Friday, November 12, 2010

Ugali Flour A Tortilla Does Not Make

I’m sure the milling process is almost the same. Someone from Mexico would recognize the whirring machinery, the wheels that grind the corn, the giant trucks pulling up with their loads of raw product. Even the mealy output, spewing out into sacks at such a fast rate, would be so familiar despite the distance of 7,000 miles. But when you take that sack home and try to make a stinking tortilla, the differences are instantly apparent. Ugali meal is simply not Harina. Between Emily and I we have 48 years of education, and no one ever told us how the subtle differences in how you grind corn result in delicious tortillas or delicious ugali, but not both.

We took one look at the proliferation of avocados, the fresh red beans, the abundant cilantro, the delicious red onion, gorgeous tomatoes, ripe mangoes and widely available cumin in Kisii and of course thought – Mexican food! Our Kenyan friends who enjoyed our meal have given up all dreams of visiting Mexico.

In theory, yes, but when we found out that for the millions of pounds of maize meal here in Kenya, we still have friends that import their Harina from the States, we realized the extent of the mistake. Our tortillas were just…not good.

The good news is that everything else, the mango and tomato salsas, the guacamole, the rice and beans, were spot on. Life goes on.

Ugali, for the record, is African polenta that comes in brown or white and you eat with your hands to scoop up your food. It’s not a relative of the tortilla, despite shared humble beginnings in a field of corn.

Now if you are able to move on from that visual of a Mexican feast with a grand tortilla fail, join me and a crowd of local Kisii children that have suddenly realized that Emily – a mzungu! (white person) – is rapidly approaching down the road!
What should we do? Stare? Obviously.

But there must be more we can do. Does someone have something, anything that makes a noise? There, that bottle! Grab that! Now can we organize a cheer? I’m sure we can! Mzungu, M-zoon-goo, mmm-zoooon-goooo! (thump thump goes the bottle). “White Per Son! White Per Son!
If we celebrated every person of different color that walked down our streets, our nation might be an exhausted but better place. But it does feel pretty special when you’re the only one in town.

Take the visual of a mzungu cheer with wide-eyed children chanting, and scale it up. Let’s say…300. That was our community visit this week, where we took three offroad vehicles into the villages outside of Kisii to visit a family that has a child recovering from malnutrition. I wish the focus was mainly on that child, but I think the vehicles (think jerry cans, roof racks, winches, snorkels, off road tires, and a step to get in) plus a wazungu-fest (think 5+ white people with coats and ties) plus a whole cast of important and wonderful hospital staff and administrators made for an event that blurred the fine line between a party and an unruly mob. Let’s go with party.

All the grandeur and excitement aside, the women of the community greeted us in song, shook each of our hands, hugged us and were just as genuine as our entourage was ridiculous. There were some real relationships made, between both the hospital administration and the people of the community as well as between the hospital and local healers. Good things were in the air, but it also happened to be a fantastic spectacle. Whatever you’re imagining, you’ve almost got it – now add a family of chickens.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A weekend in Kisumu

I can't get over the size of the Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos crumeniferus).  We bumped into this guy on the shores of Lake Victoria near Kisumu.

A Week (and a half) in Kisii

When a place is so other, you can be surprisingly aware of its unfolding.  From the first impression to the next is a string of unexpecteds, but the first impression has a lot of staying power - busy and green, green, green.

Things that followed that first impression:
Driving on the left
Storks the size of a large child
The amazing quantity of produce
The fluidity between cars, cows, people, goats and motorcycles
Jaw dropping stares
...followed by huge smiles
...followed by "How are you!?"
The too-long handshakes
Giant bees and bats

Kisii feels like a normal Kenyan town, like Scranton was a normal American town before The Office.  It's fun to be here and peer in on normal days and normal life.  It's a little tiring because Emily and I feel like the most abnormal part of the whole experience.

We walk by the bus station and a chorus of "Where are you going?" announces our presence.  The answer, "Kisii, right here" is met with stunned silence.  I think most visitors transit through as Lonely Planet recommends.  We're staying, at least for a little while.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

No place like home?

There should be a word to describe the hazy restless half-awake state produced by too many hours confined to a small seated space traveling across oceans with a 4x4 inch personal entertainment console in your face and intermittent oddly timed meals. It's cause is probably more closely related to the time difference upon arriving and the bodily confusion of living the same day twice. Okay, so that is why I'm up blogging instead of sleeping.

We had an amazing trip.

