical pyramid piles of the same exact produce in nearby kiosks, many green grocers displayed their goods upright inside a wooden sort-of bookshelf.  These were pleasingly colorful and definitely more attention-grabbing…at least to me.

We arrived at the Lake Nakuru Park expecting to see a few scattered groups of typical game and many flamingoes.  We saw tens of thousands of pink flamingoes! As we approached the large, soda-based lake surrounded by mud flats, we thought there were large gatherings of pink flowers in the water.  As we drove closer, the flowers turned into non-stop flamingoes which were busy standing, dipping their heads to eat, grooming, and periodically flapping up to cruise over their friends.  Our pictures on the website are good but cannot do justice to the feeling of discovering maybe 100,000 pink birds.

We did see some sacred ibis birds, a lone white pelican and 2 quite lovely crowned cranes.  And Rick spotted and captured a picture of a very cute Dik-Dik, the smallest of the antelope-type species, which we hadn’t seen since were on safari in East Africa back in 1997.  The rest of the drive through the park was much less unusual.  Just several troops of baboons, herds of gazelles (Thompson and other variety,) and groups of reedbucks, cape buffalo and zebras as well as the occasional one or two white rhinos, reintroduced to the park a few years ago.  We’re trying not to get jaded so we allow several weekends to pass between animal-viewing trips.

The last thing to note was that at the end of our drive back to Nairobi, everything in and on the car, including us, was covered with a layer of red dust.  As soon as we got home, I showered.  The tub ran reddish brown with my dust-removal for most of the time under the water.  The last time I remember being so thoroughly coated with dust was after hiking in Bryce National Park in Utah.  Then the water washed off reddish-pink talcum-like powder.

March 9 – Ironically Nairobi Doctor Solves WW’s Ankle Mystery Apparently Missed by Stanford Doctors

Those whom I visited while in Boston, New York ,Philadelphia and California may remember that I was limping a bit.  Sometime as I was walking in Boston, I must have hit my ankle.  A few days before I left California from Nairobi, since my new, regular doctor was away, I was treated by a nice 4th year Resident and a different attending doctor who recommended I receive an X-ray, which I did.  I headed off to Nairobi as planned.  My flight into Chicago arrived late so I had to run to the gate for London–to be happily surprised I was upgraded to Business Class and miserably in pain.  By the time I arrived in Nairobi, I had requested a wheelchair, which certainly surprised Rick who awaited me in the lobby of Jomo Kenyatta Airport.

After a couple more weeks, my ankle was still painful.  After a great deal of effort, my Stanford doctor’s clinical coordinator said I should see a physician in Nairobi.  So our Office Manager arranged for an appointment with a doctor at M.P. Shah Hospital nearby.  He examined my ankle, recommended a CT-scan (for which I paid less than US$110.00!), and told me to return to see him in 2 days.  Lo and behold, he told me that I had a hairline fracture across my fibula bone about 4 cm. above my ankle.  Since it was in place and healing he suggested elevating it as much as possible, continue on ibuprofen (which he had to look up in his pharmaceutical book), be careful because I have osteopenia (preliminary to osteoporosis), and return to visit him in late May.  I sent the diagnosis to my doctor via her coordinator and received a very defensive reply that the X-ray could not have seen the break, yadayadayada.  Hmmmm, Stanford vs. Nairobi medicine…

March 8 – The Roads to Juja, Kangari, and Ruiru–to Meet Rural, Female Future Entrepreneurs

One of the projects which I support is the Young Women in Enterprise which recruits and trains 15 to 20-something year old women in entrepreneurship, business and life skills. About half of the 260 are in secondary school and the rest have left school (hence the common African term school-leavers vs. America’s drop-out) either after 8th grade or after 1 – 2 years of secondary school.  After almost 200 hours of course time the majority of these women compete within each club with their individual business plans.  We are talking about simple businesses—lots of beauty salons (also called saloons), retail kiosks (road-side stalls) selling greens or cereals or sundries—with a few other ideas per larger club, i.e.;, fresh juice creation, lending library, and cafe.

