March 10 - Nairobi, Kenya
Half the staff at Nairobi airport think that Americans don't need entry visas. Half of them do. Guess which half is working the exit I approach? I have to spend nearly an hour waiting in line at the lone visa window. By then, if the hotel has sent anyone to drive me into town, he's long gone. However, the airport staff are quite helpful, guarding my luggage while I'm in line, looking for any sign of the hotel driver, and finally getting me into a trustworthy taxi.
The Safari Club is Nairobi's only all-suite hotel, although unlike other suites I've stayed in, there are only sitting, bed, and bathrooms - no kitchen. I particularly appreciate the long, deep bathtub and the variety of tables and desks where I can work. The spacious and comfortable accommodations are complemented by a gracious and attentive staff who are eager to acquaint me with the club's health center, business center, and restaurants. However, after two long sleepless flights from Washington via London, I'm far too jet-lagged and fatigued to make use of any service today other than a quick trip to my room. Not long after arrival I'm sound asleep.
|March 11||today's pictures|
My body has no idea what time it is, but my stomach tells me it can't be long till breakfast. I make use of the big bathtub and go wait for Paul in the lobby. He arrives only slightly later than expected. He, too, has been held up in the visa line. There seems to be no way of avoiding this trap: the embassy in Washington will tell you that no visa is required, and thus will not issue one. When you get here, you're then penalized for not having one with a long hot wait in line at the airport.
Paul has a sleepless flight from London, but he's alert enough to follow me to the restaurant for a bit of breakfast. The buffet contains a wide variety of enticing food and drink, both local delicacies and more mundane fare to soothe the hungry tourist. Paul's agenda for this morning includes a long nap, so he just has a bit of fruit (both exotic and mundane) and cereal (I wouldn't know); I dig into the heavier fare and have the chef whip up a fine ham-and-cheese omelette. My encounters with the exotic are limited to passion juice, a green melon, and a mango. I'll pass on further servings of mango; the others I thoroughly enjoyed.
I'm a bit too late to take one of the morning tours, and the hotel staff, continuing to show sincere interest in my welfare, advise me not to go out walking by myself (Paul has already offered similar counsel). I go just far enough outside the front door to take a look around and confirm with my gut that this is not a likely place for a solo stroll. To the relief of the doorman and the taxi driver who watched me take those few steps away from the hotel, I reverse direction and go back to my room. There I ascertain that my computer and digital camera will recharge on the local current, and I test them by taking the pictures you can see at the link above.
Later in the day Paul and I rendezvous for dinner and discussion of our strategy for the upcoming week. Tonight's food is lacking; in particular, the shrimp bisque lacks shrimp. The waiter, ever eager to satisfy my every need, offers to take the bowl back to the kitchen so the chef can add some shrimp to it. I decline and eat most of the vague gray concoction of assorted sea-dwellers (none of them crustaceans, and some, I fear, air-breathers), then continue on to a grilled kingfish. Paul fares a bit better by ordering the special trout soup, which indeed reveals bits of plausible trout, and a meat dish. His first, second, third, and some further selections of wine are, alas, not available this evening. The lone red wine in the cellar is nothing to write home about, so I'll just stop there for the day.
|March 12||today's pictures|
After another excellent breakfast, Paul and I head out for a short walking tour of the downtown area. Along the way Paul points out a number of fine hotels where he stays when I'm not with him, and locals frequently walk up and offer an overwhelming variety of dubious information and services, all of which we refuse.
The pictures were taken at the Kenyatta International Conference Center, one showing the courtyard facing City Hall, the other showing me next to the Peace Post. It's at the far left of the courtyard but too small to be seen in the larger picture, and the only object I could find in the entire city marked in Russian. Each of its six sides bears the legend in a different language, "yes, there will be peace on earth!"
Dinner at the Norfolk hotel far surpasses yesterday's evening meal. The Norfolk is an elegant complex in British Colonial style, and Paul and I adopt suitably imperial postures on the veranda to sip our beer and iced tea before dinner. "Poached lamb" turns out to be an excellent choice, along with some fancy appetizers and desserts. We return to the Safari Club well fed and turn in promptly before our first morning of real work.
We make the rounds and meet our various contacts in the city, spending most of the morning at the KLI offices. There's no time for any sightseeing today. After a working lunch, Paul and I break for a bit of individual R&R then continue some KLI projects in the evening.
