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Sunday, September 26, 2010


I toured a small church site today where over 5000 people (men, women, babies) were slaughtered during the Rwandan genocide just 17 years ago..their bones and clothes were all still there - couldn't help but think about all the hate language that is exchanged between the mouths of the extreme republicans and democrats in our country - how easily violent movements can emerge and spread from hate speech and propaganda..those who were once neighbors and shared coffee turned on each other - normal everyday people. Today, you walk these streets and you would never know that such a thing could have happened - all from hate and fear - it can spread like wildfire and destroy all civility.

Kigali is one of the most beautiful African cities I have ever seen. It is clean and paved and you feel so secure here. I would easily exchange Nairobi for Kigali. People appear to live in harmony here (ironic right?). It doesn't have the feel that Nairobi has, where you feel labeled because of the color of your skin and where you get the sense that people feel you owe them something...just for being there. Here, it's different. There is a feeling of sincere hosptiality - not because you are going to pay them or because you are white and you get treated differently for that, just because you are a visitor and they want to show you this place and how it is here. I went out with some local friends on Friday night and the bar was just this big fun bar with black and white and all skin tones in between just blending and talking and dancing and there was no stigma, no self conciousness, just togetherness and people being people. I realized I miss that. In Nairobi, I have met many wonderful people but there is a definite barrier to blending - not just physical..there is a social barrier. And i sometimes get comments even at work that make me feel guilty for something or comments that give me a feeling that I am part of something that was forced on these people. I was speaking to our HR person at work about the poor quality of reports that i am recieving from staff...to which he responded "English was brought to us with the dhows" - meaning: in those slave ships that (you) brought over, also came the English, it was not our language. I feel like screaming, "I'm sorry - I'm not staying long."
Anways, I guess my point was, that Kigali feels different - perhaps due to the violence that spued like a volcano and overtook everything just a few years ago...perhaps because every single Rwandan has a story about the genocide and the destruction caused by hate - perhaps they are out of energy for intolerance and suspicion. Perhaps it was the difference between the British colonization in Kenya and the Dutch/French in Rwanda..Or perhaps, we do owe something to Nairobi -

Friday, July 16, 2010

Comic Relief

Short Post - So, I went into the ladies room at work this morning and noticed a new sign on the wall. I dont have a scanner so I stole the sign just so I can show you fine people an example of the shenanigans that make me laugh around this office. Here is the sign exactly as I found it..and remember this is a professional office building not a truck stop outside of Little Rock:


1) Do not take reading material into the public toilet
2) Don’t Peek under the doors. Knock if you need to know if it is unattended
3) Stand close enough to the pan or urinal so you don’t dribble on the floor
4) Concentrate when you pee so you don’t wet the seat, walls or floor
5) Sit on the pan if you are unsteady on your feet
6) Ladies; sitting is compulsory
7) Squat only on squatting toilets, pedestal toilets are for sitting on only
8) Avoid messing the toilet seat. If you do, clean up after yourself properly

I really want to draft a response sign but I'm trying to develop my prose...more to come!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Post Cards from the Edge

