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Thread: African Christmas

  1. #1
    Resident optimist OldRightHander's Avatar
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    African Christmas

    After 17 years of marriage, Iím finally going to spend Christmas with the in-laws. We leave tomorrow afternoon and should arrive in Nairobi Tuesday, and weíre not coming back until after Christmas. Hopefully Iíll have some interesting photos to post when I return.

    The only downer to the whole trip is weíre also laying Rich to rest while weíre there. Itís been almost a year since he died. His mother is taking his ashes and we have a brief service planned to bury him in their home village. Iíve composed some original music to play and Iím going to give his mother a copy of the printed music. Those who are inclined to pray, it would be appreciated.

    We also have three days planned in Mombasa, plenty of beach time and possibly some snorkeling, and Iím hoping to squeeze in a day Safari and get some animal photos.
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  4. #2
    Resident optimist OldRightHander's Avatar
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    Re: African Christmas

    Saw elephants off the highway between Nairobi and Mombasa, but they were too far away for decent photos. More updates to come.
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  6. #3
    Resident optimist OldRightHander's Avatar
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    Re: African Christmas

    Well, today was the first day in Kenya that didnít involve large amounts of travel. We got in the country Tuesday evening and arrived at a friendís house in Nairobi around midnight. He dropped us at a train station yesterday morning for a four and a half hour train ride to Mombasa. The ride was through some countryside that looked very much like the areas of south Texas between San Antonio and Laredo, the only exception being the scattered herds of elephants we saw here and there. I found that quite cool, but the darn elephants were too far away to get any photos.

    We arrived in Mombasa last night, and the taxi ride to the beach hotel took darn near an hour with the traffic jams and the ferry crossing. The hotel is something else, a sprawling mostly open air place with a Middle Eastern vibe called the Kaskazi Beach Hotel. The room has AC, but itís not so good and itís still a bit warm, but the walk to the beach is only about two minutes.

    We got up this morning, grabbed a shower, and headed to the restaurant for breakfast, which is a buffet of mostly East African food. The beef sausages were quite delicious, but pancakes without anything resembling syrup were not really my cup of tea. The monkey that sat about ten feet away watching us eat was amusing. Theyíre everywhere, but they run pretty fast if anyone tries to approach one. As I type this, thereís a gecko that got into our room somehow and heís crawling across the wall. Carrenís napping, else she would be freaking out and wanting it out of the room stat.

    After breakfast, I went to the beach and swam a bit. The water is so clear I could look down and see my feet in about five feet of water, and could see the little fish swimming around. They looked like little mackerel, but Iím not entirely sure. More beach time, a few laps in the pool, and Carren and I went back to the room and took a nap. Then we had to go around town and do some things, and I let her handle the negotiating, and everything is negotiable here. There was a shopping center with some restaurants up the street, and the temperature being a stifling 90, we opted for public transit. Three tuk tuks came by, each charging a different amount. One guy told us 20 shillings and when we got there and handed him a 100 shilling note, he gave us 40 back in change. Carren launched into a rapid fire exchange in Swahili, which resulted in us getting the correct change. He thought he was going to take advantage of an American couple. We had to take these tuk tuk vehicles a few times and each time there was haggling over the price in Swahili before we could get in and go, and a couple times we ended up walking away and getting in another. This is a tuk tuk.Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	14319 Theyíre small diesel powered affairs that have motorcycle type controls and a couple seats in the back, and theríre everywhere, dodging in and out of traffic with reckless abandon.

    When we were done in town, we wanted to go back to the hotel and the darn tuk tuk operators were trying to charge us 150 shillings to take us back, while getting there had run in the 50-60 range. There are a little under 100 shillings to a dollar, in case you want to calculate how much all this is costing us. We threw caution to the wind and decided to take a boda boda, who was willing to take us for 80. Boda bodas are small motorbikes fitted with an extra long seat and they will cram as many people on as they can. Thereís probably something mildly unsafe about it, but Carren and I rode back to the hotel on a boda boda, holding on for dear life. This photo is pretty accurate.Click image for larger version. 

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ID:	14320 Now weíre back in the hotel, chilling out. Carrenís napping, the gecko scurried down and out of the room, underneath the door, and Iím typing this getting ready to put in some work on another novel Iím working on. Weíre going to hang here in Mombasa for the rest of the week, before heading back to Nairobi, and then Kisumu to visit more family, spend Christmas, and have the funeral service for Rich. Stay tuned for any other interesting updates.
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  8. #4
    Moderator cumberlandreds's Avatar
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    Re: African Christmas

    Did that gecko try to sell you some insurance?

