Location: Gulf Coast, USA
Happy Fourth of July! We have been back in the States for a full year and have had a bit of time to readjust and absorb what is inevitably a life changing "trip" to Africa.
When you see all of the things that continue to go on around the world, from the recent events in Honduras, to the situation in Iran and North Korea and Somalia and Pakistan, etc., along with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (aside from Kenya's ongoing slide to a new ranking as #14 on a respected index of "failed/failing states") you certainly appreciate the blessings of liberty as they are exerienced and shared among Americans in America.
During our time in Kenya it was necessary for me to separate this family "travel journal" from any entanglement in my professional work, but now that another year has gone by I will explain that we re-located to Kenya for a year for me to serve (on leave from my job in the States) as the resident director for the East Africa office of a US-funded NGO doing programs to bolster democracy as part of the US government's overall foreign assistance program. When you look at this journal you will realize that we had a fabulous experience as a family, but sadly the larger purposes of the endeavor as they related to Kenya in an important election year were not so fruitful in a "macro" sense.
Shashank Bengali, the Nairobi-based foreign correspondent for McClatchy newspapers, covered issues that I was involved with in several articles in 2008 and Karen Rothmyer in The Nation of Dec. 10, 2008 and Mike McIntire and Jeffrey Gettleman of the NYTimes on January 31, 2009 published pieces for those of you that are interested.
You can see what little I did dare publish in the few days after the Kenyan election in terms of my perceptions at that time in the journal entries for the first few days of January 2008.
Happy Inauguration Day from Mississippi!
Beautiful cool, clear winter day here. Big moment from Kenyans. The news from Kenya is especially troubling right now (but do not hesitate to travel there if you are able--I certainly want to get back for a visit at the first available opportunity).
The magnitude of the food crisis has reached the point that the Gov't (even) has declared a "national emergency" reflecting perhaps 10M people short of food. Several big corruption situations involving maize, petrol and other vital needs have just now come to light, while a newspaper reports that witnesses who provided confidential evidence to a committee appointed to investigate the post-election violence have been identifiable through the reports produced, are now under death threat and in many cases in hiding, having been provided no protection by the government. Thus, they are unlikely to be available to testify in the event that the prosecution tribunal to be established actually comes to fruition. SO, not much new--just alot MORE of the same type of news.
At the same time, these things are not inevitable and can be changed to some substantial degree.
For those of you who have contributed to help with the Upako Centre or other worthy projects in Kenya, this would be a great time to keep them in your prayers and offer any additional financial support you are able. Things have turned dramatically for most of us financially since the time we went to Kenya in the spring of 2007, but most of us still have much to be grateful for and lots more than what we really need when it comes down to it.
From the President's Inaugural Address this morning:
. . . .
Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations.
Those ideals still light the world and we will not give them up for expediences sake.
So to all peoples and governments watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of all nations and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
. . . .
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the worlds resources without regard to effect. The world has changed, and we must change with it.
Location: Northern California, USA
Will make an effort to share some substantive thoughts about our time in Africa in near future--going back through things for presentation helped me put things in perspective and refresh my memory--along with some good audience questions.
Also, I should be able to share a few stories that we didn't post while we were there because we didn't want to unnecessarily worry anyone . . .
To start with, there was the bomb that went off in downtown the very first morning there. We got in late Sunday evening and the next morning I was getting ready to go to offic. A day of meetings was to start with a visit with a presidential candidate. We turned on the local television news to grissly footage from people hurt by bomb left on sidewalk near the downtown site of the former US embassy that had been bombed by Al Queda in 1998. Needless to say--not the best way to start. Did not turn out to be any further incidents of this sort or any obvious terrorism motive that was reported. Becky back at the office at home saw AP story right away, but we didn't mention it otherwise in hopes people missed the news as it might sound unduly alarming before we really knew anything about it.
Glad we got that "out of the way" in a sense--something like that closer to election would have been more unsettling.
I guess the other "drama" that we didn't share with anyone back home at the time (that doesn't have some political implications that I will stay away from here) was the break in to our compound in the wee hours of the morning on a weekday in late November. We woke up to sounds of commotion outside--I was uncertain where it was coming from but Lisa recognized it as definitely being in our yard. Sounded like a gang of some sorts perhaps--leading to thoughts of impending "home invasion"--then was what we later learned was a uulating Luhya war cry. Not that we didn't know it was a war cry, we just didn't know whose.
