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.

Apr 072013
 

Over Easter weekend, Mike and I went to Rwanda to see the silverback gorillas.  We were deciding between Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Cairo/Egypt, Victoria Falls, or Rwanda.  We went with gorilla trekking in Rwanda since that’s high on our Africa bucket list and it’s very doable in a long weekend.  The flight to Rwanda is only 1 and a half hours, direct, and most people only get the gorilla permits for one day.   Most people see gorillas in either Uganda and Rwanda and we chose Rwanda because it’s a quick 2 hour drive on tarmac to the National Park versus an 8 hour drive in Entebbe.  Rwanda’s permits are slightly more expensive but with the transportation costs they essentially come out the same. We originally tried to get the permits directly through Rwanda Development Board, but no one ever picked up the phone or replied to our emails.  So we ended up going with a tour operator who could arrange everything for us.  It’s nice because we get a discount for being East African Residents.

We arrive in Kigali that day and our tour operator is not there.  I call and I’m like “we’re here, where are you?” thinking oh great, I hope we didn’t just get scammed after we wired all the money to them.  The guy finally gets who I am and then says “wait, I thought you were coming on April 29, not March 29!”  DOH!  Crap.   I frantically check my emails from the week before and even though I had said we’re coming next weekend, I accidentally wrote April instead of March 29.  Pit in stomach.  We spend an agonizing 15 minutes waiting at the airport for the tour operator to call back to see if he can make it work this weekend.  I feel horrible.  But this is an instance where TIA (this is africa) worked in our favor.  Luckily, it’s low season right now since rainy season has just started, so they were able to get us permits for Sunday.  Phew!

We spend a day and a half in Kigali and meet up with one of Mike’s coworkers for dinner one night.  Kigali is a beautiful city – extremely clean and safe.  There are parts where you feel like you’re in a suburb in the US.  It was really nice to be able to walk around at night (something you can’t really do in Nairobi) and not have to worry about getting mugged.  The weather is cool like Nairobi also.  I can see why it’s so popular with expats!  It’s amazing that just 20 years ago the country was torn apart by genocide, they have come a long way.  People liken it to the Singapore of Africa – it’s very clean and safe and there’s little corruption, but there’s not a lot of political freedom either.

We went to a nice cafe called Shokola near our hotel and I was obsessed with this one wall they had covered in kanga fabric.  Kanga fabric is a type of cloth worn in East Africa and they are very bright and colorful and usually have Swahili sayings on them.  I want to duplicate this in our apartment!

Colorful Wall of Kanga Fabric

Colorful Wall of Kanga Fabric

The next day we did the two-hour drive to Volcanoes National Park and relaxed for the afternoon.  We walked around Musanze, the town we were staying in and got to see a church preparing for their big Easter event.  Men and women were singing and children practiced dancing.  So much fun to watch.

The morning of the trek, we met our driver at 5:30am and headed over to the National Park.  While the tour operators are sorting out the permits, we got treated to a local dance group.  They were killing it!

Catching Air

Catching Air

There are many gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park and the tourists get split up into groups of 6-8 and are assigned a family.  Your guide then radios with the trackers who stay with the gorillas all day to know where to lead you in the park.  The trackers essentially stay with the gorillas from dawn until dusk for safety from poachers and also ease of tracking.  We got assigned to the Sabinyo family which has the oldest and largest silverback gorilla in the park – 42 years old!  And we also got to see the youngest gorilla at 2 days old.  Pretty amazing.  The groups usually just have one silverback but our group had two, the 42-year-old one and a younger silverback.

We hiked for about an hour through bamboo forests – the paths were very narrow and muddy.  Our hiking shoes pretty much got demolished and we’re lucky they were waterproof.  Although at the end I did step into a massive puddle and my socks got drenched.  The bamboo forest is gorgeous and it’s amazing how much of it there is in Africa since you always associate bamboo with China.  There are parts that are so dense that they have to hack through with machetes so we can pass through.  You’re constantly ducking to get through and getting tangled in vines.

Hiking Through the Bamboo Forest

Hiking Through the Bamboo Forest

How long you hike really depends on where the gorilla family is.  We had heard stories of people hiking anywhere from 20 min to over 4 hours.  We were lucky and had it just right – 1 hour.  The climb gets pretty steep at parts but it wasn’t too bad.  With the permits, once you get to the gorillas you’re allowed 1 hour viewing time and then you have to leave.  The gorillas get visitors every day so they’re pretty used to humans and it’s as if we’re not there.  We got really lucky that it didn’t rain either since it’s the start of rainy season.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

42 Year Old Silverback Gorilla - Oldest in the Park

42 Year Old Silverback Gorilla – Oldest in the Park

Lucky We Got a Great Viewing Spot

Lucky We Got a Great Viewing Spot

 

Young Gorilla Climbing on Bamboo

Young Gorilla Climbing on Bamboo

Whatchu Lookin At?