Many of these women have some truly amazing characteristics in truly challenging circumstances: self-confidence, passion and determination.  Over half of the school-leavers have children of their own or are responsible for raising siblings or elders. The majority live in slums or slum-like dwellings none of us would think are habitable.  During the 12 competitions, Rick and I judged one together in Kangari, I judged at 2 more in Juja and Ruiru, and Rick attended the award ceremony at Kibera, the infamous slum of “The Constant Gardner” movie.  The 3 events I attended were north of Nairobi, on the road to or past the city of Thika.  The shortest trip was 40 minutes and the longest 2.5 hours, on bone-jarring, traffic-filled roads (more in another blog).

The community centers-cum-churches and judging rooms had cement or dirt floors, corrugated tin or cement block walls, with wood-beamed corrugated tin or thatched roofs.  Sometimes there were glass windows, but mostly walls had openings with metal shutters. Verb tense changes The audience and judges were seated on plastic stackable chairs.  Wooden tables were moved in and out of spaces as needed.  Lunches for the judges, teachers, and club members were nourishing and tasty:  rice, meat stew, roasted chicken parts, cooked veggies, chapati (fried and tortilla-like), with bottled soft drinks including Fanta Orange and Grape (no longer popular in U.S.) along with standard Coke.  Inevitably, we started judging later than planned because of travel and other typical event-glitches, and there were always more than the expected number of presenters (good news because more girls rise to the challenge).  So lunch was generally around 3:00 p.m. rather than 1:00 p.m. then the awards ceremony started about 4 or 4:30 rather than 2:00.

It really does take a village…and the pride and support for the girls was quiet but very tangible.  The girls waited nervously surrounded by the audience of parents, friends, and local officials filling and overflowing the hall.  At least 80% of the next couple of hours was entirely in Swahili.  The ceremony opens and closes with a Christian prayer.  The protocol of respect for elders and authority was very strict.  Each important person in the hall sat on the makeshift stage, was announced with proper (often long) titles, and was allowed to speak.  Those whose speeches we could influence, we requested that they try to inspire all the girls to start their businesses even if they don’t win.  No matter how often we explained that the grant by Nike Foundation was for only young women, at least one of chiefs or other male officials commented about the villages’ young men needing the training as much as the girls.

The speeches by parents were awe-some.  Even though I had no idea what the words meant, I could understand from the emotions what was being said.  Two older sisters of the girl who won 1st prize in Juja stood next to her.  The one who spoke was beautifully dressed in a coral suit and heels, the other in a tailored purple dress.  It was clear from the tears that the older sister talked about her pride in her younger sibling, especially in light of overcoming parental deaths and her bearing 2 children, to still have the determination to start a business.

The other really inspiring parent was the father of one of the young girls in Kangari who did not win a prize but was one of the speakers.  Though again the words were entirely in Swahili, he spoke tearfully and proudly about this daughter.  After the ceremony, one of my colleagues interpreted for me.  The gist was that: he had started his own small business in 1970 which allowed him to feed and clothe his (large) family, put them all through school, and that he was so proud of this, his youngest daughter who was following in his footsteps.

My last judging experience was at a public secondary school in Ruiru, another semi-rural area, which had been started in 2002 by the principal.  She was so proud of the accomplishments of her students, staff, and that this year they now had a “Form 4” class.  She was clearly thrilled to provide some of her students with the Enterprise Club experience and hoped to repeat it with next year’s students.

These amazing young women and their teachers are some of the reasons why Rick and I have hope for Africa.

March 4 – Afternoon with New TechnoServe Friends (& Small World Continues)

Fred Ogana, TechnoServe Kenya’s Country Director, invited us to join his wife Judy and their sons Sifa (2.5 years old) and Imani (4.5 years) for lunch in Karen, the community outside of Nairobi named for Karen Blixen of Out of Africa fame.  The Oganas drove us to a hidden B&B called Marushla where we had lunch by the pool.  It felt like we had someone’s picturesque, tropically landscaped backyard—totally to ourselves on this beautiful Sunday afternoon.  Lunch was delightful and so was the company.

