My 12 hr bus trip to my village thru the Great Rift Valley was long but so scenic… 2 smoke alarm type sirens went off the whole way, but otherwise I love staring out the window at grazing zebras, crested cranes, roadside markets, and millions of flamingos turning the soda lakes pink.
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Sameer didn’t have time for a trip to Maasai Mara, but we did fit in a safari at Lake Nakuru National Park. I like the park a lot… it’s not as crowded as Maasai Mara and it still has tons of animals: giraffes, zebra, all kinds of antelope, water buffalo, rhino, warthogs, monkeys and baboons, and coolest of all it has over 5 million flamingos and other birds.
I was lucky to get a few family visitors during my year… my Mom and Dad in September 2006 and my Aunt Linda in October 2006. I was ecstatic that Sameer also managed to come and visit, despite the hectic and always changing calendar that goes with his IT consultant lifestyle. Here are a few very belated pictures from his very fantastic visit. Again, I couldn’t be more thankful he managed to come visit me and experience what he called “the real Africa.”
Sameer got us a room at the Windsor – a super fancy hotel and country club in Nairobi. The pool was my favorite part and I enjoyed a fabulous early morning swim…
We hired a driver to take us from Nairobi to Lake Nakuru for the national park and he decided to bring his fabulously social little girl.
Everyone loves Sameer and this little girl was no exception! She is the one I can credit for teaching me the ubiquitous “Jambo Kenya!” song.
At Lake Nakuru. I don’t seem to have any animal pictures handy (flamingos, giraffes, buffalo, rhino, etc), but I have this picture for some reason. I guess Sameer took it…
The poly tech tailoring training school in my backyard in the village. These teenage girls were totally in love with Sameer… one was even so bold as to say “Just keep talking! I could listen to your voice all day!” Nice!
“Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello!” Our favorite samosa vendor used to call to us over and over, daily, every single time we passed by. We did buy from him regularly, but definitely not daily or every time we passed. Regardless, I had to post his picture to remember him and his greasy treats. The samosas in the village were a mere 5 Ksh (about $0.07) which beats out any samosa in Seattle (usually priced at $1.99 in most local Indian or Ethiopian places).
Snacking on our street samosas in my courtyard. This photo evokes so many fabulous memories from the year. Once Cindy and I bought the lawn chairs, I think we ate outside almost every day… enjoying the sounds of the market and the farm and the gorgeous Kenya weather.
One of my favorite things to do last year, which I didn’t do nearly enough, was to go hang out with the primary school boarding school girls (also located in my backyard on our same compound). They were sometimes kind of bratty, but they always obsessed over me and always included me in their dancing after dinner. Here Sameer gets his first lesson in Luhya dancing.
Bratty or not, I loved spending time with these girls!
Lovely roomie Cindy poses with Sameer
Why I have a picture of my sterilizing water, I’m not sure. But it’s getting posted anyway. This is me using the fabulous “Steripen.” It sucks the life out of batteries pretty quickly, but cleans water effectively… eliminating the need to use chemicals or to buy bottled water that will just litter the land with empty plastic.
Sameer came to the Centre during his visit and got to play with some of the kids. I think he also took this picture of me and Mama Edward.
Sameer was particularly great playing soccer with a few of the boys like Robinson (one of my favorites!). Sad story that about broke my heart: When I went back to the village in May 2007, I spent a bunch of time with David and Angela to hear about the Centre and get updates on the kids. Our head therapist David told me that Robinson now refuses to come for therapy since I’m no longer there. Oh no. I tried to go by his primary school to convince him to go back to the Centre but didn’t see him. On some level I was gladdened to know I wasn’t immediately forgotten by my kids, but ego aside I’m quite sad to know he’s not getting any more treatment.
Anyway, I know that’s not a ton of photos, but they give you a little taste of Sameer’s visit. Nairobi. Safari in Nakuru. Hanging in the village. Visiting my work, the boarding school, and the poly tech. That’s about the extent of my corner of the village and I’m glad Sameer was such a willing sport to come and experience a slice of my world.
Better late than never: Pictures from Kisumu, Kenya
Kisumu is one of just three official cities in all of Kenya. It’s mostly a small town with a decent downtown shopping district (ie it has five blocks worth of stores and boasts large Nakumatts, Ukwala, Uchimi, and more). There’s never much going on in Kisumu, but I still enjoy visiting, especially since it was very easy to make it there for an overnight trip or weekend away. It’s nice to be able to get supplies from the stores if you need them. It’s nice to be able to eat Indian food or Chinese food. It’s nice to be able to relax next to Lake Victoria in a swimming pool (even if it’s not safe to swim in the lake itself). Oh, and there is even a fancy movie theatre, a bakery, bowling, and decently fast internet (it’s by far the fastest I’ve found anywhere in Kenya, which sadly isn’t saying much). Enough babble. Here are are a few quick photos from my last visit to Kisumu, which also doubled as Susie’s first and last trip to Kisumu.
