Summer Visitors

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It’s summer in Kenya! And I know that not because of warm weather and barbecues (actually the newspaper keeps printing articles about how to take care of your skin in the cold season and there was a display of heaters at the grocery store today), but because all of a sudden there seem to be many more mzungus (white people!) wandering around Western Kenya.

These summer visitors stand out not only because of their white skin, but because for some reason they all seem to wear tennis shoes or hiking boots with long skirts (not a great look unless entirely necessary), nodding attentively as they follow a Kenyan guide around town. In fact I remember before we moved to Kenya when we visited the travel doctor to get some vaccinations the nurse warned us, with a serious face, to “always wear tennis shoes, since the sidewalks there can be pretty uneven.” Sidewalks!? Our road is made of dirt.

There are so many misconceptions and so much anxiety when it comes to Africa, and visitors come ready to protect themselves from everything from malaria to a stubbed toe. One of the best things about being in Kenya has been the opportunity to tell other people about our experiences, to help people realize that you don’t need to wear hiking boots to get around a town where many people are barefoot (although you might want to watch out for malaria). We don’t have family or many friends who have experience in Africa or with development work, and it’s really cool to be able to share this place with people who might otherwise never experience it.  We really hope not only to show all the amazing things like the animals on safari and the gorgeous beaches on the coast, but to also show that life here is normal life in so many ways.

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Recently Tim’s family came to visit, and we loved the opportunity to show them around! They came to Kakamega and saw our home, our office, and the rainforest next door – before exploring the Rift Valley, the Masai Mara, and Nairobi.

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It felt good to show them both the every day and extraordinary that we experience here in Kenya. We were lucky enough to see lions hunting (unsuccessfully) in the Mara, black rhinos in Lake Nakuru, and baby elephants at an elephant orphanage in Nairobi.

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We also saw monkeys and birds in the Kakamega Rainforest, went by the office to show them a bit about our work, and taught them a little Swahili.

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We are looking forward to having more friends come soon! We hope that through visitors and through this blog we can show our friends and family far away a little more about what Kenya is all about.

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Beautiful Kenya!

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Well we’ve been a little off the radar recently! Fortunately that means we have a lot to update you on! After a few months of hard work, Tim and I got to take a little vacation with some days off that I had coming since I started working before my contract actually began. The best part about that is that we didn’t have to take actual vacation days to take our little holiday! We are so excited to have the opportunity to see some of the amazing and really beautiful parts of Kenya. We love our little home of Kakamega, but it’s easy to get bogged down in the difficulty of work and extra life challenges that go along with living in rural Western Kenya, and it’s nice to be reminded what an amazing place we’re in and how lucky we are to be here!

Last weekend we took a quick last minute trip to the Masai Mara to see the wildebeest migration! It’s supposed to be an amazing sight to see the wildebeest crossing the river, and in their vulnerability often succumbing to a crocodile or a lion. However, the wildebeest decided not to cross while we were in the park! 20121028-130900.jpg But we weren’t overly disappointed, since our other animal sightings were well worth the trip. We traveled to the Mara from Kisumu, leaving early in the morning with our friends from IPA – Tomoe and her fiancé David (both are from France and speak beautiful French) and Anne, who is from UC Davis and studying nutrition. They were a really fun group to hang out with, and made the hours of driving so much more fun! Although we sped along some nice tarmac for a while, the road nearer to the park is one of the worst I’ve been on in Kenya! We inched along through a spine-jarring experience. In fact, the roads inside the park (also dirt) were much nicer.

