Saturday, June 02, 2007

Goodbye to This Glorious Chaos

It is time for me to say goodbye.

We leave Kenya tonight right before midnight. We have lived here for just over two years - and not left East Africa during that time.

So why do I refer to Kenya as "This Glorious Chaos"? Well, it's glorious here - and very chaotic.

I know that some of the readers out there might object to Kenya being called chaotic. Well, don't be. Nairobi, at least, has lots of chaos. Just get in a car and drive across town!

And the glory? Oh, it's all over the place. Smiles on so many faces. Laughter as I pass roadside shops. Beautiful amazing random artwork on ceramic pots for sale along Ngong Road. Flowers on almost every plant, year around.

So you should come to Africa. Not just to visit - but to live. Then you can really see what life is like. We tried - two years is not long enough. We were compelled to return to our home, America. Those of you who know us understand why. Those who don't - well, you'll just have to get to know us. (Move to Colorado.)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Didn't succeed

...But at least I got a still image.

I had been meaning to get a video of the Kenyan National Anthem - the version played before many movies at cinemas here. My final attempt did not succeed; I only got about 1 second.

It's interesting to watch that short film - it's the same edition that has been used for maybe 30 years. (Or it seems like that.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


As we will be returning to the States so soon, I have pondered some of the things I'll miss.

One is the international aspect of life in Nairobi. Most places we go are frequented by people from all over the world.

And the organization I work with is a picture of that also: at our weekly prayer meeting recently, I looked around the room. There were 10 Americans, 6 Kenyans, 5 Brits, 2 New Zealanders, 1 Swiss(er) and 1 Canadian.

Littleton, Colorado is not like that.

And yes, it's another photo that has nothing to do with the post. I just love cars. Even ones that have their body parts held on with straps.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

14 seats

Matatus are mini buses that travel all over Kenya. In early 2005, the government changed their policies on matatus. Before, if an operator wanted to cram 300 people into the minibus, that was alright. No longer. (A great change!) 14 passengers is the max - and seatbelts are required by law for all 14. Moms frequently carry their kids on their laps (beyond the 14 rule) - but that's another story.

The government will be phasing out the 14-seaters, but that's yet another story.

"Matatu" in Swahili means that you could travel for 30 cents, a standard fare wherever and whenever you went: three 10 cent coins. (Special thanks to my friend toneloc who gave me the truth on that!)

Monday, May 28, 2007


1. Absence makes the heart grow fonder

2. Deprivation breeds appreciation

These are two concepts that have been rattling around in my brain as I have contemplated leaving this Kenyan life and starting a new life in the States. Much of my old life is gone - I will not be returning to my old job. (Marti Smith, a former co-worker, is grieving this loss too.) But we are very thankful to be returning to some of our familiar friends and our beloved home.

Leaving here means saying goodbye to friends. A sad reality.

As you may have noticed, my photo does not illustrate all this.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Omo and time

A British friend told me of the time he served for one or two years in West Africa, shortly after graduation from university. He was teaching science in a rural school, as part of a voluntary program (like the USA's Peace Corps).

As his time was nearing completion, he said he measured time in any way possible. (He desperately wanted to return home to England.) One measuring stick was Omo laundry soap packets - each one lasted about two weeks. So he was able to say, "It's ten packets till I get onto the plane."

His wandering days are over. He married a Kenyan lady and is building a house in Karen, a nice suburb of Nairobi.

And for us, we're down to less than one Omo packet. On June 2nd, we board the out-bound plane, with no plans to return.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Death in Kenya

Common sights in Kenyan cities are roadside tombstone sellers. I finally got around to taking a few photos.

Death is a sensitive subject here. (Actually, where is it not that?) But death is treated differently here than in North America. I once sent out an email to my staff telling them to leave the passwords to their computers with a trusted colleague. I said something like, "In case you die, we need to access your work data." This did NOT go over well.