As everyone knows, it's World Cup time...in fact it's about over and in my house the craze of the Cup will not totally say goodbye, rather, it will make its smooth transition to the next big soccer competition ...The European leagues, CONCACAF, COMABOL, etc. But this is the Big one - the world cup- and it started out well for me..it really did. We found a great place with a huge screen the size of an entire wall to watch some of the games and I was really enjoying it, especially the anticipation of the US games. Then after about 3 weeks of coming home to the sound of vuvuzelas all night long (games were mostly at 5pm, 7pm and 9pm here)...I could feel myself getting cranky - with one TV in the house and being married to a seriously crazy soccer fan that could not miss even 5 minutes of any games - there was no option for touching the remote control or going places during those times. I went through my ups and downs, fighting with the world cup, resisting its persistence every single evening, my ugly mood swings getting the best of me - and just when it was reaching its peak, the weekend for our trip to South Africa to watch a match at the stadium finally arrived. I found myself alive with the spirit of the world cup once again - Though 3 games a day in Joburg definitely wore on me - the fact that the US was still in kept me coming back for more.
The game we went to was a blast! The fans were so alive - many with that same crazed look in their eyes that i have seen on Sergio many times while watching the games..especially during the Golazos (well played Goals). Crowds of Red, white and blue filled the inside and surrounding areas of the stadium completely - American flags were waving everywhere - high and low and in all different forms. We saw people dressed as the statue of liberty, red, white and blue elvis's, Uncle Sams, guys naked with just a speedo and red,white and blue body paint, Giant cowboy hats, jerseys, faces painted everywhere - it was definitely a crazy subset of the American population..those people who are so nuts (read: deranged) about the US and supporting their team, that they will shell out thousands of dollars and many take months off of work to stay and watch the whole thing play out. We met a number of people who had been traveling around South Africa to all the games for the full month plus change. Anyways, as we all know now, the US tied with Slovenia and we went content but with a little less spirit, and the ringing of the vuvuzela still echoing in our ears (thank god my normal hearing came back the next day). Overall, great experience - the fans made it what it was.

Apart from Soccer - the trip was great.
We stayed in a really cool farm style house (turned guest house for the games) in the suburbs (Melville). The owner was a nice Afrikaaner named Jacques that made us breakfast each morning and made sure to facebook friend us immediately. Only downfall was that there was no heat in the house and joburg was FREEZING. The bathroom floors were painfully icy cold morning till night.

When you visit Joburg, you don't really visit the city - it's dangerous and not much to see there. The majority of time is spent in suburban town centers - in fact we watched most of the games at this upscale area that resembled reston town center or something similar. For sight seeing - We went to Soweto, where Mandela's owned a house before he was captured - we saw the shrine to the children of Soweto that were killed when they marched back in 1978 against apartheid in schools and the teaching of Afrikaans only, We saw the apartheid museum where the brutality of apartheid was spelled out in detail and the revolution to end Apartheid was told as a story through words, pictures and short videos.I could have spent an entire day there - one of the best museums I have been to for sure.

And we went to a cheetah breeding center and saw lots of cheetahs and many other animals in a tiny little miniature safari. But mostly, we watched soccer..and enjoyed delicious restaurants where the food tastes exactly as you imagine it will. I thought I would be spending lots of time shopping while there - everyone was telling me that it's good shopping, but i think that just meant compared to Nairobi where there is slim pickins.. but the weirdest thing has happened to me - i have lost all desire to shop for clothes! I'm not sure what happened and how long this will last, but i am enjoying it for now.

It was definitely nice to be in modernity after our first 6 weeks of being in Nairobi. The highways, supermarkets, shopping centers, and restaurants all made us feel like we were back at home..totally comforting..perhaps it was a little too early for us to experience those elements again because i definitely had a difficult time leaving it all knowing we were headed back to our poor little development-in-progress Nairobi town, where one lane roads filled with giant potholes and mud are a plenty, with dusty dirty buildings and noise in all directions, and people hanging out of all crevices - but coming home wasn't as hard as I thought..it took only a day to get back and in the swing of things and I think its beautiful here - modern or not, big fancy restaurants or not, luxurious shopping centers or not, super highways or not, clean tidy organized world or not, in its own way - it is beautiful here and actually think I'd choose this over the modernity..at least that's how I'm feeling now. This feels more like real life and somehow the things that are truly important come to light here much more easily.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The 5 senses of Nairobi

WE HAVE ARRIVED! All my five senses tell me that I have definitely arrived in Nairobi. So many interesting things to take in everyday - Let me try to summarize the experience so far.

