Wednesday, February 28, 2007

i want a hippopotamus for christmas

i got out of the big stinky city this past weekend and headed to lake naivasha (where lots of the fresh flowers sold in europe are grown) for some hiking, mountain biking, and camping. after the 1 1/2 hour matatu ride out there and the set up of the campsite (and by set-up i mean having someone move a tent for us and me throwing in my sleeping bag to prepare for its maidan voyage), my friend and i rented mountain bikes and headed towards hell's gate national park. my bike was a bit like frankenstein, with mismatched pedals, different gear changer things, and bits of bikes lost since passed. starting a bike ride in the heat of the high noon sun might not have been the best idea but we had to bust a move to make it back before dark.

and what did i learn on this afternoon of mountain biking through a national park and hiking through a gorge?

that cycling through sand is tough. that the gears on my bike actually did change (this was learned AFTER going through all the sand). that when you don't think you need a guide to prevent you from getting lost in a gorge, sometimes you do. that being outside and getting sweaty makes me so happy. and that i hate biking uphill after hiking through gorges.

we made it back to our campsite in time for me to eat a cheeseburger (so that takes care of my red meat intake for another few months), have a cold beer, and some amaretto cheesecake (no chocolate fudge cake for this observer of lent) before heading to bed before 10:00pm. i had a great sleep and was only woken up to the sounds of the hippos coming on to the shore of the lake. they sound sort of like motor boats.

since i had still had only heard and not seen a hippo, we hired a boat for a half hour the following morning to take us out on to the lake so i could see a hippo. we found a family of about 18 of them and they were so cute with their little twitchy ears. but our boat captain made sure we stayed far enough away since hippos (along with buffalo) are as dangerous, if not moreso, than lions. we also saw waterbuck, pelicans, and a bunch of other birds that thankfully did not fly anywhere near my head.

i made it back to town by midday and my flatmate and i took another matatu (my 4th and 5th of the day) to an area not far from my house called kangemi where i spent less than $10 for a fridge full of fresh produce. we had a lot of fun asking all the vendors what to do with the vegetables and normally i don't like more attention being drawn to me because i am a mzungu but this time, we just laughed along with the other people at the market when we asked what to do with half the stuff we were purchasing. my flatmate is an agricultural guru and we both were happy to support local producers and try local vegetables.

Monday, February 26, 2007

the spiciest island

kanga school uniforms
i love bikes
nutmeg smells delicious and looks sort of like a bug
proof this colour exists in nature who knew this is how pepper grows?
storefront in stone town market
mneba island

Friday, February 23, 2007

sometimes a girl needs tea

it is day 3 of lent and i do not miss chocolate too much. this could be the result of the dismal selection of chocolate in this country, the substandard quality of cadbury's, and the sheer lack of mini eggs. i am not going to lie, giving up something you rarely have is not too difficult. but i have only had 2 coffees this week, which is truly astounding considering the amount of coffee i have been consuming the past month. i have substituted my morning coffee with an evening tea, but it is earl grey and so delicious. and sometimes a girl just needs tea.

lately i have been in need of tea. i am in the middle of conducting some cleansing. no crazy diet or supplements just a cleanse of my life that includes refocusing and rejuvenating. and if that doesn't sound new age-y and flighty, i don't know what does. but i need it and i can credit 25 for teaching me to know myself better and before i left for zanzibar i could sense that i needed a life cleanse and since i have been back i have done well to stay off the booze, the caffeine, the chocolate, and spend time alone doing things that repair.

last night is a perfect example, i went for a run (yay for a whole hour of running), had cereal and taost for dinner, read one of my 3 books on the go by flashlight due to the absence of electricity, practiced my french (or more like stared at my cahier d'exercices blankly and then furled my brow for about a half hour before retiring), listened to ray lamontagne, and went to bed by 10:00pm.

which brings me to another thought i have been thinking lately. often people will say things to me like, 'what an adventure it is to live in africa' or 'what a great experience you are having' and i know what they mean and that their intentions are good, but the reality is that this is just my life and it just happens to be lived in kenya at the moment. i am grateful that i have been given this opportunity (thank you canadian international development agency) and that i have met people who have made it more fun along the way, but this whole 'experience' is my life. tonight i plan on going to french class, getting some groceries, and going to a movie and it doesn't get much more mundane than that.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

never saw blue like that

party aftermath

those photos i was talking about somewhere down there...

