Friday, December 22, 2006

Gentleman, meet Lug.

Not a big deal? Not a big deal?! I was given the impression by some
people that this report for the Bank would not be a big deal. They
were incorrect.

So I woke up with final comments waiting for me from one of my bosses
on the paper I was hoping to submit to the World Bank this morning.
So I start working on it at home. Then the power goes out, so I pack
up real quick and bike to the office and turn on the generator. After
a couple hours, I finish. I save two copies of the paper, and go to
attach it to an e-mail to the Bank. But when I open the file again,
every single table in the paper has been corrupted and is now just a
long list of numbers. I can't recover it, so I start over. Then the
generator runs out of gas. Quick, my laptop has a thirty second
battery life. There's no gas in the cans in the hallway. I'll go buy
some. Shit, I have no money. I'll get some from the safe. Shit, I
don't have the keys to get to the safe. So I sprint home, get money
and keys, and ask a guard from the office to buy me some gas. I
finish the report again, only this time as I go to send it, there's a
new e-mail from the Bank saying they don't have the funding they
promised for our company, so my boss says to hold off on sending them
the report. Ack!

This is how a normal day around the office is, only usually there
aren't hard deadlines, so you can just go with the flow and laugh
about how nothing works. Today was a little different. On the
positive side, I have now finally written a real paper/report on which
I am the sole author. It's certainly not publishable (in fact, it and
all my thoughts and my firstborn belong to the Bank) but it might
eventually lead to something. I also had a totally dorky
epistemological insight while working to incorporate two different
professors' comments on the paper: "Wow, Thomas Kuhn is totally
right." (If you get that joke, thumbs up for being at least as dorky
as me. Also thumbs up to those who caught the Willow allusion to
start. And in all seriousness the profs were a huge help.)

F--- it all, I'm going to Mombasa.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Well, It's Official

It's Thursday the 21st, and I still haven't left town yet. I know
it's crazy that I'm complaining that I'm not getting a month-plus
Christmas vacation, but Cal has made me soft--if there's not enough
time to walk to Oregon or try and snowshoe the entire John Muir Trail,
it shouldn't even count as vacation. I am the only EC that hasn't left
town yet, the office has been completely emptied (the research team
broke up with the NGO we used to partner with, and the NGO moved out,
long story), I just sent off another (hopefully the final) draft of my
report on scholarship programs for the World Bank to the profs in the
States, I've locked all the doors, and now I wait. Hopefully they'll
get back to me in a few hours, say the report is marvelous and ready
to submit, and I can leave tomorrow for ... for wherever I decide to
go from now until the 29th when Marcus comes and we climb Kili.
Writing this report has been pretty tough, so I'll likely just take a
couple buses to Mombasa and go snorkeling at the beach. Not the best
way to adjust to altitude for climbing Kili, but oh well. I also
wouldn't mind going to Rwanda, or visiting Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru,
and Hell's Gate NP, but I think I'll get a chance to do all those
before I leave, so all is well.

Happy holidays and much love, everyone. If anybody wants to spread
holiday cheer by getting the Sufjan Stevens Chrismas EP boxed set and
Chuck Klosterman's new book to Marcus before he leaves on the 27th,
I'd be forever in your debt.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Walking to the Lake

This weekend I expanded my garden--it's now got a 30 meter perimeter chicken-wire fence, I transplanted the lettuce, tomatoes, peas, and cucumbers that survived the murderous onslaught of my fertilizer, and I planted more tomatoes, peppers, corn, carrots, and watermelon. The termites came out of the wood-work (ha! that's the lamest pun ever) on Sunday, but hopefully my scary-to-handle-especially-having-read-most-of-Silent-Spring insecticide will work.

On Sunday I finally did something other than eating a tall stack of french toast and reading books all day (although I did that too). I was worried I wouldn't be in shape for Kili in a few weeks, so I decided I needed some exercise, and I finally walked all the way from my house to Lake Victoria. I discovered a new route in Uganda that's much shorter than any in Kenya, so I walked across the border (about 3 km from my house), then basically headed due south from there straight to the lake at the village of Majanji, about 30km away. I pretty much haven't done anything since the marathon, so I was happy that I could still do my normal 3+ mph pace. The lake was beautiful and I had fun helping kids pick mangoes on the way.

me at the lake

goats along the way

chairs along the way back. I really wish I 'd noticed to get my shadow out of the picture, because the lines they were making in the sun looked really cool.

a couple days ago the team and I ran into some flooding

Also, I finished reading Sam Harris' The End of Faith. He says some interesting things about religious moderates (basically that moderation is a myth; all the crap about stoning people in Leviticus is just as canonical as the Sermon on the Mount, so moderates are really just being poor followers thanks to centuries of reason beating down their witch-burning and Inquisition-prone beliefs (Christianity has a pretty easy retort for some of this)), but the most startling is what Harris says about Islam: basically every offensive thing that liberals think people in red states might say about Islam is actually true (they all love Osama, they treat women poorly, they're hell-bent on conquering the world and killing all the unbelievers, etc.) and since these people with 14th century beliefs now have 21st century weapons, we are in for some serious trouble. I prefer to think differently: most Muslims are moderate, and just as many people died from self-inflicted cirrhosis of the liver, lung cancer, and obesity related illnesses as from terrorism on September 11th in the US, only the liver and lunger cancer stuff happened again the next day, and the next, and the next. Not to mention traffic accidents, heart disease, cancer, and the developing world's AIDS, malaria, TB, and plain old freaking diarrhea.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Carrot With A Penis And Far More Important Things As Well

I spent the weekend working in the garden. Apparently the area I made two weeks ago was just a seedbed and I needed somewhere five or six times that big to transplant all the stuff to. That is, until my premature-fertilization-while-it-was-way-too-hot-and-dry kicked in and killed a ton of stuff. Oh well. I got a bunch more seeds, so if the rains keep going for another month like people think they will, I should be OK. Of course I'm not going to still be here to enjoy the vegetables of my labor, but that's OK.

