2008 Walleigh Travel Journal: Back to Africa + Perspective on Africa Living

in Blog, Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda

Oct. 10 –  44 Hours Door to Door from Cape Town to Johannesberg to Nairobi to London to SFO!

We had a great month in 4 African countries. But it was very tiring: really hard beds, so-so meals in many hotels, and needing to leave the bathroom light on every night because we were in so many different rooms there was no way I could remember where to turn in the middle of the night.  It was especially wonderful to be home after 44 hours in transit.  We left our Cape Town inn at 4:00 a.m. to fly into Johannesburg by 8:30 a.m.  We had multiple-hour, scheduled layovers there, Nairobi and London which was only the halfway point in distance.  Our last 11-hour leg to SFO seemed endless.  Amazingly, our luggage arrived with us, our limo home was on time, and we were asleep after a little bit of critical unpacking.   And it was sooooo good to sleep in my own bed!

Oct. 8 – Final Comments on Our Africa Trip

U.S. Elections with Friends and Colleagues

What amazed us everywhere we traveled in Africa was how closely everyone was following the U.S. Presidential Elections.  It was less surprising in Kenya, of course, since they feel quite proprietary about Obama with some of his father’s family still living there.  The good news was that Africans gave us their thoughtful opinions, asked who we were voting for, and especially what Americans thought about McCain and Palin though they might not know her name. The bad news: probably 90% of Americans could not have had the same intelligent discussions.  In some ways that gives me hope that Africans will eventually bring that intelligence to bear on their own electoral processes and candidates.

Surrealism of Feeling Like Being in Europe or California While Actually in Africa

South Africa is a stunning country that geographically is like a consolidated California, turned 90o and two-thirds surrounded by ocean along a semi-circular coastline.  Clearly different are South Africa’s wildlife and population mix, with whites estimated at 4.3-million (9.1%), colored (bi-racial) at 4.2-million (8.9%) and Indian/Asian at just short of 1.2-million (2.5%).  But there were times that it felt surreal to remember we were in a country facing racial turmoil, dire poverty, great violence in Johannesburg, and a fragile, though growing, economy.

Indeed, Cape Town is a beautiful cosmopolitan city despite being surrounded by depressing “flats” a.k.a. slums.  The hotels, restaurants, shopping, and sites are a combination of San Francisco with a bit of Netherlands and England thrown in.  Our brief stay in Cape Town at the beginning and end of our few days mostly involved spending time with our delightful niece Becca and her boyfriend Pete who are both working for nonprofits there to help mothers and youths affected by HIV/AIDS. The rest of the time we drove through Winelands, the equivalent of Napa and Sonoma Valleys in Calif., cute little tourist towns similar to Carmel, and a dramatic, gorgeous coastline that could have been the Mendocino coast. The farms could have been in Half Moon Bay near San Francisco. Many of the mostly Caucasian local people looked well-to-do.  Local retail and hospitality businesses seemed British or Dutch-influenced.  Periodically we were reminded of our being in Africa, especially when we passed some ostrich farms, saw a baboon darting distantly along the road and visited the penguin colony near Betty’s Bay.

The South African trip description below may sound as though the Winelands, Klein Karoo and southern coast of Africa was ho-hum but there are just so many superlatives one can use.  And at times I almost felt guilty at enjoying the scenery, food and B&Bs knowing that 90% of the country is desperately hungry and poor.  Ironically, I prefer to see the contrasts more frequently.  I prefer to remember that I’m in Africa to either see the amazing animals or help alleviate poverty.  I actually prefer to spend my “vacation” in less-than-perfect places (though Ethiopia was a bit of a stretch for me) that remind of the struggle of the people nearby.  I amaze myself by confirming with this South African experience that I’d rather not be comfortable in Africa as if visiting Europe.  So October 2008 will be my last planned trip there.

