Taxi cab confessions in Nairobi

"You must live up to your name."

Masha Mwangi: "You must live up to your name."

The following what I get for singing along with old church hymns randomly in a cab.

I would like to introduce you to Masha Mwangi, a 29-year-old born-again Christian cabbie, new-found friend and available driver, should anyone be in Nairobi.

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Nairobi in bloom

Nairobi's version of magnolia

Nairobi's version of magnolia

Nairobi can be an ugly dirty place. But right now, as a short rainy season approaches, the jacaranda trees are in full bloom. The blossoms constantly fall, not unlike magnolias back home.

And it’s beautiful.

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Video/photos: Circumcision gaining ground in western Kenya

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Kibera: Pictures of destitution

It’s difficult to overstate the depressing scenes of Kibera, one of Africa’s largest and most well-known slums. The shantytown covers two-and-a-half square miles and, depending on who you ask, has as many as 1.3 million residents. (Some NGOs and analysts question this figure, suggesting the population is closer to 300,000 and is simply inflated to draw more donor dollars.)

I’ve been reporting on water issues in light of Nairobi’s ongoing drought. Public water service is scarce in Kibera (and at times in much of the city), leaving the poorest of Nairobi’s citizens to turn to the private market where they face price gouging and less-than-stellar water quality.

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Kenyans to Obama: Stick it to our idiotic government

I fully expected Kenya’s honeymoon affair with America to end when the Obama administration dropped the threat of a travel ban on numerous Kenyan politicians alleging they had stood in the way of reform. Here was the superpower trying to dictate local politics.

Instead, according to most of the locals I spoke to, Obama had won points, rather than lost them.

Kenyans for decades have labored under corrupt regime after corrupt regime since independence from the British in 1963. Even the country’s celebrated first leader, Jomo Kenyatta, is considered to have been corrupt. And don’t get me started on Daniel arap Moi. His legacy of gutting the constitution lingers today; so does his plundering the treasury (and really the economy).

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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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