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August 23, 2000

(note: Added some pictures of Nairobi on 8/30 in Kenyan Pictures section.)

Of course, the big news is still valid.  Kim and I have decided to get married.  We are both planning on coming back to the States in October/November, but we don’t know how long Kim will be able to stay.  Consequently, we won’t be having any kind of ceremony while we are home this time around.  Right now we’re thinking about doing something next summer.  What exactly we’re doing, and where and when we’re going to do it are still to be determined. 

One of the major factors to determine those details is Kim’s new job.  After a series of exciting career developments and white-knuckled negotiations, Kim has accepted an official job with the CDC.  It’s a F.T.E., Full Time Employment, position with a higher salary and all sorts of very nice benefits.  This means that she will no longer be on T.D.Y., Temporary Duty Assignment (not sure what the “Y” stands for exactly).  This means that she won’t have to fly to Atlanta every five months to pretend that she works there instead of here.  I can’t explain all of it and some of the details are still to be finalized, so check out Kim's Page for a better explanation  The upshot of this that I do understand is that she has a permanent position with the CDC with the understanding that she will be staying in Kisumu for the next two years. 

Other minor news (in case you don’t make it to the end of this opus) is that I have purchased http://www.wrestlingwithlions.com/.  It should be easier to remember, and both addresses will continue to work.

So I should catch you up on the last month or so of events.  This is actually pretty easy.  We just came back from a short trip to Kampala.  We went for the weekend to visit one of Kim’s friends, Grace.  The digital camera is back so there are a lot of new pictures.  We had a very nice time enjoying the creature comforts of Kampala, good food (Thai, Chinese, Italian and Continental) & movies(Gladiator and MI2), as well as good company.  Kim left on Sunday, but I stayed an extra day in order to play Ultimate Frisbee.  Turned out to be only four-on-four, but I’ll take it!  Had a good sweaty time.  Also met one of the owners of the cinema in Kampala and talked to him about putting on some stuff in Kisumu.  We’ll see what comes of it…

July was dominated by a visit by my mom.  She arrived in Nairobi on July 11th.  If any of you are thinking of coming to Kenya for a visit any time in the next couple of years then you need to call up my mom and thank her for breaking me in.  I discovered just how acclimated I was in living here with her visit.  There were so many things that I accepted as a matter of course, that I shouldn’t have.  There were also several things that we did, that I was doing for the first time.  Mistake.

One of the useful things that I didn’t know before she came was that it gets cold in July in Kenya.  It doesn’t get cold really, but it’s not exactly what you’d imagine when you think of Africa.  It certainly wasn’t what my mom imagined when she packed.  She rightly thought “Africa : Hot : Shorts”.  Part of the problem was that the first stop on her trip was Nairobi.  Of course, that’s a problem no matter how you pack, but in July it’s downright chilly in Nairobi, partly because of the time of year and partly due to the altitude.  The way the Kenyans dress you’d think it was the middle of January in Michigan, but the lows are only in the mid to high fifties.  Fortunately, it occurred to me the day before I left to meet her there to pack an extra fleece (everyone should have a fleece!)

One of the first stops was, of course, our hotel.  I had carefully selected this hotel specifically for comfort.  No noisy streets/discos/prostitutes/etc. No bars on the windows, no mildewed shower/toilet rooms, no homeless glue sniffing street boys out front.  Instead a very nice place called the Fairview.  It’s an old colonial style building located in a residential neighborhood in the hills above central Nairobi.  They also have great sandwiches, one of the major reasons for my final decision.

The very next morning we left for the Maasai Mara.  The Mara, as the cool kids call it, is the most popular game park in Kenya.  It’s the northern extension of the Serengeti.  Despite waking up very early and arriving at the safari company in plenty of time, we left Nairobi very late, and with four other passengers.  Neither of us remembers that names of our fellow misafiri (travelers), but there was one Swedish guy, two Chinese women, and a Kenyan woman that turned out to be the driver’s girlfriend.  The Chinese women didn’t speak very much English, but they compensated by speaking what little they knew very LOUDLY.  Of course, that’s how they spoke their Chinese also…

About an hour into the five hour drive to the Mara, the safari vehicle broke down.  Fortunately it happened in a town (as opposed to in the middle of the wilderness to which we were headed) so we just pulled off and got out while some conveniently located mechanics went to work.  This was a small town, even by Kenyan standards.  It was also a pretty scruffy town.  We walked around a bit and had some local lunch.  At lunch we found out the town was so small it didn’t even have a a single phone line.  Turns out Telkom was so sick of coming out and replacing stolen phone lines that they cut off the town.  People were using them for clotheslines.  After a couple hours of waiting around and worrying about arriving in the Mara late missing the only game drive of the day, the car was fixed and we were ready to go.  This, I found out later, was the low point of the trip for my mom.  I guess to me it looked like a bit of a hick town, but not unreasonably devoid of life.  To my mom it looked like one of the worst, most desolate places she had seen.  Being broken down there didn’t exactly fill her full of joy.  For me it was just…well…it was just Africa.  Things go wrong, whatcha goin’ do?

