Monday, January 31, 2011

Lazy Afternoon

A security guard catches a snooze and some shade.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Peace Corps, Expat Aid Workers

These gems were just passed along to me by two different friends. The first one needs no comment.

The second is a blog similar to Stuff White People Like but it's focused on expat aid workers. I found myself laughing and cringing, sometimes at the same time, while reading through. I've been guilty of a lot of it. Take, for example, the start of number four on Drivers which is eerily close to my description of arriving in Nairobi:
Upon arriving at the airport in a new country after a long flight, followed by the entanglement that is immigration, luggage retrieval, and customs, you stumble sweaty and bleary-eyed into the arrival pen. You scan the sea of unfamiliar faces, desperately hoping to see a sheet of A4 with your name on it. There it is! You make eye contact, nod and smile. And as you hand your whole being over to that other human, you can relax: You’re with the driver now.
I also liked number 14 on hot showers (the shower head in my bathroom is a "suicide shower") and this tidbit from Establishing Field Cred:
You can also drop hints that you’ve got field cred by always pronouncing the names of cities and countries the way a local would (eg., Nee-ka-ra-wa instead of Nik-uh-rah-gwa).
In the Peace Corps, I had a pretty good idea of whether or not I'd like you based on how you pronounced Nicaragua. Trying to establish field cred, in this case, wasn't going to get you very far.

Note: I've learned in my few short weeks in Nairobi that serving in the Peace Corps immediately gives you a deep reservoir of field cred in the eyes of non PC expat aid workers.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My New Digs

You'll be surprised that my apartment building looks like this:

And that I cook in a kitchen like this:

To entertain my guests here:

Before resting my head here:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Trip Over

Because leaving Chicago involved a move out of my apartment before the holidays, a trip to Phoenix for Christmas, a trip to Puerto Rico from Phoenix for New Years and finally back to Chicago for four days before my departure to Nairobi, my packing was done haphazardly and left me lugging a 60lb suitcase, a 50lb duffel, and a full backpack to O’Hare. The ticket agent at British Airways charged me $50 for the heavy suitcase but then promptly upgraded my trip to London to business class. $50 well spent, I thought. I settled into my window seat’s spacious digs next to a 70 year old woman also on her way to Nairobi for an African safari. Of course I didn’t actually talk to her or ask her where she was headed but judging by her smart hiking boots, her husband’s (who sat right across the aisle) breathable khaki button down, and a Frommer’s Kenya book I pegged her pretty quickly. I even heard her practicing Swahili under her breath. “Oh, it says here ‘Jambo!’ means hello.”

We were delayed at the gate for almost 2.5 hours but when your total trip is estimated at 18 hours and you have a safe buffer of time for the London connection, delays don’t seem too frustrating. We finally took off around 8pm and through the plane window I kissed Chicago goodbye.

7 or so hours later, we arrived at London Heathrow and my connection was uneventful. I had just enough time in the airport to grab a bottle of water, hit the restroom, and find my gate for the 8 hour flight to Nairobi. Though I didn’t have the business class upgrade on this leg of the journey, I managed to snag an exit row while checking in. Unfortunately, when I boarded the plane I found that my exit row seat didn’t have a window and was the closest row to the bathroom. I appreciated the extra leg room on the long flight, but I tend to put a higher premium on the clouds, stars, waters, mountains, etc. you can stare at from a plane window, so I was disappointed to find my only view would be passengers entering and exiting the john. Thankfully, I put my headphones in and was able to fitfully sleep through most of the flight.

Touching down in Nairobi brought a number of firsts. It was, by a long shot, the farthest I had been from home, and it was my first time on the southern side of the equator and my first time in Africa. I’d like to say that I reflected on this and came to some intelligent conclusion on world travel, but I was preoccupied by the normal logistics of any arrival. We exited the plane and lined up to pass through customs. The Nairobi airport though a bit older and run down in some areas was nicely organized and easy to navigate. Customs was a breeze. I paid for my $25 entry visa and was passed through with little more than a stamp of the passport and a wave of the agent’s hand. I headed downstairs, picked up my two bags from the carousel and headed over to where they had an additional eight agents working to inspect bags. Again, a smile passed me through without bother.