Oct. 3 – 8 – Touring South Africa’s Coast and Winelands with our Niece

We are very grateful to our South African friends now living in Calif. who planned our entire tour for these few days, telling us good places to eat, stay and even avoid.  So on Saturday, Oct. 4th Pete, Becca, Rick and I drove to Franschoek in the Winelands.  We stopped along the way at a couple of recommended vineyards, including one that was owned by university-chums of our South African friends. We ate at another vineyard’s restaurant where Rick had the Boboti stew-like casserole typical of the country, also suggested by our friends. Then we drove a bit further to stroll around Franschoek’s cute village where of course Becca and I enjoyed shopping.  Montagu, about 2 hours’ further drive, was our evening destination but we stopped on the way to walk through the park-like memorial to the Huguenot pioneers (French Protestants) who settled locally.  When we arrived at the Montagu Country Inn, we realized that the shops were closed, so we settled into our rooms, met for a lovely dinner in the hotel dining room, and turned in for the night.

The next morning after breakfast we thoroughly explored Montagu, then drove toward the Klein Karoo, over the next mountain range’s crest.  A karoo, which is found in different regions of South Africa, is more arid than the typical fertile farm areas. Klein Karoo is home to what was once the largest number of ostrich farms (still prevalent) and therefore the biggest supplier of ostrich feathers during their great demand in the late 1800s. Becca and Pete left us at the crest overlooking the Winelands to return to Cape Town for work.  Rick and I followed our prescribed route to Oudtshorn where we were staying for the night at De Opstal, a B&B on a family farm which also raised ostriches. Before dinner, I walked around the property to commune with the few resident ostriches.  They looked blankly at me, keeping their distance over the fence.  As I returned to our cottage for a beer served on our porch, I felt like we were in Europe somewhere, despite the presence of cranky ostriches.

The next morning, we drove to Plettenberg Bay which could have been Monterey, CA.  Plettenberg Bay is the largest of the tourist towns near the mouth of Storms River, known to be very dangerous with lots of sunken ships there.  Along the drive there were lots of breath-taking views of mountains and valleys as we approached the ocean again. In late afternoon, we arrived at what we thought was our hotel which could have been plunked down in the French Riviera.  We were directed instead to another lovely hotel with a similar name and prepared to relax overlooking the ocean (tough job but someone has to do it…). Over the next 2 days, we drove along a rugged coastline to the bridge over Storms River and back, Rick hiked along the headlands, and I tried to recover from the horrible cold that had struck after we landed in Swaziland.

Penguins, Whales and a Long Drive Back to Cape Town

On Wednesday, we had a 6-hour drive back along the coastal route to Cape Town.  In 2006 we had visited a colony of African Penguins (formerly known as Jackass for their loud braying) in a suburb of Cape Town; we were determined to find the almost-hidden colony in Betty’s Bay. Many false turns later, we arrived to see hundreds, maybe thousands of African Penguins lounging, waddling, and caring for their fluffy youngsters.  Awwww!  As we were walking back to our car, the woman who had taken our park fee pointed out the whales playing right off the beach in front of us.  We never saw a whale breach, but there were several who stuck their tails straight out of the water, apparently to warm their blood before they dived.  The whales were about ¼ mile offshore but we saw them so clearly it felt as though they were much closer.

We continued back along one of the southernmost routes in the world back to our Inn with a View (of famous Table Mountain) in Cape Town.  After a change of clothes, we drove to Becca and Pete’s cute apartment where we took a quick tour.  The 4 of us then walked to Aubergine for dinner. Adrian, Rick and I had gotten lost trying to find this fabulous French restaurant in 2006 but it was a safe, easy walk from Becca and Pete’s.  It was just as wonderful as we remembered and now they know another great restaurant for special occasions.  Back at their apartment we hugged good-bye, drove a few blocks to our Inn, packed up and went to bed for a 4:00 a.m. wakeup to start our long journey home.

Interesting factoid

Cape Agulhas is actually the southernmost point in Africa though Cape of Good Hope is credited with this distinction.  The latter is really the south-western-most point in Africa.

Pete and Becca Typify the Younger, Global Generation

Becca and Pete represent the best of the new, global generation.  Becca from Silver Spring, MD was traveling in Central America, at one point spending time volunteering with orphans in Nicaragua.  There she met Pete from outside London, who was also traveling in Central America and helping out youth in Nicaragua.  That’s where they started a relationship.  They now live in Cape Town, South Africa because Pete could readily find a job in a Commonwealth country. Though Pete started out as an engineer in a for-profit company, he has now joined Becca working for a nonprofit, with both of them helping locals affected by HIV/AIDS.  So that’s Silver Spring, MD + London U.K. to Nicaragua to South Africa!

