Monday, December 24, 2007

December 24, 2007 - And There Won't Be Snow in Africa This Christmas

Merry Christmas Eve!

I will admit that it is very strange to be at a mall food court in Kenya with an African band playing "Feliz Navidad" on Christmas Eve. Today is the most homesick I have been here; it just doesn't feel like Christmas at all! But Kristoffer and I are going to make the most of it. He found out today that the UN compound will be closed until January 2nd. This means he doesn't have to work until then! It is great news, especially for me so that I am not alone all week, although a little notice would have been nice. We will try to spend at least a few of the days outside of Nairobi on safari. With the presidential election on the 27th, security is a bit dicey. We will get permission from the diplomatic police before we go anywhere to make sure it is safe. There is always a fear of riots, rallies, and violence in anticipation of or in reaction to the election. We will be extremely cautious in whatever we do.

Yesterday was an interesting day for us. First, we went to church for the first time here. I found what I thought was a Catholic church (St. Mark's...sounds Catholic, right?) and we went to the 11:00 am mass because it was in English. I am still not sure if it was Catholic or not. There were definitely Catholic elements to it...for example the Gloria and the Nicene Creed. But, the order of mass parts was very different, many parts were missing, and there were many parts that a regular Catholic mass (at least the ones in America, Italy and Denmark) does not include. I am sure it was very nice for the people who were used to it, but it was over 2 hours long and we just didn't get it. We had to stand up to be welcomed and clapped for (you can't really hide when you are the only white people in the church!) which was okay, but in general it was very awkward and, again, I am not sure if it was officially Catholic. We left after 1 hour 45 minutes because there were still so many things on the agenda (their program was really like an agenda) and after several baptisms, a history lesson, a few musical performances, and a guest preacher, we were just done! We found out later that it is pretty customary and most church services here are 2 hours long. Hmm...I think we will continue to shop around for a different church.

After church, we mustered up some energy to place orders for some of our furniture, which will be ready on January 4th. Because we are white with diplomatic license plates on our car, the prices were definitely jacked up for us. Our negotiations didn't go that well...we, the mzungu (the Swahili word for white people) should have brought a Kenyan with us to negotiate. Even though the prices were "high", they were still extremely cheap (by American and European standards) for what they are making us so I don't feel that bad about getting "taken". The carpenters are not exactly wealthy here so if they make a little extra money off of us before Christmas, that is OK by me.

We also attended a holiday party yesterday - which felt more like a 4th of July BBQ - at our landlord's house. We met the wealthy class of society here. She has a tight knit group of Kenyan Indian friends as well as her friends she works with at Citibank. They were extremely welcoming and nice to us, even though we didn't exactly feel that they were our crowd. There was another "new" couple there who arrived from Pakistan recently with a 1 year old daughter. The wife and I got along well and when they move into their house I may spend some time with her, as she is also not working right now (although trust me, I am really ready for a job!). It was really nice to be invited over and we had a good time (Kristoffer even had a beer...!).

We cannot get internet access in our apartment until January 3rd (at the earliest) so I am not sure how many blogs there will be between now and then but I will definitely write again before the new year. In the meantime, Kristoffer and I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! We hope some of you are getting some snow and enjoying it on our behalf. We miss and love you :)

LMW

Saturday, December 22, 2007

December 22, 2007 - Camfa, Ponda and Boxwood

In order to get settled in our new apartment, we need furniture! We could easily buy furniture at Nakumatt but none of the furniture in stores is really our taste. So we have taken to the streets, once again, and started shopping with local carpenters and furniture makers today. There is one road that has many different vendors and we just went up and down it earlier today. All of the furniture is lined up on the road, essentially in the dirt or mud, and each vendor has an album of work he has done. The furniture will be custom built to our liking and you would never believe me if I told you how much it will all cost. We are going to furnish two bedrooms, an office, our kitchen, living room and balcony for well under what it might normally cost to furnish one or two rooms in the US. It was very fun and educational! We learned about all different kinds of woods that we did not know existed: Camfa, Ponda, and Boxwood to name a few. Camfa is a light wood and we learned that it comes from Mt. Kenya specifically. There was really only one maker who used that wood and it was our favorite because we don't want mahogany furniture. We are probably going to go back to him tomorrow with measurements ready to haggle. Even though it is not very expensive, we will still try to negotiate a little. New Yorkers would have a field day here!

Something else we have noticed living here (oh my gosh...I just said that...I live here! AH!) for the past couple of weeks is that there are often weddings on holidays or weekends. You know there is a wedding because there will be a procession of cars (like for a funeral in the US or Europe) following the bride and groom. The front car with the couple will have a large flower arrangement on the hood of the car and ribbons decorating it. All of the cars behind it will also have the ribbons so you know what cars are in the procession. Traffic is so dicey around here though that other cars often interrupt the procession. That might have happened to us once.

While I wrote about seeing the man pulling the cart like a donkey earlier this week, Kristoffer saw it for the first time today. We actually saw 3 or 4 men pulling full carts on the road today but the real kicker was this: we were driving from our apartment to the UN (where I am using a computer now) and the main road is a steep hill next to a forest (more like a jungle, where I often expect to see Tarzan). We are driving up the hill and coming down the hill is a "donkey man" pulling a cart full of people (2 men!) and stuff. He was going so fast down this huge hill with the cart...it was by far the craziest thing we have seen here. Perhaps it was some sort of marathon training? We are learning not to be surprised when we see such things and we usually say, "Welcome to Kenya!"

