28 February 2018

Fun outings with friends: jazz, a funny opera, sharing lunch, enjoying a fire, ice cream in the forest, and a 3-D movie

Seared Salmon with Avocado, plus my own coloring art work decorating the tablecloth

I've walked past Ocean Basket dozens of times, but with Hannah in town it seemed like as good a time as any to give it a try! We thoroughly enjoyed the Saturday evening Jazz and Wine atmosphere.

We also took advantage of Hannah's visit for some yummy two-for-one Tuesday-special-offer pizza and a game of Scrabble with Jennifer.

Hannah and I also enjoyed a fire on two evenings, out back in my little garden area. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows... just like kids! We were enthralled with the clear sky both nights and the beautiful stars overhead.

The timing of her visit was perfect for us to attend another lovely Ladies' Night Out (a monthly event put on by our church, Karen Vineyard). Hannah got to see several of her friends again, including Chichi.

Besides Sigiria Forest, I also introduced Hannah to the small Ngong Road Forest in Karen. She thanked me for taking her both places, saying she's glad I also enjoy God's creation in the out-of-doors.

I got to have lunch with Jacob, on his way back to South Sudan; always a treat!

Linet and I visited Masudi at his new job, Kenya Revenue Authority restaurant

Rose hung out with me for several days; we even discovered ice cream in the forest!!

Carol and her children came to my house for lasagne and brownies. Yum!

Doreen and Emma put on a highly entertaining show at the German school! Gloria, Rose, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! I had a permanent smile on my face for the entire show!


Last, but not least, Jennifer and I really enjoyed 'Black Panther', with our requisite 3-D glasses. One of the stars was Kenya's own, Lupita Nyang'o, in the role of Nakia. Added bonus - - we paid only $6 for the ticket and it included a hot dog, popcorn, and a soda! You sure can't beat Kenya's prices!

26 February 2018

2018 may be Kenya's second year in a row facing a serious humanitarian crisis

Consecutive droughts spell disaster and hunger for Kenya in 2018
10 January 2018

Two consecutive years of failed rains have left 3.4 million Kenyans in need of food aid and 480,000 children requiring treatment for acute malnutrition. It’s the worst humanitarian crisis the country has faced since a major drought scorched the Horn of African region in 2011.

The government declared a national drought disaster early last year, with 23 out of 47 counties affected. Nutrition surveys showed that perennially dry Turkana North as well as parts of Marsabit and Mandera counties had global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates above 30 percent, double the emergency threshold.

All areas in Kenya’s Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL), had GAM rates of between 15 and 29 percent. There has been a market glut as pastoralists have sold off surviving animals, triggering price crashes of as much as 90 percent in some areas.

“Most of the communities we support as an organisation are pastoralists who solely rely on livestock for livelihoods. They lost most of their livestock,” stated an officer at World Vision. That has reduced the availability of protein and milk, worsening nutritional levels, particularly among children.

That, coupled with an outbreak of the voracious Fall Army Worm pest, has seen wholesale staple food price increases between 8-32 percent above average in the urban markets of Nairobi, Mombasa, and Eldoret.

“The last 10 months or so have been one sad moment after another,” said Lojok Lekurug, a 37-year-old mother of six in Nadapal, Turkana County. “With the escalating food prices and the drought, we have been feeding on edible wild fruits, which are scarce. It has not been easy surviving."

Drought conditions have also led to declines in school attendance and rising dropout rates, UNICEF has warned. Families are also on the move, “which poses protection risks for women and children,” the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, noted.

Needs also extend to the 420,000 refugees living in Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in northern Kenya. Due to a shortfall in funding, the World Food Programme announced in November that it was cutting rations by 30 percent.

Source: irinnews.org

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Famine Early Warning Systems Network

Source: http://www.fews.net/

By the way, I live and mostly move around in the light green (minimal food insecurity) area on this graphic. Much of that area is called the Highlands (plains to foothills), with elevations between 5,000-9,000 feet.