Flights from Swaziland to Cape Town— Amusing Only in Hindsight

On Friday October 3rd, we arrived at the Matsapha International Airport (no one can really commercially fly inside Swaziland so one has to fly internationally) in plenty of time for our 8:15 a.m. flight.  It was a cloudy day so we thought we heard our flight arriving from Johannesburg, but didn’t see it.  A little before 8:00 a.m. the South African Airways’ local manager announced that this flight turned back because there were no flight controllers in the Matsapha tower so the pilot couldn’t land on instruments.  And in classic Africa form, the next flight was full.  Eventually the flight controllers arrived to guide the next flight, but there was no word on how we would get to Johannesburg to then fly to Cape Town on the 12:00 noon flight.  Then the now-well-harassed SAA manager announced that the flight would return to Matsapha about 11:00 a.m.  The flight landed, unhappy passengers disembarked, new unhappy passengers including us boarded, and off we flew to Jo’berg. Of course we landed too late to make our 12:30pm flight to Cape Town on Kulula.com–the South African equivalent of Southwest Airlines.   We managed to get on the stand-by list for the 3:00 pm Kulula flight.  But then we had to wait 2+ hours in a stiflingly hot hallway with virtually no circulating air, then waited more time due to mechanical difficulties.  Eventually we took off for the 1 hour Cape Town journey, landing after 9:00 pm.  We arrived, picked up our rental car, and reached Inn with a View, our B & B, about 11:00 pm.  In essence the 2.5 hours of flights from Swaziland to Cape Town took about 15 hours in total. T.i.A.

Sept. 29 – Oct. 2 – Swaziland Moves Slowly Forward to the 21st Century

Returning almost 2 years after we lived there, we were reminded that Swaziland is truly a beautiful country with many mountains and fertile valleys.  Everything moves at a much slower-pace. The capital, Mbabane, is like a small, manageable mid-western U.S. city vs. the chaos of Nairobi, Kenya or even Kampala, Uganda. We did get to spend a bit of time with friends, including our TechnoServe country director and her husband as well as our prior landlord and neighbors of our picturesque cottage. Most of the time Rick and colleagues taught a class and I visited some clients.

Depressingly, HIV/AIDS is Still a Plague, Creating a Country of Orphans

According to the 2008 CIA Factbook, 500,000 people or 40% of the 1.29M Swazis are 14 and under.  38.8% of the population has HIV/AIDS which surpasses Botswana, placing Swaziland at the world’s highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS.  According to the 9th Round of National HIV Sero-Surveillance in 2004, 42.6% of pregnant Swazi women have HIV/AIDS.  2006 – 2007 Swaziland Health and Demographics Survey accumulated and analyzed a wide-range of health and other aspects of Swazi households, though not including Orphaned and Vulnerable Children living in institutions and other non-household settings.  25% of surveyed youth under 18 were orphaned—defined as 1 or both parents dead. Only 20% of children surveyed were living with both parents.  And even if youth survive to 18 (Swaziland’s median age), their unemployment rate is over 60%.

TechnoServe Clients are Some Bright Spots in Swaziland

See the Swaziland webpage for details and pictures on St. Phillips Pepper Farm, Eswatini Swazi Kitchens and ESK Honey

Sept. 25 – 28  – Good to be “Home Again” in Kenya

Kenya’s Stability

For several months in 2008, the U.S./international press played up the chaos caused by Kenya’s election, then went silent as the U.S. election really heated up.  Both the turmoil and the silence continue to hurt Kenya.  Though there were some scary times for a few weeks in January and February when our Nairobi friends stayed in their homes, even then they told us that 80% or more of the disruption was in either in the city’s Kibera slum or in Western Kenya.  Yes, up to 1 million people were internally displaced from their homes at one time.  Yes, Luo and Kikuyu who had been neighbors for years decided to kill about 1,000 of each other. Yes, the joint government has duplicated every ministerial position and top staff.  Yes, it’s imperfect.  But I was again inspired just being there, especially seeing what TechnoServe’s clients are accomplishing, my colleagues’ dedication, and the calm, back-to-business-as-usual attitude around the country.