Finally, today I will share my biggest pet peeve about Nairobi. Because this city is considered the capital of Eastern Africa and there is a large international presence, all of the Ambassadors from other countries live here. Ambassadors live in nice neighborhoods, in big houses on big compounds with big security. What bothers me about the homes of ambassadors is that there is usually a big sign pointing down their driveway or the street with an arrow that says "Swedish Ambassador's Residence" or "Ambassador of Germany's Residence". Given the security issues here in Nairobi, it amazes me that these leaders have their homes so well marked! Even the US Ambassador's home, which I thought would be more well-hidden given our status internationally, has huge gates with the seal of the United States on both sides! It couldn't be more obvious where each ambassador lives and it absolutely drives me crazy. I expect the embassies to be well-advertised, but not the private homes of these people. Granted, I have not looked for ambassadors in any other country so I don't know whether it is customary or not, but I would think that a more discreet system would be desirable in a country with a lot of crime.

Ok...that's all for now. After having bought the necessary utensils, Kristoffer and I are going to eat dinner in our new apartment for the first time tonight! Yipee :)

LMW

December 21, 2007 – Welcome Home or Nothing Says Christmas Like a Flood

(posted later than written)

We found it! Our new apartment! Yesterday, Kristoffer and I decided to take matters into our own hands apartment hunting. The realtors are not helpful here and we were unable to feel really happy about moving into any of the apartments that we had previously seen. The night before we had started driving around calling up phone numbers that individuals posted about apartments, calling different property companies, and talking to security guards. Yesterday we continued doing that until we found the place we now call home.

Our landlord Anuja, who we love, is a Kenyan born woman of Indian descent. She was educated in London so when I first spoke to her on the phone I assumed she was British. She is so nice! The apartment is next to one we were considering, but it is set back a little from the road so it is not as noticeable. It is our favourite and most preferred street to live on. Ours is a top (4th) floor apartment so we have the biggest balcony with a nice view! Once we saw it, we just knew it was the one. Compared to everything else we had seen, with the exception of Bent’s place, it is very “us”. We moved in 3 hours after we saw it! It has a living room, eat-in kitchen, laundry room, 3 bedrooms, and 3 bathrooms. The ceilings are at least 15 feet high, which we love, and the floors are hardwood except in the kitchen and bathrooms. It is 1.5 years old so that is good, except even brand new in Nairobi does not look like brand new in either the US or Europe. The problem is that labor here is very cheap and workers aren’t actually educated about how to do what they are doing, so the quality isn’t super high. Regardless, our apartment has charm and is a normal size and we love it. We sacrificed a pool and a gym in order to have a place on a very safe street. We have a gate, 24 hour security, another gate, and an alarm system. Anuja’s previous tenant worked for the UN as well and the UN comes to security proof every apartment to their standards. They will be here next week to give us the once over again.

Upon moving in last night, we decided our first order of business was to do laundry! Anuja left us a fridge, washer, and bed which we could buy from her eventually. When we went to do laundry, we realized the washer needed to be hooked up. The little gadget that connects the washer hose to the water spout was broken so we couldn’t get it to work. When Kristoffer went to screw the cap back on the spout, it cracked and water began to leak. We couldn’t turn off the water because we don’t have access to the basement. Kristoffer did everything imaginable to stop that leak but the laundry room was quickly flooding. We went to the 24 hour store at 10:00 at night (we had never been out that late here before so you know we were desperate!), fearing immediate eviction!, but they didn’t have the right gadget…only a really big bucket. I couldn’t get a plumber in the evening (no such thing as a 24 hour plumber in Kenya, I learned from Anuja today) so there was nothing else we could do. We had even asked one of our security guards to come up and have a look and he couldn’t do anything either without that gadget!

After scooping bowls of water into the sink, the laundry room was a little less wet and we finally went to bed at midnight. Kristoffer got up every hour to empty the bucket and to curse himself...he felt so awful, but it was truly an accident that he couldn’t have prevented. In the morning, he had to go to work before the stores opened to buy the gadget so he left me emptying buckets of water and having to face the music with Anuja. She couldn’t have been nicer. She actually said that her father had trouble disconnecting the washer when the other tenant moved out, and probably he was the one who broke the gadget! She got a plumber (Morris) to come fix it, which took no time and was very inexpensive for labor and the part, and she got the caretaker of the compound (Jacob) to come clean up the mess.

That was actually totally new for me. It is expected here that everyone who has money or is an expatriate will have staff, or servants. These are Kenyan people who work for you for extremely little money – a driver, a housekeeper, a gardener, a nanny, a cook. I know this is true in other developing countries as well and, quite frankly, the economy depends on this exchange. However, as an American who never had a cleaning person or a driver (except my parents!), it still makes me uncomfortable. So when Anuja arranged for Jacob to come and clean all of the floors of the apartment and the mess in the laundry room on his lunch hour for the price of 200 Kenyan shillings (Ksh)…which equals less than $3.50…I was so stressed! He is the first Kenyan I have met who didn’t speak any English at all so I couldn’t communicate with him. Anuja told me he said that he would come around every couple of days to see if “Mama” wants anything to be done (the lady of the household is always called “Mama” by staff here), at least until we decide if we are going to hire help. Yikes! I suppose we will consider the idea when we are a little more settled and, racked with guilt that Jacob was getting paid so little, I gave him a generous Christmas tip.

