Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Perfect alignment

Since my other career is graphic design (when I'm not in Kenya), I am concerned about things like whether lines in a photograph are perfectly parallel to the edges. (If they're not, they should be intentionally so. That's like wearing two different shades of blue socks. If they're close but not the same, there is a feeling of unease in the back of the viewer's mind.)

This photo is a rare macro shot where I shot it perfectly straight.

So what's the tag? I'm not sure what it means, but I can give you a little info. During the Christmas holidays, I picked up our organization's mail from the downtown post office. As I was waiting (and waiting), I saw this tag on the table or floor in the large sorting room I was sitting in.


(After hours at the office - I should be heading home to be with my family.)

I did a search on Google: "paul merrill nairobi". I came up with these interesting links!

This guy has a great site. I got on twice: one, two.


IT on the field.

Disclaimer: you'll have to scroll down a bit on some of the sites.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


My trusty Sony P200 camera was producing grey spots on every movie and photo I took. So I found a Sony authorized service center in downtown Nairobi (two, actually!). They repaired it for about half of what it would have cost in the States. And they repaired it in about 24 hours!

Turned out the lens was dirty on the inside. Serves me right for carrying it in my pocket so much.

The photo is a typical January sky in Nairobi (if you look straight up). No spots!

So some things are better in Kenya. But you knew that already.

Monday, January 29, 2007

More Melewa River

Here's the lodge. We didn't stay there, as it was too expensive for us. (We stayed at some thatched-roof dwellings that had kitchens, so we could cook for ourselves.)

The architecture is really tastefully done. The designer is a watercolor artist. He and his family have been there for about seven years. They are from South Africa or England but Kenya is now home.

Site design

This guy got me musing about the design of my blog:

"Are we still excited about blogs? My answer: Not as much. Our content is all starting to look the same because of the tools used to manage it and web-two-point-dough has homogenized the Internet.

Before there were blogs we had websites. Beautiful, random websites that felt more like a zine - one page looking nothing like the one before or after it..."

I agree in a way. I am bored with the design of my site, but it works. You can read it alright and see the photos. And my life is too busy right now to expend the energy to fix that which is not broken.

But part of being a designer - and being a product of the post-MTV era - is getting (visually) bored easily.

I'm hoping this design is simply a servant to the content of this site. I'm hoping the content keeps you interested in coming back.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Cactus tree

The euphorbia is fairly common species in Kenya. This isn't one. Or it may be some sub species. In any case, this was the first one I had seen with these weirdly shaped "leaves".

The tree is about 14 feet tall (4.3 meters). We spotted it at the game preserve Melewa River Lodge is on.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Alien ship arrival platform

This was actually some device on top of the Ngong Hills - it has to do with helping planes navigate properly to nearby Jomo Kenyatta Airport. The fence around it was in pretty bad shape. I'm glad those terrorists who bombed the US Embassy here haven't discovered it yet. (Ooops! Now they know about it.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Not in Kansas

Yes, it was one of those Toto moments.

I picked up a little scrap of paper from the floor of our car and came across this little note. To help your powers of interpretation, the bottom lines say, "Swimming - hippos? crocs?"

We went on a weekend getaway possibly featuring a swim in the river. It struck me how non-USA it was to need to ask if there were hippos or crocodiles in the river before we could swim.

There weren't any. They had to quit rafting a few years back, though, because hippos attacked a raft or two. (The "beach" was hippo-free, however.)

The water was cold!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Art from rubbish

Looking back to the Christmas holidays, we went on a hike in the nearby Ngong Hills.

We were escorted by an armed guard, but that's another story.

Anyhow, I collected plastic lollipop stems (handles?) on the way down the hill. I think I counted 159.

Of course I was irritated that the candy enjoyers couldn't throw them away properly. (Now I can hear you saying, "But if they had thrown them away, you wouldn't have been able to make your art!")

I enjoyed redeeming them from a life of fading in the sun and making some art. It's another of my ephemera series - I threw them away after I took the shot. (So now they are condemned to a very slow death in a landfill near Nairobi.)

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

Monday, January 22, 2007

Driving hazards and repairs thereof

Potholes are a part of life in Nairobi. Even if you don't drive, you take a minibus to get home. In either case, you have to face the depth, vast number and huge size of potholes.

Since we have had a great rainy season, the potholes are more serious than ever.

One effect is damage to cars. Another is accidents - when drivers swerve to avoid potholes and run into on-coming traffic.