Whatchu Lookin At?

 

Overlooking the Sabinyo Gorilla Family

Overlooking the Sabinyo Gorilla Family

Mike Holding His Breath as the Silverback Walks By

Mike Holding His Breath as the Silverback Walks By

 

This Guy was 5 Feet From Me

This Guy was 5 Feet From Me

2 Day Old Baby Gorilla!! Cutest Ever.

2 Day Old Baby Gorilla!! Cutest Ever.

Close Encounters

Close Encounters

 

Silverback Standing to Snap the Bamboo in Half

Silverback Standing to Snap the Bamboo in Half

These gorillas seemed very gentle but you quickly remember their strength when the silverback reaches up to snap thick bamboo stalks in half like they were sticks!  What an amazing experience.  Definitely worth it and no matter how much it was hyped up for us, it was still surreal to be that close to the gorillas.

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 »
Mar 032013
 

Two weeks ago, I was in Lusaka, capital of Zambia, for work.  Zambia is southwest of Kenya, and mining is a big industry there.  Lusaka is much smaller city than Nairobi, smaller than Dar too.  It’s safe to walk around (!) so that was really nice.  Everyone speaks English and even my boss (who’s Kenyan) commented at how articulate everyone is in Zambia.  I wish I had stayed longer and had Mike meet me over the weekend since the famous Victoria Falls are an easy weekend trip from Lusaka (6 hours drive).  Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world and  is on our list of places we’d like to visit in Africa and it’s on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe.  Maybe next time.  I snagged some photos from Google Image Search so you can see just how breathtaking and humongous it is.

Victoria Falls from Air

Can you believe how long Victoria Falls goes for?

It’s also supposed to be the best time right now since it’s rainy season in Zambia and the waterfall is full.  There is even a pool on the edge of the waterfall where people can swim right on the edge!

This Would Terrify Me

This Would Terrify Me

So, it’s definitely on the list.  We’ll see if we ever make it there–intra-Africa flights are really expensive and I think my flight to Zambia cost almost $1,000 round trip.

I didn’t get to take many photos since I was working the whole time, but I did do some trade visits on Monday afternoon when I got in.  We went to a township called Matero to visit some of our shops and I got to take some city life photos there.  Like a lot of Africa, there are areas like Matero and then on the opposite end of the spectrum, we also visited a nice mall which would have fit in in the US.  Here are some shots from Matero:

Sad Looking Chickens

Sad Looking Chickens

This Guy Was Not Happy I Was Taking a Photo of the BBQ

This Guy Was Not Happy I Was Taking a Photo of the BBQ

The Tomatoes Look Especially Red Here!

The Tomatoes Look Especially Red Here!

Storefront in Matero Township

Storefront in Matero Township

Mike and I are trying to figure out where to go over Easter Break since we have a 4 day weekend…thinking about Addis Ababa in Ethiopia or maybe Victoria Falls.  What do you think?

 March 3, 2013  Posted by at 12:55 pm Lusaka, Zambia Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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 »
Feb 092013
 

Mike always likes to joke that I love Chinese noodle soups so much I’ll probably turn into one.  It’s true, I could eat them ALL the time.  There is one noodle soup that would probably be my last meal because it reminds me so much of home, my mom, and always makes me feel better when I’m down or feeling sick.   It’s passed down from my mom, and I’m sure I’ll be making this dish my whole life.  It’s a chicken broth base, and there’s no chicken broth here, so I’ve been making my own.

My Feel-Good Bowl of Noodle Soup

My Feel-Good Bowl of Noodle Soup

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 spring chicken (1-1.3 kg or 2.5 lb)
  • 2 onions quartered
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ head Chinese napa cabbage (I use the top half)
  • 6-8 dried shitake mushrooms
  • Wheat noodles
  • Optional: bamboo shoots or sliced water chestnuts

 

  • Soak the dried shitake mushrooms in hot water for a couple of hours until soft all the way through.  Using dried mushrooms has more flavor than fresh shitake mushrooms but I’ve used both.

 

  1. Fill a large pot with water and bring to boil.  Put in chicken, onions, 3 whole cloves of garlic, and bay leaves.  I use frozen chicken and it’s fine—just remember to take the plastic pouch inside out.  Skim any sediment that rises to the top.  Keep at a simmer for 3 hours.  Add salt to taste.
  2. When broth flavor is to your liking, strain the broth and put it back in the pot.  Let the chicken cool a while and peel all the meat off the bones.  It should pretty much fall off the bones.  Set meat aside.
  3. Slice shitake mushrooms and napa cabbage.  Mince the last clove of garlic.  Heat up oil (I use grapeseed oil) and sautee garlic 1 minute until fragrant.  Throw in the mushrooms and sautee for a few minutes.  Then put in napa cabbage to cook a bit.
  4. Once the cabbage has softened a bit, pour the broth to cover vegetables and simmer until cabbage is soft.  You can add in bamboo shoots or sliced water chestnuts here if you want some extra texture.  Put the chicken meat in and cook your noodles in the broth to give the noodles extra flavor.
  5. Once noodles are cooked, you’re done!  We like to add a little spicy sriracha sauce at the end and tear up a sheet of dried nori (seaweed) to put in the broth.

Enjoy!

 

Feb 082013
 

We’ve been meeting mutual friends in Nairobi to try to build up our friend network here.  It was really easy to get “adopted” into a group in Dar, but here it seems people are more spread out and do their own thing.  It’s also not very common to meet Americans.  We had brunch at Le Rustique in Westlands two weekends in a row to meet some new friends.  It’s a great courtyard restaurant we sat in the garden area.  It has a fun playground for kids, complete with trampoline and rope swing.  All the kids just run around barefoot.

Cute Le Rustique Creperie

Cute Le Rustique Creperie

Garden Tables Next to Playground

Garden Tables Next to Playground

Le Rustique is known for its crepes and the spicy sausage crepe is very good.  Decent eggs benedict with smoked salmon and nice cappuccinos.  It’s been great meeting at places close to our apartment while we don’t have a car since we were able to walk there in 20 minutes.  It’s located on General Mathenge Drive, one block behind Westgate mall.  These meet ups have been really nice because we’re able to get tips on a lot of things like where to buy x, and recommendations on cars and things like that.  It’s tough to find stuff online here (no Yelp here—I should start one) so everything’s by word of mouth.

 February 8, 2013  Posted by at 6:37 pm Food, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Feb 072013
 

I would like to take this opportunity to show you the interesting creatures I have come across in Nairobi.  =)  Most are bugs, but mostly because they are easy to snap when they’re dead and not whizzing around.  Ha!  They are gigantic here, hence my fascination.  They don’t really bother you much though and don’t come inside the apartment.

This one I found on the dirt path between our apartment and the Westgate mall.  Reminds me of the beetle in A Bug’s Life!

Colorful Beetle

Colorful Beetle

There are a lot of grasshoppers around, I’ve just never seen them this huge in the US!

Grasshopper on Our Stairs

Grasshopper on Our Stairs

And then every day during my commute, I pass by these vultures on top of these trees.  It’s right by the stadium just south of CBD.  I asked my driver how come they’re always there and he said it’s because the trees have thorns to protect from predators (not because there’s a bunch of garbage for them to eat there).  They looked like storks when I first saw them but the driver said, nope, they’re scavengers like vultures.  Oh.

Storks!...er...Vultures

Storks!…er…Vultures

 February 7, 2013  Posted by at 6:34 pm Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
Feb 062013
 

Mike and I have pretty much spent almost every weekend in Nairobi so far running errands and trying to get our apartment together.  We were really sick of going to Nakumatt, which is our everything-store—kind of like a Target/Walmart with groceries.  Produce is very cheap here, especially all the things that are grown domestically.  But things like button mushrooms are more expensive and usually spoil very easily.  Anything imported of course is expensive.

So a few weekends ago we decided to screw the car shopping and go hiking in Karura Forest.  The “forest” is really a protected land within the city only a 10 minute drive north of our apartment.  It’s like our Central Park if you will.  Except really wild and not landscaped at all.  It’s pretty cool that something like this is so close to us and within the city.  We walked a lot of it in 2 hours, so it’s not huge, but there’s a waterfall and a cave that you can visit inside.

Entrance is 200 KES for adult residents and we bought a map (which was a good idea).  We went in through the Limuru Rd entrance which is closest to our apartment (you don’t have to go to the main entrance).  We walked up to the waterfall and caves and it was so nice to be in nature and go for a walk.  We really miss being able to walk around (no real sidewalks and theft make it an issue here).  Most of the times, we were the only ones on the trails, but occasionally we would pass young families or couples.  Great place to run or bring your dog.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Wild Trail

Wild Trail

Karura Forest Waterfall

Karura Forest Waterfall

Magical River Pathway

Magical River Pathway

One thing I couldn’t capture on photo were the number of butterflies everywhere.  All different colors, everywhere!  There must have been thousands.  I felt like I was walking in a wonderland.  The green turquoise ones were especially striking.  Unreal.

Fallen Turquoise Butterfly

Fallen Turquoise Butterfly

Orange Butterfly Duo

Orange Butterfly Duo

Mike saw a bushbuck, which is a like a small version of a deer but I was too busy jabbering away about something that I totally missed it.  Darn!  There are other small animals in the forest, but we didn’t see much probably because it was mid-day and pretty blazing hot.  We will definitely be back and can’t wait to explore it some more!  The only thing I wish there was is a big lawn where you can relax and picnic. The forest is pretty wild and unkempt so there’s not really a place you can sit and rest.

 February 6, 2013  Posted by at 5:54 pm Attractions, Kenya, Nairobi Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  1 Response »