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Archive for the ‘Kenya’ Category

Birthday Memories 2011

Already in these short five-plus months here in Rwanda I have been able to make many wonderful birthday memories.  One of which included celebrating our dear friend Jadot’s 29th birthday with him.  It was a very special night.  Little did I know when I baked a birthday cake for Jadot that he would be so deeply touched to receive it.  We found out that Jadot had never had a birthday cake in his life of 29 years (!), and as we sang the happy birthday tune and brought out the cake with lit candles, he could hardly contain his emotions.  Casey and I felt honored to celebrate with him in this way.  We then spent the rest of the evening sitting on our porch and learning more about his story and life to candle-light. 

The next birthday memory happened to be mine (did you know that I’m 29 too? 😉 ).  Casey and I traveled back to Lamu, Kenya to celebrate my birthday this time (see blog post “Birthday Day 2009”  where we spent Casey’s birthday in Lamu on our RTW).  It was really wonderful to return again, and it came at a much-needed time.  We also had some medical follow-up to do, which could only be done outside of Rwanda, and spent some time in Nairobi with our friends Amy and Kurt.   It was a great week away.

Lamu is an island off the coast of Kenya that can only be reached by boat.  You fly into the nearby dinky airport and then take a boat across the Indian Ocean to reach the island.  There are no motorized vehicles on Lamu; only donkeys.  Donkeys are used as transportation and local labor.  You feel like stepped back in time as you wander the streets of this place.  Lamu is an incredibly old city, around a thousand years old, that is described on the World Heritage List as “the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa”.

Can you say "tiny plane"? This ended up being the longest hour-and-a-half plane ride I've ever taken! Arg.

On our way to Lamu Island

Donkeys are used as local transport and for manual labor - here, hauling coral bricks

We spent my actual birthday sailing along the Indian Ocean to the remote island of Manda Mtoto on an old traditional dhow (sailboat), and had the most amazing fresh fish lunch.  Strikingly beautiful beaches on a deserted island with nothing for miles.  It was breath-taking.  That night we enjoyed dinner on the rooftop of a gorgeous hotel with our new friends from London, Miriam and Mark.  It was a delightful day and one that I will not soon forget.

Deserted island + hot husband + gorgeous beach + Indian Ocean = Happy Birthday to Me!

Local fisherman offering us fresh fish from the morning catch - fresh squid in this case...

...we opted for the fresh snapper instead,

...and boy was it good!

On the flip-side, the dinner is also something that Casey will also not soon forget, but for a different reason.   Casey’s experience with what tasted like an amazing crab dinner at the time, turned out to put a damper on him ever ordering shellfish again.  He spent the entire next day in bed and the next week trying to recover from the fish toxins.  We are guessing that his crab was not fresh.  Big bummer and wasn’t the best way to end a lovely week on the beach. (Casey weighing in here: the “shellfish incident” was absolutely brutal and the toxicity didn’t leave my body completely until almost 10 days later.  Thankfully I was able to get out of bed the last day to travel back to Nairobi.  But suffice to say I’ve been cured of shellfish for a very long time, if not forever.)

This birthday weekend also entailed a long weekend in Nairobi, Kenya staying with our friends Amy and Kurt.  We are SO thankful for the opportunity to have gotten to know them and spend some time with these guys.   I wish they lived closer though.  It is so rare and far between when you can connect with another couple and feel like it is one of the easiest friendships with conversation that never seems to end.  We had so much fun with these guys!

This is "Jay", our friend and local tailor from Lamu.

Great birthday memories made?  Check!

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Back in the Saddle (flashback)

20 December 2009

A bit over two months after leaving Audrey back in San Francisco, I am finally reunited with a two-wheeled friend that I can pedal forward of my own doing.  There are many differences, mind you, but the smile on my face today would not have let on.

The last ride I took on my road bike (Audrey) was on the 12th of October 2009, just one day before we left on our RTW trip.  Casey came with me, and we pedaled through the City from our flat in Po-hill…along the Embarcadero, through a few back streets to avoid most of Fisherman’s Wharf, then parallel to the Marina Green, Crissy Field, past Sports Basement and up the small hill to cross over the Golden Gate Bridge to the Headlands.  About a 20-mile ride round trip, and I knew it would be one of the things that I would miss over the next 5 months of travel.

I was reminded of that familiar ride today as we pedaled ridiculously heavy old clunker bikes along the Indian Ocean on the other side of the world.  It was my first time back on a bike; the mode of transportation that I have found freedom in, and a love for a sport that I knew not that I had the capacity for.