    Thanks for sharing. It all sounds like a fantastic trip.
    Reds Fan Since 1971

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  10. #5
    Resident optimist OldRightHander's Avatar
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    Re: African Christmas

    Itís been an eventful couple days. Yesterday, we had breakfast, swam for a bit in the ocean, then paid $20 to take a ride in a glass bottom boat. That was well worth it, since the boat dropped anchor over a coral reef and we were able to get out of the boat for a bit of snorkeling. The water was so darn clear you could see the bottom some fifteen feet down like you were in a swimming pool. There were zebra fish by the dozens, starfish, sea cucumbers, urchins, and some other fish I couldnít rightly identify. Carren isnít much of a swimmer, so she stayed in the boat and took photos of me in the water.

    The photos will have to wait, since the internet where we are in Nairobi at the moment isnít fast enough to allow me to load them. I have some nice photos of the hotel we stayed at in Mombasa, a real nice piece of architecture, but with substandard air conditioning in the rooms. It gets quite hot in Mombasa and sleeping was a sweaty affair most nights. Dinner last night was at a fairly authentic English pub where you had to guard your food from overly ambitious monkeys that were always watching for an opportune moment to steal food from your table.

    The five hour train ride back to Nairobi this morning was quite nice because the animals along the route were cooperative and were close enough to the track to see them, but not quite close enough to get photos out of a moving train window. Through the course of the ride, I spotted a few elephants, some gazelles, zebras, wildebeest, and quite a few baboons. We arrived back in Nairobi this morning where were stayed with a friend and then went to a pub to watch the Liverpool/Manchester United game. Heís a ManU fan and Iím a Liverpool fan, and the pub was mostly full of ManU fans. I ate an extremely delicious plate of grilled goat with French fries and a Coke. All ended well for me, seeing as my team won and I have some bragging rights for a bit.

    If I have better internet in Kisumu, I might post some photos tomorrow. I have quite a few. Nairobi is quite an interesting city, an odd mix of modern and third world. Open air markets everywhere and more pedestrians than you see in most cities, and donít even get me started on the various methods of public transit. There arenít as many tuk tuks as Mombasa, but theyíre still around, as well as the boda bodas. Stay tuned, hopefully, for some interesting photos.
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  12. #6
    Member Sea Ray's Avatar
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    Re: African Christmas

    Quote Originally Posted by OldRightHander View Post
    It’s been an eventful couple days. Yesterday, we had breakfast, swam for a bit in the ocean, then paid $20 to take a ride in a glass bottom boat. That was well worth it, since the boat dropped anchor over a coral reef and we were able to get out of the boat for a bit of snorkeling. The water was so darn clear you could see the bottom some fifteen feet down like you were in a swimming pool. There were zebra fish by the dozens, starfish, sea cucumbers, urchins, and some other fish I couldn’t rightly identify. Carren isn’t much of a swimmer, so she stayed in the boat and took photos of me in the water.

    The photos will have to wait, since the internet where we are in Nairobi at the moment isn’t fast enough to allow me to load them. I have some nice photos of the hotel we stayed at in Mombasa, a real nice piece of architecture, but with substandard air conditioning in the rooms. It gets quite hot in Mombasa and sleeping was a sweaty affair most nights. Dinner last night was at a fairly authentic English pub where you had to guard your food from overly ambitious monkeys that were always watching for an opportune moment to steal food from your table.

    The five hour train ride back to Nairobi this morning was quite nice because the animals along the route were cooperative and were close enough to the track to see them, but not quite close enough to get photos out of a moving train window. Through the course of the ride, I spotted a few elephants, some gazelles, zebras, wildebeest, and quite a few baboons. We arrived back in Nairobi this morning where were stayed with a friend and then went to a pub to watch the Liverpool/Manchester United game. He’s a ManU fan and I’m a Liverpool fan, and the pub was mostly full of ManU fans. I ate an extremely delicious plate of grilled goat with French fries and a Coke. All ended well for me, seeing as my team won and I have some bragging rights for a bit.

    If I have better internet in Kisumu, I might post some photos tomorrow. I have quite a few. Nairobi is quite an interesting city, an odd mix of modern and third world. Open air markets everywhere and more pedestrians than you see in most cities, and don’t even get me started on the various methods of public transit. There aren’t as many tuk tuks as Mombasa, but they’re still around, as well as the boda bodas. Stay tuned, hopefully, for some interesting photos.
    What an experience. Wild monkeys? I like my Christmases white but I think I do need to put Kenya on my bucket list.

  13. #7
    Resident optimist OldRightHander's Avatar
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    Re: African Christmas

    A lot has happened since I last posted. We took a train from Mombasa back to Nairobi and then caught a flight up to Kisumu. We went from Kisumu by car to a small rural village called Ahero, where we spent a couple days with Carren’s sister. Ahero is about thirty minutes from Kisumu, and on last Thursday we went to Kisumu and laid Rich to rest. I played an original composition for the service, which went more than two hours, and the other music was breathtaking. There was no accompaniment, just a couple hundred people singing hymns in the Luo language in parts. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. I wish I could have recorded some audio. Click image for larger version. 

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    Back in Ahero was an eye opener for me. Paul’s house in Nairobi is somewhat modern, but Susan’s house in Ahero is definitely third world. They have running water, but not in the house. All water is fetched from a tap in the back yard. If you use the toilet, you need to fill the tank with a bucket so you can flush it, since there’s no water in to the toilet. Showers involve heating water over a wood fire, taking a bucket with hot water, and going into one of the outbuildings and pouring it over yourself with a pitcher. They have these little iron contraptions that they put charcoal or wood into and they keep fires going all day for cooking and heating water.

    These are the most generous people you will ever meet. We took two suitcases of stuff with us to give out to relatives and we really made their day. New clothes mostly, and a couple laptops for a nephew and niece. After we were done passing out the stuff we brought, one young man came up to me and said, “Uncle, do you think these are your size?” He presented me with a pair of leather sandals that fit me perfectly. These people are dirt poor, and he was wanting to give me a gift. I was extremely humbled.

    From there, it was back to Nairobi, by car this time, which was a crazy 7 hour drive. It’s only about 200 miles, but the highways are two lanes and there are a lot of trucks. The trucks are slow as hell and you’re constantly having to pass them. We got back to Nairobi rather late that night and crashed at Paul’s house. The next day we went to a market in downtown Nairobi where I spent 20k shillings on souvenirs for friends. There are about 100 shillings to a dollar, so that was in the ballpark of $200. Then we went to the national park to try to see some animals. Managed to see a couple lions, an ostrich, and a rather cheeky babboon that grinned at me when I took his photo.
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Today we got a ride back by car from Nairobi to Koru, which took us another six hours or so. Carren’s aunt lives in Koru, and we’re staying with her for Christmas, greeting a ride to the Kisumu airport on the 26th, and flying back home then. Her house is something else. It’s kind of a Mediterranean style house on a good piece of property. She has mango and banana trees in her backyard. The mangoes are ripe and incredibly delicious. On the way, we were lucky enough to see several zebras grazing not far from the highway. I got one good photo out the car window. I have a ton of decen photos, and maybe I’ll post more when I get somewhere with decent internet, probably after I’m back home.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Last but not least was this sign I spotted in Nairobi yesterday.

    Click image for larger version. 

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  15. #8
    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Re: African Christmas

    Thanks for relaying this, ORH. I spent a bit of time in Nairobi and the Mara for work. It's definitely an amazing place.

    The ceremony sounds quite moving. I'm glad you're able to pair it with such a positive experience.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

  16. #9
    Resident optimist OldRightHander's Avatar
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    Re: African Christmas

    Got back last night. This was a heck or an eye opening trip, despite being married to a Kenyan for 17 years. There were so many things that were for lack of a better word, culture shock. Most of them for good reasons, but a few things about life over there just don’t make much sense at all.

    Christmas is not as secular as it is here. There is still Santa and all that, but people go to church on Christmas Day instead of Christmas Eve and there doesn’t seem to be the same emphasis put on gift giving, at least not in my wife’s family. My wife’s family as rather on the poor side by our standards, so that might play a role. The church service on Christmas lasted three hours and the singing was incredible. No instruments, just people singing in Luo and clapping in time, four part harmonies and all. I couldn’t understand a word, but I was moved.

    Public utility infrastructure leaves much to be desired. Water is rationed so that at any time you might turn your tap and nothing happens. People keep large plastic storage drums in their houses, probably around 50 gallons or so, and they keep those filled in case the water goes out and you need to cook or take a shower. One day in Paul’s house, it was out and he took it as a matter of fact and put a couple gallons of water on the stove to heat up so we could shower with a pitcher of hot water. There’s nothing like having to get up in the middle of the night to take a poop and having to fill the toilet tank after you flush so the next person can flush. The people there just take this in stride like it’s normal. Electricity periodically just goes out as well, but usually not for as long.

    Houses, at least all the ones I was in, are laid out rather differently when it comes to the bathroom. There is one room with nothing but a toilet in it, another room next to that one with just a shower. You open a wood door and just step in to the shower. This door opens from a main part of the house, so you have to come out wrapped in a towel and go to a bedroom to dry off and get dressed. Then after you use the toilet, you have to go to some public part of the house where there will be a sink for hand washing. This sink is not in the same room as the toilet or the shower. In my wife’s aunt’s house, it’s in the dining room. People are washing their hands and brushing their teeth in that sink.

    Livestock is everywhere, especially in the rural areas, and not just in some fenced in field. People are grazing cows on the side of the highways and I saw goats grazing in a grassy median in the middle of a four lane divided highway in Nairobi. Even small families in a small house have some livestock, even if it’s just chickens. You come through some kind of small town between cities and you might have to come to a complete stop because some ten year old kid is moving a herd of cows across the street, and the cows are just following him.

    Racism? What racism? Distrust isn’t really based on color, but sometimes on tribe. For the most part, you don’t notice it, but some tribes just don’t like others. White people on the other hand are fine and dandy. You’re an extreme minority, but you don’t feel like it. I never felt like I was treated any differently than anyone else on the basis of my color. Muzungu is somewhat of a slang for white folk, but it’s not derogatory. In one rural area, some children were cutting sugar cane and we were driving by. One of the kids saw me in the car and called out, “Muzungu, how are you?” while waving his arm back and forth and flashing a huge smile.

    Yeah, third world conditions are a shock to the system, especially if you’re used to the cushy life we have here in the U.S., but the people there are so darn friendly and open you can’t help but feel welcome. You see a lot of people greeting each other in public and not as much staring down at phones. That was refreshing.

    In short, if you get a chance to visit, do it. The lack of air conditioning might wear on you at times, but you will love the people and some other aspects of the culture that we could learn from here. I’m looking forward to the next time we go back.
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  18. #10
    Stat Wanker Hodiernus RedsManRick's Avatar
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    Re: African Christmas

    I don't know about you, but I really struggled with how friendly everybody was, especially in the poor, rural areas. It was this weird disconnected sensation of instinctively "wanting" people to be envious or jealous of my material privilege. Meanwhile they expressed nothing of the sort -- just earnest welcoming.

    I had to repeatedly convince myself it wasn't a show and I'm still not convinced. Especially because I was there with an NGO from which they benefited, were they only putting on the cheerful face expected of them? But kids surely weren't thinking that way - just being kids.

    Maybe it's just a form of guilt, but I found it hard to connect to locals precisely because they lacked a cynicism I had so thoroughly, if subconsciously, adopted.
    Games are won on run differential -- scoring more than your opponent. Runs are runs, scored or prevented they all count the same. Worry about scoring more and allowing fewer, not which positions contribute to which side of the equation or how "consistent" you are at your current level of performance.

  19. #11
    Resident optimist OldRightHander's Avatar
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    Re: African Christmas

    Quote Originally Posted by RedsManRick View Post
    I don't know about you, but I really struggled with how friendly everybody was, especially in the poor, rural areas. It was this weird disconnected sensation of instinctively "wanting" people to be envious or jealous of my material privilege. Meanwhile they expressed nothing of the sort -- just earnest welcoming.

    I had to repeatedly convince myself it wasn't a show and I'm still not convinced. Especially because I was there with an NGO from which they benefited, were they only putting on the cheerful face expected of them? But kids surely weren't thinking that way - just being kids.

    Maybe it's just a form of guilt, but I found it hard to connect to locals precisely because they lacked a cynicism I had so thoroughly, if subconsciously, adopted.
    I found it somewhat refreshing, but my experience was probably a big different since we were visiting family. I found everyone just that open and after a while I just took it for granted. I really noticed a difference when we got back here and everyone is looking at their phones.

    Africans are even that way here, but maybe not as extreme. Many of our friends here are also Kenyans and I have found them to be a fairly open and friendly people. Over there it’s more so. Everywhere you go total strangers are smiling and saying, “jambo.” My wife is more cynical than I am and thinks that in the open air markets, folks wanted to address me because I’m white and their perception is that white people have more money. For the most part, it was a good experience and I’m looking forward to going back, possibly next year.
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  21. #12
    Big Red Machine RedsBaron's Avatar
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    Re: African Christmas

    Fascinating account. Thanks so much for posting it.
    Oh a belated happy new year and glad to see you had a great Christmas.
    "Hey...Dad. Wanna Have A Catch?" Kevin Costner in "Field Of Dreams."


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