We get some serious work done today. I draft an entire website for the KLI, including pictures and video clips that I shoot with my new camera. They're not ready to put it on the web until all their applications have been processed by the appropriate bureaucrats, so I'm just keeping it on my ThinkPad for now. Paul reviews the KLI concept paper and - despite all his insistence that he's not going to touch it - proposes some revisions that are well received.
We have been invited to stay at the Treetops Lodge on Mt. Kenya Friday night. I'm looking forward to this as it will be my first excursion out of the city. Between now and then I have plenty of work to do, and I'm not expecting to use the internet at the Lodge (undoubtedly they have access, but I'm not going to spend any part of my day there at a computer screen), so there may not be any more updates to this page for a few days. Paul and I are tentatively planning to fly to Kampala on Sunday.
We have dinner at the famous Carnivore restaurant. Rarely have I eaten so much protein, and never from such a variety of sources, as I am consuming tonight. I sample zebra, waterbuck, and (after making the embarrassing error of asking for "alligator") crocodile, along with some beef and lamb. I don't care much for the crocodile, and the waterbuck has a decidedly gamey taste that's a bit much for me, but I eagerly devour seconds on zebra. Paul sees my full house of meat and raises me a serving of pork.
The resident cats - and there's quite a flock - wander between the tables looking for handouts, and a calico longhair recognizes me as an easy mark. Sure enough, she gets a bit of each of my courses, and she even seems to know that the lowered flag on our table indicates that we've called a halt to our beast feast. She heads off in search of other handouts when the waiter brings our dessert menu, and I see nothing of her until it's time for the bill. Then she reappears just long enough to rub her head against my hand as a thank-you, then disappears again into the under-table-world.
Just work today; nothing interesting to report. It was so dull that during a previous update I inadvertently left this day out of the sequence and reported the following day's events with the wrong date. The sequence is now correct.
Today is our last meeting with the KLI principals. We discuss their concept paper and other matters of mutual interest. As usual, everyone is full of ideas, plans, and proposals, but getting them funded continues to be a challenge.
Since I have a bit of free time on my hands, I head over to the ICEG office where we've been made welcome and check on the state of their computers. The best non-technical description I can provide is "near death." By chance the office has a trial copy of Norton Utilities, and with much manual intervention I am able to install it and run the full suite of diagnostics. The result: 177 problems in 12 categories. This is the worst Norton diagnosis I've ever seen on any computer. Fortunately, the brand-new software is able to fix all of the listed problems. Once they're cleaned up, a number of other problems become evident that I must fix by hand.
For nerds only:|
The worst problem was that someone had added a line to COMMAND.COM on a Windows 95 machine to install a 16-bit TSR. The TSR was designed to correct date recognition problems in the Windows 3.1 operating system by continuously intercepting calls to the date function and plugging in a "20" wherever it was needed. This TSR and the Windows driver used up most of the machine's cycles arguing over whose date was correct, and because the offending program took up residence in memory before Windows loaded, Norton Utilities accepted it as part of the operating system and didn't flag it as a problem. Commenting out the reference to it in COMMAND.COM quadrupled the machine's effective speed.
I spend most of the afternoon at this task, and the office staff is quite pleased with the results; in short, I've brought a nearly useless computer back to productive life. The director is eager to have me come back and check out his other computers, and I tell him I expect I'll have time when I get back from Kampala.
Tomorrow we leave early in the morning for Mt. Kenya and the Treetops Lodge. After several days of seeing little more than the insides of Nairobi office buildings, I'm eager to get out in the open and take some pictures. If the Lodge has reasonable access rates, I may post a few in the evening.
|March 17 - Aberdare National Park||Happy St. Patrick's Day!||today's pictures|
No, the Treetops Lodge doesn't have internet access, so I'm posting this report a few days later. Our distinguished host, Governor Ndegwa, has his driver take us up to the Lodge in his new Range Rover. We'd planned to leave at dawn and take a circuitous route to see a power station and a few other sites of socio-economic developmental interest, but there was a heavy rain last night that turned some of the dirt roads into ponds, so we skip that part of the trip and instead depart the hotel slightly before noon. This is my first chance to get a look at some terrain outside of the city, and as I observe the varied sights along the highway, Paul takes this opportunity to explain to me the World Bank's micro credit facility.
