Thursday, September 27, 2012

caves, waterfalls, downtown, Yom Kipper and a very cool map

Got out to some green this past weekend as we went for a hike/walk in the forest.  Was only about a 20 minute drive from our apartment.  It felt very safe and comfortable.  There were guards patrolling it and lots of families walking about.  We spent a lot more time there then we expected since it was so nice.  Walked through some caves and enjoyed a waterfall.

During the week, as both of the kids are now in school, I have been searching high and low for housing.  On Tuesday I convinced our real estate agent to show me the ropes on how to navigate the city via matatu as we had to go to a different neighborhood and I was sick of paying for taxis.  Very cool experience - just have to get up the gumption to do it on my own next time!  Gulp.  Also got a chance to finally walk around downtown Nairobi, which was also a welcome change of pace from our local neighborhood.  Not that there is anything wrong with Westlands -- just need to change it up every now and then....  One part of downtown has a very hectic, energizing, and vibrant feel and the other section felt quite modern and business-like.  The dichotomy of the two sections reminded me of New York, Wall Street and Midtown playing the part of the modern area and LES / East Village the more happening 'hood....

On Wednesday we went to the Nairobi Synagogue.  The setting and building itself are amazing.  It was built 100 years ago and the city has grown up right around it.  The service was mostly in Hebrew but everyone is so welcoming.  It's an awesome feeling to be part of a community that has held forth for so long in such a seemingly off the beaten track locale for Jews. (but maybe not, as my grandmother has a cousin who lived in Nairobi during the 40/50's)  During Rosh Hashanah a couple weeks ago they invited me up to open the Ark - after I got over my initial hesitation/nervousness I deeply appreciated the honor.

As a final note, here is a map showing our footprint in Nairobi...

Saturday, September 22, 2012


That's what it has been over the past couple weeks since leaving the US and coming here -- in a good way; so many new experiences and things to learn - not a dull minute!

I haven't posted since before we left, so I have to acknowledge the unbelievable send-off we received from our friends in Nyack. What a powerful and strong evening it was - it will be in our memory forever. Thanks so much to Tom and Lisa for organizing and for all who made it so special.  When we come back in a year or two or three, we hope we can reciprocate. 

That was the Friday night before we left.  The next 48 hours were a blur, as so many things were going through our minds.  We did get to enjoy Stu's performance and last minute goodbyes to Nana and Papa and Oma and Opa.  One of the most memorable things was packing a suitcase full of just random toys... My dad must have thought we lost it (mentally) ... Most of the things in there were just small random objects, but the kids have such an imagination that I am pretty sure they have used every single knick knack we brought (highlighter pens as hockey sticks, etc).
playing birthday party pinata with
all the random objects we brought

Thanks to Oma and Opa for bringing us all the way to JFK.  We had to caravan in two cars since we had so many suitcases!  Flight was great - it was quite memorable to fly over the Alps, down the Adriatic just west of Greece, and then many hours over the vast brown expanse of the Sahara.  Finally, right before dark, we spotted the Nile and I think Khartoum.  Then it got dark, and about an hour later at 8pm local time we landed.  We collected our luggage and visas and got scooped up by drivers from Rhonda's work and whisked to our temporary apartment here in Nairobi.

We like our temporary home.  It's fairly basic, but we are all comfortable.  The maid comes every day to clean (I keep telling Rhonda - you don't have to do the dishes!).  We get to the pool most days, and Matthew has become an unbelievable swimmer.  Despite the pool water being maybe 60 degrees, he just jumps right in!

Our first week was fairly straight forward. We laid low the first day - just venturing to the local shopping center to get some key supplies.  The rest of the week we visited some schools and made lots of local taxi drivers happy with our frequent trips all around.   As mentioned on an earlier post, we had Shabbat dinner that first Friday with an American family who has made us feel very welcome.  Then Saturday night we went to a get-together with some of Rhonda's work colleagues, which was also great to make us feel even more welcome.  Sunday we got to feed monkeys in a local park - the kids loved it and we even saw a mommy monkey carrying a baby monkey.  Thanks to Rhonda's Director for showing us that. 
mommy and baby
The next Monday, Sept 3rd, Rhonda started work and the kids and I began our ceaseless search for schools and housing.  At this point, I feel like an expert in both the housing supply in Westlands (our neighborhood in Nairobi) and pre-k and elementary schools for expat kids.  Most interestingly for housing, there is no central database for what's available - no real Craigslist.  There are a couple of sites, but nothing has a comprehensive list. Some of the most promising places we have seen have come from just calling "To Let" signs and looking at postings on bulletin boards in the shopping centers (talk about pre-internet - this is pre-newspaper!).  Then for schools, we found a couple of nice possibilities for Ruby that we hadn't even discovered during web searches - just from networking.  It turns out Ruby is going to the German School, which we identified back in the states, but the lesson learned is that nothing compares with being on the ground and just searching things out physically.

