Friday, December 29, 2006


I'm not sure why this traditional Kenyan fast food restaurant downtown named themselves "Berlin". I guarantee there is not a single German dish on the menu.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A different Christmas

We Merrills climbed Mt. Longonot on Christmas. Five other friends joined us: Jessie, Julie, Janet and the Schroeders. The mountain is a volcanic peak in the middle of the Rift Valley. The peak has a large crater in the center. Everyone hiked up to the rim. Four of our party hiked the whole way around the rim.

We were all proud of Rachel, who at 5 years old, made it the entire way up to the rim and down without complaining!

Our Christmas feast was lunch on the rim. We celebrated the end of lunch with Christmas crackers - an English tradition. (See the shot of Jessie and Janet.) Our three years in England helped us to enjoy that party feature. Two of our group are English, so we honored (honoured) them accordingly. Jessie is from Australia, which enjoys the tradition of crackers too. By the way, Christmas crackers are not eaten - they are popped.

The day was beautiful. Last year's hike was hot, dry and dusty. This year found us enjoying more green in the Rift Valley than we have ever seen and welcome cloud cover. I spent about an hour peacefully watching the clouds roll over the rim into the crater and listening to unknown bird songs.

The volcano is mostly extinct. There are a few steam vents that show evidence of a little activity below the surface. (That puff of smoke in the one shot shows one of the vents.)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Not a botanist, part 2

This bizarre plant is growing out of the brick wall outside the entrance to our apartment building. Again, I have no idea what kind it is. But it could be from a science fiction movie.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

My Christmas present to you

The Owls. Their album: "Our Hopes and Dreams".

I can't buy it for you, but my recommendation is my present. Actually, I'm passing this gift on to you. My friend Mark gave it to me.

The CD was released in 2004, but I first heard it this year, so it makes my "Best of 2006" list.

They're from Minneapolis. They remind me of Low, John Lennon, and many other bands in a pleasing mix. It's mellow enough that it doesn't fall into that category of "bangy-crashy" stuff that Heather says I like so much.

I hope you enjoy!

ps I must give my usual disclaimer about the music - I cannot vouch for or comment on the lyrics. I am lyrics-blind. I listen to music for solely for the beauty of tune, melody and rhythm. (I appreciate Chopin and My Morning Jacket - and many things in-between.)

pss The best Christmas present of all is of course the Christ child - God coming to earth in the form of a humble child - so that we can be made right again.

Paw paws

("Paw paw" is "papaya" in Swahili.)

This papaya tree is on the other side of a high wall that I walk past every day. It's at the bottom of a compound owned by the Don Bosco Catholic Church. (Don Bosco was a saint who invented this powder drink, I guess.)

So why did I take the photo? Just to show you what papayas look like when they're on the tree. Strangely, this tree was pruned to within an inch of its life.

The shiny water tower in the background is on the compound of the house shown. It's a rare fancy house in Nairobi that one can actually see - most are hidden behind fences, hedges or walls. (I took this through the gaps in the gate.) One difference you will note between this home and a similarly sized home in North America is the car - this one's a 1998 Toyota Corolla. (Vehicles cost about double here compared to what they do in North America, so this car is not as modest as it might be there.)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Not a botanist

If I had time or motivation, I'd figure out the name of the tree that produces these beautiful yellow-orange flowers.

As I walked up the drive of our apartment complex, I thought of a Hindu wedding - where the bride's path is covered with flower blossoms. (I guess some Americans do that for their weddings, but they use giant rose petals.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Summer solstice/winter solstice

December 21st is the longest day of the year in the southern hemisphere. And yes, it's the shortest in the northern hemisphere.

Nairobi is just south of the equator, and for some reason, there is a big difference between June and December. We're in the midst of sunny hot days now. (It's nice.) If I were a scientist, I could go on about how the tilt of the earth creates this effect. I'm not.

(This papaya tree is just outside my office. Someone ate every papaya.)

ps I did post this on the 21st. But blogger reads the time zone from where their massive servers live.

What I learned this year

1. What I think I know is not necessarily right. I have had so many assumptions challenged that I’m starting over in lots of areas.

2. I know a lot less than I thought. This relates a lot to my job. I manage about 15 people. None of them are from my home culture (America). This is my fifth year in Kenya, and I realize now that there is so little I really know about Kenyan culture.

3. It’s way helpful to be less judgmental. As I have been in leadership role, I have learned to be far less quick-to-make-a-judgment than before! It is still a struggle to keep that stance.

4. Lighten up. It’s so easy to take everything too seriously.

5. God has a plan. Heather and I are discovering it as we stumble through the darkness.

Ben and Jon spurred me on to this list.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sitting here in limbo

I have written about the traffic in Nairobi before. It's a central feature in the life of everyone who lives here. Rush hour is about 18 of the 24 hours everyday.