Paul and I have only been given the most meager information about today's excursion: we're going to spend the night at the Treetops Lodge, which is inside Aberdare National Park, and we should expect to see a lot of animals there. Other than that, we're just going with the flow. With any luck, you'll be better prepared if you ever make the same trip. We begin with lunch upon our arrival at the Outspan Hotel, a modern building that serves as the gateway and preparation point for the Lodge. The Governor lives nearby, so he and his driver return home after lunch. Paul and I are left at the Hotel in full um-what-do-we-do-now mode. Eventually a staff member explains that we'll be taken to the Lodge, which is a 4-story wooden building at the edge of a watering hole. Various rooftop, balcony, and discrete ground-level observation points let you watch as animals come for a drink. They come mostly when it's dark, so the idea is stay awake as much as possible during the night to watch them. Ah, this is the adventure I got up at 5:00am for!
We climb aboard the van with about a dozen other tourists and take the bumpy road to the Lodge. Upon arrival, a rifle-toting guide instructs us to go inside at once and not come out again without an escort (there's generally no reason to do so except to return to the van). Our accommodations are simple and compact but quite comfortable, and dinner is served on a long trestle table that features a skateboard-like device running along a track in the middle that facilitates passing rolls and collecting plates. After dinner, we settle down in various locations for the Lodge's only entertainment: observing the watering hole. As the sun sets, the temperature drops quickly, and I'm glad I brought a jacket. The staff turn on the floodlights (apparently light doesn't bother the animals but noise does, so we are advised to watch quietly), Paul drapes himself in the comforter from his bed (which the Lodge's brochure says is a good strategy), and we take up a position on one of the balconies.
A few animals turn up during the short equatorial twilight, but they move about in hard-to-photograph positions, seldom going directly to the watering hole for a drink. At about 10:00pm I'm rather tired, and I return to my bedroom and turn my buzzer on. Yes, there's a buzzer! If an "interesting animal" (by Lodge standards) shows up, the staff will alert the guests by sounding the buzzers in each room: once for a big cat, twice for a rhino, three buzzes for an elephant. I keep my camera by the bed in anticipation of getting a good shot and go to sleep; Paul turns in a little later.
|March 18||today's pictures|
I slept soundly through the night. No buzzes, no animals! Paul mentions awakening during the wee hours and seeing a pair of mongeese romping outside, and ducks and other small birds come by regularly, but otherwise the watering hole remains remarkably quiet. The staff explains that such a lack of activity is quite unusual, and one of the other tourists, who has visited the Lodge several times before, notes that he'd never failed to observe elephants here. We surmise that the recent heavy rain has made other water sources available and thus reduced - nay, nearly eliminated - the demand for the watering hole.
I get some pictures of dawn over Mt. Kenya (which is about 60 miles east of our location), and then join Paul for a hearty breakfast before our private tour of the park. We are met by James, Governor Ndegwa's driver, and Ibrahim, a guide from the Kenya Wildlife Service, and take off in the Land Rover. The road varies from gravel to dirt to nearly undistinguishable as we climb to about 10,000 feet in the Aberdare Range (not far but quite distinct from Mt. Kenya). Paul takes this opportunity to explain to me the difference between developmental leadership and scientific/technical leadership.
We see a few animals, many of which disappear quickly into the trees as we approach, so I don't get many pictures of them. Mostly we see more warthogs, and small brown hens frequently run along the road ahead of the car. James expertly avoids ruffling any of their feathers. We do see an occasional elephant, and upon sighting one very close to, the car Paul asks an intriguing question. I could quote him precisely, but since both he and I appreciated the Biblical quality of the journey of Paul, David, James, and Ibrahim, I think you'll get a better impression of our experience if I exercise a little artistic license:
And Paul looked upon the beast, and he was mightily impressed.
And Paul lusted to exit the chariot and venture forth toward the beast.
And Paul said unto Ibrahim, "And if I should walk among the cane-stalks with the beast, shall he seek to do me harm?"
And Ibrahim said unto Paul, "And he shall gore you in the manner of his kind, and you shall know the full measure of both his tusk and his wrath."
And David was sore afraid, for without Paul the land of WILMO would be destitute.
And Paul said unto Ibrahim, "And if I should tug the tail of the beast, and if I should tug not with vigor and frenzy, but rather in the gentle manner of a dove, shall his spirit not be amused, and shall he not forgive my trespass?"
And Ibrahim said unto James, "Let us leave this place before this mzungu brings destruction upon us."
And James took the reins of the chariot, and he did drive the travellers far from the place of danger.
We park by a stream, and Ibrahim leads us along a rough and narrow footpath to Chania (cha-NEE-a) Falls. After a little more exploration on foot, we drive up to about 12,000 feet and walk down a smooth but steep trail to Karuru Falls, the highest waterfall in Kenya. On the way back, Paul and I feel the effects of the altitude - we have to stop a bit and catch our breaths. Ibrahim, on the other hand, stops for a smoke and shows no more evidence of exertion than he did riding in the car. The scene would have made a great Marlboro advertisement.
