Sunday, October 01, 2006

Swahili is fun!

Here are a few fun swahili words I found while in Africa:

Dakwakusutha: one who gets rude when he's full of drink

Songololo: centipede, or "the slow one"

Gilingwe: one who swallows up leopards, or "the fearless one"

Gobandlovu: one who bends elephants, or "the strong one"

Mabhongendlini: one who bellows like a bull in the house

Magwazephinda: one who is not satisfied with just a single achievement

Nhlekabayeni: one who laughs at a bride groom's party, or "one who laughs at anything

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Yes, I am home.

Yes, I am teaching again.

Gem from today:

STUDENT: looking at a rough schematic graph on my powerpoint If you weren't here to explain that, I wouldn't understand it.
ME: Well, that's what I'm here for. Do you have any questions?
STUDENT: Fine, but when I look back at my notes, how am I supposed to understand this graph?

I have nothing more to say. Welcome back, SS!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Happy Ethiopian New Year

So, there was nowhere in Addis except for the really expensive Sheraton Hotel that had fast enough internet to get into Blogger. Well, apparently except for the airport, which is where I am typing this missive. Internet cafes in airports = BEST IDEA EVER.

Without further ado, I give you Even More Things I've Learned in Ethiopia.

1. Taxis are really, really scary.
Did I mention that the seatbelts don't work in most, if not all of them? Ther was a tense moment in a traffic circle the other day where I thought I was going head first into the windshield.

2. It's 1999!
According to the Ethiopian calendar, that is. And let me tell you, they partied like it's 1999. I was awoken at midnight from a deep slumber by fireworks so powerful, my floor seemed to be shaking. Also, fyi, it's a bad day to be a small ungulate generally raised for consumption. Yesterday, there were little tiny herds of the woolly critters roaming all over the place. Today? There are piles of skins. But I got a really cute leather purse the other day! Cheap, too.

3. Dan Brown is part of the evil empire.
By the evil empire, I am referring to particular American goods/stores/music/etc. that end up all over the world. I ran out of books to read the other night, so I went in search of an English language bookstore. I was not in luck. This is perhaps because, unlike Kenya and Dar es Salaam, English is not one of Ethiopia's national languages. This means that my only options were the books available in the Hilton and Sheraton hotels. Let me tell you, the selection was grim. Both hotels must be supplied by the same book supplier, because they had almost identical titles. There were a wide variety of NGO/International Development books and academic journals. (Many of the NGO folk stay at the Hilton and Sheraton hotels. Now, WHY people in international development non-profit work would stay in the two most expensive hotels in Addis - $170/night and $230/night respectively, obscene prices for Africa - is a rant for another entry. Let's just say it makes me think twice before donating.) There were also copies of books like Rich Dad, Poor Dad and He's Just Not That Into You. Obviously, there were the requiste Africa picture books for toting home as a souvenir. But the novel department was slim pickings. They had ever book that Dan Brown has ever written, and one battered copy of Black Beauty.

It's true, I bought Digital Fortress. It was not good, but better than nothing.

4. Addis is cold.
Especially when you've come from Nairobi or Dar es Salaam. Or both. Brrrrrrrrrrr.

5. Even when you think permits have gone well, they haven't.
I have a crazy day of flying today, because i had to prolong my stay here. Why? Last Friday, I was told that my permits were all in order, everything was hunky-dory, heck, you can even work on the weekends! I was happy. I booked a ticket to Nairobi for Friday (two days ago), I book my ticket home for Monday (today) and went blithely on my merry way.

On Wednesday, I was informed that I needed an extra special letter. Why this could have been mentioned on FRIDAY is beyond me. So, I scrambled, and changed my ticket back to Nairobi. That was free. But to change my ticket HOME would be another $200 that I don't really want to pay. Therefore, I've opted for a crazy travel day. Unfotunately, there are some things that I wanted to take care of in Nairobi, but I'm not going to have the chance to do that. I might talk to the KLM people once I get to Nairobi and see about changing my flight to tomorrow so I can do things properly.

I WOULD just come back through Nairobi in January when I have to go to South Africa, but those jerks only gave me a three month permit instead of a 3 YEAR permit. If I can figure out how to get that extended, I might try and do that. Then I could take a trip to Lamu. :)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Addis II

I'm feeling much better today than I have for the past couple of days. I braved leaving the DND label off of my door today, and I am hoping my sheets are not clammy and wet when I get back. I managed by buy some socks today as well, so that's good news.

I have learned a few things about Addis in the short time I have been here. I am going to enumerate them for in list format because I am lazy and this is easy.

1. Taxis are terrifying.
There are a number of reasons why this is true. First of all, I have yet to ride in a taxi that was manufactured before, oh, 1980. Some of these cars are still in ... reasonable repair. Others - I would wager the vast majority - are in really awful repair. One taxi driver had to fill his gas tank through the trunk. In another, all of the springs on one side of the front seat were sprung, so I had to sit wedged in a sort of lopsided manner. However, the one I rode in today was the worst. The passenger door didn't close quite all the way, and the car would sputter and die every time the driver had to shift into first gear. Our maximum velocity couldn't have been much more than 35 mph. I saw a child pushing a small handcart pass us on the road.

