(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Nairobi National Park

It’s now been a year and a half since we moved to Nairobi. We aspired to visit the country more than we have. We seem to spend less time touring around than most of our peers. There are reasons for this. One of which is that I’m frequently off to Somalia. The second is that we generally spend two rather long holidays per year in the US. This is a choice, mind you, so that we remain close to our families and our daughters connect with their cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. Family is important and we feel that this lifestyle shouldn’t get in the way of what is important to us if at all possible.
As such we end up with less time to invest in travel within Kenya. We’ve done a few things, some of which were actually before we moved here, but we hope to see more of this amazing country over the coming months and probably years.
In March we were able to sneak away for a day in Nairobi National Park. If you think that it shouldn’t be considered that big of an investment, you would be right. It’s just on the outskirts of the city and we simply should have done it sooner. I expected it to be a bit more ho hum but the place proved me wrong.
giraffes are simply beautiful
In fact it did start out somewhat less than exciting. We were in an arranged safari vehicle with some friends of ours. The guide seemed knowledgeable enough but early on there wasn’t a lot of excitement. We did see a couple of female lions on the hunt but they proved to be less than enthusiastic about their prey. It could have been the dozen or so safari vehicles swarming around them that was a bit distracting. Hard to say. It certainly would have distracted me.
in case one is worried about being alone...lioness to the right
This was a holiday weekend and it's a particular challenge when visiting a park so close to a major city. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be (the park seems to be able to absorb fairly large crowds quite well) but there were moments when I would have preferred to be in a remote part of a most distant park.
finally convinced them to pose
Gradually it felt to me that things were picking up. We saw a surprisingly diverse assortment of animals with the highlight being the number of lions. Again, pretty amazing for a park so close to noisy Nairobi. There were times where you really feel that you are in a remote location and then you come around a bend and see tall buildings and/or houses in the background.
had to wake up early on a weekend
We saw cape buffaloes, baboons, gazelles, zebras, Coke's hartebeest, hippos, lions, elands, impala, Masai giraffes, ostriches, vultures and waterbucks. Besides the lions, we saw two pairs of eastern black rhinos. Such cool looking animals.
you forget that nearly 7m people are not far away
There are supposedly cheetahs and leopards but they tend to be a bit more elusive than other animals. We didn’t see any. There are no elephants in the park though there is an orphaned elephant sanctuary nearby (which we’ve been to a couple of times).
so cool
I’m not sure why there are no elephants but it likely has something to do with the history of the place. The Brits, who had colonized Kenya, used the place as their playground. The area where the park is was undeveloped and had lots of animals prior to the 20th century. This fact gradually became apparent and early conservationists set out to do something about it. The first big step was establishing it as a game reserve where hunting was not allowed. By 1946 it became Kenya’s first national park. Though the park is bigger than one might think given its proximity to such a big urban area (117km²/45m²), it’s relatively small compared to other national parks. Elephants require a certain amount of space and they tend to be more destructive compared to other creatures (they break fences, trees, smash crops, etc.). My guess is that they would be a bit much for NNP. 
books and phones came in handy

the king
I don’t remember how long we spent on the game drive but it was certainly shorter than if we hadn’t had five children in the safari vehicle. Overall they did well but you can get a sense when it’s time to cut your losses and go grab some food. Fantastic that we have such an opportunity on our doorstep. We’ll be back.
visit to the giraffe sanctuary afterwards


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Mogadishu-Galkacyo with Reg. Director

Day 1
Last month I returned to Somalia. On average I would say that I am going every three or four weeks nowadays. I don’t always blog about the trips since some are rather short and consist exclusively of meetings. Meetings are a necessary part of what I do and though I’d much rather be involved in the work being done on the ground, we do have people for that. Our team needs someone doing what I do – work that enables them to do what they do.
I realize that I have lots of photos like this, but I just find the colors so beautiful
Fortunately the trip in March did entail visits of activities, including places I’d never been before. Though I don’t mind going back to places I’ve been, I do feel as though I learn less and it’s always good to meet new staff.
glad he's on my side
We began as usual in Mogadishu. We had the customary security briefing and then we were off. Given the insecurity in the city, and particularly on the main tarmac road, we opted on a back way to get to our first destination which was one of the camps for the internally displaced (IDPs - due to drought and/or conflict). I haven’t taken the main road in several months and that’s not likely to change until the security situation improves. For now it seems to be sliding in the wrong direction.
The back way means bouncing along dirt roads that weave through residential areas. The neighborhoods contain some small businesses here and there, goats, donkey carts, women carrying jerry cans of water, men sitting on stoops chewing khat, etc. It’s actually a fascinating drive and the exact route changes each time. Unpredictability contributes to security.
the unglamorous life of an IDP
We arrived at the camp. This particular one I know quite well having been several times. I know most of the staff by now, if not by name at least by face. I was traveling with our regional director on his second visit to the country. It’s always good to have a more important person traveling with you so that you can all him/her to be the focus. I feel like I see more during these trips and observe what’s going on better (and I can certainly take better photos).
African Union peacekeeping vehicle parked where the blast was in October
The trips need to be kept short for security reasons (15-20 min. max) and then we need to move on. On the way to our next stop we drove through the junction where the massive attack from last October took place. It was truly amazing to see how things had changed since the devastation brought by the truck bomb. The whole area had been flattened, including damaging our office about a kilometer away. Now, new construction is going up and in several places already completed and functioning. With the exception of the massive ruins brought about by the civil war, much of which is still in ruins, recent attacks, however big, seemed to be erased almost immediately. I’m told that this is partly for business reasons (obviously can’t have a lot of lag time between the stoppage of business and the restart) but also for psychological reasons.

Day 2
On day two we were off to Galkacyo. We took a commercial flight rather than the UN flights we normally do. In the end they’re cheaper and often the timing of the flight is more convenient. The commercial terminal in Mogadishu is often devoid of foreigners. A curious airline employee with a good handle of English couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask me if I’d been to Somalia before and why I would be going to Galkacyo. Fair enough. I’d be curious if I were him. I look forward to the day when that terminal (which is quite nice, relatively large and clean, by the way) has international visitors investing in and exploring what the country has to offer. It will be some time before that happens though.
children hauling water
Upon arrival in Galkacyo we went straight to another IDP area. IDPs are in fact refugees that don’t leave the international boundaries of their country. There are differences in the plights of these individuals in that refugees obtain an internationally recognized status. They often times garner more international support because of this international recognition. The international community, once this status is given, is bound to provide a certain level of support (even though this is generally not adhered to). IDPs on the other hand are a bit more nebulous in their status. Though there are efforts to rectify this, the reality is that they are highly vulnerable. In countries where the government is part of the reason they are displaced, they are often more open to attack than they would be if they were residing in an adjacent country. The international community is often slower to provide aid for IDPs, if they provide it at all.
The good news is that these people are tracked better than they ever have been. It’s a much bigger emphasis of the international community and it’s one of the main reasons for our existence in Somalia. They are far from being served adequately but progress is being made.
This particular area consisted of about six or seven encampments within a few kilometers of each other. Their existence here was likely due to the presence of a couple of a borehole (not sure if there is more than one). One of the things we do is renovate these boreholes and provide either a solar paneled-pump and/or a diesel generator. Most of the areas where we carried out this work managed to stave off the effects of the drought reasonably well. Going forward we’re hoping that the water table remains sufficiently replenished such that people will continue to draw water. It takes more to exist than water but it’s obviously an essential element.
mandatory camel photo
After looking at the borehole and talking to those responsible for operating it, we walked across the way to one of the camps to talk to some of the people living there. It’s always good to talk to the local population, particularly in Somalia. They don’t seem to hesitate to tell you what they think. In some other contexts people feel the need to say nice things about you and your organization, not wanting to bite the hand that feeds them. Here, I’ve noticed, people seem to be pretty frank about the good, the bad and the ugly. Depending on the context, they may be less candid about the politics, due to the obvious risks, but telling us that we suck at this or that is not a problem. Sort of refreshing, actually.
faces
That night we slept in Galkacyo, dining on camel and goat with staff. The staff did stock the fridge with some sort of sugary sweet soda, imported from UAE or something. The stuff is pure carbonated sugar water. I passed on it.
The next morning we visited the local hospital that we support, the same one I mentioned in the January blog. It’s a good facility and I like taking people there. It and receives multiple channels of support and has a lot more potential to do much more. Its catchment population stretches far and wide. Referrals often die on the way since the distances are so great, including from the IDP camp that we visited. The idea would be to create satellite facilities in the 70 km. radius around Galkacyo to reduce the referral mortality rate. So we’re talking to donors to see how we can pull that off.
From there it was off to the airstrip. Same drill as two months prior. Lots of waiting at the airstrip for our UN plane and then off on the long trip from Galkacyo, to Garowe (Puntland), to Mogadishu, to Wajir (Kenya), to Nairobi. I would not make it home until almost 9pm. At least I was home.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Mombasa


I’ve mentioned it before but Kenya has a great deal to explore. We’ve been doing a pretty pathetic job of it since we’ve lived here but we do have some reasons. That being said, we are looking to rectify this over the coming months to the extent that time and resources permit.
One obvious challenge for me is that my job involves a certain amount of travel. This not only takes me away from Kenya, it takes some of the wind out of my sails when it comes to doing more travel, even if it is for pleasure.
Another challenge has been resources. We have been traveling to the US twice per year plus trying to pay off a house. These are choices we are making but it does moderate the amount we dedicate towards the shorter trips on the continent - which are more expensive than you would think (and probably more expensive than they should be).
the lush grounds of the hotel
In March we went to Mombasa, on the coast, only our second trip to the seaside since moving to Kenya a year and a half ago. I’d stayed in Mombasa once before back in March 2010 when I was there for some meetings but really have little knowledge of the place. I do know that it’s Kenya’s second largest city and it has a tremendous amount of potential. It’s a port city that has a long history of being a trading center. Many different powers ruled the place over the centuries culminating in it falling into British hands in 1887. The Brits toughed it out for a period of time before deciding, around the turn of the century, that Nairobi had a much more agreeable climate. From then on Mombasa became Kenya’s second city.
message for the day: think, focus and participate on county budget
I’m told the old town is enjoyable to explore but it can be a bit crime-ridden. I certainly don’t want to do that with small children so we’ll need to save that for another time. Our time was spent where our hotel was – on the beach.
For those that know me, I’m not a real beach person. I’ll opt for mountains any day but I have to say, it felt good to be on the coast. It took me back to my five years I spent a bit further south in Dar es Salaam. The smell of the tropics and the beauty of the Indian Ocean are, admittedly, intoxicating.
We stayed on Nyali Beach in a large hotel that caters to families. While it’s unlikely that I would stay in such a place as a non-family guy, this turned out to be perfect for us. The food was good. There were three pools, each with its own function (families, grown-ups and exercising). The place seemed pretty well thought through and can accommodate a ton of people without really feeling like it.
Nyali Beach at low tide
The girls had a great time. They even ran into some friends from the French school (it was vacation week) which turned out to be even better. With the girls being a bit older now, it made it easier to sit back and let them go crazy. Always easier to put them to bed that way.
I have no idea who these children are with napkins on their heads
After our three days on the coast, I flew back to Nairobi a bit earlier than the rest of the family given that I needed to get back to work. Went more or less straight to the office from the airport and soon the beach was a faded memory, except for the sand in my ears.

“The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.”
- Alexander von Humboldt