We did make it to the Mara in time for a game drive.  I was told by Kim (did I mention that I had not visited the Mara yet?) that the road getting to the Mara was good up to the last hour or so, and after that it was terrible.  This was such an understatement.  My poor mom!  Jetlagged, tired, and shoved in the back of a bouncing safari truck for an hour over the worst roads that Kenya had to offer.  What makes it worse, is that we could have flown to the Mara, but I decided she would want to see the countryside…mistake.

When we arrived we were rewarded by the best game drive that we had the entire safari.  Saw lots of lions, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and the very elusive leopard.  Kim has been in Africa for over four years and has never seen a leopard.  My mom came in, and in two days had seen one.  Very lucky.

We drove around until dark and then went to the campsite for dinner and sleep.  Dinner was a terrible spaghetti concoction that we ate politely and then secretly supplemented with our stash of junk food.  (Granola Bars, oh how I missed you!) That night was the first time that mom slept in a tent in her entire life.  Granted it was in a bed in a tent, but it was a bed with a African foam mattress, so I think it should count.  I think that she was worried throughout the night about wild animals invading the tent.  What I thought that she knew was that there were Maasai warriors guarding the campsite.  In fact, she was sleeping about ten feet away from one of the night guards.  As part of their rites of passage, Maasai boys are supposed to kill a lion single-handed before they can become warriors.  I knew all this and slept quite soundly, despite the animal noises that went on all night long.

The next day was almost exactly the same, bumpy roads and lots of animals.  Just before we called it a day we went to a Maasai village just outside of the park.  This village was set up for tourists, kind of.  If you wanted to go in you paid one flat fee and were allowed to take as many pictures as you wanted.  Normally when you take pictures of Maasai you are expected to pay them for the privilege.  The money was supposedly set aside for the village as a whole, spent mostly on a school and a small clinic nearby.  When we walked in to the village we were greeted with a line of Maasai girls singing and dancing.  It was quite beautiful.  I tried to video it, but the battery on my camera was dying, so I just got a couple of seconds of it.  However, the Maasai village itself was not a pretty thing.  They use sticks, dung and mud to construct their houses.  Their goats sleep in a little enclosure inside their houses.  We went in to one near the entrance.  It was very dark, claustrophobically low ceilinged and without any ventilation.  The village itself was full of people trying to sell us stuff: beads, spears, shields, clothes, statues, and a hundred other things.  Our guide disappeared very early on and our driver had left us at the gate.  We wandered around being harassed by every other person, especially the old men.  We watched two guys light a fire using “traditional methods” with which any boy scout would be familiar.  We couldn’t leave soon enough to suit my mom.  It was a depressing experience from one point of view, but for me it was pretty cool.  The Maasai are a very proud tribe.  They are one of the few tribes in Kenya that have kept most of their culture intact.  Most other tribes have surrendered their religion, clothes, homes, and lifestyles to Western culture, or at least the African version of Western culture.  It was pretty cool to be able to hang out and talk with some of them and to see how they choose to live.

That night instead of staying at the campsite, we stayed at a luxury lodge.  wow…nice place.  Had a fantastic dinner, nice hot shower, and watched Maasai warriors jumping/dancing.  Clean, full, and comfortable I slept like a log.

The third morning we woke up before dawn and went on a mostly fruitless game drive before breakfast.  It turns out that our driver was not very good.  He certainly wasn’t as good as previous drivers I had had, and my mom definitely didn’t like him.  She thought that he should have slowed down instead of speeding up when animals were scurrying across the road.  Pretty sure I agree.  Mostly, I didn’t like him because I thought we weren’t seeing very many animals and that he didn’t seem to know where to find more.  He also blew what I thought was a golden opportunity to watch lions hunting. 

After the breakfast we headed back to Nairobi and the comfort of the Fairview.  After some discussion we decided to take a bus to Kisumu the next morning instead of flying.  Mistake.  Although I have written about the Akamba busses as one the safest, best bus companies in Kenya, this time we had one of the worst buses I’ve ever had in Kenya.  We bought the last tickets available so we ended up in the back row, also known as the “Flying Seats”.  On several occasions we did actually grab some air, much to our displeasure.  We sat on the side of the bus that the sun was facing the entire trip so we baked the whole day long.  It was also the side of the bus where there is absolutely no scenery to look at the entire trip.  The other side gives you great views of  the Rift Valley, Hell’s Gate, Lakes Naivasha & Nakuru, and the tea fields of Kericho.  To make matters worse the bus went so slowly that it took seven hours instead of the usual four and a half.  It took us so long that the luxary bus that left two hours after we did had arrived and left in Kisumu before we even got there. 