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Tim’s a great photographer (although I took some good photos too!), so here are a few of the best for your enjoyment. The best part of the trip was our encounter with a pride of lions, including a bunch of babies who played and jumped around unconcernedly as we sat in our vehicle only a few yards away. The male lion was majestic but pretty sleepy, and so we felt lucky to see the lively cubs interacting with the three terrifying females. 20121028-131353.jpg We also saw a cheetah that seemed to be stalking a nearby herd of antelope, but are still on our quest to find a leopard! The camp that we stayed with had permanent tents that each had a little bathroom, and although very simple it was comfortable and the food was good! We were lucky to go on two 6 hour game drives in just two days, and all agreed on Monday morning at work that none of us had ever been so tired in our lives. When I took a shower, the water that ran out of my hair was brown with dust turned to mud, and I had to shampoo several times! It was an incredible experience, especially for a short and spontaneous trip – and we’d be happy to return with anyone who wants to visit and go on safari!

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After a couple days at work, busier than ever, we took off Tuesday night on an airplane bound for Mombasa. Tonight is our last night, and we’re loving sitting on our comfy bed watching the Olympics – two things we don’t get much of in Kakamega! Tomorrow morning we’ll head back home, but I’m starting to understand why one of my employees told me “If you go to Mombasa, you will never want to return”!

The past few days have been gorgeous and relaxing and full of delicious food. In fact, we’re used to eating such relatively simple fare at home that the volume of the food and all the meat that we’ve had has been a bit too much! I feel like I’ll never be hungry again. On Tuesday night we got in late, ate some snacks and watched the Olympics in our hotel room, and luxuriated in the feeling of being on vacation! Wednesday was our city day – we walked around the Mombasa Old Town through winding streets much like those on Zanzibar and visited Fort Jesus. 20121028-131653.jpg Built by the Portuguese in 1593, it’s literally designed to look like the shape of a person from the air and was named after Jesus. It’s a great example of Portuguese military architecture from the period, and has a pretty turbulent history with possession switching between Portugal , Oman, and Britain over the years. Between 1631 and 1875 it changed possession 9 times! Upon capturing the fort, the Omanis increased the height of the walls by three meters because they were much taller than the Portuguese! The fort was fascinating and included a small museum describing some of the history of the area. There were a lot of school kids there, so we felt like we were on a field trip too! Later in the day we went to the mall and the grocery store and ate some delicious ice cream, and then went and saw the Dark Knight Rises in a really nice movie theater! It was such a fun and relaxing day.

From Thursday morning until now we’re been on the beach at Diani, just south of Mombasa. We’re staying at a hotel called the Sands at Nomad, and it’s beautiful! We can just barely see the ocean through the trees out our window, and the room itself is large and incredibly comfortable – including a bathroom with a really nice, reliably hot shower. There’s a restaurant with delicious food and a nice pool, but best of all, the ocean is warm and beautiful! Yesterday we went on an all-day snorkeling trip to nearby Wasini Island. We saw dolphins right next to our boat, and got an amazing view of an octopus, moray eels, stingrays, and a lion fish along with more brightly colored tropical fish than I could count! After spending the morning getting sunburned as we swam all over the reef, we had an enormous seafood lunch which included a full crab for each of us, plus a fish appetizer and a main course of fish with rice and delicious coconut sauce. After all the swimming and all the food, we fell asleep in the shade on the island and almost get left behind when the boat left!

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Today we are exhausted from all our adventures, and spent some time relaxing and reading and sleeping in. Unfortunately during a quick dip in the ocean Tim stepped on a sea urchin, and got a ton of spines stuck in his foot! He was bleeding and it stung a lot, but that didn’t stop the beach boys from trying to sell us trinkets as he hobbled up the sand. A really helpful man at the hotel seemed to know exactly what to do, although I think Tim and I were both nervous as he approached with a big knife and the tips of some sisal leaves, which he used to pick at the edge of the spines to expose them. Then he pricked a green papaya and rubbed the oil on the spines. Tim said that it really helped a lot with the pain, and it looks like it has already started to dissolve the spines – which are really difficult to pull out. It was an interesting experience, but poor Tim!

Overall we are reluctant to return to Western tomorrow after such a relaxing incredible vacation, but back to work on Monday it is! We feel so lucky to have the opportunity to experience some of the best of Kenya – it is a country absolutely brimming with natural beauty!