Monday, February 19, 2007

keeping fit and having fun

  • 'Loving one's self is a delicate balance. You have to slowly relearn how to speak to yourself. You have to change your language. Try to balance one bad thought with two good ones. If you think you can't, you won't. If you think you can, you might. If you know you can, you will.' - Jann Arden
  • the self talk will be the death of me if i let it
  • i saw in the calgary herald online that ParticipACTION's back! i wonder if hal johnson and joanne macleod will host Body Break again.
  • i have decided to give up chocolate for lent. yowsa.
  • a package of mini eggs arrived in the mail today from canada and i think the phrase goes 'happier than a pig in shit' - what luck that these tiny balls of happiness arrived the day before i am to give up chocolate for 40 days!
  • sometimes the universe works things out perfectly
  • i can already feel the sore on my tongue developing and i love it - so crunchy and so creamy at the same time

threes and fours

i am in the middle of 3 books (Cloud Atlas, David Suzuki's autobiography, and A Suitable Boy) and this is really going to have to end soon.

i have decided to take french classes 3 days a week after work. the craziest thing i have ever decided to do? probably not, but it will most certainly make me exceptionally busy and make my brain hurt. a lot.

my flatmate and i are have a pancake party tomorrow evening for pancake tuesday. i am making the north american style flapjack-style pancakes which we know are the REAL pancakes and he will make the european-style pancakes that we know and love as crepes. our guests will bring stuff to put on top of mine or stuff inside his. and it will be a delight, i hope.

i am thinking about cutting my hair. to look something like hers. what do you think about that? any suggestions/comments would be appreciated since i haven't had hair above my shoulders in years and although i hate to wrap up my identity in my hair, i am afraid that i have.

zanzibari blue

zanzibar was just what i needed.

some highlights:
- the smell of nutmeg in the air as we toured the spice farms
- seeing how turmeric, ginger, taro, nutmeg, vanilla, and cardamon grow
- the countless communication problems we encountered in dealing with tanzanians
- meeting a new friend to travel with and getting along famously
- the colour of the water, i am not sure i have seen that colour of turquoise blue ever before
- tasting fresh pepper off the tree
- swahili style beds, doors, balconies, and other furniture
- the fresh fish market
- seeing mount kilimanjaro from the airplane
- my first trip in a propeller plane
- showing a woman how to use her credit card machine so she could sell me a shirt made out of kanga
- seafood, seafood, and more seafood ('barber cued,' curried, pili pili, skewered, ceviche)
- snorkelling in the indian ocean (all i could think of was finding nemo)
- impromptu late night swimming in our underwear
- the sound of the ocean in the middle of the night
- the dhows sailing by at sunset
- happy hour safari and kilimajaro beer
- long walks on white beaches

my most memorable souvenir? not the wicked new shirt i got or the sunglasses that i bought off the street, or the umpteenth scarf i bought from a nice indian woman who scoffed at my kenyan attempts to bargain, and not even the roasted cashew nuts. nope, it is the sea urchin spines that are still in my feet. you can even see one of them where it went in and almost came out the other side of my toe. they hurt less and less every day and will eventually dissolve but i had more of a problem with the idea that something was stuck in my foot than with the pain of the sting.

my most memorable moment(s)? getting stung by the sea urchin while walking out to a boat, someone being sick off the side of the boat, waves crashing over the side of the boat, and wondering how difficult it would be if we capsized and i had to swim back to shore. the day of diving and snorkelling improved significantly once we got over the waves, my feet stopped stinging, and the sickie stopped puking. the day turned out beautifully.

zanzibar is more expensive than i expected and stone town is a bit run down, but the water, the temperature, and the relaxation factor made it well worth the time and money. i came back last night and actually felt well rested and ready to take on the world. i think i needed some perspective, some good conversations, some sun, and some time out. zanzibar was all that.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

hearts and thoughts, they fade

valentine's day in kenya is pretty intense. shops give specials, the hospital excused fees for some people, and there are little kiosks set up selling the cheesiest bunches of red roses (i really don't like roses, i don't know why, seem too artificial - but tulips or calla lillies and i'm yours). everyone wishes you a happy valentine's day and i had totally forgotten until this morning. normally i like to do something valentine's-y for my friends. last year i baked cookies and packaged them in handmade bags with cards. this year, my efforts have fallen short.

to celebrate this valentine's day i watched The Last Kiss. i liked it. the older i get, the more grey relationships seem. not as black and white as i once naively thought. and the movie reflects that in the most sad and painful way. but it is also hopeful, i think. it reminded me of The Breakup. are movies reflecting reality more these days or am i just seeking out the movies that represent life a little better? it was funny, in The Last Kiss, the person i thought i would be rooting for at the beginning totally wasn't and i found myself hoping for a different outcome. i guess you could say the movie made me think. and those are the best kind.

ok, i lied, to really celebrate this valentine's day i am going to zanzibar, which really ain't so bad. i leave in just a few hours and i haven't even packed yet, but i think it will a great time as long as i remember my bikini, my kikoi, and my sunscreen (no sunglasses since i lost one pair and broke the other). how can you argue with a beach, tropical ocean water, swahili culture, and a few good books?

eat this martha

10 bottles of red wine
4 bottles of white wine
8 bottles of vodka
3 bottles of gin
1 bottle of whiskey
1 bottle of rum
120+ cans / bottles beer

vat homemade hummous
tub homemade salsa
bowl homemade guacamole
50 homemade samosas
3 trays freshly baked cookies
1 cheese tray
plenty o crackers & crisps
fresh baguettes
2 very cute bowls of olives
100 plastic glasses and then some

4 hosts
>100 guests
20+ nationalities
a few people told to go smoke outside
2 sketchy characters
1 time i was told i am the glamorous flatmate (?!)

1 dancefloor
1 mug broken
2 new safari chairs
3 new floor cushions
2 packages of candles
1 kerosine lamp purchased at 7:30pm
4 vases of fresh flowers
1 bowl full of 8 grapefruit
2 soapstone bowls
many outdoor plants brought inside
1 threatening phone call from the neighbours
1 argument with askaris
over 50 photos of the evening
3 new phone numbers in my phone the next morning

1 eviction warning

our party was the perfect representation of nairobi life - there was no electricity (and therefore no hummous or cookies or coffee to ward off friday night's hangover and fatique) from about 3:00pm until 7:50pm (our invitations said the party would start at 8:00pm) so 3 girls had to take timed showers so we didn't use up our hot water and then apply make up in the dark while we watching our hair air dry into poofiness. we made a pact that if the lights came on during the party, we would all remind each other to run to the bathroom and check our make-up. luckily, we didn't need to do that and the lights worked perfectly the entire night. which is good because otherwise people wouldn't have appreciated our decorating talents and our food preparation. but tell me if you have ever been to a party where there were cookies that came straight out of the oven?! it all worked out thankfully.

the next day, however, we had to run away from the mess and the lack of water in our compound and go for breakfast. there was no water all day and we were very dirty and so was our flat. but i have a wonderful flatmate who did the majority of the cleaning (and sorting) before we got back from breakie and then we had our housekeeper come in on monday and she had everything looking shiny and new by monday evening (even that wall that i thought we might have to repaint).

a number of people have told us since that that was one of the best parties they had been to in nairobi and we've already had requests to host another. although we also had to promise our landlord we wouldn't do it again. at one point our living room was as crowded as a bar and i recall wondering who were all these people. but nairobi is a small community when it comes to the international community and we did a good job of mixing it up.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

saturday afternoon in kibera

i went to kibera, the largest slum in africa, on the weekend for a gender-based violence event.

i am not sure exactly where to start. i have been in townships in south africa, impoverished communities in mexico and central america, towns without plumbing or electricity in ghana, but this urban settlement was like nothing i had seen before.

it is enormous. just when i thought it would end, there was more. more open sewage, more homes, more shops, more people, more unmarked roads...

i was left feeling guilty for having so much crap that i think i need (this seems to be a recurring thought) and overwhelmed with all that needs to be done to alleviate the levels of poverty that the residents of kibera live in.

the event was great, i am glad that i went just to see the dance competition of the local kids. a little girl who couldn't have been more than 3 years old won and there was no stopping her when the music started and she got into her groove. it made me realise that canadians are not brought up to move to like that. because rhythm and movement like that cannot be taught, they are just acquired and absorbed.

