Friday, May 26, 2006

Gone for a bit

Yes, this pic is a standard corny stock image I found out there in cyberspace. (It floated out of my monitor.)

I'll be gone until Monday, June 5th. Yes, we are going on a family vacation. So my apologies that this site is also going on vacation till then.

On this Saturday morning (we leave tomorrow), I have that great pre-vacation optimism. Everything looks so great ahead. But of course we're praying for safety on the crazy roads! With optimism is my awareness that life is so fragile.

ps For those of you Photoshop users, I was amused at how the "sharpen" filter must have been used on this pic - and how it ruined the shot.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Barbed wire and flowers

During my walk to work, I pass this garden. I have always been amused at how its owners felt the need to protect the plants strongly enough to put barbed wire around it. That sorta kills the beauty for me, just a little.


In the maybe 8 months I have used AdSense, I have made a total of $2.15. So I decided to get rid of it. (AdSense provided the little “Ads by Google” bar at the top of this site. The idea is that if a million people click on those links, a site owner can actually make money. As you guessed, there are not a million people who visit this site.)

As my friend Chris often says about his site, we’re in it for love, not money.

And Rob helped me in an uploading crisis. (My connection here is so slow sometimes that I go out for coffee and return and it is still loading a page!) I'm not putting a link for Rob here because I don't want him to get swamped with requests for help.

So what’s the “purity” about? Visual purity - one less thing to clutter up the site.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


That’s the number you dial to reach the police in Kenya.

Last night I had one of those culture shock moments. Out our window, for the second evening in a row, our neighbors were burning something like old tires. Huge clouds of noxious smelly smoke billowed up. Some of it drifted into our apartment, in spite of our windows being shut. (Because the climate here is so mild, buildings aren’t sealed up like bank vaults. Double-pane windows are not needed.)

So thinking through a life-in-America grid, I called the police to see if there was anything they could do. Ring, ring, ring… about 15 times. I tried again - same thing.

Sometimes the lack of infrastructure here is annoying. But I can’t complain. My colleagues in southern Sudan don’t have a 999 to call.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Even a wall...

...tells a story.

Each of the stones in this wall was carved by hand, using a chisel and hammer. That is the way it is done here. As a columnist observed in Sunday's paper, a laborer here makes about one-twentieth what he might make for doing the same job in the UK.

If governments were to truly wipe out trade barriers, the entire world would have to make quite a few adjustments. I certainly wouldn't have a clue on where or how to begin a system incorporating real fairness.

On a micro scale, we try to be fair with all whose wages we are involved with.

Monday, May 22, 2006

New smoking ban

Last week, the Kenyan government banned smoking in public places. Enforcement of this is the key - it may or may not be done.

(My friend Omar pointed out the ban, as I wrote of air pollution here. You might check out the comments on my posts; sometimes they are better than the entries!)

A totally amazing provision (related bill or somethinjg like that) is that cigarette manufacturers here are supposed to devote 50% - HALF - of their packaging to warnings of the health hazards of smoking, both in Swahili and English.

Cigarette smoking has been increasing over recent years in Kenya. It could be that pressures from outside countries and organizations that give Kenya aid is the cause for this new law. I'm doubting that the government would be far-sighted enough to foresee the long-term costs that smoking causes a society.

By the way, this cigarette package is actually from Tanzania. I was so amused that there could be Islamic cigarettes that I had to save the package.

Note the government tax stamp that features a giraffe. Also of interest is that these are "20 Kali Cigarettes." Kali is the Swahili word for "fierce".

Friday, May 19, 2006

More of the morning commute

This rainy season has made Nairobi so lush and green. Along the edge of the road I walk to work, there are tons of these flowers growing like weeds. (RGB and pixels do not do the colors justice.)

I think Heather told me this is a morning glory. Keeping to its description, one evening I passed by and saw the blossoms closed to the world.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Developing world" development

Out my window at work, a large apartment complex is taking shape.

You might note that the construction methods are a little different than in North America or Europe. But hey, it costs a lot less to build a building in Kenya. (Having said that, a few months ago a building under construction downtown collapsed and killed about six people. But that could have happened anywhere. Stories were floating around about how various building inspectors had been bribed...)

I'm glad they are out of the stone-chiseling phase. That was a little distracting when I was trying to concentrate on something. (My window stays open about 95% of the time.)

By the way, "developing world" is the current politically correct way to say what used to be called "third world." Sometimes it's a misnomer, though Kenya is definitely developing in many areas.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Today is the one year anniversary of our arrival in Kenya.

Time does indeed zip by. And it also creeps. (Which version of time is your day, today?)

So this means there's one year left. Then we head back to suburbia, USA.

Has it been worth the cost? Are we looking forward to going back to our home in the States? What do we anticpate will be different in this coming year? What are the joys we have had? What are the sorrows? For answers to these questions and many more, stay tuned to this site.

(By the way, this is yet another custom ImageChef pic. I don't have access to Photoshop at the moment.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


One wonderful thing about being in Kenya is that Coke products are available in glass bottles. Not only are they more environmentally friendly, I think they taste better than in cans or plastic bottles.

