Monday, March 28, 2011


My mom and I flew to Ethiopia last week. We spent a few days in Addis with a group of our friends from UPC, who were in Ethiopia and Kenya to visit different NGO organizations doing HIV/AIDS work. We had a nice time with our friends, and very worthwhile and interesting visits with the different Ethiopian organizations.

Our first dinner in Addis was at this Ethiopian restaurant. It was a colorful and lively place... dancing, music and traditional clothing. There was a huge buffet of all sorts of different Ethipoian dishes. Very heavy, rich food.

 This is one of the HIV testing centers. "Save Lives International" was one of the indigenous NGO's that we visited. One of the projects that they run is sending medical volunteers to schools to test kids. The six little white squares on the table are individual blood tests.

OSSA is another indigenous NGO in Addis, with a lot of great projects going. One of the things they do is IGA (Income Generating Activities). This is what they call an Orphan Head of Household. They are a family of 7 kids, who lost their parents to AIDS several years ago. The oldest son went through a year long training program through OSSA to learn to sew. He has trained his brothers and some friends to sew as well, and now they have 5 machines and are doing contract work for different clothing companies. They were very busy, hard-working, and happy.

On our last day in Addis, my mom and I toured the city a little bit. This is an Orthodox church in Addis. There was stained glass, chandeliers, and frescoes on the walls and ceilings. Really beautiful, and not a type of church I've seen in Africa so far.

There is a lot of hype about the Sheraton in Addis, so we figured we should check it out. This is the nicest, most extravagant thing my mom or I have seen in Africa. It is just like a Sheraton in the US- SUPER fancy and very expensive. There were all sorts of treasures here! It costs 500 dollars/night to stay here, so these are rich people. We had dinner at one of the restaurants in the lobby- where there were big couches, candlelit tables, and a live piano player! Ridiculous.

Ethiopia was very different.. the language much harder to imagine ever comprehending or speaking. Amharic doesn't even use the latin alphabet, so the signs and names of places and people are impossible to even begin to sound out. We liked Addis, but it is definitely poorer and dirtier. There are less cars on the roads, beggars in the street who come up to your car window, unfinished construction everywhere, dogs all over the place... but somehow it felt more familiar. There is something about the look of the people, their fashion and body type, that seems more western. And the coffee is fantastic! Instead of chai, they have macchiato. So we had macchiatos every day and brought back three bags of coffee beans.

Returning to Kenya felt very nice. It seems so modern and developed after being in Addis. I can't imagine how it will feel to go back to Seattle in a couple of months!

Friday, March 11, 2011


1-0 victory yesterday in the JV girls soccer league championship. We had an undefeated season, with only one goal scored against us. The girls were ecstatic.. they are just the cutest. We played in the semis on Wednesday in what was a very close game- it went all the way to the 6th PK! My girls were strangely composed, every PK was on frame.. !? I was very impressed with them. We also won the sportsmanship award, which was a surprise ;) So we came home with lots of hardware. Coaching turned out to be much more fun and "awarding" than I had anticipated. I will miss my little girlies.

JV boys basketball also won their league... John sauntered up to receive the awards in a very John-like fashion. A little wave of "FISH" chants followed.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


John and I went to Suswa this weekend. Suswa is a shield volcano with a double crater and lava tube caves! It takes about 3 hours to drive there in a car.. and probably about 1.5 hours on a piki. We took a car. You have to drive down from Kijabe all the way into the middle of the valley. Once you reach the outer crater you have to drive for another hour or so before getting to the inner crater. The road inside the crater is full of rocks and pot holes, but also beautiful views. As we drove up towards the inner crater we could look back and see a huge expanse of the valley with Longonot in the distance... very nice. There is a lot of vegetation along the outer crater, along with plenty of wildlife. Apparently Suswa used to be full of wild animals, even lions! Not anymore though- now there are mainly just gazelles, birds, snakes, and apparently some hyenas and leopards (but we didn't see any of those). It's very much Masai land out there.. we passed tons of them on our way in. Our Masai friend Samuel lives in a village inside the Suswa conservancy.

We camped on the edge of the inner crater, on a cliff overlooking the lush, green center. It was fantastic. The sunset was amazing, as was the night sky.. we saw some crazy lightning beyond the rise of opposite side of the crater. It looked like the world was ending! All sorts of bright flashing colors of light. The stars were bright and the sky was clear- all of the southern hemisphere constellations were there for the finding. I could make out the Southern Cross, Orion, and Cassiopeia.  We woke up just after sunrise, but the morning was also really pretty... Pink, purple, bluish light. The African sky is so alive.

In the morning, we cooked some breakfast over the campfire, packed up our campsite, then drove down to the famous Suswa caves. Without our friends leading the way, I never could have found them. There are hardly any signs and the roads are hard to follow. There are several collapses acting as different entrance points into the network of caves. We parked next to the biggest collapse and climbed down into it. One of the Masai guided us through several of the most interesting caves. The highlight for sure was the bat chamber, a huge dome full of dead air, feces, insects, and tens of thousands of sleeping bats. We had to walk pretty deep into the cave in order to reach this particular "room"... so it was pitch black and smelled purely of feces- no air flow contaminating that specimen. And the tiny bugs jumping up into my nostrils were a nice touch as well. John was ready to get out of there real quick ;)

We loved Suswa. We've decided that next time we'll be traveling by piki... and climbing up to the peak of the inner crater rather than down into the caves.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

So much for the routine:

TIA, and there are bandits here. Our good friends Rod and Melanie encountered bandits on the road down to their home just a couple of weeks ago. Rod told my mom about what happened, and how he handled it. Through this story, we learned that typically the guns that the bandits threaten with are either fake or not loaded.. so the best way to handle being "held up" is just to duck your heads and gun it. Stopping the car is a no-no and far more risky than hoping that they won't shoot as you floor it passed them. If you ever find yourself driving in Kenya, remember this!! In the off chance that you encounter bandits, just duck and GO! DRIVE! AS FAST AS YOU CAN! I am very thankful for this lesson, it came in handy this morning.
My mom and I had planned to drive down to meet our friend Melanie in Maai Maihu. Maai Maihu is a trucker town along the tarmac, teeming with drugs, prostitution.. HIV. There is an organization in Maai Maihu called Comfort the Children which we have been wanting to visit and think about getting more connected to. Anyhow, there are several roads to Maai Maihu some of which are more passable than others. Our van has a pathetic engine and no four wheel drive, so we have to take the better (but also more isolated) road. We've driven this road many times, as it is also part of the route that we use to get to our friends' house at Mayer's Ranch. When my parents came here in August, there were a few stories and warnings about there being bandits on this road but there have been no incidents that we've known of since moving here- so we've gone ahead and used it regularly anyways. Living in Africa has its risks, and deciding which warnings to heed or not to heed seems somewhat arbitrary most of the time.
This morning we left the house at around 9:20, and had been driving for about 25 minutes or so. It is a rocky, winding road, with plenty of ups and downs. We were making our way up one of the steeper hills, going quite slow, when a man jumped out of the bushes and into the middle of the road. He was pointing a gun at us, motioning for us to get out of the car. At the same time as we were taking this in, two other men jumped out of the same bushes holding a machete and a club. They were all coming from the right side of the road, which is the driver's side... so they were running up to my mom's window waving their weapons like they were going to start smashing the windows in. My mom, having heard Rod's story, proceeded to drive as fast as our van could take us, through the little mob of bandits. We ducked as we passed them, hoping they wouldn't shoot our tires (or our heads!!) as we drove away. Luckily no shots we fired!! But the man with the machete managed to get a good whack at the rear end of our van. We continued driving at full speed until we reached the main road.. which was luckily only about 1 km away from where the bandits tried to attack us.
It's interesting.. moments like those (not sure what "like those" means exactly.. near death? shock inducing? panic moments?) are out of body experiences. You become sort of unaware of yourself and what you're saying and doing. I can clearly remember my mom shouting, "NO, NO, NOOooo, NO, NO" and she heard me yelling, "OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH", but neither of us have any memory of what we ourselves were saying. After we reached the safety of the busy main road, I could feel my senses numbing.. I got light-headed, my ears plugged, I started shaking. Then I had a little bout of hysterical laughter with my mom- and off we went down the tarmac towards Maai Maihu.
Both of us continued our day as planned, in a state of shock... sort of unfazed. Melanie was bewildered as to how we were so calm about it. I don't really get it, shock is weird. I just feel exhausted now and for whatever reason I burst into laughter when I talk about it..? John walked in the door from school and I told him that I had a story to tell him. I start off with hysterical laughter, which set him up for a different sort of story. He was all smiles, expecting to hear about some new found treasure or something... then as I begin explaining everything his face quickly turns into a frown and he says, "That's not funny, Erika. That's really scary."
So that was today. Definitely out of the ordinary. I suppose I should be more careful what I ask for.. a nice, safe routine beats many other possible outcomes for a given day. Thank you GOD that we are safe, unharmed, and still in possession of our money, passports and van! (We had our passports with us in the car!! Yikes). I am thinking that we won't be driving on that road much anymore. Especially if my dad has anything to say about it ;)

Friday, March 4, 2011

And the drought continues...

Still no water.

I saw our maintanence guy walking around the "compound" today. I think he was nervous to see me, because he's been avoiding us at all costs... not answering phone, not coming around. I'm pretty sure that he fears my mother. I asked him where my water was. "What water?" The water that should be in my house. "Oh, they haven't called me back yet."
An important piece of information: In Kenya "they" translates directly to "nonexistent person"

It's sort of funny.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Updates from Kanjabee

I have developed a routine here the last few weeks. I do more or less the same thing each day...

1. Wake up and drink my coffee
2. Go down to the hospital for a few hours
3. Eat lunch and go for a run
4. Soccer practice
5. Dinner
6. Watch Rome with John (this only happens like 10-15% of the time)
7. Go to bed

John and I finished the Wire weeks ago unfortunately. We are big fans of the Wire, so that was a sad day. Rome is also HBO, so we assumed it would be a quality show- but it's sort of letting us down (no offense Michael, it's far better than nothing). It's just over the top erotic at times, and not the best story line. But we are persevering. After all there is no Hulu in Africa.

There is also this amazing tree here that I love to walk down to.. I sit there to listen to music and soak up the sun. It's very quiet and secluded- no one ever walks by. You can hear the soft sound of the cowbells from down below in the valley. It's peaceful. So that activity fits into #3b on my list above, replacing the run. A great replacement if you ask me.

Today is a special day, full of other activities.. because we are now on day 3 of no running water. So I get to add things to my list such as: fetch water for washing dishes, fetch water for flushing the toilet, fetch water for drinking, fetch water for cooking. It's just so much FUN! Honestly, I can't complain too much- our next door neighbors have running water, it could be wayyy worse. I still get to take showers every day, so the living's easy.

I skipped #2 on the list today, so I'm charging forth to #3b now...