And today’s ride was incredibly different.  I wasn’t decked out in my loud biker gear.  I was absent helmet, water, training program and ride route.  I was riding just to ride.  The two-wheeled contraption that I pushed with my legs weighted at least ten pounds more than I am used to, contained no gears to shift, brakes that you could squeeze with your hands but needed to supplement by dragging our feet on the ground if you really wanted to stop, and was complete with ringing bell on the front so I could warn the African ladies with heavy loads balanced on their heads that I would be passing them.  No need to yell, “on your left” here – partly because they drive on the other side of the road in Kenya so it would really be “on your right” (which has gotten me a little mixed up a time or two when trying to cross strange intersections here), and partly because bicycles are common modes of transportation here and people are just plain used to them.  Further, no one is trying to beat the other person to their destination to claim the unspoken imaginary prize amongst competitive cyclists/triathletes alike.  These guys just need to get their groceries, firewood and/or water to the other side of town.  They mosey willfully to their destination, in this beach village, with the common thread of a beach town – it is low key.  Their motto: “Hakuna Matata.”  No worries in Swahili.  If in Hawaii, it would be “Hang Loose,” and it is no different here on the coast of Kenya where time also runs slower and people seem pretty chill.

I utilized muscles in ways that they had forgotten to move in.  It felt damn good.

The smile on my face said it all: It doesn’t matter today what bicycle I am on, just that I am able to ride, however little, in Watamu Kenya, with my husband today.  Lovely.  And no, I haven’t any pictures of it.  Our last camera – we brought two, but one of them has likely been stolen in C’s still missing baggage – was eaten by the Indian Ocean this week, so I have a mental picture of which to remember these moments.

(instead, I’ll throw in a few photos of how people in Africa use their bicycles)


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I vant to suck your blood!

The feeling of being eaten alive seems to be the light way of describing last night.  At some point you just have to give in to the mosquitoes…

You wake up raw, from scratching at the red welts that now cover your entire body, and yet it is like an addiction that you just can’t quit – to keep scratching where it itches.  Then you realize that one of them got in!  Somehow, some way, one of those little suckers got into our mosquito net.  You lie there for a moment wondering when she will strike next (the mosquitoes who feed on blood are only female by the way).  Then your mind runs away with the situation and you begin to think that there are insects, with and without wings, all over you.  Biting.  Crawling.  Sucking.  Every little itch, or wind that causes any feeling on your skin is now a mental vision of a bug on you.  You slap frantically in the dark, even at your own body, as you are certain that you are being eaten again, and you have a secret hope of a lucky smashing in the process.  Finally you hear her high pitch buzzing near your ears and it confirms your theory of invasion.  The light flashes on, awakening your spouse who will now join in for the fun, but alas, the assault is much worse than you had even imagined.  There are a few dozen (if not more!) blood-sucking insects hanging out on the INSIDE of our mosquito net!  They are plum full of our blood already, but happily taking the opportunity to gorge further in gluttony.  Code red!  Code red!  We’ve been attacked!  Baton down the hatches.

We quickly gather our headlamps and stand at full attention with palms facing each other in a clapping position – the position of death for these measly little pests.  Suddenly, at two in the morning, intermittent clapping can be heard in the corner suite of the Krabella Guesthouse in Watamu Kenya.  It is the sound of mosquitoes slowly dying…one by one.  Filling our hands with blood; it is OUR blood; the blood that they have been feeding on for the past four hours!  You’d think they would be satisfied by now, but the fresh swelling welts on my body said no.  We are quick to find the leak.  Well, many leaks.  Gaping holes really.  The bed we are sleeping in was not designed to have a mosquito net over it, and the mattress is not large enough to fit the space, so we have large open areas, often from under the bed, where these vampires can sneak through.  We concoct a make-shift fort with our extra sheet and cover ourselves head to toe with more 3M DEET repellent.  But sleep does not come easy anymore.  They still find their way in, and the buzz that hits our ears is like a nightmare that you can’t wake up from.  A nightmare would require sleep, of which is not coming soon, so I desperately give-in by opening up my book to read instead.  I am reading the novel, Poisonwood Bible, about a family growing up in the Congo.  It has turned out to be the best read I’ve ever read on a trip, for a variety of reasons.  Ironically, I am reading a chapter where the author describes a similar invasion of mosquitoes, and then I realize the comic in it.  Africa.

We have devotedly wrapped ourselves under our mosquito nets each night for the past month-and-a-half and faithfully downed our malaria pills – daily for the first 2 weeks of Malarone we were able to afford, and then weekly since we switched to Larium – with a bit of grumbling from my husband who vowed never to take malaria prophylaxis again…but then he decided to marry a public health-er (insert smile), and has willfully given in.  Mostly because, he loves me; and then also because he talked to an infectious disease physician who backed me up (he has lived in Africa for 10+ years and still takes malaria pills when he goes to malaria regions).

Watamu Kenya is a breath-taking oasis on the Indian Ocean, with pristine white sand beaches that burn your eyes like a fresh snow in the bright sunlight.  I have to wear sunglasses just to walk the beach!  The town itself is a sweet little fishing village that is being invaded by Italians. The negative is that it is like many other places in the world that hold a gorgeous piece of real estate, where the rich westerners come to buy it up and move out the locals, but I can’t complain about the food here – they can put together a killer gnocchi.  Further, the Kenyan coast is known for being a malaria region, and carries a strain that is resistant to some prophylaxis.  “Oh, you’re going to the coast?  Make sure to take your pills.” is what we’ve been told.  The last time I visited the Kenyan coast (Mombasa – about an hour from here), my friend Melanie contracted Malaria there, and she took the same pills I did each week!  So if we are lucky enough to be spared of the consequences of these blood sucking vampire insects in east Africa, we will be more than thankful.  We will let you know in a few weeks, after the incubation period.  Sawa sawa.

After our counter-attack against the mosquitoes

Watamu sunset

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We are discovering our names sound like words in other languages that have, quite frankly, pretty funny meanings.  Like “Casey” in Amharic (Ethiopia) is “priest” – which explains why when I would say, “…and this is my wife Cara” people looked at me funny.  So it’s come to pass that the game “your name sounds like” has been a common thing for us when we enter new languages and cultures.

That being said, Cara and I learned that in Swahili doing too much Cara could get you in a Casey – apparently a situation you don’t want to be in.  When I learned what “cara” means in Swahili I busted out laughing.  The tailor whose shop we were sitting in described it this way:

“Oh, your name is Cara?  Hmm.  In Swahili, Cara means ‘trouble.’  It’s like this: someone comes into my shop and keeps messing around with the spool of thread I have here (picture him pulling the spool up off the spindle), and I would say, “Why do you come in here and bring all this cara?!”  When I heard this I just about died.  Little did I know that I’ve married “trouble.”  I mean, I knew she was trouble to some degree but that her name means it in Swahili is fabulous.  I love my wife and I love it that her name is “trouble.”

How you get a Casey from all this Cara is that a “casey” is a gathering of peers convened in order to pass judgment on someone who’s broken a social code of some kind.  So you’d get a casey called on you if you stole someone’s donkey and tried to hide it.  Some friends or community leaders would come to your house and bring you to a meeting where they’d talk about what happened, determine guilt, then determine the penalty.  A “casey” is basically a community-wide smack down.  “Casey” in Irish (where it is from) means “warrior.”  And now “Casey” in Swahili means, “a situation where the community lowers the boom on you.”  I’m looking forward to discovering more of these meanings as we continue on.

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Birthday Day 2009

17 Dec 2009

Big wind, little dhow

I turned 39 today and this is how I got to spend it:

I woke up in Lamu, Kenya, on a canopy bed, next to my hot wife, with a cool breeze coming through our rooftop suite, carrying along with it the call to prayer from the mosque nearby.

We hired a wooden sailboat (called a dhow) to take us fishing and snorkeling in crystalline water, where we walked on white sand beaches and swam in the 78-degree Indian Ocean.  Oh, and the boat captain cooked us lunch from our freshly caught fish – on the beach under an Acacia tree.

Watching a wedding ceremony called the stick dance, complete with old dudes banging on metal plates, pounding skin drums and waving scarves.  Cara was wearing a strapless dress and recognizing most of the women were fully covered (many in burkas), covered her shoulders with the scarf she brought.  We stood for a while transfixed by the rhythm of the music and the community involvement in the lives of these two young people.

Having dinner with our tailor friend Jay (see “Too Much Cara will get you a Casey”) and his entire family, in their home.  His wife handed out the suckers we brought – pre dinner no less – and then after dinner we got to hand out pieces of the cake we brought.  There were some seriously sugar-drunk kids in that house that night.

On the way back from Jay’s house, we hurried by a smoldering hill of garbage the size of a house, through walls of smoke and the many donkeys rummaging through the burning trash.

Drinking coconut wine in our hotel lobby with new friends, wine I commissioned a local guy to get from the “country people.”  The wine came from coconut pods they cut down yesterday just for the birthday party.  A highlight was our conversation with Abdul, his personal beliefs and his story about the people at the wedding celebration expressing to Abdul their appreciation for Cara’s respect and cultural sensitivity.  My wife rocks.

Watching a few episodes of “Heros” before bed, from a DVD we bought a few days ago from a guy who sold us two full seasons for 500 Ksh – about US$6.50.

Falling asleep next to my wife, friend, and world-traveler companion.

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