The yellow and orange sections (stressed and crisis food insecurity) are primarily the arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) of Kenya, making up about 70% of the courntry. At 1,500-4,000 feet elevation, this is also where the pastoralists primarily live. These different elevations have a huge effect on temperature and rainfall.

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Tree leaves and all other vegetation are brown [photo from my recent trip to Maasailand]

Everywhere in Maasailand - and other ASAL areas - it's bone dry and beyond dusty. The dust clings to every surface, waiting and yearning for a drop of rain. In various parts of Nairobi (as well as many other urban areas throughout the country), pastoralists walk for miles with their livestock - cattle, goats, sheep, and camels - looking for a blade of green grass and a place with water to quench the thirst of their beasts.

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A multitude of reasons for Kenya's perpetual woes

  • Charcoal burning - depletes the forest cover, resulting in reduced rainfall
  • Rivers and water pans - drying up rapidly due to prolonged drought and deforestation
  • Post-harvest wastage - Aflatoxin (mold from improper storage), as one example 
  • Pest invasions, like Armyworm, moths, beetles 
  • Diseases attacking crops
  • Outdated farming practices
  • Declining soil fertility (mostly due to over-fertilization)
  • Corruption, weak government policies, cartels, etc.

Source: I collected this list from various articles

Maize crop that dried up before it could be harvested

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Why food crisis remains a thorn in the flesh for Kenya
24 February 2018

This trend casts doubt on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda of making Kenya self-reliant in food production.

The government has pumped billions in agriculture in a bid to make Kenya self-sufficient in food production, but despite this, the country has not been able to feed itself, and mainly relies on imports to bridge annual deficits.

Dr Irungu says soil acidity remains a big challenge in Kenya’s breadbasket of North Rift as continuous use of acidic fertiliser has compromised the quality of soil. In 2013, the government conducted a nationwide soil testing exercise that revealed that more than 80 per cent of the country’s land is not suitable for farming due to high acidity levels. However, enough efforts have not been made to address the issue, which can only be corrected by use of lime.

Dr Jane Ambuko, a senior lecturer in plant science and crop protection at the University of Nairobi, says Kenya will continue to experience perennial food shortage unless it figures out how to stem food loss  after harvest. “Conservative estimates say we lose up to 30 per cent of food to post harvest losses, a gap the government has been slow to address. No matter how much we invest in production, we will not defeat hunger if we don’t deal with food storage including aflatoxins,” she said.

These are just some of the factors that have seen Kenya in the midst of yet another crippling drought despite the development of an early warning system. Last year, the country was forced to import maize from Mexico after the food situation worsened.

Source - www.nation.co.ke/

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Turkana herder

Turkana herders tell their own gripping stories of despair
20 October 2017

Turkana is one of several arid counties in Kenya in the throes of a prolonged and extreme drought. Most people in these areas raise livestock for a living, grazing their sheep, goats, cows, and camels on open rangeland. Usually, two annual rainy seasons ensure there’s enough grass to keep the millions of animals healthy. But this year, hundreds of thousands of animals have died of hunger, thirst, and disease. Read these firsthand accounts:

Since we met four years ago, most of my livestock has died, I only have five animals left. I had 250 goats and 50 sheep. They died because of the drought, they had nothing to eat. Normally, we take our animals to graze on the hills, but you can see there is no grass now.

When I was young, we could predict when the rains would come — we knew it would fall after six months. When I had animals, we had enough to eat. We used to eat meat and drink milk and sometimes the blood of sheep and goats. We would only sell livestock when we were hungry. During the good times when they could graze well, we did not sell them.

There has always been drought, but this one is the worst in my lifetime because it has killed so many animals, and the problem is spreading to humans — we are getting sick. Recently, there were showers for just three days, and the grass started growing for about a month. But that was not enough for the animals to grow healthy.

It is like this everywhere in Turkana. If it rains, I will get more animals if my daughter gets married and I get a bride price. If it doesn’t rain, I will be left with nothing.

If I could talk to the governor, I would tell him about our way of life and ask him to help us with maize. We need development, to have more boreholes so we can start farming. I would like to both farm and raise livestock.

