Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lake Baringo and Baseball!

Due to the 50th anniversary of Kenya's independence the whole family had a surprise four day weekend. The actual anniversary was last Thursday (Dec 12th) but then the government at the last minute decided to make Friday a holiday too -- so walla -- four days in a row off!

Since we had the time we decided to head out to Lake Baringo -- it was at least a four hour drive north-west of Nairobi. I was up there last year on my way to Mt Tiati and had heard about this camp on an island in the middle of the lake.

When making the reservations we thought we'd have a new car in time for this weekend's excursion, but due to circumstances beyond our control we still don't have the car. Thus we had to take our jalopy of a rental car up there. Most of the road up there is quite smooth but about 15 miles from the destination the road degrades into potholes, gravel, and paths through riverbeds. It was a little hairy but since I was up there last year I at least knew what to expect. Luckily our trusty Probox powered through. As a side note these Proboxes are used often in rural Kenya as shared taxi's -- so when people saw us driving by they were frantically waving hoping to get rides. I'm sure they were quite surprised to see an American family out for a vacation using one...

our "tent"
view from the tent
In order to get to Island Camp you park at the lake shore and take a boat across the lake to an island which is where the accommodations are. It was quite luxurious. We had a nice safari tent with a beautiful view overlooking the lake and near-by islands. A short walk away was a pool, restaurant and bar.
swimming pool high about the lake
fish eagle
At one point during our stay we enjoyed a boat ride on the lake and got up close to lots of birds and crocs. The weekend there was a great way to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy a really peaceful and serene part of Kenya.

But we couldn't spend the whole weekend frolicking in paradise -- Sunday was the World Series! Matthew has been playing baseball that's organized by some folks affiliated with the Embassy and this past Sunday was the championship of the season. Matthew and all the kids had a great time and even the Ambassador stopped by to provide his support.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Scouts, Lantern Walk, Horseback Riding, Happy Hanukkah!

It's been a busy fall with two Scout camping trips since Matthew started as a Wolf Scout (last year he completed his Tiger Badge).

camping in the bush at Hells Gate
Our first trip was to Hells Gate - cool name and even cooler park. The highlights were a canyon and huge hot spring pool.

our campsite was high above
the valley floor
We had a great hike into the canyon with high walls surrounding us. We had to have a guide who scanned the sky for rains since it seems even a shower in the distance can cause an instantaneous flash flood. Every so often there were 'escape' routes out of the canyon in case a wall of water comes. Seems this is not an idle threat.

we loved the hot spring pool so much we
back a 2nd time the next morning
Afterwards we moved on to a hot spring pool. The whole Hells Gate area is also a geothermal field and there are lots of pipes and power plants that tap the earth's energy to generate electricity. Recently the Kenyan power company built an enormous pool that is also heated by this same energy.

lantern walk
Ruby has been fitting in well at the German School and has made some good friends with a couple other girls. One thing the friends all have in common is they are North American and speak English -- hmm something tells me she won't be fluent in German by the time she is done there. Just like at her and Matthew's pre-school in Nyack they also have a lantern walk. This was great fun with singing, a horse, and a bonfire.

Matthew zipping across the Tana River
Earlier in November we also went on another camping trip to Savage Wilderness, about 1.5 hours north of Nairobi. This was a gorgeous spot right along a river. The Schutzbank/Fleischer family wimped out and got a cabin this time! 

The Wolf Scouts led the flag ceremony

Rhonda has been super busy at work but is still finding time to take horseback riding lessons. After each lesson she says she is quite sore but she's determined to take a ride into the Ngong Hills at some point.

Can't let momma have all the fun!

Tonight was the first night of Hanukkah and the kids loved opening their presents!
Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kenny Kamp

visiting the National Museum
As many of you know Uncle Way (Kenny) came to visit us this past summer. The kids had two months off from school so it was a great opportunity for Uncle Way to come visit and spend some time with the family. Back in the US, Matthew and Ruby would probably go to summer camp but here in Kenya it's not so simple - so we figured Uncle Way could run a personalized summer camp!

