letters from nairobi


Foiled Again
January 31, 2012, 12:36
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This morning, I rolled out of bed, donned a strange “gardening outfit” comprised of clothing I wasn’t worried about staining with manure (hi, neighbors!), and dragged a bunch of spiny tools and heavy bags of soil outside to the balcony. I added several kilos of both potting soil and manure to the garden area, dug holes and sprinkled each plant with fertilizer (“bonemeal,” ew), and watered all of the plants.

Then I stood back, self-satisfied, and took this photo:

At the time, I thought it was cute that my dog was curiously sniffing the new-and-improved garden area. I should have known better.

I took the watering can and tools back to the pantry, washed my hands, and walked back outside to find Franklin standing in the corner, his head buried in the small bag of fertilizer, snorting and sniffing. I don’t think he had enough time to ingest any — and the hole in the bag was fairly small — but I’m pretty certain that the mixture is poisonous.

Strike one.

An hour or so later, I am working, sitting at my computer in the office, when I hear a distinct bark. Franklin spends a lot of time barking at things — cats, dogs, horses, trees, blank walls — so I wasn’t overly concerned. I finished typing my sentence and went to go find him and bring him inside so he didn’t bother the neighbors. I check all of the rooms and even the bathrooms, where he sometimes accidentally gets locked inside, but can’t locate him anywhere.

Then, I walk back to the garden balcony.

What I see is this: my 60-lb. dog, standing in the garden, trapped and barking. For some reason, he decided to climb up onto the ledge, jump over the railing, and is unable to figure out how to escape. The newly fed and watered plants are trampled, there are a couple of softball-sized holes in the dirt, and Franklin’s nose is covered in manure.

Strike two.

I’m not sure if it was the tantalizing scent of the fresh manure, beckoning tendrils of lemongrass, or just an innate tendency toward destruction that led him astray. I covered the holes, propped up the bent plants, and shut the door. The result looks salvageable — I think — but only time will tell whether Green Thumb Experiment has been foiled, once again, by my misbehaving canine.

The culprit, trying to look innocent.

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Green Thumb
January 29, 2012, 16:56
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The one time I managed to keep a plant alive for more than one week was when I had a small bamboo plant during grad school, when I was living in Park Slope. (A bamboo tree grows in Brooklyn?)

Jefferson, as he was affectionately known, was a low-maintenance companion. In fact, I find it difficult to remember how often I watered him — if ever. He was the strong and silent type, keeping watch over the fire escape while I studied and ordered take-out.

Until, one day, he met a gruesome demise:

My dog ate him.

It’s been about two years since Jefferson made his journey to the great Chinese forest in the sky, and I feel like perhaps I am ready to give my green thumb another shot.

I have heard that the soil and climate in Kenya are ideal for growing plants and crops of all kinds, so I am taking a stab at cultivating my own garden (an “If I can’t make it here, I can’t make it anywhere” mentality). The small balcony off of my bedroom has a built-in garden area that receives direct sunlight for a few hours each morning, and then ambient light for the rest of the day.

Until a couple of days ago, it looked like this:

Then, I spent a few hours clearing out the purple plants (which I believe are a form of weed, as they grow everywhere), and it looked like this:

This morning, N. and some friends and I ate brunch at River Cafe, which has a large gardening depot adjacent to the restaurant. I bought some tools, soil, fertilizer, and a tomato plant, coriander, rosemary, sage, chives, and lemongrass.

I brought the plants home and transferred them to the garden outside. A couple of the seedlings didn’t weather the car trip home as well as the others — when I cut off the plastic bag they had been growing in, the soil crumbled away. But I planted them anyway, and now the space looks like this:

I think that it might be advisable to add another inch or two of soil, since the plants look vaguely volcanic at this point — I’m no gardener, obviously, but that seems odd.

If you have any gardening advice, friends, any and all help is much appreciated. Research online has only brought me the overwhelmingly detailed instructions from professional gardeners on things like checking the PH balance in the soil and splicing seeds.

All I’m looking for is something that doesn’t die, and that I can eat.

More nail-biting gardening posts to come. I hope.



Thingamajigs? I’ve Got Twenty
January 26, 2012, 11:44
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Last night, I insisted that N. acknowledge my uncanny resemblance to a mermaid after I braided my hair to one side.

“Don’t I look like a mermaid? Don’t you see how my hair makes me look EXACTLY LIKE A MERMAID?!”

“Uh, yeah, sure. A mermaid.”

He didn’t get it.



Luxury Items
January 24, 2012, 16:37
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Politically speaking, all is eerily quiet on the East African front. There had been widespread fears that yesterday’s ICC ruling would ignite violence throughout the country, but, so far, the response seems muted. It may be too early to discern the implications of the ruling – it’s not yet known whether Kenyatta and Ruto will be barred from running for office or how many of the suspects will appeal the ICC’s decision – but, for now, things appear to be calm.

In other news, N. recently traveled back to the States for a few days for business, while I stayed in Kileleshwa with the pup. The time alone was uneventful – I was still feeling under the weather for most of the week – but productive. My earrings are now satisfactorily arranged and I can say I witnessed the entire zillion-part Kardashian wedding special on E! without interruption.

Don’t judge.

N. got in late last night and brought back a bunch of items I had had shipped to his house. When I saw everything I bought strewn about the dining room table, I realized that it’s impossible to anticipate what you will miss from home when living abroad.

In addition to a bunch of pet-related things that we had been unable to find in Nairobi (long-lasting bones, flea and tick medicine, anti-shedding shampoo, etc.), I was overjoyed to have in hand the following items:

  • Bare Escentuals BareMinerals SPF 15 Foundation Medium Beige 8 g (makeup)
  • Scunci Jaw Clips 3 count (hair clips)
  • Goody Ouchless No Metal Elastics 64 Count (hair elastics)
  • Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter from Apple
  • Books (The Marriage Plot: A Novel, by Jeffrey Eugenides; Foundation, by Isaac Asimov; Wizard of the Crow, by Ngugi wa Thiong’o; and One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir, by Binyavanga Wainaina)
  • A hard drive compatible with both MACs and PCs
  • Four pounds of black beans

I am unreasonably excited about putting my hair up with Ouchless elastic hair bands, soaking a pound of black beans in water, and curling up with a new book (which one to read first?!). Luxury!



ICC Verdict
January 23, 2012, 14:45
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To follow up on my last post:

The ICC has come to a decision on the fate of the “Ocampo Six.”

The charges against Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Francis Muthaura, and Joshua Arap Sang have been confirmed. Charges against Hussein Ali and Henry Kosgey have been dropped.

Ethnically speaking, this means that the court is holding responsible two Kikuyus (Kenyatta and Muthaura) and two Kalenjins (Ruto and Sang).

Politically speaking, it means that both potential presidential candidates — Kenyatta and Ruto — will be tried.

The consequences of this decision remain to be seen. Right now, both the Daily Nation and ICC websites have crashed.



What the ICC Ruling Means
January 18, 2012, 13:39
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On or before Monday, January 23rd, the International Criminal Court is expected to rule on the fate of the “Ocampo Six.” In Kenya, a collective breath is being held in anticipation of the ruling, which, many believe, will be a crucial moment in the current and future political climate of this country.

Admittedly, I find the complexity of the situation a little confusing. I’ve been trying to unravel the many strands of political, tribal, and historical affiliation that comprise this knot – this blog entry is my way of attempting to understand the situation and its implications. So, bear with me. Or skip it. (I’ll never know!)

The charges against the defendants stem from events that occurred during the post-election violence of 2007-2008, when tribal clashes pitted neighbors against each other and ripped apart villages and communities. To oversimplify the sequence of events as I understand them: the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, was declared winner of the presidential election despite widespread reports of vote rigging and election fraud. The controversial result sparked a countrywide explosion along ethnic and tribal lines – Kibaki is from the Kikuyu tribe and his disputed win ignited tensions between the Kikuyus and his political opponent’s tribe, the Luos.

The Luo and Kalenjin tribes were, for political purposes, affiliated; united in opposition to Kibaki and, by extension, the Kikuyus. When Kibaki was declared winner of the election, the Luos and Kalenjins rioted. Kikuyu houses and shops were burned to the ground, people took to the streets with clubs and machetes, and hundreds of thousands fled their homes. In one oft-cited attack, young Kalenjins locked 30 women and children inside a church on New Year’s Day and set it on fire, killing everyone inside.

In response to these attacks, the Kikuyu retaliated against both the Kalenjin and Luo tribes and violence raged in communities throughout the Rift Valley. By the time then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan stepped in to broker a truce, approximately 1,300 Kenyans had been killed and more than 660,000 displaced – thousands of whom still live in temporary settlements, far from their homes.

So who are the “Ocampo Six” and what does this have to do with them?

The “Six” are a group of high-profile Kenyan politicians and leaders who are charged with committing “crimes against humanity” by allegedly masterminding the post-election violence. They are accused of, among other things, murder, rape, forced transfer of population, persecution, and other “inhumane acts during chaos.”

What’s most crucial to understand about the “Six” – and what makes the upcoming ICC ruling so potentially explosive – is that the defendants hail from a mixture of tribal and ethnic lines. Who the court decides must stand trial at The Hague will undoubtedly have a ripple effect throughout the country, where tribal tensions are muted but smoldering.

The “Ocampo Six” (“Ocampo” refers to ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo) are Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s founding president, Jomo Kenyatta; former cabinet minister William Ruto; Cabinet Secretary Francis Muthaura; former national police chief and current head of the Postal Corporation, Hussein Ali; former government minister Henry Kosgey; and radio executive Joshua Arap Sang. Both Kenyatta and Ruto are currently planning to run for the office of president in the next election – many analysts are questioning what, if any, affect the ICC ruling will have on each’s presidential ambitions.

The ethnic breakdown of the “Six” is as follows: Kenyatta and Muthaura are Kikuyu, Ruto, Kosgey, and Sang are Kalenjin, and Ali hails from Kenya’s formidable Somali community – but, for the intents and purposes of ICC observers, is grouped with Kenyatta and Muthaura as a Kikuyu ally.

The ICC’s forthcoming decision could indict none of the defendants, all six of the defendants, or any number in between.

The likelihood that none of the suspects will be brought to trial is thought to be slim – Reuters’ James Macharia says it would be a “serious embarrassment” for Ocampo – but whether one, two, or all six individuals will be brought to trial remains to be seen. The most important factor, in terms of political backlash and possible consequences, is the ethnic balance of the suspects. If only Kikuyus, or only Kalenjins, are held responsible for the violence, many fear that ethnic tensions will ignite once again; however, if an equal number of Kikuyus and Kalenjins are charged, observers hope that both communities will be somewhat pacified.

With the next round of presidential elections looming on the horizon, the consequences of the ICC’s ruling will no doubt be far-reaching. The post-election violence of 2007-2008 is not merely a scar on Kenyan history – it is an open wound. Whether it will heal or fester in Kenya’s volatile political climate remains to be seen.



On the Mend
January 17, 2012, 10:42
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Dear reader(s) —

Please excuse the radio silence over the past few days. Looking back, I realized that writing about “terror threats in the capital” and then (virtually) disappearing might not have been the most thoughtful course of action.

The truth is that I’ve spent the last several days curled up in bed, chugging Pedialite, napping, and complaining, victim of a nasty stomach bug. (Sorry, N. — I guess part of “in sickness and in health” is putting up with impossible, whiny requests, e.g. “I wish I could have some spaghettiiiiii ooooooooohs… why don’t they sell spaghetti o’s in this countryyyyyyyyy??? Can you get me someeeeeeeeee?? Why nooooooooot???”)

Thankfully, for my physical and marital health, I’m on the mend and should be back to ranting and raving in no time.




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