Sight - The city is busy, chaotic, traffic filled, and tropical. On any main street you will see nice, new office buildings next to dilapidated structures, next to beautiful villa style houses, next to old dirty looking apartments with clothes hanging everywhere - You see street vendors, women selling loads of vegetables on their backs along the street, people biking, walking, talking, waiting, everywhere. On any main road during the day you will see men in business suits walking next to others in raggedy worn clothing, next to a trendy young lady with skinny jeans and high heels and other women in traditional Kenyan dress with vibrant prints and colors and puffy sleeves. You also see lots of men wearing coveralls and rubber boots for manual labor. You see it all..and once in a while you see a Muzungu ("white person", which could be any ethnicity really except black African or Indian..wuzungu for plural) walking in the middle of it all.
There is greenery everywhere! Right here in Nairobi, you find forests, and farms, and amazing natural tropical flowers and plants everywhere. It is so green and beautiful - in the apartments that we live, there is a gorgeous landscaping everywhere - My favorite are the huge banana leafs and the fan palms..i love them! Outside our window there is a beautiful huge bush with orange flowers and there are large trees with tiny vibrant fuchsia flowers all over the place. It's just so green and lush here - I love it.

Smell - There are many nasal experiences here (nasal experience???)- my nose is getting its work out for sure. Since I have to start somewhere I will begin with..you guessed it..BODY ODOR! WOW! I've said it before and I'll say it again..you could seriously harvest smelling salts that could revive people in the deepest of comas from the funk that is causing that smell. It's not unlike the European body odor that i found often in Madrid..but there is some difference and i haven't quite put my finger on it..and i don't plan to! This body odor is not totally rampant - I have deduced by now that it's mostly the manual/street labor class, security guards (thousands of them here), taxi drivers, builders, street vendors, etc...mostly those that are not daily influenced by the modern world of bodily hygiene that is found in indoor offices, etc. After all, I suppose that if you are living on $10 a day, you would not be selecting deodorant over food for the family - on top of that, people that come from distant villages and are still living that lifestyle believe that a man should smell like a "man". If that is what a "man" smells like, I definitely prefer my man smelling like a woman!
Besides that, as long as you are in Nairobi center, you smell exhaust fumes - There are tons small city buses/vans that emit strong plumes of smoke and exhaust everywhere you go - it can definitely be hard to breathe at times, but i think I'm already getting used to it - not sure if that's good or bad. Once you leave the city and get out into the beauty of Kenya, you smell the freshest of air - It's the smell of a tropical cool climate - In the morning there is a fresh wet green smell - sort of like Washington state - Some areas remind me a lot of Olympia, WA where my grandparents lived. And Sergio constantly says how much it is like Guatemala here - which brings me to the next sense - Touch/Feel!!

Touch/Feel - The weather here is AMAZING! We have no A/C and do not need it so far. The mornings and evenings are cool like maybe 60 -65F. During the day, if it's not cloudy (raining season right now), the sun can warm it up to 80ish..but usually there are patchy clouds that keep it around 75 or so. It's been great..although I am definitely missing out on having a "summer" for now..but i have been told that after August it will be warm - I remember coming in October 2 years ago and it was hot..so i might be eating my words later..we'll see. We have a pool at the apartment and the water is freezing so I'm looking forward to being able to use it later in the year. I should note that this is just the situation in Nairobi right now - the coast is hot - and I'm planning my first trip out there for 4th of July weekend! Woo woo! it will be my first opportunity to get a real tan and I heard the ocean is really warm!
Also in the touch category,I'd like to talk about the hand holding here. People are into it! It's like the middle east with men on men, women on women hand holding. We have a serial hand holder man at work and my co-worker Scott is learning on coping with it. I'll look across the table during a staff meeting and see him sitting there with a scared and frettful look on his face and then i look down and see that Autman (the handholder man in the office) has Scott's hand hostage in a gentle grip while the staff meeting goes on. It kills me! I'm learning to censor my desire to bust out laughing - there is just so many funny things that take place at work ..funny to me of course..not to them. I read an article in the paper here that says "Laughing has it's place, but not in the office!" and it went on to describe office laughers as hyenas. It's a pretty serious atmosphere for the most part. I've come to grips with the fact that I AM the office hyena..whatever, fine with me...better than a wart-hog!