The other reason they are terrifying is because lane lines seem to be mere guidelines to be followed at the whim of the driver. My driver from the airport drove me thirty minute to my hotel, straddling the line between lanes. They weave with no apparent purpose - it's not to pass anyone, that's for sure. It's like they are impressionist painters and the road is their canvas.

2. Animals roam the streets.
One of the first things that struck me about Addis is that is seems much more "advanced" than Dar es Salaam. There are major roads with fresh, smooth tar laid across them. These roads even have multiple lanes (see #1) and have the semblance of highways as I conceive of them. Somewhat incongruously, it is not uncommon to run across someone herding a small flock of what I thought were goats. (One of my taxi drivers said they were sheep, but they look very goat-like to me. Regardless, they are definitely small ungulates generally raised for consumption.) These ungulates go tripping across the pavement, their little hooves making small clicking sounds, bleating as they walk.

3. Gasping is perfectly appropriate.
I think it must be something having to do with speaking Ahmraic and learning English, but many people here puncuate their english speech with little gasps. I've never noticed it in people speaking other languages, but in English multiple people have done this. It's used in the same way I would use the word "um", but it's vaguely disconcerting when you think you're having a pleasant conversation with someone.

Addis Ababa

(written: 8/31/06)

A few days ago, I was sitting in the Ethiopian Airlines office, making my travel booking for plane travel between Dar es Salaam and Addis Ababa. I wanted to leave as soon as possible - I tried for the 30th, but there were no seats available. The first economy class seats weren't available until September 7th. I had already been to Kenya Airways, and flying from Dar to Addis would require an overnight layover in Nairobi, which I also wasn't so keen on. I left Ethiopian Airlines sad, and defeated, and was going to go back to Kenya Airways and book the overnight flight.

But, I was right across from the Royal Palm Hotel, and I thought I might stop there and pick up some postcards. On my way to the gift shop, I spied with my little eye Rickshaw Travels. I figured I would go ahead and give it a try. Sadly, they told me the same thing that Ethiopian Air told me - the soonest I could get an economy ticket without an overnight in Nairobit was September 7th.


There was one (1) business class ticket available for August 31st. The price of the business class ticket was just over my projected price for the ticket AND the difference in the two prices was only $100.00. It would cost more than US $100 to sit in Dar for week, and I would lose time. Thus justifying the expense to myself (and hopefully my granting organization), I purchased the business class ticket.

Upon check-in today, I discovered that my seat was 1C. Now, I don't know if it's that the plane simply doesn't have a first class section, or if they accidently put me in first class, or what, but all I knows is that I have now been giving all of the perks that any international first class traveller gets.

What kind of perks, you might ask?

1) I didn't have to wait in line to check in. I just stepped into the "Cloud Nine" line and checked in.

2) overweight baggage? No problems, no fees. Everything just checked right through.

3) I could sit in front of the duty free shop with the unwashed masses. But, thanks to my "Tanzanite Lounge Pass", I get to sit in the special first class lounge. I've always sort of wondered what it was like in there, and now I can tell you that it's just this side of paradise. There are free food and drinks to be had, big comfy leather chairs to sink into, bathrooms where you aren't afraid to sit on the toilet, free newspapers and magazine, and it's all topped off by big screen television. I could even indulge in some free cocktails, should I so choose. Not bad, I tell you. Not. bad.

4) Air conditioning. And it's very very hot and humid today. I feel sorry for the poor slobs upstairs who have to travel with their own money as opposed to that of the US Government and very rich private foundations.

Note to self: become faithful to a single airline so that I can qualify for all of the perks of super-duper frequent fliers.

* * * * * * *

(written: 9/2/06)

While I was on the plane, I took advantage of their free literature. They had copies of Time and Newsweek for their first class passengers to peruse. Never one to turn down free reading material, I took one of each. I noted that the cover story of Newsweek was about the growing number of couples around that world that are making the decision to remain childless. I figured it would be a good article, so I flipped directly to page 50 and began reading.

As opposed to presenting a nice, well-presented article about the changing role of women in the family unit (greater education, unwillingness to give up a role in the workplace), the rise in the expense of having children (feeding, clothing, and educating them), the possible benefits to having a society that is operating as less than replacement (less crowding, more jobs, less strain on the environment), the article focused on ways to entice people to have more children. The article discussed possible tax incentives for families with three or more children, tax penalties on those households with no children, and the like. The article took a stand that it is absolutely necessary for us to keep having many children, without presenting any empirical evidence to support that, other than the idea that with fewer children, there will be fewer working adults paying into social security.

Disappointing. Very disappointing.