I finished Martin Meredith's "The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence" on Sunday. Perhaps I should describe what it's about in more detail, but I think we'll be OK if you just go back and read the title again.

I think it accomplishes its goal of being readable (it's 688 pages long and I read it in a week and a half) but I'm not sure what I really think of it. At times I questioned the author's bias. Footnotes or more specific references would have helped that. Other than when describing the French support of the Hutus in Rwanda or the US support of Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga (The warrior who knows no defeat because of his endurance and inflexible will and is all powerful, leaving fire in his wake as he goes from conquest to conquest, sometimes translated as simply 'Invincible warrior; cock who leaves no chick intact') in Zaire, it pretty adamantly argues that Africa's problems are due to its own bad leadership. I don't know how I feel about that. For some reason it would make be happier to believe the "Poisonwood BIble" version of events in the DRC: Patrice Lumumba was a brilliant, engaging, democratically elected leader that the CIA assassinated and replaced with the kleptocrat Mobutu because the CIA was paranoid Lumumba was too friendly with the Russians. Meredith's version of events: Lumumba was irrational, psychotic, gripped with a Messianic fervor, and would one day threaten to expel UN troops with Soviet help and the next day ask the UN troops for help kicking out the Belgians, and really, the Belgians killed him, not the CIA. Perhaps I prefer Kingsolver's version of events because it gives me (false) hope that there's actually something I can do (vote Democrat) to solve the problem.

In summary, "When Abdou Diouf of Senegal accepted defeat in an election in March 2000, he was only the fourth African president to do so in four decades."

Oh, and did I mention the book is kind of pessimistic? "In reality, fifty years after the beginning of the independence era, Africa's prospects are bleaker than ever before."

I don't know what to think about that. Yes, this continent has serious problems, but the people here are usually pretty dang happy, and you might go crazy if you were that pessimistic all the time. So I will now say something completely asinine. This carrot looks like it has a penis.

This lizard is cute and tiny.

Have a wonderful day.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Not A Four-Day Weekend

Tuesday is Independence Day (actually Republic Day, which is
different) so I feel like I should have left town and made it a
four-day weekend. I haven't been to Naivasha or Nakuru yet, and
they're between here and Nairobi so it's any easy straight shot on one
bus and I could see flamingos and rhinos, I haven't been to Mt. Elgon,
maybe there's something cool to do in Eldoret, and I haven't even been
to Jinja or Kampala yet either. So I should totally go somewhere.
But I don't want to. Ugggh. I hate this feeling. But maybe I
shouldn't actually be going and seeing touristy stuff, and just
working on my garden while chatting with our guard Hezborn and walking
around in the shambas behind the house and playing Frisbee and
hoop-and-stick with kids in the office parking lot is plenty. I sure
think so.

Anyways, I have a few questions.

Should I go to the World Social Forum in Nairobi in January, or is it
just going to be a bunch of annoying Dutch anarchists and I'd feel
about as out of place as I would at Burning Man? I like to pretend
that I'm a moderately liberal guy, but I actually like free trade, so
if anti-globalization is the key issue, I'm not so sure I'd enjoy
myself. I mean, I happily voted for John Edwards for Veep, but I
mostly hoped he was just kidding when it came to protectionism.

Also, is there an El Nin(y)o going on this winter? The short rainy
season usually stops here in early November, but it's still going
strong and might have another month left. Is this a crazy global
thing (it's almost as if our burning mass quantities of fossil fuels
is releasing gasses that are collecting in the atmosphere and making
the earth warmer and seriously destabilizing millennia-old weather
patterns or something ridiculous like that) and if so, how will this
effect this year's snowpack in Colorado?

My buddy Marcus is flying over right after Christmas and we're
climbing Kili. What else should we do? I was reading about treks in
the Usambara mountains that seem similar to the Cherangani Hills, but
do you all think I'm crazy for not really caring about the big-game
parks like the Masai Mara and the Serengeti? I've never been, so I
don't know, but I'm guessing they're flat (read: boring), crazy
expensive, and really touristy. Fine, tell me I'm dumb, but remember,
this is coming from the kid that, when considering the Peace Corps,
told them the one place I wouldn't go was some gorgeous tropical
island because it wouldn't have enough mountains and I'd get bored
running laps around the place.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Nothing Much

What have I been up to for the past week and half? Mostly eating turkey sandwiches. I finally let Jimmy the parking-lot dog finish it off on Saturday.

After killing a turkey I decided to plant a vegetable garden. Here's Hezborn, one of the guards at our house, standing in front of the garden he helped me plant.

So far ants have only destroyed 1/8 of the rows, and the fence is still keeping the chickens out, so we're doing OK.

Here's my patheticly wussy hands after a couple hours with a hoe, and my feet after months of Chacos. Yes, most of that is clearly just dirt, but it's impressive even when I'm clean.