Visit to 2 of TechnoServe Kenya’s Winning Entrepreneurs

Though the Entrepreneur After-Care for graduates of the 2007 national Believe Begin Become (BBB) business plan competition was due to start in January 2008, political turmoil prevented the program from being fully established until March 2008. TechnoServe contacted all 300 regional winners to survey status of their businesses to see if they needed TechnoServe or other support.  Most of those surveyed said they benefited from the original BBB training but all seem to be struggling with funding, especially the start ups.  Because all participants are youth, they have little or no collateral and are waiting for funding from the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs which is still trying to set up a separate parastatal agency for financing youth.  Additionally most Africans, especially men, don’t like standard micro-financing because they don’t like group pressure.  Also funding is generally less than what they need to start a formal enterprise.  Via alumni meetings, emails with questionnaires, and conference calls, TechnoServe selected 20 trained participants, most of who were among the Top 100 Finalists, to participate in a formal Entrepreneur After-Care program. I visited two of these 20 entrepreneurs on their company’s sites.

See the pictures and details on Bioplast Industries and Language Solutions and Business Communications

Sept. 23 – 25 – Quick 2 Days to Visit My Animals at Lewa Conservancy

In fall 2007, we spent a few days with our family and good friends on an amazing private reserve near Mt. Kenya. It was such a wonderful experience, and I missed “my animals” so we decided to jam in a 2 day visit, flying in and out on a very small plane*.

Lewa at one time had been a 63,000 acre ranch that in the 1970s the owners had converted to a conservancy.  The Craigs have been social and eco-activists not only re-introducing animals once native to the area but also sensitizing then training many nearby villages to the potential of tourism vs. poaching and just subsistence farming.  Lewa itself has additionally become a sanctuary for both the more common white rhinos as well as rare black rhinos—about 50 of each—which eventually will be re-established in eastern and southern Africa. Several villages now successfully host eco-tourism lodges, game experiences, and cultural events.  Lewa has been deservedly recognized as a model of cooperation and innovation by local, national and regional organizations and governments.

I feel pure joy at seeing these animals in their own settings.  Just on the hour ride from the airstrip to the main camp, we saw elephants, 3 cheetah brothers, lots of impalas/gazelles, zebras, warthogs, giraffes, and birds of all sorts. Over the course of the two days in Lewa, we managed to see 4 of the “Big Five” (not leopards) and many other critters in or near their homes on two early morning (leave the camp 6am) and two evening safari drives with our own guide, Johnson.  We had great food and relaxed. I don’t know why but in every game park I feel a magical—maybe spiritual—connection with the animals in their different world.

*Each day, apparently, a flight to and from the Lewa area is “scheduled.” But the flight is more like a flying matatu taxi which makes as many or as few stops as needed along both ways.  The 10-passenger plane left Nairobi for Lewa a few minutes early.  We 1st landed in Nanyuki, then flew on to Lewa.  Our return trip to Nairobi left over 1 hour sooner than we originally planned and stopped about 30 minutes west of Lewa before heading back to Nairobi.  T.i.A. (This is Africa)!

Sept. 19 – 22 – Anna & Greg’s Memorable Wedding on Lamu Island

We landed in Nairobi on Sept. 18th evening, spent the night in a clean but over-priced and slightly tasteless hotel near the airport, then returned to the airport on Sept. 19th to fly to Lamu island. In the waiting room next to ours we saw some friends on a different flight to the Lamu wedding.  As it turned out, we were grateful that we were not on theirs since they were quite late in arriving on Lamu.  However we began to relax as we boarded the speedboat at the Lamu airport, landed in front of the Peponi Hotel* to be greeted by Anna and Greg, then walked to our room overlooking the beach.  Most of the 25 of wedding attendees—including 7 of Anna’s Polish relatives and friends—gathered for a lovely late lunch on the ocean-view balcony.  Right before sunset, we departed from the hotel on some dhows (Arab-style sailboats typical of the Swahili coast) to have drinks and bitings (munchies) on a floating bar a couple of miles away.  We enjoyed meeting new folks from Europe and Africa and reacquainting ourselves with some Nairobi friends.  Then we sailed back to the hotel for more wonderful, fresh food at dinner. Are we seeing the start of a pattern?