James mentions that there is one waterfall which we will not be seeing today. I jokingly point out that there are many waterfalls which we will not see today. After a visit to a "banda," a small fishing lodge, he gets me back by finding an even steeper trail for me to climb on the way to Magoru Falls. Paul notes that the prominent columnar formations of igneous rock indicate volcanic origin, but that some other features of the mountains suggest other processes. He asks James how the Aberdare Range was formed, and James confidently responds, "it is God's creation."
We wind our way out of the park and back to the Outspan Hotel, dropping Ibrahim - with many thanks for his expert guidance - at his post by the gate. Paul and I enjoy a leisurely lunch, and then spend considerable time trying to check out. It seems that the Governor's arrangements have been made rather informally, and nobody knows what the charge should be. After some analysis a rate is agreed upon, and while Paul must pay the standard room rate, as a Genesis domain lord I receive a 15% discount. James drives us back to the Governor's estate where Peter, another of his drivers, transfers us to a sedan for the trip back to Nairobi. The highway is particularly thick with smoke-billowing vehicles, and by the time we get back to the Safari Club I am quite happy to once again be breathing downtown Nairobi air.
|March 19 - Kampala, Uganda|
We take a morning flight from Nairobi and land at Entebbe airport (adjacent to Lake Victoria). There we obtain business visas with no trouble and take a taxi to the Kampala Sheraton. Paul has had no success contacting his associates in Uganda, whom he had hoped would make reservations for us at a discount rate, so our arrival is unexpected by the hotel staff. No air-conditioned rooms are available. A major conference of international aid organizations has booked all the business-class rooms for the week. I repeat:
I vent my fury by smashing the front window of the hotel's Rhino Pub. Well, actually, a sudden storm smashes the window, but I believe my point is nonetheless made. No kidding - just as we're being informed of the available accommodations, a thunderstorm of Biblical proportions appears (the weather had been fair during our taxi ride) and destroys an 8'x4' window only a few yards away from where we're standing. If I'd had my camera handy, you can be sure there'd be another Secret Mystery Button right here.
However, while I am just, I am also merciful. I tell Paul I will "make do" with the available room. "Make do" probably includes making an additional charge on the bill I'll submit to him at the end of this trip - I haven't decided yet. The temperature is - well, reasonable - and beyond that the room is quite clean and comfortable. Once we're checked in, Paul attends to making contact with his local colleagues, and I begin sorting out all the pictures I took on our Treetops excursion. Fine dust from the roads has saturated the diskettes on which the images are stored, and I have to do a lot of cleaning before I'm willing to put them in my ThinkPad. Once the images are copied onto my hard drive, I set the contaminated diskettes aside. I'll probably destroy them rather than ever reuse them.
I sleep in a bit this morning. Since Paul hasn't made contact yet, we have no appointments. The temperature was low enough last night that with the help of a fan I slept well. Paul knocks on my door and advises me of his plan to visit some offices. I tell him I'll shower and join him. He advises me that the shower is "not great."
Yes, I can attest that the shower is not great. It is not great in the way that the Yugo was not great. It is not great in the way that Napoleon's invasion of Russia was not great. I wash as best I can in the dribble of water.
I am near the equator.
I have no air conditioning.
I am covered with lather.
I have no water pressure with which to rinse.
I am in Anglofoam Africa.
We visit some offices and start to make some progress, then have lunch with some longtime Armington family friends, the Wilsons. In the afternoon we meet with some of Paul's colleagues in the hotel lobby and are invited to a reception the same evening. We hop into a UNDP official car and drive a short distance to a Thai restaurant. The reception is hosted by one of Paul's colleagues, and the attendees are representatives from a wide assortment of institutions involved in Ugandan development efforts. Paul gets to catch up with some old IMF and World Bank associates and meet some folks who show an interest in our work. We get a nice collection of business cards and manage to get in the frame when the official photographer snaps pictures of the major dignitaries. Paul thinks some of these new contacts have potential to further our effort.