While Fred and the kids swam in the pool before lunch, Rick and I chatted with Judy about how and why we’re in Nairobi when another coincidence came to light!  Judy knows David Coulson because she had interviewed with him for a job a couple of years ago.  He is husband to Deborah, cousin of Alice von Briesen and whose personal assistant here is married to the brother of TechnoServe Kenya’s office manager.  They also know each other through their association with the local art community.  Even though we know the so-called professional folks in Nairobi are a small group, the coincidences seem amazing for a country the size of Kenya.  But we keep hearing and are starting to believe that Nairobi, a city of 3 million, is actually a small village…

March 3 – Finally Settled Into Our Permanent Apartment

As I type my blog right now, I am sitting on the balcony of our permanent apartment, looking over the courtyard and pool, while the tropical breezes gently sway the palm trees and green landscape…It really is lovely.  Too bad that starting at 8am—it’s now 5:30 p.m.—the sound of hammers, drills, bulldozers, etc. still continue at the next door construction site100 feet away.  This is despite the departure of many of the hundreds of workmen who’d buzzed around the site all day.  Looking at the construction process makes me a bit nervous because the multiple cement floor levels are being held up by what look like tree-branches instead of steel—hopefully just while the cement dries.  But I don’t want to think about that.  I’m just enjoying the tropical breezes.

Because we were delayed in moving in due to problems in the apartment (which are hopefully all fixed!), the complex management agreed to help me carry all the food, suitcases, etc. this morning.  That way Rick wouldn’t have to do all that after a long day of flying from Jo’burg.  I’ve unpacked everything so we’re finally not nomads!!!   There are 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, small office, good-sized kitchen, and generous living-dining area.  So lots of space for visitors!

March 2 – Rick is in Johannesburg and WW Completes 2nd Full Week at TechnoServe Kenya

Because the TNS Kenya Country Director was recovering from surgery, Rick represented him at the annual TechnoServe Africa Meeting.  He, the Kenya CFO, for someone who hates acronyms,  TNS KE CFO is pretty amazing and the TNS Uganda Country Director flew from Nairobi to Johannesburg, South Africa at literally dawn this past Sunday, 25 Feb. for a week.  The TNS VP of Africa, Director of Entrepreneurship in Africa, and the CEO of all TechnoServe gathered with the TNS Country Directors to plan strategy for 2007.  The last few days of the week were allotted for field visits to clients in northeastern South Africa to stimulate cross-country best practices’ discussions.

I experienced several firsts this week.  This was the first week I’ve lived by myself in Africa.  I wrote my first TechnoServe press release, distributed it via email and fax with help from the receptionist, and spoke to Kenya newspaper writers for the first time.  I also drafted my first concept paper / grant proposal for TechnoServe Kenya to underwrite part of the Young Women in Enterprise program.  I’ve now completed my second full week at TechnoServe Kenya on some very positive notes!

February 28 – Amazing Coincidences

As I may have mentioned previously, I took the train to Oyster Bay Cove to visit my college friends, Alice and Ted, while I was visiting Diana in NYC.  Alice had grown up in Rio de Janeiro.  During the summer after our freshman year at Tufts, I was very fortunate to visit her in Brazil in 1967.  One of our trips was to Terazopolis in the mountains outside of Rio for a long weekend, where I met 2 of Alice’s first cousins, Deborah and Jennifer.   I haven’t see either of them since but Alice told me that Deborah has been living in Nairobi for many years, so of course gave me her contact info.

I emailed Deborah when I arrived, and she invited me to the opening of her husband’s rock art photography exhibit at Alliance Francaise in downtown Nairobi on Tuesday, 27 February.  I recognized her by her teenaged twin girls Alice had mentioned.  We didn’t spend a lot of time together because of her obligations at the opening, but we’ll have dinner together next week.  What are the odds of meeting someone briefly in Brazil then seeing them for the second time in Nairobi 40 years later????

