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.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"You are very sticky"

I bought this passport cover for about $1.50 (100 Kenya shillings). Why? I dunno. I certainly don't have a Kenyan passport. But now my American passport can look like a Kenyan passport.

So, you're thinking, "Paul is crazy." Maybe true.

Anyhow, as I clenched the deal (starting at 200 shillings), the highway salesman ended our exchange by saying, "You are very sticky!" It was his way of saying, "You are a good bargainer." But if I had a different skin color, I could have been an even better bargainer.

There's always the feeling that I don't want to cut the sales-persons' profit too much - these guys have to make a living! So I attempt to not go too low.

Kenyan English

For those of you who have never lived outside of your native-English-speaking country, you may not be aware that there is a significant difference in the various "brands" of English.

Today I visited one of my favorite spots in Nairobi. As I was leaving, the staffer said, "Don't get so lost." In America, that phrase would result in the other party saying, "Huh?!"

What the other person meant was, "Don't wait so long before you return next time!"

And that is the very reason why I am in the line of work I'm in - assisting Bible translation. You can imagine that some critical concepts would not translate even within the different brands of English, to those who don't know both "languages."

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Matatu meanings

This was on the back of another matatu (public mini-bus).

The words on them are so random. "Dallas" on top? Maybe the name of the company that put "Meticulus" on there. Maybe not.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

More rubbish art

This is the eighth in my series of "rubbish art".

This one is gum and candy wrappers. All found by me along the edge of the road in Nairobi.

So why do I do these?

Well, as Heather observed, it's my way of redeeming what was thrown away. It's also my way of observing what people throw away. In this case, it's easy to see that people choose PK gum as their quick sugar buzz more than any other. Additionally, I'm commenting on people throwing stuff away at the side of the road rather than in a rubbish bin (UK/Kenya) or trash can (US). I wish they would throw stuff away in a bin! Finally, I'm commenting on manufacturing - there ought to be ways of making stuff that wouldn't involve a package that is discarded. In Japan, for example, candy is packaged in edible wrappers made of rice.

Close-up: my favorite wrapper.

Another artist who comments on how throw-away the USA culture acts: here.

Finally, if you tune back in around August, I'll be making a series of greeting cards that will be for sale. They will be blank inside - I can't imagine saying something like, "I hope you have a trashy birthday..."

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hunting in Tanzania

I have never been hunting. Not in Tanzania. Not in America. (Not in a box, not with a fox, not in a house, not with a mouse...) I'm not opposed to it, but it's just not my thing.

Anyhow, I saw this emblem on the hood (UK-bonnet) of a large bush-ready Land Cruiser the other day. It was so amazing I had to share it with you. It would have been interesting to meet the owners, though I didn't have that opportunity.

Hunting is illegal in Kenya. (Not in a box, not with a fox, not in a house, not with a mouse...) But apparently, if one is willing to pay enough, hunting is totally legal in Tanzania. If you have resident status (the Land Cruiser owners did), it is WAY cheaper - like 50 times less!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Let me introduce you to Simon

Simon appears on many public transportation vehicles in Nairobi. This time he was on the back window of a taxi parked at the posh Junction Shopping Centre.

I have always found Simon's image to be striking. I have no idea who the artist is. (Finding him or her would be a monumental undertaking. Unfortunately that person must get no royalties for the frequent use of their artwork.)

Simon represents the oppressed extremely poor street children in Nairobi. His image is meant to make you consider their plight. Or at least that's my theory.

Friday, March 23, 2007

This would not fly in the land of its origin

The Belgian government has sent a copy of An Inconvenient Truth to all of the 7th grade classes in the country and is asking for teachers to initiate projects around climate change/control...

And I must remind you that Mr. Gore's personal home uses 20 times more energy than the average US home uses. But I guess the good changes he might start in Belgium could make up for his personal sins. (Politician = televangelist?)

Swahili Baby?

This 45 (from here) caught my eye.

As I have mentioned before, it can't catch my ear, as my bandwidth, both at home and at the office, can't support music downloads. That's probably a good thing.

I wondered if Chuy even knew what Swahili is.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Terms of Endearmints

Some friends went down to South Africa recently. (That's the "Europe of Africa".) They very nicely brought back some gifts - including some Endearmints.