After struggling through life without a toaster for a week (the old one tried to kill us so we threw it away) I went to Kisumu to get a new one. I also bought fun stuff like real Heinz ketchup (as opposed to the cocktail sauce-esque stuff they normally have here), fake Nutella, soy sauce, and some books. I am totally mad that I didn't look for powdered sugar.

Where did I do all this glorious shopping? Nakumatt City, that's where. It's almost the same as an American Wal-mart, only the parking lot has only 20 spaces, the shelves were full but the items were only stacked 1-deep, and the place sparkled like a Stepford wife's kitchen. And if it weren't for the theft-deterring employee placed every 10 meters inside every store large enough to actually enter (as opposed to just stand out front of and point to stuff inside) the place would've been empty. In the same building was a movie theater, complete with plush stadium seating. I paid my 250 shillings and was literally the only person in the theater for most of the movie (Children of Men--I think it's British, so I got to see it before it came out in the US). If I didn't hate the word "surreal" so much, I'd say it was a very surreal experience to be using a shopping cart and credit card and eating a Mars ice-cream bar.

Friday, November 24, 2006

What it's Like, Killing a Turkey

That title is actually an extremely obscure Vanilla Ice reference. Kudos to anyone that may have caught it, as unlikely as that is.

Anyway, yesterday was the fourth Thursday in November. I am thankful for the fact that in addition to being able to quote Kanye West and name at least ten players from this year's NFL draft from memory (Mario Williams, Reggie Bush, Vince Young, AJ Hawk, Jay Cutler, Matt Leinart, Santonio Holmes, Bobby Carpenter, Nick Mangold, Marvin Philips, Lendale White), I am also able to quote Karl Popper, program computers, do statistics, and pretend to know what I'm talking about when it comes to Plato's analogy of the cave. However, it always bugs me that I don't know shit when it comes to fixing cars, building a house, or farming. So yesterday I bought a turkey, cut its head off, pulled out all its feathers, ripped out its intestines, and threw it in an oven for several hours.

I don't think the details of the story are fabulously interesting, so I'll leave it to the pictures for the most part, with just a few thoughts.

When you are picking an animal that you're about to kill and eat, don't pick the old, extremely mean looking one. The soft young one will taste better.

It is pretty hard to slit something's throat with a dull knife. Be sure to strongly secure any limbs that may flail around in the process.

If it can be avoided, do not cut into the animal's stomach. The "Dude, what is that, grass?" "No, I think it's a grasshopper." conversation is not one you want to have.

The whole process took me from 3:00 PM to a little after 1:00 AM. But the story doesn't end there. The owner of the turkey came by the office this morning and demanded more money. He hadn't been there when I bought it and was now demanding over twice the price. Everyone at the office told me he just thought I was rich and that the price (1200 shillings/ $17 for a 14 pound bird) was fair. So if the person who sold it to me had no right to do so and now his prize bird and livelihood are lost, that totally sucks. If he heard his wife sold a bird to a loaded (in relative terms) white dude and wanted to try and suck him dry, well that sucks too. It might be nice if you could trust everyone, always, and if cultural differences about bargaining or shopping or who's entitled to what or what's fair didn't exist, and if we all spoke the language so we could always understand each other perfectly, but it also might make the world pretty boring.

As it is, I'm thankful for everything I've got, including these photos.




the cleaning (don't worry, I wasn't really relishing the whole death-and-dismemberment thing like that smile makes it look like)

Sophie and Esther, the girls at the restaurant that helped me out

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Hippos on the Rampage, Iranian Economists, Hiking Naked

A grad school friend and former EC in Busia sent me an article about flooding that made a hippo kill six people in town here. I'm pretty sure that it didn't actually happen, because there's no water here and no flooding. Especially if no one actually died, it's cool to see Busia in the news.

I also got an interesting e-mail from a stranger today:

Dear Mr. Garret Christensen

My name is Murteza Khodamoradi an MA economics student, University of Tehran ( Iran ). While studying the book Advanced Macroeconomics by David Romer, I came across with some difficulty to answer its end-of-chapter problems. Since there is no access to its solution manuals here in Iran , so I thought to mail for you and ask for its solution manuals in file text format or sending me a downloadable link to my email if possible. Since I'm in rush to access it please answer this mail as soon as possible. In trying to access its solutions I saw this web se=gglsc&d=5001352203 but unable to download there.

I look forward to hearing from you

Yours sincerely

Also, just for kicks, here's another e-mail I got a while back that's good for a few laughs:

Mr. Christensen,

I noticed the pics of the nude hike on your website while researching nudity on campus. I'm editor of Nude & Natural magazine, a magazine for naturists (nudists), and i'd like to ask you about the hikes and how often they take place.

Are you willing to be interviewed?

Jef Decker

I didn't make that up. Google "hike naked" if you don't believe me.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Not Until February

First off, it looks like I'll be here a little longer than expected. Ted really wants to get to 80% tracking, and there's no way that's happening by the end of the year as we'd hoped, so I'll probably be here until the mid/end February to see tracking out until the end. This also means that I finally mentioned my stay-dropped-out-of-school, stay-here-longer, then-hike-the-CDT plans to Ted, and his response was "wow, that sounds amazing." Woo-ha. Grad school has sucked so much for me that it is extremely cool to have a prof as supportive as Ted. Also, my sister Emily deserves a shout-out for once dating one of Ted's co-authors and now allowing me to mooch off her vast network of cool friends. It's not set in stone yet, as I have to run things by the grad chair, but all looks to be in order. Everyone pray for a low snow-year in Colorado so I can start northbound May 1. Crap, I totally just jinxed myself.