So now the flood is over and we are unpacked in our unfurnished-but-for-a-bed apartment. The bed here is actually too soft for my back so we are going to buy a firm bed right now. I think I will have fun furnishing and decorating this place and it will keep me occupied until I can find a job!

LMW

December 20, 2007 - Do they know it’s Christmas time at all? (AKA Kristoffer finally writes!)

(posted later than written)

For me personally, the answer must be no. Lisa is dreading that I have to work on the 24th but at least I have the 25th off. Apart from the big mechanical dancing Santas at the malls with a semi-warm “Ho Ho Ho” and with the 75F (25C) weather everyday and our local rooster calling the sun up at 6am every morning, Christmas couldn’t seem further away. I must admit though that my eyes are eagerly searching for any parcels or letters at my mail box at work, which has been completely empty since I got my name on it last week.

So how is work, Kristoffer?

It is everything I wanted it to be and more. WFP is probably a big “Who?” to most people, just as it was to me when I initially applied for this job through the Danish government’s Junior Professional Officer Programme. WFP is essentially a relief programme; a branch of the UN that is specialized in dealing with emergencies. Tsunamis and famines, for example, or essentially every emergency where there is an urgent demand for food. So at work we have fairly large procurement and logistical units because that it basically what we do: we actually get the food out there, and I’m proud to say that we are one of the UN organizations with the lowest administrative costs. Donations will go directly to the beneficiaries in terms of food. Our mandate has been stretched a little bit and this is where I come in.

I’m working at the development unit in the Kenyan country office. In Kenya, WFP runs the world’s largest School Feeding Programme, feeding more than one million children a year. The 150 gram lunch we provide to schools in ASAL (arid and semi-arid land) have a variety of objectives. It is an incentive for the parents to send their children to school because they get fed, the programme increases student enrollment in these rural and extremely poor areas, it decreases the dropout rates and improves the children’s attention span. The programme is run by the Ministry of Education with the main support from WFP. It’s an amazing program and I’ll tell you more about it later because there are, of course, a number of challenges both with the Ministry and with the execution of the programme. In Kenya, we also support girls and women through targeted feeding programmes for lactose intolerant or breast-feeding mothers, we run 10 boarding schools for girls that have run away from marriages or their strict ¤%”¤% society. We run food-for-work programs where we employ local labour to work for food to improve the local schools, water facilities, roads etc.

We also have a HIV/AIDS feeding program. In Kenya all people living with AIDS (PLWA) get free ARVs (anti-retroviral drugs) from the government, but the medicine needs to be accompanied with a healthy and rich diet which is where we come in. We also run wellness centers along the main roads through Kenya to help poorly educated truck drivers stop spreading HIV/AIDS through prostitutes along the highways and stop bringing it back to their villages. These centers are there to educate truck drives about the disease.

Through our private donors, namely Unilever (Holland) and the International Paper Company (US), we run other programs, for example the de-worming program. Every child in the School Feeding Programme is getting de-wormed every 6 months (1 tablet does the trick!). Worms can consume up to 75% of a child’s food consumption (I know you all way better off without this knowledge, but these are the facts).

Other units in WFP Kenya are the EMOP: emergency operations and refugees. We provide food to 250.000 refugees from Somalia and Sudan in the northern part of the country. This is a huge program, but I’m sad to say that there are very few people running it. Coming from the World Bank in DC, I can honestly say that we are depressingly under-staffed here. What one staff does here I would prefer to have 4-5 people working on because it is extremely important.

The good thing for me is that there is a lot of responsibility. I’ll be working on our budget and resources 50% of the time involving: meetings with the Ministry (did that last week) to make sure the food is bought, coordinating with logistics and the local districts. 30% of the time I’ll work with Monitoring and Evaluation, which means lots of field visits (I’m going three times in January to the slums of Nairobi and to villages with high rates of HIV7AIDS) and a bit of data work. The last 20% of my time will be devoted to the Country Programme which is our 4-year strategy and it is due in June. So I’ll be working on everything!!! Simply perfect!

It’s early Thursday morning and I’m up with the rooster and the sun. I have the day off because of a Muslim holiday. I’ll gently wake my wife up because we are going apartment hunting which is now our biggest headache!

Maybe I can tell you a little bit about Kenyan woman. I’m fascinated by them. I would say 70% of WFP staff are woman which is great for gender equality but tough for me. When I studied in England I shared a dorm with two Asian women, one from Taiwan and the other from Hong Kong. In the beginning I couldn’t tell them apart. This is awful to say but I thought they looked the same. After a few weeks I realized that they didn’t look the same at all and I’m ashamed by that today. But I’m in kind of the same situation right now at work. Luckily there are different tribes in Kenya so there is a lot of variation but many Kenyan women look the same from my perspective, and on top of that Kenyan women are chameleons: they change their appearance every day. One day their hair is down and they aren’t wearing makeup but the next day their hair is up and they are wearing tons of make-up! The next day they wear a fancy colourful dress, the next day a business suit…it is really difficult to know who is who!

