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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Prison Finals

Too much to write for today because it was awesome but I have to pack as I'm leaving for a safari at Masai Mara tomorrow. I won't have internet access until I get home! I'll catch up then!

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Prison Championships-5/30/08

Today was an early day! I met the travel agent at my hotel lobby to pay for my safari on Sunday! i had a quick breakfast and taxi'd my way over to Nyoyo Stadium where the Prison Championship Track & Field event was to be held. I had a seat in the VIP section which was nice because we had individual chairs with plush cushions of red

velvet. The stadium seating is all concrete slab! I sat there trying to catch some rays for a bit but it was a pretty cloudy and cold day! (I hate to go home without any tan at all, I mean, how do I say I was just in Africa for two weeks and still be so white!) Speaking of which, it was rather comical; I was the ONLY white person in the entire stadium so needless to say I was quite noticeable! But everyone was so friendly as always. Any time someone came into the sitting area, they shook hands with everyone else there.

I arrived at 9:20 and the events didn't start until around 11:30, but once they started there was something going on at all times. I have never been to a track & field meet other than in high school so this was very interesting. They had all of the events; hurdles, steeplechase, various distance sprints; long jump; high jump; shotput;
relay races and the 5000 meter race

that Catherine won! (that's her in the blue shorts and white shirt)
(check out the final lap to the left)

The steeplechase was quite interesting; I never noticed that one of the hurdles has a small moat after it so the athletes have to either clear it by a lot or land IN the water! The men and the women both chose the latter! It was pretty funny to watch the difference in styles between the runners!

The day was long but fun. Lunch was served in a separate room and we were called in first before all of the employees working on the field. I was FINALLY able to taste mokimo, although I'm sure it was not as good as Catherine's! After lunch the sitting area filled up a bit more and Catherine's race was not long after. It was fun to watch her run and especially win! At 5:00 people came around to our seats and server a choice of Kenyan tea or cocoa. I had cocoa and it was delicous! You added your own sugar, cocoa and then they poured in hot milk...mmmmmm. They also served cookies and/or pound-cake-like cakes. It was very nice.

The closing ceremony was awesome! All of the athletes came out in uniforms that were color-coded according to the province they run for. They fell into line behind a marching band and literally marched around the track.
As they approached the "VIP" section, we all stood, they all saluted the head prison official, he saluted back and then the lead drill master approached and he and the prison official exchanged some dialogue. The athletes all stood at ease (in Kenya, athletes are recruited by the prison system, police force or army). After a speech given in Swahili they marched into another formation and the band played what I assume was the national anthem (I was not able to confirm that yet but I'm fairly sure) This whole closing ceremony was very cool!

Today was a lot of qualifying heats and only some actual finals. Tomorrow is the bulk of the competition and I'm really looking forward to it! I'll post more then!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

More meetings

Not much to tell for today. I had several meetings with production people and stopped by the Kenya Film Commission. I have an appointment to meet with someone tomorrow at the Prison Championships. I came back to the hotel for a quiet night.