* This tropical, white-washed hotel, open to the ocean breezes, could have been on a Greek or Caribbean island.  The formerly European couple who owned the place had lived there many years though it was clear that the wife did 90% of the work, supervising staff, delicious meals, guests’ island activities and experience. She was even decorating the wedding ceremony area with flowers and candles until right beforehand.  Her barefooted husband pretty much wore a t-shirt and sarong-style kikoi cloth all day, sat at the bar smoking and drinking, rumored to have recovered from cancer, and very much looking like it…

Wedding Day

After Saturday breakfast, Greg and all the men sailed off on dhows supposedly for races but mostly for partying.  Anna herded all the women up to the terrace off her suite where two robed, local women spent the next few hours treating us to massages, pedicures, manicures and henna painting.  All of the women ended up with at least one small henna spot.  I had lovely black-ink paintings on both shoulders, inside wrists, and lower legs to ankles.  The fantasy of tattoos without the permanent repercussions!

The Ceremony

The District Commissioner (who owned the only car on Lamu) and his assistant—along with his little son—arrived and signaled for the ceremony to start. Anna walked with her mother (from Poland), maid (U.S. living in Nairobi) and matron of honor (also from Poland) through bowers of flowers up to the terrace, also laden with candles and flowers.   There Greg and his best man Klaus (a European living in Nairobi) waited. Using a laminated, 2-sided guide, the Commissioner began by reviewing pertinent Kenyan law about only one spouse per person among other things.  Next he asked Anna if she would take Brian Gregory Kruse to be her lawfully wedded husband.  Taken aback, Anna paused and said, “Yes, I will take Gregory Brian Kruse” to be my lawfully wedded husband*…” . Given that the government had misspelled Anna’s name on the wedding license, our friends hoped that the union would still be valid according to Kenyan law if the officiator also reversed Greg’s proper name.  The rest of the 20 minute service went smoothly.  We all congratulated the couple over champagne and bitings, while looking out at the ocean washed by sunset.  About 2 hours later, we gathered on the lawn for the evening dinner and dance reception. All in all we were delighted to have participated in this the unique and lovely wedding weekend.

*Kenya’s special wedding process: Anna and Greg showed us that the Kenyan license (which looked like an old dot-matrix printout ripped off a paper roll) was a bit odd because it listed each spouse’s prior “condition.”  This meant Greg was listed as “Divorcee” and Anna, “Spinster.”  I’ll have to review our old marriage license but I don’t think our conditions are noted there…

Lamu Town after the Wedding

On Sunday, over half the guests returned to Nairobi and beyond, but those of us remaining explored the island on our own.  Since we had been to Lamu in spring of 2007 to do the standard tourist activities, we decided to just explore the back streets of this Arab-style town of a few thousand people.  We indeed saw the one car (District Commissioner’s), a few small tractors, and heard the rumor of an ambulance.  The oldest buildings are built from coral and old cement. The walkways between them range from the width of one loaded donkey to two plus a person alongside.  Many “streets” had open rain drains in the middle, with dark tiny shops displaying wares to passersby and signs along some painted walls in English or Arabic. Women were in dark robes though most didn’t have faces covered.  Generally men wore light-colored knitted caps with western clothes.  Most children ran happy and free but stayed near their parents.  Clearly we were oddities but we felt comfortable as we walked through their back streets,.  We stopped in a residential alley to buy some unusual beaded necklaces and later returned to a store where we had been in 2007 to buy a few especially nice items.

On Monday morning, we few from Lamu to Nairobi with Anna and Greg then spent the rest of the day with them, shopping, eating, and drinking in our old hang-outs.  What a fabulous weekend to celebrate with good friends in a paradise-like setting!