The food is excellent, so not only do we make some headway in promoting our work, but we get a free meal. We return to the Sheraton and talk strategy a bit more before turning in for the night.
|March 21||today's pictures|
We have another bit of luck today. Mark and Ulli Wilson have been invited to attend a luncheon for a number of dignitaries here for the aid conference, and when they learn that two guests can't make it, they manage to snag the empty places for Paul and me. Fortunately, we've both brought nice clothes along on this trip, so we arrive suitably attired to sit at an enormous round table with the president of Uganda, an archbishop of the Church of Uganda, representatives of the UNDP, IMF, and World Bank, and other key figures in Uganda's development process. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of place I can bring my little digital camera along, so we'll just have to wait and see if we show up in the official photos in the local newspaper. With any luck, they won't.
The luncheon is held at a new restaurant of no particular style, Pearl, whose name is inspired by Winston Churchill's famous comment that "Uganda is the pearl of Africa." Bright, formal, well-stocked and well-tended, the restaurant has little in the way of African character, which I suppose means that it's intended to appeal to all the foreigners who are looking for a little continental comfort food (the continent in question being Europe, of course). We all settle into our seats after the ceremonial entrance of the major dignitaries, with the president arriving last. Of all people, Paul gets seated next to the president - apparently the space has been vacated by a rather high office-holder, although it would be impolite to ask by whom. I'm placed on the far side of the table with some representatives of the international aid institutions.
The luncheon proceeds in the orderly manner of such occasions, with a couple of appetizers brought out for all. In between them, one attendee or another has a chance to make a statement to the entire group. For the main course, there's a choice of three items: a vegetarian plate, a fish fillet, or my favorite African meal, a pastrami sandwich. This last item turns out to be the most popular; not only do I choose the sandwich (as those of you who know me well may have predicted), but the archbishop, the president, Paul, and at least half the others did as well. It's a good sandwich, served with french fries and a pretty good pickle spear.
After the main course is consumed but before the plates are cleared, the archbishop launches into a discourse on the moral imperative behind development efforts. The waiters seem reluctant to begin clearing the table while he's speaking, so for a long time the room is nearly motionless while we all listen to the sermon. Eventually he reaches his conclusion to the general nodding and murmuring agreement of the attendees. There's a long pause at this point, with the waiters champing at the bit to get back to work but hesitating in anticipation that another speech is about to begin.
During this lull, Paul notices that the president has not eaten his pickle spear. Since nobody else is speaking, everyone can clearly hear Paul ask, despite his lowered voice, "Uh, Mr. President, are you going to eat that pickle?"
Ulli Wilson is horrified and immediately corrects Paul, "it's Your Excellency, will you be eating that pickle?!" Paul is properly apologetic and begins to rephrase the question, but the president waves him off and begins speaking on recent successes in the Ugandan coffee industry. It's all taken as a pretty good joke by the group. There are still some smirks on the faces around the table as the president continues, but it quickly seems that the pickle incident has been forgotten.
Or at least it would have been, if it had not been for the archbishop. The president stands and walks about a bit, pointing in general compass directions and gesturing emphatically as he expounds on his country's economic progress. As he moves away from the table, the waiters move in and begin silently whisking the plates away. Seeing the president's pickle about to disappear, the archbishop reaches for it just as the waiter is about to take the plate away. Paul notices and immediately blurts, "hey, I asked for it first!"
Needless to say, one does not interrupt the president with such a remark. The room is silent and frozen in time, with Paul and the archbishop squared off on opposite sides of the pickle like two big cats disputing ownership of one antelope carcass. I don't know the official protocol for settling such a difference, but the president apparently does. With a laugh and a wave of his hands, he steps between the two feuding cucumbervores and tells the waiters to bring "pickles for everyone." In a minute the table is laden with small china bowls of pickle spears. Paul and the archbishop are both happy, with Paul muttering an apology for omitting "Your Eminence" but not for asserting his rights to the pickle. And the president's pickle itself? It returns to the kitchen untouched.
Despite our behavior at lunch, Mark Wilson invites us to the dress rehearsal of a play he's producing and directing at the National Theatre, How the Other Half Loves. It's a short walk from our hotel, and I get a couple of film clips for this website before we return and call it a night.
This morning we have breakfast at the Sheraton with the Wilsons. Ulli has to run off to a meeting rather quickly, but Mark has a little time to sit and talk with us. This afternoon we make a presentation to some of Paul's Ugandan colleagues, then in the evening we fly back to Nairobi. It will be good to get away from Kampala, which is now filled with folks from the world over talking about the "pickle incident."
Unexpectedly, everyone involved with WILMA in Kampala agrees at the last minute to attend our presentation. The meeting room barely holds all eight of us - Paul had figured we'd be lucky to get one or two. It takes several phone calls and trips by the technician to finally get the proper equipment in the room and connected to my ThinkPad. The water we had asked for when we reserved the room (non-air-conditioned) has not arrived, so when the technician finally gets the equipment set up, I ask him to check on the water on his way downstairs.
