Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Not the star whose name starts with "B"

Yes, I took the plunge and let Heather remove some weight from my shoulders. Why? For a change. For something different. Life is to be lived.

It has been fun to watch people's reactions.

I tell my Kenyan friends that I'm being culturally appropriate. Well, I use different words - "I'm being African". You see, most Kenyan men in Nairobi have very close-cropped hair.

This is the shortest I’ve had my hair since I wore diapers (about 45 or 46 years ago).

My intention is to let it grow back to "normal".

By the way, the star whose name starts with "B" has an empty website right now. Perhaps what's between her ears is currently under construction.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Different choices

(I am referring to the fact that if I were the art director for this Sunday newspaper supplement, I would have made a different choice for the details of this image.)

I was highly amused that this guy appears to be on the verge of taking a big bite of a big raw fish.

(And what an amazing fish!)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Snow tires & ski racks

Some of the "out of context" things I see frequently on the streets of Nairobi are snow tires and ski racks on cars that will never again see snow.

As I have mentioned many times before, most cars and SUVs in Kenya are used imports from Japan. They come "as is" - the TV antennas, ski racks, nav systems for Tokyo's streets, different frequency radios, etc., are still installed. (Occasionally the radios get stolen at the port of Mombasa.)

These high-end snow tires are on the car of friends Joel & Barb. Bridgestone's Blizzak is a great tire. And hey, when they're still in great condition, why get non-snow tires till they wear out?

The ski rack is not on Joel & Barb's car! I shot it at a golf course's parking lot. (I don't play golf - Rachel was going to a birthday party there.)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Karen Country Club

Rachel went to a party at the Karen Country Club. A buddy of hers from kindergarten had his 6th birthday party there. (We are not members but have friends that are.)

I could have taken shots of the poolside party - but that may not have looked very much different than some poolside kid parties you may have been to. But this all-mahogany staircase is not something that very many establishments in North America have.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

And we breathe that!

Our porch has a glass-
topped table. The weather has been so nice lately that we often eat lunch out there. (My office is an 8-minute walk from our apartment.)

I always wipe the top before we eat out there. The dirt on this rag was there after just two days. The air in Nairobi is notoriously dirty. It has a high percentage of diesel particulates. Our apartment is about 50 meters (yards) from a busy road, so we benefit from increased consumption of toxins.

(The rag is on top of the glass table.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Raila's dad's place

Raila Odinga is one of the most prominent politicians in Kenya. He is very self-serving and changes his tune from year to year. But I won't get into that. (He's also very popular.)

His dad (Odinga) was also a prominent politician. (He's no longer with us.) Odinga's foundation is on the road I walk along every day. About once every two months, some meetings are held there. And lots of cars and people arrive. The next day, and for the next two months, it's a ghost town (ghost house, that is).

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Faith or blind optimism?

Our friend will lose her job in about 2 weeks. Her employers leave the country. (She works as a house helper.)

So we asked if she would like our help in finding a new situation. She said no. She wants to wait until the family she serves leaves before starting her search.

As I pondered this, first I thought of how much faith she has that God will provide for her needs. Her faith humbles me. (I like to get as many stinking ducks in a row as I possibly can!)

But then the other side of the coin is cultural. Many Africans are more content to live in the present than Americans are. Jesus tells us to let tomorrow worry about itself. So it’s a spiritual issue too.

Climate influences attitudes toward planning ahead - when a sub-zero winter is looming, you must store up food or die. North Americans and Europeans have faced that for centuries, which has affected our thinking. No such winters have ever hit Nairobi.

I'm just observing - not being judgmental. I hope you've picked up that from reading my blog.

Biz idea

Heather had a great idea of starting an import-export business between Kenya and the US. We'd fill up a shipping container with this artist's furniture and sell it through an exclusive group of stores in appropriate shopping areas in the States. (Denver - think Cherry Creek.)

Shoot, if shipping wasn't so expensive, we'd send a bunch back for our own use!

One huge problem is just figuring out all the problems. One small example - the beautiful wood is probably banned from export. (Can you say "governmental laws to prevent deforestation"?)

By the way, this is another example of a "jua kali" (hot sun) artisan. The storeroom floor is indeed dirt and grass. (Hey - it's pretty low overhead.)

Monday, February 19, 2007


I looked at my bulletin board the other day. A little snippet of paper was there, and I thought it no longer needed to be. So I threw it away.

Then, the symbolism of that action hit me, so I had to whip out the camera.