Sept. 16 – 17, 2008 – WW visits Ugandan TechnoServe clients

While Rick was teaching in Kampala, I was driven about 50 km. east to see new participants in the regional dairy project underwritten by Gates Foundation.  Buikwe Dairy Co-op is located near Lugazi town in one of 14 Ugandan districts that will benefit from the East Africa Dairy Development program. This Co-op had begun to form in April 2008. But from the first mid-June 2008 meeting with TechnoServe and its dairy project partners, the co-op has in its first 90 days: almost doubled its membership to 130 people; taken over a building for formal activities; established a credit union; created an animal pharmacy; and hired a vet to run it.  There is now a formal co-op structure with membership fees, shares in the cooperative, officers, committees, trainings, and regular meetings. Best of all, the whole organization has started to benefit from bulking milk for volume sales, achieving more consistent, higher prices and lowering their risk of traders’ non-payment.  Plus they have spelled out specific goals to increase each household’s income, such as: regular technical and business trainings; collective bargaining and marketing; improved farm productivity; and breeding higher quality cows.

Co-op Meeting

I attended a morning meeting with over 30 members including 8 women and 4 youth (19 to 24 year olds).  After standard co-op business was conducted, they talked about their challenges including recruiting new members since cooperatives are not common in Uganda and any prior groups collapsed.  Then unexpectedly I was asked to speak to the group, 90% of whom spoke virtually no English though they asked how I was going to solve all their problems.  Somehow I muddled through, hopefully not offending anyone.  At least they applauded and smiled politely at me though I don’t know what they said in their native language later…

See the details of the 3 farms I visited for the East Africa Dairy Development program.

Sept. 15 – 16, 2008 – Rick and team teach a class

Since returning to the U.S. at the end of 2007, Rick has been leading the development of a cross-TechnoServe (TNS) project management methodology.  Our trip in May 2008 to TNS Latin America’s offices and programs helped him understand the common needs and differences among countries’ staffs to manage complex programs in agriculture and entrepreneurship.  Now he and a TechnoServe HQ team were piloting the training with the Ugandan staff as well as a few TNS people from Kenya and Rwanda.  Rick’s goal was to learn from this and the Swaziland pilot trainings then improve everything for the 2nd round of African training in Feb. 2009.  Then it will be translated into Spanish for TechnoServe’s Latin American programs.

My observations from sitting at the back of the class:  

TechnoServe staff in Africa is growing dramatically whereas in Latin America, the staff numbers are static. For example, since Oct. 2007 when we last visited the TNS Uganda, the 3 to 4 people including those in the field had expanded to 27 who had mostly started in the last 6 months!  Except for the TechnoServe CEO and a few of us who were visiting, the staff is all locals who during introductions at the beginning of class seem to have strong, related backgrounds.   Though quiet during the “lectures” they responded eagerly to the materials and group breakouts, not wanting to stop for lunch.  And it was exciting to witness their confident interaction with visitors including the CEO.

Sept. 13 – 14, 2008 – Being in Africa Seems Normal

When we landed in Nairobi, in some ways, we felt as though we were returning home.  Kenyatta Airport was familiar in a sort-of good way: the old green linoleum floor tiles in the narrow walkways, the Java House coffee bar and the wooden giraffes and beaded necklaces in the shops. A few hours later after flying into Uganda, we drove from Entebbe into Kampala.  It was fun to see the completed clean-up efforts from November 2007’s CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting).  We really could appreciate the difference between our 1st trip into Kampala in March 2007 and today’s brighter, tidier city.  It was delightful to once again see a bicyclist toting a huge, colorful load of brooms, buckets, and other housewares.  The Boda-Boda (motorcycle taxi) drivers were still crazily weaving in and out of heavy traffic with precariously perched passengers. The huge, gawky Maribou storks were still flying above the streets or landing gently to sleep on building tops. The tourist products were the same carved soapstone or wood or batiked cloth.  At the hotel and over dinner, we reconnected with our wonderful Ugandan and Kenyan colleagues/friends then met some new staff who had joined TNS Uganda and Rwanda in 2008.  Even our being in the new Imperial Royale Hotel was familiar because it was still under construction. It opened for CHOGM last November, but now workmen were still laying tiles, repairing windows, painting walls, etc.  The 275 hotel rooms were maybe 25% full, so that the lobby and many darkened halls were eerily empty. But the staff was typically warm, welcoming and eager to please, even if they incorrectly directed us to the “open Olympic-size pool” full of lime-dust from cement for tiles being laid.  Despite—or maybe because it is so wacky–I am glad to be back.

