Monthly Archives: July 2011

NBD II

No big deal, just hung out in the Masai Mara for a few days scoping dangerous animals.  I’m too lazy to post many photos but you know what the animals look like.  Some highlights from the trip include:

-Thousands of zebra
-Herds of wildebeest
-Fat fat hippos

-Once, twice, five times we saw lions (once with a zebra carcass, once with a dead wildebeest and a fun lion who liked to play with a dirt clod)
-Ostriches
-Rhinos …we think (we failed to bring binoculars and our camera had very limited zoom so we were told they were rhinos)
-Lazy lazy cheetahs
-Giant pack of hyenas eating an unidentified dead creature
-A giraffe running next to our vehicle (so incredible…likely my favourite moment)
-ELEPHANTS!
-Conversations with Masai warriors.  Their definition of a “man” is a bit different than the western definition.  Some of our guy friends had never killed a lion nor owned any cows so, in Masai eyes, they were the equivalent of preteens.  No ladies for them.

Me with one buttcheek in Kenya and one in Tanzania!
There was a Masai warrior hanging out at our camp (a few Italians had hired him as a guide) and he hung out with us after dinner to chat.  It took him 6 years in the bush but he killed a lion and now he is back to raise his herd of 50 cows and marry.  His first wedding is in 5 months.  He anticipates the second one in 7 months.  If he has his way he will have 5 wives someday.  His sandals have a spike sticking vertically from the toe which he informed us acts as a sundial.  Ingenious.  He also asked how long it would take to walk to Canada.  We tried to explain that he would need a boat….he insisted on knowing so I just said “one year”.  He seemed satisfied with his answer.  He walks to Nairobi in 1.5 days.
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Strangeville, Uganda

Sometimes Hi-C wonders if I even like traveling or if I just enjoy collecting stamps in my passport.  The truth is that I enjoy both.  It is my favourite kind of stamp collecting and will not require me to rent out storage space or close off entire rooms of my (future) house to accomodate my addiction; although it will require vacation time and funding but I am working on that.  The most recent addition to my collection has been the lovely entry and exit stamps for Uganda (plus another entry stamp into Kenya – I’m not picky!). 

We returned to Nairobi last night after shelling out for the Royal Treatment on Akamba buses and getting something more equivalent to what fleeing exiled monarchs must receive.  TIA*.  The last few days in Uganda were spent in Kampala, the capital city.  It is a bustling town with more charm and less danger than Nairobi (sorry Nairobbery – you have a special place in my heart but you kinda suck).  In the two days we had in Kampala we lived it up.  First stop on our whirlwind tour was……the cinema!  To our amazement and excitement they were playing the FINAL HARRY POTTER!  We could have waited a week but then we would not have watched it in a swanky theatre all to ourselves in Kampala, Uganda. 
Already on a roll we decided to see another show but this time it was a local production at La Bonita, a small theatre near our hotel.  What an experience that was.  There is no way to truly describe it but it was akin to a Ugandan soap opera + musical + variety show.  It followed three crazy and minimally converging storylines** with a series of set changes and interspersed videos of (what I would assume to be) local celebrities adding their opinions and giving clues about what was to come next.  There were up to 30 actors on stage at any given time, they switched constantly between English and Luganda (we were a bit lost) and it was all prerecorded so the actors lip-synced all their lines and the songs.  After 3.5 hours of this sans intermission and no end in sight we left very befuddled.  Definitely worth your $6 if you find yourself in Kampala.  The group is called the Ebonies and the episode (yes, the shows are episodes with continuing stories) was called “Enslaved by Love”.
Our second day was comparably tame.  We walked through the most massive and crowded local market I have ever witnessed to end up at the Gadaffi mosque at the centre of the city.  Women are allowed to tour the mosque (with skirts and covered heads of course!) so we rented some scarves and toured the third largest mosque in Africa.  The crown jewel of the tour (and the part that has a cost) is the 40metre minaret you can climb to get a view of the entire city. 
On the way home we stopped for soft serve to beat the heat and happened upon the grand opening of a lovely little bakery.  You cannot understand the significance of handmade multi-grain loaves until you have been in Africa long enough to realize that their equivalent of wonderbread (Don’t say bread – say SUPA LOAF!) is all that is available and painfully dry.  I digress.  I approached the manager and asked how one could get an invitation to the swanky looking opening and we were invited to join them***.  We spent the rest of the afternoon chatting with the ambassador to the US, bakery owners and arrogant, embittered coffee businessmen while sipping free wine and champagne, eating free cheeses and fancy hors d’oeurves and left with a handwoven basket full of fresh baked goods.  Oh, the life.
Now we are back in Nairobi to say goodbye to friends and spend three days tracking animals in Maasai Mara.  elephants – here I come!
*This is Africa.  Self-explanatory?
**Storyline example:  man in his 40s tries to seduce a 16 year old high school student by dressing like one himself.  They turn the adorable song “16 going on 17” from the Sound of Music into something wrong in so many ways.  Then he gets her back to his house where she promptly reveals that she isn’t a school girl, puts on her hooker uniform and cons him out of a giant wad of cash when his wife discovers them.
***I am just going to say it:  we were invited in because we were white.  Africa works like that.  Not to say there weren’t any Africans at the opening but there were significantly more white people and all kinds of embassy officials (it was a Dutch-Ugandan partnership).  Sadly, white skin gets you a special status here (and higher prices for everything) – it is the first time in my life that the colour of my skin really seems to matter and it bothers me.