So are you all sure that you don't want to come and climb Mt. Kenya and/or Kili with me over Christmas break? Since I'll now have to come back to work after Christmas break it looks like my vacation will be a bit shorter, but I still might be able to do Rwanda-Mt. Kenya-Kili as planned. The big hitch in the plan is that I've been told that solo trips up Mt. Kenya are not allowed--not that you need a guide, just that parties must be at least two people, and I don't have anyone to go with. I'm willing to take a guide up Kili because you have to, as bagging one of the Seven Summits takes precedence over my loathing of guides, but not so for Mt. Kenya. Sure it's Africa's second highest, but that's only the technical summit that I wouldn't make it to anyway, and the regular-people-summit wouldn't be an altitude record for me. Perhaps you should all write me and tell me I am a snob for not using guides and I can write you back and tell you what weaklings you all are :)

I went to Saiwa Swamp National Park this weekend. It's only 3 square kilometers, so it's nothing spectacular, but I did see vervet monkeys (they're the ones with the bright blue scrotum), a ton more black and white colobus, a Ross' turaco, crowned cranes, and some sitatunga antelope, as well as some proper British settler folk--I stayed at Sirikwa Safaris run by two women from the Barnley family. The oldest (80+?) has been here since she was four years old, and her daughter was born here and chose Kenyan citizenship. They said things like "Never mind my knickers drying by the fire. Would you like a cup of tea? That's grand. He's a nice chap," along with frequent use of the words "smart," "proper," and "rather." I was hoping to get the word "brilliant" out of them in a context totally unrelated to intelligence, but I failed.

Their staff made some great food and they were good company. I went to a local waterfall that wasn't that scenic itself but had decent views off the edge of the escarpment to the north. I got mad that a local girl tagged along and told that if I was a man of God I'd give her a pencil. That was forgotten when I was walking back along the main road to town waiting for a matatu to come along and a couple tiny kids ran up to me and held my hand and walked with me without saying a word, just smiling and waving when I finally caught a ride.

A few recent photos (which're kinda tiny, sorry).

Life in the EC (evaluation consultant) house. Everyone brings stuff when they come and never take it with them when they leave. This is our sunblock collection.

A grey crowned crane

More evidence that I can hold my camera close to stationary objects

Are you getting tired of the shots of rolling green hills dotted with huts that for some reason make me think of hobbits and the Shire? Too bad, I'm not.

The Barnleys in front of their garden

Friday, November 17, 2006

Rest in Peace, Milton Friedman

Four different people sent me links to newspaper articles about the
death of Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman today. I think he's
the only person I've ever sent fan-mail to in my life, so I guess it
makes sense, even though I now just respect him and no longer worship
him like I used to (and like I still appear to if you google my name).

Monday, November 13, 2006

This One's About Poop

That's right, I'm a white man in Africa, so what could be more relevant than a discussion of the consistency and frequency of my bowel movements? Actually, I'll spare you the details since there aren't any funny stories about shitting myself in public places or witnessing miracle-diarrhea that manages to travel out your butt and down your pant leg without actually hitting your pants. I just think I have giardiasis. It's not a big deal, and I've got some old flagyl I scored a while back, and I'm in way more pain from the two canker sores in my mouth. I'm just disappointed in my genetics that I'm not one of the lucky people that get to carry giardia lamblia around in their gut without getting symptomatic. Also having the herpes strain that urban legend says causes canker sores sucks too.

Anyway, I went to Sipi Falls in Uganda over the weekend. The three huge waterfalls are a beautiful sight, but the place is kind of touristy. The road up from the valley below is the best I've seen in Africa--complete with side-rails and drainage ditches--so it gets a fair number of wazungu, and everyone and their brother either just straight up begs for money or tries to become your guide to lead you around the area. Call me a jerk that hates children in the developing world if you want, but if you're wandering around by yourself on a road and you walk by somebody and say "is this the way to X?" and they say "yes" you do not owe that person money. I suppose if I'd gotten a guide then everyone else would've quit trying to become by guide, but then I would've had to go with a guide. And maybe I was especially tight-wad-ish over the weekend thanks to Ugandan currency coming in such large denominations. A Kenyan shilling will get you 25 Ugandan shillings, so everything costs thousands of shillings, and for some reason it just seems more important to save that extra thousand Ugandan shillings than forty measly Kenyan shillings.

I wonder if there's a research paper on behavioral economics somewhere in that idea or if I'm just crazy/grumpy from staying up too late and watching too much 24. I know that my just now starting to watch 24 is totally uninteresting to you, but bear with me--I just started liking Rage Against the Machine a few years ago, and I fell in love with Guns N' Roses two months ago. (Seriously, have you heard the Chinese Democracy demos? Amazing. But I really hope this belated love affair with harder bands doesn't mean I'll start liking Korn in the future.) I'll just say that I felt gypped that season 2 ends with the president falling ill to an assassin's germy handshake, and then season 3 takes place several years later and doesn't really incorporate the germy handshake. Did the writers think "Oh, this'll be cool, we'll make it 48 rather than just 24 and kill/injure the president," then over the summer they couldn't come up with a story line and just said screw it? But so you don't think I'm in a bad mood, one more thing: on my way down from the highest waterfall on Sunday I stumbled upon a Catholic church with some fantastic percussion/choir/traditional/gospel music being performed, so I took a seat in the back and had myself a good happy listen.