Well... everyone... not true. A week or two ago I wondered why there was no traffic jamming the roundabout I use most often. Maybe a minute later, the presidential parade of Mercedes cars zoomed by. Mr. Kibaki is exempt from traffic jams. (Also he voted himself a pay raise recently - now he makes more than Mr. Bush. Later, he retracted the raise, I heard. Elections are next year, and I think he realized that a huge raise might not be so wise.)

- - -

The beautiful thing about being in Nairobi during this part of the year is that so many people leave the city - so it's now possible to get places without having to sit and sit and sit in a car.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Sadili tower

This is a photo of the tower I climbed yesterday to get the photos of Kibera.

The tower was rusting significantly, so it was a bit scary at points!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Kibera view

Saturday found us at the Sadili Sports Club. They have a high water tower that I have climbed before. This time I bought my camera. The club looks out on Kibera, Nairobi's largest neighborhood.

The panorama shows about 80% of its width. That is one single shot with my point-and-shoot.

One detail shows the contrast with a new apartment complex that's a stone's throw away. Another details highlights the corridors through the neighborhood - most are foot paths. The other detail shows some of the neighbors' back yards. Clothes are dried without the help of appliances (as are ours).

If you click on each image you can see a bigger version of each shot.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Jua kali mechanics

The most common entrepreneurs in Kenya are jua kali guys - those who work under the hot sun.

On a corner near my office is the shop of these mechanics. If you look closely, you can see them taking a lunch break in the shade of a nearby tree, next to the welding rig.

Apologies for the weird colors and washed-out look of the photo. I took it through my dirty windshield, and it was a very sunny day. (The guys eating lunch were totally in the shade, so I tweaked the pic in Photoshop beyond reality to show them to you.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Survivor Africa?

A prominent form of advertising in Kenya is spare wheel covers. (Most SUVs here have a spare at the back - a tire needing replacement during a journey is a common occurrence.)

I was unsure about what Survivor Africa Panama meant. Yes, I know Survivor is a show that was filmed in Africa and (probably) Panama too - but which show did they want to feature? My guess is that the designer may thought Panama was a country in Africa - or one of the contestants.

By the way, Survivor is available here if you have satellite TV. We don't - in fact, where we live, we can't even get any regular channels! We're about 3 miles from the heart of Nairobi - but on the wrong side of a hill.

You can do it from where you are

This pic is not one I took. It's from London.

If you have a small digital camera, take it with you everywhere. Others might enjoy seeing your world. (One blogging friend who carries his camera with him is Rob. He captures a lot of shots that would be missed if he left his camera at home.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

He has a presence in Nairobi... it ever so humble.

The Supreme Master Ching Hai's place is a small storefront shop tucked away in a shopping center in the Westlands part of Nairobi.

His place was closed, or I might have asked what they do there.

Monday, December 11, 2006

National pride

Mt. Kenya is featured at the top of this monument near the central intersection in downtown Nairobi. Actually, a hand coming out of the mountain is at the top.

The chicken is a symbol of prosperity. Kanu, one of the political parties here, has taken it over for their logo. (Kanu has reformed about ten times in the last six months.)

You might notice that some repairs were made to the monument - the new tiles may take a few years to fade enough to match the surrounding tiles. Or they may never match.

Today is Jamhuri Day in Kenya - Independence Day. So I am enjoying a day off, as I write this.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The bridge

Rachel decided to draw this bridge across the driveway at our apartment complex.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sally and Jeri

Sally is a friend of ours. She was taken advantage of by her headmaster, during high school. Nine months later, Jeri was born.

Today, Jeri is thirteen. Sally never married and has the hard life of raising Jeri by herself on a very limited income.

My initial reaction after hearing her story was a desire that headmaster be punished in a severe way. (I still feel that way! My guess is that he never had to pay for that sin.) But then I started to see how God used bad events for good.

Jeri is a beautiful girl. Jeri gives Sally hope for the future. Jeri adds life to her extended family. Jeri is doing well in school.

As Christmas approaches, consider giving to Compassion or World Vision to help kids like Jeri. It might be something that will last longer than that new iPod.

This is a true story but the names have been changed. Jeri is not a recipient of help from Compassion or World Vision. We help Sally and Jeri, so they are being taken care of. Sally has a good job.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Samdove no more

Our neighborhood restaurant, The Samdove, folded after only maybe four months.

My theory is they just didn't have what it took to provide customer satisfaction. As I observed in my July 2nd post about its openiong, "few items on the menu were actually available." And the service was incredibly slow.