In other news, Ethiopia is rainy and cold. Very rainy, and very cold. I wish I had socks, closed toes shoes, and a heavier jacket. There is not a lot to do here, and my digestive system has been rebelling against me so I have elected to spend this Saturday inside, playing solitaire, reading my book and watching television. Permits proved to be ridicuilously easy and no one gave me any trouble, so I start work on Monday. Hopefully I'll be finished by Friday and back in Nairobi on Saturday.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Some of you might recall from my post about a week ago that I left my hoodie in a taxi cab in Nairobi on the way to the airport because I was so distracted by controlling my nausea. Well, the lack of hoodie hasn't been a problem in Tanzania, but as I am heading to Ethiopian highlands, I thought I should remedy the jacket situation before I left.

I looked around some of the little stores near my hotel, but as anyone who has ever been to these places before can tell you, it's not like I can just walk into a GAP. Defeated, I asked the hotel front desk manager where I should go, and she gave me one. dreaded. word.


Kariakoo is a particular area of Dar es Salaam, but she was referring to Kariakoo Market, a place where sensible muzungus (remember your swahili, everyone!) fear to tread. Why should we fear to tread there? Well, it's not a typical tourist stop, so the appearance of one muzungu is cause for much comment - lots of being yelled at, including my favorite, "Hey whitey!" from those who think that being from elsewhere means you know absolutely no swahili words.

But, to Kariakoo I went. The last time I was there, I was in a large group, so it wasn't so bad. THis time, by myself, it was much worse. This was compounded by the fact that it is extremely difficult to get a jacket in a place that's about 5 degrees south of the equator. This was even more compounded by the fact hat I was specifically looking for western-style clothes. They aren't difficult to find in Dar es Salaam, per se, but it's hard to find things that are tasteful.

You know your stuff that you give to goodwill? A lot of it ends up here, and in other African cities where it is sold to people. This means that much of the western style clothing for sale has been given away for a reason. If I wanted a red and blue fuzzy button up jackt, I could have had that. If I wanted a jean jacket with faux fur around the neck and arm, I could have had that. I could have had a shiny brown trenchcoat if I wanted. There was even a shop full of ski jackets. But a simple hoodie? More difficult.

I finally found a place that sold a series of sportswear outfits. I picked out a tasteful Nike hoodie with blue accents. According to the tag, it is size XXXXL. I put it on, and I would estimate it's somewhere between a medium and a large. It's made in the phillipines, so maybe it is a 4x there, but it certainly SHOULDN"T be here. The zipper doesn't work so well, and they made me buy the pants that came with it (which are also marked 4X, but would likely be a tight fit on La Blonde Parisienne), but I had a hoodie once more.

Of course, by that point, I was also hopelessly lost. And, far be it for them t put anything as useful as SIGNS on STREETS! I finally found someone who know where I was going and was able to point me in the right direction ... only after I had someone point me in the wrong direction. I think this is karmic payback for the times I've accidently given people the wrong directions in New York.

But my mission was accomplished, and I can keep warm!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Zanzibar was pretty gorgeous!

M. fasicularis
Why is it that everyplace I go has MONKEYS?

More photos @ flickr, as per the usual.

Today was my last day in Tanzania. As predicted, I needed approximately three hours to complete all of my work in Tanzania, though it took three days to complete it. Annoying, annoying.

Tomorrow I fly to Ethiopia for my (almost) LAST STOP before coming home!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The rest of the Zanzibar trip.

I didn't have a whole lot of opportunities to post while I was in Zanzibar as there was only one computer at our hotel, and some mangy children kept occupying it playing games. Where are the parents? I ask you. Where. Are. The. Parents.

Regardless, after my last little rant against Stone Town, things got better. It's always nicer when there are plenty of muzungus (translated literally as: "people from the sea" in Swahili, though it really just means white people) around as there are more people to distract the sellers from me. I did a little shopping, but I was a bit disappointed. A lot of the stuff in Zanzibar is the same stuff that you can get in Dar es Salaam - only it's more expensive because there are more tourists. And let's be honest - I think I pretty much bought all of the candlesticks/boxes/bowls/little human-esque figures that a person could possibly need the last time I was here.

I did decide to treat myself to a swanky dinner that night. There are two restaurants at the hotel I stayed at (Mtoni Marine Center, for those who might be curious). So, I went ahead and made a reservation at the "expensive" hotel. I put the word expensive in quotation marks because the shilling is doing particularly poorly right now, so nothing is really expensive in Tanzania. I had a lovely four course meal for US$21.05. Zanzibari food is extremely rich because of all of the spices (hence the spice island, right?) so it was hard for me to finish a couple of the courses. The best was definitely the slightly cardamom flavored creme brulee. I love food.

Let's see ... on Monday, I went diving for the very first time (outside of my open water dives, I mean). It is true that one particular boy badgered me mercilessly until I agreed to get my SCUBA certification, but I'm very glad I went ahead and did it after all. I did a double dive, which means I did two dives in one day with lunch in between. So, the day started with a lovely boat ride out to the coral reef. There were some snorkelers, some student divers, and five certified divers (myself included, she says while patting herself on the back). The diving instructor was very good, which made me feel pretty comfortable with everything. The only bad thing was one of the ladies kept swimming directly under me and really close to my fins, so I kept accidently kicking her in the face. This made me super paranoid because I thought I was kicking corals, and those matter to me way more than some asshole's teeth.