OK, now that I've bored you sufficiently, here's what you really came for: hard core nudity!

the main waterfall
banana slug
banana tree leaves
behind the second waterfall

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

La la la

I'm trying to get some work done so that my data analysts will actually have work to do tomorrow while I go to the field, but my computer is taking forever so it's driving me nuts, so here are some pictures.

kids taking roosters to town

along the ridge of the Cherangani hills

looking west at dusk from the ridge near Nyarkulyan
flowers along the route

the start of the marathon

That's it for now. Things are good. I'm enjoying my 24, I'm reading Moby Dick which is great (I finished The Kite Runner, which was good but made me realize I really just wanted to read a history of Afghanistan or better yet, visit Afghanistan) and I treated my mosquitoe net this morning, so all is well.

My Friend Scott

My buddy/Pacific Crest Trail legend Scott Williamson was in The New York Times yesterday. He's always jokingly told me he wanted to be in People magazine because Brian Robinson got in when he did the Triple Crown (AT, PCT, CDT) all in one year in 2001, but the Times is pretty cool. I was in the Times once. I'm the crazy bearded man at the end of the article. Seriously. I have pictures of me with the kids to prove it. Makes me pretty excited about my 2007 CDT plans.

Oh, and if this entry shows up twice, it's because I'm impatient.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Dear Mr. Christensen,

Thank you for taking the time to e-mail Cingular Wireless regarding yourrequest for a suspension of service without the monthly reoccurring charges for your service. I am happy to help you with your inquiry and I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.I have discussed this matter with my direct supervisor, and he has authorized me to waive four months of monthly service fees from your account beginning on September 5, 2006.

Unfortunately the option of suspending your service at no cost is no longer an option for our customers. This waiver of the fees that has been placed on your account is considered a one time courtesy waiver and as such, future suspensions would result in the charge remaining on your account. The credit remaining on your account is $99.23. You will note that if you view yourbalance online, the balance of $99.23 will appear in parenthesis; this is to indicate that the balance is a credit. Please allow 72 hours for this credit balance to appear online at "My Account" at

Again, we thank you for allowing us the opportunity to assist you with your account. If we can be of further assistance, please contact us at always, thank you for choosing Cingular Wireless!


Seth Michaels

Cingular Wireless Online Customer Care Professional

Oh wait, I'll be gone for at least four and a half months. Dang. Maybe I should have mentioned that. I hate the fact that I really needed to request more than I deserved so that we'd meet in the appropriate middle. If I'm bargaining for bootleg DVDs in the market like I did just now (four complete seasons of 24 for $14 total) I understand that's part of the game, but here? Anyway, it's all good. I've got to go watch some 24.

Pics from the Cherangani Hill and Turkanaland

a flower

a lizard

after the night fog rolled in

the hillside descending into the Tamkal valley covered in huts and shamba

a Turkana man in broad-rimmed hat and toga, carrying ubiquitous cattle stick and tiny stool,
also Turkana girl with toga and necklaces

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Standard Chartered 2006 Nairobi Marathon

Who has the worst customer service, Cingular or Sprint?  I think most people would say Sprint wins hands down, but Cingular is giving Sprint a run for its money in my mind right now.   Apparently they're convinced that unless you're active duty military you can't suspend your service and billing.  Sure you can suspend your service, but monthly billing still applies.   Excuse me, but WHAT KIND OF F___ING MORON DISABLES THEIR PHONE IF THEY'RE STILL GOING TO GET BILLED FOR IT?  Never mind the whole common sense issue, they straight up told me over the phone when I set up the suspension that I wouldn't be billed while the service was suspended and now they're denying it.   Dillholes, all of them.


OK, enough of that.  I ran the Nairobi marathon on Sunday the 29th.  I took the 9-hour night bus to Nairobi on Friday, then waited in line for 4 hours on Saturday to get my race number and all-they-had-left-was-XL t-shirt.   Then the race itself was a pretty crummy course--basically running from the edge of the city to the airport and back twice.  Out-and-back is lame enough, out-and-back twice is only fun in the way that the movie Congo is so horrible it's kind of funny if you see it with a large enough group of friends.   It was actually sort of neat to get lapped by the world's best, and it was really cool to see the peleton go by like a herd of gazelles when they doubled back on a short spur at the very beginning.  I had big stomach problems and nearly had a brown-out.  Or two.  OK, three.  (For non-runners, that's code for "I nearly shat myself.")   So I just walked a big chunk of the race.  Then when I turned around to do the out-and-back the second time, the road was pretty much empty, because nobody else had actually turned around.   Then they opened the road (the major highway to the airport) to traffic after four and a half hours, so I was sucking fumes the last bit.  But I finished, and a Peace Corps chick gave me some TP, so I even got to wipe one of the three times I dropped trou.