If you're ever in South Africa, pick some up - they are like Mentos only better!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Retail therapy

I bought a watch from a highway salesman recently. It's a Porsche Design. Fake.

It cost all of about $14. The case is not titanium. On the back it says "Rose Gold". Maybe not.

I was amused, as I asked the guy, "It runs on batteries, right?" Not. (I knew it wouldn't be battery-powered.) It's wind-up (or motion-activated) and needs to be reset to the right time every morning. In other words, the mechanism is so ineffieient that it runs down in the middle of the night, after a day of wearing.

I love the tire pattern - on the inside of the rubber band. Very cool.

(My other title for this post is: "Wasting money = coping mechanism".)

Sometimes I'm glad I'm out of the loop

As some of you know, my bandwidth is very limited here. Also, my server at work blocks all Flikr and Youtube.

Jason writes: "When one thing (i.e. Twitter) is easier than something else (i.e. blogging) and offers almost the same benefits, people will use it."

I'm out of the Twitter loop too.

I guess that's all good - I get more work done!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rubbish art #3

Actually, this is my seventh in the series. I think it's only the third or fourth that I put in my blog.

This one features scratch-n-sniff phone cards. Most people in Kenya use pay-as-you-go phone cards with no contracts. The vast majority of people buy 100 shilling cards from Safaricom. Only about 10% of the cards discarded by the side of the road are from the competition, CelTel. Does this indicate that CelTel customers are less likely to litter or just that there are fewer CelTel customers? I think both are true.

One thing is true - CelTel customers are more likely to pick up discarded phone cards than Safaricom customers. (Yes, as in, I am a CelTel customer, and I am the only one in the country who has ever picked up that many spent phone cards!)

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

Monday, March 19, 2007

Mind-numbing inefficiency

Telkom is the (mostly) government-owned phone company. They have done so badly during the last few years that they are dying, financially. (The Kenyan government has kept them on life-support.)

We have an internet connection at the office that is represented in the pic. It's payable at the strange amount of 35,914 shillings a month. (That's about $500, for what would be piped into your home in the USA for about $60 or less.)

So where's the bureaucracy?

1. They won't accept checks without a 4-day clearance period, which would cause two trips to get the monthly required top-up card. This connection must be paid for in person each month - no automatic debiting of an account or credit card. (Aaaugh!)

2. Note the hand-written receipt: the lady had to write the amount four times, by hand! Then she had to write the card's serial number and rubber-stamp it by hand.

Featured here, featured there

This is a new site to me: Expat Interviews. There are some interesting interviews. Rob and Heather are both there. (Rob's is in the Germany section and Heather's is in the Kenya section.)

Check out the post on yours truly!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Barb inspired me

Barb wrote a post on the evils of MSG. I agree. However, I'm too much of a hedonist to give it up - yet.

We don't have aisles of Lays at our supermarkets, but I am thrilled to say that Lays are available. (They were imported from South Africa.) But I bet you can't get this flavor - at least in North America!

After I ate the pack, I read the fine print and discovered that there is no MSG! But my friend Amy told me that another ingredient, maltodextrin, is just another name for MSG. (Apparently MSG has lots of names, just like the devil.)

Update: a doctor friend, John, assured me that maltodextrin has absolutely no relationship to MSG.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Creativity by some anonymous computers

Remember back in the 80s? Punk band names were an amazing area of cultural creativity.

Spam email titles are today's equivalent. The difference this time through is that they are generated by a computer to carefully carve their way through spam filters. (This set all were caught, though.) I have no idea who actually opens those messages. Maybe I should have opened one to see if the contents were equally creative. Or not. Pandora might leap out.

These are actual spam titles:

My nose he prejudicial
And shelf of meteorite
It of riven
It sunbeam is commandeer
For do kaskaskia
To nonsensic as eclogue
A an estrange
In mitre it monetarist
I a burley
As nutria no grandstand
As do mervin
An at sandburg
A is precautionary
Be he respectful
I go mice
That of shack
At chancy it reel

Thursday, March 15, 2007

No freezes = giant house plants

This is the biggest poinsettia I have ever seen. Note that it is a tree and not just a little potted plant that you might see at Christmas. It's not far from where my kids wait for the school bus each morning.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A different place

On our way to Kenya in May 2005, we stopped in England*. We lived there from 95-98, and that was our first time to return. It was great to re-connect with some of our friends there.