More about everything later; we need a nice place to stay now. If I drive Lisa down to the Java House (a local coffee chain) for breakfast (American breakfast-American prices!) then she will get up immediately.

I’ll tell you why I (the environmentalist with cold showers and energy efficient bulbs) am buying an ISUZU Wizard (V6) SUV in my next blog.

Take care…oh I mean merry Christmas… I almost forgot ; )

KW

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

December 19, 2007 - Taking Baby Steps

Hello again!

Here in Nairobi, we are getting closer to renting an apartment. Our ideal situation right now is to have a short-term lease at a nice place, while we are on a waiting list for the compound Bent lives in that we really love. It may take up to 3 months but we think this is the best solution. We are waiting to hear from a few compounds about whether a short-term lease is possible. Hopefully, it will just be a few more days. Today is a Muslim holiday, which the country recognizes, and so no business is being conducted.

Kristoffer met a really nice woman, Beatrice, at the WFP. Her husband is staff there and she is a volunteer. She helped us find several apartments to look at yesterday and she also connected us to a WFP family moving to Senegal from whom we are going to buy a car! Because the car is already registered with the UN, it will be much easier for us to buy the car, and it was much cheaper than the British guy's car. It is a really big SVU (an Isuzu Wizard) - shhh...don't tell Kristoffer - but it is a good car to have here. All of the paperwork should be taken care of within a week.

In addition to looking at apartments and cars, during the past few days I have seen two very interesting and funny sights.

First, while in a taxi driving on the highway the other day, I saw a man pulling a full cart - yes, as if he were a donkey - in the middle lane. Of the highway! A man pulling a cart! It was crazy!

Next, when driving around the city there are often "sales men" (sometimes children) walking on the road in between the cars selling stuff. They are selling a variety of goods: paintings, flowers, nuts, bags, hats, shirts, we even saw a guy selling a coat rack! The items that always make me smile, however, are puppies! Puppies! These guys actually walk around with these little puppies hoping that someone will drive by, hand over some cash, and take one! I am sure lots of people are tempted because the dogs are so darn cute, but really - who would buy a puppy like that? We have even seen a bunny rabbit or two being sold on the street.

We are getting closer to having a normal life - puppy sales during traffic and all - and hope to feel more settled in time for Christmas next week. Kristoffer hasn't worked here long enough to have earned any vacation days, so we believe that he will have to work on the 24th and the 26th (even though nobody else will be around!). We will have to come up with something very cool and African to do on Christmas!

LMW

Sunday, December 16, 2007

December 16, 2007 - Cheetahs and Matatus

Yesterday's "buying a car" adventure did not go exactly as planned. The reliable British guy with whom we were meeting dropped off the face of the earth yesterday. We were supposed to meet him at a specific shopping center in the afternoon to look at the car. We went there for lunch, shopped around, kept calling him, and sent him a text message. His phone was turned off the entire day. So...we think: his phone got stolen (which is highly likely here), he was in a terrible accident of some kind (we hope this is not true), or he sold the car to someone else/was no longer interested in selling to us and didn't want to tell us (the most likely reason). It is just a little weird because we talked to him on the phone 3 times and he said that we were the most reliable customers he had interested in the car. GRRRR! It is just so annoying because it was exactly the car we wanted at a reasonable price. Now it is back to the bulletin boards to find another car.

The highlight of our day, after not buying a car, was visiting the Animal Orphanage at the Kenya National Park. Here, animals in the park that are abandoned or injured are brought in for care and TLC. We think that if it was a true orphanage the animals would be sent back out into the park when they were healed and ready, but this place is secretly just a zoo because when the animals are well they are put in large cages for visitors and tourists like us to observe. They are never put back into the wild because they couldn't take care of themselves anymore. Before going into the orphanage we met a young American couple; they were both Peace Corps volunteers in Jordon doing a little travelling. They were very nice and we walked around the orphanage with them.

We saw beautiful lions, heinously ugly warthogs (like Pumba from the Lion King), crazy monkeys, and a stealthy leopard to name a few animals. Our coolest interaction was with the cheetahs though! We were actually let into their cage to pet them. They enormous cats were extremely calm - apparently they are selective eaters and don't attack humans. We were a little nervous though! We were the only white people at the orphanage and no other visitors were being let into the cage...so maybe the joke would be on us and everyone else would be entertained as we were clawed to death?!? No no no. The cheetahs were laying perfectly still and just let us pet them. Their fur is very rough and their tongues are similar to the giraffes, like sandpaper. We think the workers let us in because they knew we would tip them well, which we did. We also learned that the most dangerous animal in the wild is a buffalo. It can flip a car over and charge a lion so you really don't want to run into one in a dark alley, if you know what I mean. This orphanage doesn't rescue elephants because they eat too much!

After all of our driving around yesterday, Kristoffer is almost an expert driver now. Because it seems to us that there are no rules on the road, a driver has to be aggressive to get through the crazy roundabouts they have here or to merge into traffic on the highway. One factor that complicates driving success is the presence of all of these matatus (little buses). They are 14 passenger vans that are a form of public transportation for people to get in/out and around Nairobi. You can see them driving on the sidewalk or the dirt to the side of the road, sometimes they will just stop in the middle of a roundabout to let people on or off, and they drive at crazy speeds. Most of the road accidents in Kenya are attributed to matatus, actually, and they drive me SO crazy that I now use the word as a curse! I will yell "MATATUS!" if I am frustrated!

