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Monday, March 26, 2012

Sergio's Arrival

Sergio arrived last night! Great to have him here - feels like he never left.
When we got back to our apartment from the airport, I gave the guards a big welcome banner to tape up on the entrance gate for him so that he would see it right as we pulled up -It's so dark where we live - the photo didn't work.
Which was fine because the next day as we were leaving to go somewhere, the day guard and the complex caretaker were holding it up as a surprise for Sergio :-)
Love these two - Wilson and Ndishu. Great guys.The smiliest people ever. When I leave Kenya, these are the things I will miss the most - friendly smiles and happy greetings every time you turn around.

One thing about Sergio is that he cannot delay gift giving. As soon as he sees you, he is so excited about his gift that he just goes nuts and cannot wait any longer.  So last night, as soon as he walked in the door, he wanted to give me all the treats he brought. Some of you will remember the post on Junk in Your Trunk - He brought lots of goodies just like I mentioned in that post.  One was an early birthday present:
An awesome hat! He just sort of randomly bought me this cool huge hat - he is so weird and funny sometimes! Perfect for the beach that we are headed to tomorrow - I noticed that It sort of looks like I'm making that ok sign with my hand that you are supposed to look at and then I hit you for looking....if you are in jr' high still. That was not my intent. If you dont know what i'm talking about right now, you are better off.
Then, he pulled out a few other treats for me!
He brought me my favorite food item ever - Lebne - I opened it immediately. If there is anyone out there that has never tried it -  The flavor is like sour thick yogurt. Order it at most middle eastern restaurants. You won't be sorry. It's best when you have it on bread with some olive oil. mmm. I've made my own here a couple of times, but this Byblos brand has extra crack in it..it's the best.

He brought me like 6 loaves of wheat arabic bread

AND 4 Mcdonalds Cheeseburgers which I immediately wrapped in plastic wrap and threw in the freezer.

He also brought me some grape leaves for making some stuffed grape leaves - my friends here have been asking for a home cooked lebanese dinner so now I'm really to roll.
We're heading to the beach tomorrow morning - same place as always. Gonna be good.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Office Parties - Get Crazy.

Today we are having an office party at 12:30.  Throw your hands in the aya - wave them from hea to theya!

I have determined that no matter where in the world you work, okay besides maybe the UK, office parties suck.  I say maybe not in the UK because I used to work for a British company and on more than one occasion when I was visiting the motherland, there would be a few get togethers during work hours where the whole office would go down to the Pub and have a few. It's a beer culture and that reduces lameness factor, plus not sitting around an office conference table for a party tends to lift the spirit a bit.  Going back to work after pub parties did suck however.

Anyways, whether you are in the US or Kenya or countless other places, office parties are awkward. Usually you are celebrating some poor soul that either is leaving the company, got pregnant or is having a birthday.  And usually that poor person is forced to serve the cake to everyone, do some public speaking thanking people for coming and getting free cake, and then you have to hang around till the last person dwindles back to their cube when really all you want to do is go back to your seat and be left alone. What more could you ask for?

The office parties here in my office in Nairobi are slightly even more awkward. Most of the time it is to celebrate someone leaving..which is a funny concept anyways. I mean, why don't we celebrate the staff that comes back every Monday for more? Ugh.

Anyways, usually we all gather in the conference room around a gigantic table and we sit there and stare at each other until someone finally starts talking. If you are really important, they will cater it with samosas and chapati and rice. If you are not so important, there will be an office pool to get you a cake. Then everyone is required to say something to the person of honor. We literally have to go around the room and everyone must say how happy they are that you are leaving.  Even if you don't know the person - your comment may end up something like this:
"Beatrice, it has been great passing you in the hallway - you have always shown kindness to me at the watercooler, often stepping aside for me to get my water first. And I'll never forget that time you picked up my print job and brought it to me. We will surely miss you." Next.

Pretty sure we are all in the same boat - mostly here for the cake. I will now show you some thrilling photos of office parties where I currently work. There is an order to this - please pay attention.