The coolest thing I saw was an octopus, curled up into his little cave. We could see a couple of tentacles. I saw many nemofish swimming around in anemones. Saw a blue spindly starfish, as well as a MASSIVE red velvety looking one. Saw a beautiful red snapper (prettier in the water, but tastier on my plate). Saw a tiny skate, one of the fish that looks like Gil from Finding Nemo, tons of the black and white striped angels, a couple of long nosed wrasses, a couple of the yellow and blue angels and the yellow and purple stripey angels. Hmm, what else, what else ... plenty of coral. Plate coral, brain coral, some bubble-y looking coral, some of the straight stick like coral. A lot of reddish looking stuff, but there was some bright blue tubey kind as well. (There were some little kids with us that were snorkeling, and they were monopolizing the fish book.) Oh, and there were some sea cucumbers and and and and


So, I liked the diving.

This morning, I just picked up a few last minute things I decided I wanted around Stone Town, including a beautiful antique compass that actually still works. I love that everything is so cheap in Africa! I also decided, at the last minute, the the idea of another three hours on the ferry pressed up against about ten million people was not my idea of a good time; nor did the idea of having to go down to the harbor and try to wrestle with the ferry people to give me a ticket on the fast ferry. Add to that that the kind people at the hotel could make plane reservations for me, and taking a plane is only twenty minutes for twenty more dollars ... I decided to take the plane.

If I thought the plane that went from Nairobi to Dar was small, my entire plane size scale has just been re-aligned. This plane (from Coastal Charters) held a mere 12 people. It also had a propeller - one propeller, right on the front of the plane. The pilot just turned around from the cockpit and told us where our life preservers were, and one of the passengers rode in the copilot seat because they accidently oversold the flight by one. No one checked my ID, though my luggage was scanned. The pilot asked whether we'd prefer to be let off in the domestic or international terminal at Dar es Salaam, which was rather nice of him I suppose.

And now I am back here. Hopefully I will be able to actually get some work done tomorrow, as I am flying to Ethiopia on Thursday.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


So, I made it to Zanzibar without too many problems. I got a taxi from my hotel to the ferry station, where I was ushered into a small, dark office to buy my ferry ticket. I'm almost positive I was cheated on the price, but what are you going to do? I hate that.

The ferry took 3 hours and on the way to Zanzibar, I saw a whale breaching. The harbour was picturesque, though not as picturesque as the very nice hotel that I am staying at. I spend a lovely evening on the beach, had seafood barbeque right by the ocean, and signed myself up for a diving trip on Monday.

Today I've gone into Stone Town, which wasn't quite how I imagined it. I might cut my day here rather short as I'm very. very. VERY. tired of being yelled at by every many lounging on the street. I can place all the men here into two categories:

1) The patronizer
These men are generally well meaning, but they see a woman travelling alone (Alone? they ask, semi- astonished ... very tired of that as well) and feel it necessary to give "helpful" advice, hail taxis, etc.

2) The womanizer
These men see a foreign woman and feel that they can shout whatever obscenities they want at her. It's the kind of thing that slowly grinds you down and makes it miserable to walk around. This is FAR worse than the last time I was here, perhaps because I am alone and unaccompanied by any kind of male friend/boyfriend/relative.

At the hotel, I do not have to deal with either of these types. And there is a private beach. If I could find someplace with english language books, I'd curl up on a mat out on the beach and call it a weekend.

Friday, August 25, 2006

My love for you has turned to hate.

Yesterday, I had an outpouring of love for Dar es Salaam. It's warmer than Nairobi, the people are a little nicer, everything is a little sleepier and a little less westernized. I went out for beer and nyama choma in an outdoor bar with live music (an ecclectic mix of American and African music) with my local contact in Tanzania and had a lovely time. Sure, I hadn't been able to get my permits that morning because the one man in a 12 story building who can authroize my permits was in a meeting all day, but I let that go. Hakuna Matata! Seize the day! Everything was fine!

This morning I woke up early, breakfasted and got a taxi back to the permit place. It took a mere hour for me to pay for my permits and have them issued. Sure, I had to haggle like crazy for my taxi out there, but the same man who took me back to the city center the previous day was there so I didn't have to haggle at all for my return trip. I still liked Dar es Salaam. There was even a convenient cybercafe to check my email in while I was waiting for my permits to be typed and signed.

