Taking a Trip to Nairobi

In the past several months, we have driven back and forth to Nairobi a total of 5 times, and we'll be doing it again this Wednesday. This time, it's to pick up Eric's renewed US passport, visit immigration, and try and find the elusive Burundian embassy, to procure a visa for upcoming travel there.

So, we've gotten to know this route well, and for those who might be interested, I thought I'd guide you through it, accompanied by some of my favorite signs.

We start by driving our van by the hospital, dodging a million matatus, who have parked there with impunity. This 100m stretch is by far the worst stretch of road in the whole trip. Next, we drive 10 minutes to Bomet, our nearest town, and I always hope to catch a glimpse of the matatu bus that bears a window decal that reads "Israeli Vibrations". Why? I don't know.

The next hour is all good road (since the recent pothole repair project), and we go through several small roadside towns, including one that boasts the "Hilarious Mascot General Stores" sign seen below.
After an hour, we come to the district capital city of Narok, which is a Maasai city (though most people think of the Maasai as semi-nomadic, some of them are quite urbanized). Among other things, this city boasts a little tea garden with killer samosas, and a couple lovely signs including the "Moran Driving School" seen below.
After Narok (which is, incidentally, the branch point for tourists going down to Maasai Mara Game Reserve), there is another 30 minutes or so before you open up onto the Great Rift Valley, a stunning landscape with several volcanic mountains. We wind down into the valley, and for the next hour, you have the best chance of seeing game animals. On a given trip, we usually see 1-2 of either giraffes, zebra, Thomson gazelles, or baboons. At the other end of the valley, there is a 20-minute drive up a steep escarpment, in which you will inevitably get stuck behind a truck going 5 kph, and might have to pass him on a curve.

Once out of the valley, there is a slow descent into Nairobi, passing first through a few outlying towns and roadside vendors selling local pears and roasted maize. Then the roads get busier and more well-established, even if there are more potholes. A weird sort of wealth and commercialism, unique within Kenya to Nairobi, creeps in, and there is an advert for the 2010 Ford Everest SUV. Eventually we make our way through some very treacherous multi-lane roundabouts and turn off to the Samaritan's Purse guesthouse (our preferred lodging), which is located in two apartments within a complex near downtown.

All in all, it's close to 3.5 hours, and almost the entire way is paved, which is a huge blessing, since this was just completed within the last year.



For his birthday this year, I bought Eric a new game. We didn't have the space to bring our entire collection along to Kenya with us, but have been for the most part contented with Settlers, Carcassone, Ticket to Ride, and an assortment of card games. So when it came time to think of birthday presents for Eric, my mind immediately jumped to games, in the style of Spiel des Jardins (i.e. German board games that are strategy based), playable by groups but also just 2 people, if possible. Some friends recommended Agricola, so I decided to take the plunge and give it a try.
So, the general idea of the game is that each player has his own farm and tries to acquire points by expanding/upgrading his house, having children (more workers!), building fences to house livestock, plowing fields, and sowing grain/veggies. Sounds simple enough, I suppose. But during your turn you only get a limited number of actions. Do I take the wood so I can build another room onto my house? Do I plow a field? Do I get food to feed my family so they don't starve? And each action can only be taken by one player each round, so if my opponent plows a field before me, I'm out of luck until the next round.

We've really enjoyed figuring the game out so far with our fellow McCropders, and have come to the realization that we have no idea how to win this game. What strategy to use? Who knows. And then there's the fact that so far we have only played the "dummy" or family version. The standard version introduces decks of cards that increase in complexity depending on what deck you use. I have a feeling that we could be playing 5 yrs from now and still be confused. :) I mean, challenged and engaged. But it's a fun process. So far, I think I'd recommend it (although I think it would be easier to learn if you played with someone who already knew how to play).


Our Kenyan Daughter

Yet another milestone. As of today, Maggie has spent more than half of her life within the country of Kenya. One of the interesting things about this is that, since we will leave before she's three, she still may have no memories of Kenya. The other day she got her dependency pass finally for Kenyan immigration, so I don't think she could get any more Kenyan. And it's pretty much a tie whether chapati or ugali is her favorite food.

Behold her Kenyan transformation: Here she is on our departure from Tennessee, sitting atop our luggage in all her 7-month glory.
A couple months ago, donning a Maasai shawl.
Now at 14 1/2 months, feeling quite at home in her new environs.



It seems lately that we haven't been blogging much...probably many factors in play. All of our visitors have left, so we are a bit more morose and also probably feel like there is not much going on to blog about. We've been busy at work. And for most of July, all three of us have been sick with a variety of ailments (severe pinkeye, GI upsets, sinusitis, colds, flu, you name it). But, lest I neglect my blogging duty, I thought I could at least give a Maggie update.