The kids had a blast all summer with him.  Uncle Way kept them on a tight schedule of fun, games, and learning.

adventure hikes
Some of the key activities were writing, self defense, sports, adventure hikes, drumming, arts and crafts, field trips, learning the months of the year and the planets of the solar system through song, etc.


learning karate
The finished project!
Probably the capstone was at the end of 'summer camp', Matthew's birthday present to Ruby was book he wrote, with Uncle Way as editor. It was an adventure tale on how Ruby made friends with a monkey and all the mischief the monkey caused. Smiles all around!

Monday, September 23, 2013


The helicopters continue overhead.  The reality of what's happened at Westgate is now setting in. We got back to Nairobi sunday around 2pm, and it was strange how normal the streets of Nairobi seemed to be. But, yesterday afternoon we got messages from the children's schools, the embassy, etc - more details of who amongst the classmates or expat community are injured, missing or dead. We're now getting more details of exactly what happened saturday inside that mall that we frequent probably close to once a week - usually on weekends. Now, the enormity of what's actually transpired is becoming clearer.  Michael and I are somber and concerned. Not so much for our immediate personal safety - just a bit stunned by how easily that could've been us, scrambling to hide inside the Nakumatt store or sheltering our children from gunshots.

A fourth grader from ISK (Matthew's school) was injured after sustaining two gunshot wounds in the leg. Last we heard her mother and brother were missing. I found out an hour ago that they were found dead.  My colleague/friend from work - one of the only other Americans at my office with two young children - was caught inside and apparently went into hiding inside Nakumatt with his family. Somehow they escaped and got out saturday afternoon.  Now that I've read accounts of what exactly happened in there, I've extended another offer of support for soup or company - he hasn't taken me up on that just yet. I remain concerned about how they're really doing.

We've received a directive to "shelter-in-place" and so we have. My office is closed today. Only essential personnel are to report to the Embassy. Even though the schools are open, the situation outside seems to be very tense, and we live so close to Westgate - we kept them home with us today. One of my big fears would be getting separated from the children, and I'm glad they're here now.

Despite everything, they seem ok with it all.. they have some idea that something's happening. Until today they still thought it was a robbery (Ruby may still).  But, then it dawned on me that Matthew will be back at school and talking to all kinds of kids and counselors will be doing interventions, etc, I wanted him to know it's a bigger deal than that. He said he doesn't understand why the robbers are still inside because he thought robbers just want money. I spared him the details, but let him know it wasn't just a robbery, many people were hurt (including that 4th grader), some died, and the Kenyan army, the U.S. and Israel are all here to help - that's what those helicopters are about.  He seemed happy enough with that, and has been busily playing all day with Ruby.  No more information needed, I think - unless he asks me questions.  We'll see how the week goes.

In some ways having lived through 9-1-1 does help. But, I never went to the WTC. This feels much closer to home - we could've been there - 50/50 chance. And, there weren't hostages and an ongoing tense situation after the initial attacks in New York. All of Kenya feels it, I know. It's a horribly, horribly sad time. We just want it to end now. Continuing prayers go out for the people still trapped inside.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Nairobi attack and us

Very sad weekend here in Nairobi that continues. First and most importantly we are all fine. We were actually out of town, four hours away at a game park. In a way we are grateful this happened on a weekend as we were all together and didn't have to worry where each other and the kids were. 

We had just sat down for lunch when Rhonda got some texts from co-workers giving us a heads up. First it seemed it was an armed robbery but over the next hour it became clear this was much more.

The attack happened at the Westgate Mall that we go to all the time. The images really hit home since we can picture ourselves in the exact places the photos and videos were taken.

