No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

One of the websites I frequent, The Rabbit Room, has a "store" full of wonderful books, and invites their readers to post reviews. You may recall that I scored some free music back in November for my review of Life of Pi. Well, I noticed a while back that they were selling Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, and as this has long been on our list of favorite books, I was looking forward to reviewing it. However, today I finally got around to trying it out, and found that it was no longer available in the store, and thus there was nowhere to record the thoughts that have been circling in my head. So I'm putting it here. In case you happen to wonder what circles around in my head. The joys of one's own blog:

The publishers have chosen the review of "The Miss Marple of Botswana" as their favorite tagline for this series of books. And as much as I appreciate both Miss Marple and Mma Ramotswe, this is no Christie murder mystery. Instead, mystery ends up as a vehicle for the real substance of the books, which is the rhythm of African daily life.

As a senior medical student in 2005, I was heading to a hospital in rural Zambia for a couple of months, and a good friend who had grown up in Nigeria handed me the first of these books to take along. He said that it took many of the things about Africa that westerners find frustrating and deals with them lovingly. More than that, it makes them endearing. Now I live in Kenya, and on a regular basis, things around me remind me of these stories, cue my imagination, and sets them in a new light. The things themselves don't change, but the light of my view of them did, and that for the better. Along a dirt road is an elderly man in a full three-piece suit. Little white vans pepper the crossroads of an urban center. African friends pause an extra moment to ponder a seemingly small matter, and I'm reminded of these stories.

In fact, this is one of the great virtues of story itself. Say what you will, a tour of the African savanna is just cooler after singing along with Toto or watching The Lion King, irrespective of how obtuse a commentary on actual African culture these might be. A medium successfully engages the imagination, and later, when you encounter something in "real life", you have the wonder of "this resembles that" part of my imagination. Aside from story, the only other way to accomplish this is nostalgia of some place, taste, or smell you haven't experienced for a long time. And this is because the objects of such nostalgia have become the story of our own lives.

This is not some escapism of conforming the actual world to that of the imagination. On the contrary, daily life is full of wonder that is missed, and it is only through such story that we recover small pieces of the wonder of the real world.

And the particularly amazing thing that McCall Smith accomplishes is that he engages the imagination on everyday life. You can turn to Hemingway for visions of big game hunts. You can watch Blood Diamond to hear about African heroism and terror. You can listen to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and capture some of the amazing musical rhythms. But everyday life is (shockingly) what I encounter everyday. And thus, because of Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, I can find wonder and grace in the everyday rhythm of African life.


My first (and last) blog post on Oprah

Oprah has been named the most powerful celebrity in the world. I agree. Wholeheartedly. I've been saying this for years. And likely anyone reading this knows that I've never been happy about it.


Masai Mara, Part Deux

The final part of our vacation week was spent going to Masai Mara. We drove ourselves (three cheers to Eric for navigating us down bumpy dirt/rock roads and only getting us stuck once...). It was fun to be back, for 2 nights this time, which was much more relaxing. Every trip is probably a different experience, and this was a fun one for sure! We saw some new animals, and some previously seen but closer up this time. We also learned that Maggie was much more interactive! She enjoyed pointing at all the animals and trying to repeat our animal names (dik dik!)...last time, she just fell asleep. Here are some of the highlights.
Hippos!! Seen in the river just around the bend from our tent rooms. There must have been over 30.
Having fun with Auntie Joan and Grandma in the safari vehicle.
The secretary bird, a new find.
Saw the rhinos again, but even closer up than last time.
Note the proximity of this sleeping female lioness to our safari van!
Elands in beautiful formation.
Ostriches, like the can can dancers!
Can't get enough of the giraffes.
The first morning out, we saw a pack of around 20 hyenas feasting on a tasty wildebeest. We could hear crunching bones and snarling and even the stereotypical hysterical hyena laugh!
The cape buffalo, complete with bird on back.
Smiling, sleeping hippos.
Coolest moment of the safari: found a male lion with full mane sleeping on the grass. Suddenly his mate approached, and he sat up. Then they nuzzled! And "posed" for this photo! Awesome!
Where'd you go, sweetheart?
The giraffe "band photo." Maybe Concerning Lions should change their name to Concerning Giraffes.
What a fun time to safari with family! My mom, Aunt Joan, Aunt Lois, and Uncle Bob.


Baby Elephant Orphanage

I have to say that this is probably one of the CUTEST things we've done in Kenya so far. :) The giraffe center was a ton of fun, too, but what can possibly be cuter than baby elephants drinking from giant bottles? So, you've been warned about the cuteness factor of this blog. If it doesn't inspire you to come visit us in Kenya, nothing will! Short of, maybe, the cuteness of our daughter.