NBD

No big deal.  Just rafted the Nile.  Those are grade 5 rapids (if that means anything).  I’m one of the people already underwater.  This was our first rapid and we just flipped immediately.  Everyone else popped up right away but for some reason the water held on to me for what felt like an eternity (was probably closer to 10 seconds).  So I was a total chicken for the rest the subsequent 8 rapids – woops.  But it was an amazing experience.  The water was intense and when it was calm we were allowed to swim behind the raft in the NILE.  Right.  The river you read about when talking about Egypt or Africa in general.  A few more photos for your awe.

 Our raft hit a wave and got stuck so we just surfed there for 15-20 seconds.  It was awesome [o]possum.  There was so much anticipation because we were just waiting for it to flip us over into that mess.  But suddenly it just spit us out completely upright.  The legs in the air belong to Jumaa our rafting guide who has been doing this for 12 years.  He was really enjoying himself.
The last rapid.  We had a round of high fives after finishing this one sans flip.  It was then that the guide pointed out that we had lost one guy way back at the start of the rapid.  Woops.  The camera man was clearly on top of his game.

Onwards and Upwards + Mbita Update

Today was technically our last day of placement EVER!  The last real day of our masters program (although I still have about a day of paperwork left….thanks UofT).  We spent our last day on a ferry to Kisumu (shhhhh….don’t tell she-who-shall-not-be-named).  Now we have holed up in a swanky hotel room with ELECTRICITY and RUNNING WATER and a TELEVISION!  (for only $15 a night with brekky) while wait to leave for Kakamega rainforest tomorrow.  Hi-C pointed out that, even though diarrhea sucks, if you are going to have it then a place called KakaMega would be the place.  Fingers crossed for cooperative bowels all around.

We just finished two weeks living and working in rural Kenya (Nyanza province for those curious few) in a town called Mbita on Lake Victoria.  Due to limited electricity supplies the blogging has been infrequent and without photos given the slow internet connection.  Even with the dust (so dusty!), the bugs, the outdoor toilets and the skirts* I fell in love with the place and the people.  Accept this photo diary of Mbita and area so I can procrastinate from doing my final paperwork.

 A car just like the one we rode for 2 hours with 11 people and a chicken + screaming baby.

 The three of us in the car – Hi-C, me, and SuperJ.  It took about 12 tries to get one where superJ felt she was happy enough.

 The maize (like corn but tougher, ground into flour for ugali – the Kenya staple food) field on the compound in which we learned to harvest.  Our hosts we impressed at how quickly we adapted to African life incomparison to some of their other foreign wageni/visitors.

 The sunset over Lake Victoria just down the hill from where we were staying.

 Here we are “contributing to research” on the control of tsetse flies on Lake Victoria.  Hi-C is pouring water into the bottom of a fancy fly-zapper so the carcasses don’t get away and they can be counted.  Sort of morbid, Hi-C.

 We went to three schools and worked with some wonderful children.  All kids in Kenya wear uniforms to school and it is too cute.

 My language assessment materials.  With these things you can do naming, numbers, colours, big/small, prepositions, picture identification, reading, story-telling, following directions and more to get an idea of receptive and expressive language skills.

 Haiba, the little one at the house where we stayed.  Officially the cutest baby in Africa.  She acted as a daily reminder of what normal (or above normal) development looks like.  Haiba snuggles are the best.

 This is what I meant when I said sometimes we roll like William Shatner with the right demographic.  Every school we went to required an entire photoshoot – sometimes with hand holding.

 Pendo carrying Haiba to the gate of the compound.  Haiba is just over 1 year and needs no help to hang on to her sister for a walk around the yard.

 Charles, our faithful piki piki driver who drove slowly around Mbita to get us safely to all of our destinations.

 The market in town.  Every stall was selling the same things (it is called product differentiation people!) – maize, millet, green grams, and a variety of beans.