The mall itself is only about a mile from our apartment. As a write this I hear the helicopters circling overheard and have heard a couple explosions. It is very surreal to be living this. We really don't feel unsafe though since we are behind gates with security guards at the ready.
Matthew and his Monopoly board game
The kids had lots of questions at first but over the past day they have moved onto more important subjects for them, like playing with friends and making a board game. Good to know they are so resilient.

While it was shocking to hear this happened, it really shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Back almost two years ago the group behind the attack warned this would occur and the US government has had an on-going warning. Just in our everyday life you don't feel an imminent threat. We were much more concerned about random robberies. But for the most part our life here is fairly easy - short commutes, great weather year-round, kids happy in school, and household help, so it's easy to put into the back of your mind a seemingly existential threat.

Besides the senseless violence I have been worried about the impact this will have on the Kenyan tourist economy. We have met many Kenyans who rely on visitors for their livelihood and I know this will have a serious impact. At the resort we were at this weekend I could feel the concern in the worker's faces.

Ruby enjoying a scrumptious never-
ending plate of desserts
As mentioned we weren't even in Nairobi when this happened. We had planned a short weekend visit to Sweetwaters - a tented camp in the shadow of Mt. Kenya in a conservatory called Ol Pejeta. It was a nice place with warthogs, gazelles, and rhinos right outside the camp. Also nearby is a chimpanzee sanctuary. We were so amazed by these creatures that we went twice.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lamu and Shela

After our return from the Mara, we bid adieu to our most resilient, patient, and all around rock star of a driver - Sammy. He took us over many miles of bumpy, dust filled roads and never, ever lost his smile or sense of humor.

donkeys are one of only 2
non-walking ways to get around
Rhonda, the kids, Richie and Way then had a quick break for laundry and email checking before heading out for Lamu, on the Indian coast. After many days on the road, this part of the trip would be a welcome change, maybe best of all because Lamu is a car-free island, so no more days in the van!

While the rest of the crew got a head's start, I stayed in Nairobi for a couple days to earn some money to pay for all this fun! (mostly kidding, I'm definitely 2nd fiddle in the earning dept these days!) A couple days later I joined up with everyone.

Lamu alley
Lamu town center
Richie stayed in Lamu Town, which is the main town on the island.

dhows in the harbor

Way and the Schutzbank/Fleischer clan stayed in Shela which is a smaller town on the same island, but only a short boat/walk away.

The first couple days were spent enjoying the beach, touring the town, and generally relaxing and taking in the spirit of the coast.
passin' time

Richie chattin' with the artisans doing wood carvings
Carving a Lamu door

At the far end of the island just past Shela - the beach curves to face the Indian ocean and continues for about 9 miles. The sand dunes are as high as hills.

The first couple days we were in Lamu was Ramadan, at the conclusion we joined in the celebrations which included children's games.

In Shela we stayed at Banana House. Rhonda was able to negotiate adjoining rooms for the kids and us on the ground floor. Outside our rooms was a relaxing hang-out space filled with pillows and they served us breakfast there. It was nice to take naps while the kids ran back and forth to the pool. One night the B&B served a scrumptious Swahili dinner in the courtyard.
our dhow for the day
Our last full day we hired a dhow for a trip to some of the islands surrounding the bay. It was amazing to float from isle to isle , try some fishing, & explore the coves. The shipmates grilled us a lunch of freshly caught fish and coconut rice - yum!


i think my smile was bigger than the fish!

the first mate teaching Matthew how to bait a hook
where we stopped for lunch
In the afternoon we toured around an abandoned village from the 15th century on one of the islands before sailing back to Lamu.
Takwa ruins
walking around Manda island
drifting back to Lamu
What a great way to end an unforgettable 2 week journey around Kenya. Before we knew it, we were back in Nairobi and Matthew started 2nd grade, Ruby started Kindergarten, Rhonda and I were back at work, Way flew to Europe for a grand tour of the continent, and Richie headed back to Japan.

You betcha - 2nd grade!