Rolling my bags through a narrow hallway, I entered into a larger lobby. There was a rope ten feet from the entry way with 50-60 people waving placards with names. I had been told that Josef would be waiting for me and sure enough, I spotted my name in the crowd and walked over. Josef must have done this before because as he saw that I was heading his way, his eyes got a little bigger, he called my name, smiled, and when I reached him, shook my hand firmly. “Welcome to Kenya,” he said. I had been a little nervous about the late night arrival to Nairobi and was sure that “meeting a guy at the airport” wasn’t going to work out too smoothly. It felt good, after a long flight and the nerves, to be in what felt like secure hands. Thank you, Josef.

He helped get my bags outside and asked me to wait while he pulled the car around. Our trip into town was about 15 minutes, passing just outside the central business district of Nairobi and into an area called Parklands where a new co-worker waited for my arrival at the corporate apartment. Because it was 11pm, I didn’t get a good view of the city, but upon first glance, Nairobi was much taller than I had imagined. The whole trip into Parklands was lined with buildings above 5 stories and the main downtown area had a legit skyline of buildings, with the tallest, Times Tower, coming in at 38 stories.

We pulled into the apartment building and Josef again helped me with my bags. The apartment was nicer than I had imagined, and my co-worker showed me my private room and bath for the night. I set my stuff down, sat on the bed and looked at my watch. 11:30pm, exactly 24 hours after leaving the Chicago apartment I had safely arrived to the city I would call home for the next nine months. I thought of my safari bound seat mate from my Chicago to London flight and said, under my breath, “Jambo, Nairobi.” I slept soundly through the first night.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Blogger/daveande Stats

I've spent a little bit more time than normal within Blogger over the last few days, updating the blog's design and checking out the stats that are now available. I think the stats have been included in Blogger for some time now, but I haven't taken a look until recently. Blogger now provides the number of pageviews your blog has registered over any given time period and breaks out your pageviews by specific post and/or traffic source. What did I find when looking at daveande stats? A couple of funny things.

I nearly own the Google search term "syllabus week" coming in at number two right behind Urban Dictionary. Just this week, college students Googling "syllabus week" or some variation have registered 111 page views on my post about Nicaragua's syllabus week.

The daveande post with the most pageviews since May 2010 is Peace Corps Resume. I wonder how many big hearted, adventure seeking, service oriented people have Googled "Peace Corps resume" in hopes of finding some info on how best to format a resume for the Peace Corps application only to come across my post. "Banged my head against a large concrete wall in frustration, boredom, and craziness once a month for 24 months" may have been the basis for some second thoughts and new career decisions.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


It was a relief to finally board the plane and take off. When I first decided to take the job, I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough time to get everything in order and take care of all the loose ends that come along with dropping a life in Chicago and moving to Kenya. It turns out, though, that I should have been more afraid of having too much time. Too much time to second guess, too much time to worry and wonder. In those moments of doubt there was always a chance to say “I’m not going to do this,” and those thoughts were a stressful burden right up until the last minute. When we finally took off though, the decision was made. There was no going back and the definitiveness felt good after two months of questioning.

But definitiveness is a lot different than excitement and confidence. I was both confident and excited about my decision, but a lot less so than I would have liked to be for such a big commitment. It was easy applying for the job and convincing myself that I’d do anything, even move to Africa, for nine months, but the last month leading up to the actual move was a lot harder than I anticipated. I’ll have plenty of time to sort all that out, but at this point, the decision is made and I’m already into my second week in Nairobi.

So far, so good, although it’s fair to say my expectations were really low since my closet frame of reference was the Peace Corps. Within two days of arriving to Nicaragua, I was dropped off in a small town and expected to live with a family that spoke no English. The mornings started with a bucket bath of icy cold water followed by rice and beans for breakfast. The nights were capped off by crawling through a mosquito net and falling asleep to the unfamiliar sounds of roosters and feral dogs. The first week was more uncomfortable than anything I had imagined. By moving to Kenya, I knew I wasn’t getting myself into something like that again but having gone through that, my first week in Nairobi has been a breeze, complete with pleasant surprises. A king size bed, wireless internet, hot water, a full grocery store, and a 9-5 life not unlike Chicago’s will go a long way in keeping me happy. And it’s infinitely easier to adjust to a new country when you can understand what’s being said to you, especially when during the first week the most repeated phrase from my Kenyan co-workers was “Welcome to Kenya. Welcome to Africa.” Indeed.

Renaissance State of Mind - Version 2

Another version of Empire State of Mind Detroit style. This one has some pretty clever lyrics, especially since it was written by fourth through seventh graders at Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences. My favorite - "We love our city so don't have a pity."

Empire State of Mind: Detroit Style from frank collins on Vimeo.

You can find the first one here.