Monday, December 3, 2007

November 2, 2007

I arrived in Amsterdam at 6:00 am local time, and stopped in an airport café for breakfast. I sat in the non-smoking section, and relaxed there for the first half of my six-hour layover. I looked up at one point and realized that there were about five people on my side of the café, while the smoking half was standing room only. While the Europeans were blithely smoking their cigarettes and drinking their espressos, the Americans seized the opportunity to make a spectacle of themselves – “Omigod! We can smoke – INDOORS! Can you believe it?” Seriously, is it that big of a deal? Worse, the flight directly to Seattle was packed, but my scheduled flight to Detroit has 136 empty seats. I was scared this was a bad sign. What’s going on in Detroit? I was wrong – I had a whole row to myself to sleep in.

I was delayed out of Detroit, getting to Seattle an hour late. No problem – home sweet home.

*There is an art museum in Amsterdam’s airport. It’s a great way to enjoy a layover.

November 1, 2007

The horror – check out time = 10:00 am. Flight = 11:00 pm. BJ, Mama E and I went to the British Airways travel agent to finalize their tickets, which lead to another fun adventure. The large building across from the hotel that was covered in British Airways banners had a British Airways office – that was not open to the public. We had to go to the agent down the street, who rolled her eyes at me when I asked her why she was still displaying a British Airways ad with the Twin Towers on it. Classy. The rest of the day I spent walking around the area or waiting in the lobby. While in the Hilton Hotel Shopping Arcade, I actually had someone try to pull the Nigerian email scam on me in person. Yes, he really asked for my account info, so he could send me...blah, blah, blah. For about five hours Jean, Keith and I chatted in the lobby and waited for BJ and Mama E. At 7:00 pm, the driver took us to the airport. We said our goodbyes at the curb of the airport, even though I assumed I’d see Mama E and BJ in Customs. I was wrong – I’m glad I got my hugs in while I could. Off to Amsterdam!

* A few matauts, in order to charge higher rates, had TVs in them (I never saw that in Mombasa)
* What I did see a lot of in both cities were matatus covered in (faux) Nike logos or other popular American brands, and athletic teams (college and pro) – these were status symbols more so than decorations.
*On the way back I watched A Mighty Heart, Hairspray and Dodgeball. A Mighty Heart is a very good movie, but so disturbing and depressing I had to watch two ridiculous comedies in order to sleep.


Jean and Mama E

Mama E and Jean

Wait! Don't take the picture yet!

Wait! Let me take off my sweatshirt!

A gift from Jean

A gift from Jean

BJ, Keith and Jean

BJ, Keith and Jean

Keith, jean, BJ and Mama E

Keth & BJ

BJ with her “Samburu son”

Me & Keith.

I have no idea what I’m doing with my hand in that photo

Parking Cops

The Revenue Generators are the same worldwide.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

October 31, 2007

The day started with an unpleasant awakening – the hotel thought we were checking out that day. According to our itineraries, Mama E and BJ were supposed to be going home, but I was staying the night. In a couple hours, we fixed everything – the hotel didn’t give us the boot, and Mama E and BJ extended their stays one extra day.
I was excited about just using the day to relax. That didn’t happen. I paid Star Travel & Tours $79 for a driver plus $500 KSH admission to spend my day at the Giraffe Center. It turns out my driver had a gig on the side. On my way to the Giraffe Center, he made several drop offs and pick ups – even attempting to leave me at a minimall while he made a drop. Once I paid to get into the Center, not five minutes after walking in, he was nagging me to leave. I finally ditched him.
After getting away from him I had (a little) fun. My tour guide, Becky Wanjau, started my visit by helping me feed the giraffes treats. The giraffes have huge tongues and drool everywhere. This surprised me so much that on my first attempt, I dropped most of the treats. She gave me a second chance, this time feeding two at once, and I was successful. Once I finished the feeding, we started the tour of the Center. The Giraffe Center was built to protect the endangered reticulated giraffe, and they are released into the wild when they are three years old. The giraffes I was feeding were older – mother giraffes used for breeding. There was a “multimedia room” (a theater with a TV) that displayed pictures on the wall drawn by local school children. They were on sale for $1000KSH each – the money goes toward sponsoring visits and environmental education.
On the Center grounds there is also an area protecting leopard tortoises, most of which were brought in by people by the side of roads. The tortoises have become vulnerable due to shell poaching and the pet trade. I left soon after, my driver made more deliveries (of course), and dropped me off at the travel agency, where I made it clear how pissed I was that I shelled out a total of about $85 USD for that nightmarish experience. After a blithe, “yeah, he shouldn’t do that” I returned to the hotel unsatisfied, but determined not to blow a fuse.
I thought it would be a good idea to take out my frustrations at the gym. Since the trainers did not seem to understand the phrase “go away,” that was almost a waste of time. I decided to end the gym excursion in the steam room. However I didn’t bring a swimsuit with me, so I hoped I wouldn’t stand out too much in my tank top and underwear. I was wrong – I was the only one not nude (this was a single-sex steam room, by the way.) But after my crazy day, I wasn’t fazed at all. I just relaxed until dinner.
Since Mama E and BJ had already eaten and were tired after a long day, I ate dinner alone. I just watched TV – CNN International was on in the dining room. Top stories included Barack Obama’s questionable dancing skills on Ellen, the cheerleader in Auburn who was run over by the football team, and Britney Spears’ custody battle. Also, both CNN International and BBC World News referred to Luke Walton’s infamous own basket as “a type of ‘own goal,’” since I suppose a soccer reference would be more familiar with the global crowd. (Now I kind of sympathize with those international journalists who, during the World Cup, got testy with American journalists trying to explain soccer by using other sports as references.) Somehow, I thought international news would be above all this.
Near the end of dinner a woman barged into the restaurant screaming in Swahili, pushing her way past hotel staff and shoving money in customers’ faces. Since I couldn’t understand what she was saying, I couldn’t assess if she was armed and/or making threats.
After about 10-15 minutes of ranting, enough police arrived to escort her out. My waitress didn’t come back until a few minutes after the commotion, and I paid and left quickly in case the woman came back.
I watched TV for about an hour, and then went to bed.