We got the kids with us and Lisa had a very fleeting cell call from Vitalis, the day guard who had just switched to take night duty [Samson, the night guard went on his annual home leave for the end of the year (leaving just early this year so he could be back to Nairobi to vote on Dec. 27)]. We were left understanding that Vitalis was down and hurt, and something about running away. Fortunately, when things sorted out the news was that Vitalis had fought an intruder who was fortunately alone and fled. Vitalis, who is a Luhya, had let out the war cry to help scare the guy off. Vitalis was struck by a rungu (a hard wooden club) and was bruised and got a cut on his leg, but fortunately no serious injuries and was back to work soon.
Also turned out that we had left the car unlocked and the intruder was in the process of trying to steal the car radio--and there had been other radio thefts in the neighborhood--so he probably didn't intend to try to break in the house anyway. He got in the compound by cutting through the "chicken wire" in the hedge in an area where there was no other fencing.
Another sobering aspect is that if the guy had been caught--which of course he wasn't--he would have been subject to hanging for "robbery with force". Pretty amazing when you consider the impunity for people at the highest levels of business and government who loot millions and more (USD not just KSh).
We had Vitalis and his family move into the SQ (Servants' Quarters) on the grounds when the election violence started and they were there with us--see the photo album "kids"--until we had to tell them that they needed to leave for the arrival of "the new guy" taking my place. Of course, when he arrived he very quickly found that each of the people working the house needed to be fired--fortunately the security company that was his direct employer assigned him to a new location.
Location: Calhoun, Georgia, USA
Safely back in the USA!
The joys of leaving Atlanta at rush hour. Renting a car on Memorial Day Weekend. A Wendy's combo for the road. Cruising on the Interstate. A sunny spring evening in the foothills of the southern mountains.
Anyway, we are grateful and happy to be home and on our way to visit Aunt Sarah tomorrow.
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
We left Nairobi at around 10:30 last night and landed in Amsterdam a little after 5 this morning. We have spent most of the day walking around the south and central canal districts, and largest market area. It has been beautiful. Weather is sunny, but chilly--it was 9 C when we landed.
Big excitement for me is drinking tap water at hotel. Staying at small place that is a two-star and costs the equivalent of 10x more than we ever spent in Uganda--one of the more expensive places we have ever stayed due to decline of dollar. But it is only 2 nights and it is exciting to be here. Owner checked us in at a bit after 7am when we arrived, so that was nice! Even fixed Lisa and I a pot of coffee and Tedder and Spencer a pot of tea.
Ate dinner at an old local steakhouse, followed by dessert at a Sikh vegetarian place--guess I am old enough to enjoy inconsistency!
Tomorrow we are going to art museums and the Ann Frank house. Today we also did a photo museum. Early Thursday we are off for Atlanta.
It is 10pm and still light out the windows--seems bizarre by equitorial standards--hadn't registered how far north we were coming.
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
After spending the morning dealing with moving/mover issues, and a couple last things this afternoon, we will be off the airport, and by sometime overnight we will be out of Africa--hard to realize. Nice dinner with friends last night and enjoying the spring-like Nairobi winter for a last day. Next stop, Amsterdam, is still a bit cool, then off to summer in Mississippi after seeing aunts and uncle in Tennessee to let them know we did actually survive.
Lisa has gotten tickets for the Anne Frank house and one of the art museums in Amsterdam on-line. We land there early tomorrow morning and spend tomorrow and Wednesday night, so we will at least get to see a few things and look around.
Tedder just got through getting her "last chance" hair braiding for the homecoming.
Yestday afternoon we were at the Yaya Centre upscale shopping area with the "Masaii Market" going in the parking lot--much busier and more active than earlier this spring. Many more mzungus. Inflation (April official rate over 26%) especially for food is really sqeezing people but Nairobi is showing a lot of life again as we leave, so at least that is optimistic.
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Taking care of last minute errands and such in Nairobi, lunch at our favorite Ethiopian place, then dinner with a group of friends tonight. More errands tomorrow and off to the airport for late flight . . .
Will continue pics. Need to do more from David's family visit and Lamu trip as well as Uganda, and will try to offer some lessons learned.
For those of you back home, looking forward to seeing you soon.
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Nairobi--just got back in to Nairobi from Kampala this afternoon. Did entry from Kampala early last evening after we got back from our eight day road trip, but apparently my time from internet cafe ran out as it was saving--sorry to be out of touch.
Rest of trip from Monday post: Tuesday morning we got Kampala friend to bus home and the rest of us had a day's drive north to Misindi, mostly on decent but dirt road. We had lunch at hotel in Hoima, then stayed at same "chain" in Misindi--the Kolping, a hotel/guest house/conference center owned by Catholic Church.