playing -- replicating Nairobi's traffic
It’s been a great bonding experience with the kids for a couple of weeks.  Naturally there were lots of complaints about seeing "another apartment", but for the most part we’ve been a tightly functioning team, always leaving a bit time for the pool, football / baseball practice in the complex's parking lot, and free play in the apartment.  This phase is coming to an end, however.

first day of school
Ruby started school on Tuesday and is even taking the bus! (thanks to Mr. Matthew for the great videography!)   God bless her - this morning was tough for her, crying desperately when getting on the bus because she didn't want to leave mommy, but later she still said she likes it.  What a trooper that little girl!  How many other American 4 year olds are riding the bus - let alone through Nairobi! (I should mention it’s not like an typical 30 seat American yellow school bus, it is actually a much smaller scale bus with a dedicated driver AND a second grown-up to help and watch over the kids.)

On Monday, Matthew will start the local American school.  He CAN NOT WAIT!  Got the call yesterday that it is a go, and he didn't understand why he couldn't start today!

crossing the highway
Yesterday and today, he and I really started to explore our local area.  Of course, at first we were kind of nervous to go out and about with all the security issues we hear about, but, as we expected, gradually you acclimate.  Even in one of the guide books it says mzungu aren't out walkin' the streets. BS– they are out there in force.  So, with confidence, we started to pound the pavement (I use that term loosely), and we ventured forth from the apartment, across the huge highway that separates us from the main shopping area and basically tried to be with the people.  Matthew couldn't understand why we weren't taking taxis anymore, but I think he really started to dig all the crazy sights, smells, and characters.  It's not that we saw anything in particular, we just were making our way to the market, post office, real estate posting, etc., but it is great to feel a part of the rhythm of the city.  Next we need to figure out the matatus, so we can venture further afield!

That might have to wait though -- the other big news this week is that Rhonda got access to a car (actually a totally tank size pick-up truck that could swallow our old Subaru in one bite).  She was amazing on the first day she got the vehicle, darting in and out of traffic to get us to a cub scout meeting... remember the driving is on the other side of the road and it is a stick shift, so since the driver’s side is on the other side she also had to shift with her left hand... Safari here we come!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Ruby and Matthew’s Note about Nairobi

Acacia Tree
I like Kenya and I really want to go to ISK, the American School in Kenya.  I may go to Braeburn Garden, the British school.  I like the flat trees, the Acacia trees.  Mommy likes the Jacaranda trees (Matthew). 

I liked where we had Shabbat last week.  I loved that there were kids, and I played with them.  I liked Jacob, the older of the children (Matthew).  And, I liked Layla (Ruby).  I played basketball with Jacob (Matthew), and they had a trampoline (Ruby).  They had a soccer field in their backyard.  Jacob said living in Nairobi is good.  We were going to play soccer, but we forgot and then when we remembered again it was dark outside.  In the darkness there are snakes, but they can’t eat us (Matthew).
Feeding Monkeys, City Park
We have so much toys, and we have a playroom in our apartment.  There’s one bed in the playroom. We also could play "Restaurant” (Ruby).  I’m the waiter (Matthew).  We play that game with all our animals.  They are the customers (Ruby).
We have a balcony (Matthew).  We have a table on our balcony (Ruby).  We are on the 3rd floor. The apartment building goes up to the 4th floor (Matthew).  I like that we have so many things while we’re sleeping to protect us.  Next to the first gate there’s a store where you can buy water bottles (Ruby).  There is a metal gate that’s green, and no one can get through unless the security guards let them in (Matthew).  We have a blanket on our couch, and it is yellow, green and orange (Ruby).
We have a pool near our apartment, and it’s not heated.  Usually I just slip right in, and I start swimming.  Daddy just jumps in, and it makes a big splash.  I can only stand where the wall is, the shallow end.  Usually I swim out of the shallow end to swim where I can’t stand (Matthew).  
Sheldrick Trust Elephant Orphanage
One day we went to see the elephants, but we missed the part of the cute little baby ones at the elephant orphanage.  When we first came, we saw only one little baby elephant.  But then we saw a group of teen-ager elephants (Matthew).  An elephant squirted mud on my arm and my leg (Ruby). 
Giraffe Manor
Next we visited giraffes.  I could give the giraffe the food, and he can lick it off my finger, but I didn’t want to.  He had a black tongue.  Then, there appeared a warthog (Matthew). 

I saw a monkey that stealed a bag of peanuts from Robin. It was funny (Ruby).  We saw so much monkeys I could not even count them.  Like Ruby said, one monkey stole a bag of peanuts from Robin (Matthew).  A monkey was sitting on my sandal (Ruby).  There is like thousands of monkeys in Africa.  I fed the monkeys, and one took a peanut right off my hand.  His hands felt like people’s hands, but they were a lot smaller (Matthew).  A monkey got a mango from a market that was close to the park where all the monkeys were (Ruby).

We have a lot of drivers, and I’ll tell you their names: Wilson, Julius and Steve. They are nice. I like Steve the best because he’s friendly to me and he knows my name better (Matthew).

Matthew and Ruby