Today, Wednesday May 28th, we got a later than desired start because Anthony's ex-boss called him in and he had to go see her. We didn't get on the road until almost 12:30. We had a lot of stops to make in Nyeri which is in the Central Province of the country and where Catherine grew up, and where Catherine's brother still lives on the same property where they call grew up. Our first stop was to Kahira-Ini Primary School where Catherine attended from 1st through 8th grade. We pulled up to the gate and were greeted by Alex who was a teacher when Catherine attended. We came to find out that out of the 9 teachers at the school, 7 of them taught Catherine! When we drove through the gate we could see some children starting to gather as they were very curious about the big car. As soon as we stepped out of the car I was swarmed by 330 school children! I was informed that they don't see white people in this part of the country so they were extremely curious! I had one girl ask me to please shake her hand, they were mesmerized by my digital camera and as soon as I raised it to take a photo they squeezed even closer to me and all started smiling and got all giggly! There were SO adorable! They followed me everywhere I went. When the headmaster showed Catherine and I into one of the classrooms, the other students waited outside the door for me. The teachers were awe struck by Catherine; the children by me! Catherine spoke to the children in the 6th and 7th grade classes and gave them inspiration and motivation to continue to do well and stay in school. We toured the entire school and much of it was as it was when Catherine attended. There is no electricity. The rooms where the students learn now are almost identical to when Catherine attended however last year they actually put glass in the window cut-outs and put cement on the floors. The two older buildings remained as they were; no electricity, clay floors, no glass in the window openings and an aluminum roof with holes in it. It was an amazing experience seeing these children and how determined they are to go to school. Most of the children did not have shoes as Catherine did not when she attended. We had to leave to be able to make all our stops but I loved being there! My main motivation for finally going, besides the time factor, was that I had to go to the bathroom SO badly but I knew there was no electricity, I knew it was an outhouse, and the last thing I wanted was for 330 kids to be standing outside of an outhouse listening and waiting for me to re-emerge!!!!!! We left the primary school and drove down narrow, clay covered roads that had no street signs anywhere in sight and arrived at the secondary school where Catherine attended. The atmosphere here was completely opposite from the atmosphere at the primary school; it was much more offocial and formal here. We sat with the principal and the deputy principal and then the athletics director joined us. Unfortunately none of the teachers Catherine had still worked there. We politely accepted a soda and spoke to the principal explaining what we were looking to do. They were very happy to see Catherine even though the head principal seemed a bit insulted that she had tried to get in touch with Catherine on several occasions to join a committee and Catherine had not arranged a visit due to her schedule. Before we left Catherine "reminded" me "Stef, didn't you have to use the bathroom"? I was hoping she'd forgotten because I was going to try to hold it not wanting to use the outhouse but at that point I was cornered so I said "oh yes". The principal turned to go find some TP but I assured her that I had my pack of tissues ;-)

By the time we left the school it was getting late and we headed over to Catherine's oldest brother's
house. Anthony's house is set at the top of a hill and there was a huge dirt pile blocking the way so we left the car and trekked up the long hill to the house. (Look closely, thats our car t the very bottom of the hill!)
Once we arrived it was a beautiful setting! You could see out for miles of beautiful trees and fields and their house was very pretty as well. Catherine showed me the house where she grew up which sits right next to Anthony's house and remains unoccupied. We were invited into Anthony's home and met his wife and his children Lillian 9 and Hilda 6. The girls were initially so shy they wouldn't even enter the room. They finally did and sat right next to mom so I held out my camera and asked who wanted to try it first. They loved it! I will say that the younger one, Hilda, took to photography quite naturally from the first time she picked up the camera. Lillian had a much harder time and I think got a bit frustrated with it. But it did break the ice and they seemed at ease around me afterwards. The photos above are self portraits the girls each took with the camera! By the time we left there it was almost 7:00 and I learned that we had to be back for Catherine and Anthony to pick up her brother and another runner at the airport. We still had to stop and meet Anthony's parents! On the way to his parents we stopped so Anthony and I could recharge our cell phones. He went to get the minutes and Catherine and I stayed in the car. There were young boys tapping on our window asking us for money. They would not leave. Finally Catherine cracked her window and said something in Kikuyu to the one boy who would not stop tapping on her window. I have rarely heard her speak so strongly! She said that a lot of these young boys choose to live on the streets because they do not want to obey their parents so they beg for money and live on the streets rather than have to follow the rules of their home. We finally got to Anthony's parents' house and just before we hit the entrance to the house the skies opened up and let down torrential rains! We hurried inside and were greeted by Kenneth and Jane. I won't even list their last names because it is very confusing how the surnames are assigned here! We were shown inside a lovely home that was much more modern than the previous one's we had been to here and in Olkalau. The house has electricity and the TV was on, a digital camera was charging, a cell phone was charging, there was a radio and I saw a computer. They still lived traditionally in other respects but they did have some modern conveniences. Jane served a beef stew with potatoes and cooked bananas. Everyone here has bananas it seems in this region. The primary school gave Catherine a huge bunch, her brother did and Anthony's parents gave us each a bunch of bananas to take home as well. She also served arrowroot which tasted similar to potatoes. And of course came the tea. The bowl of food was so huge I could not finish that or my piece of arrowroot! I had to force some tea down or it would be perceived as an insult! Kenneth has a great sense of humor and i can definitely see where Anthony gets his from! We did not want to leave but it was already after 8:30 and they had to be at the airport because the flight was due in at 9. They figured by the time they got out of customs and got their luggage they wouldn't be too late but we had to get going. The rain thankfully had stopped and we said our farewells. Once we got in the car Anthony was feeling the pressure of having to get to the airport. I had seen how fast he drove throughout these back roads BEFORE dark but now it had also just poured! Now keep in mind that these are dirt roads that are encroached by trees and vegetation so you can barely fit two cars side by side on most of them until you reach the highway. When Anthony hit 140kph you can imagine how scared I was! We made it back to my hotel around 10:05 and they dropped me off and headed off to pick up Samuel (Catherine's brother) and Jane an up and coming runner both also under Lisa's management. It was an amazing day once again. I truly love going out to the countryside and meeting the people in Catherine's life. It has been an amazing experience!