More than you wanted to know, I'm sure.  Anyway, that sounds like a pretty bad experience, but if I'd remembered to put on sun-block and my forehead wasn't oozing yellow pus right now I'd be totally over it, because it was a really interesting learning experience to see how a developing country stages a major athletic event like that.   First off, it only cost 300 shillings to enter.  That's about $4.25, but I still got aid-stations, a t-shirts, a certificate, and a medal.   Races in the US cost $60 to $90.  It was cool that pretty much anyone that wanted could participate.  It was cool to see Masai men running in somewhat traditional dress (red skirts) and it was very cool to see the wheelchair competitors competing in their this-is-the-same-thing-I-use-every-day-because-it's-all-I-can-afford jerry-rigged solid steel wheelchairs.   However there were very few women running, which was kind of disturbing.  About 65 or 70 in the full marathon compared to 650 or so men.  I'm assuming that ratio is way off what it is in the US.   Finally, it seemed like very, very few people were out there to conquer their inner weakling.  I'd guess that in the US, the majority of runners finish in over 4 hours and are there just to prove something to the world, even in a top race like Boston or Chicago.   Here it was as if it wasn't worth doing if you didn't finish in under 2:40 and have some half-legitimate hope of reaching the podium.  A friend made the very good point that maybe Kenyans get enough conquering of their inner weakling working their shamba (1 acre or so subsistent farming plot) or walking 5km to school every day, if they're lucky enough to have money for school.   True 'dat.


So anyway, it was a good trip.  I stumbled into different groups of wazungu volunteer/development people on both Saturday and Sunday and went out to eat with them, which was a good dose of much needed variety.   We ate expensive fake western food, and I've been mulling over the deeper implications of the fact that I hate, hate, hate fake western food ever since.   More on that later.

Friday, October 27, 2006

I need to buy a parrot.

The highlight of my day today was when I wrote a nested foreach loop in Stata on some cleaning code. (Once the data entry firm gives us the data I write code that flags possible logical/skip pattern mistakes, then the data analysts check the hard copies against the soft copy on the stuff I flagged.) It was wicked awesome. Yesterday at lunch I had some errands to do in town so I rode my bike in. Instead of my usual trying to get bodas to race me, I ended up in next to a bike with a kid with his brother on the back.  They asked me for some money, and the kid wasn't shy at all and was way good at English, so we had a funny conversation about whether he had asked me for money just because I was white, how he had managed to get the sugar cane in his hand if he didn't have any money, and what he needed the 10 shillings for.  He said he wanted to buy a parrot. Then I went shopping at the market and got unnecessarily ticked off that the store actually has bulk-buying penalties (2 kg of laundry soap was 295 shillings, 1 kg was 142 shillings, and 500 g was 70 shillings). I was (jokingly) thinking: how the hell is this country going to develop unless they encourage big-box Walmart-style consumerism? Sheesh.

I'm headed to Nairobi tonight to run the marathon on Sunday. I'm not in any kind of marathon shape, so I'm expecting to finish in about 4 hours.  Should be good times.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Greatest. Weekend. Ever.

Friday was Kenyatta Day, and Tuesday was Eid, so I skipped work Monday and made it a five day weekend. I left Busia Friday morning, matatu'd to Kitale then Kapcherop and started hiking in the afternoon. I looked into getting a guide in both Kitale and Kapcherop, but that was basically only to assuage paranoid concerns and since I didn't really want one, I headed out.

It was mostly walking on small dirt roads, but no cars, few people, and great scenery. It reminded me of the Nimitz trail on top of the coastal ridge in Berkeley (well, the Belgum trail, more specifically) except in Africa, at 7,500 feet, with monkeys and grass thatched huts all over the place. I met a cool South Sudanese refugee; he told me about 11 of his 12 siblings dying in the civil war in Sudan, and we ragged on George Bush together as he showed me a cross-country shortcut. Just around dark I walked into the village of Kapsait and asked for a place to set up my tent. A dude told me to go up the hill to the Nike Athlete Training Center and pitch it there. So I hung out with and had a couple meals with Kenya's elite runners, most of whom were training for the same race I'll be running next week in Nairobi. I went on a training run with them the next morning (OK, really I just watched). They were all extremely nice, and the most amazing part was that they by American standards, they didn't know squat about "smart" training. They ate the same thing every other Kenyan eats: ugali and beans for dinner, and chapati and tea for breakfast. (Ugali is made from only corn flour and water and eaten at most every meal.) They don't have a track to train on, they just ran on the cow-filled dirt road (that obviously doesn't help you measure your time on exact distances), and a lot of them didn't really know anything about what their living at around 9,000 feet above sea level did for them. They just trained really hard and ran really fast. Maybe I'll see them again when they're lapping me on Sunday.

Saturday I hiked from Kapsait to Nyarkulyan through mostly Pokot villages all at around 10,000 feet. Again at around dark, I just asked some people where I could set up a tent, and the lady that worked at the local dispensary told me to pitch it in her yard, then she made me some really good ugali and nyama (meat). I could barely breathe and was weeping trying to occasionally open my eyes inside her chimney-less cookhouse, and her and her coworker think white people invented AIDS, but that's way less disturbing than meeting guys in Pakistan that think Osama's cool and the Q'uran prophesied of 9/11, so it was all good.

Sunday I dropped almost 5000 feet in a couple hours down into the Tamkal valley. It was around 95 degrees and the vegetation was pretty sparse. I finished the total 80km of hiking in the early afternoon and bummed a ride with some dudes heading out to watch a Chelsea or Arsenal match and camped at a yuppie wazungu resort nearby. I didn't really dig on the yuppie scene (or the chunky British girl wearing thong underwear) too much, but one night wasn't bad. I got a good arrogant/ridiculous I'm-a-better-traveller-than-you satisfaction while I was eating my crackers and peanut butter from home watching everyone else eat the buffet since I discovered at this point I'd only brought less than $50 and had no bank card to get more. This country is really not that cheap, certainly not Pakistan-inexpensive, so that was a real concern.