Some people repair the potholes with dirt. Some with rocks. Both are temporary solutions. Asphalt is also unfortunately a temporary solution. Asphalt repairs are normally done so poorly that they can last only a month or two.

I often joke that roads are made with a half-inch of asphalt. How long is that gonna last?


Sunday, January 21, 2007

Shameless plug

Most Kenyans I know love to leave the big city. I do too. It's just nice to say goodbye to the noise, pollution and craziness sometimes.

Many Kenyans have their retirement home "up country" (in a rural part of Kenya).

I thought this would be a great bumper sticker, and so I made a bunch. I haven't put much effort into marketing yet. I was discouraged when a Kenya friend asked me what the bumper sticker means. I guess it's an American concept applied to a Kenyan ideal - and that marriage is not made in heaven.

By the way, If you're in Kenya and would like ten or more, put a comment after this entry with contact info, and I'll get in touch. I'm selling them for about a buck apiece (70 shillings) - a real true bargain.

Update: A Kenyan friend told me that these stickers might not be popular because it has kind of a negative statement - the implication is, "I'm not happy here." (This fits right in with the amazing African sense of optimism.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"So I said to myself..."

"So I said to myself, 'No I won't do it. I won't make them unhappy with another painful visit.' "

That's from the Bible: 2 Corinthians 2, verse 1. It's from a version called The New Living Translation. The guy who wrote that book was named Paul. (Not me!)

I wanted those of you out there who don't normally read the Bible to see that if you get a good translation, it can be interesting reading!

Tea break

For me it's coffee break. For most others, it's tea break.

The other day, a Kenyan friend remarked how he thought I was crazy to drink my coffee without milk or sugar.

I'm an introvert. I'm lazy. I usually go into my office for tea break and have my dark muddy coffee and a mandazi (a hollow donut-like pastry made with about 95% cooking fat). When they're hot and have the right mix of crispness and lightness, they're pretty heavenly. I read Google News. If I were more extroverted, I'd join in the conversation outside. The men talk Kenyan politics, mostly in Swahili. The women separately talk about whatever it is women talk about, also in Swahili - or Sheng, a mixture of English and Swahili.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

My philosophy of life

Yes, chocolate does indeed make you happy.

(This is from the end of a Swiss chocolate bar Heather got me for Christmas. The source cocoa beans were from neighboring Tanzania, which is not known for its chocolate. But it was a pretty good chocolate bar.)

As with most good things, I must encourage you to enjoy your pleasure in moderation.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Melewa River

At the very end of the Christmas holidays, we stayed at a place called Melewa River. It's in the heart of Africa's great Rift Valley. Our banda (hut) had a fabulous view of an amazing section of the valley.

On the main afternoon, we went abseiling. I think that's the South African or British term for what Americans (and Germans?) call rappelling. This shot is Heather at the top of the cliff.

It was fun.

Monday, January 15, 2007

How can a bar be long-term?

As we went for a hike in the Ngong Hills (overlooking Nairobi), I had to stop for this pic.

So what is your interpretation of what a long-term bar might be? Repeat customers? A place to live, rather than just visit? (I'm not sure either of those options appeals to me.)

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Seize the day

Our neighbors below our apartment are from Korea. Yae-Ben plays with Rachel all the time. (They are even in the same class at school together.)

They're moving.

I have often thought of inviting them up for a meal. We never got around to it.

So what's the photo? Over the weekend, they were drying these wood chips of some kind, for some unknown purpose - on our shared "backyard".

And what's the "seize the day" bit? Well, maybe I can urge you to give in to that positive urge, before the opportunity is gone.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Radio in Nairobi

The only time I listen is when I'm driving. When anyone else is in the car, I don't listen. But I run a fair amount of errands for work - especially when my staff is on vacation. (That happened a lot toward the end of last year.)

One group vehicle that I drive has a radio (shown) that picks up only three stations - one in Swahili, one in French and one in Hindi. I enjoy listening to those stations, though my attention span is not as long as it might be for an English station.

Our personal car picks up BBC World Service (tailored for Africa), and there are some great programs on there.

At least two other group vehicles have only AM radios. They seem to pick up just two stations. Both are in Swahili. Maybe one is in Kikuyu. And of course the sound is trashy - the full spectrum of audio delights pumped through a 2" speaker.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

(Are your dents happy?)