Heather noticed them painting over the wall-sign maybe a month ago. I just noticed yesterday evening.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Drivers License

(Or here it's called a "driving license.")

An American in Ghana reminded me of how easy it is for an American in Kenya to get a driver's license in Kenya. All that's needed is an International Driver's License, which can be obtained via any AAA office. Upon presentation of the International License and paying the fee, you are given a temp license. Then the real thing arrives in the mail about a month later.

Our problem is that before leaving the States, we forgot the part about having an International Driver's License. Then I remembered the reciprocal agreement with the UK - where those holding a UK license can get a Kenyan license. We had UK licenses - but they were back in the States. Through a very complicated process, our friend Seana sent us our UK licenses, and we were on the road.

Like so many other things here, the drivers licenses are hand-made. You'll note the handwriting on the paper parts of the license. And they look pretty bad after they take a trip through the washing machine. (Mine hasn't yet, but I have seen a few that have!)

Switched to Beta

I changed to Blogger Beta, so there may be some hiccups. Apologies to anyone who can't comment or who gets messed up.

You can comment now, if you wanna

I enabled "anonymous" commenting... so if you don't have a blogger account, you can comment all you like.

Hopefully those spam-bots out there aren't reading this!

Monday, December 04, 2006

I can't read this symbol

I couldn't resist taking this art shot.

I took it in the Chandaria Auditorium at the Oswal Centre, in the Westlands part of Nairobi. The Zen-like art thing set into the wall is some Hindu symbol. (The Oswal Centre is an oasis sort of place - very peaceful with a walking track, meeting hall, and I have no idea what else.)


I was reading the December 4th Newsweek today at lunch, and I got pretty discouraged.

Besides facing so many problems at work that seem incurable, the world situation is pretty bad. (Maybe that’s just the sells-more-copies spin the press puts on things.)

As I skim the articles on an evil leader in Iraq, I hear the Muslim call to prayer out my window. (Basically, the extremists seem to be affecting governmental policy more than majority moderates.) Reading about how so many freedoms are curtailed in Muslim states, it does not create a strong feeling of openness and good will in me.

China has economic policies that discourage western development and investment in China. It seems to be the old song of, "We should be able to do what we like over in your country, but you can’t do what you like in ours."

The only three countries in the world that will not have positive economic growth this year are in Africa.

But somehow God has a plan.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Forest panorama

My friend Rob ( has been urging me to do a panorama photo, using several images and the program autostitch. I finally got around to it.

This week circumstances pushed me to drive the kids to school one morning. (Normally, they take a bus, which is a blessed thing.)

It's really an amazing forest - located just behind the playing field at their school. There are countless varieties of tropical trees - a rainforest in miniature.

If you click on the image, you can see it larger.

(Technical details: Autostitch did not download properly, due to my poor internet connection. So I used Photoshop. The final image I uploaded to Blogger is 1,200 pixels wide. The final layered file is 10,973 pixels wide and 64 megabytes big.)

Thursday, November 30, 2006

18-wheeler alternative

Human-powered carts are found all the time on just about every road in Nairobi. They cause a lot of pollution in the traffic they hold up. But hey, they cost way less than a truck!

When Heather and I saw this one, I had to whip out the camera. (Heather even requested I do that, which is highly unusual.) We both said, "Wow!" The cart is loaded with used plastic bottles that held cooking oil. I'm not sure what he was going to do with them. I guess in some parts of town, they are sold used. Or are recycled.

This is another of those cases when it would have been a far better photo if I got the guy at the front of the cart in the shot - but people sometimes get offended if they are photographed.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Right now

Overnight, the Kenyan government made a new rule (or decided to start enforcing an existing rule) - all vehicles must travel with two warning triangles, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit. All good stuff to have - but the fact that you could get a ticket the same day the rule was announced, for not having any of them, was a bit annoying.

All those items instantly doubled in price.

And it was not really announced in any good way - the main distribution method was word-of-mouth.

On the back of our new triangle (we had one already) is the text of the government act about needing triangles. I was amused at that - why tell the owners of a new triangle that the government requires it? (The text is not displayed on a shelf at a store or something where people could actually be persuaded by it.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Feeling no pain

One of the joys of living in a country in the developing world is the lack of dependable or consistent electrical power and water. Huge water tanks are the way around the water shortages. Power? At work there is no pain - we have a huge diesel-powered generator that kicks in automatically when the power cuts out. (UPS boxes keep computers going for that minute it takes the generator to kick in.) Yes, the photo is of that beloved generator.

At home? We use candles.

All of my friends in Tanzania have been without power for 12 hours of every day for at least a year now.

And it will be alright

Bob Marley sings that line, at the end of the phrase, "Give thanks and praise to the Lord..."