First: Sit around the table and look less than enthused. Start thinking of what you will say about the person when it is your turn to speak. Come up with something people have not said yet.
Second: Speaking begins.

Third Step: Make the person of honor (usually the person leaving the company) cut and serve the cake for all 35 people. Note: This person will already be feeling extra awkward and guilty since they are leaving for greener pastures and all you sorry suckers are left in their dust. They may feel a twinge of what we call traitor syndrome. Plus we all now know that they  have been looking for jobs and interviewing during office hours.

Lastly, let the chapati be served!

Now, I need to go and plan what the hell I'm going to say at today's party. Maybe I'll just tell a totally unrelated parable and then sit down with a neutral face and let everyone think for days about how my story could possibly apply to a staff member leaving.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A letter to the mosquito that kept me up all night

Dear shitface,

I'm not sure whether I should thank you or curse you for the fact that I got about 3.5 hours of sleep last night. On one hand, I did get up way earlier than normal and got some things accomplished ...on the other hand, I'm so tired I feel like a beached walrus at low tide today. I can't really move.

You certainly thought you were clever as you buzzed around my ear as I tried to sleep - like a lullaby at Guantanamo.  You were probably laughing at me as I would fling on the lights and jump out of bed to try and kill you, oh but you were all the sudden no where to be found! We played that game...what was it? 5 times between the hours of midnight and 5am? Something like that.
Yeah..there was that one time - about 3:25am, you did a buzz by to wake me up and then you landed on the frame of the painting above my bed and in my sleepy stupor all I could think to do is grab a bottle of facial mist that was by the bed and spray you with it - I got you good didn't I? But apparently you are water proof, you and all your outdoor dwelling nuisance friends. 

All through the night, there I was bundled up in my sheets trying to not expose any unnecessary skin since you already blood fed on the knuckle of my pointer finger (which has blown up to the size of a bratwurst this morning), my elbow, and my left wrist.  At least you didn't get me in the eyelid like your cousin in Senegal that one time - that was bad. Left me looking like Sloth from the Goonies. Bastard.

You think you are so hot like some powerful malaria parasite carrying female anopheles - What you don't know is that I know your species - you're most likely a sad weak little culex, which can't even transmit plasmodium falciparum - loser.  This is Nairobi, you don't carry anything potent in your stinger...maybe west nile but unlikely.  You really have no power over me.

So, enjoy your day, locked in my bedroom, with no human blood cells to suck on -I'll see you later tonight for round two - but this time, you better be damn scared because before the lights go out, you will be mosquito paste squished on my wall, with remnants of your sorry self also on the bottom of my shoe.

P.S. Oh and um, here's a hint of what we did to your friends in Rwanda when they were causing similar problems. Be afraid.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I got your organic right here

Shopping for produce is a bit different here. You have a few choices, some $, some $$$$ (relative terms).

1) There are women that walk around all day with a giant bag on their backs (strap goes around their forehead) and they sell whatever they carry on their back house to house. Looks like grueling work and these women are often quite old. $

2) If you have time, you can go down to one of many open markets where you can find people selling anything they have that can be sold and eaten. Sometimes this is a small subsistence vendor selling 4 tomatoes to you for 20 cents that he just bought from someone else for 10 cents ..And then you see the larger vendors that have all types of vegetables and fruit and lots of it. But here you have to bargain and that can take some time -  $

3) Then you have Uchumi - a somewhat lower grade supermarket. Things look quite beat up here and there are swarms of gnats that buzz over everything, but for some reason it's the place I go most. $$

4) Then you have Nakumatt- a higher grade supermarket - it's got the super charged lighting and cleaner produce with decent stock management. $$$

5) And Lastly you have Zucchini's Green Grocer - a very specialized produce store where you walk in and a produce guy attaches themselves to you and picks out your produce for you. You tell them, "2 cucumbers" and it is his job to pick out the best damn 2 cucumbers in the store.  If they have fresh stuff in the back, he will drop everything and run back to the back of the store to get you the newest ones possible. $$$$

But regardless of where you shop, most everything is FRESH from the earth. Meaning it comes from the farm, to the truck, to the store - no stops in between to wash, wax and polish- no careful handling and packing all along the supply chain. Here, usually that ride from the farm to the store is not so smooth and things are just piled high in flat bed truck, getting bumped and bruised along the way - produce AND livestock for that matter.  Getting things to market is a struggle and people have to do whatever they can to just move the product.  Usually you will see a few guys actually standing/riding on top of the produce in the back of the truck - that's my favorite.
Peking Goose?

