Monday, August 29, 2011

Chimpanzees on a Boat

dude, over here.

source of the Nile

solid waste disposal



Not really. I went to Kampala to visit a buddy. We went to Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, ate good Indian food, smoked a hookah, and bought soy milk and bourbon at a western-style supermarket. I also got a new puppy. I think I might name him George, but I'm open to suggestions.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Huge Disappointment

I am, of course, referring to Barack Obama. Both generally and
specifically. If I had taken my other job offer and was now living in
DC, I'd gladly go get arrested protesting the Keystone pipeline, which
Obama could prevent with the executive stroke of his pen if he had
actually meant anything he said during his campaign. Instead, James
Hansen says it's game over for the climate. The only good thing about
this situation is my constantly imagining Bill Paxton describing the
fucking of the planet. (

Read about it on Salon
or with a development economics perspective at the Center for Global
Development (

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Another Idea

Here's my latest adventure idea: (not a very helpful
link) and (a little more

It's the only mountain bike race I can find in Kenya. It looks like
there was a series called Rift Valley Adventures in 2009, but I don't
think it's still going on. Obviously I've never raced before, and I
realized today that I put my feet down _all the time_ while riding to
get over abrupt ditches and stuff, meaning I have next to no technical
skill, but if this isn't too steep of a downhill race, it looks like
it could be awesome.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Movie Review

It's sappy beyond belief, ham-fistedly religious at times, the gear
product placement is obnoxious, the hikers all wear jeans, and I have
no desire to do a long roadwalk through Western Europe where there is
no wilderness, but still, it's a movie about hiking (and the lifestyle
that accompanies it), and I cried like a little girl. In "The Way,"
Martin Sheen goes to France to pick up his estranged son's ashes and
ends up carrying them on El camino de Santiago. Obviously he meets
"zany characters" (quirky, if you prefer) and "learns valuable life
lessons" along the way. He probably also learns that "it's not the
destination, it's the journey that matters" and a bunch of other
annoying crap that, although annoying and crappy, happens to be true.
Shut up, I am not crying!

How I got this movie, since it apparently hasn't come out yet in the
States, I don't know.


Today I went to Mundika to visit Ouma's house. I saw the whole history
of expats in Busia (JR, OO, SB, IT, LC, EK, KC) in his pictures, had
lunch, and, wait for it, two types of moonshine. The first was pretty
straightforward chang'aa--maize alcohol that he'd made himself, but
unfortunately not the batch in which he put OO's oak chips to make it
"bourbon." Then on the way home we stopped at a pub and drank some
millet brew called majira (maraji?). 40 people in the back room all
drinking out of the same clay pot through individual 12-foot long reed
straws. Good times, but they didn't want me taking pictures.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Today's Ride

Here's today's ride:
I'm a little bummed that you have to ride on pavement for so long if
you want to ride from the house to Lake Victoria in Kenya. On the
Kenya side you have to ride the road 12+km to Matayos to take the only
bridge over whatever river that is. On the Uganda side you basically
take the first left after crossing the border and you're golden. I
wasn't quite feeling a super long ride today, and I left the house too
late to make it to the lake, so I thought I'd just explore everything
within the boundaries of the Busia-Kisumu road, the river, and the
border. Mission muddily accomplished.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Am I Right or Am I Right?

Who's with me?

Obviously I'd start and end in Busia, I just mapped it this way
because there's a ferry I couldn't get google to include. It'd be a
little over 1500km. That's doable on a bike in two weeks, right? I'd
definitely do it during the dry season when the roads are better.

Speaking of dry season, that is _not_ right now. I'm going to have to
become a morning person to get my running in--a storm starts at 6PM
every evening, frequently with lightning and occasionally hail.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Review

Finished reading Dexter Filkin's "The Forever War." It won all sorts
of awards, so I was looking forward to it. I had no desire to read a
blow by blow account of Bush's horrible decisions surrounding the war
in Iraq, but this was just a personal on-the-ground account from an
NYT reporter whose Fresh Air interviews I like, so it had potential.
Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bunch of short unrelated
anecdotes in random order. Some of the anecdotes are touching and
engaging, but I got pretty tired of jumping around in time and space
and basically not learning anything.

Feeling better today, and feeling like I need to get out of town this
weekend. Might just ride my bike south and try to make it to the lake
at Sio Port, or maybe I'll just go to Kisumu to get away from

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I went to the field today for the first time today.

On an unrelated note, my intestines are on fire and heading for the
nearest exit. I think the least they could do is pull these pranks
during the work day so I could have an excuse to stay home.

On a more pleasant note, I've been doing laps on the airstrip a few
times now. A high school student started running with me the other
day, which is way more fun than when the little kids do it--they just
scream "mzungu" and can't keep up for very long. Unfortunately I've
been rained out the last couple days. Gumball-sized hail yesterday.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

So it goes.

My grandmother (and last surviving grandparent) died last week.
Unfortunately I hadn't seen her in seven years. My memories are all
good, however. Every year or two as a kid we'd go to her log cabin
that she and my grandpa built on a lake outside Hunstville, Ontario.
She had an RV, "the camper," that I thought was the coolest thing
ever, a big black and white cat with really long hair (and fleas)
named Star, and a pool. She and Grandpa took me to the National
Storytelling Festival. Awesomely, she and George drove to Maine to
pick me up at the end of my first big hike, the Appalachian Trail.
Rest in peace, Grandma.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I feel dead inside.

Yesterday was the last day of UC Berkeley health insurance. Big deal.
I bought short-term stuff to cover me until October when (if all goes
well) I become an Emory University employee. More importantly,
yesterday was also the last day of proxy Internet server access to
academic journal articles. I feel less intellectually superior to the
great unwashed today.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Oh, wait.