I'm not sure of his faith (Rastafarianism), but there is a bit of truth to that refrain. We may not see the all-right-ness of things after giving thanks and praise, but at the end of it all, things will be all right! (We may not even live to see that.)

And that brings to mind the reason why those words hit my brain - Bob Marley is big in Kenya, even though he died some time ago. His hit tunes play over and over on the radio here. The only time I listen to the radio is in the car, when I'm alone. That's not very often (one hour a week?).

I'm not too big on repetition. (I get too easily bored.) Sometimes it serves its purpose, though.

Monday, November 27, 2006

How do you define fulfillment?

(Well, first, I spell it differently.)

This roadside butchery is maybe different than the one in your town (if indeed, your town even has one). You might also note that the butchery is combined with a cafe.

It's a little hard to tell from this shot, but a new wooden bed is crossing the ditch in front of the shop. A furniture maker sells his stuff there too.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Horse races in Nairobi

Nairobi has a racecourse. We went as a family on Sunday afternoon. It was a nicely overcast day.

We didn't stay long, as it was pretty boring. I guess if you were betting it could have been exciting.

The camel race was interesting! That wasn't something we could have seen at a race in the Hamptons or Buckinghamshire (not that we ever go to races at either place).

We all felt that the horse races went by too quickly. Just as we were leaving, we saw one of Nairobi's millionaires up close - the guy who heads the most profitable of the two cell phone providers (Safari-

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Nairobi Orchestra

Last weekend, the Nairobi Orchestra played two concerts. (Heather is the beautiful oboe player.)

Typically, various embassies or airlines pay for players to be flown from Europe to perform. That was true this time - the cellist is Gemma, a young lady from England. Maya, a lady from Italy was a soprano soloist. The conductor was flown from Austria.

Kenyans represent about 15% of the orchestra (when this post was written).

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's a great day to remember all the ways we are blessed.

I am very thankful to God for so many things that I can't even begin.

I hope you are able to celebrate today with thanksgiving, whether you are American or Zimbabwean.

Production values

Now what other blog can you visit that has a post about toilet paper next to a post about a restaurant?

The cheapest brands of toilet paper made in Kenya does not have the same quality as that of the cheapest brands in some other countries. I laughed when I opened this roll. The second ply is so weak that it's barely there. And it was that way through the entire roll.

To put things into perspective, the largest country in Africa, Congo, does not have any toilet paper manufacturers. So I am very thankful that Kenya is forward-thinking enough to have its own large and robust manufacturing sector. However, cheaper labor elsewhere is causing many plants to shut down. Colgate shut their plant in Nairobi just a week or two ago.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

My fave

Those in Nairobi who really know me are aware that Sierra is my favorite restaurant. There's actually original art on the walls. This shot shows a little of the "plant" and offices on the second floor (or for Kenyans and Brits, the first floor). The name Sierra? I guess it sounds nice. (Nothing at the restaurant relates to that chain of mountains in California.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Some more strange products for you

"Alpinella" is made in Poland. Obviously they are trying to go after the premium Swiss chocolate bar market - but it sells for about a third of the Swiss brands. And the taste is about a third as good. It's way too sweet and sugary - not much chocolate flavor.

"Babol" gum is from Turkey. I was particularly amused that it is "multi vitaminli". Also worthy of mention is that it is "no sticking". (My kids thankfully haven't done the field test on that aspect.)

I bought both at my neighborhood Nakumatt, a branch store of the largest supermarket chain in Kenya.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Motorola goes for your gold

I had to share this billboard with you. I think it's an amazingly striking image.

I was amazed to zoom in and read this tiny fine print in the upper right corner "Impress for less" and "Tune in to FM radio". What were they thinking? I guess they were advertising to people like me who take digital photos and zoom in to read the fine print!

Ironically, I bought a new Motorola phone the day before this billboard went up - my old Alcatel (from France) was dying a slow death. And no, I didn't but the fancy model the billboard advertised; I bought almost the cheapest model they sell here.

The phone works great, by the way.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Puddle or lake?

I went with a colleague yesterday to sort out some business in the industrial area of Nairobi. The road facing the business we visited is currently a lake. The puddle stretches across the entire width of the road. A good thing is that the bottom of the puddle is fairly rocky, so if you have enough ground clearance, you're fine if you drive through slowly.

We have had a lot of rain lately, and it affects some people more than others!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The first ever give-away

For the first person who can tell me what the real car company behind this new-to-me brand name, I will actually send a gift. Put your answer in the comments, as well as some way for me to contact you.

(I do know the answer.)

Where you can find Paul Merrill

If you are looking for Paul Merrill, go over to  Shiny Bits of Life , which is my main blog - or  Greener Grass Media , which is my somewhat...