The grand finale after leaving Thailand was a 3 day stint in the hectic but beautifully organized East-West fusion that is Hong Kong. We ate Dim Sum, had a tea lesson, and fell in love with Dragon fruit martinis. We also saw the largest, sitting, outdoor, bronze Buddha which definitely rounded out the collection of Buddhas we've seen recently.

Oh, and after hanging out in the fast-paced financial district full of sassy young professionals with ubber cool blackberries, Ryan coined a new term. "Thumbling" is the act of proceeding awkwardly or slowly forward while texting/browsing on your phone/PDA/iphone. Just think of the possibilities with this word--you can "thumble" into someone, perhaps you were brutally "thumbled" today, or maybe we should make a T-shirt that says "DON'T THUMBLE AROUND." Are you guilty?

There are many more stories, memories, and pictures (circa 3K?) to share but I think I'll leave that until later and try to get some sleep. For now, it is good to be home.

Friday, May 16, 2008


To catch you up in the most efficient manner possible, we went diving, got Thai massages, took a cooking course, went sailing, and then got so very sunburned that we're completely out of commission. Serves us right, but we've been having FUN.

This entry is slower than usual because I keep reaching back to unstick my shirt from my tender back area, but I can muddle through. The weather has turned for the better, it looks like we caught the last couple of rainshowers yesterday but for the most part it's been spectacular. We went diving in the midst of the rough weather and though it was fun, it was hard to see much of anything. There is something relaxing about being below the water, and the scenery around the dive site was beyond description. So was the dive boat - an old Thai fishing boat painted red and turquoise and rolled around in the water like a gigantic... um... large red and blue floating sea creature. As far as dive boats go, it was worth a double take.

The massages we got were out of this world, though the road to get to the spa basically necessitated some chiropractic attention. We were in 4 wheel drive most of the time, and I closed my eyes a few times out of fear. The spa/restaurant has the making of a movie set, and the entire experience was utterly relaxing. HIGHLY recommended the next time you're in Koh Tao.

Cooking class was one of our favorite activities. Aey (aieee!) taught us four of our favorite dishes over four hours in the kitchen, and we made everything from the beginning. Our own green curry paste, pad khee mao (drunken noodles), sum-tom (raw papaya salad w/ crab), and tom-kha (coconut soup). Out of this world good. Leave a comment if you want to come over for Thai food some time, you just need to bring your own galangal because we don't know where to get it yet.

Yesterday was sailing. It was fun and unorthodox. The wind kept changing direction, we got caught in a squall, the engine died on our way into shore - let's just say we got some really great sailing experience! Sascha and Danny were great company as they took us around the north end of the island. It was an inspiring and sobering experience to see how beautiful tropical sailing can be and what can actually go wrong while out on a boat. It pushed back our plans to circumnavigate the globe by just a few months, but made us all the more certain of going.

So now for the grand finale - we got roasted on the boat. We've got that funny grimacing awkward sunburned walk thing going on as we scuttle from shady tree to shady tree around the island. Serves us right, we were having way too much fun.

Now we're laying low, recovering for our next dive trip. Then we'll head on to the southern coast of Thailand in the Andaman sea for some more exploring. One more highlight to share - on our 20 minute walk home the other night, we were serenaded by bullfrogs that sound like a broken out-of-tune accordion and crossed paths with a giant fist-sized snail lumbering across the way.

We've also been wrestling a little bit with the extravagance of a trip like this. How do we enjoy it in such a way as to make it worthwhile? How can we live it up right next door to Burma/Myanmar where such horrific things are happening? The conclusion we're coming to is hopefully not a justification but an explanation, about balancing the desire to control the outcome of your actions with the delicious uncertainty of not being in control of how things play out. I think we're supposed to learn how to be more gracious with ourselves as part of this trip. We'll see.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Voted off the Island

I threw up. But you must understand it was an all night train ride sitting erect followed by a windy bus ride and then finished with a grand finale 2 hour twisting turning rolling ferry ride in the rain. I hate admitting to sea sickness, but that last one did me in.

However, upon arriving to Koh Tao it all was immediately completely worth it. Wow. This place is unbelievably gorgeous and like nothing we've seen before. Gray rocks jet up from aqua waters that caress the whitest of sands. Then, from behind the beach, a cacophony of jungle sounds. It is much like paradise until the Thai staff at the Beach Bungalow Resort start waving their hands around pointing at the looming black clouds and sheets of rain visible on the ocean shouting "RAAAAIN"! And then the wind turns evil. We've had actually more of that since we've been here then the pristine sunny part I started out with. But it's still really cool. Just difficult to dry out--ever.