You see, the organization we came to Kenya with no longer exists. They merged with another organization, lots of bad financial decisions were made, the administration did a poor job of communicating with its members, and they had to close their doors - all within a very short time.

Marti gives a well-written account of what happened in her blog. (See her Feb 15 entry.)

We are in the midst of joining Wycliffe Bible Translators, the organization we have been serving here. We were members from 1985-1998. Then we left to join Caleb Project. So it’s welcome back home time.

The transition has been deeply sad, annoying, angering - and exciting. We are excited about the possibilities for what is ahead.

Nakumatt's elephants

Every Nakumatt supermarket has a big elephant by its entrance. This particular elephant is in front of The Village Market branch. Each one is hand-made and unique. I think they are representative of the chain's market share here.

(Our kids were still wet from swimming at Hi Tide.)

Sunday, February 18, 2007


It was great to see that Heather (not my Heather) found the answer to my bird mystery that I posed on Feb 7.

By the way, go visit her site now! She has great (and often funny) insights into life as an expat missionary in a more rural part of Kenya. (No water slides in Kitale.)

Fun on Saturday

Many have described Kenya as "Africa Lite". That is totally true, if you consider that it's possible to go to places like Hi Tide.

We went this weekend, as a family activity. Heather and I "observed" rather than took part directly - saving a little bit of money.

This photo shows Jay and Ben zooming down the slides. Jay, at left, won that particular race.

Part of our little group was a guy on break from working in southern Sudan with Samaritan's Purse. He definitely came from "Africa Heavy".

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Casual Fridays

Fridays are casual days all over the world (at least in Kenya and in the States). A colleague wore this shirt recently, on a Friday of course.

The vast majority of garments worn in Kenya are pre-owned from North America or Europe. Even yours truly wears a lot of them. They are a good deal, and if you buy from the right merchant, they're nearly new.

So about this colleague's shirt - I'm not sure he ever has flown a kite. (This shirt is advertising the American Kitefliers Association.) But he commented that he liked the "American" aspect of the shirt.

I cropped out his face, to protect the innocent.

I originally shot this photo for my friend Rob, who loves to fly kites.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Which car to buy in Kenya?

Currently my recommendation is to buy the most common car or SUV. Reason? If you're in an accident, you will need to get it repaired. If you get a non-mainstream model, such as the Mazda Bongo Deluxe, it may be a long time after the accident till you'll be driving again.

Driving is so crazy here that I tell people to expect to get in an accident about once every nine months.

So why this sub-standard photo? This is the same model of car that some friends were driving when they got in a wreck. Then, the day after the car was repaired, another accident happened.

The second accident was thankfully minor enough that the repair was done in a few days. The first required a new hood (bonnet). It was in the shop for about two months till a replacement hood could be found. I thought their car was common, but it wasn't enough for that huge inconvenience to happen!

The downside to getting common models is that those are targets for carjackers. (The parts are easy to sell!) So you gotta choose which pro or con is most important to you. Or which risk you prefer.

Our car, a 1999 Nissan Sunny, is the second most common model in Nairobi.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Peter Horbury

Peter is the head of design at Ford. His staff is 770 talented individuals. He's a Brit, working in Detroit. He used to work in Sweden for Volvo.

"Sometimes it takes a foreigner to notice basic cultural differences." He mentioned that as it related to his design of a gigantic truck concept. That same principle guides me as I craft this blog.

(By the way, he doesn't have a blog - he's missing out on the fun!)

I'm not sure about this...

When vehicles come off the ship from Japan, Dubai or Singapore to the port of Mombasa, temporary hand-painted plates are given. I have been told that vehicles are only to be driven on Kenya's roads for one week with those plates.

Someone I know has been driving this car for more than a year with this plate. (I blocked the numbers to protect their identity.) I haven't asked them what they do when the police stop them. (That's "when" not "if" - getting stopped is a weekly or monthly occurrence.)

They haven't gotten regular government-issue plates, as the government is dragging their feet in giving the required plates. Perhaps the plate issuers are looking for a bribe?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Peppers are a gift from God

I love hot spicy food. The Tabasco company stays in business because of me.

As our days here are getting fewer, I am buying the smaller containers of Tabasco.

By the way, about 12 or 14 years ago, Heather and I toured the Tabasco factory in Louisiana. It's a great tour.

More than ten years ago, Tabasco produced its own brand of salsa. It was fabulous. It came in little metal cans. I was really sad when they stopped producing it. I even wrote to ask where I could get some. (The reply was something like, "Son, you're outta luck.")

