Sawa sawa
Sort of the Kiswahili equivalent of saying "cool", as in "ok, all right, good". As a Minnesotan, it sounded familiar.

Driving the RAV4 on the road near my house, a small Kenyan girl stands in the middle of the road, arms out from the her sides, chest puffed out. I just keep repeating to myself "I am not the guy driving the truck in Avatar, I am not the guy driving the truck in Avatar..."

I don't think so, but I'm glad someone's trying.

The bishop
We have our Monday meetings with field officers in a big meeting hall that happens to be part of an orphanage. The whole place was built well but is starting to fray around the edges. There's a bishop whose purview includes the orphanage; he drives a shiny sedan. I have seen him maybe half a dozen times, shaken his hand and said hi. I have never seen him exit the car. He drives into the compound, parks, opens his window, converses, closes the window and drives away. It's a beautiful car.

In Nairobi
Yesterday, as my plane taxiied to the gate, I saw a man bent over sweeping a red carpet. "Interesting, I bet that's where ..." the plane continued and my gaze passed over a rigid line of about 150 red-suited members of a Kenyan army honor guard. Kibaki landed right behind me, and his motorcade fouled traffic the rest of the night.

Today, in a developed-world bubble at Art Caffé, sipping wine and enjoying near-broadband. Art Caffé is frequented by expats and wealthier locals. The expats are mostly Westerners, with some Chinese people thrown in. My guess is that most of the Westerners are NGO workers and most of the Chinese people are working at for-profits. I wonder who will have the greatest impact on Kenya in the long term?

On taxi drivers: once you know the fair price for a trip, it's fun to hassle the taxi drivers hanging outside of tourist hotspots (Soi Rambutri in Bangkok, Westgate mall in Nairobi.) Really pointless though - the drivers know that if they wait two minutes, a bigger sucker will come along.

Radar detector
Today I learned the sign language matatus use to communicate police presence along the road.

  • Two fingers: Two police
  • Hand held thumb up, as if to shake hands: Barrier ahead
  • Fingers partially curled, palm pushes outward: Highway patrol
  • Palm down, patting the air: All clear, feel free to drive over-capacity and over the speed limit

The Big Man
In Kisumu for the weekend, on the shores of Lake Victoria. Coming back from checking out a recommended but dismal restaurant (thanks for nothing, Internet!) cops motion angrily for our taxi to get off the road. A few seconds later, a late-model Mercedes rockets past.

"He's here!"
"The president! That is the president's escort!" our driver exclaims, grinning and leaning his head out of the car.

Forty to fifty luxury cars and SUVs fly past in formation. Ten or so of the cars have PRESIDENT'S ESCORT signs on their bumpers. Our driver tells us the SUVs are carrying MPs.

"Can I take a picture?" my friend asks.
"They will shoot you," our driver says, and then he giggles. "The big man!"

Stuff I want to do in East Africa
A work in progress.

Kenya's capital gets a bad rap. True, you need to be careful, and no, it's not New York or Cape Town. But it's got energy, a pleasing mix of peoples, even vibe if you catch the right place at the right time. It also has the best Indian food I've ever had*, which you wouldn't know from this list that otherwise looks very helpful.

*Haandi, in The Mall in Westlands


BarCamp Kenya!!!

Not that I totally understand it ... I don't really understand what a "leftist Kikuyu apologist" is (even though I know the Kikuyu tribe.)

Africa blogs

Reading Kenyan blogs (like Bankelele and Sukuma Kenya) is helping get me up to speed on how a certain, educated segment of Kenyan society sees current events. Depending on how optimistic I'm feeling, they either demonstrate the uselessness of the intellectual class in all cultures, or they're part of an emerging national consciousness that might bring needed progress.

also: 30 Great African Tech Blogs

Getting there
On the way to visit a couple of farmers using the the drip irrigators (one had all his vegetables eaten by his chickens, despite field officer warnings to keep the chickens cooped up; the other hasn't actually needed to irrigate since his plot is near a stream.) Took a matatu (minibus) to get there. The matatu I took, like most, had a legal capacity of fourteen people. You rarely see them with fewer than twenty; I've seen as many as twenty-four.

We stopped at one point and the conductor pulled a woman out and put her on a boda-boda (bicycle taxi.) Thirty seconds later we stopped at a police checkpoint. I realized what the police checkpoint was for when we stopped again, a little further down the road, and waited for the boda-boda so the woman could jam herself back into the matatu. On we went.

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