Standard Service from a not-so standard restaurant that once used to offer things such as hyena and wildebeast meat. Now their game license only allows ostrich and crocodile.
I don't recommend the crocodile - it tastes like shark that has been soaked in brine for 2 weeks.
29 November 2009
Standard Service from a not-so standard restaurant that once used to offer things such as hyena and wildebeast meat. Now their game license only allows ostrich and crocodile.
24 November 2009
This post is labelled for the 22nd, 23rd and 24th because a) I’m busyish and b) I’m lazy enough to not want to post more than once every couple of days, and while my last dispatch WAS labelled for the 22nd, it was written early in the day, and thus didn’t take into account some of my experiences. Namely, Monkeys.
Now, as you’ve sen in the pictures I’ve posted, on Sunday, my colleagues and I spent some time walking through UNON (that would be the United Nations Offices in Nairobi for the non-UN or academics reading this). UNON is where the G77 conference that I am helping to service is being held, and thus where my offices are for this week. UNON is on a beautiful and idyllic 300 acre forest campus, where wildlife roams free. Now, by wildlife, I mean a few dozen bird species, some semi-tame cats and the aforementioned monkeys - as far as I can tell, there are no zebras or elephants here, except for the occasional shaped topiary. However, on Sunday, as we were walking around, waiting for our primary contact to return from lunch, we came across a troop of monkeys hanging out in between buildings, just doing standard monkey business, eating berries, napping, and staring us down. I more or less ran at them when I saw them, for anyone who knows my thoughts on monkeys knows that I want them all to be my friend. Now, I’m well aware that monkeys want nothing more than to be left alone, and will fling poo at you if you piss them off, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t rush to a safe distance for us to stare each other down some, in an attempt to “make friends.” After about 5 minutes and a few pictures taken at high zoom levels, we got bored and went back to the office to wait for our contact.
When she arrived, we had about an hour meeting, discussing the things that get discussed for these sorts of meetings (as one might be able to infer, I paid rapt attention to the proceedings, and definitely was NOT staring out the window wondering if my monkey friends would come save me). Then we broke the meeting and went on back to the 5 star Tribe Hotel that some people are staying at to meet up with the protocol officer who is on the trip. Before we could meet with her though (she was coming in from the airport), we wandered around a very western style outdoor mall, with very european/american price tags (and a Woolworths!). Now I don’t know if this mall is typical for the country, I imagine that it isn’t, but I haven’t seen enough of the region to know for certain or not.
Our fellow protocol colleague arrived without incident, and we decided to try out an italian place for dinner, as clearly, when in Kenya, we should eat Italian food. However, I shouldn’t complain as my belly was still not all that happy with me, and some steak and veggies (very italian, right?) was about the extent of what I could handle. It was a nice place, and ended up being a little over $20 a person, with wine and dessert, so a touch cheaper than NY, but really not nearly as much as I expected. Post dinner, it was getting late, so we headed back to our apartment, photos of which I will take at some point in the near future, and turned in for the night, ready to report on Monday morning at 830.
8 am came early - sleep is always difficult the second night when you’ve travelled 8 time zones. However, I dragged myself out of bed, showered in the decidedly nice shower I have in my room, and threw on casual clothes (the first true day of work wasn’t until Tuesday). The weather outside was very cooperative, a nice 75 or so and sunny, not to get above 80 the entire day, and the ride to Tribe to pick up our female colleagues (who eschewed the $40 a night we’re paying for some $200 a night instead). Traffic, which is notoriously bad in Nairobi, thankfully was only bad in the other direction, heading into the city centre, and the 5km-ish drive was completed in about 20 minutes. We got into UNON right before a huge crush of International Committee of the Red Cross conference attendees arrived, and thank god, because as staffers, we cleared security without any rigamarole, but the ICRC folks had to put all their stuff through metal detectors and xray machines(and I was carrying a TON of computer equipment, sure to be bothersome for any security guard looking at the xray).