Today we may venture to a new and dangerous place...the center of the city! The weather continues to be perfect; the sun is always shining and a light breeze gently blows. Kenya also grows the most beautiful flowers (one of their biggest exports); Kristoffer will be buying me lots of them in the next two years I hope. It is hard for us to realize that Christmas is 9 days away because it feels like June! I wonder, will we like Nairobi when the long rains come?

LMW

Saturday, December 15, 2007

December 15, 2007 - Driving in Nairobi

Hello again!

We haven't posted anything for a few days because our internet connection has not been working and, frankly, there isn't that much new to report. Kristoffer continues to love his job. This week he sat in on a meeting with several representatives from the Ministries of Health and Education. In addition to his other work, he will become quite involved in the WFP's School Feeding Program here, which is vital for the health and education of children. He is constantly amazed by how practical the work is and how interesting the people are. I am really hoping he will write something on the blog soon.

As for me, I have realized that nothing in terms of work or volunteering will happen until January because everything is or is starting to shut down for the holidays. On the apartment front, the one I found that met all of our requirements is absolutely enormous and we aren't going to take it. It is nice but we don't need 4 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, a living room, dining room, family room, laundry room, servants quarters, and kitchen with a breakfast nook. We are only 2 people and the reality is that you are all not going to come visit us at the same time. So...the hunt goes on. I showed Kristoffer two other possibilities this morning and on Monday I will look at "Riverside Park", which is the fanciest and most expensive compound in Nairobi. The good thing is that we get a rent subsidy from the UN so we could afford it. It looks amazing and the only bad part about the compound (without having seen the actual apartments yet) is that it is set back off a very busy highway. So basically, we hope to choose between these 3 places on Monday and move in by Thursday at the latest.

The WFP lent Kristoffer a car until we buy one. Driving is really scary here - in addition to no traffic lights (although we did find one at a roundabout...but it was just constantly blinking yellow so that was not really helpful) there are also no speeding limits and poorly paved roads (or unpaved roads in some cases). People drive like maniacs! Our first day driving was yesterday and Kristoffer did really well! There were only two scary moments. The first was that the car was too close to the left side and we went into a ditch for a moment. Kristoffer stayed in control of the car and we recovered well; that was only in the first 10 minutes of driving. About 20 minutes after that on our back home, we made a right turn (a little scary when you're on the left side) and Kristoffer accidentally got into the right lane. When I saw a matatu (that means "little bus" in Swahili) coming at us, I very calmly said, "We are in the wrong lane." I didn't think that screaming would help the situation. After shouting a choice expletive, Kristoffer swerved into the left lane and our lives were saved. Since then, his driving record has been perfect.

One other story before I go...we have been having some problem accessing our money here. As Kristoffer says, it is not that we don't have any money it is just that our assets are not liquid! I spoke to the bank on the phone earlier in the week and they said everything was now taken care of: we increased our spending and ATM limits and noted that purchases in Kenya should not be flagged for security. My cards are working fine, but Kristoffer's cards are (apparently) not. So last night we went to a really nice fondue restaurant here. We have found it very easy to get vegetarian food in Nairobi, as opposed to other parts of Kenya or maybe even Africa. It might be due to the population of Indians who live here. Anyway, we had a really delicious meal and Kristoffer put down his debit card to pay. The manager came back saying that it kept getting declined. For security reasons, we only carry one card with us at a time and I didn't have any cards with me. The ATM at this place denied his card as well. So I had to stay at the restaurant (preparing to wash dishes) and Kristoffer had to drive home to get another credit card. It was so embarrassing! Luckily for us the manager was really nice and said it happens to people there all the time. As soon as I can get calls to go through to the US (for some reason yesterday no calls were going through) I will call the bank again to resolve the problem.

Right now we are going to look at a car. It is a Mitsubishi Pajero io (a small 4WD SVU, called a Montero at home) and is owned by a British guy. If we like it and negotiate a decent price, we hope to purchase it at the beginning of the week. Everyday brings us something new!

LMW

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

December 12, 2007 - Five Observations About Kenya

1. There are no traffic lights. This does not seem to bother Kristoffer, but Lisa is always a bit on edge when in a taxi. This is evidence of a larger and enormous infrastructure problem here. The infrastructure of the city (roads, water, etc.) is not catching up with the economic development (they are building like crazy!) and population growth (urbanization) of Nairobi. In regards to the traffic lights, there are a lot of accidents here. Kristoffer has read that 1% of GDP is lost due to poor infrastructure (for example, people are late to work because it took them over an hour in traffic to get there).

2. Kenyans believe in “Pole, pole” (pronounced sort of like: pulla, pulla) which means “slowly, slowly”. People walk and talk and do things a little slower here. Nobody is stressed or rushed (sometimes to Lisa’s frustration).