Ben connected with this contraption at a medieval village, not far from Cambridge.

Jay and I connected with a TVR and Lotus dealership near that village. (Both are low-volume British sports cars. TVRs are appealing to me, as they are nearly hand-made. They have quality-control issues that come with that too!)

*To get to Kenya from the USA, one must stop in Europe, at least for a layover between planes.

Politician, heal thyself

I read in Newsweek that Al Gore's home used 221,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity during 2006. That was 20 times what the average US home used.

By way of contrast, my family used about 4,000 kw-hrs. That's 55 times less than what Al used and about 3 times less than the average US home.

I don't say this to be self-righteous but rather to humbly ask Al to reconsider his personal ways. (Are you listening, Al?)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Some more fun blogs for you

The Lone Beader - this lady does amazing stuff with beads. She has to be one of the best bead artists in the world!

Brook works with drug addicts living on the street in Kathmandu, Nepal. She really lives on the edge.

Lora has a unique perspective on life, from Austin, Texas.

Courtney & Brent live in our home town - Littleton, Colorado. They adopted Sam, a wonderful boy from Kenya, via India.

Dave & Barb are the only couple I know who both have blogs. They live in small-town Illinois and I hope some day in the same town as us!

Chris is a great writer.

And yes, I probably left out you. My apologies. This list is not exhaustive. (It may be exhausting.)

Coffee from Singapore

(Well, the coffee was not grown in Singapore - but it was canned there.)

Again, it's so strange what stuff makes it to the shelves of our local supermarket in Nairobi.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Conveniences at the Proms

The folks who put on the Proms rented the most amazing portable toilets - two trucks with actual bathrooms were available for the guests. As you can see, the trucks themselves came to Kenya from England more than 40 years ago - but they have been maintained in superb condition. (I think the toilets were added later.)

These "porta-loos" are normally used for wealthy clients' luxury bush safaris.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Proms

Those in the UK and its former colonies may know of what the Proms are - concerts outside during the summer, often in the evening. Sometimes the end is marked with fireworks. When we lived in England, we went to a couple of those concerts - really fun!

Kenya has the Proms too.

And there is none of that date/rejection stigma as in the USA high school variety. (One would have to do a word study to find the link between the two meanings of the world "promenade". I'm too lazy.)

So back to Kenya's Proms. It ended last weekend. We attended Saturday afternoon's concert. The featured players and singers were Ken Wachira's Nairobi Chorale, the London Adventist Chorale and the London Guildhall Players. Venue: Nairobi Arboretum.

It was great fun! The weather was superb - warm and sunny. Kids played in the grass. A skinny cat stalked an unseen prey in front of the stage. The music was wonderful. My favorite was a spiritual performed by the Adventist Chorale. The singers were British men and women of Caribbean descent singing African-American spirituals in Africa. Their performance was awe-inspiring.

I love the juxtaposition in the photo of the "Home Boyz" logo on the speakers with the prim and proper singers. I guess speakers with an appropriate classical music logo weren't available. (Actually, Home Boyz is the sound company.)

During a break in the music, one of the Leaky family spoke. (You know, the Leakys who discovered evolution.) One of Nairobi's very richest men also spoke – Henry Josephs (or something like that) - the chairman of Safaricom, Kenya's largest mobile phone service company. (He's the guy in the light blue shirt.) He wants to open an ampitheater at the Arboretum, but apparently there is too much politics involved. The Leaky guy is also in the front row, next to Mr. & Mrs. Njonjo. (He used to be a prominent figure in Kenyan politics - Heather taught one of his daughters oboe lessons during our first Kenya life.)

More tomorrow.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

How to get rid of a pile

This fire was lit on purpose. It's a bunch of tree-trimmings from the compound I work at.

So there's the dilemma - air pollution that way or via taking it somewhere else? If the group that runs my office compound had paid to have the stuff removed, it probably would have been taken away by an old polluting diesel truck. Petroleum would have been taken out of the earth somewhere, never to be seen again. Money would have been spent for the removal, never to be seen again.

If they had asked me, I would have suggested taking it to a nearby "vacant" lot and starting a new hill.