I think that mountain in the picture might be Mt. Elgon. So I guess I
did see it pretty well. Didn't realize I curved around to the east, so
left was north.

Look at that ridiculous farmer tan.

I rode my bike past Malaba and back yesterday. Here's the
It was 87km roundtrip, my butt hurt, and I got a ridiculous sunburn. I
was bummed that I didn't get good views of Mt. Elgon, but I did see
two dead green mambas and a dead hedgehog, and raced some random
people along the way. Malaba didn't seem much different than Busia--a
border town with a line of gas trucks a mile long. Maybe on a longer
weekend I'll bike to Mt. Elgon, lock up the bike, and hire a guide
(mandatory, unfortunately) to hike in the national park. Some weekend
soon I'll bike to Lake Victoria at Sio Port, it's not much further a
ride than I did yesterday, only the route is a little more confusing,
so it'd be helpful if I had a smartphone with which to look at google
maps. (My GPS is totally not helpful.)

Swahili lessons are going well, and thunder storms are intense here.
John Reader's Africa: A Biography of the Continent is boring because I
don't care about geology, but Dexter Filkin's The Forever War is

My diet has changed here. Instead of subsisting on my homemade
nut-butter and oats energy bars, granola, avocados, hummus, and
olives, I eat homemade energy bars, peanut-butter sandwiches,
avocados, beans, and a tiny bit of scotch. (I haven't found any
bourbon yet.) I cooked dry beans that required soaking (butter beans)
for the first time in my life just now. They're a little chalky.

I should probably work on getting my job market paper ready for
submission sometime.

I'm totally still (dreaming of) riding my bike home from Kenya in
2013. Who's in? BF? Nano? Why did I not look at a map when I mentioned
it last time? Juba to Khartoum is totally unnecessary thanks to this
whole thing called "Ethiopia." You can cross the border from Ethiopia
50km from Khartoum, which I'm just guessing is reasonably safe. Can
you get a visa at that crossing? Why does Lonely Planet never mention
land border crossing visas? You can get them easy at any crossing for
Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda, so why is there only info about
airport and embassy visas?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Let's Throw Down

4 minutes, 8 seconds. 42.2 times in a row. Ain't no thang, right?

That's the goal, anyway. Waddya have to say for yourself now, AIDS?

For what it's worth, assuming that the Busia airstrip is 1km long,
that's about as fast as I could manage for one lap going nearly all out this
evening, but I've got 3.5 months, so I think I might have a chance.
We'll see.

Links for Cynics

An interesting discussion from NYRB about psychiatry and whether drugs work. Part 1, Part 2, and an exchange. My conclusion? Everyone, myself included, should go for longer runs.

Today's article on how the system is rigged (in addition to all the financial ties highlighted in the above) is a great piece by Barbara Ehrenreich on "How America turned poverty into a crime."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Ninaitwa Garret.

Ninatoka Berkeley katika California, lakini sasa ninafanya kazi Busia
katika Kenya kama post-doc.

Funeral wakes here are held from 10PM to 4 or 5 in the morning, with
speakers blasting crappy world-beat amusement park ride music at
ridiculous levels right in your neighborhood for up to two weeks at a
time. Apparently they attract drunks walking around at night who then
play little betting games with the DJ to raise money for the family.
Or so I've heard. After two nights of sleepless torture (earplugs were
insufficient), I finally beat them last night by putting 6 hours of
white noise on my iPod.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Meat comes from animals, people.

My buddy SH came and visited from Kampala this weekend. We mostly just
hung out and talked about the futility of existence, but we did enjoy
the best feast I've had in a good while. I also moved into MSF house
on Thursday night. On closer inspection, the place looks like a frat
house--it's had 1,000 different people live in it for short periods of
time for several years, so nobody has much incentive to fix or clean
anything. The yard and the dog are still as awesome as expected, and
there was a praying mantis to greet me in my room, so it's all good.

P&O were back in town with P's parents, and the office had a goat
roast for them at Mbugwa's house. Mbugwa is a very nice taxi driver in
town that we like to use because he does awesome things like drive
safely and clean the battery terminals in his car while he's waiting.
He also lives a couple houses down. P&O paid him to slaughter a goat
and several chickens for us. I watched with rapt attention for a
couple hours as he killed, skinned, and cleaned the goat carcass,
explaining everything as he went along. He said a little prayer of
thanks before slicing the goat's neck and made sure it was over
quickly. He and his sons were very professional about the whole thing,
and he used literally every part of the animal down to the hooves.
When it was apparent we had drastically over-estimated the amount of
food we'd eat, he invited the dozens of neighborhood kids watching
longingly from just outside his front gate into his compound to finish
off the leftovers. So when offered some kidney, intestine-packed
sausage, and ribs, I couldn't really find anything wrong with
partaking. I thought the whole thing was pretty fascinating--a few of
my friends were totally grossed out by the slaughter and then chose
not to eat any meat. I, on the other hand, had no problem with it.
When people ask why I'm (normally) veg/vegan, I usually say "because
meat is cruel, inefficient, and bad for the environment" or something
like that. But I guess I clearly don't think it's cruel to kill an
animal under all circumstances, I mostly think it's cruel to force
animals to live in cramped filthy conditions and then pay an
undocumented immigrant less than the minimum wage to kill them by the

Sunday I wandered over to Busia, Uganda, bought some fabric, and
climbed the tallest building in town--currently under construction,
and at eight stories tall, home to what will be only the second
elevator in all of Western province. (Also home to the liquor
store--scotch, but no bourbon, so sad.)

Don't read this awesome New Yorker article about how energy efficiency
just makes people use more energy. First of all it's gated, so unless
you're a subscriber, you can't. Second, the planet is doomed, and
that's not fun to hear.