Sound - There are so many sounds - especially at night and in the morning - you here the cawing of crows, the calls of so many other birds (bird watching is huge here), loud chirping of crickets, the constant hum of a nearby generator, people talking in houses around with their windows open, car alarms, and even goats and roosters. One night i work up to like 5 second intermittent zapping..like the sound of those old bug zappers except really loud - There is an electric fence outside our window and it was going off for like 2 hours - most likely an animal tripped it. During the day on the streets, it's the sound of traffic and old crappy engines roaring, squealing breaks, and people talking on the street - and construction, there is construction sounds everywhere. Every block seems to have some apartment or office building under construction.

Taste - Let's start with the good - There are so many tropical flavorful fruits here and they're cheap! Well cheap at the local markets, not at the grocery stores. Year round there is papaya, kiwi, star fruit, mango, guava, pineapples, melons, CHEAP and ENORMOUS avocados, oranges, tangerines, baby bananas, and all sorts of things i haven't identified yet. Everything is pretty tasty too - On the vegetable end, there is a ton of variety as well..only problem being everything is caked in mud when you bring it home..so there is tons of work involved after you buy things. The heads of lettuce are pretty ugly until you wash them and strip away a few layers. I guess that is just another convenience of living in the US - the cleaning and waxing process that the produce goes through before hitting the shelf is pretty intense. I mean, for potatoes, i literally had to scrub them with a brush to get the mud off - This is all part of the reason people get house help here - A) It's cheap and gives someone a job B) It actually saves you money because these local women can go to the open air markets and buy a ton of stuff at half the price that the wazungu (plural white people)can get it and C) it literally takes about an hour and a half at least to clean up the things you have bought. We have decided to have someone for one day a week. With as much dust and bugs that this place has, there is double the need to clean as there was at home. The windows have no screens but you have to keep some of them open so the bugs and dirt pile up. Plus, with no dryer, the clothes take forever to dry and Rebeca irons Sergio's shirts and stuff, which is something that wasn't an issue when we had a dryer.
On the restaurant end, we have found a good number of places that we like. That being said, nothing tastes like you would expect for the most part. Everything is a little off - that is partly because the ingredients that you find here are a little off. For example - cheese. Most cheeses taste a little sour/bitter compared to home - so if you order a pizza, there is just a twinge of a different taste to the mozzarella. There is no good tex-mex, though we did find an El Salvadorean restaurant here that has burritos. Again, it's just a little off. There is no good sour cream here at all. It's all pretty gross. No chips and salsa served, etc. WHich is good for my waste line but bad for my emotional well-being. I found two decent Lebanese places - but again..it's just a little off. The lebne is not so hot..but it suffices. There are a few things we love but haven't been able to find - IF you come visit, please bring tortillas, sour cream (if possible), and zaatar! We haven't found any here. I'm going to have to get good at making my own lebne - dang! I'm not much of a baker but from what i see, I'll need to become one if we want any baked goods that taste like home. I think because of the altitude the bread just doesn't taste so good here - The texture is all off. Again, good for the waist-line bad for the mental health. In general we can get everything we need though and there is lots of choice here. I haven't eaten much Kenyan cuisine though we are supposed to go have Nyama Choma (most popular dish here - roast goat) with one of the concierge guys that we became friends with at the hotel we stayed at for a month The truth is that in our area of Nairobi there is more Indian food here than anything else. It's good Indian food - we are starting to get hooked. The reason that there is so much Indian food here is that there are TONS of Indians! tons! They are the top minority here and they own the Westlands area where we live. They are business owners and well off for the most part. I'm thinking of taking some Indian cooking classes - it's good stuff!

So, that wraps up the 5 senses of Nairobi - I hope I've done justice here with my descriptions. And now that I'm through with my general update, my subsequent posts will be on experiences and what we're up to here! I miss you all! and wish you could all visit and see, hear, taste, touch, and SMELL for yourselves! We're loving it so far!
(The photos are of us posing at the Tribe hotel, where we stayed for the first month)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Karibu Kenya

Well I'm here and welcome to my blag - I'm calling it a blag because i'm not sure how good I'll be at writing blog worthy content..so this will be more like occasional blabber (blag = blog +blabber) for those of you that have attention spans that can put up with it!