In contrast, grieving a death can be much more open here. In about 1992, I made a photography expedition to Mfangano Island, in Lake Victoria. As we walked around the island, I heard loud wailing - for more than an hour. Someone had died the night before. This grieving was much more open than it would be in North America. (How much more healthy it is to get the tears out, rather than bottle them up inside!)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The bouquet that can never be

The flame tree is a famous fixture in the world of Kenya lore. Beautiful red-orange blossoms sit at its top - maybe 40 to 60 feet from the ground. The only time you can see the flowers up close is when they fall to the ground. (The trunk is not good for climbing, as the lowest limbs are about 15 to 20 feet from the ground.) When the blossoms fall to the ground, their vitality is already gone.

Ephemera is one of my favorite words - the fleetingness of an experience.

I am sure that if I had time to think about it, there are analogies to life in this small tale. But today - I don't have that luxury.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Guest pic

You know I love weird products.

Today's product is from Spain - taken in Spain. My friends Jason & Seana Yee took a trip there last year and shared this with me - so I share it with you. (Thanks Jason & Seana!)

"Superblando" bubble gum must have different meanings in Spanish. But I thought the "00" on his chest fits in well with "superblando".

Monday, May 21, 2007


Rachel found these gigantic thorns. I think they're from an acacia tree of some kind.

Often thorns like these are used as an inexpensive (free!) barb wire fence by ranchers in Kenya.

Sunday, May 20, 2007


If you visit the BBC weather page for Nairobi, there is a little option at the lower right corner of the page - setting Nairobi as your hometown. (That probably only comes up under certain circumstances.)

Well that's not how we got here. It was a bit more complicated than that. Maybe someday it will be as easy as typing in a few letters and clicking a button.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

More menus

A new Mexican restaurant came to town maybe nine months ago. I think it's from South Africa. (So that's Mexican food in Kenya, by way of South Africa.) It's the closest to Chipotle or Qdoba that we can get here. And I'm thankful.

By way of contrast, the chalkboard is from a more traditional Kenyna restaurant. I have no idea what Athola is.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The last one

Yes, this is the very last in my "rubbish art" series. I now have twelve - enough to make a calendar.

Water bottles are popular items for some who toss things out their car windows in Nairobi. Coca Cola's Dasani is the market leader.
This time I actually washed the empty bottles. It has been rainy season, so some were covered with a lot of dried mud. (I wanted to show you the bottles and not the dried mud.)
Notes: 1. To see some of the rest of the series, type "rubbish art" into the "search this blog" window at the top of this blog. 2. If you double-click on the image, you can see it a bit larger. 3. If you check after August, you can see how to buy rubbish art postcards, coffee mugs and cigarette lighters. (Well, maybe not digarette lighters.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Not really a menu

I love this - Antonio is not a name I would normally associate with traditional Kenyan food.

Mbuzi is goat. Tilapia is one kind of fish from Lake Victoria. Ugali is thick corn-meal stuff that supplements nearly every traditional dinner. Sukuma is called kale in the south of the USA.

Finally, you'll note that "Halaal" is at the bottom - Antonio cooks his food so it's OK for Muslims.

Where did that van come from?

My 6-year old daughter asked me that question on our walk to the bus stop together this morning.


"Oh, I thought it was from India, because it is green."

Sunday, May 13, 2007

So what IS the taste of Iftar?

I have no idea, but this poster is in the elevator of a fancy hotel in downtown Nairobi. (I wasn't staying there; I parked my car in their garage while I did a little business elsewhere.)

The really dedicated people out there will look up "Iftar" on Google. I didn't.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Liquid calcium

I was just amused at this feature of Colgate here - that would probably not be a selling point in North America.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Who does the work?

It often seems like women do the hard work in Africa - at least in rural parts. (I think it's true in other parts of the world too. My wife does a lot of the hard work in our marriage - by being a mom!)

This photo was taken in Tanzania by our friends, the Stephens. They went there on a safari recently.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Architecture in Nairobi

This building is near the YaYa Shopping Centre. It's very new - it has just been open a few months.