This gum made its way to my Kenya supermarket from Vietnam.

I was amused at the packaging, in terms of how "white baking soda" was right next to "with green tea extract".

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Techno Lust

Apple just released their iPhone. I don't really want one - I think it's too big. (I carry my phone in my pocket.) Also, I can't feature spending $500 on a phone, when I know lots of people here who could live off that amount for about two months.

Time magazine wrote: 'When our tools don't work, we tend to blame ourselves, for being too stupid or not reading the manual or having too-fat fingers. "I think there's almost a belligerence - people are frustrated with their manufactured environment," says [Jonathan] Ive [Apple's product designer]. "We tend to assume the problem is with us, and not with the products we're trying to use." In other words, when our tools are broken, we feel broken. And when somebody fixes one, we feel a tiny bit more whole.'

That summarizes a little of why I fall into techno lust.

Ultimately, however, having a cool well-designed thing isn't going to fix that broken-ness. Only our Creator can.

I have found time and again that the fun of a new thing wears off pretty quickly. Sadly, the cost of the thing is not necessarily proportional to the length of happiness generated by its acquisition.

All the way from Sweden

It was another one of those times I was glad my camera was in my pocket.

I spotted this Land Rover outside a Java House restaurant. They drove to Nairobi all the way from Sweden. It's hard to fathom all the difficulties they went through to visit Java House. It's a simple drive across town for me.

The website associated with the vehicle is I can't read Swedish, but it looks like a car dealer.

I was glad I took the photo when I did! After I came out of Java House, the vehicle was gone. Maybe they were off to Rwanda.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Roasted goat's head

A week or so before Christmas, our apartment complex had a holiday party. Two of the guys sponsored a goat roast. Part of the package was bringing in a live goat and the butchers to slaughter it.

Gideon, the gardener for our complex, enjoyed roasting the goat's head. I didn't stay around long enough to see if he ate it.

In north America, many kids think meat comes in plastic-wrapped packages, from start to finish. Here, most kids outside of the city have never seen the plastic-wrapped variety.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The rhubarb zone

As one travels from Nairobi in the direction of Uganda, one passes several fruit and vegetable vendors.

We stopped recently to buy some plumbs, peaches - and yes, rhubarbs. (I'm not fond of rhubarbs, but the rest of the family likes them. I find them too much in the slime category. Ironically, I do like fresh oysters. But you gotta have some good cocktail sauce to slather on them.)

This "zone" sales concept is part of travel through Kenya - and Nairobi. Further toward Uganda is the oranges zone. But you guessed it, there is no tacos zone.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Hell's Gate

Very close to Lake Naivasha is Hell's Gate National Park. It's named that because of the amount of geothermal activity within the park.

We hiked along (and in) a streambed that runs through a canyon in the park. For at least a kilometer, we hiked barefoot and enjoyed the water that was warmed by hot springs.

On our way to the canyon, we drove past these amazing cliffs. (Click on that image to see an enlarged view.)

To see more, visit Jay's blog. If he hasn't posted about that yet, come back in a day or so.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Last weekend o' the year

Over the weekend, we went to Lake Naivasha. Two central events were part of our time away from the big city; today I'll feature Crayfish Camp. Tomorrow I'll feature Hell's Gate National Park.

We stayed one night at Crayfish Camp. It's a semi-rustic set of tents and cabins. Heather, Rachel and I stayed in one of the rooms. Jay and Ben slept in an old VW camper van. It was outfitted unlike any other camper van I'd seen. It had no engine. The last time it was on the road was maybe 20 years ago. Rachel posed in front of an old Vauxhall car that was similarly converted. (As you can see, a boat and an old camper trailer were also converted.)

One interesting sight was several "santas" unloading a bunch of beer crates into a bird-watching bar that overlooked the lake. (New year's eve was the night of the day we left.) Not much bird watching took place that evening.

Welcome to blogging!

Jay, my son, has begun his adventure in blogging. You can visit his site here.

Be sure to comment!

Monday, January 01, 2007

How much is this blog worth?

My friend Lora showed me this site.

I can't for the life of me figure out why they think my blog is worth that much. As Lora observed, can we cash in that figure?

Happy new year!

As we enter the new year, I had to share this item of world-shaking significance...

Life baffles me. Why on earth would the manufacturer put a serial number on the toilet paper?

I bought this product in Nairobi, land of much bafflement, even for an old hand like me.

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...