December 31, 2011

Since I've been here

It's been a while since I've been here.  Hello!  There are e-mails to answer and comments to comment on and conclusions to draw, for all of which I'm gracelessly overdue.  Please accept this blanket apology for all blog neglect.   

I last saw you here in Zanzibar.  It was lovely.  After Stone Town, I headed east to Pwani Mchangani for some Indian Ocean beaching before returning to winter in the northern hemisphere.

Palms, then pool, then sands, then ocean.

On Zanzibar's east coast, the sand slopes so gradually that, at low tide, you can literally walk miles straight into the ocean.  Some people prefer the northern beaches with less extreme phases because the patchy nature of the eastern low tides are considered less aesthetic.  I can comfortably disagree with that.  A really good sandbar is a pleasure.

Wading in towards Indian Ocean sandbars

Pwani Mchangani is a small town known, according to my outdated guidebook, for its seaweed farming.  Strings of fishing line stretch between stakes in the sand and collect drifting weeds overnight, to be harvested by the village women each morning.

Women harvesting seaweed at low tide

Dragging seaweed to shore

Then after a morning of seaweed harvest spectating and an afternoon of para-sailing on a warm island breeze, I sat on the sand and watched acrobatics and summersaults in the setting sun.

And my next night saw the sun set as we flew over the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Sometimes life is very grand.

Kili at sunset

So now it's the end of December, and I'm in Seattle.  It's been a while since I've been here also.  Seemingly, not a lot has changed since I left.  Specifically, it's still overcast and drizzly.  I suppose people expect the difference to be me; they want to know how 6 months in Africa has changed me.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I find myself to be generally the same.  Most of the differences are surface-level:

- I find paved 4+ lane freeways a bit overwhelming.
- Brushing my hair and putting on a completely clean outfit seems like a waste of time.
- Leaf-blowers are the most ridiculous things I've ever seen... who cleans streets?
- Squirrels seem more exotic than when I left.
- As soon as my plane touched down in the U.S., I lost my desire to listen to Bruce Springsteen on repeat. Americana may have more sentiment outside of America.

Maybe the substantive changes take longer to process.  Perhaps things need to settle and absorb before I commence proselytizing.  Until then, it's time for me to start classes again, and this blog will be on respite. I graduate in June and have been loosely offered an opportunity to return to Kenya, so perhaps we'll resume again some day.  The best way to know would be to put your e-mail address in the "follow by email" box on the lower end of the right-hand sidebar here.  That way, you'll be the first to know when we pick back up.

Until then, Happy New Years and safe travels!

December 8, 2011

An island feeling

During the days in Stone Town, Zanzibar, I kept having the unusual feeling of being reminded of Cuba.  Unusual, in that I've never actually been to Cuba and have no recollections to be reminded of.  Yet somehow the comparison kept surfacing in my mind as I wound through narrow streets, hiding from the sun.  Zanzibar most certainly has an island feeling to it.  The feeling of being in a small town, surrounded by water and removed from mainland interference.  And it has a tropical feeling: sticky air and HEAT from day through night.  But it doesn't have the aloha mellow of Hawaii or the quaintness of the Mediterranean isles.  Like Italy or Greece, it has whitewashed buildings and narrow winding alleyways, but there is a gritty feeling about it, not as sanitized.  

Stone Town alleyways

Residential plaza

And I suppose that's my projected imagination of Cuba.  Perhaps one day I'll see for myself.  Wandering through Stone Town can be accomplished in half a day, preferably not the middle half while the sun is directly above.  That way there is refuge in the shade of the maze-like streets.  Admiring the doors and the Arabic influenced architecture of engraved and embossed balconies and turrets.  

View of the sea from balcony of the Old Distillery

Sultan's home-turned-restaurant.  Top Tower

I don't know if Zanzibar recognizes and official siesta, but the people of Stone Town obviously recognize the need to snooze through the least bearably hot hours of the day.


As an alternative to wandering the shady streets, you can also walk along the water-front and receive a gentle sea breeze.  Past the shipping harbor, past houses and yards where men sand lumber to build new dhow boats.  

Moderately decaying docks

There aren't many tourist attractions in Stone Town, but I saw a fish market listed on the map, at the north-most end of town and decided to wander over.  The market had indoor and outdoor tables, all stocked with piles of silvery sardines, still glistening from the water.  But the greater part of the action and bustle was actually behind the market, around the corner, at the shipping area.  Here men and women wade into the water to greet the fishing boats and claim their haul.  Bicyclists with wicker baskets wait on the shore to transport the goods and use scraps of cardboard to chase away the birds that swoop down and slurp up their share of seafood when no one's looking.