I like it. Not fully, but at some levels. Reminds me of those freshman architecture classes at Texas Tech, oh so many years ago.

Monday, May 07, 2007

A tale of plastic in the dirt

I found yet another broken car lens in the dirt by the side of the road. Vehicle accidents are part of life in Nairobi. Out of the group I'm a part of, there's an accident involving someone about once every two weeks.

No matter how good a driver you are, it's the other person who may be the problem. Some people bribe their way into a license. Ability? That may not be part of their skillset. Learning? Maybe not. Aggressiveness? Definitely. (I pleasd guilty to that last one.)

I tell newly arriving people that they should expect to be in a fender-bender about once every nine months, on average. If they aren't, it's maybe because they don't get out very much.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Bottle caps

This is the next to last in my "rubbish art" series.

Coke products in Kenya are the source of the most roadside bottle caps here.

Come August, I'll be letting you know how to buy postcards, etc.

If you do "search blog" for "rubbish" at the top of this blog, you can see the others. Also, if you double-click on the image, you can see it a bit larger.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Kinyozi art

I love Kinyozi art. Kinyozi (Swahili) are barbers - or beauty salon artistes (that's "ar-TEESTS"). Nearly all Kinyozi shops have art on the outside - to draw customers to the inside.

In my dream life, I'd take about a month travelling around Kenya taking photos of the art of Kinyozi shops - to create a coffee table book. Alas, these two shots will have to do.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Sierra, my favorite restaurant in Nairobi, is sponsored by Cingular. Not really.

But the large plate glass windows at front are held in place by Cingular. Not really.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Pharmacists in Kenya are often called chemists. This logo takes that definition literally.

One of my many jobs here is reimbursing staff for their medical expenses. This logo was at the top of a receipt that crossed my desk, so I had to share it with you! (Actual size was about 1" across.)

Sunday, April 29, 2007


All across Kenya (except for in the most remote corners), advertising colors the cities and villages. Shops agree to a fresh coat of paint in exchange for the paint advertising a product or service. (Some villages are "Coke" and others are "Safaricom.".)

There is a new building being built in the complex where I work. For safety reasons, a corrugated steel fence blocks the building site from the rest of the complex. Someone decided to trade the raw-steel-look for the Crown Paint look.

"Crown" is the brand. "Vesta" is their economy product line.

1. The signs were totally painted by hand - no rulers or any other guides were used.
2. The little white rectangle below the "gloss" is where the paint color would be written on the can. (I might not have thought it to be central to the design enough to have included it in the advertising reproduction.)
3. I enjoyed the artist's version of the crown's glow.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Edible soap?

I have featured India's No. 1 soap brand before. This time it's the "sandal" flavor. Unfortunately, the word "sandal" is hidden by shine from the package's gloss finish.

Like most of the products I feature, I bought this at Nairobi's Nakumatt Mega.

(I haven't tried eating it.)

What happens when labor is cheap

Our apartment complex has four buildings with four apartments in each - 16 total. And we have two full-time gardeners.

That would not be the case in America. At least for anyplace we could afford to live at.

But you see, they make about $60 or $80 a month. Yes, a month.

It's such a complex set of factors - if they made more, the other staff would need to make more, etc. A house of cards. I don't like it but am in some way part of the crime.

Several of my employees have full-time live-in employees who work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. For about $50 a month. (They do have free room & board.)

We try to be generous where and when we can.

(By the way, note Gideon's broom - all natural! And it's another cost-saving measure.)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Church under a tree

When you live in a place with a perfect climate (Nairobi), it works fine to meet under a tree for worship.

One Saturday we visited the Nairobi Arboretum. Within a few hundred yards of each other were about four different church groups.

It's cheaper than having a building program. (But then, in North America the climate would not allow this sort of "building" for much of the year.)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ah, but the visuals are great

This post is dedicated to my friend Albert Porter. He values high fidelity sounds more than any other human I've known.