An unforgettable Experience (a good thing?)

Well, I guess I hadn't recovered enough to write again until now so here goes! On Tuesday, 5/27/08, I met up with one of Lisa's other runners, Irene and we cabbed it over to Massai Market. This is a marketplace that rivals any flea market you have ever seen combined with the worst hustlers you've ever seen! Irene and I were cornered by some men who claimed that all the dealers were "a community" and that we could pick out everything we wanted and then bargain for the whole lot at the end. Needless to say, I thought there was something amiss about this but I went along. I ended up spending over two hours bargaining and still don't feel I got a good price on anything. As we were walking out I priced some of the items individually with some of the vendors and was not happy. At that point I just wanted to get out of there. There were women coming up to me shoving their babies in my face begging me to "please feed my baby". It was heartbreaking at first. I told the women when I was done. Well, they waited the whole time for me to finish so I gave the two of them 500 ksh which is close to $10! Then another two came up. I gave them 50ksh and that was it. We pushed through the rest of the marketplace with our "brokers" (as we came to figure thats what they were) and when we got outside of the place I was literally swarmed by women shoving babies in my face. I told them I'm sorry but I can not feed all the babies and I had already given! We pushed our way across the street and they followed. I was very overwhelmed between the marketplace, the men who told us they would bargain fairly but did not, and the icing was these women! We were waiting for our taxi, standing in front of a building and the owner came out and told everyone to get away from his building. These women would not move. He finally came back out with a WHIP to shoo them away! A few minutes later our taxi arrived and i could not wait to get away from the place! It turned out to be a very long, exhausting day! I got back to my hotel, had a bite to eat at 5:30 and then did not leave my room again! Enuf said for this day!

Oh, the good news is that the hotel upgraded my room and it is SO much nicer!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Simple LIfe

Mon. May 26, 2008

Today Anthony and Catherine picked me up at 1:00pm and we headed out to meet Catherine’s parents. Her cousin’s son, William, came long for the ride as well. Along the way we stopped for a breathtaking view over the Rift Valley. Her parents live just outside of Olkalau which is in the central province of the country. To get there you must really know the roads because there are no signs and the turns are easily missed! Once we turned off of the main road, there was no paving, the roads were incredibly bumpy, with dips and rocks and you had to drive VERY slowly. We passed through one last small town and then there was nothing for miles! We came to a gate in the middle of nowhere and Catherine’s father came out and opened it. We drove over more bumps and came to another gate which opened to reveal her parents’ home. To say it is modest is an understatement. It was as simple as you can imagine but so functional. I felt like I was taken back to another time! I was brought into a sitting room with some sofas and chairs all covered in matching fabric, the walls were plain but had family photos up along the top. There was one lone light on the ceiling that was not turned on. I sat with Joseph, Catherine’s father and Anthony while Catherine helped her mother and brought out dishes. Kenyans are extremely hospitable people and you can not enter someone’s home without being offered at ;least some tea. It is actually and insult if you do not accept. Joseph is very quiet and although he does understand a little and speak a little English, he did not say very much.