Entering Kenya at Busia after spending 10 days with Brett in Uganda
Friendly public health message from MSF (Doctors without Borders)
Another public health message (gone a little wrong). Shouldn’t it say “DON’T drink and drive”? Hmmm…
Fastest internet in the country is in Kisumu at the KenShop where they have a bakery right next door!
Good ol’ Kisumu
Not the prettiest city, but it’s always held a special place in my heart… Indian food, the lake, and giant grocery stores!
More than anything, I love escaping to Kiboko Bay Resort for a peaceful afternoon that makes you forget you’re in East Africa. Not that you want to forget. It’s just so unlike the rest of Africa you feel temporarily transported somewhere entirely new and clean…
Here are some photos from December I’m just now getting around to posting. Many thanks to Nix for use of her computer and to Cape Town for fast, cheap internet!
What’d we do for Christmas? We played Christmas music on the iPod, ate some local snacks and imported candy canes, and went to a Muslim wedding with a new friend. The wedding was, in a word, gorgeous!
Going to Kisumu today… and we’re going to absolutely melt! I suspect it’ll be hot, hot, hot!
Donkeys are everywhere in Lamu
Public transport Lamu-style
Lamu traffic jam
Man’s best friend
Perhaps Adam Ant said it best… “Don’t drink, don’t smoke. What do you do?” At New Years there was a discussion of how resolutions are always generic but healthy things like “Start working out” or “Stop smoking.” I’ve never smoked any kind of cigarette in my life so it was recommended that perhaps my resolution this year should be to “Start smoking.” It’d be easy enough to start on the coast where smoking seems to be the norm.
“We don’t like sisters, we like weed”
There’s rarely any fear about smoking “Bob Marley cigarettes” in public and folks were always quick to offer me a drag. Alas… despite the offers and abundance, I think I’ll remain smoke free for yet another year…
You know how it is… if all of the cool kids are doing it, you’ve got to do it too. And since Charles and Mike both posted their answers to these lists when they turned 30, I suppose I could do the same. Following their lead, here’s my reflection on what I’ve done in the past decade of my life.
Places I’ve visited for the first time:
Cities:Seattle, Nairobi, Lamu, Kisumu, Mombassa, Nakuru, Johannesburg, Cairo, Luxor, Amsterdam, Guatemala City, Antigua, New Delhi, Varanasi, Seoul, Vancouver, Montreal, Quebec City, Tijuana, London, Prague, Berlin, Dresden, Budapest, Vienna, Venice, Rome, Vatican City, Siena, Florence, Nice, Monaco, Barcelona, Interlaken, Paris, Albuquerque, Hartford, Baltimore, Houston, Dallas, El Paso, New Orleans, Louisville, Las Vegas, Colorado Springs (I’m sticking with the bigger cities here… way too many small ones to mention)
States: Washington, New Mexico, Connecticut, Kentucky, Colorado (I traveled to/through many states on various road trips and visits to friends, but most states I was lucky enough to visit or pass through as a child or teenager on family road trips)
Countries: Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, the Netherlands, Guatemala, India, Korea, France, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Monaco, Spain, Switzerland, and Canada (this covers most of my international travel except earlier trips to Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama as a 17 or 18 year old)
Things I’ve done for the first time (mostly in chronological order):
Went on a date with a DJ from 101X
Was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding (for the first of many times)
Graduated from college with a BBA
Stood on Roman ruins, Egyptian pyramids, and Mayan tombs
Went to a (slightly scary) Hungarian day spa
Rode (almost crashed) a moped into a mob of Japanese tourists
Started an IT career
Taught at an inner city high school
Ended an IT career
Started a nonprofit career
Went to Tulip Festivals and Lumberjack Competitions
Picked wild blackberries and pet bumblebees
Hosted beach BBQs and bonfires
Snowboarded (on Mt. Rainier)
Kayaked (around the San Juan Islands)
Hiked (all over the Northwest)
Saw Pearl Jam in concert
Bought a new car
Learned to drive stick shift
Rode a mechanical bull in Tijuana
Helped start a photography group
Wore wedding dresses for (Br)ides of March celebrations
Sold my photography in gallery shows
Started a photography website
Attended the UW Graduate School of Public Affairs
Started a travel website
Lived in rural Africa
Won prizes in a dance competition
Read a book per week (sometimes more)
Raised chickens and ate termites
Became an aunt (hi Gus!)
Turning 30 in Lamu
Things I remember:
1997: My first real apartment was the nicest I’ve ever had. Our road trip to New Orleans for spring break, on some level, felt like I was living in a movie. Year full of denying advances by married men. Still wore lots of short skirts (God only knows why; it must have seemed like the thing to do). Lived in Dallas and dated a nice guy for perhaps the first time ever (and consequently didn’t know what to do with that situation).
1998: Thursday night dancing at Planet Austin. Theme parties. Road trip from Austin to San Francisco where Dan and I decided to make a side trip to Las Vegas while Andy was sleeping. Lots of happy hours and private VIP rooms at posh Houston night clubs. Discovered the beauty of high speed internet in my new purple and yellow zebra stripped apartment. Recruited by extravagant companies with fancy meals, plane trips, ball games, limo rides, sailing trips, even white water rafting.
1999: Wore a leopard print dress, high heels, and a tiara to my business school graduation (and brought multiple cases of bubbles for entertainment for the impossibly long and dull ceremony). Went to Walt Disney World and the Florida beach with Droopy (and still didn’t manage to see him ever wear shorts). Had a great time doing the classic and much anticipated back packing trip across Europe. Drank beer at 7am with a train car full of drunk German soccer players on the way to Prague.
2000: Drove a hot pink Hummer from Houston to Austin and back. Spent my Y2K new years in a casino on the beach in Atlantic City with Mitch. Threw some great parties with Houston friends and ate lots of nice meals. Lived the high life of consulting in the dot com boom. Partied it up on my first international business trip for a few wild weeks in London. International hot air balloon festival almost convinced me to buy a hot air balloon (they cost less than a Geo Metro, but I decided against it). Spent a few months working impossibly long hours in Louisville, Kentucky.
2001: The idea of moving to Seattle where I knew no one (and taking a job with a $40,000 pay cut) seemed like the most exciting idea ever, so I quit and road tripped across country to start afresh. Spent an amazing summer with Beal sleeping a few feet below my loft bed on the couch, going out on an endless search for new and exciting nightlife. Spent the day of 9/11 providing moral support to Erin while also worrying about Dieter (he was supposed to fly home from NYC to Seattle that same day). Spent two great weeks in the mountains doing trail work with crazy 12-15 year olds. Went to my first Pride parade.
2002: Obeyed the repeated warnings for those of us running with the Olympic torch in the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics Torch Parade: “Don’t use hairspray.” Went to Wisconsin to be in the wedding of a super cool bride and groom whom I’d never meet (the wedding was on 2/2/2002). Got very sick for a few months and eventually found out I was allergic to wheat gluten. Surprised at myself when I had a really hard time after Dieter and I broke up.
2003: Started hanging out with photographers and vegetarians. Went to Hawaii with my most generous friend Charles. Good year for spontaneity. Went on a two state road trip with Jens, who I’d just met. Decided to accept his invitation to join him for the holidays in India based on the fun road trip weekend. The trip to India ended up quite amazing, even if the resulting relationship was never meant to be. Walking solo at dawn and seeing burning bodies and smelling burning flesh alongside the Ganges River was one of the more intense experiences of my life.
2004: Felt defeated. Felt rejuvenated. Joined KEXP 500 Club. Did my first two gallery shows and sold my first photograph. The first show was in August and I missed it because I was in Guatemala at a conference on sustainability where I met an amazing Egyptian Samer who was doing his doctorate in Canada. Had a great time seeing friends when I came to Austin for ACL Fest. Taking a donkey ride through the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt was one of my more mind boggling experiences as I tried to wrap my brain around the magnitude of the history preserved in the tombs I visited below ground. Attempting the hike up Mt. Sinai by moonlight in December was super cold and windy, but totally worth seeing the sunrise from the top.
2005: Thursday night eighties dancing at Neighbors. First solo gallery show. Helped take care of my grandfather in the ICU; painful to watch him get a little better but still die soon after. Bonded with my coworkers at the NYC Department of Sanitation. My brother called me over Labor Day weekend when I was out at the Gorge to see Pearl Jam and Tom Petty on back to back nights. I was hiking on the day between shows when he called to tell me they were pregnant by asking the question “How does ‘Aunt Laura’ sound to you?” That same weekend, funding for Kenya was approved and I was officially offered the job as the first international volunteer with my nonprofit.
2006: Year in Kenya was my longest period of time overseas (previous longest was a summer spent in Costa Rica at age 17). Learned to raise chickens, speak Swahili, make ugali, dance to zilizopendwa, and drive on the opposite side of the road. Observed firsthand the hardships of life of disabled children in rural Africa. Cried when Pavin died and got angry when Douglas died. Visited AIDS Hospice, AIDS Orphanage, and other AIDS programmes in Nairobi slums. Learned to write and spell like the British. Ate meat, semi-regularly, for the first time in about fifteen years. Watched wrestling with Kenyan Catholic priests. Spent fun week in (developed/first world) South Africa. Watched my parents experience two weeks of life in Kenya including boda boda rides and social visits to mud huts (complete with live termites for snacks). Turned thirty, grew more gray hair, became unemployed for the first time in my life, and have few if any regrets from the last ten years.
In conclusion, I’ll quote Captain Mike with his deep reflection “I know everyone will find this just fascinating, but it’s nice for me to see all of the random crap I’ve done with myself for the last 10 years.”
Mombassa is the biggest port in East Africa… goods come in and are trucked to Uganda, Congo, etc…
New friends at Fort Jesus (circa 1593)
Local spice market
I’ve eaten more fish in the last two weeks than the last 15 years combined
Narrow streets of Old Town
Not much time to write this morning, but I’m here to offer you a few brief life updates from 2007 thus far.
- On New Year’s Eve Sarah and I partied till dawn and just kept going. I know I’m 30, but I swear I’m not trying to prove anything. I didn’t intend to pull an all-nighter, it just happened that it was a big party and excellent company so how could I go back with Cindy to sleep at a decent hour? I will definitely write more on this later as it’s a bit mind boggling to me still.
- We left Lamu the next morning on Jan 1 and I felt very sad to leave and head back to Mombassa. I’m sure there will be some towns Susie and I visit where we’ll be more than happy to move on, but leaving Lamu was definitely a sad event. However, I’ve got a head and heart full of fond and mind boggling memories so at least I’ll always have that to carry with me.
- Yesterday on Jan 2, my grandfather passed away around 6pm. He was my last remaining grandparent on either side of the family. I tried calling him at the house a few times in the afternoon and tried my uncle a few times with no luck. It would’ve been nice to be able to talk one last time, but he was lucid in the last few days and even if I had reached them, no guarantee he’d understand (I did reach my cousin who said many of his last conversations were with dead people). Grandpa’s health has been getting progressively worse for the past few years, and apparently declined rapidly in the past few days. My parents and I both knew his death was going to come this year while I was away, but it’s still hard for me to be here in Africa instead of being in North Carolina at the house with my family. So please think warm thoughts for my mother and our large extended family.
- Yesterday on Jan 2, I left Mombassa to head back to Nairobi. This meant I had to say my goodbyes to Cindy and Sarah. After a full year together, Cindy and I parted ways and will now each begin our own travels. There were no tearful speeches… we instead opted to celebrate with our two weeks in Lamu. On our last night together in Mombassa, we celebrated with ice cream, hugs, and lots of promises to write, stay in touch, and meet up next summer in Seattle. It was sad to say goodbye to Sarah too… I’ve only known her for two months, but like Cindy, I hope she’ll be a friend for life. I wish them both the best of times on their upcoming travels in East Africa and India. Safari injema!
If only I had more time and could actually write for 10 minutes (or five hours!). Lamu Island is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been… though it actually feels and evokes many places I’ve been… the old buildings and narrow streets of Old Delhi, the Muslim and Arab cultures of Egypt, the waterfront of Venice… There are donkeys everywhere (no cars allowed). 99% of local women wear black head to toe, wraps around their faces, and many cover the face only showing the eyes. The dhow sailboats gracefully floating by day and night and the boat captains relentlessly try to get you to hang out with the promise of free coffee tonight, let’s dance at the disco, I’ll take you fishing, and more. The palm trees and white sand beaches make it a paradise on earth. And the best part? People are perhaps the nicest I’ve ever met. Honest. We can stay out till 2am and walk back alone in the dark and everyone says hello and no one mugs anyone. Small island… you see everyone ten times a day… so no crime, no scary alleys, no fear, only new friends and more new friends. It’s been an amazing birthday (When was my last birthday when I had people fighting to take me out… i want to take you on a donkey ride. i want to take you out for a moonlight sailboat ride. i will organize a party with drumming and dancing at coconut beach. i will take you to my family farm. i will take you to see the stars). It was pretty crazy and oh so fun. And what traditional things did we do for Christmas? Make friends with local Muslim women, attend a fighting ceremony for the groom’s wedding party, and attend the all women’s dancing party. Astounding on every possible level. I’ll write more and post photos someday, but for now I need to get to the white sand beach and relax under a palm tree.
Thanks for all of the bday wishes you’ve been sending by email. No time to respond yet, but I read them and am thankful for being remembered from a distance. Hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday. Best wishes for a fabulous 2007!
Much love from Lamu,