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.



Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Mix Between a Banana, Celery, Watermelon, a Blowfish, and Marshmallow Fluff

I ate a jackfruit today.  It's bigger than a watermelon, the outside is covered in spikes, the part of the inside that you eat is surrounded by string-cheese-like fibers that are about as sticky as marshmallow fluff, and it tastes like a banana crossed with celery.  Interesting.  I also saw goat sex, which was way louder than I expected.
I went to Kisumu over the weekend and saw hippos and other cool stuff.  It's just taking Marcus forever to post the pictures.