Fish market merchandise

This was my favorite place- hanging around by the docks- which people seemed to find a bit odd but then turned back to their business and let me loiter.  Because loitering can be far more interesting than museum-hopping, if you're in the right place.  

December 5, 2011

The best time

Night time is the best time in Zanzibar.  

Clove Hotel balconies

The famed doors

It's an island known for spices, ornately carved doorways, Swahili culture, coconut curries, and a dark history as an integral hub in the east African slave trade.  The air is hot and sticky, a place where you may shower thrice in a day and still feel dirty.  As I am used to feeling dirty because I haven't showered in three days and have been wearing the same pair of pants all week (because my alternate pair has been quarantined due to suspicious bug issues), this island heat feels like a long lost memory.  What I thought living in Kenya would be like but never was.   So evening, which brings respite from at least the sun, and preferably after a siesta on the covered rooftop terrace overlooking the sea, is preferable for exploring.  

Nighttime also features beautiful lights and silhouettes.  The hotel I'm at is basic with charm.  Sponge-painted lilac walls and warm stairwell lanterns.  

From the inside

I probably spent my first 10 minutes in town admiring and photographing these lanterns, until GHAAAAAA, it's a preying mantis!  


Due to Kenya Airways technical difficulties, it was already dark when I arrived.  Dark during the taxi ride from the airport, with the windows down and hot salty air blowing in.  Having spent the day in the Nairobi airport, my blood sugar levels were demanding some food, now, so off I went.  The waterfront food stalls that appear at dusk were already in full swing as I wandered down for a 10pm dinner.  Fresh seafood, toasted coconut bread, and sugarcane/ginger drink at your fingertips.  

Chefs at the night food mart

You can sit on the wall with your legs dangling over the sea, able to smell the salt and hear the waves, but unable to see any evidence of water.  

Last night, I got to the shore in time to appreciate the sundown, with brilliant colors and the entire town hurtling themselves into the sea.  

Sunlit street lamps

Dusky swim

I was also able to attract some uninvited attention in the form of being coerced into teaching an impromptu English class to a group of middle-school-ish boys.  Specifically, they wanted to know the difference between sleeves and arms.  Simple enough.  But then they wanted to talk about pants.  Why are "sleeves" just the part that your arm goes through, whereas "pants" refer to the garment in it's entirety?  And lest you think that was the trickiest question of the night, they progressed to "What's your country's orphan situation?"  and "Are you married?  How old are you?"  Upon hearing that I am unmarried at 27, one boy's eyes got really wide, and he let out an involuntary little "aEEeep!" sound.  I'm sure a reaction not all that dissimilar to mine upon noticing an arm-sized preying mantis above my head.  Perhaps our life and circumstances are all on the receiving end of someone else's horror somewhere in the world.  

December 3, 2011

The VIP ballers we obviously are

There are worse ways to spend a day than at the airport, being bumped from cancelled flight to cancelled flight for 10 hours.  It might take some time to think of them, but they exist.  For instance, I could be spending the day at the DMV.  Or, as someone else aptly said, I could be on a free vacation in Somalia with my new pirate friends.  Here, I am at least equipped with bookstores, internet, and plentiful candy.  And as I endlessly scuttle back and forth between far ends of the terminal, periodic Johnnie Walker Black Label signs encourage me to just "keep walkin."  Positive motivation all around.

I'm waiting to go to Zzzzanzibar!  (Maybe a Z or two extra in there). But while I'm here, I'll try to catch up on some Marsabit festivities, namely the wedding.  No, not this wedding in Nairobi; I got invited to a second one, if you can believe it.  It seems that the honor of my presence is very much in demand these days.  A few weeks ago, we were invited by our friend Jeremy, the one who fought the leopard and won, to attend his uncle's wedding in Logo Logo.

Apparently, Samburu weddings now happen twice: once in the Christian church and then again in traditional manner.  I was a bit concerned about what to wear until I remembered the swath of traditional Samburu fabric I bought at the Camel Derby in Maralal.

Where's the muzungu?  With my Samburu style, you can hardly spot me!

We got picked up in the morning in a white landcruiser (as always) by Jeremy and an entourage of 9 other adults and 5 children.  In a single vehicle.  For 2 hours.  But the best part was rolling into Logo Logo.  Someone had made a 90s hip-hop mix of Toni Braxton, TuPac, and Dr. Dre for the journey, and as we pulled into the small village, like the VIP ballers we obviously are, the driver turned up the volume to blast Mariah Carey.

The church wedding had all of the typical accouterments: church, pews, hymns, priest... only twice as long because the entire service was given first in Kiswahili and then in Samburu (double the amount for me to not understand), and also twice as hot as the entire town of Logo Logo seemed to be invited.

Pre-chaos church

Indoor wedding happenings

Just a standard wedding... sittin' and people watchin' in the pews

In fact, so many people tried to attend that ushers kept kicking the young ones outside to make room for the elders (I was either an exception to that rule or didn't understand anyone telling me to move).  Subsequently, kids and adults alike built pebble towers with which to peer through the high windows.

The hottest event to hit Logo Logo this year

I spy...

And the decorated get-away car for the happy couple:

Limo Land Cruiser

Unfortunately, out of the 2 ceremonies, we were only able to see the Christian church portion.  One reason was that the ceremony started so late and took so long that we needed to get back on the road to Marsabit so we wouldn't be caught out after dark.  The other reason was that a rival tribe had reputedly stolen 200 camels the night before and the morans (The young men warriors of the Samburu people) were all out of town avenging the theft, and were thus unable to perform the traditional wedding dances.

Livestock thievery vengeance... the ominous cloud above all happy occasions.

December 1, 2011

Roaring ahead

Within 4 hours of taking off from the Marsabit landing strip, I was wearing blue jeans and drinking a beer. Yesterday I brushed my hair and listened to Madonna on the radio. My return to western-style modernity is roaring ahead full-throttle!

Regarding my fellowship experience, I've prattled on about transportation and village visits, but after all this time, I'm not sure I've painted a very vivid picture of Marsabit itself.  A lapse partially due to not having any town photos until our last day, and partially due to my half-hearted attempt to at least minimally veil our exact location from the general blogosphere.

Marsabit is a small town, nestled at the base of a national park, surrounded by craters, which serves as the focal hub around which the large Marsabit District of northern Kenya revolves.

At the base of Marsabit National Park

The turnoff to town from the main road

To call it a hub, however, I hope does not imply visions of any centralized wealth.  The majority of locals are uncommonly poor, and almost everyone depends on foreign aid food for survival.  During drought they spend 12 hours or more seeking water for their households.  Women earn money by fetching bundles of firewood larger than their own bodies and carrying it on their backs for miles to sell.  The streets are a bustle of people, goats, markets and, in places, garbage.

But there's something exciting about this area, something vibrant.  Walking down the street you will pass Boranas with head scarves and Samburus with brilliant beaded necklaces.  The forested park that rises above the town is shrouded in sleepy mist throughout the morning and is backlit by the evening sunset.

And commerce.  Every small town in the world seems to have a lowest common denominator of goods and services available for purchase: produce, butchery, and hair salons.  Anywhere you go.

Kiosks on the main road into town

Best Lady

The town center also has an extensive open-air market for beans and grains, scooped from burlap sacks into rows of ancient tin cans.

Beans and grains market

Pure white coconut?

And a few specialty shops:

Dry cleaner confusion

And there it is.  A town that may soon feel like a dream within a dream.  Back at my desk in Nairobi, I almost wonder if I ever left. 

November 24, 2011

To Logo Logo

I hear it's Thanksgiving.  For me, it's just another day up in northern Kenya.  Tonight we will dine on some combination of the following: cabbage, spaghetti, lentils, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots.  Mmmmmthanksgiving cabbage.  But what does "just another day" really mean around here?  Let me walk you through a day (yesterday) in the life of a Go-Kenya fellow.

7:30.  Wake up.  As with every day of my life, I'd like to sleep more, but we're supposed to start the drive down to Logo Logo at 8:30.  Get up.  Have tea and toast.  Notice that the whole-grain bread I brought up from Nairobi is almost gone.  Soon I will have to resume eating white Supaloaf bread.  Am sad.  Someone else at the guesthouse overhears that we're going to Logo Logo and asks us to pick up his colleague who has been there for the past 3 days and needs a ride back, lest she get stuck on the top of a truck.  There's no cell phone connection there, so she won't know we're coming and we won't be able to coordinate, but we tell him we'll look for her.

This is how you travel to Logo Logo (or Isiolo or Nairobi) if you don't confirm a ride.

8:30. Pack my bag with surveys, pen, paper, rain coat, cell phone (not that it matters; there's not going to be reception), water, and 2 granola bars (1 for lunch, 1 for a roadside snack if we break down or get stuck.)

9:00.  Our guide is still in a clinic staff meeting.

10:00.  We are told that the car reserved for us was given to someone else.  They are trying to source for another one.  I could have slept longer.