I see things are changing and the changes that are coming make me sad. If we old ones die, everything will change, the younger ones will move away from the life we have lived. The way we used to live was good. We lived a free life and could go where we wanted.

Lady herding goats

I was born in 1947 and I grew up here. My father worked this plot of land and also raised livestock. Now my husband is dead and I have no sons to help me. There are only widows who work this land. Sometimes, animals come and destroy our work, so we have to chase them away.

Before, I also had livestock. I would buy animals by selling the surplus from my crops. But over the past three years, when the drought came, it took all my animals; they died of hunger, including the newborns, so I stopped being a pastoralist, and I only farm now.

When there was no drought and I had livestock, life was good. When the animals gave birth, we had milk. We ate our crops and gave the chaff to the animals. Now there is only hunger; I have nothing to eat. We receive a cash transfer of Sh5,000 every three months; I am not sure who pays it. We would like to get the money more often. People depending only on that money will die of hunger.

Earlier this year, I planted maize on this plot but it became infested with insects, so we had to dig up the maize and destroy it. Now we will plant sorghum. When we have finished working the soil, we will open up the channels to let in water [from a nearby borehole]. It’s hard work — it takes two months just to plough and sow the land.

When I feel hungry, I go and look for wild fruit. But when you eat that every day, you get diarrhoea. We only eat it because we are hungry.

If the government wants to support us, they should buy livestock for us or give us some food. But they should give it to us directly, not to the village elders who, when food aid is given, often only distribute it to their relatives. Sometimes, when we hear that some food has been delivered, we go and wait under a tree to get some, but it all goes to others, and eventually we go back home. That is why we eat wild fruit.

We may be old but we are trying and will keep trying until the government comes to help us. When the drought ends, I will sell this crop to buy more animals. But if the drought continues, we will die.

My father has 50 camels. A camel is worth Sh70,000 if it has recently given birth and is producing milk. Over the past 20 years, almost 100 of our camels died because of drought. In this drought, 16 died. In our household we have also lost 40 cows, leaving us with just seven. This is the worst drought. There is no grass. It rained last month but there were only showers.

We are suffering from hunger right now. Sometimes we go 10 days without getting food. We got some food aid once, some cereal, but we had no water to mix it. Food prices have gone up, a cup of maize used to be Sh10, now it is Sh50.

To find water for our animals, sometimes we have to walk 30km (18 miles). That’s why we beg for water from passing cars on the road. Not everybody stops. I have really suffered with this drought and hunger, and now I would like a job. It would be better that I work so I can help my children.

What we want from the government is for it to introduce agriculture to our community. We are used to raising animals, and pastoralism used to be good, the rain was there. But now, because of drought… all that will help us is agriculture. When there is no rain, we get no milk from the camels. Sometimes, if we see rain clouds in the distance, we will travel there.

Turkana women carry carcasses of animals they lost to biting drought near Lokitaung, Turkana County

I came here to the livestock market to sell my two goats because I am hungry, but I did not sell them as the price of livestock is so low. I wanted Sh3,000 for the she-goat and Sh5,000 for the male one. But the buyers, middlemen, only offered me Sh1,500 for the female and Sh1,700 for the male.

Before, when I had lots of animals (300 goats), I was a man. I paid 100 of them as a dowry. I also had three cows my father gave me towards the dowry. Two hundred goats died in the drought. Everyone in the community has been affected. Now, I live like a dog because I am poor.

Getting enough food is a problem. We are not getting any food aid. We are getting thinner and thinner. Some of my family eat wild fruit to survive, and sometimes it causes health problems.

We need more help from the government. Before, they were not selective in who they helped, but now only a few get aid.

I don’t know how I can get back to what I had before. I know that in the future my children will not live as pastoralists because of drought. We decided to put them in school, but we have no money to pay for that, so they will not finish.

The only thing that helps us is rain. When it rains, the grass grows and the goats graze. How can we survive without rain?

I live with my two wives, my mother, and I have 12 children. Making and selling charcoal is the only way I get food. I used to have 25 camels, seven donkeys, 12 cows, and 250 goats, but they all died in the drought, except for the few that we fed with maize bought with the money from selling charcoal. All the grass has dried up.