Eventually Catherine’s mother, Felista entered. She is a warm, jovial woman with quite a sense of humor. She was a bit shy at first but by the time I left we were fast friends! She speaks VERY little English so Catherine acted as interpreter. She had prepared a stew which consisted of a clear broth, tender pieces of beef and potatoes. It was delicious! She also had prepared fresh chapati which is similar to a pita bread, baked fresh in an open stove fireplace and made from wheat flour. This meal was followed by Kenyan tea. I ate my stew and some chapatti and when I was finished my stew I was nibbling on another piece of my chapati. All of a sudden Catherine stops pouring tea and says “oh, you want more stew”? I said no thank you, I’m good. So everyone said “you’re just eating the chapatti by itself”. Then Catherine said “you can eat the chapatti with your tea”. I didn’t realize you were supposed to eat it with something else LOL

While we were talking I learned that everything in the stew was fresh and except for the beef, everything was grown right there in their own fields. I learned that there is no electricity in the house, only a solar panel and only one light could be on at any given time. After the meal, I needed to use a restroom so I was directed to the bathroom, OUTSIDE. You’ve all heard of porta pottys but this was not even a porta-potty! It is literally a triangular hole in a slab of cement with a little shack around it! I was so afraid that I would miss the hole! Thankfully there was a roll of toilet paper hanging from the wall! When you exit, you come back around the chicken coups and there is a spigot outside where you rinse your hands. When I finished washing my hands I saw a young girl approach. I learned her name was Leila and she saw my camera. I handed it to her and taught her how to use it. She was so thrilled! She took many photos and then I showed her how to use the video. She was a beautiful little girl and I couldn’t believe when I learned she was 15! Compared to what 15 year olds look like in the US, she looked 10!

I heard Felista calling me so I went into the building directly across from the house and entered the “kitchen”. The kitchen consists of a fireplace, stone shelves and a bunch of pots. There is no refrigerator, no sink, no cabinets. It is the barest minimum! The dishes are all washed using a tub filled with water from the spigot. Water has to be heated to get it warm. There is a water tank on the property. Chickens were running around freely as were ducks. There is a chicken coup next to the kitchen. Felista invited me to go down to the fields so she could give Leila some fresh spinach that she had come to buy for her mother. I followed them down to the fields and it was amazing. Rows and rows of fresh vegetables including spinach, cabbage, potatoes, beans, zucchini, and onions to name a few! I watched as this woman picked leaf after leaf of spinach and put it in a bag. She took the damaged leaves off and they went into a separate pile for the hens. Leila informed me that the hens are very happy to receive this and it helps them lay their eggs! In the meantime, a large Izusu truck pulled up and Catherine’s brother, Michael, and some other men began loading it with wooden posts. I’m not sure where they came from but they were loading 1000 posts which took them until well after dark!

When it was almost dark we returned from the fields and Leila paid for her goods and left. I went back into the sitting room where Anthony and some other friends of the family had gathered. I enjoyed another cup of tea and we all talked for awhile. Felista joined us but Catherine was in the kitchen across the way washing dishes. She said she did not want help, that when she visited her mother it was her pleasure to help her.

I think I mentioned that Felista has quite the sense of humor. When we were in the fields she asked me how old I was. I told her 47 today as it was my birthday. She told me she was 72! I could not believe it. Not only was this woman lugging sacks of potatoes around and now down picking spinach leaves and raising all these crops, but she looks fantastic! I kept trying to do the math, knowing that Catherine is soon to be 36 and she is only 3rd in the pecking order of 10 children! I finally got it out of Felista that she was just kidding me! She got a nice laugh out of it! It was very funny and we all had a laugh. While we were in the sitting room chatting, I kept hearing this “baaaaaaaaaah, baaaaaaaaaaaah” behind me. I was laughing every time. So Felista wanted me to go take pictures of the sheep but it was dark. When all of the visitors had gone, Joseph disappeared. A few minutes later Felista led me outside. We had to walk through another room that was pitch dark (the light was now on in the living room) and then outside. There I saw Joseph had rounded up all the sheep and Felista was waiting for me to take pictures! Well, when I walked outside my mouth dropped to the floor. I was literally stopped in my tracks by what I saw. Not the sheep; the SKY! Now my favorite place in the world has always been on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean at night with just the stars out, but, I this topped even that! I looked up and saw the MOST incredible sight I think I have EVER seen! Horizon to horizon was not only stars, but the brightest stars I have ever seen! I don’t know if it is because the altitude is so high, or because it is so dark there, but you just can not even imagine how gorgeous this was! I wanted to badly to be able to capture this but my camera is just not that sophisticated! I can only hope to be able to capture this for the film. I want everyone to see what I saw!