10:30.  Decide to make use of this time by meeting with the clinic director who asks me if the database I'm creating can give summaries of TB, PMTCT, and PCR indicators.  I tell him it could if that information were collected on the paper forms, but it's not.  We are in a pickle.  I go back to my room and resume work on the Excel data dictionary I've created.  In the room, I notice that my other pair of pants is still in a ball on the floor where I threw them in a panic after squashing some sort of bug on my thigh, INSIDE my pant leg, which subsequently got a red splotch on the fabric.  Either it was a red bug or very full of blood.  Have since been too scared and grossed out to look and see exactly what that was.

11:00.  We have a car and are leaving only 2.5 hours behind schedule.  It has a rare seat-belt, for which I am very excited!  We agree to give a ride home to 2 clients who spent several hours walking to the clinic this morning from villages on our way to Logo Logo.  I get bumped to the middle seat and lose my seat-belt.  Look around and decide that the passenger seat in front of me will suffice to grasp when the truck starts crazy bouncing.  We're off!

11:15.  Not quite.  We have to make 3 stops for milk, snacks, and petrol.

11:30-1:30.  Bouncing down the road towards Logo Logo.  By now I know all the villages along this route: Hula Hula, Parkishon, Karare, Camboy, Logo Logo.  Between Camboy and Logo Logo, there are fields of purple wildflowers, and then fields of white wildflowers.  Before hitting any of those villages or landmarks, we stop at the police blockade where they peer into all the windows to scope for Al Shabaab.  Not sure exactly how they'd recognize them if they spot them, but they seem confident that we are no threat and they let us pass.  I eat both granola bars, and now I have nothing but water to tide me over if we get stuck.

2:00.  Begin administering the focus group surveys.  I have a group of 6 Rendille women, about half adorned with beads.  Two of them are very old, and one is losing her top.  Question 1: "How old are you?"  Four of them don't know their age.

Shady spot where we had our focus group.  

2:30.  The second old lady starts to lose her top as well.

3:30.  I realize that one of the women doesn't understand the language we've been using for the past hour (Samburu).

4:00.  Finished.  Hand out the milk and snacks, and ask if they have any questions.  No one has questions.
This seems unlikely... Some crazy mzungu just spent 2 hours asking you how long it takes to gather water and whether you've ever used family planning, and you don't have any questions?  The answer is still no.

4:10.  Group dismissed.  Our driver and guide are not ready to leave yet, so we wander around some of the houses.  One has a pair of blue-jeans framing the doorway.  We ask around about the lady we are supposed to bring back with us and find her napping in a day-bed.  She shows us the Rendille guest-house she's been staying in since the weekend.

Logo Logo houses.

Inside the guesthouse.

Day bed for napping.

4:30.  Heading back home.  I subtly refuse to move from the seat-belt seat.  Strapped in I don't need to worry about getting bounced out of the seat and can focus more on the scenery.  We honk at everything in the road: other cars, bikes, goats, cows, people, baboons. The cars, goats, and people move out of our way, but the cows and baboons are stubborn, and we have to drive around them.

Peoples and baboons on the way home. 

5:00. There's a truck stuck in the mud.  Our driver and guide get out to help, but there is nothing they can do.  I'm glad it's not us.  We offer a lift to the people who were riding on the now defunct truck.  Luckily our trunk has extra bench seating.  Also luckily, assault riffles are prohibited on board.

Why you should always pack extra granola bars.

Only handguns allowed in the trunk seating. 

6:30.  Back home just before dark.  Try to remember the last time I showered... I think it was 1 or 2 days ago.  Decide I can wait until morning.  Have dinner instead.  I forget what it was, but probably cabbage, pasta, lentils, potatoes, or carrots.

7:30.  The room smells funny... maybe it was a bad idea not to shower.  Go back to working on Data Dictionary.

9:30.  Tired of work, will stop for the night.  Leaving the room, I notice a baby lizard scoot inside.  I am charmed, but roommate is not and tells a gross story about a lizard inside her friend's pants once.  I remember I still haven't examined the pants on my floor.  We decide the lizard must go.

9:40.  This involves a bit of shrieking.  Tomorrow morning I will be asked by other guests what was going on (very un-soundproofed rooms here), and will have to admit: No, it wasn't a snake/bat/scorpion/monster... it was a baby lizard.

10:00.  Brush my teeth and look in a mirror for the first time all day.  The entire right side of my face is streaked with mud.  Am curious how long that's been there and why no one mentioned it.  Also confirms that I really should have showered.

10:30.  In bed, listening to Radiolab podcast on the terminal velocity of cats; they reach terminal velocity after falling for 9 stories.  I feel enlightened and am looking forward to offering up this tidbit of information at parties.

So this all gets added to my growing list of Thanksgivings spent out of the country.  Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who partakes!