3. Unlike in the United States or Denmark where economic classes are often separate or distinct, here you seem extreme poverty right next to or mixed in with extreme wealth. On the same road as the UN, there are very poor people selling fruit. When you drive out of the very fancy mall, there are children begging for money. Today we drove past one of Nairobi’s slum which was adjacent too a wealthier area. Now we know in the States that conditions in the projects are terrible, however, the projects here make an American slum look like a comfortable way of life. There are no roads, no actual buildings, just shanties or tin structures with no plumbing and in complete filth and squalor. We have never seen poverty such as this, all the while seeing many Mercedes and Lexus cars drive by!

4. Here you can get everything that you can get in the US or Denmark, from the latest cell phones and computers to Adidas running shoes and Polo Ralph Lauren shirts. We expected to miss many modern conveniences or commodities, but we surprisingly have access to everything we want.

5. Even though there are a lot of expatriates and tourists in Kenya, we are still obviously very different and get stared at everywhere we go. Maybe it is just because we are so good looking…just kidding. Kenyans in Nairobi are used to white people, and yet all eyes are always on us! We also do not hold hands in Kenya because couples do not touch or show affection in public here.

KW and LMW

December 12, 2007 - Kissed by a Giraffe

We had a wonderful day today! We hired a driver for most of the day and explored the western area outside of downtown Nairobi (a kind of “suburb”). First, we visited the Karen Blixen Museum, which is the house she lived in for most of the 16 or 17 years that she was in Kenya. For those who don’t know, Karen Blixen is a famous Danish author who moved to Kenya with her husband and owned a coffee plantation for many years before it went completely bankrupt. She stayed in Kenya long after they were divorced, and when she eventually returned to Denmark began writing (she was also a talented and educated artist). She was very kind to her servants and did a lot to help Kenyans, including portraying them in such a positive manner in the book she wrote after she left Kenya, Out of Africa. You may know this as the movie starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford as well. There is a neighborhood called Karen, many roads, schools, and a hospital named after her. Her house was very cool with many original artifacts and some replicas used in the movie which was partly shot on the actual grounds (the cameras were too big for the house at the time and there was no electricity). We represented Denmark well and our guide said “This is Denmark in Kenya” when we went into her home. Kristoffer was pleased to immediately recognize the porcelain on the dining room table in the house; it is the same white china with blue flowers that his mother has!

After the museum, our driver took us to the Giraffe Centre. There are 3 types of giraffes in Kenya and at this place, 12 of the Rothschild breed live and are bred to increase their endangered population and to educate both tourists and local people. We learned that the reason this particular breed is endangered is because the giraffes are native to Western Kenya, near Uganda, and Ugandan dictator Idi Amin had his police and soldiers use the giraffes as target practice, killing hundreds of them. Since the center opened in 1979, the population has increased from 120 giraffes to over 500.

Enough history – the giraffes were beautiful and so friendly! We got to feed them, hug them, and they even kissed us! Their tongues feel like sandpaper and are covered in saliva. The saliva, we were told, is antiseptic so that if the giraffe eats something that cuts it, its tongue will heal very quickly. They call it “the healing kiss.” Giraffes don’t have front incisors so there is no danger of being bitten, and giraffes are herbivores anyway. At the giraffe center they believe in eco-education; everyday they bring a bus of children from a hospital, orphanage, or slum to visit the center and see the wildlife. These are children who, while they live in Africa, may have never seen anything outside of their poor living conditions. We were able to donate a small amount of money to sponsor a child to come to the center and, while we were there, a bus of sick and disabled children from a hospital came to see the giraffes. It was an overwhelming sight to witness their joy!

We also walked a nature trail at the center. We were really in the African forest and it was beautiful. The trail stopped at a point where you can see a beautiful view of some nearby mountains. We were told that there was a rabid hyena somewhere beyond the trail so we could not go past the viewpoint. Just to be on the safe side, we carried a big rock and a big stick with us. Kristoffer had visions of pitching the rock, Jonathan Papelbon style, as a fastball “right down the middle” to “strike out” the hyena…as if in reality that would stop us from becoming its lunch!

On the last stop of our day, our driver took us to “City Park”, not far from where we live now. It is a park visited by mostly local people, as opposed to expatriates and tourists, so we were actually the only white people there which we have not experienced here yet. Because of the holiday today there were so many families and children enjoying their day in this beautiful park. The reason he brought us there is because a breed of small monkeys lives at this park and the monkeys openly interact with people. We were able to feed them grains of corn (maize); they sat on our shoulders and ate right out of our hands! We even saw some of them try to get into people’s shopping bags and purses. Their hands were soft like a baby’s hands and their fingers felt just like ours…these monkeys were so smart! When we tried to feed them peanuts they actually peeled the skin off before they would eat them! We were thrilled that he brought us to the park and walked around it with us because it is a place we would not have known to go on our own.

Today really felt like we were in Africa! We got nice sun and finally saw some of the amazing animals that live in Kenya. It was also our independence day in a way on this Kenyan holiday, and we hope to experience many more days like it while we live here.

LMW (with a little help from KW)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

December 11, 2007 - Apartment Hunting

Today was very productive in that I saw 7 apartments and 1 of them was almost as nice as the one Bent (the Danish guy) lives in. We are going to pursue that apartment on Thursday because tomorrow - December 12th - is Kenyan Independence Day and businesses are not open.