14 1/2 months old already, wow. She was pretty grumpy for a week while she was sick, but is now back to her normal cheeriness. Her hair is growing like crazy, and I can see 4 little ridges on her top gum, a sure sign that teeth are about to poke through! So far, only the 2 bottoms ones. She has been babbling constantly, and a few recognizable words are coming out: "nana" for banana, "da-dee," and her favorite, "no." She occasionally says "ah dah" for all done, "mmmm" for moo, and makes a funny "heh heh heh" noise that's either a fake laugh, a sheep baaa, or a horse neigh. Her favorite activity is climbing stairs by holding on to the railing and hauling herself up in a standing position. She also enjoys feeding her dollies (from Grammy), playing with her tea set (from Grandma), sitting down on things, and reading any sort of book. We're also hopeful that she has an early musical streak showing itself!

Anyway, she's a total joy to have around, and it's so fun watching her grow up!


Flower Power

During one of our many recent trips to Nairobi, we made a discovery: in Kenya, flowers are cheap! We learned in April, during the big Icelandic volcano eruption that cancelled many flights into and out of Europe, that flowers are Kenya's #1 export, and they lost around $2 million every day they couldn't fly fresh flowers to Europe. At the beginning of June, we were shopping for produce and Eric let me buy some beautiful flowers. I figured they would cost around $10 or so, but a nice addition to our dining room table. Total cost of a bunch of awesome lilies? $2.50. Wow! They lasted over 2 weeks. This last trip we bought 20 yellow roses for $1.85. They unfortunately only lasted 4 days, but even so...a great deal, and so pretty. And a fun photo op for our little CoolPix's "close up" function.


End of an Era

As more of our plans for the next several months have finalized, it became evident that I needed to get my US passport renewed. It expires in March 2011, but since 6 months prior to expiration are generally needed for travel, and I need to send off my passport to get some visas prior to our proposed travels, time became of the essence. The same was true for John Cropsey, and thus we ended up at the US embassy yesterday, and now I'm in Nairobi awaiting a ride back to Tenwek. Thankfully everything went fine, and thus far our plans are on track.

This morning, I pulled out the old passport and thumbed through its well-worn pages. Because I've enjoyed a lot of traveling in the last 10 years, this little book brings back a lot of memories, and it's hard to believe 10 years have passed. Nonetheless, a 19-year old self is staring back at me from the first page, at the time never having crossed a national border on his own. I look up in the mirror and realize that time really does pass, despite our natural inclination to believe otherwise.

The first stamps were in England and Ireland, where I trained around a ton for a month and squeezed in an Irish Literature class for 2 weeks. That was the first time I had a debit card, and almost bounced my account in some very stupid spending patterns, but I had the time of my life, and kicked off a decade of international travel.

The next stamps are from a variety of former east block countries from the next two summers. For some reason that doesn't make a lot of sense now, I always carried my passport on my person that whole time, and thus it has had a well-worn look even from when it was just a couple years old.

My first international medical experience in Honduras as a second-year med student. A visa from Rachel and I's trip to Turkey, and some very expensive stamps from a fiasco involving an accidental business visa in Zambia. Then some British stamps from careening around northern Europe for a week on the way back, where our camera was stolen in Heathrow. Our honeymoon in Costa Rica.

Some days in Dubai, and a very scary moment leaving Bangladesh where the border guard informed us that our visa was a day past due and we were there illegally. An honest mistake, he recognized and immediately pardoned us, but not before we had visions of Bengali police stations flash before our eyes. And now some big fat Kenyan visas, which I have to get transferred to my new passport once it arrives in a couple of weeks.

And a smattering of US ports, where I would be welcomed home, usually with a wonderful sense of homecoming that nicely caps a trip abroad.

10 years behind. 10 years ahead. I'm not sure what all I've learned through these experiences, but I'm quite sure they've had a rather indelible mark on who I am now.


Goodbye, Grandma (et al)

We have been blessed to have a bunch of visitors in June, and now our house has a slightly forlorn, empty feeling to it. My mom and Aunt Joan just left this past weekend, after staying for an entire month. During their visit, my Aunt Lois and Uncle Bob came for a week, on their way back from Tanzania. It was a mini-family reunion right here at Tenwek. I've been trying to get pictures loaded on our internet for a few days now, so the post is somewhat overdue, but hopefully enjoyable anyways. Here they are:

Hell's Gate National Park
Reading Uncle Eric's birthday gift, Pat the Bunny
Matching Grandma, Maggie, and tree
Reading with Aunt Lois and Uncle Bob! (who DOESN'T love Uncle Bob?)
Resting with Auntie Joan during a long safari drive
Showing off some new clothes from Cousin Debbie!
Fun in the safari van
Can you believe all these Senechals in one van?!
Goodbye dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Nairobi