Sunday morning we headed into Nairobi from Kijabe and went straight to the elephants. The David Sheldrick Conservation Center, located in Nairobi National Park, is only open to the public from 11-12 every day. We arrived early and got to pet the rock hyrax, the elephant's closest relative. Obviously.

We all lined up along a thin rope, by which giant bottles of milk (which supposedly were full of baby formula) were placed. And then, right at 11, the elephants came marching out to see us! They made a beeline for the milk.

Each elephant had their own bottle, which was empty within about 15 seconds.
Then they blew dust and water on themselves, and played around while the rangers told the story of how each elephant came to be at the orphanage. For the most part, poachers were involved, killing off the mommy elephants. :(

You can see how much the elephants love their "buddies".
This little guy was able to hold his own bottle.
And also at the orphanage, they sometimes rescue rhinos as well. This one is an adult male now, but arrived 5 years ago as a tiny (50 lb) baby. Because adult male rhinos are territorial, he considers the orphanage as part of his territory, even though he was released into the park several years ago (all the elephants go back into various game parks around the age of 2). So every few months he comes back to visit, and hangs out for a few days before moving on. It was fun to see him so up close and personal!
Finally, a view of the elephant's bedrooms!


Hell's Gate

We took a little blogging hiatus during our vacation this past week, but now have a big backload of things to share with you. It was a great trip! On Saturday we spent the day at Hell's Gate National Park, an hour or so west of Nairobi. There were some animals, including gazelles and zebra, that we were able to walk amongst, but the highlight was some fantastic scenery with cliffs, volcanic towers, and a huge gorge (featured in the second Lara Croft Tomb Raider for all you movie buffs out there). From there, we spent the night at Kijabe Hospital with friends, and on Sunday went to Nairobi were we saw the Baby Elephant Orphanage and Maasai Market. We picked up my Aunt Lois and Uncle Bob on Monday, who had just spent the week in Tanzania for church activities and arranged an extended layover in Nairobi so they could see us! And then finally we spent 2 days at Masai Mara seeing an amazing amount of game animals. There are too many pictures and stories for one post, so I'll start with Hell's Gate.

The decision to go to Hell's Gate was actually only made on the day of our departure. We were deciding between it and Lake Naivasha, which we saw on the way, and were not disappointed with our decision. The trip got off to a great start as we saw over 20 giraffes by the side of the highway on our way. We often see animals by the side of the road (gazelle and baboons, even an occasional zebra or giraffe) but never this many!
The first part of the day was spent driving through the park. Most parks don't allow you to walk on foot, but HG does, so we all got out of the van and walked down trails in between zebras. We never got close enough to touch, but it was still in fun way to be in the middle of nature.
Maggie needed a full outfit change upon our arrival...

You can see the zebras dotting the plains behind us.

Then we had a picnic lunch and headed to the gorge. Joan stayed behind as her knee was acting up, and it was a good thing, as we discovered. In retrospect, I don't know if we would have brought Maggie in the baby carrier, either! It was quite a hike...
Heading into "Hell" with our Masai guide, Joe. We weren't convinced we needed a guide, but were quite glad for him within about 90 seconds of our departure.
The scenery was beautiful, and the main canyon featured a small stream with lots of waterfalls. We actually climbed down the waterfalls and hiked through the canyon floor beside and in the stream.
Here we are in the side gorge. Several months a year it is FULL of water, but this is a drier time of year.
To get to the end of the side gorge, there were a few rock faces that we needed to climb up. Joe was an excellent guide and showed us exactly where to put hands and feet, but for a grandma and a guy carrying a 13 month old on his back, it was still a bit scary at times (for the mommy watching). :)
Back in the main gorge, we entered the portion of the canyon that gives Hell's Gate its name--the hot springs. You can see beautiful waterfalls above, and the water was HOT! The picture doesn't show the fact that the water was all steaming.
Joe, the man who brought us out of Hell...
This is one of the many pictures of us scrambling down slick rocks to get to the canyon floor. I was impressed that my mom kept going! Not like she had a lot of options, but still.
And finally, back out of the gorge. You can see the Central Tower in the background, which was formed by lava flowing up out of a vent.

Stay tuned for the Elephant Orphanage photos, coming soon!


Toys for Kids

A few days ago, Rachel, Joan, and I visited the pediatric ward at the hospital. A nurse introduced us to over 20 patients and their parents if they were there, and told us a little bit of history of the patient. We gave each either a car or beanie baby. Here are some photos of our visit.