Sept. 11 – 13, 2008 – Surprise: flight delays on our way to Africa

Rick and I left Calif. on Tues., Sept. 9th to stay in Bethesda with Rick’s mother while visiting TechnoServe headquarters.  This also allowed us to adjust 3 hours to an eventual time difference of 10 to 11 hours for Africa.  On Thurs., Sept. 11th we flew from Dulles Airport into Heathrow, London landing the next morning about 20 minutes early.  Apparently while we were flying over the Atlantic, Kenya Airways decided to cancel* our next flight! When we checked into the Kenya Airways desk—shared with KLM, Northwest and other airlines—to get our boarding passes for Nairobi and Kampala, we were told our 10:00am flight was cancelled and we were booked on the 8:00pm overnight flight to connect in Nairobi with an 8:30am flight to Kampala, Uganda.  We were stranded for 14 instead of 4 hours in Heathrow, with 3 options: 1) try to stretch out on benches with arms along with hundreds of passengers wandering around; 2) pay to stay in the quieter, private airline lounge with the hope for small sofas; or 3) pass through UK immigration to get a hotel near the airport.  We visited the KLM, Kenya Airways, etc. airport lounge called “Holideck” where the receptionist told us that they would charge us only double the normal 3-hour guest rate per person for our 12-hour visit which would be $160 total. By the time we decided to try to get a nearby hotel, it seemed that ten 747-size flights had landed, putting 100s of other cranky passengers in a 2 to 3 hour queue to exit into the UK.  After 45 minutes of moving about 45 feet, we returned to the Holideck lounge, plunked down our $160, found a quiet conference-type room on the 2nd floor, moved chairs and footstools together, each swallowed an Ambien, and stretched out to sleep for about 5 hours.  The Kenya Airways flight left Heathrow Friday night on time for the 7.5 hour trip to Nairobi, where we arrived at 6:30 am on Saturday morning, plenty of time before our next leg.  No gate had been posted yet, so we walked to the end of the Departure level of Kenyatta Airport to the familiar Java House coffee shop.  When we checked into the gate for the Kampala flight, it was announced that our flight was delayed because the plane’s brakes needed to be repaired.  By this time, we were back in T.i.A. mode (This is Africa), so we calmly waited in the gate lounge, quietly praying that mechanics knew what they were doing.  After our 15 hours in transit + 15 hours in flight, our safe landing in Kampala about 11:00am was therefore doubly appreciated.

* No reason for cancellation was given, though we suspect that it was not a full flight so they pushed those passengers to the evening flight.

February 19, 2008 – Culture Shock in February 2008 Not December 2007

Looking back to 3 months ago, it feels almost eerie how quickly we slipped back into our U.S. lives.  It is amazing to think that we lived in Kenya for 10 months and Swaziland for over 5 months until November 17, 2007.  Thrown right into Thanksgiving and Christmas, being with family, and traveling through several airports between coasts, we oddly felt at home right away.

My anticipated culture shock set in as we re-started our social network after the New Year.  By early January, as the Kenyan elections burst open the gates of hatred, everyone we met—and we—were certainly glad we were in the U.S.  Each of the many conversations we’ve had with friends and family continues to sensitize us to the situations of friends and colleagues we left behind to deal with terror on their streets. We have emailed back and forth with many Kenyans.  We have tracked the Kenyan-on-Kenyan violence on the internet. We are happy that no one we know was personally threatened. The TechnoServe office in Kenya opened the 7th January week, shut down again throughout the month, and is officially back in business in February.

Friends with whom we were close in Nairobi but who had moved to Arusha, Tanzania before we left emailed about recently visiting Kenya’s Amboseli National Reserve.   240 km. southeast of Nairobi at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Amboseli is one of the most popular tourism sites in Africa.  The good news is that they had great fun seeing lots of elephants, hyenas, and other wild animals.  The bad news is symbolic for the Kenyan economy: less than 15 guests inhabited the lovely 80-room lodge at which they stayed.

