Goodbye Kenya, hello Madagascar

Headed to the airport at sunrise

Headed to the airport at sunrise

After 26 days in Kenya, I’m headed to Madagascar. I’ll be reporting at a large titanium mine Fort Dauphin in the south of the country — one that a conservationist boldly told me was “on balance, better for the environment.” I’m also hoping to check out some biological preserves with St. Louis ties.

In the downtime, I’ll be chilling on the beach, maybe kite surfing, definitely fishing and playing with a lemur or two.

And probably not speaking much English. Madagascar is a francophone country, so while Malagasy is the official language, French is the Western choice. (If broken e-mails from my hotel in the capital Antananarivo are any indication, English isn’t exactly popular.)

S’il vous plait, I might be screwed. Or it will make for more entertaining adventures.

My plane departs in 67 minutes. Catch you on the flip side.

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Kenyans like Obama. Huh. Who’d have thunk it?

Move move over Ben Franklin?

Move move over Ben Franklin?

No surprise, U.S. President Barack Obama’s face is visible around Kenya given his ancestral connections here. Not everyone loves him, but in a country where it’s fashionable to have a picture of the current Kenyan president on the wall in your home or business, Obama’s visage is rather en vogue.

You’ll find him on bumper stickers, T-shirts, DVDs, and more, not unlike the United States post-election.

Above, from Kisumu, that’s a colorful matatu, a licensed minibus built to hold a tight 11 that typically fits 15, plus driver and call-guy. They’re pretty standard quasi-public transportation for Kenyans.

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Kids in the night

All the wanted was candy

They just wanted candy

The train from Kisumu cuts through beautiful Kenyan bush as the sun sets over a low but sharply rising line of mountains. I was in the second-class sleeper cabin, but the third class cars are filled with Kenyans, many of whom get down at small villages in the dead of night.

At each stop, motorbikes line up like taxis at the airport hoping to ferry passengers and all manner of goods off into the night.

And kids run along side the upper class cars shouting “Sweets!” at the rich people. The four German women in the compartment next to mine were happy to oblige.

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A day in an HIV clinic

Researchers say circumcision can protect against HIV infection

Researchers say circumcision can protect against HIV infection

Augustine Philip "faces the sword"

Augustine Philip "faces the sword"

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Gumballs in the toilet?

Gumball toilet cakes? Genius.

Gumball toilet cakes? Genius.

Nairobi has its quirks, no doubt.

Of course, equally amusing (I’m sure) was the sight of me taking pictures of the urinals in a club toilet. As I took this photo, a gentleman stepped out of the stall behind me and basically gave me a “WTF” glare. I had no explanation other than I thought it was funny.

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Maasai face hard times with drought

Maasai pastoralists

Maasai pastoralists

The Maasai, perhaps the most famous of the Kenyan tribes, live in southwestern Kenya, mostly herding cattle and making what they can from the tourists. They largely still live in traditional villages — mud and dung huts and fences made of forest brush.

(A minority have integrated into more modern societies, but they almost always wear the traditional red patterned shawl.)

However, given East Africa’s prolonged drought, the Maasai are having an increasingly difficult time feeding their cows and goats — the lifeblood of their tradition. The grasses they own communally are mostly exhausted, driving more and more Maasai into the game reserves for grazing pastures, which are protected for the benefit of tourists.

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Window shopping for a machete

Sharp objects anyone?

Deadly objects anyone?

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Photos: Zebras are awesome

Just outside Nairobi — a modern city with skyscrapers and major traffic — sits protected African savanna, where zebras and giraffes and rhinos and lions pose for local tourists and Wazungu who don’t have the time or money to visit the big game parks and reserves.

It’s about as wild as you can get, with a major urban center half an hour away.

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I love the smell of fish guts and fresh vegetables

Kenya’s major cities boast gleaming shopping centers and 24-hour big box marts (detailed previously).

Bush villages however rely on a more traditional option: sprawling open air markets.

I visited Ahero‘s weekly market last week to see and smell and taste. There, I met Tom Odero, a 56-year-old retired Army sergeant major, who is active in politics and now farms rice in his quiet days.

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A Nairobi night: incongruous and awesome

A short note. Last night at a Nairobi bar I was:

  • staring on and off into a fireplace with a chimney painted like a giraffe
  • listening to American hip hop (a CD I burned) blared over the stereo
  • talking with a German couple
  • occasionally reading a book about failed Norwegian attempts to help the Turkana
  • eating a Mexican pizza
  • drinking East African (Kenya/Uganda) beer

Incongruous? Yes. Awesome? Absolutely.

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