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.)

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...