The meeting begins with a review of recent activity and some varied discussion. Then I begin presenting the results of our work in Nairobi. The room phone rings while I'm in full stride - it's the food service, asking what I want with my water. Just water, please, and soon - the meeting is already in progress.
"Sir, we'll send the water along with your food order."
"No, I don't want food, just water."
"The water is complementary with any food order, sir."
"I'm conducting a meeting; just deliver the water right away, please."
"We'll send it with your food sir. What would you like to order?"
"Just water will be fine."
"Um, I'm not sure what you mean, sir."
I have to hang up. The water never arrives. The attendees seem impressed with our progress, but they have a number of different opinions on how they should progress and how WILMA should work with them. More work on their part is required before Paul and I can do anything more constructive here.
I've gotten quite a taste for Ugandan tea. It tends to be as dark as coffee, but the taste is a refreshing pekoe style with low acid. The airport sells better packages of tea than I've found in downtown Kampala and at a reasonable price, so I pick up a pound before getting on the plane. The flight on Kenya Air back to Nairobi is rough; we encounter extreme turbulence over the mountains. Our snack is a roll, some vegetables, juice, and coffee or tea. No, wait - there's something on the roll. This roll is a round, medium-brown, plausibly whole-grain tidbit, and it's been sliced to allow something to be spread inside. But what?
Paul happily chows down happily on his - dare I say it? - Secret Mystery Food. I pry open the roll and look inside.
And David peered into the depths of the Unholy Roll.
And he saw what lurked within.
And he counselled Paul, saying, "Eat not of this, for we know not what it is."
But Paul ate of the Unholy Roll.
And David wept.
Perhaps it was fish. Or chicken. Or beef. Or warthog. All I know is that is was the same color as the roll, somewhat moist, and gnarly (in the Biblical sense of the word). Paul noted the high concentration of what he deemed to be "gristle," bits of which he abandoned after making a valiant effort to chew them. I returned mine to the plastic sarcophagus in which it arrived, and - having no stake to drive through it to ensure that it would not rise again - returned it intact.
|March 23 - Nairobi, Kenya|
Paul and I head over to ICEG and have a few words with the director. Then Paul takes his leave and goes to the airport. I take a look at some of the other computers in the office and once again find them to be poorly configured and maintained. One computer stops working as soon as I sit down at it; when I get it going again, it raises my personal record for Norton Utilities diagnoses: 293 problems in 6 categories. I also have to do some manual fixes, and after a while I have it running properly.
I look through the morning paper for any mention of our luncheon in Kampala but find none. News doesn't travel as fast here as it does in the USA, so I'll need to keep looking for several more days. However, I'm of the opinion that the incident is regarded by all involved as trivial and will soon be forgotten.
|March 24||today's pictures|
I have lunch with the executive director of KLI and discuss the progress we've made. Now that Paul is gone, my work is mostly confined to repeating the presentation for interested people who didn't see it the first time and ministering to the afflicted computers of Nairobi. After lunch, I head over to the Governor's office and perform some more miracles on the computers there. They have no virus protection, and the symptoms reported by the office staff make me suspect that one or more viruses are at work. I recommend that they acquire appropriate protection forthwith.
Today's paper contains a brief mention of the "pickle incident" buried deep in the International section. I get some pictures for the webpage, but my little camera isn't really made for fine reproduction: it won't focus any closer than about 1 meter from the page, so the text isn't very clear.
|March 25||today's pictures|
Today is a good day to sleep in and then visit the National Museum. I'm feeling confident about walking around downtown Nairobi now, but only along a few selected routes. I can get to the museum along the well-travelled and well-policed Uhuru Highway. It's only a short walk from my hotel, and I suspect that it's one part of the country that hasn't been gripped by pickle hysteria.
The National Museum is an extensive complex of buildings devoted to the history, flora, fauna, and culture of Kenya and nearby regions. I visit the "snake park," which has signs warning that many residents are deadly and that visitors accept the associated risk when they enter. The snakes are behind glass, so I figure the risk is acceptable. Turtles of various size and other non-threatening reptiles are allowed to wander about in open pens. Of the indoor exhibits, paintings of native costume before European influence are particularly interesting (special note to my brother: no, it's not because the women are nearly naked; on the contrary, the native dress in this region covers them quite modestly). The elaborate outfits for weddings and other special occasions are quite striking, a myriad of colors and designs revealing extraordinary craftsmanship, but because many were made from now-endangered animal species, it's unlikely you'll ever see one other than in a museum. Other intriguing exhibits include a display of hunting rifles used ca. 1900-12. Their enormous bores (the biggest a 19-lb. 4-gauge rifle) and tremendous powder loads meant that only the most sturdy and sure-handed could use them to hunt rhino, hippo, and elephant.