 This is a choo (pronounced cho-oh).  If you have never peed in a squatty this is what you have to look forward to in Africa.  They are surprisingly often preferable to toilets.

 We took a public boat to Mfangano Island, home to the Suba peopl on Lake Victoria.  Sometimes the boats were not able (or said they weren’t able) to get right up to the shore.  When this happened a group of men would rush the sides of the boat and offer to carry you to shore for 20 bob (about 25 cents).  Business men were their best customers.  And girls in skirts who didnt’ want to touch water filled with bird poop – we paid for a ride.

 Public boats only leave when packed – with people, a motorcycle and 7 crates of white bread (white bread!  I curse you!)

 The boat ride.

Ancient rock paintings mostly worth the hour hike up a mountain (on Mfangano Island) in the heat.  I’m mostly surprised that I have yet to learn that asking a guide if they know the place well before setting out means nothing in Africa.  Your guide will get lost.  They haven’t been there in 5 or 6 months.  We did find it eventually and eat a passion fruit fresh off the tree so all was forgotten 🙂

 The other two adorable daughters – Pendo (meaning Love) and Joy all dolled up for church.

Church was a non-negotiable.  The girls looked so cute walking there.  I bit off all of my finger nails off.

 We boated past “bird island”.  Named for all the birds (duh).  Many of the trees have been choked out by the mass of avian excrement covering their leaves and preventing photosynthesis.  We could also see monitor lizards sunning themselves on rocks.  If you are unfamiliar with monitor lizards just think of them as little brothers to the komodo dragon – that is if the komodo dragon is a 7ft basketball player and his “little” brother is “only” 6″3.

 A small fishing town called Takawiri off shore of Mbita.

 We shared a pop with a cheeky little boy (we think boy – clothes are not always a good indicator of gender here) on Takawiri.

We ended the day with coconuts fresh from the tree (that we never actually got to eat but that is a long story….)

*Mbita is a very strict christian place.  To be accepted we spent any time outside the compound in long skirts – great for cutting the heat but not great for keeping away thorns or riding motorcycles.

Rollin’ Like a Celebrity

The song “Beverly Hills” by Weezer has been in my head since arriving in this tiny rural town where electricity and beer are hard to come by.  Not because of the distinct contrast between Mbita and the famous American zipcode but because of the line “rollin’ like a celebrity”.  That is how I feel every day here:  like a D-list celebrity.  Like Willian Shatner.  Hear me out.  I’m going to replace the word musungu or “white person” with “William Shatner” for demonstration (bonus – both of us are Canadian). 

I suppose Willy isn’t exactly D-List but he is a bit of a joke in the celeb community.  When we roll into town we get noticed. Everyone seems to know who we are.  People call out to us as we walk by but the tone varies from awe (less common) “William Shatner…oooo!” to Circus freak “pssst – look, it is William SHATner” to taunting contempt “WILLIAM SHATNER!  hahahah…..”

People run up to shake our hands when we are walking down the street and sometimes giggle, run away or stand awestruck in our presence “Amosi/How are you?” met by crickets “Ber?/Good?” followed by running away. 

Many people see that we are William Shatner and equate that with money* so they try to buddy up in hopes that some of that would transfer to them (“Can I have your shoes/camera/soda/insert my item here?”)**.  We quickly lose many friends when they realize we will not be giving our items away. 

And, like William, a few people in the right demographic ADORE us.  They want to be seen with us, want their photos taken with us, suck up to us and ask to spend more time with us.  They pull out all the stops to show off for us.

Oh, the life of a “celebrity”.

*People in Kenya often have an interesting idea of what Canada is like.  For example – that everyone is rich and the government gives us all houses.  I put it in a term they could understand and things seemed less rosy in Canada.  When I get back to Canada I will have no job and a debt equivalent to 2.5million Kenyan Shillings.  Oh…..2.5 million sounds daunting to people that usually make less than 10 000 shillings a month.

**We were on a small island on lake Victoria yesterday waiting for the boat to take us back to Mbita.  We started a conversation with a local pediatrician about his clinic (including a lesson on why NOT to cut children’s tongues to help them talk).  He gave us a tour of the clinic and then inquired if we knew of any Canadian women who were looking for a husband – anyone for him to marry.  He had land to offer.  I instructed him to check the internet.  The offer still stands if you are interested.  50 year old doctor with his own clinic, patch of maize and a good heart seeking Canadian woman.

Kate, Hill and Jane do Mbita

Two more weeks and we will have completed all the course requirements to be speech-language pathologists in Canada. Most other people in the program will be tying up loose ends, getting ready for the last two weeks in a place that has become very familiar. We just arrived in a new town – a third new place for this internship – to work with a new population and board with new people. So much for ending on a note of confidence!