When a dead tree falls down, we dig a hole in the ground, cut the tree into logs, burn it under a covering of leaves. I make charcoal like this every day. Traders come from Lodwar to buy it. They pay Sh200 for a 50kg sack. I make about two sacks every day. I know that in Lodwar the same bag sells for Sh700 or Sh800 — but that is the way with traders. This is our only source of income.

Because of hunger, some people are cutting down live trees to make charcoal, although this is not allowed. We are not getting any help from the government — it would be good if they gave us medicine and fodder for our animals.

In normal times, to find out where the grazing is good, we send out small groups of young scouts to find the best grass. When they return we go to that place with our animals.

I think the future will be very hard. This drought is very bad and there will be more like it to come. I don’t think my children or grandchildren will be pastoralists; some will go to school. All that will be here in 100 years is drought and hunger.

Turkana tribesmen collect goats carcasses to burn in a village near Loiyangalani, Kenya

People come to this market from far way, sometimes travelling on foot for more than 200km. The money I make trading here goes to pay school fees for my seven children.

The drought has destroyed our business. Before, we used to get customers from Nairobi but they don’t come anymore because they heard there is no grass here to feed animals during the journey back. Now, only locals are buying. The price has come down a lot since last year, from $70-80 down to $50-60. The government buying up livestock helps us, but the money they pay is not enough.

Before, when we had healthy goats you could sell at a good price and buy what you need. Now, the goats are malnourished and sell at a lower price, so it is hard even to keep the children in school. Because of this drought, I think all the animals will die. In the future, life will not be good; it will be a struggle if we don’t get more support from the government and donors.

Livestock traders like me are thinking about changing business, like opening a hotel or selling second-hand clothes. If my children said they wanted to be pastoralists, I would say they should stay in school.

Source: www.the-star.co.ke
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[All photos, except brown leaves, are from internet]

21 February 2018

Balloon Plant Milkweed at Sigiria Forest; enjoying the wonder of God's creation

Balloon plant milkweed (Gomphocarpus physocarpus) is in the family of African Milkweeds. It goes by many evocative names: Balloon Cotton-Bush, Nailhead, Gooseplant, Oscar Milkweed, Family Jewels, and Bishop's Balls. Not easily mistaken for anything else, the balloon plant is characterized by its dangling, airy, almost hollow orbs, which when opened reveal a core of seeds. It is quite favored as a host for butterflies, especially Monarchs.

I find it to be stunningly beautiful, unique, and ever so fascinating!

Hannah used to live at Ngong town on the same compound as me. In fact, God introduced us to each other one Sunday at church, so she could alert me about a vacancy where she lived. I had just learned from my landlord that they were selling their house, so I looked at the vacancy at Ngong that very afternoon and paid my deposit the next day. That was March 2014; we were neighbors for about a year before she moved back to the UK.

It was also with Hannah that I first visited Karua Forest (just across the road from Sigiria Forest). She was recently back in Kenya for a short visit and stayed at my house, using her old bed which she had given to me before leaving.

And so it seemed fitting that we go to the forest again for another adventure.

As we enjoyed our hike in the forest, we spotted this open area full of a quite interesting type of seed pod. We both love photography and nature, so we hung out here for about 20 minutes just enjoying the wonder of God's fascinating creation.

I can remember doing the same thing as a child, with the milkweed pods of Omaha, Nebraska. Truly God knows my heart and my enjoyment of simple pleasures... even now as an adult!

December, January, and February are Kenya's hot, dry, dusty, summer months. Notice the warning for potential fires as we enter the forest.

On our way back home, our bus driver decided to take a 'panya' route because of a traffic jam - a typical reaction. However, it rarely saves any time and basically only frustrates we passengers.

He drove through various alleyways causing us to rock back and forth and side-to-side. It was a bumpy, irritating, and dusty route during which Hannah and I estimate we actually added 10-15 minutes to our trip as opposed to shortening it!