2 guys, a cow, and a scooter. That's one way to do it!
After leaving the butcher???

mmm, fresh lettuce ;-)
Smells like Bacon!

When I recently went home at Christmas, it really struck me how perfect our produce looks - even the organic stuff, which you would think would have less processes- the bananas are huge and yellow and don't have black all over them - the apples are red and shiny and big. Our fruit and veggies are like models and celebrities...they basically GET AIRBRUSHED with wax! Even our natural food has to look perfect - and guess who pays for that?
Here the produce is more like watching actors on high-def tv without make-up - more realistic - and indicative of the process that item went through. The apples are small and discolored, the bananas are always bruised - even the green ones, the lettuce and potatoes are caked with mud from the earth it grew out of, the tomatoes are dirty and imperfect. There is no importance placed on how shiny the apples are. They are apples, they taste good, and if you can afford them, congratulations. 

Here you peel your own carrots, demud your own produce, and defeather your own eggs!
How long has it been since you peeled a carrot?

You leave the store looking like you were gardening - your hands covered in mud.

Mud caked potatoes

Here's a good one. seriously.

And my little eggs always have a little love from the mama chicken in the carton. Most of the eggs have droppings on them and some feathers. Kind of nice to remember exactly where your food came from. Almost every egg I've ever cracked here has little blood clots in it though - not so hot on that. I try to fish it out each time. I wonder if there is some secret health benefit to eating the blood clots in the eggs. hm. How many readers will I lose with this caption?

And now you can go appreciate your big giant banana, your glistening white eggs (so beautiful that a very popular paint color was named after them), your giant glassy apple, and your big round juicy orange even more.

 But you can't get avocados for 27 cents like I can!!! ;-)))

He's sticking his tongue out

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

North Korean News and Resume Fun times

Nice blog title huh?

One of the highlights of my job is that when working in an international setting, especially with non-native English speaking countries, you often come across reports and documents that have some pretty funny English.   As a speaker of foreign languages myself, I am sure that I have said some crazy stuff accidentally in another language so I can somewhat relate.  But usually when something's in writing I make damn sure things are grammatically correct. There are enough tools out there these days on the internet that excuses are pretty hard to come by.  

I enjoy funny English so much that a couple of colleagues and I used to get together in one of our offices weekly and look up the North Korean news online just to laugh at the way things were written.  It's crazy - if you haven't read it, you should. It's so formal and censored and it's always about topics such as "great leader visit shoe factory to promote hard work". Always about the great leader Kim Jong IL or other "loved and trusted leader".
Here's an excerpt from a Korean Central News Agency daily news update (Yes, I am a total nerd at heart):

Kim Jong Il put up slogan "Love the young people", pleased more than anyone else with what they have done, and gave the word "youth" to the names of the structures built by them.
The young people in the DPRK loved and trusted by Kim Jong Il are now dynamically bearing the brunt of every difficult and labor-consuming project for building a thriving nation, united closer around the dear respected Kim Jong Un.

Respected leader Kim Jong Il observe funny colorful blow up doll and think to himself, "two legs create efficiency for standing up doll". Great leader gave appreciation to humble assembly line worker for creating colorful blow up doll.     (my North Korean version of what's happening in this photo)

But funnier is the types of things you can find on international CVs and resumes. These were sent to me by a friend that does recruiting for an unnamed international NGO.