It's not the same cyclone that hit Myanmar, not even close, but apparently there are a few storms running around SE Asia right now.

So we've hiked to the volcanic peak on the island where we harvested a jackfruit but were ulitmately unsuccessful in our efforts to open it. And we've walked and talked and read and swam, and today we even got a couple of dives in during a sun break. ("Sun Break" for those of you not from the NW, is a short period of time during which you actually see and feel the sun. You notice it, define it, and take advantage of it because of the general absence of sun.) It's ironic that I'm defining that since we came here partly for SUN!

But we are happy, and there are still many many islands to explore.

Oh, one more thing: THE HUGEST SPIDER WE HAVE EVER SEEN WANTED TO SHARE OUR ROOM LAST NIGHT. And after a small battle involving chacos, water, flashlights, and a lot of laughter. It won. And there was consequently less sleep. Enough said.

Love to all!

Friday, May 09, 2008

We're waiting for a ride to the floating market...

but in the meantime, thought you might like to hear just a little about what we've seen. Imagine 400 people swaying in techno synchronicity in Lumphini park, a mesmerizing form of group aerobics. Breathtaking. Imagine a large lizard creeping up out of the pond to snap up the weakest exercisers. Imagine all the people enjoying the park in every way - cycling, rollerblading, rowing, paddleboating, running, badminton-ing, playing soccer, jazzercising, yoga-ing, and reclining stopping in their tracks, arms at their sides for the national anthem. That's national pride!

And there's food. Glorious gobs of food in every shape, size and array. Feet and eyeballs mixed in with piles of squid and hot thai chilis. Octupus, squid, crocodile... completely overwhelming. And not all gross, just many many options. And double the heat scale for your traditional American Thai food. We've been eating really really really well.

Bangkok is pretty overwhelmingly busy, from the crowded streets to the crowded supermalls. It's hard not to love, but it's really energetic. We're excited to get out of town and get some perspective on this place.

We've been intrigued by some fun phenomenon, like spontaneous clothing markets that spring up after the malls close in Siam Square, with hundreds (thousands?) of teeny boppers snapping up the latest brand name knock offs. We got caught up in the frenzy and landed a sweet sweater set.

We're finding that the services available for tourists aren't all they're cracked up to be. A day pass for the boat is 120 baht ($4) which seems like a good deal until you buy a single pass for 15 baht. We compromised and are using our day passes every day until we make up our losses, the operators don't seem to look at the date.

We really enjoyed the serenity of the Buddhist temple of the Jade Buddha at the Grand Palace here in Bangkok. Amidst the heat and craziness, there was a great sense of calm and reverence inside.

We'll have a better sense of Bangkok once we unwind in the islands a little bit, that's probably when you'll hear from us next.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Packing highlights

Does anyone actually LIKE packing? I have been trying to find the redeeming factors, mostly so that I actually DO it. Like the organizational component, the knowing what actually lurks in your storage compartment part, and the redecorating potential in the new pad. So far, none of these things have actually been inspirational or motivating.

Yesterday I bought a huge roll of bubble wrap. Happy Earth Day, huh? I drew the line at buying styrofoam packing noodles. (I swear, that is what they are called) I should have biked to Target at least.

OH, I did have one fabulous moment last night when I stumbled upon an entire box of old photo albums. I've been obsessed with taking pictures for as long as I can remember and digital technology was unfortunately not soon enough in coming. But I do have some great moments recorded on film at least:

1. Mt Hood skiing trip where we discovered a closet full of ski gear from the 70's and 80's (complete with dumb and dumber style fur boots) and donned them on the slopes.
2. Bad college highlights. Enough said. Oh wait, and strange college weight fluctuations.
3. More college moments: combos, Adal's runs (*Ding* tortilla!), beach beach and more beach, sunburns, Corvette's, 2SK, princess-style sorrority banquets, intramurals, crushes, etc, etc...GOOD TIMES!
4. Halloweens from many years past incuding classic costumes like the angel, the devil, cowgirls, hawaiian, jelly fish, catwoman, and does anyone remember "blue"?
5. Epic 6 car caravan WA-SD road trip complete with a Dave Matthews concert. It took 40 hours in case you were wondering.
6. The birth of my adorable niece Tay and nephew Elliott.
7. My sister's wedding
8. The invention of the digital camera (Phew!)...I don't actually have a picture of that.