My good feelings have evaporated courtesy one (1) trip to the immigration office. It was my understanding that all people who want to do research in Tanzania need to have a residency permit. So I went to immigration. Imagine, if you will, a cage full of monkeys screaming, hooting and hollering whilst jumping around throwing feces at one another. If you have imagined that, you have a good idea of what the immigration office was like. I waited for my turn very patiently briefly, but realized quickly that no one was following the signs that said, "Respect the queue." Therefore, I got out my best Times-Square-In-The-Springtime elbows and pushed myself to the front of the window. I proudly showed the man my passport and research permits and asked for a residency permit.

It was sadly not to be.

Instead, he sent me to the UN House. Now, I've known people who have worked in Tanzanina and none of them had to go to the UN House that I knew of. But I figured; hey! This is the first time I've ever had to get my own permits. On the way to the UN house, everyone and their brother tried to sell me something. "Sister - Jambo! Habari?" they all say. Because I am polite, I give them a quick, "Mzuri" and try not to make eye contact. If this weren't enough, two men asked for my phone number and the second time paced me for several blocks. This all helped to erode the good feelings I had for Tanzania. However, the good feelings evaporated completely when I got to the UN House and realized they all had no idea what I was doing there. Despite their evident cluelessness, I waited thirty minutes for someone who might know something. He eventually showed up and was extraordinarily unhelpful.

At this point, I went back to talk to my local contact and he pronounced that I do not need my residence permit for one day of work. I actually think that this is not true, but I am not going to gainsay him. Instead, I will complete my work in the four hours I have left today (after all, most of the Tanzanian stuff I needed to study and research is actually in Nairobi) and will be sitting in Zanzibar tomorrow.


EDIT: .... aaaaaaand the man who has the key that I need in order to commence with my research has left for the weekend. So, I'm going to Zanzibar and I'll come back and try research again on Wednesday. Screw this.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A comedy of errors

My last night in Kenya was spent productively by checking my email and sitting in my hotel room, watching television. Today I slept in, went for breakfast at the Java House (oh yes, there's a Java House, and oh yes, I did buy a t-shirt), checked my email, packed and got a little work done. All of this went all according to plan.

Then I got in a taxi to go to the airport and things slowly began to go a little bit wrong. The first problem was that I took my malaria medication on an empty stomach. This was a Very Bad Idea. I am taking doxycycline this trip to Africa. THe first trip, I took malarone (97% effective, they claim!) and got malaria. So, I figured I might try something different this time. Apparently doxy makes me nauseous when not taken with food. It takes a little while to kick in, so it wasn't until I was standing in the ridiculously long security line to get into the airport that I felt that I could toss my cookies at any moment. I knew instinctively that food would make me feel better, and word on the street was that there in a Java House inside the Nairobi airport.

After clearing security, I made a beeline for this Java House. And, it was while I was walking through the airport that I realized that I forgot my hoodie in the taxi cab. My very favorite Old Navy hoodie is now a permanent resident of Nairobi. It is very, very sad. Even sadder is that I don't have any other long sleeved clothing with me and while Dar will be very warm, Addis Ababa will not.

So, after putting something in my stomach and stopping the huge waves of nausea breaking over me, I began my slow meander through the airport. Airports are truly fascinating places, and airports in Africa are especially interesting. Maybe it's because they are so small that it's easy to see the different groups of people passing through. On the one hand, you have the safari people. These people are easy to pick out as they are dressed head to toe in khaki. The khaki looks suspiciously new, as do their brown hiking boots. THe safari gear still looks new even after the safari, as THEY NEVER STEP OUTSIDE OF THEIR LAND ROVERS. THe second group of people found in most African airports are the backpackers. These people generally look vaguely greasy, as if they haven't bathed in several days. One of the backpackers has been wandering around this particular airport with his shoes in his hand. And while I am sitting on the floor here, I'm not sure I'd want any bare skin to touch it. The third group of people are the missionaries. These people are usually American, and generally from the Midwest or South. They often have a very wholesome look about them. Sometimes the women wear colored long sleeved shirts with a white built in collar. There are also the usual smattering of natives travelling to see other parts of their country. These people are easily distinguished by the fact that they often look generally pissed off at the other three groups. I actually group myself in this fourth cateogry, if only for the pissed off expression on my face.

Regardless, I began my search for a long sleeve garment in the airport. After visiting every store in the airport, I only found two long sleeved garments. The first was a navy blue sweatshirt, with a giraffe and elephant emblazoned on the front and the words "Hakuna Matata" across the top. I briefly considered it, but decided that if my choices were that sweatshirt and freezing, I choose freezing. The other garment was a safari jacket with about fifty pockets in the front and mesh vents in the back.


Yeah, see my previous comment about freezing.

I was a little shocked by the actual plane that I took from Nairobi to Dar. I have been on some pretty tiny aircrafts before in my life, but never ones with propellors instead of jet engines. Yes, that's right, propellers. it was a good little plane if a little noisy and our landing was perfect. We had a quick stop in Zanzibar (the stewardess claimed five minutes and I had visions of flying low and dumping most of the passengers off) and I contemplated getting off there. But no, I was good, and now here I sit in Dar.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I wish I have a clever story to regale you all with, but my life has been fairly boring lately. Actually, it's a lot like being in New York, only with semi-unreliable internet and fewer television stations in English. Actually, I take that back; there are about the same number of television stations in English.

On Saturday, I went out to the giraffe center. After the baby elephants, the full grown giraffes were something of a let down. Though, despite that, I did feed and pet Daisy, a reticulated giraffe. I also went to their excellent gift shop that had - besides just about everything you could want shaped like a giraffe - other souvenirs of a slightly more upscale nature than the typical crap that people sell on the street around here. So, I suppose the trip was worth it just for the gift shop. There were also some really bg toroises moseying around and the ever-present warthogs. Fun stuff.

I am almost finished collecting data here, and I am flying to Tanzania on Wednesday night. Good stuff, I tell you! I'm currently running approximately one week ahead of schedule, so that is very very good. If all goes according to plan, I will be sitting in Zanzibar this Saturday. Whee!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Baby Elephant Walk

Today, I did my first tourist-y thing in Nairobi. I went with a couple of people up to the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage to gawk at all the little baby elephants frolicking in the mud. They only keep the elephants out for an hour at a time, so we made sure to get there early. We got a great spot to watch the little elephant parade. Apparently each trainer gets his own elephant, and they take care of the elephants 24/7 - including sleeping with them. Baby elephants need lots of TLC!

I'll let the photos speak for themselves. There are more @ flickr.

Elephant Feeding 2

Baby Elephant 2

In other news ...

I love some of the signs and companies around here. My favorite company is the Elephence security company. Get it? Elephence? Because there are elephants in Kenya. And a type of security is a fence!


Anyway, one sign at the museum continually puzzled me. It says, "ABSOLUTELY NO HAWKING". Hawking, I thought. Does this mean no spitting? No flying large birds of prey?

Finally, I noticed at my hotel the sign, "NO HAWKING OF WARES" and a lightbulb went off.

Still, nothing beats all of the english translations in China, many of which were just slightly incorrect. My favorite is still from the Sacred Way. The sign there says, "Absolutely no scrabbling on the statues." So put away those tiles, people! (It's supposed to be "scribbling", as in no graffitti).

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Happiness is Western Union

Today, my money problems were finally solved.

Please remember several days ago, when I arrived in Africa to find that my bank card account had, for some reason unknown to me, been blocked. Once online bank services came back, I emailed my bank to find out what was going on. Apparently, they switched from Visa Debit Cards to Mastercard Debit Cards, and my former card had been deactivated. Of course, it would have helped if they SENT ME THE NEW CARD BEFORE DEACTIVATING THE OLD ONE.

So, what's a girl to do?

- How long would it take to get the new card? Approximately 10 business days.
- Could they send the card to Africa? No.
- Could they reactivate my old card? Absolutely no.
- How can I get money? Go to the bank in person.

Basically, in 10 working days (more days that I had money for here, by the way) the card would arrive in the United States, at my apartment. At that point, my roommate or some other kind person could activate it for me if I gave them the appropriate information. Then they could fedex said card to me in Nairobi and I MIGHT be able to use it. At that point, I would be one of the starving children in Africa that parents use to threaten children who won't eat brussel sprouts.

Enter my mother, who kindly wired me some money to Western Union. Western Union is a very happy place. The entire shop is yellow, both inside and outside. There are innocuous smiley faces pasted all over the windows that seem to look out at you and say, "Everything is going to be okay." I gave the teller my information, and I was told to wait while they assembled my cash.

Since it costs money every time one wires money, my parents wired me the maximum amount. After all, I need cash for permits and hotels and food and (possible) plane tickets for the next four or so weeks. There was much bustling around at the Western Union, as I sat and chatted with the armed security guard. Eventually I was invited into a little tiny cubicle with mirrored windows for the counting of my money.

I'm not going to tell you how much money in US currency was wired to me in Kenya. I will say that had the same amount been wired to me in British pounds, I would likely have gotten a tiny stack of three of four bills. In Kenya, the largest bill is 1,000 KSH. 1,000 KSH is approximately equal to $13.00. When I left the Western Union, I felt like I should have had one of those grey metal cases attached to my wrist with a handcuff.

But I have money! (for now)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I Have Seen Death

I have seen death. He stands in Nairobi, Kenya at the intersection of Harry Thuku Road and University Way.

It is important to understand that Nairobi is a city with few - if any - traffic lights, nevermind crosswalks. Nairobi is also a city with a lot of cars. They are often driven with a speed and an aggressiveness that rivals any New York cab driver. These cars hurtle around corners, spewing noxious exhaust from their tailpipes with little regard for the heavy pedestrian traffic that is also present in the city. Without the nuisance of traffic lights, their speed can be unchecked save for the presence of other cars.

I have only seen two crosswalks so far during my time here. In both cases, the crosswalks were marked very clearly on the street, and there are little boxes with red and green flashing men - red meaning stop, and green meaning walk. However, there are no traffic lights to enforce these little boxes, and no buttons to signal that there is someone waiting to walk. As far as I can tell, they change from red to green and back to red again completely at random, and the cars pay them absolutely no heed. I am convinced that they have been installed as a security blanket for westerners. Even if they prove to be no use at all, it makes us feel better to cross the street with the knowledge the little green man says that it is alright that we do so.

So, basically, anytime I walk anywhere, I have no choice but to throw myself into this rather perilous situation.

Everyday on my way to work, I must cross the intersection of Harry Thuku Road and University Way twice - once going there, and once coming back. In both cases, it is necessary for me to do so during rush hour. Basically, there is a large traffic circle in university way, and Harry Thuku road runs through it. Crossing the street requires four mad dashes across oncoming traffic. It is in this situation that my knowledge of game theory has become useful. I never cross the street by myself. I will wait on the corner until at least one other person is standing beside me, waiting to cross the street. When that person walks, I walk as well. I make sure to put that person on the side closest to the oncoming traffic with the idea that if a car hits one person, they may stop therefore sparing the walkers in the middle or opposite edge of the group.

On a completely different note, it's nice being around when there are other researchers around. One of the other graduate students is renting a studio apartment as he's going to be here for quite some time. He invited me over yesterday for dinner, and we may be going out on Thursday night when another of his friends are getting in. I can only hope that there will be other researches in the other places that I am going during this trip.

Finally, it looks like I might be going to those other places sooner that I expected. Research is going well and it looks like I'm going to be finished very early. It makes me feel like there is something wrong with me. I am too quick. I am too efficient. Why does it take everyone else weeks and weeks to finish similar projects? Perhaps I am a superhuman - the equivalent of the scientist superhero.

Okay, maybe not.

PS: I would have updated yesterday, but the internet was clearly broken. I tried three different internet cafes, and it was broken everywhere. Such is life here in Africa. At least we haven't lost electricity for more than a few hours yet.

Monday, August 14, 2006

In which the intrepid traveller attempts to wrest permits from the belly of the beast.

... the beast being the Kenyan Beaurocracy.

The scene: Silk Stockings walks into the hotel reception area [to call it a lobby would be giving it too much credit]. She holds in her hand a sheet of blue A4 paper with the instructions for picking up her permit. Included in said instructions is a request for cash payment, but is cash inclusive of traveler's checks?

SS: Can I make a local phone call?
Desk Clerk: Yes. It's 10 shillings per minute.
SS: Fine. Here is the number.
Desk Clerk: dials number. I'm sorry, that number has been disconnected.
SS:'s the number for the ministry of Science, Technology and Education!
Desk Clerk:Maybe you wrote it down wrong.
SS: It's on the letterhead!

SS gives up and goes to the ministry to ask the question herself. She discovers that traveler's checks do NOT equal cash. She tries to change said checks at the bank.

SS: I need to change some traveler's checks.
SS hands her the passport and traveler's checks.
SS: What is the exchange rate?
Clerk:69.75 shillings.
Clerk takes out a big calculator that prints receipts and a red logbook with a bunch of handwritten entries. She punches a bunch of buttons and looks confused. She pushes more buttons and looks confused. She leaves the room and comes back with her manager and a new cup of coffee. The manager punches some buttons, and leaves. The clerk pushes some more buttons, and then counts out money for me.
SS: This is 18,500 KSH.
Clerk: Right.
SS: I changed $300.
Clerk: Right.
SS: How much is the commission?
Clerk: 150 KSH.
SS:... Can I get a receipt?
The same process is repeated and clerk finds her error. SS gets her receipt. She leaves 40 minutes after entering the building. There is a huge line of people behind her. She proceeds to the ministry.

Receptionist: They're still working on your permits. Wait out here.
20 minutes pass. The minister emerges from his office.
Minister: Why didn't you come in?

SS finally emerges, victorious, permits in hand. She can begin research.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

When Everything Goes From Bad To Worse

I am in Nairobi.

After being awake for nearly 36 hours (I do not count plane sleep as actual sleep), I managed to sleep most of yesterday day and all last night. I woke up this morning (if 10:40am can really be counted as morning) groggy and disoriented, yet ready to make some productive use of my time. I had breakfast this morning, including fabulous instant coffee. I will never understand why, when Kenya and Tanzania are two of the largest coffee growing regions in the world, everywhere serves instant coffee. I have heard that the same is true in Nicaragua. I have purchased water and batteries, then came across this lovely internet cafe with browsers that have been updated since 1996. So my productive use of time came to an end as the internet became possible.

The few waking hours I have spent thus far in Nairobi have been pretty miserable. I hate traveling by myself when no one comes to meet me in the airport. As I got off the plane, there were tons of little groups chitter chattering with excitment. I saw men and woman reunited with loved one just outside of customs. What do I have waiting for me? A man with a wooden sign and a piece of paper with my name taped onto it, ready to provide me with service from the airport to my lodgings. He was very excited that it was my first time in Nairobi - since I hadn't slept for 36 hours, I tried to tune his excitment out.