The rest of the week was spent relaxing in Kisumu.  Like I’ve said before, there isn’t a lot to do in Kisumu.  The only thing that we did the entire we was go out to visit Godfrey’s family in Kakamega.  This made Godfrey very happy.  He’s been bugging me to come out and visit his family for months.  But it was a nice trip, actually.   Got to see where he’s from and got to show my mom how most Kenyans live.  Also got Godfrey to stop harassing me for at least a little while.  Of course, Kim didn’t go visit yet, but I think he’s a little bit afraid of her by now, and rightly so, she doesn’t care for him much.

At the end of the week we went to Lamu.  Lamu is a town on the coast of the Indian Ocean.  It’s very north, almost near the edge of Somalia.(Map).  It is a lot like Zanzibar in architecture and culture.  We went with two friends from Kisumu, Meghna and Liz.  After having several plans fall through, we ended up staying at a very nice little hotel build in the Swahili style.  Four stories high with a central courtyard.  Very nice.    Although much like Zanzibar, it wasn’t nearly as large or as interesting.  We did have the opportunity to go the beach and go body surfing, which I enjoyed immensely.  We also went for a tour of the town and on an extended Dhow ride.  We took quite a few pictures, but I still haven’t scanned them in.  Oh I almost forgot to mention one of the best things:  juice. Everywhere we went they were serving juices.  They were sooo good!  We would have pineapple-mango-orange, passion-guava, avocado…well, I didn’t have any avocado, but you get the idea.  All in all is was a very relaxing way to end a nice trip.

So that’s the latest news.  As I said, we’re still planning on coming back to the States in October.  I will be coming back on October 12th (?) and staying for a month or two.  Kim will hopefully be coming back by the end of October and staying for a month.  I’m sure I’ll contact each of you personally in order to make reservations for your couches and spare beds.

In the meantime (it’s only a month and a half!) I have a list of things planned:

1.  Taking an Automotive Mechanics Course:                     I enjoyed the last one I took at Washtenaw and am interested in learning more.  I went down to Kisumu Polytechnic yesterday to get some information.  I was mildly surprised to discover that they didn’t really have any.  The registrar’s office had admission forms and a list of classes, but no course descriptions, meeting times, or their e-mail address(which they did eventually find).  Of course they had the fee schedule readily available.  A full year of classes costs just under $100.  I tried to apply but they said that I would need a high school transcript before I would be accepted.  The minimum requirement for entrance to the class I want to take is a “D+” from the Kenyan High school.  I hope they’ll take me.  I’m also hoping to maybe get a little bit of work at the same time with a mechanic friend of ours…

2.  Improving my Kiswahili:                           This will be a little harder than usual because my teacher is in Nairobi for the month.  It also doesn’t help that I have almost no ear for language whatsoever.  I have to make flash cards for each word and pour over them for hours.  Consequently, I only know a couple hundred odd words and very little useful grammar.  I’m pursuing taking classes at a local university. 

3.  Household Improvements:                       As always, there are a million things to do around the house.  Recent additions include a new phone extension and grass.  The grass is still sparse, but it’s coming in nicely.  We had to resort to smuggling grass seed from Meijer Thrifty Acres into the country.  I’m sure you’ll read more about it in a couple of years when it has engulfed the Kenyan countryside, destroying all the native species and causing all sorts of ecological havoc.  Also on the list of household improvements is buying a car.  As soon as some more money rolls in we’re looking at buying a really cheap car for trips in to town.  My vote is for a powder blue 1960’s Peugeot, but we’ll see.

4.  Preparing a Video:                        I have taped quite a bit at this point, but it needs a lot of editing.  There is also so much shaky footage you can view of bouncing along in a safari vehicle.  There are hours of truly horrible cinematography to contend with also.  As soon as I can trim it down to under three hours, I’ll send it out.

5.  Catching up with my Writing:                   There are a whole bunch of stories that I still have to tell.  I’m working on it. 

6.  Improving this Website:                I have been working on this a lot lately, as I hope you’ve noticed.  I have also bought the rights to http://www.wrestlingwithlions.com.  It should be fully functional soon.  Your old bookmarks will still work, as I am not switching servers.  Any request for either name should go to the correct pages. 

That should keep me busy for a while.  I might even sneak off for a little trip or two…