But that didn't stop me from catching the next bus up to Lodwar. I was already at the border of what is considered Northern Kenya, so why not? I waited at a police checkpoint (again ragging on Bush with the locals) for several hours then caught the first bus (only the third or fourth vehicle in about 4 hours). They gave the mzungu the only spare seat and crammed the Turkana into the aisle like cattle. Then we drove north for 5 hours on quite possibly the shittiest road in the world. You know the National Geographic photo of the woman with the elongated neck thanks to gold necklaces? This is who we're talking about. (OK, I'm not 100% on that, and I didn't see any clearly stretched necks, but I did see a billion necklaces on beautiful mo-hawked women wearing (or not wearing) plaid togas and huge earrings). The men wore togas and Boy Scouts of America uniforms and carried AK-47's for camel and goat raids, and it was generally pretty awesome. The Turkana know they're exotic to westerners, so they don't like having their picture taken, which was different than the rest of my Kenyan experience, but OK.

I got to Lodwar right as it was getting dark, so I didn't get to go to Lake Turkana and see the flamingos or possible crocodile, and I found out that there are no daytime buses out of Lodwar, so I'd have to hitch with a truck if I wanted to get back for work Wednesday. So I got up early in the morning and went to the local loading bay to wave down a truck headed south. An ex-Unicef Lifeline for Sudan truck picked me up and we were off. It had rained all morning, so we got about 15km out of town before flooding prevented us from getting anywhere. We went back to town for lunch and I considered going to Kalakol (the town actually on Lake Turkana) and just take the night bus home, but everybody told me I couldn't make it there and back (or even there in the first place) because the roads were crap in that direction too. So I just stuck with my truck and made it as far as Kitale, stayed the night there and covered the remaining 4 hours Wednesday morning. I had 201 shillings left when I got home: under $3.

OK, I can't tell how cool that description made my weekend sound, but it was pretty damn cool. I backpacked 80km, wandered all over Northern Kenya by myself for 5 days on $50, and hung out with elite marathoners, and Sudanese, Pokot, and Turkana people. Woo-ha.

Pictures forthcoming.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Recent pics

the local moving company

kids carrying stuff home

a poinsettia, or something

a school with a hill behind it (not a very insightful caption, sorry)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Any Suggestions?

Apparently someone managed to pop the hood of my locked car in Marcus' ghetto neighborhood in Berkeley and steal the ignition module wiring connector.  Thankfully the replacement is only $35.  Since I'm pretty sure those 35 bones are coming from Marcus' pocket, from my point of view the cool story I get is definitely worth the price.

Friday is Jomo Kenyatta Day (the anniversary of his imprisonment during Kenya's struggle for independence) and Tuesday is the end of Ramadan, so I think I'm taking off to do a trek in the Cherangani Hills.  It seems like it's a lot of walking on dirt roads from village to village, except not as flat as around here.  Plus this region is where all the marathoners are from, so you pass right by one of the shoe company training centers.  Should be good stuff.

Anyway, what should I do when I'm done with this job in January?  I could go right back to grad school, retake the classes I need, and retake the labor field exam August 2007.  The advantage to that is that I don't lose any of my ties to the Girls Scholarship Program, and I might be able to get a co-authorship out of it if I stuck with it.  This would not be my job market paper, since you've got to do that on your own, but it might be a chapter.  (Econ PhD's write 3 papers, staple them together, and call them a dissertation.  Only one (your job market paper) has to be any good.)  The disadvantage is that I'll be enrolled in two, possibly three courses (a full load) and I will be hating them.  I can guaran-g_d-damn-tee you that.  Plus I'll most likely continue working as a research assistant for Ted on the GSP data.  But I'd probably reduce my research hours and work as a TA for an undergrad class, meaning more total work hours.

The other option is to either try and extend my time in Kenya, or see if I can just work for Ted as a non-student research assistant in Berkeley on the GSP project until April, then start hiking the Continental Divide Trail in May.  This way, I get the GSP data to a point where Ted and the other people working on it can do the analysis so nobody feels like I'm dumping dirty data and running.  Then I use the money I've got left from student loans to go hike for several months, and re-enroll in school in January 2008 and retake the exam in August 2008.  Disadvantages are that I'd no longer be even close to graduating on schedule with the peers in my cohort. I also might get to spend less time with my good friends from church in Berkeley before they inevitably move away. I also probably lose out on immediate co-authorship opportunities.  Advantages are that long-distance hiking makes me happy.

You can hike one or three of the long trails, but not two.  3100 miles along the divide through NM, CO, WY and MT, with less than 20 miles below 10,000 feet in the entire state of Colorado, Anasazi cliff dwellings along the Gila river, and the Glacier backcountry are calling my name.  I'd probably try and buy a digital SLR to take even better pictures.  Of course I'd have to lighten my pack in some other way to counterbalance the added weight.  This would of course cost a lot of money, but I think I could pull it off.  Financial implications of my decision are unclear; living in Berkeley is expensive, living in the woods without a job burning through a pair of shoes every two weeks and eating 6,000 calories a day isn't very profitable either, so I'm pretty sure I'll be broke either way. Plus I don't really give a crap about money anyway.