This particular stereo (from Nakumatt) values the visual aspect a bit more than the sound quality. If my bandwidth were higher, I would have inserted a video of the stereo - imagine the lurid color circles around each speaker cone pulsing in time with the beat. The sound? Imagine a transistor radio times 100.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A truly evil man

The April 23 international edition of Time has a cover story on Robert Mugabe, the malevolent dictator of Zimbabwe. (That's a country just above South Africa.)

"Unemployment is at 80% ... life expectancy is 34 for women and 37 for men ... inflation is expected to reach 3,700% by year's end. (A single brick costs more today than a 3-bedroom house with a swimming pool did in 1990.)"

Be thankful you live where you do. Pray for Zimbabwe.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Just another day in the life

Today I went to the police station. A guy who works for me was arrested.

It wasn't his fault. The citation was for "changing lanes."

As a colleague stated, "You don't ask." In other words, the police are the authority, and if they cite you for smiling inappropriately, you don't argue.

The pain of it all is the approximately $50 it cost our organization, having to get the car out of the impound lot and all day in court for him.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

In the interest of science

This morning I poured camel yogurt over my granola. Yes, yogurt made from camel's milk.

When I saw the small refrigerated case displaying camel yogurt and camel milk, I had to buy some, for you, my dear readers.

The performance report? It doesn't taste weird. I got strawberry, and the real-fruit flavor does not shine through the heavy sugary taste.

After I got home from the supermarket (Nakumatt, of course), I discovered that the expiration date was past. Too much hassle to return it. (Besides they may not have had any that was not already expired.) Thankfully, it had not "gone off".

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

That boot

When I was in school, this style of boot was called "chukka". Here, it's made by Bata and called "The Safari Boot".

And they are very popular here.

This billboard has lasted longer than most in Nairobi. (It's not a question of durability - it's a matter of how long the company pays to advertise.)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bloggers of the world, unite

Last night, we went to dinner with the Jamison family. They are missionaries in western Kenya. We met via the wonders of the world of blogging. Somehow we found each other's blogs and saw enough shared experiences that our sites bubbled near the tops of the old bookmarks files.

They're heading to the States for a brief "home assignment". (In missionary-speak, that used to be called a furlough.) So we managed to meet up on their way out of Kenya at Java House. That's Nairobi's chain of resturants that most closely resembles Starbucks - with a full menu. And they're the only restaurants in Kenya I know of that will give you a glass of free filtered water.

Pray for them as they re-connect with life back in Dallas and various sponsoring churches and individuals. And go to Heather's site. There's some good stuff there.

(Sorry about the poor photo quality; I sold my beloved Sony camera in preparation for leaving.)

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Last week was our kids' spring break. I took off a few days so we could have out last Kenyan get-away. We left the big city for Malu - a place about 20 miles in the hills above Lake Naivasha.

We stayed in their treehouse. It's not so much a Swiss Family Robinson sort of dwelling but rather a house in the forest where you feel you're living in the trees. Incredible.

During one of our two days there, we hiked to the "plunge pool". Again, incredible. A small hot spring feeds the pool. The temp hovers around 78f - though it felt colder. They created the pool in the middle of a stream. Jay and Ben spent a lot of time swimming. It was too cold for Heather and I to spend much time in there, but it was very refreshing! If the day had been warmer, it would have been even more so.

Finally, for those planning to visit, you must plan to eat at their Italian restaurant for one meal. The way-off-the-beaten path setting makes the food even more amazing than it would be otherwise.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

What do you want?

As I like people to read & view this blog, I'd like to field the question, what would you like to see here?

You know what sort of stuff I do - but what parts do you love & what parts do you hate?

Thanks, if you take time to reply.

Chris inspired me to this post.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Loved this one

I love package design. In fact, that was my minor at university.

Angel Delight is from England. (The Giles family is visiting us right now, and they brought some along.) The chocolate flavor features a different kid - but he's not nearly as charming as this little guy.