Watch this brief video of one section of our ride -

20 February 2018

My yellow vaccination card: Typhoid, Cholera, Tetanus-Diphtheria, Hepatitis A/B, Meningitis, Polio, Yellow Fever, etc

My vaccination list prior to my first visit to Kenya

Living in a country like Kenya requires a lot of vaccinations. Some need to be repeated after 2-5 years and some after 10 years. If one wants to remain healthy, it is important to stay current on all of them.

Six months later, I got the two final doses 

Even though it's rarely checked by airport authorities, carrying this yellow immunization card is required for traveling abroad. If someone doesn't have the required vaccines for certain countries, they can be refused entry.

There's a special section on the card for Yellow Fever

Travelers show their Yellow Fever cards to an airport authority [photo from internet]

The World Health Organisation (WHO) ruled in July 2016 that a single dose of the Yellow Fever vaccine is now valid for life with no booster shot required. Yellow certificates should clearly indicate that the validity is for the life of the person vaccinated. Yellow fever virus is mostly found in tropical and subtropical areas in South America and Africa. It is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of infected female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.

My remaining immunization history over the past (almost) 17 years

Visiting developing nations can expose you to illnesses rarely seen in the United States. However, there are safe immunizations that help protect travelers from contracting such diseases. Some are routine, others recommended, and a few are required (depending on where exactly you'll be traveling). It's wise to talk to a doctor for specific advice to know exactly which vaccines you'll need, discussing such things as your itinerary details, general health, and previous immunization history. Additionally it's important to learn the scheduling, as some vaccines require multiple doses and/or require time to take effect before the travel date.  [information from internet]

I got another Typhoid vaccine on January 30th

Kenya scores poorly on access to clean water

According to the 2018 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), a biennial report by Yale and Columbia Universities, Kenya ranks among the bottom five countries in the world with the poorest access to clean water and sanitation. Kenya is at position 178 out of the 180 countries covered in the report.

The EPI report ranked Kenya at position 130 globally on environmental performance. All of the top ten laggards are located in sub-Saharan Africa, and the region is substntially behind the rest of the world in obtaining safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

Besides being so critical to life, poor sanitation and lack of clean water are recipes for health and social havoc globally.

Kenya has in the recent path lost hundreds of lives in many urban areas across the country following cholera outbreaks and other water-borne diseases caused by the lack of access to clean water. In July 2017, at least 14 people died and over 400 were hospitalized across Kenya. Nairobi especially had several outbreaks of cholera. The Ministry of Health listed 12 counties (out of Kenya's total number of counties, 47) as being hotspots for cholera outbreaks. The Center for Disease Control listed 14 counties with active cholera transmission in the last quarter of 2017. Nairobi County was included on both lists.

Clean water and proper sanitation are key pillars for many Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) worldwide. Again, sub-Saharan Africa did no meet the target of Millenium Development Goals (MDG) for water and sanitation. Goal #3, Target 9, of the 2030 SDGs calls for countries worldwide to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals plus air, water, and soil pollution and contamination.

The United Nations estimates that the number of people living in slums, often without access to basic services, could double to approximately 400 million people by 2020, putting even more pressure on these resources. It further estimates that 115 people die every hour in Africa from diseases associated with contaminated drinking water.

[Note: Typhoid and cholera are both transmitted through unsafe food and water, along with poor hand or body hygiene. Both diseases can be deadly, but are treatable with proper medicine if diagnosed in time.]

[excerpts from article in Daily Nation, published on 20 January 2018, the same day I got my latest typhoid vaccination]

14 February 2018

Trip to Eldoret: Fulfilling a promise to Martin's grandparents

Martin, an aunt, Sinclair and Tony (his two brothers), Robai, Deb, and another aunt (both had been visiting for a few days).

Robai and I had 'mandazi na chai' at a small café at Farfaral, while waiting for Nathan.

A lovely field of sunflowers

After a brief visit (and more chai) with Nathan and his family, we all headed to see Martin and his grandparents at Mawe Tatu. Without a car, motorbikes are the best way to get around in the village! I hopped on with Nathan as Robai, Deb, and Alice grabbed a couple of other guys. It can be a dusty ride, but it gets us from one place to another.