Upon arrival at the hotel, I gave them my Visa card to pay for my room. So what happens? My visa card is declined. Now, this is my bank card. I was just at the bank on Thursday and I have over $6000 dollars in my account, ready to use. So I went to a cash machine - same thing. Checked my email, and one of my automatic payments was unable to go through as my account has been blocked. Why has the bank blocked my account when I am in AFRICA?!?!?! Luckily, I took out enough travellers checks to pay for most of my stay in Kenya. However, those were largely supposed to go towards paying for my permits, so in order to keep doing my research I'm going to have to get cash somehow.

I can't check my bank account online as online services are down. I hate you Washington Mutual. I HATE YOU.

Once my credit card was declined, I had to find someplace to cash in my traveler's checks. In Tanzania, this was easy. In Kenya, more difficult. The FOURTH BANK I went to finally had the means and the willingness to change my traveler's checks for me. It was at this point that I was basically ready to curl up into a little ball on the curb and sob, while rocking myself. But, instead I went back to the hotel, paid for one week, and went to sleep in my room. I woke up only briefly to feed myself in the hotel restaurant. Mmmmm, I did forget how much I like chipatis.

And that's basically where I am right now.

Friday, August 11, 2006

You Can Take My Privacy, And My Freedom, But Not My iPod

I've decided that this is a far easier format for updating those who might care about my life than to send out mass emails. So, if you love me, leave me a comment. But if you really love me, then send me email. I could have used my mad HTML skillz to properly customize and format a more sophisticated blogging tool than blogger. But I am lazy. And busy. Oh, who am I kidding - just lazy.

God is clearly laughing at me. I suppose it's only my just desserts for post-poning my trip to Africa two times that I have had to fly on one of the most miserable flight days of the year. I mean, what are the odds that the very day that I chose to fly to Nairobi would be the day that a major terrorist plot was uncovered? I don't know how many large terrorist plots are uncovered on a daily basis that we never hear about, but nevertheless I feel that the odds are low.

Because of the increased security, they made me check my data collecting equipment. They weren't allowing any bags with wheels past the security checkpoint. Now, I was warned about the liquid and prepared accordingly, but this came as something of a surprise. This means that my $5,000 piece of equipment that I need in order to collect the data that I have spent $1600 and (thus far) 6 hours of my life may not make it through okay. The thought of this makes me want to burst into uncontrollable sobs, so I have decided not to think too closely about the possibility. I also think that it's unfair that they confiscated my equipment, but provided me with a metal knife and fork with my meal. But, whatever. CNN claims that the terrorists were going to use an mp3 player to detinate said bombs. You know, they can take away my shampoo, they can make me check my expensive equipment, but the day they try to take my tunz from me is the day they find out what angry really is.

Also because of the terror alert, my 11:50pm flight was delayed. We did not actually lift off until 1:42am. Luckily Thee Boy was around to distract me with text messages, and Wild-Eyed Rose lent me a very funny book, so I managed. We got into beautiful Schipol airport an hour late, leaving me a mere 6.5 hours to make it to the gate for my next flight. It wasn't even listed on the departure listings when I arrived in the airport.

I meandered around in a sleep deprived fog for a little while. I found the meditation area with some large, reclining chairs, so I tried to nap. Eventually, I gave up on this and went to find information. At the very least, it was my hope that I could find a shop that sold something other than tulip seeds and ugly porcelain figures of little blonde girls and boys kissing. I pulled out an information card from the "self-service information center" (seriously, if I could help myself, why would I need information?) and immediately one icon cut through the haze.


In Lounge three.

I vaguely remembered a "lounge 3" sign back near the rack of wooden shoes, so I hurried eagerly back to the lounge....

.... only to have to pay the semi-exhorbitant fee for internet useage.

Bastards. I think it's unfair that airports take advantage of the fact that they have a captive audience to charge three Euros for a tiny cup of coffee and 6 euros for thirty minutes of wireless, or 10 euros for 24 hours of wireless. I almost shut the computer off in a huff, but then I remembered that I have six hours to kill so I charged the ten euros to my grant.

Luckily the Wi-Fi is in a non-smoking area. Of course, it's sandwiched between a bar and a restaurant, both of which allow smoking anywhere so I'm not really sure what the point of all of that is. I also seated myself conveniently near a plug, only to remember that all of my adapters are in the case with my data collection equipment. So I moved upstairs to Sandwich Island - the very same place VF and I whiled away several hours the last time I was blessed enough to land in Schipol - bought another expensive cup of coffee*, and set about wasting time.

Yeah, still not really excited for this trip.**

EDIT: And now my flight to Nairobi is delayed. This is so not fair.

* and by coffee, clearly I mean espresso, because NO WHERE IN EUROPE CAN YOU GET PROPER FILTER COFFEE. Except at Starbucks and other American chains. Ahem.

** Please forgive all grammatical errors. I have been awake for nearly 24 hours at this point. Cut me a little slack.