(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.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Back to Kenya

After the summer break, we went happily back to our routines. The girls seem to be hitting their stride in school. Their teachers seem to be happy with them and their French is good. Kiran is starting to have homework so we enter a new phase in parenting. I’m okay for now but as they progress I have a feeling I’ll need to brush up on a few things to keep up.
BBQ - sort of like dutch oven pizza
Lake Naivasha
I’ve been traveling more than I was earlier in the year (though considerably less than I was in Burundi). In addition to trips to Somalia, we had regional meetings in Naivasha. Having been there recently with the family, I more or less knew what to expect. I also knew that I’d have very little time to get out and enjoy the place due to incessant meetings – morning, noon and night. That’s just how it goes.
impressive cappuccino art - Urban Coffee, Nairobi
A few of us took advantage of our early arrival for a Sunday afternoon boat trip, knowing that we’d have few opportunities thereafter. Unfortunately we didn’t get far before a thunderstorm caused us to turn back. I was bummed but on arrival at the little dock the group agreed to schedule a 7am trip the next day. I was surprised that most who agreed to it actually showed up ready to go. We ended up being slightly late to the first meeting (something I don’t like) but it was well worth it.
We followed the lakeside most of the way. The sky was mostly cloudy and the lighting wasn’t very good for photos. But it was good to be out.
just before the weather turned us around
The boat driver/guide seemed a bit shaky from the start. Fishermen were out early checking their lines and looking to bring in enough for the day to sell to feed their families. As we cruised by in our small boat with its tiny outboard motor, they stared. Part of the staring had to do with the simple fact that we were foreigners. Part of it had to do with the fact that the likely don’t get too much entertainment during their days catching fish. Part of it was likely due to a concern about how our passing among their nets might screw up their livelihood.
he and his friends were keeping an eye on us
Turns out the last concern was justified. One of the things the fishermen do is tie their nets to broken chunks of Styrofoam. As we put-putted along I could see that the boat was often cruising very close to them, sometimes even hitting them. I was thinking that we’re likely to get our propeller caught in their nets. As I often have done in these situations, I think oh well, he must have done this hundreds of times so he must know what he’s doing. Right?
early Monday morning boat ride
Sure enough, within minutes of leaving our little dock, the little motor began to sputter and then stop. Our driver/guide tips the motor up to raise the prop above the surface of the water only to find several meters of fishing net tangled in the blades.
no offense to the buffalo but it wasn't a great wildlife viewing day
I suppose it only happened twice in the space of an hour so I shouldn’t complain about losing valuable animal viewing time to stressful prop untangling time. But I have to say, if this is something you do for a living, almost every day, how is it that you can be so pathetic? To be honest I was more concerned about these helpless fisherman watching this guy rip up their livelihoods before their eyes. Made me wonder if he does this sort of thing on a regular basis. We didn’t hear them say anything but I would think that they were none too happy. I would think their jobs are hard enough as it is with the crappy fish prices and the need to avoid getting munched by hippos.
The rest of the time was more or less spent either in meetings or working in my hotel room, catching up on emails while I was away. Internet was terrible which is possibly fine for hotels catering to tourists who shouldn’t be wasting tons of time online. But for a hotel that sells itself as a go-to conference destination, I think they need to get their you-know-what together. Yes, I sound like a whiner.

On the morning we returned to Nairobi we stopped and did some "team building". My supervisor, Kurt, had the right idea. Time to make grown-ups act like children for a couple of hours. I'd never done any serious ziplining before. I think the longest one I'd ever been on was in the Netherlands and it was maybe 30 or 40 meters long. The place we went to, maybe an hour or so outside of Nairobi, was a bit more serious.
the main building at The Forest
The place is called The Forest. Not a great name in my opinion but it doesn't matter. It otherwise gets two thumbs up from me. It's located on the top of a hill with access to some surrounding hills. They have mountain biking trails, paintball, hiking, kids area, etc. and of course, ziplining.
the crew - representing 5 nationalities
Once we checked in then it was off to a small practice area. There were six of us altogether plus two guides. We put on our harnesses and they had us practice taking off, slowing ourselves down and so forth. It's all pretty basic stuff but I suppose it's good that they do it. You wouldn't want to have someone head out across a ravine and do something stupid. 

it's crazier than it looks
The place is set up sort of like a golf course. You go from the first launch station across a ravine to the next. From there you hike up a bit and then go across another ravine. When you've done all six you end up back where you started.
Kurt coming in
I opted to go first. It's a bit freaky the first time you do it since you get up some decent speed - the average length of line is about 367 meters (a little over 400 yards). Very quickly, though, you start focusing more on looking at the scenery, such as passing over waterfalls, and less on falling to a violent death.
the walk home
In the end we all survived and were very soon packed into our van for the ride home. Unfortunately we got off to a bit of a slow start. As you leave The Forest, you need to drive over a couple of hills. One in particular ended up being a bit daunting for our little van. The vehicle didn't have enough power and after a couple of vain attempts and we all ended up getting out and walking. It wasn't too far and we all had a good laugh. At least we didn't need to push. Once we were at the top we were good to go. Within two hours I was back in Nairobi attending some afternoon meetings. Not a bad way to spend the morning.

Trip to US Part 4 – The Netherlands

Okay, so I’m WAY behind. It’s been a challenge to find time to read, write and do a lot of things I enjoy. It’s typical of this time of year and it’s not likely to subside much until the holidays. Nonetheless, I need to keep pushing forward with record these life events. In addition to a blog, this is a bit of an archive that I (thankfully) began back in 2005. It seems sometimes that things come at me so hard and fast that many events would disappear into the ether were they not recorded here. As such, don’t expect anything too exciting – just a recounting of what happens. 

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” 
-H.G. Wells, writer (1866-1946)

The last leg of our trip was a stopover for a few days in Holland. If you’ve been a follower of this blog for a while you will notice that it’s been a frequent destination for us. We have good friends there that we met while living in Burundi. I’ve grown quite attached to the place over the years since I first visited back in 1991. Since then I’ve returned well over a dozen times – sometimes visiting friends and other times just touring about the country. I love the food. Love the ubiquitous bicycles. Love the people (at least most of the ones I’ve met). It’s clean. It’s pretty idyllic, in fact. Or maybe that’s just the perception of someone who’s lived the last dozen years in East Africa.
We began by heading to Veenendaal, a city of about 63,000 near the center of the country. The town dates back to the 16th century and is, interestingly part of the Dutch “Bible belt”. Though the Netherlands is generally not much into religion (nearly 70% consider themselves “irreligious”), this particular area does maintain a relatively high percentage of more conservative Protestants.
Our friends, Marieke and Boudy settled there upon their return to the Netherlands from Burundi. It’s quite a change from their wonderful and large residence on the hillside overlooking the city of Bujumbura. Nonetheless, they found a very nice house in a quiet area near loads of green spaces. We only spent a night there but we ended up getting together with a total of three families that we knew from our time in Burundi. All have children so you can more or less guess how it went down: adults trying to have adult conversations with intermittent interruptions of kids being injured and/or fighting over toys. Good fun.
From there it was back to The Hague to see our friends Jan and Anne and their three boys. Most of the time when we have visited the Netherlands in recent years it has been to stay with them. It’s always a great time and Jan, in addition to being a great guy, is a fantastic cook. We’re always happen to allow him to indulge in his hobby on our behalf.
While there we did a bit of a park tour. It was basically a trek around the city from one play area to the next. It’s quite amazing how kid-friendly the place is – something that I care about at this stage in my life. And all the spaces are wonderfully safe and modern. I’m telling you, the Dutch are pretty spoiled. I confess that I do look forward to the day when my trek across the city will be from one cheese shop to the next rather than one playground to the next.
Time always feels short when we’re there. It’s wonderful to catch up and visit various parts of the relatively small country. But adding time there is inherently taking time away from family and it’s always a tough call. In any case,we're not complaining.

"Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them." -James Baldwin, writer (1924-1987)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Trip to US Part 3 - Idaho

"Too many parents make life hard for their children by trying, too zealously, to make it easy for them." -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, poet, dramatist, novelist, and philosopher (28 Aug 1749-1832)

this is what jet lag looks like

No matter how well you plan and no matter how efficiently you use your time, you can never accomplish everything you set out to do when you travel. It is an impossible task yet we continue to perpetuate this illusion every time we set out.
first night in Idaho - downtown Boise live music
When traveling to visit family in Idaho it’s even more accentuated. We have a bigger family and more moving parts. We do what we can and hope that at the end of it all we have done the main bits of what we had set out to do.
Aunt CJ teaching piano
 One key theme of the Idaho leg of the trip was real estate. All of my siblings (and one niece) have purchased homes within the past seven or eight months. My younger sister Lisa was in the process of moving back from Taiwan. My brother laid claim to property in Idaho (though still living in Oregon) for the first time. It’s a time of change as my siblings edge closer to retirement and the next generation begins to own their own homes. The family seems to be slowly moving into a new phase.
boating and hanging out by the lake
I’m a bit behind, as usual. The income of my children will be limited to tooth fairy revenue for a few years to come. Their first cars are likely to be electric and they will never know a world without social media. And they’re probably three decades away from buying their own homes.
mtn. biking Jug Mountain
So yes, Idaho. I don’t have the time or energy to go into detail about how we spent our time but I’ll highlight a few things. After a night in a hotel to get settled, go to storage to retrieve some things, we spent a night with my sister and boyfriend in their new townhouse on the Boise River. Very nice. Made me think that I should add townhouse as an option for when we return to the US (whenever that is). Very comfortable and the smell of the river area took me back to my time in college where I would cross it every day going back and forth to school.
paddle boarding-ish with Kiran
The next day we headed to the McCall area where we would came for the next four days. The campground is on a lake and my sister Cheryl’s family has a boat. The family spent quite a bit of time waterskiing, swimming, paddle boarding, etc. I tried my hand at surfing behind the boat. I’d never done it before and I’m not sure I’d even seen it. But it amounts to basically being pulled by the boat on a wide board. The idea is to surf the deep wake directly behind the prop and try to get to the sweet spot where you can self-propel on the wave. I got up rather easily, pulled myself up behind the boat as you’re supposed to and road the wave. However, though I was hitting that sweet spot, I was never able to nonchalantly toss the rope into the boat and self-propel. Maybe next time.
Uncle Curtis & Aunt Cheryl with Kinaya
Otherwise we ate a lot of good food, had Kiran practice riding her bike with no training wheels (on the second-hand bike we bought for $7.99), caught up with family, interestingly had lunch with Idaho friends that we met in Burundi and so forth.

the whole gang at the Ugly Duck
When we broke camp we headed to Boise briefly and then on to Kimberly to stay with my parents. I always enjoy hanging out there. The girls have plenty to do and it’s a good time to relax. We fit in our regular doctor visits and ran a lot of errands. It was also the lead up to my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.
in the limo with the folks for their 60th
There were actually two events – both are places that my parents like to go to where the people have become like family to them. They must be since a lot of these people know as much about us and the family knows about each other.

small town America...
The first evening was at a place call Duck Ugly. It’s that modest, home-spun place that you see in American movies depicting rural life. It’s the kind of establishment that is, in a way, a reflection of where I’m from. It’s simple. Friendly. Unassuming. They welcomed this monstrous hoard from all over the place for the evening. We had a nice dinner. My mom played the piano for a while and then did a couple of songs with the local band. The owner got up and said a few kind words about my parents and that was about it. Very nice evening though.
Lisa and CJ
The next day was a bigger even involving a limo to a restaurant on the Snake River Canyon. Then we road back to the Snug in Eden – a place with the same home-spunness as the Duck. The idea was to pull out all the stops and give the folks a time to remember with lots of friends of the family (past and present) joining with their current friends. Wonderful buffet dinner. Cake and snacks. Very nice evening.
the obligatory doctor visits
Unfortunately we needed to get back to Boise the next morning. We had to begin our preparations for flying out the following morning. The preparation isn’t what it was when we were living in Bujumbura. In Nairobi we have more access to “stuff” so there was less pressure on us. In the end we did what we had time for, packed it all up, making sure we were within our weight limits, and the holidays were over. Or almost. We just had one more stop to make in the Netherlands.