The previous time I saw Martin's grandparents, they insisted I share a meal with them... and so I kept my promise on this visit. They were very grateful for that and also for the polite gesture of giving them a small box of kitchen staples as well as some cash (to help with Sinclair and Tony's school expenses).

The aunt below, with Sinclair, is the one who painted the decorations on the house. It's a common practice in the village, prior to Christmas and the New Year. Various colors of soil are mixed with water to create a sort of 'paint'.

As we left their house, Nathan and the other motorbike guys took us to Matunda so Robai and I could get a shuttle van back to Eldoret. Nathan and Alice also wanted to do school shopping for Deb at Matunda's large market area.

Right next to the shuttle booking office a guy was conveniently selling school 'exercise books' (notebooks)... from a wheelbarrow! Gotta love the randomness of Kenya!

12 February 2018

Trip to Eldoret: One café, two different sets of friends

Me and Amina at 'Icy and Spicy', a new café in Eldoret

I met Medina about two years ago on one of my visits to Robai's secondary school. The girls were cube-mates in one of the dormitories and had become close friends. In January 2017, I also met her mom, Amina, while we were doing school shopping for the new academic year. We kept seeing each other in various aisles of the supermarket... and each time we did so, it got funnier and funnier.

"We can't find the pencils and sharpeners. Do you know where they are?"

"Yes, they're over on that other side of the supermarket. But do you know where the shoe polish and laundry detergent are located?"

Robai and Medina

This January (2018), we intentionally met so we would for sure see one another again. Amina and Medina live in Marsabit, where it takes up to 18 hours by bus to reach Eldoret. They were tired from their long journey and we were cold, due to a sudden, heavy downpour that descended on Eldoret town while we waited for them. When the rain finally let up a bit, I walked to a nearby store to buy a blanket in an attempt to stay warm. One whole side of the café was wide open to attract customers, which of course let in the cold air.

We enjoyed a new spot called 'Icy and Spicy', where they had a special offer of chips (French fries) - in a variety of flavors - with a free small soda (pop). The girls were excited for the opportunity and it also gave Amina and I a chance to chat again.

On another day of school shopping (plus paying school fees), we met Agnes and Pope... at the very same café and enjoyed the very same offer! I had the garlic chips both times (yummy!), but everyone else had masala chips.

A few days later, as I waited for my early-morning flight, that spur-of-the-moment blanket purchase came in handy once again! The elevation at the airport is 6,900 feet; I live at 6,400 feet in Ngong town. Both places, as in all of Kenya's highlands, can be quite chilly in the mornings (around 50F). Additionally there's no climate control - including heat - in Kenya's buildings, primarily constructed with cement and stone... which can retain that cold temperature for hours.

With my new blanket and a hot cup of chai, I was at least comfortable.

29 January 2018

Christmas Day: another church service, roasted goat, a walk in the forest, and re-telling the Christmas story

Nyama choma (roasted meat) is a huge part of Kenya's culture, with the most common roasted meat being goat, also known as mbuzi choma. Holidays and weekends are when people especially love their nyama choma and what better day for it than Christmas!

After attending the special church service, we walked a short distance to Legend for our lunch. We all eagerly dug in for mbuzi choma, chips, soda, plus kachumbari (freshly chopped tomato, onion, cilantro, and chili peppers). What a satisfying and delicious feast!

Just outside the restaurant, alongside Ngong Road, these three silly guys entertained us as we were leaving. They're hired to attract customers that are passing by on the road, trying to drum-up business for the restaurant.

Our next destination was Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary for a hike and GeoCaching. Nicholas was our quite informative and charming guide. He enjoyed learning a bit about the hobby while we managed to find six of them!

Jeremy behind a split tree

Once we got back to my house, everyone colored pictures depicting the biblical story of Christ's birth. After that we each read the portion of the story that we had colored. It's become a tradition of mine and is a way to keep alive my Dad's history of reading the Christmas story each year.