 Real examples of how people describe themselves:
-       “a multi-skilled rare pedigree and embodiment of professional humility”
-       “an all-around person”
-       “a beacon for strategic planning in Africa”
-       “…who is very mostly fluent in English”
-       “…become a useful jewel of your organization”

Coup de grĂ¢ce:
“Objective: To work for a well reputed organization like yours and to take it to the last mile of success through my mind-blowing skills…”

Special Skills mentioned on REAL CVs
-       Driving
-       chatting and playing with small children
-       stationary bicycle riding
-       “being”
-       cultivates Bonsai trees
-       “watching”
-       Organizing welfare activities e.g. weddings, parties funerals etc
-       “things that are social”

Most popular interests/hobbies:
-       Making friends (appeared 9 times)
-       Reading the news (appeared 7 times)
-       Walking (appeared 5 times)
Bonus Qualifications Listed on CVs
In response to the request to List any office machines or equipment you can use:” 
 (highlights are out of a list of 45)
17. Paper shredders.

24. Paper cutters.

25. Folders.

Enjoy!  I promise to have more interesting content tomorrow :-) 
Feel free to submit a better caption for my North Korean News Photo above!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mystery Sweater.

On Friday, I found a mystery sweater front and center in my closet. It's red and it has swirls. Let's call it the unknown quantity for now. We know nothing of its importance, origin or its belonging. All we know is that it was NEWLY placed in my closet right in the middle in a high traffic area - and it's not mine, nor have I seen it before in my life.
Who are you red sweater with swirls? And who do you work for???

I'll present the facts for any  help in solving this mystery:
1) Right now I'm living alone (Serg is back in DC), so besides the house keeper (Rebecca), there is no one else that comes in or out.
2) I discussed the sweater with Rebecca this morning and she told me that it is not hers and she has never seen it before. She agreed that she probably hung it in my closet but is not sure where she picked up from in the house.
3) I carried out forensic studies on the sweater and here are the results:
  • It has been worn as evidenced by deoderant marks on the side.
  • It smells of human - neutral human.
  • The fabric is a bit bally showing wear.
  • There are no hair strands on the sweater perhaps eluding to a bald unidentified subject/owner. 
4) It was not left by any visitors - confirmed.

Questions left to be answered:
- Who's sweater is it?
- Why is it in my house?
- Was it left by an intruder?
- Did the intruder perhaps trade me for something that I'm not aware is missing yet?
- Who wears sweaters when it's 80 degrees outside?
- What do people in China call their fancy dishes?

If you have any information leading to the solving of the sweater mystery - please contact me.

 (I gotta stop watching Criminal Minds.)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Not uno, not dos, but TRES LECHES!

Big night last night  people...very big night. It was our weekly mall food court and frozen yogurt night with my friends. Well, only two of us made it. Sergio laughs at me when I tell him about it. It's such a Golden Girls weekly event. But things are different out here.  I mean back in the US, the last time I had a mall food court night with my friends I was 14. The fact is, if you want frozen yogurt here, you have to go to the mall and the other fact is that the mall (Westgate) is one of the nicest places to go in general for anything. So, it just works. We eat our indian food and then we travel slowly down to the 2nd level to get our Planet Yogurt. And then we sit and talk about cabbage, fertilizer, and how loud children are these days. ;-)  Actually since my friend Carly had her baby, it's a time for us to get to see the little guy and just catch up in general. Then usually one of us has just returned from some weird country and we'll hear stories about that (re. Rose and the Libyans).  LOVE MALL FOOD COURT NIGHT.

Next topic - so last Sunday, an angel named Tara, invited me (and Scott and friends) over to her house for Mexican night. Anything called Mexican night is also a huge deal..right up there Mall Food Court (MFC from here on out).  You see, Tara works as a foreign service officer for USAID. So, this means she has all access to the US commissary here AND they can order anything they want, anytime online and have it delivered to the embassy. This is HUGE.  So, for example, Tara has access to Tostitos, black beans, cheese from home, specialty supplies like ancho chillies in adobo sauce or whatever, salsa, etc. She can get all sorts of stuff that I as a commoner contractor cannot get. The other thing about Tara is she is a fellow Texan so we can sign state songs together and talk about Davey Crockett and Sam Houston. AND she knows Tex-mex. She has this Tex Mex cooking bible - it literally glows when it sits on a shelf.
She made us an AMAZING dinner of two types of enchiladas, queso dip, two types of salsas,  black bean dip, mexican rice...ooooh it was goooood. So gooooood.  I wish I would have taken photos. I was too busy eating queso dip. Tara cooked it up right. (Yes, She also cooks upright).