Some might raise the possible objection that I wouldn't be "bettering myself" or progressing in any grand way by hiking the trail.  I think I'll address that in a later post.  In the meantime, any suggestions?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A bug, some monkeys, and a cloud

king (queen, I suppose) of the chicken coop

clouds routinely look this cool before a big rain

this is the latest bug I've found in my room

a baby blue monkey drinking water from a leaky tank

a big blue monkey

Monday, October 16, 2006

Yes, They Do Have Blue Balls

It took a little gesticulating because my guide's English was not that great, but I think he seemed to think that black and white colobus monkeys do have abnormally bright blue testicles. That means I went to the Kakamega forest again. I couldn't decide whether to go to the forest or down to some islands on Lake Victoria, so I went with whichever matatu (minivan/bus that technically seats 14 but often carries 20-plus) came first on Friday after work. I camped at a guest house in the forest Saturday night. This place had so many monkeys it was ridiculous. I saw blue monkeys which I didn't see last week, but I didn't see any more red-tailed monkeys. The blue monkeys were not very shy so I got better pictures (coming soon).

I went to church in Misikhu again and got invited over to this guy Anthony's house. He lives out in the sticks near Ndivisi. He boda'd (gave me a lift on his bike) me and it still took about an hour to get there. Plus he didn't have the seat pad like real boda-bodas do so it was a pretty painful experience for my buttocks. He lives like most other people do--he's got a 1-acre farm that he inherited from his father, his house is smaller than my bedroom and is made of mud and sticks, but the green beans he gave me were delicious. It also made me wish I knew something about farming or gardening or whatever. I was talking with him and his neighbor about their farms, I said I was pretty much a "city boy" and defined the term. The neighbor jokingly said something like "oh, so you are pretty much useless." For the most part.

A couple of my coworkers were in Nairobi for the week and stayed at the same hostel I stayed at on my way in. The nurses were back, but unfortunately my friends discovered that Nurse Henrietta has a serious boyfriend. Oh well. My coworker Anthony was too scared to even talk to them, so at least I have that.

I'm having a good time. My chaco tan is starting to kick butt.

UPDATE [5/3/10]: Since about one person a day googles upon this page with the query "do monkeys have blue balls?" and is likely disappointed by my account, let me direct you to my blog post that actually has a blue-balled monkey picture, and the wikipedia article that describes said monkeys. (They're actually called Vervets. Colobus don't have blue balls.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Crack, Monkeys and Termites

Boring stuff first: I've spent the last few days doing the intensive sample selection for my project.  In normal people words that means I randomly selected 1/5 of the pupils we hadn't been able to track yet, and now we really go after these ones, so statistically we can track about 80% of the pupils even though we really only survey about 60% of the original sample.

In slightly more interesting news, I ate some termites.  They're not blech, just dry and blah. That was Sunday, and I had chocolate fondue on Saturday.  Mixing the two might've been interesting. Saturday I biked most of the way from my house to the Lake Victoria; Tuesday (the not very popular Moi Day holiday) I ran most of the way.   Both attempts failed, but mostly because I started in the afternoon and got interrupted by monsoons.  Sunday I went to Kakamega Forest National Reserve, which is the last East African vestige of the rain forest that used to stretch uninterrupted across the continent.  Within five minutes of entering the park I saw monkeys.  Big black and white colobus monkeys.  I was later told they have abnormally bright blue balls.  I have yet to confirm the veracity of that statement.  Regardless, they looked really cool swinging around in the trees.

I also watched all of season two of 24 in the last three days.  It's like crack.  I don't really like it that much, but it's nearly impossible to stop watching.  I guess I'd like to know how that women at the end killed the president in 60 seconds with a germ-filled handshake, but I'm kind of glad we don't have any of the other seasons. 

Friday, October 06, 2006

I Saw Hippos

I've been having a lot of fun the past few days.

First off, here's that cricket I mentioned. Here it is alive.

Here it is dead.

Also, to get all the pictures of dead stuff out of the way, here are a bunch of dead fish that served as bait, a dead mouse, and a dead lizard.

Oh, and speaking of dead stuff, here's the guy that told me you die if you swallow the sugar cane fibers.
Friday (Sept. 29) most of my team took the day off sine they were working consecutive Saturdays, but I went out with Blasto and Esther. We went to a secondary school, and while they were each interviewing respondents I read the school library's HIV/AIDS literature for kicks. Here's what I found.

In addition to the Sugar Daddies thing being a "wow, this is not the rich white people world I'm used to" moment, it also saddened me that the literature had absolutely no mention of condoms. Then we went to a primary school out in the sticks. The roads are getting worse thanks to it being the short rainy season, so I was about to puke by the time we got there, but it was lunch-time, so while Esther interviewed the one girl we were looking for, I played barefoot soccer with a bunch of kids using a ball made of grocery bags and rope.

Once lunch was over, the class 8 teacher had me come and introduce myself. My usual impromptu brilliance failed me, so I told them that California was in the western part of the US and Americans called football soccer. This is what their school looked like.

For some reason I was fascinated that they used an old wheel as the school bell.

Then I went to Kisumu for the weekend. It's Kenya's 3rd biggest city, on Lake Victoria, and a little over 2 hours away by matatu. I registered for the Nairobi marathon, went to Hippo Point in Dunga, saw a bunch of hippos, took a nap, and paid a dude to take me out in a boat and show me the birds. I also walked around the city's port and saw a bunch of rusty boats that've practically become beached thanks to an invasive exotic hyacinth and another hippo.

The boat

African Fish Eagles

Gears on the Dock

Stream Flowing to the Lake


I closed out the weekend by catching the last few minutes of church. The tall dude totally reminds me of a black, not-creepy Michael Jackson.

Finally, this is the view out my front door at the crapper and one of the two abandoned vehicles in the yard during the typical afternoon drenching. Sometime it's fun to run during it, sometimes the hail is too painful.