Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Sunday, April 27, 2008
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Things in Kenya are pretty calm these days – the political agreement has been all sorted out and now the government needs to get working to help all of the displaced Kenyans living in horrible camp conditions. Otherwise, we are really enjoying our recreation center membership – the pool is really nice and relaxing! We are watching a lot less TV because of the time we spend there (except for American Idol on Tuesday and Thursday nights for sure). I am sure you know that a Kenyan won the Boston Marathon yesterday – no surprise there! There is one particular tribe that Kenyan marathoners usually come from, called Kalenjin, and they are amazingly fast!!!
The only other news I have to report is that Kristoffer and I have both been home today with a stomach bug. It is hard to tell whether it is something we ate or if one of us picked up a bug and gave it to the other. The reality, though, is that we have only moved from the bed to the couch back to the bed back to the couch (with a lot of complaining involved) and both still feel pretty crappy at the end of the day. We’re hoping that it is only a 24 hour bug and that we are okay tomorrow. Today is the first day we have been really bummed that we haven’t hired a housekeeper – it would be really nice to have someone take care of us since we have never been sick at the same time before!
Also, Lisa and I have officially come up with a system for categorizing the ever-growing potholes around us on the streets of Nairobi.
1. Pot hole – not deeper than 1 foot and can be passed by a skilled driver without any major damage to the car and/or passengers in the car.
Ok, so that’s all the news from Nairobi. Writing this blog is officially the most activity we have had all day in our stomach-flu state. I think we need to take an evening nap now.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
All around the Mt. Kenya region you can find signs like this telling you that you are on the Equator. I think it is very cool to be directly standing on that imaginary line!
This is a beautiful view of Mt. Kenya from our room at the first lodge we stayed at over Easter weekend. It doesn't look like an easy climb, does it?
Horseback riding in the forest - believe it or not the pictures from this angle came out better than from our other side!
Kristoffer was a little bit better at horseback riding than I was, but neither of us are yearning to do it again any time soon.
This is an eland, the largest antelope, which I fed at the animal orphanage we visited. I forget how long he had been at the orphanage; most animals are reintroduced into the wild but he has a bad leg and, therefore, will remain at the orphanage. There is a lot of space there and he is well cared for.
This is a Mountain Bongo - the most endangered antelope found in the central region of Kenya. They are known for their enormous, twisted horns and their white stripes. In person, this animal is quite striking.
Obviously, I am riding an enormous turtle here. I tell you, it was more comfortable than you'd think! He didn't seem to notice I was even on him because he was after the corn-on-the-cob that the guide was feeding him. Not only was he the oldest turtle (approx. 150 years) I've ever riden, but also the fastest (approx 1/2 mph - just kidding)!
These chimpanzees live in an enormous conservancy after being rescued from Burundi and Rwanda; they are not native to Kenya and this is the only place in the country to see them. They are fascinating!
This chimp looks like he is just waiting for someone to bring him a drink before settling in to watch football or something! We laughed so hard when he assumed this position; we were betting as to whether he would put his hands behind his head, but he never did. Following his rest, he start grooming a friend.
Here are two rhino we saw grazing. They are such huge animals...you really don't want to get in their way! When we were in Naivasha in December we learned that rhinos have no perifory vision - so they can only charge in a straight line. If they are coming at you, step aside and run in a different direction!
Our Easter Elephants! Our camera died while we were watching them so we don't have too many pictures, but believe me when I tell you that they were so, so beautiful. You can see part of a baby elephant behind the big one on the right.