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Frames

To the few of you out there who enjoyed The Owls, a band I recommended around Christmas time, I recommend The Frames. I only have one of their many releases, but it's a great one! Burn the Maps. It was released in 2004. They have a later CD, but as you might guess, it is not available for purchase in Kenya. (Nor is the one I have.)

The Frames are from Dublin, Ireland, for those of you who are into that kind of detail.

There are some free & legit downloads on their site.

Sportsman wins by a mile!

Here's another in my series of "rubbish art". These cigarettes were all made in Kenya (except for maybe the Pall Mall). Tobacco is grown here, so it's way cheap to smoke. Sportsman, as you might guess, is one of the cheapest brands - thus the large percentage of them among the found packages.

When we get back to the States, I plan to market my rubbish art as a series of greeting cards. Stay tuned, after July, and you can find out how to get your pack. (That's "pack of cards" not "pack of Kenyan cigarettes.")

If you double-click on the image, you can see it a bit larger.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Wooden men

Beautiful hand-made art is all over Kenya.

At the school our church meets at, these men are the lightposts that light the driveway. I liked them enough that I had to share them with you.

(The school is Hillcrest, perhaps one of the most posh schools in Nairobi. A bulletin boards features articles highlighting the accomplishments of their students in the local press. I think one went on to be Miss Kenya.)

Meeting Don

Chris has a great account of when she met Keith Richards.

Mine isn't as glamorous. I sold a hammer to Don Henley (The Eagles) in Aspen. I worked at a hardware store there one summer.

One fine day, a couple came in to do some shopping. The lady was, um, rather attractive. I didn't take much notice of the man. After they left, a seasoned Aspen resident co-worker informed me who I just sold a hammer to.

That same summer, my girlfriend there saw John Denver at the open-air mall. That shows you how long ago it happened. Another friend was a maid at a condo complex, and she cleaned the suite of the president of Sony.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Love birds

These long-tail birds are very common in our neighborhood. As usual, I have no idea what they're called. But they're fun to look at!

At the end of our first life in Nairobi, I was walking along the same road I do everyday. I saw one of these birds and thought, "Paul, why do you want to leave this paradise?"

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

More public annoyance

The main reason I object to the Muslim call to prayer that comes out of these speakers is that it wakes me at about 5:20am. Nearly as annoying is the lack of an ability to carry a tune by the main guy that calls the prayers. (And I'm not making a comment on Muslim tonal scales - I have heard much better from other mosques.)

This raises issues of freedom of speech and the use of public spaces. Those matters are complicated enough in my own culture - so I have no clue what the answers are here.

You heard me rave against christian evangelists - so this shows you I'm annoyed by people who make bad noises, no matter what their nationality, color or religion.

By the way, this is a photo of the actual speakers that broadcast the annoying sounds.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Kenyans can be so nice!

Yesterday evening on my commute (walk) home, a lady stopped me. We had been greeting each other for at least the last year. We would pass each other maybe two or three times a week - in the morning or the evening.

So she said she would no longer be seeing me. She was retrenched (laid off) from her nearby job.

I said I was sorry. We shook hands and parted.

I greet maybe twelve or fifteen people like that each week. One guy is always on a bicycle. He has a cheerful round face with little beady eyes. Another lady often walks with a work mate, and they always talk in Kikuyu. The ladies typically wear dresses. Many of the men wear ties and dress shirts.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Screaming evangelists

These guys are offensive wherever are.

Across from our apartment yesterday afternoon, a screaming evangelist did his work. He was speaking at the national stadium through an interpreter, and both voices echo-echo-echo, really loud-loud-loud. So that noise prevented me from thinking-thinking-thinking any further. (Needless to say, that particular evangelist export from the States I wish had not made it here.)

His voice was not unlike a squealing pig.

This guy came all the way here for one 4-hour crusade. I would have loved to spend his airfare on feeding the poor here.

My favorite phrase he said over and over was, "I can't hear you!" He was attempting to get the crowd worked up into a frenzy. I wanted to broadcast back, "Maybe you can't hear them because you are just not connecting!"

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Car vs Car

Heather gave me the December British magazine, Car, for Christmas. Then my buddy Eric went to South Africa for Christmas and brought me back the January issue of Top Car.

Notice any similarity?

A few of the articles are the same. I scanned the editorial contributors' listings for both magazines. Funny enough, there were none of the same names (like for the art directors or designers). And there was no listing of a parent corporation over both magazines.

And yes, I love the cover car - the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione.

By the way, the covers are slightly different dimensions. And apologies for the bad photos - operator error.

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...