Another coincidence was that Deborah introduced me to a very nice, chatty fellow named Zaffar, whose wife is Deborah’s Personal Assistant.  As it turns out Zaffar is the brother of TechnoServe Kenya’s Office Manager, Firdos.

The next night, Wed., 28 Feb., I went to the launch of the JA Africa and Coca Cola Foundation Africa partnership at Kenya High School.  I had been invited by JA Kenya’s Country Director because I had emailed him the week before (I had met him at the JA African Conference October 2006 in Nairobi).  Finding the location on the campus was like taking a trip out of the country and back again, but after driving up and down some dirt roads behind the school, my intrepid taxi driver, David, found where I was supposed to be.  I had suspected that the VP of Africa for JA Worldwide would attend the announcement of the US$1.5 million partnership over a 3 year period.  But 2 other JA colleagues whom I had met the previous October at the conference were there, one from Nigeria and one, Linda McClure from South Africa because along with Kenya they would be the first countries to benefit from this funding.  Linda and I had become good friends while I was helping set up JA Swaziland at TechnoServe in fall 2006.

These coincidences are proof that the world is really shrinking, even if it’s warming at the same time.

February 26 – WW’s First Field Trip Helps Contrast Kenya and Swaziland

STATISTICS: Kenya has over 30 times the number of people, probably 30 times the landmass, and definitely many times the scale of financial and health problems as Swaziland.  Nairobi alone has over 3 million residents vs. 1 million Swazis in total.  In Swaziland we could traveled 2 hours in any direction and we’d cross a border—hence the need to add more passport pages before we flew to Kenya.  Kenya is vast by comparison: almost 585,000 sq. km.  Talk about token, less than 1% of Kenyans are non-African ethnicities.  80% of the more than 32 million Kenyans live in rural areas—over 50% are officially below poverty level. Though Kenya has a more consistently temperate climate, flatter land, and generally higher altitude than southern Africa, only 20% of the land can be productively cultivated.

NAIROBI TO EMBU: My first trip outside of Nairobi was to Embu, about 100 km northeast of Nairobi, to visit 2 clients participating in what’s called the TechnoServe Upscaling Pilot.  The concept in brief is that funding of micro-enterprises has become popular throughout the world, but by and large these businesses stay at or just above subsistence level.  The Upscaling Pilot is funded to find and test a model of helping micro-enterprises to develop the capability to employ more people, increase revenues, and sell products into a larger distribution chain and market.

Rick and I joined Alice and Amos from the Upscaling Pilot (who are part of the Entrepreneurship Team that I’m helping) on the 2.5 hour drive to visit Canan Honey and Aspen Orchards Yogurt.  We traveled on Kenya’s network of mostly 2-lane roads, past many villages and near the city of Thika.  We passed (as often as we could) many slow, pollution-spewing trucks.  Several noticeable differences from southern Africa were:  more homes from mud and stone, many small children walking along the busy highway, women in public with their hair covered, lots of bicycles, and a number of donkey- or even ox-driven carts on the roads alongside the crazy cars passing when they feel like it.

AND BACK TO NAIROBI:  After being in the beautifully rolling country-side scattered with villages, it was almost a shock hitting Nairobi’s rush hour with smog hanging above the roads.  Also shocking were the slums on Nairobi’s outskirts. One of these slums was featured in the “Constant Gardner” which is as it was filmed: a sea of garbage, mud, filthy water, and tin-roofed and side hovels that stretched to the horizon.  Then we passed through some nice almost sub-urban areas before we reached our Westlands office.

As with many African cities, huge gaps in income and architecture are the norm.  Nairobi has high rises, museums, good restaurants.  Mercedes and BMWs are common (maybe as many as in all of Swaziland).  But most streets have dirt sidewalks. Many of its 3 million inhabitants cannot afford daily meals.  HIV/AIDS is pandemic though the percentage of infected population is not nearly as high as Swaziland.  Yet the landscape is lush and tropical, there’s lot of construction, and most people are reasonably well-dressed in western clothing.

February 23 – Eerie Warnings and Other Early Observations

We have registered with the U.S. Embassy as recommended strongly throughout Africa.  They can then locate us in emergencies, which is heartening but…  The Embassy also emails its database to warn us of recent or upcoming events.  The 1st warning told us to take extra precautions due to 2 women whose spouses worked for the Embassy who had been hijacked and murdered on the outskirts of Nairobi.  We then were emailed about a “town hall” meeting for U.S. citizens to discuss security concerns with the Embassy Staff.  Subsequent to the meeting, the only tangible results announced were that as a result of all the complaints about lack of adequate Embassy parking provided, henceforth U.S. Embassy visitors would not be able to use their car-park but would have to find something on the nearby streets.  What a Pres. Bush-like solution!!

Rick and I will not rent a car due both to security concerns and convenience of taxis outside the apartment complex and at the office.  We live and work in the Westlands section of Nairobi, which is considered upscale since many ex-pats live and work here.   Although we are a couple of miles from the office, it still takes us 15 to 20 minutes to reach it due to the traffic and despite our knowledgeable drivers weaving in and our of back streets, driveways, etc., Rick has felt comfortable walking a bit around the neighborhood and we’ve walked together to restaurants near the office.  However, I will definitely stick to taxis.  I do not feel safe enough to go anywhere by myself.

Both of us anticipated that we’d been spoiled by Swaziland.  My biggest concern walking around downtown Mbabane was being run over by crazy kombi drivers.  At our cottage, the naughty monkeys were our main threat.  We thought that living in Swaziland and visiting South Africa and Mozambique had given us a good perspective on Africa.  The Kenya I’ve seen so far is not as upscale as parts of South Africa and the slums are even worse.  Virtually every Nairobi home or building, just like Johannesburg, is surrounded by 8-foot high walls topped by barbed wire rings or glass shards with guards at every gate which are closed by iron-bar doors.  We are not in Swaziland any more…

February 19 – TechnoServe Kenya (TNS KE) is 3 Times the Size of TechnoServe Swaziland

After spending 2 days elevating my ankle and trying to get over jet lag, I went to the office for the first time on Feb. 16th but I consider February 19th being my first official day to sort out my work projects.  Rick is already productive being a mentor to TechnoServe’s new Kenya and Uganda Country Managers, as well as providing the benefit of his long experience to the client business advisors.  TechnoServe Kenya is clearly going to be very different from TechnoServe Swaziland in many ways. The least of which difference is that it was hard to get lost in the 3 office rooms in Mbabane vs. the maze of hallways and spaces housing 40 people in Nairobi.  In TNS KE there are several Europeans and two other Americans (one of who’s lived in Africa for a few years) other than Rick and me.  All the people are very nice, though I have only gotten to know about a dozen people.

Each morning we are picked up for the office at 8:00 a.m. and eventually driven back to home about 5:00 p.m. by pre-arranged taxi service, along with one or two other volunteers who live near by.  For those who know me well, I would not choose to arrive and depart at these early hours.  I’m just going along with Rick’s and the office’s patterns.

Both Rick and I are optimistic that TechnoServe has and will continue to make a very positive impact in Kenya.  And we hope to help them make a difference as well.

February 17 & 18 – WW’s First Outings in Nairobi Include Food, Of Course

FOOD SHOPPING

On Saturday, Rick and I went to the Sarit Centre (modestly calling itself a City within a City) which is truly a large urban mall.  We went out to lunch at a nearby Japanese Restaurant, which was quite good.  After wandering around the mall, we did our food shopping at the Uchumi Supermarket, which is very similar to SPAR in Swaziland.  We bought most of our groceries at Uchumi then went to a nearby butcher for our meat and cheese. Our taxi came back to pick us up at the lower level car-park which itself was a total traffic jam.  Apparently, the only time Sarit’s parking is not a mess is weekday late mornings and early afternoons.

Maybe at a future date we can try shopping at Nakumatt, which I have the impression is like a Wal-Mart with a touch of Sam’s Club.

One sadness in my moving to Kenya is apparently we foreigners should not eat raw veggies, un-peeled fruit, or salads (the latter I normally eat daily).  This is due to the use of pesticides and fertilizers (my father used to refer to “night soil”).  We have to boil our veggies, which eliminates taste and nutrients.  So far, I’ve not been impressed at all by the quality of meat that we have bought or are served from lunch-time restaurants.  For example, the TechnoServe office “tea boy” takes everyone’s lunch orders, but I believe he delivers virtually the same exact meal to everyone.  Typically we buy a plastic container of rice with cooked cabbage, carrots, green beans, and/or lentils and a foil-wrapped meat to accompany.  The chicken, beef, and lamb that we order is interchangeable in stringy texture.  I never know what meat I actually have received until I cut into it and guess by the tiny middle layer of color between 2 sides of dark brown.  The good news about all this meat being over-cooked is that bacteria are certainly nuked.  Though I have been peeling carrots and cucumbers and eating them raw, I still really miss actual salads.

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK

On Sunday, Feb. 18, Rick and I hired Simon, a taxi driver, to take us around Nairobi National Park for the afternoon.  The first thing that struck me was the main gate with a plaque noting its donation by Ker & Downey Safari Company. Edie Ker was Florence/Mom’s best and longest friend from childhood who in her late thirties visited Kenya on safari and ended up married to Don Ker—the great white hunter image probably doesn’t exactly apply.   To me the most amazing aspect of Nairobi National Park is not the animals but the fact that over the heads of the giraffes, hippos, impala, etc. the Nairobi skyline is clearly visible.  That is when I truly felt I was back in Africa, full of contrasts.

GOOD INDIAN RESTAURANT

That night, Rick and I went to Haandi which is supposed to be one of the best Indian Restaurants in Nairobi.  We arrived at 6:45 but only the bar was open before 7:00 p.m.  By the time we left after 8:30, the dining room was jammed with a great mix of people:  African, White, Indian, and Asian.  Haandi is definitely my favorite meal so far.

February 14 – My 1:00 a.m. Valentines Day’s Arrival in Nairobi

Mary Jo graciously got up at the crack of dawn on Feb. 12th to drive me again to SFO—with about 150 lbs. of luggage.  When I had to switch planes at O’Hare, I was forced to run with 50 lbs. of carry-ons to barely make the flight to Brussels.  However, I was rewarded with a Business Class upgrade so I could nurse my now very sore ankle with free wine and more legroom.  But by the time I reached Nairobi, I had requested a wheelchair because I knew I was not going to be able to walk to baggage claim, go through customs, and retrieve the 150 lbs. of luggage on my injured ankle.  Rick was definitely surprised to see me being wheeled toward him.  It was wonderful seeing him after 3 weeks on different continents. Having spent almost 30 hours in flights or layovers (door to door) and it being 1:30 a.m. by the time we got to our apartment, I only felt relief to not be in motion.  I barely registered that I was in Nairobi.

We are living in a one-bedroom apartment in a nice apartment complex in the Westlands section, not too far from the office.  We are supposed to move into a 3-bedroom apartment in the same complex soon, so I am still living out of suitcases like a nomad.  The building and our living space is fine, just not the “cute and cozy cottage” we had in Swaziland.

February 11 – Two Months as Nomads at Home and on the East Coast

It’s hard to believe that 2 months in the U.S. are over.  It seemed as though we were in motion from December 13th when our good friends Mary Jo and Bill picked us up at the airport until they dropped me back at SFO on February 12th.  Our house-sitters kindly left the house to us for 2 weeks while they visited their families in Bakersfield.  Within 4 days, we cut a fresh Christmas tree and decorated it and the house for Christmas and Hanukkah.  We attended multiple holiday parties and dinners that next week.  Then Diana, Adrian and Scooter arrived December 22nd and left December 30th about the same time from 2 different airports. It was so great to have us all together.  We saw lots of friends throughout the week with the kids as well as Rick’s sister Leslie and nephew Daniel who arrived Christmas evening and left New Year’s Eve.  Very hectic and absolutely wonderful.  It’s a good thing that like good red wine, we have mellowed as we have aged.

On January 4, 2007, Rick and I flew to Washington D.C. to spend a lot of time with his mother and sisters, Linda and Wendy, and their families.  No sightseeing and minimal traveling.  We did drive to Southern Maryland’s Chesapeake Shore to see one set of cousins (Robin, June, Geoffrey, and new baby Benjamin) and spent an afternoon with another cousin, Cathy. These 12 days were the most relaxing since arriving in the U.S.  Truly, truly enjoyable.

Next we flew up to Boston to spend time with Adrian.  We visited Aunt Ruth, Uncle Sonny and their daughter/my cousin Amy and family.  We walked a lot, saw Adrian’s new condo (after helping him resolve some financing), took in some movies, and had dinner with family friends Devette and Bob, and college friends Susan, Stanley, and Maxine.  We stayed downtown at the Omni Parker House so we’d hop on the T Green Line at Park Street or Adrian would pick us up in his car.  Rick flew back to California on January 21st for a few frenetic days to prepare for his flight to Nairobi on Jan. 25th while I stayed in Boston until the 23rd having great one-on-one time with Adrian (and extra time to play with my grandpuppy, Scooter).  While I was taking the train to NYC on the 23rd, Adrian text-messaged me that he accepted a position as an attorney with Tri-CAP a nonprofit based in Malden, outside of Boston.  He will be focused of housing issues, in which he’s built up quite a bit of experience in Boston and during his volunteering in New Orleans during October 2006.  So now both the Walleigh men have paid jobs!

Diana picked me up at Penn Station in Manhattan after completing a residency interview on Long Island.  She lugged my computer up the stairs to her 4th floor apartment, then we had a cozy dinner at Uptown cafe in her neighborhood.  I met Kathy, a college friend, for lunch on Wednesday, then after running some errands, had dinner with Diana and her college friend Beth at the Asian-fusion Spice Market restaurant in the trendy meat-packing district.  Since it was part of New York’s Restaurant Weeks, the usually-expensive restaurant had wonderful prix fixe 3-course dinners for $35 per person (my glass of wine was an additional $14!!!).  On Thursday, Diana flew to New Orleans for another residency interview and I took the train to outside of Philadelphia to spend a fun couple of days with my college room-mate, Patti, and her family. On Sunday I met another college friend, Sandi, at the Whitney Museum where we saw the Picasso exhibit and had lunch.  The 2 of us met Kathy and went back to her Westside apartment to gab. Then the 3 families (8 of us) had a great dinner at Shun Lee West.  It was so nice seeing the “kids” (youngest is 22) together—3 of them had been at lunch with us at least 10 years ago.  It was a lot of fun chatting with them as adults!

During my last week on the East Coast in NYC, I helped Diana and her room-mate deal with nasty issues at their apartment building: no heat, sometimes no hot water, and break-ins (thank God not their apt.) by a group of teenaged boys.  In between, I took a train to Oyster Bay Cove on Long Island to see another college friend Alice, had lunch again with Kathy, met Diana for lunch at Brooklyn Hospital, and generally tried to spend as much time with Diana as possible given her hectic schedule.

On Friday, Feb. 2nd, I flew back to the Bay Area.  Mary Jo and Bill once again picked me up and took me to dinner.  Some time, somewhere in Boston, I either sprained or banged my right ankle.  I don’t remember any incident, but my ignoring it during the remainder of my trip has not improved my ankle.  In fact it is getting worse. My final 10 days in the U.S. were full of meals with friends, errands, doctor visits, and recovering from a cold as well as the sprained ankle.  During the forced down time to regain my health, I was able to muse on how busy we’d been for 2 months solid, what a terrific family we have, how supportive our many friends are, and ironically that I looked forward to stop being a nomad by going to Africa!

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