One of my local colleagues has promised to find "something fun" for me to do this evening. The business center at the Safari Club is closed on Sundays, so I won't be able to post a report about it until Monday.
The fun turns out to be a meal at a local restaurant. This particular establishment does not cater to tourists; instead, it's one of Nairobi's many eateries that feed the citizens on a regular basis. There's no menu. There's not even a matchbook or other souvenir I can pick up to remember the restaurant's name, if it indeed has one. Diners walk up to the meat counter and point to the hunk they want to purchase, and the cook tosses on the grill. My colleague and I decide on a meaty "arm" of lamb (nobody told me the lambs were armed here!), he pays a price that's somewhat less than the cost of one cheese sandwich at my hotel, and we take a table.
In the warm, dry environs of Nairobi I tend to dehydrate quickly, so I order my usual: a tall bottle of mineral water. It's my first mzungu mistake: no water here! I settle for orange soda, and my colleague is mystified by my smirk; those of you who have seen Joe vs. the Volcano will understand.
We talk about work and some lighter topics until the meat arrives. A waiter brings the arm and deftly shears the meat off the bone with a machete, then chops it into cubes. He piles the meat (and the bones) before us on a plank with two piles of salt and a small steel bowl of hot sauce, then sets a covered steel bowl on the side of the plank and walks off without a word. A waitress stops by to bring some napkins, and then we're left by ourselves with the piles of meat and salt, the steel bowls, and napkins. My colleague suggest that I may want cutlery, but I insist that I'll eat my dinner local style.
The locals typically pick up the chunks of meat with their fingers, dip them in the sauce and/or salt, and eat them. We dig in in the prescribed manner, and the meat proves quite tasty. Then we remove the cover from the second steel bowl to reveal - can you guess? - Secret Mystery Food, Nairobi style. It looks like Play Dough. It's pale green and has a clay-like consistency interrupted by some shiny bits of yellow. This is our vegetable course, some unidentified local greens pureed and mixed into a base of mashed potatoes (firmer than one usually encounters in the USA) with a little corn added for contrast. It tastes more or less exactly the way you think such a mix would taste, and perhaps you even remember making your own version when you were a kid. It, too, is eaten with the hands, although a single spoon is provided to separate the lump into two portions. I turn aside any suggestion that I use the spoon to eat the vegetable and use my hands as the locals do. My brother would love this place.
|March 26||today's pictures|
This morning I check the list of available excursions and decide on a 4-hour tour of nearby Nairobi National Park. A good selection of wildlife can be viewed there, with the notable exception of elephant, and it's only a half-hour drive on pretty good roads. I'm promised a bus with an elevated viewing area, but when only two people sign up for the tour, we get a Toyota Corolla instead. The tour also promises an English-speaking guide, and ours meets the minimum standard: when we pass an antelope, he professionally points and says, "antelope."
The other tourist is Georgia, a woman here on business from South Africa. She's staying at the Hilton, and she confirms the lackluster impression that I got when I walked into its lobby one day: this is a second-rate Hilton at best, hardly representative of the chain's usual quality and style. Her complaints include the food quality in the restaurants, the difficulty in navigating the public areas (due both to poor layout and insufficient signage), and the numerous lurkers in the lobby who may or may not have legitimate business there.
We spend most of the tour inside the car. Lions and rhinos are nearby, so strolling is far too dangerous inside the park. Only a few areas are fenced or guarded for people who want to walk, and we get out at one of these to check the hippo pools. Alas, the hippos are all hiding from the midday sun, but at least we get to meet a few monkeys along the footpath.
We see a variety of wildlife, and even get a brief glimpse of two lions stalking prey in the tall grass. You can always tell where the lions are - the road nearby is clogged with tourist vehicles. Those with elevated viewing platforms get a clear view of the lions, but in our Toyota we can only see an occasional ear or tail above the grass.
Our guide goes far beyond the call of duty when he points up at a passing plane and says, "British Air." Fortunately, we don't need a lot of guidance, so our tour is quite enjoyable despite his terse commentary. Bush Troop Safaris is the tour company; there's not much I can say to recommend them other than that they got us there and brought us back alive.