i wanted to take my camera out so badly and take photos of the place and its people. especially the kids that all yell, 'hello, how are you?' or 'mzungu' as you drive by. but my colleague at work was telling me how it is a bit of a running joke that the westerners come to kibera with their camera and treat the people like they are animals in a zoo so i kept it in my purse and just took these photos off the internet. it is a fascinating place and i hope i have the opportunity to go back.
and it really is just a few km's from where i live.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

greener pastures

today i am feeling as though the grass is greener elsewhere and i hate that feeling. i am wondering if it is because i am settled and comfortable in my flat, my job, my life. or if it is because i am still upset that the coup in guinea continues with no end in sight.

the party this weekend should be great fun but it is becoming stressful to get people organised to get everything done that i want to get done. because if you are going to throw a party, you should really pay attention to all the details, in my opinion.

i stayed up way too late last night as well and although i had fun trading hundreds of songs with my flatmates (yay ray lamontagne, indigo girls, and the be good tanyas), the lack of sleep is doing nothing for feeling like i want to run away today. to where, i have no idea. but running feels like the best thing to do.

i am expecting a package to arrive today and that better keep me going. oh yeah, and that trip to zanzibar that i am this close to confirming will be a good distraction.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

the happiest hour

i had my first after-work-happy-hour-special drinks yesterday and the 3 (or 4?) cosmopolitans were enough for me to be feeling pretty happy and sober again by 9:00pm. and the best part of it was that i was in bed by 11:00pm then up feeling fresh and chipper at 7:00am. all of sudden this whole happy hour thing makes so much sense! where have i been all these years between 4:00pm and 7:00pm on a monday night?

when i got home last night i was warmly welcomed with a new oven (previous to this glorious moment, i had been sans oven) which has left me dreaming of apple crisp, chocolate chip cookies, and raisin bran muffins all day at work. that dream was interrupted long enough for my boss to bring me a mars bar which i gobbled up as i rethought about giving up chocolate for lent, still without any decisions.

can i put a request out to the universe to post me some mini eggs?! but not the british kind (suz, wait til you try them, not nearly as good as the ones from the great white north). i know beggars can't be chosers, but really, they just do not compare.

interested in an update on the birthday celebrations? well here you go: i give the evening a 7.5 out of 10. too many sugary shots, great showing of different groups of people, free drinks and free rides, appearances from my full social calendar (but only a text message from the coup), and some friendly reprimands for sending messages after i'd had some red wine (but don't worry, none to 25, that jerk).

i hope to improve on my rating this weekend, however, when my flatmates and i host a cocktail party (or just a party, i still don't know the difference) as a late-birthday/going-away/it's-february-and-i-am-not-wearing-mittens-or-a-toque party. the invite list is sitting at 50 but sure to grow. i've got to represent over here in africa as my parents have become known to throw the best parties in the neighbourhood and that is a reputation that needs living up to if i have ever heard one. although it might difficult without hockey parents, tequila grandma, and the velvet painting.

Friday, February 02, 2007

not quite 100%, hovering somewhere around 75%

i am feeling under the weather and i can't even say it is because of wild birthday celebrations. i have lost my appetite, which definitely means something is up in my system. but it better damn well pass before tomorrow night when the real birthday celebrations begin as i am sure i will wake up feeling much older than my 26 years on sunday morning.

this afternoon i visited a beneificiary of one of our programmes at work and he lives in a room that is actually smaller than my room in the uk. and it includes his cooking stuff! i thought 11 feet squared was small. just when i needed a reminder i was in africa, i realise that acceptable minimum standards of living are much different.

it always make me think about the crap i think i need. and then i always get this incredible desire to just give away all my stuff. but then i realise that there is a reason i have all that stuff and i'm not ready to part with it. as my friend says, ''stuff' is the bane of my existence.'

i also saw the garbage dumps in the middle of residential areas, people selling everything included used plastic containers (yay for reusing), a housing estate named after california, fantastic looking produce markets, and more than a few streetside funeral parlors (which makes me think that death is so much more of a daily occurrence here than i am used to).

being out and about in nairobi on an afternoon confirmed that i am not cut out for office work and i would probably be better suited to working with an ngo on service delivery and programme implementation rather than the administration of programmes. too bad ngos don't pay well, but then maybe i have a better chance at being hired.

job searching and applying, i really do hate it. nothing like the job application process to zap all molecules of self-esteem. i am not so sure if molecule is the correct measure of self-esteem, most likely not cause i just made it up, but it seems appropriate.

off to a movie tonight after work and then for some cheese, bread, and wine with my flatmates. as long as my stomach wants food by then, that is. (have i mentioned that the best bakery in nairobi is located in a shell gas station?)