I took some photos of the sheep and then sat with Felista on a rock outside. They have two little dogs which are adorable but my favorite was “puppy”. He is only 3 weeks old and just the cutest little thing. I felt badly for him because I think he has fleas; he couldn’t stop scratching. I was told when you have dogs around chickens it’s hard for them not to have fleas.

I had the most amazing time. Felista wanted me to stay the night and not go back to Nairobi but Catherine had to be back to train in the morning. I am simply amazed by how simply they live! Can you imagine not have ONE bill to pay? Not ONE!!! They own the house that Catherine had built for them, they own the land, there’s no electric bill, no water bill, no sewer bill, no phone bill (they have a cell phone but in Kenya you just buy a card and activate more minutes. They grow their own food and what they don’t grow they buy with cash. Simple but they do work hard! Joseph tends to the animals and Felista tends to the crops and house and kitchen. Simple life but they do work hard! There is no TV but there is one radio in the kitchen. I am told there is another “bathroom” that is used at night so they don’t have to navigate to the outhouse in the dark. But simple is the only way to describe their lifestyle. It is in sharp contrast to Catherine and Anthony’s lifestyle and it is amazing that they choose to live this way. It is really a beautiful lifestyle even if I could not live it.

I was sad to leave but it was getting late. I loved meeting them and will miss them very much! I look forward to being back there again but it was still a two hour ride back. Along the way we stopped at Catherine’s brother & sister=in-law's house, Cyrus and Jane with their adorable little one year old boy, Paminas!

We had a cup of tea and dropped off some things for them and got on our way back. It was 11:30 by the time they dropped me off so I am sure Catherine and Anthony were exhausted as well.

It was a really nice day for my birthday!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Nairobi National Park & Petting the Cheetahs!

OMG! All I can say after today is OMG!!! I am too tired to write everything out tonight but wanted to post some photos from today's amazing excursion! From petting Cheetahs to seeing giraffe up close and personal out in the wild it was an incredible day to say the least!

I hired a driver who was to pick me up at 10:40am and take me to the park for the day. He was called away last minute so sent his brother, Francis. He was a bright, friendly 23 year old with a comfortable, small car (more on the car later!) We arrived at the park at around 11:30am and decided to do the safari walk first. This was similar to a zoo, however the animals are in large habitats surrounded by fencing. After seeing Sneaky the crocodile, we moved on and found Milo the Cheetah. She was walking around and we kept trying to get a better look at her. A guide heard us calling to her and approached us asking if we wanted to see her better. Expecting him to show us a better place to stand, we followed him: right INSIDE the pen! He took my camera and told me to go up to Milo and pet her!!!!!!!!! What an amazing animal and experience!! The cheetah’s coat is very coarse and she was SO gentle! I did not want to leave but there were so many more animals to see!

From there we moved throughout the walk and our guide, Julius, led us through a restricted gate down along the leopard pen. We got right up to the fence but Lipi did not want to come too close; she just laid down and gave us pretty pictures! She was absolutely gorgeous! Julius then led us through a restricted area to get close to the Rhino, Dubai. We met so many animals, most of which had very appropriate names: Hippos Bob and Elizabeth, Buffalo Sarah & Betty, Matthew the Lion, Lila the Wildebeest and an Oryx Antelope named Samburu who was adopted by a Lioness when she was a baby and was raised by her until she was brought to the park!

After the Safari Walk we went to the Animal Orphanage where animals are brought when they can’t fend for themselves out in the wild. Once again a guide approached us (I guess they figured the American was good for tips!) Anyway, Jared was our guide here. He has been a volunteer in the Orphanage for ten years! He knew all of the animals and they knew him! Some of the monkeys were so protective of him that when he held his arm out and told me to touch him, they would go “bananas”!