Mwizi of Fruit Fly Fame

Here's how we roll in Kenya. We had a problem. Our fresh fruit was on this 3-tiered stand on the floor in the kitchen. This was problematic because Maggie has become ambulatory and was developing a habit of heading straight for the bananas and throwing them on the floor. The second dimension of the problem was that the same bananas were a magnet for fruit flies. What to do?

We looked all over for an (apparently) old-fashioned hanging fruit basket, but couldn't find one anywhere. Then, Grandpa Laubenstein in Arizona had an old one he wasn't using and sent it to Kenya with Aunt Joan. Problem the first is solved. Maggie can't reach the fruit. Next, we went next door and asked Anna Fader if she would give us one of her many chameleon pets. She graciously agreed and we placed him on the fruit basket, where he adeptly eats all of the flies. And since it's a hanging basket, we don't have to worry about a chameleon wandering throughout the house. We just have to take him out once a day to feed on some bigger flies.
We named our chameleon "Mwizi" which is the Kiswahili word for "thief", hoping that he will steal all our fruit flies, the same way that we named our resident gecko "Kiboko kidogo" or "little hippo" (an idiom for "little whip"), hoping that he would whip our mosquito population. The latter naming venture has been far less successful.

In the end, we felt bad for Mwizi. He seemed depressed that he was living on a fruit basket, with only one daily excursion to the free world. So we gave him back to Anna. Then we got some bananas and the fruit flies came back with a vengeance. We asked Anna if we could borrow him again, and he disposed of the flies very efficiently. So, maybe we'll try and work out a loan program.

Church Statue + Lightning = ?

I'm not sure what the moral lesson is supposed to be, but if you've ever driven from Ann Arbor to Nashville (which I have very many times) you can't help but notice a statue of Jesus on I-75 in Ohio which has alternately been termed "Butter Jesus" and "Touchdown Jesus sinking in quicksand". If nothing else, it is terrible art.

Well, we just learned that the statue was struck by lightning and burned down to its steel frame (I know, we live in Kenya now. Small world). The magnitude of emotion is much more certain than the nature of the emotion accompanying this news. Here's the story.


Happenings at the Hospital

Message from Jean Selle
I don't think there will be an excess of blogs while I am here since the internet is rather sporadic. I really want to show you all pictures from here so I will continue to try.

Joan and I met Eric at Tenwek Hospital on Thursday so he could introduce us to the workers in the nursery. We volunteered to help where needed and it was decided we could come at 9:00 a.m. every week day to help at one of the feedings. Let me tell you, it is a lot more involved with these little preemies! The majority of babies in the nursery are not preemies but those we fed were under 2 kilograms (under 4 lbs.)

You can see Joan holding one baby. The baby is a twin. The mother had been ill and needed help with caring for her twins. We each had one of the girls to wash and then feed. We sat on a little stool in front of the incubator and washed the babies with little cotton balls and water (soap in the creases!). Next we gently massaged vaseline into their skin. After that we fed the babies with a cup! (Sort of like a little plastic shot glass.) Mothers express milk and it is combined with formula to make a determined amount of liquid. The baby gets some of the milk via the cup and then the rest is given through a feeding tube leading into the stomach through the nose. I asked Eric why there were no bottles and apparently due to difficulty in sterilizing at home, other than a cup, breast-feeding is only recommended. The student nurse who worked with Joan and me patiently had us do all of this on our own and explained as we worked. Meanwhile the nursery is very warm, as it should be, but by the time we leave we feel we have just had a spa treatment and have sweated out all of our toxins!
Today the mother wanted to care for one of the babies so I washed a different little girl and her mother fed her.

We have donated the toys to the pediatrics ward of the hospital. For now the toys are stored in a storage unit and sometime next week we will take some of them into the ward and hand them out. Periodically, the toys will be given out at the ward as there are new patients. Apparently the storage unit is in chaos so Rachel volunteered Joan and me to organize it while we are here.

It rained the first few days we were here but since then it has been warm during the day but always cool at night. Kids play outside all day long. Anna, one of the "McCropder" kids found a chameleon and gave it to us. You can see it here with Rachel and Maggie. We put it on the hanging veggie/fruit basket and it happily consumes fruit flies. Afraid our little Mwizi (means thief) may not be getting enough to eat, we take him for walks every so often and let him snatch up extra flies sitting on the sidewalk. Mwizi has an exceptionally long tongue and a deadly aim.
Well, believe it or not, I have been working on this entry since around 9 a.m. and it is now 4 p.m. so I now understand why I don't get pictures and messages from Rachel every day!
Please keep us and Tenwek in your prayers!
Jean Selle