Monday, April 14, 2008

That magnificent bird

I hope somebody is impressed by this. We tried to be.

When my sister was visiting from Seattle last month, we went to Murchison Falls National Park in northwestern Uganda for the long Easter weekend. The Victoria Nile River flows through the park (this part of the river originates in Lake Victoria), and at one point along the river, it shoots through a narrow gorge in the world’s most powerful waterfall. Hence the name of the park – Murchison Falls.

The calmer parts of the river are teeming with wildlife – elephants, hippos, crocodile and many types of water birds, from the tiny to the big. One bird we saw was the elusive shoebill stork (this is the impressive part). Apparently sightings of this bird are rare. Even our Lonely Planet guidebook says you have to be “very lucky” to see this bird when visiting the park. It was a big, gray bird with a funny-looking beak. On Easter morning at sunrise, we took a cruise on the river downstream to the delta, where the Victoria Nile dumps into Lake Albert. We don’t know how they spotted it, but our guides found this bird several yards back from the bank of the river, and, since it was gray and very neutral-colored, it was even harder to spot among the river reeds. This is why my photos of it did not come out very clear, but trust me – this is an impressive sight. Hopefully there are some bird watchers among you who will be impressed.

Another impressive fact we learned is that it takes a whole three months for water to get from the source of the Nile to its mouth in the Mediterranean. So the course the river takes is: from Lake Victoria into the Victoria Nile River, which dumps into Lake Albert, which flows into the Albert Nile River, which eventually dumps into the Nile, which we all associate with Egypt. And all along the delta that we visited on Easter morning, there was a lot of papyrus, which is what Moses was hidden among when his mother sent him away along the Nile in Egypt. In places like this that we visited, it seems time has stood still since those ancient days, and that it is still as wild and primitive as it was back then, with animals still roaming free and nature ruling the land.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Want to buy a kite?

Want to buy a kite? Or how about a goldfish - complete with bowl? Car floor mats? Sunglasses? The Economist? A TV antenna?

All these and more can be yours - from the front seat of your car!

Driving in downtown Nairobi, it is very common to see hawkers walking down the middle of the street, trying to sell items to people as they sit in their cars waiting for the red light to change or the traffic to move on. And, yes, we have seen all of the above being sold. Though we aren't sure who buys the things. You are on the way to church and you just happen to think 'yes, I do need to buy a new shower curtain - and I can get one at this stop light!' We certainly haven't purchased anything this way and except for newspapers, I don't think I have seen anyone buying any other items from their car windows, either.