Here is who we met here:

  1. Spot-Nosed monkey named Benin (named after the region he was from), the Warthogs brother & sister Patrick & Patricia, the first Cheetah was 11 mo old-Alice, the other 2 cheetahs-Festus & Sarah, the Cheetah I pet was Sharon; she is SO sweet just like Milo. Then there were the Serval cats that look like miniature cheetahs, the main one was Ali. Then there was Charlie, a majestic lion who is the oldest of all the lions there at 13 yrs old! We met Blue Legs, an ostrich with a love of peanuts. Jared gave me peanuts and had me hold them between my thumb and forefinger for Blue Legs to take. The idea is to make him work a bit hard so you can get a photo snapped. Well, Mr. Blue Legs decided he liked the flap on my watch so kept trying to bite my wrist instead! Boy can an ostrich bite! J

Next we met two young lions who have not yet grown their manes (they don’t come in until about 1 ½ years) Limlas and Romulus, and a lioness named Blondie. They were all just lounging around. (The big cats are SO lazy!) Case in point: Doudi sleeping soundly and comfortably with all four legs up in the air (like my Boomer used to sleep!). Then we have the Buffalo, Sammy and Alima, the Baboon who catches peanuts on command! Jared throws peanuts at her and yells: peanut, peanut, peanut, stone and she will catch the peanut every single time he says “peanut’ without fail and as soon as he says “stone” she lets the peanut fly right by her! It is amazing (you can watch the video if you want!) There were the Patas monkeys and then a pen with 2 different types of monkeys: Varvets where we met Jared and a 1 week old Varvet and a Sykes monkey named Julie who is known as a pickpocket! She will literally go into Jared’s (the guide not the Varvet!) pocket to steal peanuts!

Then we met Gabi, short for Gabriella, an 8 month old lioness who was turned over to the Orphanage after her owner realized that lions do NOT make good pets!

There was a family of Jackals, Jack & Jill and their family, and an African gray parrot who also liked peanuts from your hand! The Crested Crane was very pretty. Finally, we came to the last pen, 2 lions Pavoratti & Yumi, and a lioness named Nabi. The lion handler, David, had just arrived and he had a big slab of meat that he was taking to Gabi (from earlier) but he put the meat down and went to the pen where these three lions were. He called them over like dogs and they all got up and came over to him! They got up on their hind legs and nuzzled him through the fence, with Yumi even giving him kisses!!!!!!!! It was the coolest thing! They were so loving to him. David has raised them and he actually considers himself a lion He said that he has to do that in order to not be afraid of them. If he is afraid they will sense it. If he acts like a lion and considers himself one, they will accept him as one. He doesn’t lose sight of their strength and capabilities though. I will try to post the video when I get home (I need to edit it because it is too long and there is some wasted footage).

After the Orphanage, we went into the game park. At this point it was already 3:45 but it was the perfect time; it is the time when the animals leave where they are and go “home” for the night so they are out and about. It took awhile to find them and we had to drive deep into the park but once we found them, we found them! There were tons of Antelope and Gazelles, Wildebeest. Ostrich and we even found Giraffe!!!!!!!! But I really wanted to find a lion out in the wild and Francis finally spotted one lying in the grass, quite content to be lazy! We drove up and rolled down the windows and she could not have been more than 30 feet away from us! By this time both our cameras had died so I fired up the laptop, stuck it out the window and put the webcam on! That is why it is so hard to see the lion I the photo I posted but it was better than nothing! It was now getting quite dark and I reluctantly agreed to go.

Remember I mentioned that the car Francis brought was small? Well, there is a reason why you take a 4x4 on safari! The “roads” were just bumpy dirt trails and the bumps were sometimes REALLY bad. The car kept hitting something on the bottom! We even had to drive through a deep puddle! I sure hope Francis’s car is ok! I told him he should have his brother get his car looked at to be sure it is ok ;-)

The day was a bit more expensive than I had anticipated but I can honestly say it was well worth every single penny or Kenyan shilling! I can not wait to do the safari to Massai Mara next week! Now meet some of the animals!

Meet Milo the Cheetah

Yes thats ME petting Milo!

Doudi the Lazy Lion

Lipi the Leopard

These monkeys don't have names

Patricia the Warthog (Patrick, her brother, is behind her)

Sharon, the Cheetah, isn't she beautiful!
Yep, thats me again!

Then there is Gabi...only 10 months old and so sweet!

The Giraffe were SOOOOO cool! I first saw them on the horizon, then we got close!

They were just some of the animals that roam free in the game park!
If you look closely you will see the lioness lounging in the grass about 50 feet from our car!