We are so happy that we finally saw them. Now all we need to do is see some lions and we will have covered "the Big Five". I think we both felt that these elephants are the most amazing animals we have seen.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
We also took action to be more social! We are pretty much home-bodies over here, but that is doing nothing for our social life. On Saturday night we went to a really fun party thrown by a Danish guy Kristoffer knows (it was actually a birthday party for his wife, but we didn't know that). There were a lot of Danes there - I think they are taking over Kenya! And when you meet new people in the expatriate community you ask them their story (why they are here, what agency they work for, etc) and then you tell yours, so the time flew by as we exchanged stories a few times and learned about other people's experiences here. And the party was so fun that I spent most of Sunday recovering from it :)
On Sunday, the government finally took action and came to an agreement on a Cabinet of 40 ministers (plus the President, plus the Prime Minister). It is good news that they agreed to something, but it is not good news that the Cabinet is so bloated and that the government seriously increased its own paycheck. People have mixed emotions and I think there is a lot of distrust between the government and the people now. Only time will tell if this arrangement will work.
Yesterday we woke up in the morning to hear of violence in the city; we first thought it was in reaction to the new Cabinet, but in fact it was not. There is a large gang in Kenya called the Mungiki; they are essentially the Kenyan mafia, are known for doing the government's dirty work, and are loyal to the largest tribe in Kenya, the Kikuyu. Their leader is in prison and last week his wife was unexpectedly and brutally murdered. They claim she was killed by the police and so they launched violent protests yesterday in certain areas of Nairobi and elsewhere (although nowhere near the UN so we are safe). They blocked roads, killed a random driver on the road, burned tires, shot at and stoned cars, etc. The police killed 11 of them yesterday and so far two of them today. They are not only protesting the wife's death but are also hoping to force the release of their leader from prison. They are an extremely dangerous group here in Kenya and some people with whom we work were actually unable to get to work yesterday because of the trouble they caused; people are afraid of the Mungiki to the degree that one of my colleagues is not staying at her home anymore because she lives in an area with a lot of Mungiki activity and she doesn't think she is safe. They don't seem to be targeting anyone in particular, they are just angry at everyone in general. Now, I am not writing this to scare anyone - please don't be worried about our safety, we take every precaution we can - but rather to show that life in Kenya is action-packed and changes constantly. Every day there is something new to observe or learn!
My job is going well and, while it is taking longer than hoped (no surprise there), some progress is being made towards processing a consultant's contract for me at UNICEF. Kristoffer's job is also really good these days; it is hard for us to believe that we have been here for over 4 months! We are very happy that we get American Idol on Tuesday and Thursday nights, although we are weeks and weeks behind the live version in the US (and, of course, I love it a bit more than he does), but yesterday was a true highlight when we flipped on ESPN after work to find the last 2 innings of Sunday's Yankees/Red Sox game! It didn't matter that it wasn't live, it just felt so good to watch the Red Sox play, especially because they won - it was almost like being at home!
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Yesterday my boss brought me with her to a really important meeting; in fact, I would say it is one of two supremely important meetings for education in the country. It is a three-day budget workshop for Kenya’s public education system (K-university) for 2008-2009, attended by government officials, development partners (such as UN agencies, USAID and the development organizations of other countries like England, Canada, Switzerland, and Japan), and other education stakeholders like the teacher’s union. There were close to 200 people there, not including the press, and the Minister of Education opened with a lengthy speech about Kenya’s achievements in recent years, such as increasing the number of children enrolled in primary school, as well as its upcoming challenges, such as the fact that there are 1 million Kenyan children who do not attend school at all. All Kenyan speeches are lengthy, by the way. I learned a lot about the system and the fiscal policies supporting it here. Specifically, the country faces the challenge of quickly rebuilding 38 schools that were burned to the ground during the recent violence, 65 schools that were completely looted/devastatingly vandalized, and over 40 educational offices that were looted! That is in addition to the fact that over 100,000 children and 1,350 are displaced, living in camps, and in desperate need of support. By the end of the conference tomorrow, the budget will be tightened up and expanded to meet these needs.
