Laundry balconies in Kenya have many uses.  Clearly the sink and tile lend itself to messy projects.  Today’s project involved small clay pots and devising a way to make watercolors paint them.  While you will eventually read about the amazing journey into the moment that we met the Master Potter, Ibrahim, at the local potter’s place, today the story is not finished and you will not be reading it. 

            What you will read today, however, is the journey of eleven of his small clay pots, with various imperfections, from his “showroom” to my laundry balcony.   You see, the kids at the apartment complex have come to expect creative projects.  I visited Ibrahim’s little pottery showroom in the Lenana field behind us on a reconnaissance mission for my neighbor Lucy and myself to find cheap herb pots for our balconies. 

            As I did in Colorado, I want here in Nairobi to plant some herbs and vegetables in clay pots, but I do NOT want to pay the white tourist price for these local painted clay pots sold along Ngong Road where we live.  They are beautiful but I think I can do an equally good job for like 100th the price!  I’ve learned a few lessons since I’ve been here, thank you, and one is that while my ‘white’ skin is a benefit at times (the Maasai birthday party this week for example), it is a detriment in others (getting a decent price on items).  You will not yet be reading the Race Relations piece today. J   Clay pots….

            I found all kinds of lovely clay pots, many shapes and sizes, and reasonable prices.  Mission accomplished, but as I got ready to leave, my eye caught the cutest small pots.  I struck up a conversation with Mary the proprietor and she agreed to sell me some of the small pots with imperfections for just a few cents each.  I think I spent $1.50 USD for eleven handmade clay pots.  I spent a number of days looking for proper paints but came up totally empty.  I have a business idea brewing about home improvement, but no paints for the pots.  I grabbed a cheap kids water color set with one brush and thought I’d give it a go.   So now, we’ve got this: 

            The kids have been checking in daily with such great anticipation since discovering I had found clay pots for a possible project!  Today Perry, younger sister Kelly, friend Khoboso and friend Paula artfully persuaded me to try the water colors with their help.   Here is what transpired from our experiment with clay pots and cheap water colors: 

Big brother Will and big sister Saidimua showed up: 




And then they did this to me: 





And then we saw this: 

    Kinda befitting considering the colors we chose on the pots.  Incidentally, late at night with this posting, I still have my paints on my face!



It is Saturday morning, July 28, 2012 at 7:07 in Nairobi, Kenya.  In Colorado it is 10:07 p.m. Friday night July 27, 2012.   San Francisco, Seattle and L.A. must be Friday night 9:07 pm. 

As the sun is leaving you guys, it is rising here…….

 ……observe and remember that we are not so far apart…..

 ….. just on opposite ends of the same continuum…. or some such poetic thing.  Here is a better stab at poetic license:

The Sun Never Says

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”

Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky.

– From The Gift by Hafiz
– Version by D.Ladinsky

I Need Grandmothers for My Stew!!! Kikuyu ‘Nyanya’ and Kiswahili ‘Nyanya’

This is a story about Kenyan tomatoes and grandmothers.    Ann comes twice a week to help me with laundry, clean a bit, and to help me learn to cook.   We learn each other’s language as a result, and her grandson Samuel translates when we get stuck.    Ann is Kikuyu, one of the well-represented tribes here in Kenya.  She retains her customs and her language.  

 She brings a long her very smart grandson, Samuel, who is trilingual at age 10 and is learning the almost-forgotten kikuyu language in urban Nairobi.  He is one of a few of the younger generation who is instructed to retain his mother tongue. 

This particular Saturday I am feeling more like myself than I have in many weeks and have energy.   I began cutting up the leftover potatoes as they were just on the verge of not being wonderful.    As a side note of some importance, I now am more convinced than ever that the U.S. food source is chemicalized and dry rotted.  The produce looks good in the stores, but it lasts soooo long that I cannot imagine it has any nutritional value in its flesh.  Lucy, the mom to Saidimua, Khoboso and Katap (see the Bead Making post), is a doctor, and she tells me that what happens chemically to the produce in the US is that it literally rots on the inside, but because it was chemically treated in the preservation process, there is no bacterium to spoil and tell the nose that the fruits and vegetables are rotted.  It is so sterile, that no smell results.  I am getting this mental image of fruits and vegetables floating in laboratory jars full of formaldehyde…but I digress…..

Back to the potatoes:  So, I did something in cutting the potatoes that made Ann uncomfortable, and she took over.  Bear with me because this will all tie in shortly.   Turns out, she cannot understand leaving the skin on potatoes.  This is probably a health thing here.   Now, not only are the potatoes ready, but there is a whole Kenyan beef stew brewing!!!   <pic>   We rummage through the produce drawer of my little Samsung refrigerator and find that I have all I need except for one ingredient, tomatos.  Now, “nyanya” is the Kiswhaili word for tomato according to my dictionary, and I told Ann that I needed some nyanya (tomatos) for the stew.  She questioned me, I repeated, we moved on…

Sometime later while talking to Eunice, I learn that “nyanya” means grandmother in Ann’s native kikuyu language.  

I had told her I needed “grandmothers” for my stew!  That floors me.  

I suppose upon reflection that because the stew was made by her hands, a little Kikuyu nyanya (grandmother) went in with the Kiswahili nyanya (tomatos).   Simple and oh so tastey!!!!! 


I now have a first hand idea of what it feels like to hear devastating news from back “home” with no means for processing it. I am just far enough away to get no closure. Rest in Peace, dear people, because you did not deserve this. 

The headlines, however, are both predictable and sadly useless, because the enemy is not without, but within.  “America, Wake Up To Gun Violence” and “Amanpour: Gun Crazy in the US” greet my morning, after days of solo-topic headlines on the Colorado movie theatre shooting.

I’m thinking the enemy is not the gun, but the human behind it.  I think it is rhetoric to propound that guns are the criminal element. You know, it really does go back to us wanting to feel safe. I think some generalized “gun control” is probably a good thing.   I’m from Texas and I know what can be done with a gun if the human is given enough beer.

However, history suggests that we will now legislate all kinds of new things with regard to internet sales, and we will require new safety procedures at movie theaters and other venues under some penumbra analysis I am sure.


Might even legislate Batman in the interests of ensuring safety.

But honestly, there were grenades and petroleum products reportedly all over the apartment and some in the theatre as well. Why are we not pounding the bandwagon of proscriptive legislation on THOSE products?

I’ll tell you why I think we are not talking about those other things: because we NEED them.  We need petroleum products in a huge way for our daily lives.  Guns…. not so much on a daily basis maybe (except Texas of course). But gas for our cars, Ziploc baggies, Wal-Mart bags, fake leather seats for our cars and baby high chairs, parts to our computers, that stretchy stuff in our underwear to name a few….yup, we need those.

While we are legislating all the stuff to make things “safer”, which is fine I suppose (but my skepticism thinks this kind of reactive legislation is really politicians preserving their status in the ranks of the Hill’s politically cushy world), maybe we need to tackle the soft issue of ‘crazy’ from the backdoor as well. The truth hurts, but it only hurts once. My experience with ‘crazy’ is that it usually has an etiology that puts the devastating experiences at least a little into perspective, and certainly more open to an honest solution.  I see humans freaking out globally and hurting worldwide. 

Perhaps instead of blaming the chattel, we ought to acknowledge that you cannot legislate crazy out of people. You can start paying a little attention to the human condition though.

RIP dear people…you did not deserve this.  I found this image on the internet.   Sort of expresses my real sadness.

And as I prepare to “publish”, I am getting news that in my birthplace, Dallas, Texas…. a police shooting….. I wonder…..naw, time to start my day on the other side of the equator.

Perry’s 10th Birthday Shabang

I am fairly certain that the younglings around us are not surprised in the slightest that they just put on the birthday party of the decade for one of their friends. To have a proper birthday, I suppose you need a birthday cake, some candles, some themed cups and napkins and plates for the cake, some balloons, some gifts… but the missing ingredient that could stand alone without all of that other stuff and still be a party?

Friends….. friends and family.

Well, THAT is where all of us parents and aunties are so astounded, because in a brand new apartment complex where the longest tenant here is only about eight weeks, these kids did just that…. they amassed great quantities of friends!

The fact that there was soda and chips and gifts and clay projects and the BEST food anywhere was like icing on Perry’s cake. The warmth and love of the Kenyan culture is just something you have to put yourself next to and absorb, because words do not do the experience any justice at all.
At least not my words.

Perry and her siblings are enjoying a last summer in Kenya before moving to the U.S. Her mom is in the U.S. preparing the way now. In her mom’s place are the warmest and most attentive aunties a girl could hope for, and wow can they cook! We adults have been all brought together by the kids, ranging in ages from about 2 ½ to almost 16. What a fabulous group of kids.

So, Happy “double digit” 10th Birthday Perry. You look beautiful!

P.S. The Birthday shebang bar has been set very high indeed, and we parents are going to have to fulfill the expectation of every child around here with such a fun day. Yikes.


A kid crew appeared today.  They often appear these days with various requests for entry into our apartment.  I’m having a tough anemic time currently, but every other day or so, I try to garner enough energy to bring a little magic to Africa.  Yesterday, Guled reluctantly agreed to share part of his colored clay stash he got from Heather.  He really loves clay.  I have pictures of the clay day somewhere.

Today I experimented with chapatis to a Celine Dion album, with the repeat on “River Deep, Mountain High.” You can listen to it while you read to get the full effect!  

Chapatis are the flatbread found in Kenyan cuisine, much like tortillas in Mexican food.  I thought I’d throw a little cinnamon sugar on them for fun.  Guled called over the balcony to announce that the chapatis were ready, and apparently a rather large herd headed up the three flights of stairs to our apartment! 

The chapatis are gone, the cinnamon sugar all over the floor, smeared towards the front door where the kids dropped their shoes and reentered those same shoes, cinnamon sugar and all.  They all had the kid zoomies at 165 kph (kilimeters per hour). 

I hear rumors that I’ll be doing this again.  I sadly have no pictures.  Words will have to paint the mental scene. 

I must take a nap.

Finding Kids

I went in search of children last night, only to find a number of them, including my own, with unique feet and shoes, hanging out on a wall. Made me think of my friend Victoria Pena and her Flash of Muse Photography shots of feet and shoes. My favorite is young Katob’s “lack of sock” shot. Crazy urban kids!


On July 14, 2012 at approximately 7:12 am Nairobi time (10:12 pm the night before in Colorado), this is what I saw outside my window… the dead of winter in Nairobi, Kenya.

Crops growing and near harvest, fog on the Ngong Hills, and the apartment cleaning and security staff washing someone’s Lexus and Isuzu (blast from the past)…. this is “dead of winter” in sub-Saharan east Africa near the horn.

Now interestingly, we will compare this to the “dead of summer” in January, and I suspect we will see almost the same thing! School students, why is this do you suppose?


“Can we make beads?”

The most precious and beautiful face is at my door today.  Again she asks, “Can we make beads?” (but I hear, “Kahn wee mek bead-uhs?”).   Little Shanice wants to “mek bead-uhs” like we did yesterday.  She wants yesterday all over again.

Our beloved Heather gave Guled some fabulous things to do while we traveled from Colorado to Kenya, one of which was a bead-making kit.  Unfortunately, in the harry-karry moments of packing to meet the 50 pound requirement prior to catching the Denver International Shuttle, we must have put the beads in the wrong bag because we did not have them in the cabin of the plane.  So be it.  Nairobi is at its best when experienced without a plan, to wit, Heather’s bead-making kit will play an important and unexpected role! 

I am continually struck by how kids love hanging with adults.  It has happened in my life as far back as I remember, and most of my friends probably noticed it before I did.  Nonetheless, we have become “kid central” once again in our new space in Nairobi.  On a “wintery” day, Kenya style, we all ended up inside making a test-run batch of pancakes and trying to find something to occupy all 8 of us.   Then it hit: the bead-making kit!!

Now, combine a whole bunch of 7-15 year olds with a project and food, and you have an impromptu party.  But this is no ordinary party, because these teens don’t hold conversations about the usual topics from my world.   These kids are talking about the extra school work they are doing to get ahead so they will qualify for a good University, and they talk about parents and leaving the US, and foods they miss, and some people who scare them, and whether or not younger brother or sister is safe and ok, and maybe they could talk me into tutoring them just a bit in English since it isn’t their “strong suit.” 

The older siblings recall America well, while the younger kids do not.   The ones who recall America recall pancakes.  Today’s chosen brand, from Amsterdam I think, is fairly good and receives the kid ages 7-15 stamp of approval. 

And the whole time we are eating and talking, we are making beaded things…. 

The range of creativity is pretty amazing, and one of the 10 year olds, Khoboso, the #2 daughter to a nurse and doctor who just relocated back here from Tucson, Arizona, leads the way to understanding the bead directions.  Hours pass, Guled is feeling better and with his procured  copy of Season 2 of “Glee”, has gone into his own world, and we learn that the lunch break for one family of kids, the Tucson group, didn’t go as planned.  The youngest, Katob (Shanice laughingly calls him “ketchup” with a Kenyan accent) announces that he is hungry and thirsty.   I look around and find four apples and some block cheddar cheese.   Wilson aka Will, the 14 year old friend and eldest to another family, suggests melting the cheese on the apple slices and one of the younger sisters takes over, all the while kids are making beaded glory. 

The apples are a huge success and talk has turned to having a picnic the next day.  One wants to come over here and help cook stuff for the picnic, but I know I have to go to the supermarket because we just don’t keep enough food to have a picnic.  Other “Aunties” (i.e., Nannies apparently) have nixed the whole cooking idea.  We end up outside playing soccer, showing off our beaded treasures.  

And now Shanice wants to do it all again today!  Check out some of the photos of their work:


“Africa” is not a single place, nor is it a desertification completely.  Hemingway loved East Africa and the sport of the safari, writing about his manly exploits in The Snows of Kilimanjaro.  Kilimanjaro is not Kenya, however.  Kenya is unique, distinct, and representative of Africa.  Kenya houses one of the main United Nations complexes, together with the Hague and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

There is much infrastructure growth in Kenya, the beginnings of which come into modern day as an actual country groomed for British sport and holiday.  The country has taken on its own wings, however, even putting into place a new constitution, for which growth pangs are seen daily.  We also see growth most notably in what appears to be construction of “middle class” high rise apartments, our first clue that the economy here has been slowly shifting for some time.  Our apartment is in such a compound. Eunice and Joseph helped us find a fairly reasonable apartment with good security. Attached is a gallery of photos of the interior of our little pad, touching the edges of the city, but almost rural. We live very near the Ngong Racecourse and often see horses being exercised along the road.

Oddly, the stereotypes of “Africa” mostly fall here, with a few exceptions. We do have running water, hot water, electricity and non-dirt floors. We even have television aerial antennas and internet wiring, though the internet continually isn’t working and I am very tempted to talk my brother Howard into “visiting” for a bit. I have a theory about the internet which will become apparent in the not-too-distant future if this keeps up!

I have learned here that you buy EVERYTHING for a rental, including stoves, refrigerators and even light fixtures! You will see which we have bought and which we have not (i.e. light fixtures- bulbs hanging are just fine).

So, check out the photos (video is too lengthy to upload) and see that we have a decent kitchen, bathrooms and beds. Ann, the lady caring for our needs, is in the process of cleaning all surfaces and windows because no one has lived here since construction and the builders…well, they aren’t detail guys when it comes to cleaning up grout, glass and dusty walls!

For the electronic junkie in us all, here is a map link (hopefully) that will give you a general idea of our GPS location on this here marble we call the globe. It will allow you to look around and see the satellite image as well. Since our apartments are so new that they are not yet marked on Google, I have used the Victoria Garage as the mark, but we are just behind it on the grey area map view, or the 4 big buildings with terra cotta red roofs. Cheers!