My contribution was dessert - and it needed to be some type of spanish sounding thing. I attempted churros, but since I didn't have a pastry bag or tip, they looked like uh cinnamon poopoo. So, I decided to make TRES LECHES cakes, which I like too much.
I sort of combined two recipes - the Alton Brown Recipe from Food Network and one from Allrecipes.com. It turned out GREAT! I was worried since I couldn't try it until it was time to serve and there was a good 10 or so people there. Here's the process:
Borrow a mixer from your neighbor Scott. Then mix the wet ingredients first.  This is half a cup butter, 1 c. sugar, 5 eggs, half tsp vanilla.

mix the dry ingredients - about 1.5 cups of flour, 1 tsp baking powder, half tsp salt.  Then slowly add the dry stuff into the wet stuff and mix well.

borrow a cake pan from your neighbor Scott. Get said pan ready. Dump batter into pan.

Said pan was too big for my mini Make-it-and-bake-it oven so it went in at an angle. True to Lenna form, improvise! I kept turning the plan every like 4 minutes to try to get it to come out somewhat flat. But it cooked up quick and held a  good 20 degree slant.  I could care less.  Took about 20 minutes.

Mix together  evaporated milk, normal milk, and condensed milk and dump all over cake once it's cooled.
The milks will fully absorb and look like this. Then put it in the fridge over night.

The next day, take whipping cream, 1tsp vanilla and sugar and mix it for a loooong time till it gets thick. This was the first time I've ever done this. I thought it would never firm up - but it eventually did. (that's what she said). The whip cream was awesome - tasted like the real deal from the spray can from home.

Then, spread on cake. And serve just like this. This is not one of those cakes you take out of the pan - which worked great for me since I can never get a cake out of a pan without tearing it up.  Gotta keep this thing cold till it's time to serve though. 

Okay, that's it for me. This post took forever.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Photo Update - Mwikali Going to School

Yesterday Rebecca gave me the photos from her trip to Kitui to take Mwikali to school.  She also asked her to write a short little composition about how exicted she was about returning to school. The whole thing was quite a few pages long but I thought I would scan the last page for all of you to see - especially to those of you that contributed to getting her there and everyone that had wanted to contribute but didn't get to because we raised enough so quickly. It's a really sweet message. She is really really excited about being in school. It's such a neat thing to see. I hope you can read it; it's pretty touching.

 Here are the photos of the journey:
Mwikali at Rebecca's before she left Nairobi

Getting ready to head for the bus to her village

A day later, Rebecca left with all the stuff her and I bought for Mwikali. She paid a few shillings to someone to help carry things to the bus

Strapping all the stuff to the top of the bus
Upon arrival in the area - Rebecca rode on the back of a motorbike with alllll this stuff to get to the village

Mwikali's mother

Mwikali and her mother


Her home where she comes from

Rebecca said she was most excited about her new shoes for school.

Here's her trunk of stuff for school. Those are my red sauconies but I heard she isn't allowed to take them with her ;-( I'm hoping her mom doesn't sell them - I wanted her to have them. we shall see.

Mwikali in her new school uniform and Rebecca

Mwikali's little sister sitting in her trunk

Ready to roll
Arrival in front of the school

Carrying her things with her mom

Signing in

Proper secondary school student ready to get started!

Rebecca saying goodbye!
 And that was it! She is now studying hard and all paid up for half the year. We'll pay the rest of her tuition when Rebecca goes back to visit in about 6 weeks.

She is one happy happy girl.