I will be honest and say that I felt very brave going out into Nairobi, granted to the nicest neighborhoods, by myself with two different realtors today. I will also say that I don't think I am always so good at communicating with people here, even though we are both speaking English. For example, I called each realtor to find out what time we were viewing the apartments I requested to see. I asked each woman how much it should cost for a taxi to bring me to each office (so that I wouldn't get over-charged) and what directions I should give the taxi driver. Both women easily gave me this information. My big shock when I arrived at each office, a few hours apart, was that both realtors expected me to have a car that we could use to drive around and see apartments! One company had a car that the first realtor could use, but the second realtor actually said I had to pay to take a taxi around with her for two hours to see 5 different places. I was shocked and a little bit grumpy, to be honest, until she showed me some very nice would-be homes for us.

Kristoffer and I also opened local bank accounts yesterday and there is a car we would like to buy that he is pursuing. We are really getting our act together so that you (all) can come visit very soon!

In other news, there is a big election coming up here on December 27th. It is almost a test of this country's democracy to see if the administration can successfully turn over and perhaps take some corruption out with it. While this is always in the news here and posters are everywhere (and trucks with megaphones driving around to promote candidates), we also know that Kenyans are paying attention to the 2008 Presidential election in the US. It is obvious that the Kenyans will support an America led by Barack Obama, as his father was Kenyan and from the Luo tribe of western Kenya. Not that my politics are decided at all, but with Oprah and Kenya on his side...it looks like he is still in the running!

I would write more now but I am quite tired and who knows how long this internet connection will last. Happy Kenyan Independence Day to you; we will enjoy Kristoffer's day off tomorrow by hopefully visiting some giraffes.

LMW

Monday, December 10, 2007

December 10, 2007 - Patience

Jambo! See, my Swahili is getting good! Jambo is a greeting, asante means thank you, and tafadali means please.

To follow up with yesterday's tour of Bent's apartment, it was amazing! In NYC, it would easily be $1.5 million or more. 3 BR, 3 bath, laundry room, rooftop balcony, hardwood floors, walk in closets. Seriously - a dream, for less than $1500. There is a pool, a gym, a community room, free yoga classes, and lots of green space. The bad news is that the complex, which is highly secure (gates, fences, guards, and dogs), does not have any vacancies until March at the earliest. Bummer!

Today I have contacted several realtors and this afternoon I think I will go out with one of them. Unfortunately, only a few agencies show property on Saturday mornings and none of them work after 4:30pm. This means that Kristoffer will not be able to participate in the apartment hunt, much to my dismay. In the US, I would have no problem apartment hunting on my own. I have done it before and I know how to play the game. Here, I am not sure what the "rules" are or how I will be treated as a woman looking by myself. I will do my best not to get "taken". We especially hope to find a place this week because the apartment we are staying in now is occupied by other tenants beginning on December 17th. Yikes!

On the job front, I called all three schools that expressed interest in me. The secretary at the International School of Kenya (ISK) said the director has my resume on file and will call me back. Both of the other schools are already on holiday break and told me to call back in January. Things are definitely moving a little more slowly than I would like; however, I should be more patient because we have not even been here a week.

Last night Kristoffer and I slept under mosquito netting for the first time after I got bitten the night before. He thought it was extremely cozy; I was just happy not to worry about getting any strange diseases while I sleep!

The internet at the apartment is still not working. I am becoming friendly with the guy who works here at the internet cafe. He is laughing at how fast I type!

Let's hope the apartment hunt this afternoon goes well....
LMW

Sunday, December 9, 2007

December 9, 2007 - We are here!

Today is our third full day in Nairobi! I apologize in advance for the length of this entry, but the internet at our hotel has been down, so I have just been compiling a lot to post. In the future, I will keep it shorter and, hopefully, Kristoffer will write too!

To begin…after a difficult goodbye in Boston last week, Rome was a fantastic treat. Kristoffer felt that his briefings at the world headquarters of the World Food Programme (WFP) were extremely useful. Our first night there we visited the Spanish Steps and ate dinner at a really posh vegetarian place. I spent the next day walking around Rome and seeing all of my favorite sights, but the herniated disk in my back was not thrilled about all of the straight walking so the next day I took it much easier. A funny moment for me was when I went to the WFP to get one final shot (yes, there was actually one we didn’t get in the US!) and the security guard was pleased that I have the same model pacemaker as his mother! That night Kristoffer finally had time to see some wonderful places before we left for Nairobi on our third day.

It was a good thing we got to the airport so early on Wednesday because Qatar Airways was not very happy to see us with 6 pieces of luggage to check. They wanted to charge us 4100 euros (approx. $6000 US) because our bags were much, much heavier than the allotted 40kg. Kristoffer was very assertive explaining why we could not and would not pay 4100 euros; he made many sane arguments but my personal favorite line was, “…We could probably rent a private jet for that much money!” I think the airline employees knew how ridiculous the fee was, but it took awhile for them to get clearance to charge us only a few hundred dollars instead. Phew! We were definitely a little nervous that our bags might “accidentally” not make it to Nairobi!