Krest Bitter Lemon is a uniquely East African Coke product. It's great! It has the perfect balance of sweet and not sweet. Schweppes just doesn’t compare. (Schweppes Bitter Lemon is available in the States in a few rare places. It's too bitter.)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Don't breathe

One of the challenges of living in Nairobi in 2006 is the air pollution. We frequently have headaches from the diesel smoke that is part of nearly any weekday drive across town. On some roads, evening rush hour lasts from 4-8 pm.

I know that just about all you readers out there living in an urban setting face rush hour. But when government standards for air quality are basically non-existent, there is a huge difference. Someone said that the air quality here is 38 times worse than the acceptable level in North America. (I haven't taken time to track down the original source.)

Another significant reason for bad air here is that the roads have about four times the number of cars they were designed to carry. So traffic crawls at a snail's pace all day long. Vehicles sit, belching out combusted (and non-combusted) fuel rather than spending it to get somewhere.

The national government announced that it will be enforcing some standards, soon, but as always, enforcement on such things is selective and sporadic. "Selective" boils down to many policemen accepting bribes to let an offender off the hook.

About three months ago, the government announced that leaded gasoline would no longer be produced or sold. Has that happened? No. In many rural areas, the only gas available is leaded.

There was alcohol breath testing for about a month. Then local lawyers shot it down.

(By the way, this image is custom-made via ImageChef.)

Saturday, May 13, 2006


When we were in Kenya in the early 90s, I did this rules sheet for the key-box to group vehicles. (We have a fleet of about 12.)

I was amazed to see it still on the key-box, over twelve years later! Yes, the paper has yellowed (browned?) with age, and it has been probably five years since anyone actually read the thing.

Now part of my job is being the keeper of the group vehicle rules document. It has since become way longer than just one page.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Few of the users of the toilet paper in the restroom in my office hall ever put the new roll in the dispenser.

I'm so anal that this bugs me. For a month or two, I had a silly sign asking people to refill the dispenser properly. It worked for a while. Then whoever the offenders are began violating the prime directive. I changed the sign a few times. Finally I gave up.

I still put it in the dispenser from time to time. Then I'm happy for a few days, until that roll runs out.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Remember these?

Recently we had a cleaning day for the computer department. In the midst of shelves full of Windows 95 manuals, I came across this ancient piece of data storage technology.

Wow, we have come a long way!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Right down to the signature

Did you know that the culture and school system you came from had an influence on your signature?

This signature was on a random business letter I received. To an American, this signature is very unusual. To a Kenyan, it's nothing out of the ordinary.

I had a discussion with a Kenyan friend about this. He theorized that people are taught to sign this way for security reasons - he said it's believed this sort of signature is harder to fake than a legible one. He then admitted that it's probably easier to fake, ironically. I dunno. Try forging Samson's.

Monday, May 08, 2006


A while back someone asked to see what we look like. You have seen lots of pix of our kids, but here are Heather and I. Both shots were taken when we visited Limuru.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Church Road

Sunday morning, the road to our church was flooded out. When the road is impassible, it drives the pastor crazy. (He's in our small group and wouldn't admit that publicly.)

On wet Sundays, we park about a quarter-mile away and hike through a bit of mud, over some railroad tracks and along a gravel-lined path.

Our friends who have four-wheel drive have no problem negotiating the "lake."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

So close

Just as we were about to leave the game park, we encountered three giraffes - right in the middle of the road!

One was very old. The youngest is pictured here. The elder was completely unafraid of us. He was literally within touching distance.

What makes the game park experience different than visiting a zoo in North America or Europe is the scale of the habitat* and the unfenced experience. It's kind of like visiting a friend's home. That's a lot different than visiting them in prison. (I'm not saying zoos are bad - they certainly provide an opportunity to see animals in real life that would not otherwise be possible for most people.)

*One of Kenya's game parks is the size of Connecticut.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Nice to leave the city

More of the Nairobi Game Park visit...

It's fun to see the city skyline way off in the distance. There are lots of postcards available that exploit the sometimes-plentiful animals being so close to the city. (Picture this same shot with a rhino in the foreground, with everything in perfect focus and perfectly lit.)

Anyway, it's great to leave the diesel fumes, traffic congestion and zillions of people behind for a short break in a very peaceful place.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Elephant butt (and Ben's head)

Sunday afternoon, we had a family excursion to nearby Nairobi Game Park. In the middle of the picnic site was a metal sculpture commemorating the stopping of ivory trade.

Unfortunately, the poor elephant to the left was the victim of elephant tail poaching.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The latest on our water project

Last week, Heather drove out to visit the project to see how things were going. A major bonus for that visit was Mike coming along. (See the top photo. He's the American engineer we consulted with down in Tanzania. He has been drilling wells using the same method for nearly two years. His vast scope of knowledge based on lots of trial and error is extremely helpful to us!)

The hole is getting crooked, and he advised our guys what to do. Also, they have hit a rock layer, which makes the going much slower than before.

The lower photo gives you a little glimpse into the scope of how deep the hole is now. The rope is attached to a heavy drilling bit that whams away at the dirt and rock. It goes all the way to the bottom with each series of breakings-apart or removals-of-debris.

Again, if you'd like to give to help with the costs, here's the link. Scroll down to "Kenya Water Project" - the last item on the pull-down list. All gifts are tax-deductible to those who pay US taxes. Your help would be hugely appreciated! This water will benefit many who literally have no source of water except for nearby streams, which run completely dry during much of the year.

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...