We went to the best food market I have been to in Africa in Misindi that night and ate jackfruit, grilled meat skewers and "rollexes"--a Ugandan "wrap" made of a freshly grilled chipati, with eggs then cooked on top with tomato and onion, then another chipati, and rolled up. Awesome.
Wednesday morning was a highlight as we entered Murchison Falls national park and went chimp tracking at area that has recently been taken over by Jame Goodall Institute as a preserve and ecotourism facility. Was really well done and we had a great experience seeing and hearing chimps in the rainforest, along with a good brisk hike for the morning that was a treat after a lot of "road time".
Then in the afternoon we went on to the top of Murchison Falls on the Victoria Nile--one of the best anywhere. Pics to follow.
Stayed at Red Chilies backpacker campground. Next day, Thursday, we did game drive for morning after catching Paraa ferry across Nile. This time we saw large groups of elephants at a distance and got extremely close to a few by the river, and also saw as many or more giraffes as we had anywhere.
Then in afternoon we went of small excursion boat up river, seeing hippos, crocs, birds and an elephant, among others, to somewhat near the base of falls. Finally got some good pictures of the African fish eagle, plus some other birds. Then back to Misindi--the Kolping again, and a later evening visit at dusk and after to the market. Then "home" to Kampala Friday and on to Nairobi today.
A lot of the value of the Uganda trip was really seeing a lot of the countryside and various villages, towns and cities--really interesting, with good background from our driver Abraham who was an agriculture major in college and was able to tell us a lot about the banana, tea and coffee crops, land tenure issues, etc. Even though we did a certain amount of "safari"activity that was more recreational and similar to what we had done in Kenya, I think the kids learned about and saw some different things that made it worth the time out of school as a "last chance" look a little "deeper" toward central Africa from Kenya.
While Uganda is overall poorer and less developed than Kenya, they are obviously doing some important things right--like keeping some important paved roads in decent shape and paving some new ones. Was struck by amount of small scale brick making from local clay all over the southern and central part of the country we were in--seems to help with housing standards. Lots of people all over the countryside and in towns were carrying plastic jerry cans with water--filled at pumps from "boreholes" (wells) or streams, so obviously they could come a lot further on piped water. At least this area for the most part obviously gets quite a bit of rainfall and stays lush and has some streams and wetlands.
Exciting and sad to be back in Nairobi basically to leave . . .
Location: Fort Portal, Uganda
Greetings from Fort Portal, Uganda. We are at the Rwenzori Traveller's Inn and will spend the night here. Friday we drove to Kabale in the southwest, near the Rwanda border where we picked up Donn, then headed just a little ways west to Lake Bunyonyi and spent Friday night and Saturday night. On Saturday we spent the majority of the day out on the lake in a small wooden boat.
Yesterday we drove north to Queen Elizabeth National Park and rented a house/cottage at a hostel near the Kazinga Channel connecting Lake Albert and Lake George. We had a good view across the lake to the Rwenzori Mountains ("Mountains of the Moon") to the north in Uganda and to the west across to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the other side of Lake Albert.
Yesterday afternoon late we did a boat ride to see hippos, especially, and crocs (lots of hippos, just a few crocs) and lots of birds on the Channel. Early this morning we did a long game drive in the park with our driver--saw a lot of Ugandan kobs, an attractive antelope relative that looks fairly much like the impala in Kenya only a little larger. Quite a few buffalo, waterbuck and some others, but no elephants, giraffe, lions, etc. Beautiful views of mountains and lakes, and lots of great birds here--but "big game" was decimated by poaching and military activity back in the Obote and Amin eras and is gradual in recovering. Fortunately we saw these animals in Kenya so that isn't what we were really looking for from this trip.
We had a relatively short drive on good road, with great mountain views, into Fort Portal this afternoon. Dropping our Kampala friend to catch bus back in the morning, and we will head on for a full days drive to the Murchison Falls area.
Uganda is absolutely beautiful, the roads are great by the standards we have had in Kenya, and everything is very affordable. Learned a lot and had a great trip so far.
Location: Kampala, Uganda
Thursday night in Kampala. Rafted on Nile today near Bujugali Falls outside Jina, about 50 miles east of here. Tomorrow morning early we set out on the Great Uganda Roadtrip and will meet Donn late tomorrow afternoon in Kabale in the SW part of the country near Rwanda and Congo borders. Enjoying seeing "the pearl of Africa".
May not be on-line much for the next week or so, but will catch everyone up when we are back to Kampala next weekend if not before.