For anyone following Kenya’s situation, you know how many international figures–now including Condaleeza Rice–have intervened to address the deep tribal rifts that have simmered under the surface for decades.  With the tourism money evaporated, the country’s CEOs have voiced their concern, petitioning the Kenyan government to come up with a solution quickly because hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk with further violence.

In February 2008, I am beginning to have hope for the stability of beautiful Kenya where barely 3 months ago we lived for a year.  I have hope that Kenya will not continue to reflect the depressing social and economic conditions of less educated African countries. For the World’s, Africa’s and our Kenyan friends’ sake, I must hope.

January, 2008 – My Perspective on Africa in 2006 – 2007 vs. My Father’s from 1943 – 1945

I had wanted to live abroad since the 1980s, envisioning our view of a European, Asian or maybe Latin American capital from a high rise or picturesque flat.  However, as Rick seriously started exploring his career change to international economic development it was clear that neither Hong Kong nor Paris truly needs our help to improve their economies nor do nonprofits underwrite 4-star dinners. I recognized that we would just continue to travel as tourists to those kinds of locales.

On the other hand, Africa clearly needs enormous economic, health, and social support. In addition, from the time I was a little girl, my father’s pictures, stories, and having a pet monkey when he was stationed there from 1943 to 1945, had always inspired me to want to visit Africa.  Rick’s and my 1997 safari in East Africa reinforced this connection so our living in Africa seemed a logical extension.

Now in retrospect after living in Swaziland and Kenya for nearly 1.5 years and traveling to several of the same countries as my father, my perspective and experience seem even more profoundly related to my father’s.  Ashley Woodrow Rice, my father, was a 24 year old lieutenant, cargo pilot, and small base commander in the Air Force (formerly the Army Air Corps) now has a long page of black and white photos from his World Word II tour of duty across Africa where the Allies were fighting General Rommel a.k.a. “Desert Fox.”  It is truly amazing how many countries he visited during his 2 years:  Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of Congo or D.R.C.), Cameroons, Egypt, French Equatorial Africa (now Central African Republic, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville & Gabon), Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Palestine (Israel), Tanganyika (Tanzania) and Uganda.

The wild animals, the fabulous landscapes, and people’s warmth are the same.  And nowadays many countries have instituted free universal primary school education relatively recently—some have secondary also.  Cities have modern-looking buildings, relatively new cars, electricity, running water, retail stores, decent hospitals/clinics, and people nicely dressed in Western-style.

However, in 2007 we also saw life unchanged since 1945: people dressed in ragged clothes, living in small un-electrified villages, and eking out subsistence-level crops from tiny farms.  They carry for miles on the tops of their heads the water, firewood, and food for their families.  They have little access or finances for good healthcare so they still die mainly from malaria, water-born diarrhea, and respiratory diseases with the added “bonus” of HIV/AIDS.

Since my father died at age 54 when I was 26, I can only imagine his soldier’s perspective of helping the continent remain free of Nazis, periodically being faced with military danger, yet feeling lucky to travel and experience so many different places “on the other side of the world.”  I wonder how he viewed colonialism’s role in continuing the cycle of poverty and poor health since independence was still many years in the future.  I suspect that he saw the many different tribal cultures and conditions as quaint and fascinating. I know he enjoyed getting to know people in their own contexts.

Many of my father’s pictures were in my mind when we were on safari in 1997. I remember thinking that only Nairobi had changed since 1945 and that much of our travels in Kenya and Tanzania were just 4-color versions of his photos.  Now in 2008 after our 1.5 years living in Africa, once again I reviewed my father’s pictures.  Despite the scenery and economics being not much changed in Africa since 1945, both Rick and I idealistically feel that at least in small ways, we personally made a difference in some lives that we touched.  I imagine my father would have had complex, even conflicted thoughts and feelings similar to mine.  I would have loved the many energetic discussions exchanging our perspectives.  Now I recognize fully how much of a life-changing experience my father’s 2 years in Africa–as a very young man–must have been.  It certainly was for me even at my age.

 

 

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