* In Mombasa, many of the local restaurants and hotels were advertising Halloween parties. Nothing of the sort in Nairobi.
* On the drive to the Giraffe Center, we passed through a neighborhood of Nairobi called Karen, named after Karen Blixen. The area was once coffee farms, as the Out of Africa author was a coffee farmer. The area is now being turned into country clubs and luxury subdivisions.
*The Giraffe Center was fun; I wanted to do a real safari but they were $120USD+
*There were greenbelts and “how to preserve the environment” signs all over Nairobi.


A reticulated giraffe

A reticulated giraffe

"Gently on the tongue"

Feeding the giraffe

Time to feed the giraffes!

Becky helps me try to feed them again.

Becky shows me how to feed the giraffes

I dropped most of the giraffe treats

The little boy didn't drop a single giraffe treat

They sure can drool!

Feeding two giraffes 3

Two hands!

Feeding two giraffes 2

Feeding two giraffes

The view from the upper deck

The multimedia center

The multimedia center

Tourguide Becky Wanjau

Tourguide Becky Wanjau

Students' artwork

Drawings by local students

The Giraffe Centre grounds

Giraffe Center grounds

The entryway of the Giraffe Centre

The entryway. Notice the three photos on the wooden beam in the back? The bottom one is of Barbara Bush’s visit.

Students' project
Students’ project

A warthog.

Warthogs aren’t endangered, but they normally associated with giraffes in the wild

A giraffe and warthog

In the upper deck

A leopard tortoise

A leopard tortoise

Leopard tortoises

I opted against going into the tortoise enclosure, even though it was allowed

Mealtime for the tortoises


Thursday, November 29, 2007

October 30, 2007

Today was our last day in Mombasa. We left for Nairobi, where we checked into the The Stanley Hotel. The first hour or so was hectic. Jennifer, Mama E and BJ had already been through Nairobi on the way to Mombasa, and most of their luggage was at the travel agency, which was just around the corner from the hotel. They had to leave it there because domestic flights in Kenya has maximum allowed baggage weight of 20kg (45 lbs). While they got luggage, I went to the room. It’s a good thing that we arrived at the Stanley during the daylight hours, I spent the five or so minutes I was in the room alone flipping the switches up and down, too embarrassed to call the front desk to ask how to turn on the light. BJ finally arrived and told me how it worked – there was a slot next to the light switches for the room key – that’s what powered the electricity in the room. As I mentioned earlier, Kenya is very eco-conscious. Not only does the key operated light prevent hotel patrons from leaving the lights on when out of the room, but the Stanley, like the hotel where BJ, Mama E and Jennifer stayed in the Mara was solar powered. Therefore, between midnight-4am, the electricity was turned off – key activation or no. Anyway, once we settled in the room, we went back to the lobby.
Mama E has been coming to Kenya since 1985, and Jennifer and BJ almost as long. In one of their early visits they met then small children Serah, Keith and Jean, who are now all in their late twenties. After an excited reunion, Serah and Keith took BJ and me down to the Maasai market, a weekly outdoor market about four blocks from the hotel. The market was absolutely insane – packed with tourists, no walkway, and people coming from all directions trying to sell any and everything. We probably walked a total of one city block in about an hour, but were completely worn out at the end. After sitting to relax for a few minutes, Mama E joined us at the market. I then did a second tour – walking with Mama E in a failed attempt to find anklets to take back home as gifts. We spent most of the rest of the day chatting in the lobby; Jean talked about her three children, Keith taught me a few phrases in Samburu. October 30th is my sister’s birthday, so I took minute to call her (left a message – school wasn’t out yet). Later, Jennifer, who was out visiting a friend, joined us in the lobby so we could all say goodbye. She flew back to Houston that evening.
Even though the Stanley is part of the same chain as the Whitesands, dinner wasn’t included with the price of the room. The buffet was $23USD! Ouch!

* In Mombasa, we were way out in the sticks. The resorts are safe but the city is not. Nairobi is a large city (the capitol) and easy to walk around. Obviously you have to exercise caution, but there is no need to be completely reliant on a driver.
*Improve your vocabulary, change the world.


Mama E and Said say goodbye

Mama E and Said say goodbye

Leaving Mombasa

Leaving Mombasa

On the way from the Nairobi airport into town

On the way from the Nairobi airport into down. Just a random building.

Hello Moto


Downtown Nairobi

Downtown Nairobi

Keith, BJ and Serah

Keith, BJ and Serah resting after braving the market

Keith and Serah near Maasai Market

Monday, November 26, 2007

October 29, 2007

Said, Mama E and I spent about three hours cruising around Mombasa trying to find a converter. We worked our way from one end of downtown to the others, and most store owners told us to go to Top Time Electronics. When we finally arrived there, I showed the store clerk the broken converter, and asked if he had one that converted American electronics to Kenyan ones. He barely looked at me, rolled his eyes and said no.
I returned to the hotel, with serious trepidation about telling Jennifer that I had come up empty; she had a paper due the next day. When I got back to the room, she was about to call Top Time, but I told her not to waste her minutes; I was just there and they didn’t have one. She insisted on calling the store, and after about five minutes, explaining what she needed, the owner said they had a one. I interrupted her and said I showed them the converter in person – there wasn’t one there. She double checked with the owner, who put her on hold to talk to the clerk. The owner told her the clerk told me that he told me the converter was there, and that he thought I was “confused.” I was livid. Jennifer insisted on going with Said to pick up the converter herself – I wanted to go to cuss out talk to the clerk myself.
Anyway, I relaxed on the balcony while Jennifer was gone, and, after seeing “Do not feed the monkeys” signs all over the hotel grounds, I finally saw a troop of monkeys jumping from tree to tree right outside of my room. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera out.

That’s it. We otherwise didn’t do anything that day.

*Aforementioned clerk at Top Time was behind security bars with his back turned to the door. All merchandise was behind the bars as well. In short, he would have to get the converter himself. Since the boss wasn’t around, he had no intention of working. Fine, but don’t go lying on me.


Throughout our stay in Mombasa, no matter the ragged/desolate/"Christian Children's Fund" condition of the villages we drove past, they all had spas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

October 28, 2007

Today was a fun day. Joyce invited Mama E and me to her house for afternoon tea. There we met her husband, her daughter Evelyn, and two of her husband’s friends who “wanted to see the Americans.” We had a great time – Evelyn’s a sweet and very quiet girl and Joyce is an excellent cook. Joyce was also kind enough to give farewell gifts to the entire traveling party.

We wouldn’t visit the YWCA again, so I left Joyce most of the clothes that I had brought to Kenya to donate to the Y, as well as the items I bought for the Enlightened Support Group. Even though Joyce lives in the outskirts of Mombasa, she came with us downtown to help me with my last bit of shopping. I had told her the day before that I loved the dress she had on and wondered where to buy fabric. The only place she knew of was in a “locals only” market (i.e. too dangerous for foreigners), so I gave her $3000KSH to use her own discretion with what patters to buy.

To elaborate on the “dangerous for foreigners” part. Said parked in the alley near the store while Joyce shopped. I use the word “store” loosely. It was on a dirt side street straight out of a Christian Children’s Fund commercial. Actually the area was a thriving community of restaurants, shops and homes – just with tin roofs, tag board walls and no plumbing and, if any electricity, supplied by gasoline-powered generators. All of this floating in about one inch of dirty water and ankle deep trash. None of this is their fault; instead of paying to properly dump their waste at a landfill, many hotels and large businesses simply dump their trash for free in little shantytowns. Shame. (The constant dumping-in-communities issue was all over the local news – probably because it was nearing presidential elections.) After about 15 minutes, Joyce returned, with the perfect batch of fabric (I forgot what the Swahili word is for it.)

The other thing I was in town to shop for was a new converter to replace the one I broke. We looked all over town; however, it being Sunday, no one was open.


* In the shops, nothing has an actual price. Everything is determined by bargaining. Joyce said, “I was speaking all the Swahili I know.”

* Yet another photo on the road and self-photo.



In Joyce’s living room

Joyce's family

Joyce’s husband and two of his friends

Smile Joyce




Joyce’s 20-year-old daughter Evelyn


Delicious! I ate about half of that cake.

Joyce and Evelyn

We had to protect the food from flies

Mama E with Joyce and the family

With Joyce's family

I’m wearing the skirt Joyce gave me