It is worth it, of course, to see this part of Kenya. Our supervisor was going back and forth about whether she would drive her own vehicle here or if we would take public transport and get “the real Kenya experience”. The real experience it most definitely was. Our first of the three legs of this journey was a comfortable shuttle….which we waited for over an hour to leave because no vehicle here leaves with an empty seat. Other than having to beg (from the back of the shuttle including knocking repeatedly on the sides of the van) to relieve myself this first part was fairly uneventful. We arrived in Kisii looking for a matatu to Homa Bay. A matatu we found. They stuffed the three of us into the back and then a fourth man for good measure. It was at this point that the fact that the ceiling was low, there was no way out the side door due to crowding and my usual planned escape route out the side window was barred off that my anxiety got the best of me and we insisted on seats closer to the front. It was during this exchange that Super handed over 1000 shillings for our tickets to the matatu conductor. When we switched seats he clearly saw his chance to rip off the wasungu/white people*. There was a very dramatic and heated debate when he demanded our payment a second time. Even though SuperJ had her first ticket as proof there was nothing we could do as he maintained his innocence passionately but everyone waiting on the matatu was sure of his guilt. We ended up paying again – but boy did SuperJ lay the shame on thick. It soured my favourite part of the journey where people shove things in your face through the window and I check out their wares. Finds of the day: boiled peanuts (good!), sweet baby bananas, fresh Kenyan coffee. Lesson: do not ignore the matatu sellers.

When we alighted from the matatu in Homa Bay something was amiss. Or missing, I should say. SuperJ’s bag did not make it all the way to the town. It was her packsack with clothes, glasses, contact solution, makeup, shampoo…the essentials. The drivers made a big show of trying to locate the bag but we knew it was futile so some curse words were said and we walked off to secure our seats for the last ride. We went from shuttle to matatu (basically a shuttle but more crowded and more dirty) to a medium-sized car with 11 people, a baby and a chicken or two. I wish I were exaggerating. Legs fell asleep. So did butts. Even the driver’s seat was not sacred and he sat on a passenger’s lap. But, 13 hours after we left home that day we arrived in Mbita to stay with a lovely family. Who knows what this town will bring.

Canada: I’m a Fan

Happy 144th Birthday Canada!

In your honour, Hi-C and I sang a screechy-but-heartfelt-rendition of your national anthem over our weaties for the family we stay with.  They were suitably impressed. 

Lacking red clothing I have donned a flag pin and plan to tell everyone I encounter today about your special day.  If they can be acquired, fireworks will be set off tonight after dinner (no need to stay up late – the lighting will be firework-appropriate by 7pm).

Things I miss about you, Oh Canada:

Free Healthcare:  Fine.  Not *free* since we pay hefty taxes but healthcare for all without the grabby middleman that is insurance.  I want to be able to go to the doctor when I need it instead of waiting to be approved beforehand.  People may complain about our healthcare, dear Canada, but the ambulance comes when you call it and a stay in the hospital will not financially cripple the average citizen.  Thank  you!

Long summer days:  How I miss the presence  of the sun on perfect summer days and campfires when it goes down.  Sunset by 7pm year round has its drawbacks.

Condiments:  more specifically ketchup (catsup?).  At home I’m mostly a ketchup-goes-on-french-fries girl but I still find I miss it.  If you ask for ketchup here you get something mysterious called “Peptang”.  A thin, neon orange liquid that is basically sweet and sour sauce without the sour.  Not. the. same.  It wouldn’t kill people to use a little BBQ sauce here and there either.

Tolerance:  holy racism, Batman.  Yes, it is still racism if I get bumped to the front of the line for being white.  It is racism when a Somali teen gets beaten to the point of permanent brain injury just for being Somali.  It is intolerance when the national newspaper doesn’t bother to distinguish between homosexual and pedophile.

1% Milk:  heck, 2% milk!  Not that I can’t get used to eating my wheaties with 3% milk (cream?) but my waistline adjusts by expanding.

Lack of corruption:  I suppose I would be fooling myself if I thought there were no corruption in Canada.  However, *most* money that goes to taxes comes back out in the form of government programs and social services (ie.not into politician pockets).  You can call the police and expect them to help you without receiving a bribe or cut.

Water from the tap

Consistent and reliable power

Sidewalks

This post truly isn’t meant to be a rant or be against any one country.  It is just a celebration of what is great about Canada and the things that I appreciate even more now after being away.  And being away for only 2 months.  If I were to be here a year I would also really miss:  real desserts, donuts, fresh air, sweaters, good cheese, thai food, vietnamese food….Download: http://www.ieType.com/f.php?FzLMOu

Download: http://www.ieType.com/f.php?FzLMOu