Qatar Airways was an extremely nice airline and we arrived in Doha, Qatar very comfortably on Wednesday evening. It turns out that the airline will usually put customers up in a hotel when they have a layover over night, but because we bought our tickets from a discount website we were not eligible for that perk. We had to buy visas to leave the airport and struggled to find a hotel room because there was a conference of Gulf Coast Countries going on (at least that is what we were told). The hotel was 20 minutes away from the airport with several extremely long lights (we are talking 4 and 5 minutes each red light) so we did get to see some of Doha, which is extremely wealthy and Americanized. We saw every fast food chain on the same strip as Chili’s, Applebees, and even a Ponderosa! It was very interesting for us to experience being in a Muslim country, even if it was only for a short period of time.

Our flight from Doha to Nairobi was also very smooth and comfortable. The first thing I did when we arrived was use the airport bathroom and, to my surprise, in each stall there was only a porcelain-molded hole in the ground over which one must squat to go to the bathroom. In other words, there is no toilet seat (is this called a “Turkish toilet”?). Not a great first impression, if you ask me! However, when we were going through immigration there were two TVs: one was showing an episode of “Seinfeld” and the other was showing “The Amazing Race”. We took these shows as a good sign and I quickly recovered from my bathroom experience!

To our delight all of our bags arrived! The WFP had sent a taxi for us and we squished into a small car with all of our bags; Nairobi lives up to its reputation of having terrible traffic, as it took us almost 2 hours to drive to our nearby hotel. Our hotel, China Garden, is one block from the US Embassy and is across the street from the UN compound. We are staying in a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment with a living room, dining room, kitchen, and porch until we find a permanent place to live. Of course we don’t actually need this much space, but it is very comfortable and the hotel is gated and has security guards; we are probably in the safest neighborhood of Nairobi.

Very close to China Garden is the “Village Market” which is a large indoor/outdoor mall with many nice stores (both local and international), a movie theater, food court, and huge grocery store, called Nakumatt, which is like a Super Walmart or Target Greatland. It has absolutely everything one could ever need. We have been there a few times by taxi (we are actually there now, using an internet cafĂ©) and have been able to buy cell phones, get food, and contact a property company. For me, going to the “Village Market” helped me fully realize that we aren’t exactly roughing it here.

One thing we have experienced here is power outages; there are a few every afternoon/evening. Now that we have unpacked our camping headlights and bought candles, we are prepared for them. They don’t usually last very long but they take some getting used to. At our hotel, there is also a Chinese restaurant; we have eaten there twice and find the food to be good and inexpensive (and neither of us has gotten sick). I am eating vegetarian so far (Kristoffer is so happy!). Last night after dinner we asked our waiter to see the dessert menu. He went to the kitchen and when he came back opened the menu to the desserts and said, “You can see these are our desserts, but tonight we don’t have any.” He took us quite literally when we asked to see the menu, but he could have saved himself the trip and just told us that they didn’t have any desserts for us to order!

China Garden is a beautiful complex; there are gorgeous flowers, trees, and grass. During the day it is completely serene. It was a bit tricky, though, when we walked back to our room after dinner last night because out of the bushes came this enormous wolf-dog. Seriously, we were so startled! It was bigger than a German Shepard. We stared each other down for a few seconds before Kristoffer just started walking towards it (apparently, dogs like this can smell fear?) and it walked away. All I kept thinking was, “Good thing we got our rabies shots!”

In terms of work, Kristoffer had a great day on Friday. He met one of the other Danes at the WFP and he learned that Nairobi is the 3rd largest UN complex in the world – he says it is like working in a big park. He also learned that they changed his job description to make it more project oriented, and he is thrilled about the change! He actually hasn’t stopped beaming since the plane landed! Tomorrow (Monday) he has a meeting with Kenyan Minister of Health, which he has been preparing for a lot this weekend. He took me to visit the UN Compound yesterday and he was definitely right; I felt like I was walking around a beautiful zoo (without the animals). It is a huge complex with a recreation center, several cafeterias, and a large duty-free store. Tomorrow I will go to get my own UN security pass so that I can enter the complex as I please (so fancy!). I am also considering doing some volunteer work there, hopefully for UNICEF, which could possibly turn into paid work. This week I will also contact the three high schools that were interested in my resume to find out about interviewing or having an informational meeting.

I will register at the US Embassy tomorrow as well, because they were closed when I got there on Friday. It seems that everyone pretty much works a half day on Fridays. We were hoping to apartment hunt this weekend but most property companies are closed on the weekend so tomorrow I will try to schedule some appointments. We have a list of requirements and neighborhoods that we are interested in so we hope the process won’t take too long. The Danish guy Kristoffer met at the WFP on Friday invited us to visit his apartment complex today so we will go check that out this afternoon. If there are vacancies, it would be nice to live some place where we know someone else is happy and safe.

Everyone we have met so far has been very nice and we are so pleased with the weather: sunny and warm with a nice breeze! We are taking every safety and sanitary precaution we can so far – not wearing our wedding rings and not drinking water, for example. It doesn’t really feel like we live here yet, more like we are on a weird sort of vacation, but I am sure once we get our own place and buy a car we will feel more at home. Next weekend we will see animals for the first time, either on safari or at the animal orphanage, and I am sure that will be a great reminder that we are really living in Africa! It is a comfort to both Kristoffer and me that our adventure is off to a great start, and we hope that anyone worrying in the US or in Denmark feels better after reading about our first days.

LMW