The World’s Most Perfect Climate

Nairobi city on a typically beautiful day

A photo I took of Nairobi city on a typically beautiful day

Imagine if you could design your ideal climate. What would it be like? For me, it would be like this: Partly cloudy and mid-70’s °F (low 20’s °C) nearly every day of the year. Beautiful blue skies. The warmest days accompanied by a nice breeze. Cool evenings, but never cold. Very little humidity. And just when things get a little too dry, a rainy season begins. But it is short, and the showers come and go delicately.

That is perfection. And lucky for me, I have just described Nairobi. National Geographic once said Nairobi has the world’s “most perfect climate” and I can’t help but agree. People back in the U.S.A. often ask me what the weather is like here, and most of them assume it is beastly hot and harsh. I made the same assumption because Nairobi is very near to the equator, but because of the city’s elevation (5,889 feet or 1,795 metres above sea level), extreme weather conditions are prevented. I have yet to enter a building with air conditioning or heat, simply because there is no need for either.

I have tried to explain to my Kenyan friends the type of weather I experienced growing up in Minnesota. Unfortunately, the weather in Minnesota cannot be adequately understood unless you experience it for yourself, but I will try to explain it in mere words. Winter is cold. According to Wikipedia (and my own life experience) “temperatures as low as −60 °F (−51 °C) have occurred during Minnesota winters.” Those are extreme cases, but temperatures regularly hit 0 °F (−18 °C). Imagine this: if you wash your hair and venture outside before it is completely dry, it freezes and becomes hard instantly. The boogars freeze inside your nose. Your body parts literally go numb because they are so cold. School gets cancelled some days because kids could actually DIE waiting for their busses to arrive. Then there is snow, which can pile up so high you can’t even open your front door; and freezing rain, which makes you fall on your butt when you try to walk. And the worst part…winter can last for a solid six months of the year! Springtime bursts with life as the snow melts, but can cause major flooding. Summers are lovely, though very hot and humid, causing regular droughts. Autumn is vibrant and colorful as leaves change colors and the air turns cold once again, giving way to violent thunderstorms and tornados. In Minnesota, you can never predict the weather.

The funny thing is, if you ask most Kenyans, they will not describe Nairobi’s weather like I have described it at the beginning of this post. They might talk about the extreme heat of January (80 °F, 26 °C) and the freezing cold nights in July (60 °F, 15 °C). They might say things like, “The weather in Nairobi is so unpredictable!” or “I’m sure you’ve never experienced heat like this in the U.S.!” But hey, if you grew up in the world’s most perfect climate, wouldn’t you react this way too? I would!

For the record, I have almost completely lost my Minnesota “thick skin.” Like my fellow Kenyans, now 60 degrees feels dreadfully cold and 80 feels painfully hot. That could be very problematic when I return to Minnesota…

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Merry Christmas and a New Pair of Shoes

It is difficult to be far away from family and friends this Christmas, but something has made the season a little brighter. This week I had the opportunity to help give away 500 pairs of new shoes to kids in Kibera who have probably never received a Christmas gift and certainly have never worn a new pair of shoes. Swahiba Youth Networks, a wonderful local organization that works with young people in Kibera, raised money to purchase the shoes from Kenyan shoe company, Bata. The shoe giveaway and celebration was called “Tabasamu,” meaning “smile” in Swahili, and included a dj, entertainment, snacks, and other fun activities for the kiddos. Here are a few photos to brighten your holiday as well. Merry Christmas!!

*Click on an image to scroll through the gallery

To learn more about Swahiba Youth Networks, visit their website at http://swahibayouthnetworks.org/

Meeting President Obama’s Grandmother

So, I met President Barack Obama’s grandmother. Seriously.

This past weekend I spent several days in a rural village with a friend’s family in order to learn about Kenyan life outside the big city. My friend’s family’s home happened to be just seven kilometers from the Obama family home which is in the village of Kogelo, an area several hours from Nairobi that is home to the Luo tribe of Kenya. When I found out how close we’d be to the Obamas, I decided I had to make a visit. Perhaps, I thought, I could see the area where the President’s father grew up or get a glimpse of the family’s homestead.

On Sunday afternoon, we all piled into the car – my friend whose home we were visiting, his cousin, my friend Abby, and me. We drove through the luscious, rolling green hills and powder blue skies of the Kenyan countryside into the village of Kogelo. I knew we had arrived upon seeing signs like “Senator Secondary School” and the “Barack Obama Shop.”  After a few more winding roads going further into the village, we came upon what we believed to be Sarah Obama’s homestead, the grandmother to President Barack Obama. There was a police officer guarding a large gate into the area. We got out of the car and my friend walked up to the police officer and asked if we could visit Mrs. Sarah Obama. I was taken aback by his request, thinking he must be crazy to assume we might be able to meet her. The police officer looked at us hesitantly and asked for our passports. Abby and I did not have them with us because we had no idea that this opportunity might come up. Did we have our state ID’s? No. Our student ID’s? No. A friggin’ business card? No. The police officer asked my friend for his Kenyan ID, and he pulled it out from his wallet. The police officer saw money in it and suddenly became very friendly. Sure we could come in – he would just “close his eyes.” Plus, he said, Sarah Obama did not have the heart to turn down visitors.

The police officer led us up to the home…and there she was! Ninety-year-old Sarah Obama, sitting in a chair on the lawn. She was wearing a dress made of the traditional, brightly colored Kenyan cloth and her head wrapped in the same cloth. She had kind eyes, soft wrinkles, and a hearty laugh. There were a few other people sitting in chairs around her, and the police officer whispered to us that they were some of President Obama’s extended family members who had come to meet her. Then, we were led right up to Sarah Obama. I shook her hand and said the only word I knew in her tribal language of Duluo – “Erokamano” which means “Thank you.” She laughed loudly and shook my hand firmly when she heard me say it.

A woman brought out chairs for us to sit on and cool sodas to enjoy. For several minutes we sat there with Sarah Obama and her family members as she shared stories in Duluo about the family and the President. She laughed about how much life had changed since the 2008 election – now she travels all over the world and people come to visit her nearly every day. She laughed about how people think she’s rich. She talked about how electricity and roads had come to the village after the election. She cracked jokes in Duluo, and our friends were in tears from laughter as they tried to translate what she had said into English through their giggles. She explained that she had spoken to the President on the phone a few days prior. He had sent her a Mother’s Day card and was planning a visit. Just a hundred feet or so away, she pointed to the President’s father’s grave and explained that as a young man, Barack had visited and stayed in her home.

After some time, several important-looking men in suits showed up demanding her attention, so we politely excused ourselves. On the way out, my friend handed the police officer a few hundred shillings for his trouble (a few dollars). He smiled and said we were welcome back any time.

(FYI, Sarah Obama asked that we not take any photos of her, so the photo of her above was not taken by me. The other photos I was able to take on the way into the homestead.)

The Journey Begins…

Hello friends, family and strangers. As many of you know, I am moving to Nairobi, Kenya to pursue a master’s degree (take a look at the “About” section of this blog for more info). The journey begins with an 8 1/2 hour flight from the U.S. to Amsterdam, and another 8 hour flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi. There I will meet my fellow student, Abby, and we’ll get settled into our new homes.

I look forward to keeping you up-to-date on all of my adventures, and perhaps some of the things I learn along the way. In the meantime, feel free to browse these photos from our program director’s last visit to Nairobi. Many of these were taken in Kibera near where I’ll be living: http://www.flickr.com/photos/matul/sets/72157623437471393/. I also found this website that has some beautiful photos of Nairobi: http://www.nairobikenya.com/whats-going-on/photos/.

Thank you to my Kenyan and “Kenyan-at-heart” friends who have already taught me so much about the place I’ll soon call home. I am so grateful for each of you.