Thought for the day

"God has been found lurking in a burning bush, lying in a manger, even hanging on a cross. Given His track record, He might show up anywhere. This very day, the circumstances of any given moment could suddenly facilitate a sacramental encounter with the divine. That makes this a special day, indeed."

From an editorial by Russell Board, a missionary in Japan, as published in "World" magazine, Nov. 18, 2006.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Another Heather

Heather Armstrong has one of the most popular blogs. She became famous when her company fired her for what she said in her blog.

Anyhow, this pic she posted inspired this post.

I have collected concert ticket stubs for years. I still have the ticket from the very first rock concert I went to. (My brother Bill and I went to see Stephen Stills and Neil Young. The opening group was Poco. That was a long time ago.)

My time in Nairobi this time has meant no additions to the concert ticket collection. However, I have had a few park passes go through my hands. This one was from Mt. Longonot, a peak we climbed on Christmas. (See my blog entries shortly after then for some pix.)

By the way, I am not collecting national park entry tickets. I have too many collections already. (I am collecting digital pix of various things - many of which I have shared with you!)

How to benefit others

From "...if you really want to help fight AIDS in Africa, instead of buying that (RED) Gap t-shirt for which Gap will donate 50% of its profit to The Global Fund, buy a cheaper one at American Apparel and send the $13 difference to the Global Fund yourself."

I'd say Samaritan's Purse or Compassion are maybe even better causes.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Madmen and web stats

Two of my favorite bloggers are Rob and Heather. (My Heather does not blog.)

Rob has a good post recently that reminded me to just not worry about how many people come to my site. After all, I really do it as a creative outlet anyhow.

Heather reminded me that her rural podunk town in Kenya is a lot like the big town I'm in. Kenya is Kenya. Our neighborhood has a madman too. (As there are in many parts of America.) And I've seen the streets filled with teenagers here too. The most recent set was one Saturday on Ngong Road - a bunch of young people were lining the street on both sides, and even down the middle. They were on some fund-raising walk benefiting some charitable organization.

And I have lots of other favorite bloggers too, but those are two today's pleasure allotment from me to you.

Mandela on a bus

Nelson Mandela is a wildly popular figure here. For good reason.

The portrait artist did this one-off painting on the back of this public minibus. (It was on the back window.)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Time and energy

Checkout lines are always frustrating, no matter where you are in the world.

The other day, I needed to get change for a purchase from another shop, so I went to Nakumatt, the only store in Kenya where change is always plentiful. The lines were so slow and so long that I went to a nearby health food store and bought an overpriced "energy bar". I was highly amused to read the wrapper later and see that it was imported from my native Denver, Colorado.

By the way, I don't recommend that particular flavor; mixing cinnamon and chocolate isn't a good idea - at least for my taste buds.

The wrapper states, "Each bar is a gentle balance of high energy and sustaining foods that leave you with a pleasing sense of vitality and well being for hours to come." That is what I felt, but I think that was from my cup of coffee.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A world o' contrasts

Yes, these two trucks always hang out by the side of a road we often travel.

The hilarious thing is the contrast - just a block or so away is one of Nairobi's two fanciest shopping malls. The lowest shot is from one of the shop windows in that fancy mall (The Junction).

Friday, March 02, 2007

Only in Africa

Yes, I defy any of you to find a plane striped like a zebra anywhere else.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The very best (?)

What better name for your product?

This soap is from India, and it contains neem - an herbal plant that is also used in toothpaste (in India).

I liked the fact that this is an "International Pack". (I guess the "National Pack" is in Hindi rather than in English.)

Why some come & some go

I use a tool called Google Analytics. (It's free, like most Google things, including this site.)

Within the last week, 115 return visitors came to my site & 144 new people came. The top day (Mon 27th) had 47 visits & 70 pageviews. Grand Rapids won the most hits with 15.

Why do some come back? I hope it's because they find my viewpoint interesting. Would it be possible to keep any of the new people? I dunno; my numbers seem to be pretty level. My guess is that some regulars get bored and quit coming. Some new people stay. Kinda like a city bus; some people stay for the whole journey. Others ride for only one stop.

How do you keep your friends coming back?

What are your Google Analytics numbers?

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...