I met some really interesting people and got some political “gossip” during my lunch with a UNICEF colleauge and two people from the Ministry of Education. They were discussing the stalemate over Cabinet positions for the Coaltion and which members of government funded the post-election violence. The Cabinet dilemma was subsequently resolved today after Kofi Annan - “Kenya’s Daddy” – lectured the President and Prime Minister to make decisions like adults. I was interested to learn that my colleague, who is Somalian-Kenyan, is married to a Harvard-educated lawyer (also Somalian-Kenyan) who was just elected to Parliament for the first time in this past election – a very interesting time to be a newcomer! It was a little bit hard to follow the conversation in a noisy cafeteria because Kenyans talk so softly and have very thick accents to which I am still tuning my ears, but I did my best and found myself understanding some of what they were talking about. After my political orientation at lunch, the conference was broken down into groups. Unbeknownst to me, my boss had signed me up to keep minutes and produce a final document for one of the them. This would have been fine if she had told me that she signed me up for this job…but she didn’t! So, I didn’t know that I was supposed to be doing anything for the group and this led to a very awkward misunderstanding between me (lowly UNICEF volunteer) and a high ranking government official from the Ministry of Education. Whoops! While I appreciate that she has a lot of confidence in me and trusts me, I did ask my boss not to secretly sign me up for anything again! The conference continued today but I had work to do for her back at the office so I did not attend. I did really appreciate the opportunity she gave me though; it was both a professional and a cultural experience for me.
As for today, before going to work I had to pay our bills. This may sound strange to you, but here in Kenya we don’t get a bill in the mail and then send a check back to the company or have the funds electronically taken out of our account. Oh no, the country is not quite there yet. Some people go to the post office and pay there where they have an electronic way of transferring funds to different companies. But since we all know how I feel about the post office, Kristoffer and I usually go door-to-door to the electric company, water company, and cable company to pay our bills (luckily, the internet company will come to us to receive payment) as most Kenyans do. Even though Kristoffer is away this week the bills are still due! So I called a taxi this morning and went door-to-door paying bills for 90 minutes before going to work. I even paid for next month in advance just to save us a Saturday morning of sitting in traffic to pay bills! It is so annoying!
Because I use the same taxi company all the time, all of the drivers know be my name. Every time I call for a cab the guy answers the phone with “Good Morning Lisa! How are you?” This morning there was some kind a mix up and 3 taxis showed up at our apartment at the same time to pick me up! It was really funny and I have no idea how they figured out which driver “got me” because they were speaking in very fast Kiswahili. Anyway, I thought it was really funny that my driver really likes Kenny Rogers and we listened to a Kenny Rogers tape as we drove around paying my bills before going to the UN. He rewound the tape three times to listen to the song “Lucille”, which I didn’t realize was such a popular hit over here in Kenya (considering I have never heard in the US!). He didn't seem to like "The Gambler", my personal favorite, that much.
I had a really busy morning and attended my second meeting for UN Spouses (aka “the wives club”). I tried to recruit more people for Book Club and everyone seemed to just love the idea, but we’ll see how many of them actually read the next book! Then the meeting sort of took a dive for me because the topic was MENOPAUSE, which is not something I can really identify with just yet. They even brought in a nurse to make a presentation and some of the women shared their menopause stories. I am sure this was useful to many 40+ year-olds in the large group of 26 women, but I was also relieved that there were more non-menopausal faces in the crowd than at the last meeting and they also seemed at odds with the presentation.
I am really happy that tomorrow is Friday! I am attending a different meeting on behalf of my boss where I will give a brief report on the state of post-election violence education in the country. I will be supported by two colleagues from Save the Children (United Kingdom) who will report on their activities in the field. Should be interesting! I am trying to make myself indispensable to my boss, so as to secure my future at UNICEF for as long as I want one. At least I hope that is what I am doing!
The best news is that Kristoffer comes home from his amazing week in Rome on Saturday night. I can’t even remember the last time we went an entire week without talking on the phone, but this week we did it. Thank God for email! And I am sorry that we’re still having problems uploading picture but someday you will see our Easter Elephants – I promise!