As always, I can't vouch for the product's taste.

Bomas of Kenya - Nairobi Tourist Destination?

"Bomas" is Swahili for home. (It's usually not just a singular home but a set of homes for an entire family.)

Anyhow, we finally visited the Bomas of Kenya complex. It's sort of a museum. Several traditional villages are reconstructed in a forest setting, not far from Karen (a suburb of Nairobi).

Most of the villages pretty much looked the same. The Maasai village was distinctive. It was unlike the two varieties of Maasai vilages I have visited. (We lived among the Maasai - way off the beaten path - for about 6 weeks of our intro to life here training, back in 1991.)

So yes, you can see from the photo of Heather (my first and only wife) that several of the bomas represented polygamous tribal groups.

The other pic reminds me of the inside of a giant bird's nest. Jay and Oliver climbed up to the second level inside one of the homes.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Inspired by a baobab?

This sign is great. It did make me think of Kenya's baobab trees - one of the quintessentially African plants (big African plants).

It was at the Bomas of Kenya complex. The Bomas site is the gathering place where Kenya's constitutional review group met last year. The complex has a huge auditorium that hosted the discussions. We saw a great display of traditional dances there. That alone was worth the price of admission.

My next day's post: more on the Bomas.

Friday, April 06, 2007

A chip off the old block

Rachel, at 5, arranged these little plastic guys in this pattern. My brain works just like that!

Notice that the guys from the outside perimeter are even all facing the same way: feet to butt.

By the way, Rachel turned 6 a few days ago. (Happy late birthday!)

- - -

During the next week or so, I may not be posting much. It's the kids' spring break & I'm taking a few days off to hang out with them.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The funeral

Our friend Hannah's father died. Hannah is in the back, flanked by her two daughters. Hannah's mom (and wife of the deceased) is in the front.

Heather went to the first part of the funeral and then left Hannah with a small digital camera. She was able to take a lot of pictures that we never could have. (It's hard to be a fly on the wall when you stick out as much as we do!)

Today you might remember a death about 2000 years ago - Jesus. But he didn't stay in the grave - because he rose again, we can have life too.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The good and the bad

As you have noticed, advertising is one of my interests.

As I drove through town the other day, I came across these two billboards.

Coke has a new campaign, and I really like it. I'm not sure if this bright-flowery campaign has made it to other countries. (This billboard is customized for Nairobi.)

Technology Associates - lower left- is a bit misguided with their billboard. The type is so small that you'd have to be about ten feet away to read the fine print.

Yes, it's true, Coca-Cola has a little more money to spend on their advertising than Technology Associates does. If you live here, that's obvious - the new campaign is all over Nairobi.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Milk in Nairobi

Yes, another in the rubbish art series.

Lots of people buy milk in these little plastic bags. Those provide a small burst of energy and prevent dehydration. So as usual, the spent containers end up on the side of the road... along with the straws that are poked into the corners of the packs.

If you double-click on the image, you can see it a little bigger.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Well shoot

This envelope came to me recently. The Kenya Revenue Authority is the tax-taking government branch. Neither of the two out of my three names is spelled correctly. And they are not in the right order. And my first name is not there.

But in all fairness, I have severe problems figuring out the correct order of most Kenyan friends' names. I think I have way more problem with that than some Kenyans do with western names.

(Detail people - yes, I did remove the box number, to keep whatever crazies out there who might come and pillage my castle from doing so.)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Flowers up high

As you've read here before, Nairobi has the perfect climate. Plants grow and grow and grow. This giant flowering tree is in the compound of our apartment complex. In Europe or North America, that species could have maxed out as a house-plant.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bonga. (Bongo?)

Safaricom and Celtel are always fighting each other for market share. (Those are Kenya's two mobile phone networks - and some of the most profitable companies in the nation.)

I haven't figured out the latest campaign for Safaricom. And "Bonga"? Once again, my lack of Swahili skills lets me down.

Update: check the comments for some great explanations of what it means.

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...