Friday, November 28, 2008

Welcome to Africa column: 101 uses for cow dung

For Christmas this year, I will be giving all of you a new pamphlet I’m working on titled “101 Uses for Cow Dung.” Several years ago, Sarah’s mother gave me a similar pamphlet with hundreds of uses for baking soda a la Heloise’s Hints. This is along those same lines. I learned many of them while visiting a cattle camp in Southern Sudan on Thursday. A cattle camp is a large open area where many young men and boys from many families bring their cattle together for protection for several days before moving on to graze their cows. These men and boys are the primary caretakers of their families’ cows, which are the main way Sudanese store – and show off – their wealth. If you think this is strange, if you think it’s an uncivilized thing for young men of 15 years old or so to walk their prize bull down the main street of a town to show off their wealth to attract a potential wife, consider this: Is doing this any different than a man driving a sports car down a city street in the U.S. to attract the attention of a woman?

Don’t have a supply of cow dung on hand? In the U.S., I figure there should be plenty around after a bruising two-year presidential campaign!

Here’s a preview of my upcoming production. I also plan to submit this to Good Housekeeping.
  • Burning cow dung to create a lot of smoke keeps flies and mosquitoes (which are annoying and can carry harmful diseases) away from your cows.

  • Smearing the ash from burnt cow dung (see the above for why you would be burning cow dung in the first place) on your face, head, neck and other exposed skin will not only make you look like a ghost (great for a creepy look at Halloween), but it serves another practical purpose: It keeps the flies and other “dudus” off you as well!

  • Brushing one’s teeth with cow dung ash is a great whitener! (I swear this is what I was told!)
  • Bonus tip: Cow urine makes a great hair dye! Tired of that afro looking like everyone else’s? Impress the ladies and increase your chances of finding a wife when you dye your hair yellow with cow urine! You’ll really stand out (not only because of your looks, but the smell will let people know you’re there)!

Giving thanks for Thanksgiving hospitality – Sudanese style

The main project area I visited on Thursday was a remote village a drive of an hour and a half from the town of Yirol (I just don’t know how the Lutheran World Federation finds these places anyway; I think aliens identify them for LWF staff from their spaceships). I spent some time interviewing women in a savings and income-generating group. One of their new projects is running a shop. First they offered me a soda, and then when I asked the staff person who took me there if I could pay for it, he told me that it would be an insult to their culture if I refused something that was offered to me like that (which I suspected because I would probably be insulted too if they were visiting me in the U.S.). But I told him – and he translated it to the women, who understood my joke – that I felt like I should pay in order to support their new business, especially since that’s what we had just finished talking about. But I said I would graciously accept their drink, which the women said had not come from their shop anyway. When we were done talking, the women then offered to make me lunch. They had known I was coming and had already slaughtered a chicken (good thing I didn’t have to be one of their first customers the next day at the restaurant that they were opening next door, since the goat – still alive – had been purchased in preparation for the slaughter). So we walked around for a few minutes and then sat down and had a meal of stewed chicken with homemade bread.

I didn’t remember until we were driving away from the village that Thursday was Thanksgiving Day, and I realized that that was my Thanksgiving meal. It wasn’t turkey, and the main dish had only one trimming, but I thought to myself, “What gracious hospitality. It wasn’t a Thanksgiving meal like I had ever had before, but their gift, an offering from strangers, is something to be thankful for.” In the same way the Pilgrims had sat down with the Native Americans for a meal, I was hosted by strangers in a foreign country and was given a meal in their tradition. Again, it was a different meal than I would have wanted, but the unexpected surprise I received was Thanksgiving in the truest sense.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

'Over the woods and through the river' on Thanksgiving eve in Sudan

After a short day at home, I left again on Wednesday for a quick visit to the third and final project area of the Lutheran World Federation (the organization Sarah works for) Sudan program for my work on its 2008 annual report. This project area is in the same part of the country as first area I went to last week – it’s a city called Yirol and is in Southern Sudan’s Lakes District. Getting to this place involved taking a morning flight out of Nairobi that stopped to refuel in Lokichoggio (“Loki”), a city in northwestern Kenya (which, by the way, is where one flies to visit Kakuma Refugee Camp, which is managed by the LWF Kenya program), and then continuing on to Rumbeck, where I was picked up by an LWF vehicle and driver who had come from Yirol, 70-some km away. However, the drive took almost four hours, which tells you the state of the roads in this (large) section of Africa (Sudan is Africa’s largest country and is roughly a quarter the size of the lower 48 United States). It’s the same story in all of these LWF project areas with the roads. I’ve spent many, many hours in the car the past week on very, very rough roads.

Wednesday’s car trip was more adventurous, exciting and visually stimulating than my car trips to, from and around the other two LWF project areas. For a little ways out of Rumbeck, where I flew into, the road has been graded and is dirt but is quite smooth. Then it starts getting rough – many potholes and rough parts, which means you have to drive much more slowly. The land is quite lush with vegetation, but it is also very flat, so rains have fallen in a higher part of the country, and all the water has flowed to these parts, which means there are large areas that have some water sitting on them and that are swampy. In several places, the water is flowing across the road in little streams that aren’t very wide – the widest was no more than several yards across – and not always very deep, but these are prime places for vehicles of all types to get stuck.

When we came upon the first of these water-crossing points, there were two other vehicles belonging to non-governmental organizations similar to the type we were in that were stuck in the water, one of them with one of its back corners sunk deep and sitting at an odd angle. The driver and our two passengers joined the small crowd to assess the situation. After several minutes, I was told to roll up my trousers and walk through the water to the other side, which I did. Then, suddenly, came our driver with our vehicle roaring at top speed (as fast as one can go in 4-wheel drive and starting quite close to the edge of the water) through the water. He made it through without getting stuck! I was amazed, but still said to him as he jumped out of the car on the other side, “Are you crazy?!”

Then attempts were made to try to pull one of the other Land Cruisers out with the LWF vehicle. First the cable snapped, and then when it was reattached, it pulled the stuck vehicle free, which started coming toward me at a funny angle. I started to back away to make sure I gave it plenty of clearance, but then I got myself stuck in a thorn tree. Then attempts were made to pull the second Land Cruiser out, which was the one that was more severely stuck and in deeper water. It took two vehicles pulling the stuck one by cable at the same time to free it, but as soon as that happened, we took off to continue our journey.

We soon reached the next stream of water over the road and took some quick assessments. This time the driver told me to stay with him in the vehicle. I asked him if he was going to drive through the water fast. He said no. But he didn’t inch through the water either, which would be one technique that I would think would work. But apparently the best technique is to go through fast so the car doesn’t have enough time to sink in the mud and get stuck (again, it shows my complete uselessness and ignorance as a city boy in these rural parts of Africa). My driver demonstrated his fearlessness again as we plunged into the water with it splashing in front of us and over the hood of the car onto the windshield (these Land Cruisers can drive through deep water without it affecting the engine because they have their air intake through a tube at roof level). We did this a few more times, with our passengers jumping out each time we approached a deeper pool of water to wade through it first to find the shallowest route for us, as the driver and I stayed in the car. Each time I was both scared and excited by the adventure of it all. I kind of wondered, however, why we didn’t caravan with the other vehicles we had seen and freed at the first crossing in case any of us got stuck again. At most of the other crossings, however, we found other types of vehicles, most of them larger than our standard passenger Land Cruisers, that had gotten stuck and that looked like they were there to stay for several days. At one crossing there were two semi tractor-trailers stuck in odd positions – at odd angles and half-in, half-out of the water. Certainly our much smaller Land Cruiser wasn’t big or powerful enough to pull those trucks out with a cable attached to our rear. At another one we passed two truckloads of Kenyan army soldiers who were traveling with the United Nation’s Sudan mission and who were on their way to rescue some of their stuck U.N. vehicles, which one soldier had asked me if we passed. There was also a flatbed truck that had gone through the water but that was stalled on the other side because the water had flooded the engine. We tried pushing it from behind to see if the driver could kick start it, but it didn’t work. We also saw many motorcyclists getting off and pushing their motorcycles through deep water. One of them even successfully kept on driving through the water.

Once we passed through several of these, the road improved somewhat and we could move fairly quickly again. With all of this standing water in swampy areas, one thing that it – and especially these points where water passes over the roads – attracts are many water birds. I saw several interesting species of water birds, some of them quite beautiful. One was fairly large, probably a stork. It had a big, long, bold yellow beak with a bit of red at the top where it connected to its head. Most of its body was white, but on its wings it had some black on the edges and tinges of pink. At one point I also saw another type of stork, which, besides an ostrich, is probably the biggest bird I’ve ever seen. As it stood on the road as we approached it, it probably stood almost 5 feet tall. Then we scared it, and it started to fly off the side of the road. It was mostly black, and when it spread its wings, its wingspan must have been at least 8 feet, but it could have been 10. It was amazing to see this bird both standing and taking off in flight. I wanted to ask the driver to stop every time I saw an interesting water bird like this, which was happening a lot along this stretch, but I was worried about us getting to our destination in time because we had probably delayed by helping the stuck vehicles at the first crossing and because it was getting close to sunset, and I didn’t know how much farther we had to go.

Soon we were approaching some villages, and as we went through them, I saw so many other interesting sites, this time related to people. We drove through lines of cattle that were walking in single file on both sides of the road. Some of these cattle are very large and have enormous horns. All along the way we had to occasionally dodge a single dog or a pack of them or some sheep. One time I saw a pig cross the road in front of us. We passed a few cattle camps, an area where people gather hundreds of head of cattle and have literally set up their camping area among them (makeshift shelters, fires for cooking, etc.).

And the people themselves were so interesting looking. Even though we’re near the first area I visited last week (Panyagor), the people in this area look quite different – or they dress differently. The women wear fewer clothes, and many have just a single piece of fabric that they tie over one shoulder, so many more breasts are exposed here. I’ve seen many more young men wearing funny things on their heads (like a single white feather on the top). Because there’s a lot of standing water lining the roads, many people were taking advantage of it as a place to bathe, so I saw many boys and men (but never women) naked, washing themselves in a large puddle of water.

It was interesting to see the differences in people in this section of Sudan, and as we proceeded along the road, it was like watching a live documentary of life in Sudan through the windshield.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A very Sudanese Thanksgiving

As of today, we have lived in Nairobi for a year. This is longer than the previous time I lived in Africa (when I was 16, I was a Rotary exchange student in Zimbabwe for 11 months). Since this anniversary falls during the week of Thanksgiving (which no country in Africa celebrates, by the way), I shall tell you the things we have here that I am thankful for. And since I am writing this on my one day home in between two trips to Southern Sudan, a very poor country in Africa, foremost on my mind are things that we have here in Kenya that I did not see always in Sudan, some of which are things that I am now much more thankful for, even if they still do not measure up to the U.S. standards that I expect and am used to:
  • Good roads that one can drive reasonably fast on (i.e., paved and/or mostly free of potholes)
  • A variety of food and availability of fruits and vegetables and milk (so I can have a bowl of cereal)
  • Weather that is not unbearably hot (but still warm and pleasant and summer-like all year 'round)
  • A comfortable house to live in with some luxuries (indoor plumbing – not having to use the latrine or shower outside – and even wooden floors that are nicer to walk on)
  • Internet access
  • The opportunities we have had while living in Europe and Africa to travel; just this past week alone, I have seen many places that tourists never go to (in fact, that’s true of the whole country of Sudan)
  • The “deal” we have gotten for living here that provides in Sarah’s contract a house where the rent and all utilities are paid for and that comes with outside maintenance staff; a vehicle that is provided and maintained and the fuel paid for; the fact that we can afford a housekeeper/nanny

And as always, no matter where we’re living, I’m thankful for:

  • My wife and daughter and other family
  • So many friends scattered around the world
  • My good health
  • The ability to live and work where we want, even to return without having to do anything (like apply for a green card and wait for years) to that great land of opportunity, the U.S. (I think it still is that place!), which so many other people long for
  • The gift of music (although I’m thinking more and more that it’s a curse because I always have a song in my head and can’t ever seem to “shut off” the music)

Happy Thanksgiving, all! May you see what blessings you have received as well.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The high price of a wife these days

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s question of what tribe Sarah comes from was today’s doozie from my driver and another Lutheran World Federation staff person in Ikotos who were taking me to one of the projects in the area. We somehow got on the subject of men and women and how they marry in Africa. I was told that women are “bought” with cows when a man wants to marry her – the man’s family “buys” the wife from her family with the cows – 25 in this part of the world. This I already knew. They asked me if this happens in my culture. I told them no, that I did not “buy” my wife with cows or anything. I explained that Sarah had gone to university and had been self-supporting for some time with her own job and was independent from her parents already when I married her. At this they were astonished and had a good laugh about this big difference between our cultures.

But come to think of it, how many cows is Sarah really worth anyway?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Those Iowans - they're downright tribal!

I am currently in Southern Sudan, visiting the three project areas of the Lutheran World Federation’s Sudan program for my work on its 2008 annual report (this is the organization/program that Sarah works for).

Yesterday we were driving around some of the areas in Panyagor, one of the project areas. The projects always have drivers taking people around to the various project sites in the LWF vehicles. So the driver and I were talking and getting to know each other. The driver there is a native Sudanese, a fairly young man who is married but already has five kids. He asked about me. “Does your wife come from the same tribe as you?”


Is Iowa a different tribe? I must admit I’ve never been able to figure Iowans out. They are a bit foreign to me, indeed. But I had a bit of a challenge explaining to him that we don’t really have tribes in the U.S. But how was I supposed to answer that question? Are we from different anythings?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Visiting the obscure country of Burundi

Here are some things I learned or observed on our road trip through Tanzania to visit Burundi and Rwanda a couple of weeks ago. In all, we drove 3,707 km/2,303 miles from our home in Nairobi west through Tanzania to the capital of Burundi – Bujumbura – then north to the capital of Rwanda – Kigali – and back east again.

  • Out of the four countries we drove in on this trip, Kenya, our own home/country, has the worst roads of the lot. This is surprising, given that it’s the wealthiest and arguably the most developed of all countries in East Africa. But this could be the very reason – this is why it has the most cars and trucks that use the roads and wear them out perhaps more than they do in Burundi, Rwanda or Tanzania. We took one route in Kenya west to go into Tanzania, but stretches of one road were so bad that on the way back, we chose to take a longer route once back in Kenya, hoping to avoid this stretch. But we happened upon another long stretch of road that was under construction, which meant we had to drive on a long, bumpy side road!
  • Much more so than in Kenya, people carry things on their heads and ride bicycles for transportation and to haul things in Tanzania and especially in Burundi and Rwanda. Instead of carts for cargo or even wheelbarrows, people use their bicycles to haul all manner of goods, from huge bags of charcoal or bales of hay to people – using them as a town’s official taxi service (we saw a lot of women riding side-saddle, sitting over the back wheel on a carrier). And it just made sense to us – but apparently not to the bicyclist - the many times we passed a bike that the load they were trying to haul was just way too heavy. Several times we saw an overturned bike, the load obviously top-heavy, with two people standing next to it, scratching their heads, trying to figure out what to do next. Or we could never figure out how the bicyclist could balance such a tall or heavy load and ride their bike. And we’re not sure why, but we don’t see people walking and carrying things on their heads much in Kenya at all, but this is common in the other countries we visited.
  • We visited the world’s third- and fourth-largest freshwater lakes – driving around Lake Victoria in Tanzania and stopping there both ways and visiting Lake Tanganyika at one of our destinations in Burundi. And we hail from the shores of the world’s largest freshwater lake – Lake Michigan/Huron (which are considered one lake together, since they are at the same elevation and water passes freely between them).
  • Good thing we are flexible drivers. When we moved to Kenya, we had to learn to drive on the left side of the road again, and we are now quite adept at it. Tanzania also drives on the left. But as soon as we got all the way across Tanzania and crossed the border into Burundi, we needed to switch sides of the road. This was challenging in itself, but we had our right-hand-drive car with us, so the steering wheel was on the outside of the road. But both of us did quite well switching to the other side of the road there and also in Rwanda (and then back again in Tanzania and Kenya). It’s odd that neighbors like this in Africa drive on different sides of the road. It must be according to who the country’s colonial power was. For Kenya and Tanzania, it was Great Britain, which drives on the left side, and for Burundi and Rwanda, it was Belgium, which drives on the right.
  • We are also grateful we have some fairly flexible skills in the language department as well, that we had previously lived in a French-speaking country. We didn’t find many natives in Burundi who speak English, and we managed to ask a few times for directions to the American embassy. In Rwanda, however, we found more English speakers, since they get a few more tourists there.
  • Driving west from Nairobi, we passed through a wide variety of terrain. We went down into the Rift Valley and skirted Masai Mara game park, which is the Kenyan extension of the famous Serengeti in Tanzania. On the eastern side of Tanzania we passed through an area that had hills jutting up out of the plains and outcroppings of boulders that sometimes had interesting piles of balancing rocks. Much of Tanzania was very flat, but these plains varied from very dry to being hit by torrential downpours, which we got caught in a few times. Once we hit the western side of Tanzania, it becomes very hilly. Both Burundi and Rwanda are very hilly. In fact, Rwanda’s nickname is the “Land of a Thousand Hills.” The land is also very lush. We saw many kinds of trees in these countries, including banana, coffee, tea, palm, baobab, eucalyptus and pine.
  • As much as Rwanda has been through, as concerned as it should be about racial tensions, the social atmosphere and alleviating poverty, it is also very concerned about its environment. Surprisingly, it has essentially banned the use of plastic bags in the country. In fact, at the border, a guard asked to see in the back of our car (our luggage) to see what we had in plastic bags, and then he asked us to throw at least one away (he didn’t catch all the plastic bags we had). They even had some free paper bags that we could have taken. In some places in many African countries, the land is so littered with thrown-away plastic shopping bags (I’ve seen this a lot around the refugee camps in Kenya). I’m not denying that plastic bags are bad for the environment, and it certainly is unsightly to see them discarded and blown away and stuck on bushes and trees in rural areas. But I’m just surprised that Rwanda would be so concerned about the role of plastic bags and that it would take such widespread action on a countrywide scale. Indeed, especially the rural areas – along the roads – are quite clean of such rubbish.

Our purpose in making this trip was to see some other countries and parts of the East Africa region while we are living here. I had never been to Burundi and Rwanda before, but Sarah had for work when we were living in Geneva.

I wrote about our time in Rwanda in an earlier entry on this blog, so here is a bit about our time in Burundi:

In Burundi, we stayed at the home of one of my former coworkers from the ELCA in Chicago in the capital, Bujumbura. Her husband has been stationed with the State Dept. at embassies in Bangkok and London (we visited them there once when we lived in Geneva). A while ago, he bid on a post in Burundi and got it, and they arrived there in August. So we were their first visitors. My former coworker is also now working at the American embassy in the capital.

The Kleibers lucked out and were given an embassy-owned house to live in that used to be occupied by the deputy chief of mission (the #2 in charge after the ambassador). It’s located in the hills above the downtown area, and it has a spectacular sweeping view of the city, with Lake Tanganyika beyond that and the hills of the Democratic Republic of Congo on the horizon. It’s an enormous house with a huge terrace that is great for entertaining. It also has a large garden filled with tropical plants and flowers that is well-cared for (by their hired gardener, paid for by the taxpayers of the U.S., of course). The house is definitely designed for wealthy expatriates who have domestic servants and who like to entertain – a huge dining room with a well-separated kitchen, two large bedroom suites plus a couple of other smaller bedrooms, a cold-storage room, etc. It’s a lovely place to relax.

Because Tony has lived in Bangkok, all of their house’s décor is Asian – many objects from Thailand, Burma, China and the region. As soon as I walked in, I thought, “It’s a little corner of Bangkok right here in the heart of Africa.” All of these same decorations were there in their American-style apartment in London, where it also seemed a bit out of place. The Kleibers are in their early 50s and have never had children, so all the delicate statues and shiny lacquer ware from Vietnam were definitely not toddler-friendly. So we really had to keep an eye on Lexi, but she really loved running around on their front lawn.

Burundi isn’t exactly a well-known country, certainly not as well-known as its neighbor to the north, Rwanda, which has a notorious reputation for its genocide. As such, it doesn’t attract many tourists because there isn’t much to do there. None of the countries that border these large lakes seem to really take advantage of the lake as a resort destination. We know some people do have boats and use the lake for recreation, but they’re white. The day we arrived in Bujumbura, we had been driving for two and a half days, and we arrived in time for a late lunch, and we spent the rest of the day just relaxing outside on the terrace and enjoying the view and the garden.

That night the Kleibers invited some other expatriates over for dinner. We met the director of the counterpart to Sarah’s organization in Burundi. He’s got Dutch nationality but grew up in Tanzania the son of missionaries and has an American wife. All the other couples were American and worked for the embassy or the U.N. (except for the wife of one man, who is French and West African; she was awfully outgoing and bold, eating the olives from my salad, which I don’t like, off my plate at dinner). It’s always fun to meet other expats but ones who have lived for many more years outside the country and to hear about how many places they have lived and how much stuff they have collected.

The following day was a holiday in Burundi, so the Kleibers were able to spend some time with us. In the morning, we took a drive to try to find the monument marking the spot where Livingstone met Stanley, but as I said, the country doesn’t get many tourists, and like in Kenya, these sorts of haunts aren’t marked well or at all. So it ended up being just a drive only along the lakeshore south of the city. We stopped at a couple of small handicraft markets. They had the same stuff we see in Kenya and Tanzania. And in the afternoon we went to a fancy hotel (for the tourists they do get) that has a large pool and a beach on the lake. So we swam in the pool and walked along Lake Tanganyika. Lexi was afraid of the waves again.

So our visit to Burundi wasn’t marked by many tourist highlights like our other recent trip to South Africa was, but at least we saw a new country and one that has a different sort of past than Kenya.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Public holiday to celebrate Obama's victory

Today, Thursday, has been declared a public holiday in Kenya to celebrate the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president. Apparently Kenya's prime minster, who is from the same tribe, in the northwestern part of Kenya, as Obama's father, and who hails from the same area of the country, declared this day a holiday.

We think this is odd in many ways:

  • In a way, it's a day for Kenyans to celebrate democracy, the fact that Americans voted in, in a peaceful way, a man from the opposition party, a man so foreign to the office of the presidency. This when Kenyans can't hold a democratic election themselves, one that is peaceful, and simply allow the opposition leader, who arguably won the vote, into office as a true democracy would allow.
  • It's strange that we, American citizens, the only ones who had a say in selecting Obama, have to be outside our own country to get a day off to celebrate the election of our own president.
  • We wonder how Kenya can suddenly declare a nationwide holiday for the next day. I figure only small countries can do this. It would just be logistically impossible for a big country for the U.S. to do this. But it doesn't seem to inconvenience anyone here to be told they don't need to work the next day. Jane, our house help, seemed delighted to get a day off work and never asked us if her absence today would cause any problems (it won't, since Sarah's office is obviously closed too). But things in Africa are always so loosey-goosey. Hard and fast plans are never made for anything, or if they are, it's okay if they're changed or canceled.
  • What does one do to celebrate an occasion like this? I saw in the newspaper that a hotel in Mombasa this week was serving two types of double-decker hamburgers named the McCain and Obama burgers. The chef created them because he knows Americans like hamburgers. Perhaps we need to eat something American. But for breakfast we "celebrated" by making French toast!

But we have the whole day to figure out what to do, think about the impact of Obama's election and savor the victory for Kenya, the U.S. and the world!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Happy days are here again!

This morning I have been awake for most of the past seven hours (and not sleeping very well before I got out of bed) - since just before 3:00 a.m. - and for much of that, I was watching the presidential election returns come in and Obama’s victory speech from what I will claim now as my (last) hometown - Chicago.

Again, to remind you of the historic nature of Obama’s election to the presidency (besides all those other firsts you have heard about over and over):

  • This is the first time since Abraham Lincoln that Illinois has sent someone to the White House.
  • This is the first time since JFK that a sitting senator has been elected to the presidency.
  • (not so seriously) The candidate whose last name did not end in N was elected, but the taller of the two candidates did win. Also, does anybody know if Obama is left-handed? That may be why he won.
  • Chicago has now proven itself as a national political powerhouse, something that has not happened in a long time. I’m sure Mayor Daley is pleased that his city is in the spotlight these days, especially as he’s placed it in the running for the Olympics. I wonder if he’ll get an appointment in the administration.

And again, I’ll state that earlier I was a Hillary supporter, and this was really supposed to be her day. It must be a bittersweet day for her (and Bill). But still, as a die-hard Democrat (and originally a Massachusetts one), I couldn’t be happier that my party has recaptured the White House.

But overall what I want to say is this: Because of the monumental nature of this election and selection, for the above reasons and more, my confidence in the United States of America is restored. Sarah and I were planning to return to the U.S. anyway next year to live and work, but now I feel we can do that, and with some pride. The U.S. really showed – to itself and to the world - that it has matured in choosing Obama as its leader. As an American living abroad, I am so pleased that America’s stature in the world, in places where we have lived like Geneva, from the houses of world power and influence, to Kenya, where millions of people live hand-to-mouth lives, will change instantly today. The disastrous era of George W. Bush ends today (and the Republican party is in shambles, which is a position the Democrats have been in more than once). America’s image has been restored, and I don’t mind so much living abroad and representing a country that is willing to turn around and put itself on the right course again. (BBC News has an article - "President Obama and the world" - that does an excellent job talking about what I'm referring to here.)

But another reason I am rejoicing today, along with millions of others who know how significant (in many ways) Obama’s election is, is because of my new perspective in this election. This is the first presidential election I have experienced as a parent. Sarah and I have recently brought a person into this world, a new U.S. citizen, and she will return with us to a country under new leadership, one that cares about what the U.S. does in the world and that cares that it acts responsibly. I know Obama won’t be perfect and won’t accomplish everything, but I feel like the world will be a safer place for my child because of his election, a new concern I have now as a parent. And like Obama himself said during the campaign, his campaign and that of Hillary Clinton meant that his daughters – and mine as well – now have every opportunity open to them – even the highest office in the land, the most powerful position in the world. It doesn’t matter what race or gender you are – everything is open to anybody. Sarah and I happened to have a girl baby last year, and there are still so many places in the world where every opportunity isn’t open to women. But now new paths in her country, at least, appear to be open to her, as today has proven. I wonder what her generation will accomplish when they are old enough to lead.

But for now, I’m thrilled that my generation is closer to being in power in the U.S. and this world (I don’t quite feel like Obama is my generation – he’s a bit too old to be one of my siblings). I don’t really need to feel ashamed anymore as a representative of my country living abroad. And by living in Kenya for the time being, where the son of a native has just been elected U.S. president, I actually now have something to be proud of!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My faith restored (somewhat) in Nairobi restaurants

My faith is a bit restored in the Nairobi restaurant scene. Earlier I wrote on this blog about how disappointed I was that I could not find a good Pad Thai. After church this morning, we went out to a mall clear on the other side of the city which we decided to visit because we were halfway there from church anyway. We were planning to have brunch at the nearby Nairobi Java House, one of our favorite restaurants. But while at the mall we saw a restaurant advertising crepes. We always enjoyed having these in Geneva and on visits to various places in France (and the Dutch pancake version in The Netherlands and South Africa). We decided to eat there, but rather than having what had originally enticed us into the place, we each ended up with something different. I was delighted to see one of the lunch special was rosti, a favorite Swiss dish. My favorite place to eat this back in the “motherland” was at a small, dark café a half a block from the capital building in Bern. I always describe it as the Denny’s skillet breakfast. Sarah had some sort of filled potato pancakes (so she had something like a crepe).

The presumed owner was standing in the dining area making the crepes, and Sarah discovered that he’s from Switzerland. Although the place is called the Latin Café, it’s quite broadly European, and we felt very comfortable there, so much so that I had to stop myself from speaking to the waiters in French. They also have quite an extensive offering of different kinds of fondues, so we will have to return there to savor that favorite dish from Switzerland. For dessert, we had a yummy chocolate fondant (a cross between pudding and cake). This is a very European thing too (and very rich and satisfying). I thought I might even be able to get a decent cappuccino there – let’s hope!