We got into our office by 845 or so, and basically met up with some UN Security folks from NY and just discussed the gameplan for the day and coming week. Equipment that we needed slowly trickled in, and I assisted the local IT staff in whatever I could so that I didn’t feel doubly useless in being here (as I don’t have the authority or portfolio to do or say anything on protocol). It was a very stress free day - even though our shipment had yet to arrive. The day blew by in the office, and I was able to spend a little bit of time online, catching up on e-mails and such that I hadn’t looked at in 4 days, which was nice. At the end of the day, we went back to Tribe and the nearby mall, and decided to eat at the German food kiosk, which was cheap, fast and easy (there’s a joke here, but I’m not going to make it). Again, it was late, so back to the apartment, where we had finally gotten working DSL internet, and a couple of (free!) skype calls back home just to check in before bed were made.
Then it was bedtime. Also known as the beginning of chemical warfare and attempted genocide of the nefarious Mosquitoes. Being the third night I was spending in this apartment, one would think that I could figure out how to work the mosquito nets in my favor. One would be wrong, however, to assume that the mosquitoes in Kenya are stupid. They are conniving missiles of destruction, however, and I managed to wake up at 2 am with one of my arms burning with 4 recent bites. How the hell the mosquitoes figured out how to bite me, even though I had sprayed the net with some Pemetherin (or whatever it is called), I don’t know. But I was pissed. I got up, headed to the bathroom, and after smearing my body with DEET, declared war on the little blood suckers. 25-30 splattered mosquitoes later, and after empyting a quarter of my Pemetherin spray into the general area of my bed later, I figured I was safe to sleep. So off I headed into my definitely not safe for human occupation bed to sleep the sleep of the hallucinating on pesticides. Needless to say, my dreams were rather awesome. Hopefully I won’t die by poisoning, though I feel fine today.
Upon waking up, I was more tired than ever, as it’s hard work, sleeping under the influence of harmful chemicals. But I managed to drag my butt into the shower and to shave, making myself feel marginally human again. I threw on a suit, as it seemed to be the proper thing to do, and headed off to work again, hoping that my shipment of supplies would arrive so that I could begin setup for Protocol.
When we arrived and got things figured out, however, a nice little note from the designated recipient of the supplies noted that our shipment was held up in customs because the shipping manifest didn’t match the packing list, or something inane like that. People are currently working on it, but it might be Thanksgiving before we get this. Good thing I’m here “working” until Friday. Hopefully we won’t need more time to set it up though, and if we do, UNDP/ the host country will agree to extend my mission for as many days as necessary. Ok, I figure that 1500 words is enough for a single post, especially since I used my monkey pictures yesterday. I’ll try to get some more pictures up tomorrow.
Thanks for reading this far, all 2 of you who will, and look for more updates tomorrow.
23 November 2009
22 November 2009
The fairy tale that was my week’s notice of going to Kenya in order to support the Protocol and Liaison Service did not begin as smoothly as I hoped. What with the confusing array of not knowing flight arrangements and details until late during the workday on the 19th, I had a larger problem to deal with. Food poisoning (or some severely negative reaction) struck me the night of the 19th while out doing last minute shopping. At first I thought that I was just experiencing nerves, or something of that ilk, but as my dizziness grew during my shopping trip, and nausea became omnipresent during a “safe” dinner of lime chicken noodle soup at Republic in Union Square, my fear that it was actual sickness of some sort grew. By midnight, I was throwing up, unable to do anything but drink water and gatorade, and keeping Catherine up to the point that she went and slept out on the couch (why she didn’t take the other bedroom, where we have, oh, another BED; or kick me to the couch/other bed for that matter, I have no idea, but I won’t question her choices, as she is a saint. More on that in a second). Now, I am typically a very calm traveller, and am able to sleep soundly even on the most exciting eve’s of events - note that I wasn’t always like this, but somewhere in college I learned that staying up excited makes for less fun events that you are excited about, and I also discovered that I could sleep literally anywhere. So this whole getting sick thing was not my cup of tea - in fact, I was very upset about it, considering that I had sixteen hours of travel ahead of me, and the only solid food I could manage was about 3/4ths of a bagel.
As far as Catherine being a saint goes, she took the morning off of work and actually packed for me, as I lay disabled by sickness in bed. Now, I know that I would have been capable of packing myself, but I would have been utterly miserable doing it, and would have probably forgotten important things like fresh underwear or something like that. Thankfully, I just moaned out what I thought I needed and now that I am unpacked, am happy and very glad that I wasn’t solely responsible for making sure my clothing and supplies arrived in order. Around mid-day on the 20th, as Catherine trudged off to work, I peeled myself out of bed, and decided that it was time to get ready. I took my packed bags, accidentally grabbed the book Catherine had bought for herself instead of my guidebook to Kenya (see what I mean about being glad I didn’t Completely pack myself?), and ran down to the bank to make sure that they wouldn’t arbitrarily shut off my account when they started seeing ATM charges in Nairobi. How I managed to walk 5 blocks to the bank and back without passing out, I’m not sure, but I’ll give major credit to Gatorade for giving me energy when I thought I had none.
At 215ish, I called a car, and had them take me to JFK for the low low price of $42. How a 30 minute car ride can cost so damn much I don’t know. How I actually think that is a pretty solid deal these days is even more scary, but I was quite pleased with paying $50 after tip. I suppose that living in major cities for the last 6 years and change has really adjusted the way I approach the costs of living. Upon arrival, I went to the Swiss Air Business Class (!) check-in desk, and was promptly checked in. I was also told that I was “hot” no less than 4 times by the perhaps 19 year old ticket agent sitting across from me. Having thrown up no less than 5 times in the last 24 hours, and feeling like I had been hit by a baseball bat by a bunch of people driving a truck 45 miles an hour, this girl clearly had a misplaced sense of attractiveness. I sheepishly smiled nonetheless, and trudged to the cold and precise business class lounge to meet up with my colleagues, who had arrived minutes earlier. In the lounge, I was able to down about 4 thin slices of turkey and some peanuts, as well as a bunch of water and a gin and tonic. For those of you who don’t know, I am eschewing my anti-malaria prophylaxis medication b/c it is the kind that makes you sick to your stomach. If you have been reading the above paragraphs, you will note that I am already sick to my stomach, and don’t particularly care to make things worse for myself. This doesn’t mean that I want to give myself malaria, however, and as such, I figure that if it was good enough for the British, drinking as many G&T’s as I can (heavy on the T, light on the G) will ward off the evil malarial mosquitoes. Failing that, I suppose that if I do happen to contract malaria, at least I will have been half-lit while trying to prevent it.
When the time came to board our flight, we skipped the heathens in economy class, and whisked right through the TSA checkpoint, and I made a couple of last minute phone calls just to let people know that, yes, I was alive and no, I had no idea when I would have internet access next. For the record, I have a working cell phone, but wish to only use it in the event of emergencies or official business, so that I don’t have to pay $500 in personal use bills. I think that better connectivity is on it’s way, but I can’t be sure and won’t make any promises as to how often I’ll be online. I boarded the flight, and much to my chagrin, the “2 meter lay flat seats” I had been expecting were really just glorified domestic first class seats, with foot rests that mechanically extended about 6 inches shorter than my legs, and not all that much comfort (save for the sufficient legroom they provided). The service was decent - though the flight attendants kept attempting to speak german to me even though I always looked at them as if they had just gravely insulted me when they did - and the food was not horrible, but wasn’t even on par with KLM or BA’s economy class service I’ve had before. Granted, the Swiss aren’t exactly known for their food, but still, for the price our organization is paying, I would have thought the food would have been a touch better. I could be over-sensitive about this, as my stomach was still at about 30%, but if Swiss International Air executives ever happen to come across this page: please go with a different catering service, as the one you have right now is rubbish.
The flight to Zurich, while long, was uneventful. I didn’t sleep all that well, as my stomach was not too happy with me, and my back, which I injured on Sunday while playing soccer decided to remind me that it, and not me was in charge of my pain. However, we landed, and scurried through a security checkpoint to the gate, where we had approximately two hours to wait. Now, if I were to say that the airport in Zurich were exactly like you would imagine if you took the stereotype of the Swiss as being cold and unfeeling and completely lacking in aesthetics, while being very logical and easy to navigate - if I were to explain about 3 more features, you could probably draw me an accurate layout and design of this airport without me having whispered a peep about dimensions or architectural stylizing. Let’s just say that there were multiple massive automatic garage doors all over the place, the better to move the pre-fab storefronts and other airport things in and out as needed. It was not uncomfortable, but I’m glad I didn’t spend too much time there.
The flight to Nairobi was set to be much the same, except that I fortuitously traded seats with one of my colleagues, as she wanted a window seat. Little did she know (not that I did either), but she had just given up one of her “super” business class seats for the same kind of seat we had on the flight from JFK to Zurich. These “super” business class seats were the aforementioned 2 meter lay flat seats, and I must say, they were FAR superior to the seat I had on the first leg. I’m not sure if Swiss charges more for those seats, or if it’s a luck of the draw thing, but jeezus, the difference was as much as that between economy and the first business class. Needless to say, I spent as much time as I possibly could completely horizontal. The food actually sucked worse on this flight though, which was a real bummer.
When we arrived in Nairobi on the 21st, a mere 20 some-odd hours after shuffling into JFK, we were immediately greeted by members of the Kenyan government. They somehow had me listed as Peter Simons, and how that is even possible I’m not sure, especially as they called me by my real first name right from the get-go. I get the feeling that someone was typing them up in a hurry, and just accidentally did it, and by the time they noticed, it was too late. I don’t really mind, but it was an odd circumstance - I’m sure one of many I will experience in this so far fantastic country.
We cleared customs faster than I ever expected possible - no visa, no nothing, just my baby blue Laissez Passer to smooth the way. It was approximately 730pm local time, and as dark as midnight. Which is to say a touch disappointing, as I would have loved to see what the country looked like. Now, for those of you not aware, Kenya is a former British colony. As such, they have this maddening habit of driving on the left hand side of the road. Which is the first time I’ve really experienced this, as the hours I’ve spent in countries that do this I could count on my hands. Riding shotgun on the left side of the vehicle was weird, and a bit confusing, not to mention the Brits second love of vehicular roundabouts causing no end of traffic snarls. For what must have been a 10-15 mile drive, I’m pretty sure we were in the car for an hour and a half. Driving didn’t seem too bad, especially not compared to the frogger existence that is Cairo, but was still a bit more hectic than your standard American city. I’d put it on par with driving in Spain in heavy traffic, but definitely not as bad as Italy. And since drivers use their headlights 100% of the time here and the horn isn’t a standard communicative tool, Cairo doesn’t even mention a nod.
Our wonderful hosts brought us to our respective 2 bedroom apartment, which I must say is very nice and well outfitted - we even have an LG flat screen tv! and mosquito nets over the beds! - it is still an apartment. Meaning that as soon as my colleague drags himself out of bed, we have to go to a store and buy supplies such as drinking water, toilet paper, and food. I’m really looking forward to the food bit, as my stomach is finally feeling about 85% better, and I think I can actually eat now. Around noon, we plan on meeting up with our other colleague who decided to throw her daily stipend away on an actual hotel (which seems very nice though), and going to the UN Office to figure out what sort of setup we’re going to be doing starting first thing Monday.
I don’t really have much more to report now other than I’m currently hungry, but that will certainly change when I figure out where the nearest store is.