It's my last evening in Africa, so I decide to dress for dinner. After donning my jacket and tie, I discover that my hotel's fancy restaurant - which prominently displays a "jacket and tie required after 7:00pm" sign - has been closed for some time. Not one to waste a perfectly good dress-up, I take a taxi over to the Grand Regency for an elegant meal. Interestingly, my dinner of smoked sailfish, two salads, beef in mustard sauce, various vegetables, dessert, and excellent iced tea costs about the same the Safari Club's breakfast and somewhat less than most of its mediocre dinners. I'll have to see what kind of rate my own connections can obtain at the Regency; the superior food at reasonable cost certainly offsets a small difference in room price. I then take a taxi back to my hotel - after dark I still won't walk the three blocks between the Grand Regency and the Safari Club.
Today's plan is to do a last check on the ICEG computers, have lunch with the director, dash over to the Governor's office and make a few adjustments to the computers there, then head back to the hotel, post a trip report, and relax until it's time to leave for the airport. I get up, shower, and then find a message slipped under my door: the software I was expecting to find at ICEG has not yet arrived. So much for plans. I cool my heels at the hotel until I'm about to be charged for another day's stay, then check out and put my luggage in storage. I walk to ICEG and inquire about the lunch plans. They're still being settled, so I hang around for a while.
I get an opportunity to demonstrate the draft KLI website to some key people who could not attend the previous show. They're impressed. The ICEG director is an example of the senior people we're working with in Africa, an accomplished man who has made his mark without the aid of computers and has thus far shown no inclination to "get wired." However, after seeing my demo, he now wants a computer on his desk, and he wants it on the net!
The software I'm planning to use has still not arrived. It is on a free CD from PCPro magazine and includes demo copies of Norton SystemWorks and other useful tools. The CD is being passed around to various offices in Nairobi, and we can't seem to get it sent back in our direction today. The office decides to buy the Norton software immediately so that I can install it and finish diagnosing their computers before my evening flight. They make the order, then take me to lunch, confident that the software will arrive by the time we return.
We go to Haandi, an attractive Indian restaurant a couple of miles from the city center in a small mall called Westlands Arcade. I'm particularly impressed with the iced tea, a beverage whose supply is constantly great but whose quality is random in Kenya. One of my colleagues, however, finds the brew a tad weak, and I assure him that his dissenting opinion will appear on this page. The manager asks about my likes and dislikes - I mention prawns positively and hot spices negatively - then selects a number of dishes for my table. . He makes sure that we get plenty of prawns, but they're served in a sauce that's I find rather hot, although my comrades find it well within the no-fire-zone.
After lunch, we return to the office and find the new software has arrived. It has more functions than the free version I was planning to use and takes quite a long time to install. The trip to the Governor's office is cancelled, but I show someone what I'd planned to do there and am confident that she will be able to do the job just as well as I.
After taking care of as many ICEG computer problems as I can, I dash off to the hotel. I try to upload today's trip report, but the connection in the business center is particularly slow, and I can't get the files transferred before it's time to catch my scheduled ride to the airport. I am expecting to take the hotel's standard van, but a private Land Cruiser awaits with the driver and the hotel manager ready to escort me to the British Air desk. Once they're certain that I'm in the reliable care of BA, they depart, and I await my flight. Once again, the plane is full, and no upgrades are available, but I get another bulkhead seat after a minor misunderstanding caused, as usual, by British misuse of the English language ("sorry, sir, haven't got a bulkhead seat for you, but I can put you behind a partition!").
The passengers are tightly packed but tired and quiet due to the late hour, and we take off with most of them - nearly everyone but me, it seems - ready for a long nap on the way to London. Jammed tight into an economy-class seat, I have no hope of getting any sleep, so I sit quietly and think of how good it will feel to stretch out in my London hotel room eight hours from now.
|March 28 - London, England - SPECIAL BONUS REPORT|
What's this?!?! Has England descended into barbarism while I was in Africa? I'm sitting in the First Class section of the Gatwick Express, and they want to charge me 95p for a cup of tea? Made from a teabag?!?! What has become of traditional British Rail First Class values? I wish to protest in the strongest possible terms! I assure you, sir, this will appear on the Internet!
|Addenda, Errata, Etc.|
Blame it on the Lariam®. My anti-malaria compound tends to shut down my higher brain functions. It's probably what caused me to include a few erroneous details in my reports from this trip. The corrections by date are: