Jan 142014
 

The weekend before last, Mike and I joined from friends just 45 min outside of town at a local tea farm.  We were really looking forward to it, since part of our New Year’s resolution was to get out of the city more.  We went to Kiambethu Tea Farm close to Limuru town, which is northwest of us.  On the weekends, they have a lunch session where you can go learn about the farm, take a walk through the forest, and enjoy food on the lawn. It was a really nice day out that Saturday, so perfect weather to be outside!  As we came up on the tea farms, I was pretty startled by how bright neon green the tea bushes were.  I guess I’d never seen a tea plantation before.  It was gorgeous with all the rolling hills.  When we got the farm, there was a living room set up in an old house, and they had set up chairs for people to sit and listen about the history of the farm.  The owner now is this really old cute British lady whose family had come to Kenya in 1903 (!).  I can’t even imagine what it was like back then.  Tea was introduced to Kenya when all the workers from India came to work on the railroad.  They used to bring it from India, but people tried to grow it here and it grew very well, especially in higher altitudes where it was cooler.

Beautiful day!

Beautiful day!

The tea pickers are paid by weight, and it’s amazing to see how fast they work.  They go through the bushes which are planted densely together, and throw the plucked leaves over their shoulders into a basket on their back.  It’s one of the few industries where they still employ human labor to pick the leaves since they’re so delicate and the machines would crush the leaves.  You have to be very careful, because once the leaf is crushed, it immediately starts oxidizing and would get rejected by the processor.  When they pluck, they also only take the first 2-3 shoots off the end, so the bush keeps generating.  The top shoot is the youngest and the best quality.  The different types of tea are made from different types of tea plants but they are all in the camellia family (had no idea!).

Tea leaf pickers hard at work

Tea leaf pickers hard at work

Camellia bush up front with a stripped section in back

Camellia bush up front with a stripped section in back

Then we went on a walk through the indigenous forest–there’s not many left near Nairobi unfortunately and that was nice, but a little strange since it had nothing to do with tea.  But nice to take a walk nonetheless.  They don’t let you walk through the tea fields since you can damage the bushes.

Huge fuschia bushes on the plantation

Huge fuschia bushes on the plantation

Then we all ended it with lunch outside with some nice Kenyan iced tea!  Great afternoon spent and learned a lot.

Overlooking the tea fields

Overlooking the tea fields

 January 14, 2014  Posted by at 10:35 am Attractions, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
Jan 022014
 

It’s been a long time since I last wrote, and I’m sorry I haven’t been very good at keeping this blog up to date!  Work has been pretty hectic with a lot of changes in the last 6 months and sometimes I’m so tired after my 1 hour commute home that the last thing I want to do is pop open my laptop.  We all get in these funks, and I hope to be better about it this year.

So, let’s recap 2013…

Countries visited: US, Rwanda, Ghana, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa (most of these for work)

Have taught contemporary jazz and hip hop dance classes since May (!).

Feel comfortable driving stick shift now on the opposite side of the car and road, though I still hate steep hills.

Have really embraced making homemade ice cream and baking treats in my free time.

After the initial culture shock of working in Africa, I finally feel adjusted at work will have relaunched websites for 17 countries by next week.

2014 is going to be nuts!  I always like reflecting at New Years and setting time aside to think about what I’d like to do (and then feel bad about how I don’t really accomplish a lot of what I set out to do every year).  So here’s my stab at a list of goals for 2014, please feel free to hold me accountable!

1. I haven’t been great about exercising outside of the dance classes I teach and I really feel like it’s such a huge part of how good I feel on a daily basis.  So outside of teaching twice a week, I’d like to get in a workout at least two other times a week, whether it’s on the treadmill, using my Yogaglo subscription (also feeling guilty about that one), or a walk in Karura Forest.

2. We haven’t been able to get out of Nairobi much on the weekends, since my hip hop class was every Saturday afternoon.  Now that I’ve moved it to Wednesday nights, we would like to get out and enjoy the outdoors and beautiful Kenya at least once a month, hopefully camping.  On the list: Aberdares, Naivasha, Nakuru, Mt. Kenya, Amboseli.

3. Get back into music.  I used to be obsessed with music and often went to concerts at least once a week.  Chicago and New York were great for fostering that.  Now I feel completely out of touch with new music.  Where did that go?  There are lot of things in my life that I feel are ‘gone’ that I attribute to growing old, but I kind of hate old age as an excuse for anything.  Because it’s really not.  I’m hoping my dance classes will also help inspire me to find good music.

4. Draw at least once a week.  Don’t laugh, but this year I downloaded a book called ‘Learn to Draw in 30 Days’ since I’ve always had a hidden desire to be an artist.  I’m not very good, but hey, it’s a start!  And I think it’s really important to infuse more creativity in your life.  If I could do my life over again, I think I would have liked to be in the design field.  It’s something I don’t really have and so am always drawn to it.

5. Get over it.  Living in Africa that is.  This year has been a really tough adjustment and you don’t realize how much you take for granted in the States.  Simple things that being able to walk around or being able to buy whatever is on that recipe in the supermarket that day.  I think every week brings on an existential crisis of what am I doing with my life?  Some of that is because you have some more free time (you won’t believe how much time is freed up by having bad TV) to think and be bored.  In the US there are plenty of distractions.  This year, if I get into one of those funks, I want to be more proactive instead of just wallowing in it.

6. Last but not least, write at least once a week here.

Let’s do this!

KEN_080413_769

 January 2, 2014  Posted by at 1:06 pm Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Jun 172013
 

Nairobi is one of the few cities with a national park right next to it.  The national park is actually right across the street from my office, and I often stare out at it whenever I go up our glass elevators.  It’s quite big–you can’t even really see where it ends from my office.  Some of my coworkers who live in Karen drive through the park every day to get to and from work, and they post photos of a group of lions by the side of the road on their way home.  Crazy right?  It’s typically hard to see wildlife from the road though, and to get a good luck, you usually have to get up by 6am when the animals are out.

You can drive around yourself in the park as long as you stick to the roads.  Mike and I haven’t really been though since a) we don’t feel like waking up at 6am on the weekend, and b) it’s a bit far from where we live and we usually stick close to our neighborhood due to traffic.  But one weekend my coworker invited us to his house for lunch and he lives even further from us than the national park, so we decide to visit the park before we go visit him.  Since we don’t wake up super early, we decide just to check out the Safari Walk, which is a sectioned off area of the park.  We have friends who bring their kids on the weekend.  You go through the entrance of Nairobi National Park off of Langata Rd (just past Wilson Airport), and the Safari Walk is on the right hand side of the parking lot.

But we get to the ticket gate and it’s more like a zoo.  Mike and I aren’t big fans of zoos at all since it’s so sad to see the animals locked up.  But we were there already, so…I guess if you were going to have a zoo, the Safari Walk is a better model.  The animals have a larger space to walk around and it’s their native environment, so there’s not a lot of fake habitat.  But what ends up happening is that since it’s natural brush, you can get to an exhibit and not see the animals at all since they are hiding in the bush or trees.  We were lucky to get a few peeks of some of the animals, so I’m sharing those photos here.

Baboon and Her Baby

Baboon and Her Baby

Cheetah With Nowhere to Run =(

Cheetah With Nowhere to Run =(

An Eland - This Thing was Huge!

An Eland – This Thing was Huge!

When we got to the lion exhibit, we couldn’t see any lions since they were hiding.  But after we left and were walking away, we heard these crazy loud roars!  We saw a groundskeeper and he told us it was the lions.  So we ran back and there they were, coming out of the bush.  The sound was like nothing I’d ever heard.  Much louder than you think.

Lion Coming Out of the Bush

Lion Coming Out of the Bush

Next time we are going to wake up early to drive around the park – no more Safari Walk for us!

 June 17, 2013  Posted by at 9:19 pm Attractions, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Jun 162013
 

It’s been a way long time since I last posted!  Sorry, sorry.  It’s been really busy at work lately so the last thing I want to do when I get home is sort through my photos and write.  So these photos are quite old, but still worth the update!

Since we’ve been in Nairobi, Mike and I are always on the hunt for outdoor spaces to go on walks.  We really miss walking around and while we have Karura Forest, we wanted to explore the Arboretum which is not far from us.  I had heard mixed reviews; people said it was actually quite busy and not very peaceful at all because of singing church groups (huh?).  But really how bad could it be?

You can get to the Arboretum off State House ride and then make a turn on Arboretum Drive.  There’s a small parking lot where you pay a small fee.  It’s free to walk in though.  There’s a paved path when you enter, but pretty soon it’s just dirt paths.  There are large fields scattered around and it’s less of an arboretum and more of a green public space.  Wow, but we were unprepared for what we experienced!!  It was actually super crowded, and sure enough, tons of church groups.  Mostly, they were doing team building activities–lots of holding hands in circles.  There was preaching, singing, jumping up and down, games, anything you could think of.  And the groups were literally all next to each other so you almost felt like you were at a very crowded church camp.  It was actually quite cool to see, but definitely not our idea of a peaceful garden walk.  Pretty chaotic.  Since there were so many groups, it was actually quite loud with all the singing and yelling in teams.

Kids About to Break a Tree Branch

Kids About to Break a Tree Branch

Team Building Mania

Team Building Mania

To escape the crowds, Mike and I tried to take the side paths around the park.  When we came upon this little guy!

Karma Chameleon

Karma Chameleon

I had never seen a chameleon in real life before.  It’s feet were the coolest.  Of course Mike had to pick it up and take a look.  It didn’t really flinch at all and just kind of settled on to his arm.  We’re glad we went to check out the arboretum, but honestly, I’d probably stick to Karura Forest if I’m looking a nice quiet place to walk around. =)

 June 16, 2013  Posted by at 9:17 pm Attractions, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
Apr 272013
 

It’s been rainy season here since mid-March and it’s pretty consistently rained almost every day.  But it’s probably the best kind of rainy season.  It doesn’t really rain that often during the day and like clockwork the rain comes in the evening.  So that means on the weekends, the day is clear for you to be out and about still.  The only time the rain really sucks is when it causes major traffic.  I guess in that sense, Nairobi is like LA.  When it rains, people drive really slowly!  Of course, in LA it’s because it barely rains whereas here when it rains, people drive slowly because the roads flood and there are huge potholes hidden beneath the puddles. =)  Sometimes it’s raining so hard on the car roof that you wouldn’t be able to have a conversation easily.  Thunderous!  And you can’t see 5 feet in front of you at night.  Pretty scary.  We try to avoid going out if it’s raining at night.

The other crazy thing that happens when it rains is the winged termites come out.  Yes, you read that right!  Winged termites are attracted to the light like moths and they come out in droves when it rains.  If you don’t know what one looks like, here’s a link to photos Google Image Search.  They’re pretty harmless, just startling when you see the swarms of them for the first time.  They even swarm around your car headlights.  So they are all over the street lamps and you have to be careful about leaving your windows open.  One night I came home from work while it was raining and Mike was playing his video game.  This was the first night I saw all the winged termites on the way home and they were all over our apartment lobby stairway area since it’s lit up.  My first thought was oh no, Mike likes to keep the windows open, I bet they’re all over our apartment!

Mike was absorbed in his video game and probably hadn’t seen any of the winged termites.  Sure enough, I run into the kitchen and they are EVERYWHERE!!  Wow, you’ve never seen anything like it.  Kinda creepy.  So we turn on the light to our laundry room and turn of the light in the kitchen.  That was hilarious because soon after they all started crawling/flying towards the light like a mass exodus.  Once we got most of them in the laundry room we were careful to keep the lights off and put a rag underneath the door since there was a small crack they kept coming through.  So no problems, the rest we just vacuumed up. 😉  Apparently the winged termites are an old-time delicacy here and people fry them up and eat them.  My driver Richard says they taste sweet and some of my coworkers say when it rains in the villages, they get huge plastic bags to put over the termite mounds to “harvest” the bugs.  And they’re not cheap to buy since you really only get them once a year.  I guess one day i’ll try them…

It’s nearing the end of rainy season so it doesn’t rain much anymore.  It’s been quite “cold” lately I guess, mostly around 60s to 70s.  I definitely bring a jacket almost every day.

We hope to get outside of Nairobi for a weekend some time soon so I promise there will be more fun updates then. =)

 April 27, 2013  Posted by at 5:19 pm Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
Apr 212013
 

Last night Mike and I met two other couples at Little Sheep Hot Pot on Ngong Rd.  It’s just west of Adams Arcade, Green House.  Little Sheep is a restaurant chain in China and has quite a few locations in the US too.  My mom and I went to the one in Beijing in 2008.  It’s debatable whether or not the one in Nairobi is an official chain or if they just took the logo and name. 😉  The restaurant is literally in someone’s house that was converted, so the dining tables are in 3 different rooms, complete with floral wallpaper and paper lanterns and decorative fans hanging.

There were the classic two broths, chicken herbal and spicy.  Sometimes the spicy broth is way too hot for me with the Sichuan peppercorns, but last night it wasn’t too bad–just right!  I ended up using the spicy broth the most.

Our Meat and Vegetables Cooking in the Herbal Broth and Hot and Spicy Broth

Our Meat and Vegetables Cooking in the Herbal Broth and Hot and Spicy Broth

With 6 people, we got to order a bunch of different plates: thinly sliced lamb and beef, lotus root, two different types of noodles, seaweed, dong tofu, shitake, tofu skin and sheets, dumplings, and fish balls.  And believe me, we ate it all!  Our heat plate wasn’t working and then we blew a fuse, so they had to replace it.  There was a lot of fiddling with the outlet and the extension cord under Mike’s seat.  So it took a while to get it boiling so we were hungry by the time we could eat the food.  The good was great–I’ve really missed hot pot!  Reminds me of when we were in China and we had it all the time there.  I think that’s where Mike got sick of hot pot. 😉

The owners of the restaurant are really nice.  They’re from China (we think Jiangsu province?) and apparently they’ve been in Africa for 10-15 years.  She was really cute, coming over and speaking Chinese to us and saying “I like to listen in on your table since you speak such good English!” (there were 3 Chinese speakers are our table).  There’s quite a large Chinese population here; I think someone told me 30,000 Chinese in Nairobi?!  So quite cool that you get the “real” Chinese food in Nairobi, not American Chinese food.  Funny, huh?

For dessert, we topped it off with sweet sesame soup dumplings (tang yuan).  Yum!  Hope we go back soon.

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot - Thumbs Up!

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot – Thumbs Up!

 April 21, 2013  Posted by at 4:11 pm Food, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
Apr 142013
 

Friday I was feeling pretty down for some reason.  Some days are good here and some days I get terribly homesick for friends and family and the comforts of NYC.  I don’t know why, but Friday evening caught me in a downward spiral and I couldn’t get out of it.  There were many tears shed and I just forced myself to go to bed super early.

The next morning, I got myself up to check out a yoga class for the first time.  I had heard a lot about Africa Yoga Project’s free Saturday community class but had never gone since the last couple weeks we had been doing a lot of errand running for the apartment.  The class is from 10-12pm at the Shine Center in Diamond Plaza in the Parklands neighborhood.  Part of my hesitation in going is also driving our stick-shift car there alone.  I’m not too comfortable with the manual car yet and Nairobi is not a fun place to drive.  Tons of potholes, crazy matatu drivers, and crowded roundabouts.  But Saturday I forced myself out and knew I would feel better afterwards.  I only stalled once in the parking lot. ;P

I got there and had no idea where the Shine Center was, but saw some other mzungu (white) girls and asked them if they were going to yoga.  Yep, was right, so they let me follow them — turns out I had gone up the stairs of the wrong section of Diamond Plaza.  As we climbed the stairs, you could hear the loud commotion as we got close to the studio.  What was happening?!  Turns out this was the last day of a week-long teacher training session they were doing.  So there were people there from all over the world, US, Canada, other African countries, and all over Kenya.  220 people!!!  A rowdy bunch.  It was pretty intimidating and the mats were lined up wall to wall with only about 2 inches between mats.  The only free spot was in the middle of the room near the front, so there I plopped myself.

I had no idea what to expect from class.  I figured since it was a free community class, it would be a beginner level class.  Boy was I wrong!!!  Holy crap, this was one of the hardest classes I’ve ever been to.  My whole body hurts today.  This was probably unique that day due to the teacher training, but the teachers rotated leading the class while everyone else came around and did adjustments.  There was probably someone giving you an adjustment every 5 min which was really nice.  The class was such an amazing mix of people.  I would say 50/50 male/female which is pretty rare for yoga classes.  Tons of men in this one.  There was a big group of deaf Kenyans in the class and they were all signing before class.  During class they just watch everyone around them for cues.  I was in between two deaf guys and they were super friendly.  Because you are so close to each other in the crowded room, a lot of the poses you end up on your neighbor’s mat or they tell you to hold up your neighbor’s leg.  The guy to my right had striking blue eyes, which was such a crazy contrast to his dark skin.  In front of me was a Masai guy, complete with beaded bracelets and anklets and weights through his huge ear holes.  It was probably 80% local and 20% ex-pat which is also rare for yoga classes.  So cool.  I’d never been to a class with so much energy and whooping and hollering.  Every time there was a particularly difficult sequence (plank, low push up, back up to plank, repeat x5), people would yell out “YEAHHH, whooooooo!”  It just put a smile on your face.

Afterwards, the people upstairs came down (yes, there were two floors of classes going on since there were so many people) and they had 4 people stand up and tell everyone how they enjoyed class and how they felt.  Then everyone who was there for the first time had to stand up and say their name, where they’re from, and how they felt.  It was such an awesome class and actually I got pretty emotional a couple of times during class.  It was just such a release and the rock in your throat isn’t from good or bad feelings, it’s just the release of emotions.  After a tough week, it just felt good to leave it all on the mat.  I definitely will be going back regularly.

Africa Yoga Project has an interesting model.  They train yoga teachers locally and these teachers go out into the neighborhoods to spread and teach yoga.  They go to orphanages, the slums, prisons, rehab centers, schools, etc.  It’s very admirable and I have no doubt they bring a certain calm to people in otherwise dire situations.  But I wonder how much the yoga is helpful to them rather than other things that help alleviate poverty.  Like do I really care about yoga if I don’t have enough to eat every day?  But nevertheless, it’s better than not being there.  It will be interesting to see how they evolve.

Mar 152013
 

A couple of months ago, my friend Neish recommended a yoga online class site called YogaGlo to me so I could still practice here if there were no classes.  In Dar there were plenty of classes that I went to when I wasn’t working.  In Nairobi there are some classes, but because traffic here is so bad you are really limited to what classes are super close to you.  There is one that I can make on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings.  But when the schedule doesn’t work out, I’ve signed up for YogaGlo so I can watch video lessons in my apartment.

Hooray for Online Yoga Classes

Hooray for Online Yoga Classes

My Internet speed is a little iffy so I do have to hard wire into the router versus using Wifi.  But I took a class this morning before working from home today and it was just what I needed.  We’ve just gotten back from 2 weeks in Dar.  Both Mike and I had work in Dar so it worked out nicely to come down here while elections were playing out in Kenya.  There turned out to be not too much violence but both of our companies had advised us to leave the country.

Work is still pretty stressful and I’m finding it hard to have work-life balance.  I’m often sending emails at 11pm and working on the weekend.  Gasp!  I’ve become that person that sends annoying emails at horrible hours to stress out my agency.  😉

But the morning yoga today helped me center myself and relax — I really should be waking up early every morning to do it.  Just can’t bring myself to wake up at 6am…

I saw this painting in one of my favorite stores in Dar, the Green Room.  I love the conflict between the anchor imagery and “Lost at Sea.”  Sometimes I feel like this!  Totally lost but desperately trying to stay anchored.  The photo reminded me of my friend Erin, since the anchor is kind of her symbol.  Her blog has been keeping me sane over here while I’m feeling crazy.  Great inspirational posts–you should definitely check it out!

Stay Anchored...or not?

Stay Anchored…or not?

 March 15, 2013  Posted by at 4:23 pm Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Feb 172013
 

Last weekend, one of my coworkers took me out on Saturday night to a local restaurant called Pots and Palms.  It’s on Riverside Drive in the Office Park (yes, an office park called Office Park).  I got there first and sat at the bar to wait for my friend and I’m pretty sure I was the only non-African there and looking conspicuous.  Then my phone was running out of juice and I needed to save the battery to call a driver to pick me up afterwards, so I just sat at the bar drinking my Coke looking around.  Really hard to sit still by yourself at a bar while waiting for someone!

Anyway, she arrived and I had some roast chicken and chips masala (spicy fries).  Food was regular pub-type food but the real reason people go to Pots and Palms is the live band.  I guess it’s Congo style and they played music from all different African countries.  The band was awesome and played non-stop, no breaks for at least 2 hours.   A lot of people are regulars (like my coworker Beatrice) and the band knows your favorite song.  No one was dancing at first but then they started to play her favorite song so she dragged me on the dance floor and pretty soon lots of people joined in.  Then the dancing just kept going all night.  It was a ton of fun and the music was fantastic.  I’ll have to get the songs from her so I can share here.  Beatrice told the lead singer my name, so then of course every song he was calling me up to dance and chanting “Christina!” randomly throughout the songs.  Hilarious!  The band was definitely a funny mix – the lead singer who was from Congo but wearing a traditional Nigerian costume, the blind keyboard player wearing a bow tie, and the drummer in a baseball cap, and a saxophone player.

Great Live Music at Pots and Palms

Great Live Music at Pots and Palms

This was when Mike was still in Mozambique for work so it was ladies night for me and Beatrice.  I’ll have to bring him back another time.

 February 17, 2013  Posted by at 4:26 pm Food, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
Feb 162013
 

Last weekend was Chinese New Year’s – 新年快樂!I was lucky enough to be invited over to a new friend’s house to be a part of their Chinese feast.  It was a mixed crowd, but mainly Americans in their young 20s (I was the old one there!).  There are limited Chinese groceries here so you definitely have to improvise a bit.   I’ve been told the Chinese grocery store is in a place called China Center (of course) but I haven’t made it there yet.

For dinner, we had dumplings (pork/cabbage and vegetarian), fried rice, cucumber salad, sweet dessert dumplings, and then randomly a homemade nectarine/pear pie for dessert.  I made dumplings often enough in the States that we always usually have frozen dumplings on hand for a quick meal or snack.  But there are always dumpling wrappers you can buy in the store.  Not so much here.  So we  had to make our own dumpling wrappers, which is a pretty labor intensive job.  The host didn’t have a rolling pin, so I brought mine but everyone else helping had to use drinking glasses to roll out the dough!  I think also there was too much water in the dough and the wrappers ended up being really soft and falling apart when we boiled the dumplings. =)  But the ones that we fried in the pan turned out great and delicious!  It’s usually 3 parts flour to 1 part water for the dough, but I think the flour is different here, or blame it on the altitude, it just turned out differently.  It’s funny because I’m sure every Chinese family makes their dumplings a different way so the filling was definitely different than how I usually make them.  The little things you notice.  But definitely still yummy all the same!

Rolling out a ton of dumpling wrappers!

Rolling out a ton of dumpling wrappers!

Boiling homemade dumplings

Boiling homemade dumplings

Unfortunately, Mike was traveling in Mozambique for work so he couldn’t join.  But he was hanging out at the beach all weekend without me so don’t be too sad for him. =)  It was so nice to have a little bit of my annual tradition here in Nairobi and maybe next year Mike and I will be hosting our own group of friends.

My hosts for Chinese New Year

My hosts for Chinese New Year

 February 16, 2013  Posted by at 4:23 pm Food, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »