RSS Feed

Time Stood Still

Posted on

I have always loved the beach; there’s something remarkably special about spending time in the space between the land and the sea, no matter the topography. The smell, the sounds, the air, they all have an intoxicating effect on me.  I admit to having selfishly dreamed of a vacation like this for years; what I’ve referred to often in conversation with Henry as the “white-sand beach vacation.”

I suppose these musings date back to my Tobago years, where I spent part of my youth. My family ventured often for family vacations to Pigeon Point.  I remember going so often that once my mom forgot to tell me and I had to pack on the morning of our departure.  I was mad!  Or perhaps they started a few years later in Jamaica while still in college.  I’d visit Jamaica regularly to join my dad and other members of the Jamaica Sub Aqua Club for dive trips to resorts along its north coast.  These are some of my fondest childhood memories!

Fortunately for us the Kenyan coast is just an hour’s flight away from Nairobi along with dozens of resorts, hotels and rental houses vying for our business.  It was my turn to plan the winter holidays and decided we were going to spend the entire three weeks on the coast.

IMG_7490

Galu Beach, located south of Mombassa, has the whitest and finest sand I’ve ever seen and is considered one of the top 100 beaches in the world.

We chose to rent a one-bedroom annex-apartment along Galu Beach, situated just five minutes south of Diani Beach and the local airstrip; directly in front of the best part of that stretch of white sand.  With direct access to the beach and a fresh-water swimming pool this place was perfectly suited to our style; quiet, peaceful, uncrowded, not overly-developed, and a bit rustic.

IMG_7411

The only signage from the beach road crafted from driftwood.

IMG_7499

View from the edge of Moringa House property

Our apartment was spacious and included sleeping space for four, one bathroom, a stocked kitchen, two-burner stove, refrigerator and house help twice a day.  The groundskeeper, Joseph, took care of our needs from sun-up to sun-down and had an endless store of energy – he was amazing.  He improvised a step stool for me to use in the kitchen, brought a standing fan to supplement the ceiling fans, arranged for some deck chairs to be placed under the palm trees (on the edge of the property overlooking the ocean), and opened fresh coconut from their trees on request.

A fish monger came everyday on his motorbike offering reasonably priced red and yellow snapper, grouper, prawns, lobster and squid.  For fresh vegetables we’d walk across the beach road to the local stand; while in Diani township there were two proper supermarkets for other staples like oil, cereal, shampoo, drinks etc.

IMG_7466

Notice that the stand-up fan is inside the mosquito net; the house was that hot!

IMG_7410

Julie Mei and I cooking together.  She didn’t need that step stool!

IMG_7407

Henry and Julie Mei cleaning and deveining the shrimp

A small stash of spices that I brought with me made cooking extra easy, delicious and enjoyable.  We had grilled fish sandwiches, lobster curry, blackened grouper fillets, seafood cioppino, fresh tuna salad, fried calamari rings, and garlic shrimp all accompanied with different rice pilafs and fresh vegetables. Unbelievably, we ate out only twice, lunch at Sails Beach Bar and Restaurant and dinner on our last night at Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant; both were delicious.

IMG_7482

Lunch at Sails Beach Bar and Restaurant

IMG_7476

A mixture of vodka, fresh lime juice, crushed ice and honey, the Dawa (which means medicine in Swahili) has quickly become my favorite Kenyan cocktail.  The honey sits on the bottom until stirred with the swizzle stick, yummy!

Two different day trips to Kitsite-Mpunguti National Marine Park for snorkeling and scuba diving helped to break up the monotony of our stay at Moringa House.  Located an hour and half  south of Galu Beach, followed by another hour long boat trip, which made for very long but worthwhile days.  Described on the web as the “home of the dolphins” Kitsite is just 8km north of the Tanzanian border and was beautiful and unspoiled.

“Kisite Marine Park was established to protect the scenic islands and special habitats of a wide range of endemic marine animals and breeding migratory birds. It lies in the coral gardens south of Wasini Island and encompasses three small coral rag forest islands, each with considerable areas of fringing reef. Kisite is one of the most rewarding snorkelling locations at the coast. Visitors can also enjoy bird watching, diving and of course, sunbathing.” (http://www.kws.go.ke/content/kisite-mpunguti-marine-park-reserve)

IMG_7604

Julie Mei and Henry getting ready for their first dive in a year-and-a-half on the dhow style boat.  I looked at the rental gear and decided not to join them but to snorkel!

IMG_7430

Shimoni township is the entry point for the boat trip out to Kitsite Marine Park.  It has a long history and dates back to the Portuguese occupation and possibly before even that.

Except for one day when Julie Mei and Henry went on a local safari to Shimba Hills National Reserve (came home very excited to have finally seen the Palm Nut Vulture), the rest of the time was spent at the house, on the deck chairs, walking the beach, eating, swimming, reading.

In order to combat Julie Mei’s utter boredom I signed both of us up for kite surfing lessons (D&D Kitetravel) located next door to our place.  I lasted for one and half lessons, but Julie Mei went on to take 12-hours in total.  That’s not saying I won’t ever give it a go again but there was too much information to take in all at once without having read about kite surfing or watched YouTube videos etc.

IMG_7525

Julie Mei and her kite surfing instructor, Aga.

IMG_7548

Julie Mei with the kite snugly harnessed and flying above her.  By the end of the two weeks she was pretty good at controlling the kite.

IMG_7572

The beach chairs where we spent a lot of time relaxing on mostly reading and napping.

I woke up just after sunrise each day, made a cup of coffee, put on my swimsuit and went out to my lounge chair.  So beautiful in the morning before others are up and moving about.  The days just seemed to move along, breakfast time turned into nap time, which turned into lunch and so on and so forth for two solid weeks.  I was the most relaxed I’ve been in years.

Of course all was not perfect; it was also very hot!  Not during the day or at the beach, but the house was unbearably hot especially in the evenings.  Worse, the water was brackish, slightly salty, so we never quite felt clean nor could we cook with the tap water.

In the end we were excited to move on, to Watamu another popular beach desitination along the Kenyan coast, to meet friends and scuba dive for the last full week of winter break.  We’d arranged for private transport from Diani to Watamu, a three-hour drive up the coast, through Mombasa (one of Kenya’s oldest cities).  In typical Messing fashion we left at 5:00am to beat the traffic and arrived at  Turtle Bay Beach Club in time for breakfast and a morning dive!

We spent the next six nights at this all-inclusive resort that had an excellent diving facility.  Right after breakfast, and before our room was ready, we’d arranged to go on a dive.  Yahoo!  My first time diving in a year-and-a-half.  Only other avid divers get the intense yearning we experience and the euphoria afterwards; there’s really nothing else quite like it.

The diving here is not bad at all, in fact, I was very surprised to meet repeat divers who have been coming back to Watamu for over 15 years; albeit from London, but still they think the resort and the diving worth coming back year after year.

IMG_7733

We rented all the equipment and it was in very good shape and well-maintained.  Look how genuinely happy we look gearing up for the morning dive.

Not a bad fact to learn when we thought we’d be giving up diving, maybe for good, but too painful to admit aloud.  We had all our scuba gear shipped back to Phoenix, all I grabbed on my way out the door this summer was my prescription dive mask.  Which by the way I love because it has a bifocal lense in them so I can see all the really small stuff,  just like I did when I was in my 20s.

Our good friends Greg, Malone and Maya come to Turtle Bay this particular week every winter and invited us to join them.  It truly was an amazing week spent with good friends – all of us scuba diving together and eating together (without having to cook).  The girls ran off on their own most of the day to the big pool; while us adults relaxed, swam and even played beach volleyball.

IMG_7655

Julie Mei and Maya chilling at the beach

IMG_7714

Greg, Malone and Henry

IMG_7738

Henry and Julie Mei

Henry went on a couple of birding excursions from Watamu, without us, and was thrilled with the birding but most especially for having sighted a couple of Golden-Rumped Elephant Shrews!

When we think back to our first few nights at Galu Beach to the end of the three weeks, it really does seem like time stood still.  But we’re back in Nairobi, work has resumed (which continues to be fulfilling), there are conferences to attend and spring break in Hong Kong to look forward to.

Samburu: 110 Speed-bumps North of Nairobi

Posted on

Fall break is the perfect time for a holiday in a teacher’s world; two solid months of teaching completed, a couple more until winter break.  It’s “mass exodus” as the overseas hired faculty leave in droves for exciting adventures around the globe – Zanzibar, Seychelles, Cape Town, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Italy, London, Paris, the Kenyan coast and Kenya’s national parks were all popular destinations this year.

We started our sojourner with a buffet brunch among friends at the Mt Kenya Safari Club in Nanyuki (read about the club’s interesting history at http://www.whwf.org/history.htm), followed by two nights at the Naro Moru River Lodge before driving the additional two hours north to Samburu National Preserve.

IMG_3285

This lodge was built on the banks of a river fed by the snow melt of  Mt. Kenya and indeed it’s original purpose was (and still is) as a base for climbers on their way to the park.

IMG_3283

The grounds were beautiful with lots of grass and large shade trees and plenty of space to enjoy the outdoors. There is something wonderful about getting away from home and spending time in a beautiful place that allows the soul to rejuvenate.

There we splurged a bit and spent three nights at Elephant Bedroom Camp, a luxury tented safari camp within the confines of the park; where elephants really did roam free.  With only 12 guest rooms the experience was exceptionally personal and well-worth the money.

IMG_7347

We stayed in tented camp #10, really a canvas-walled luxury hotel room built on stilts.  I suppose they’re supposed to feel like safaris did in the old days with all the modern conveniences of today.

IMG_7305

The rooms stretched single-file along the river bank with the public walkway along the back. There were watchmen posted along the path who escorted us back and forth to the dining room so rarely traveled alone.  In the evening we had only to flash our hotel provided torch for the watchman on duty to know we needed an escort.

IMG_7348

The walkway up to our tent and the river beyond.  I have some video of an elephant passing right in front of our patio!  Spent a lot of time just enjoying the view and the cool breeze, especially during the middle of the day.  Each room also has a hot-tub sized plunge pool just for cooling off.

The inside of the room had two queen-sized beds with upgraded mattresses, a lounger chair and table, a dressing table and a huge bathroom with robes and slippers. It was very comfortable!

The inside of the room had two queen-sized beds with upgraded mattresses, an oversized chair and table, a dressing table and a huge bathroom complete with robes, slippers and turn-down service each evening. It was very comfortable!

We went on holiday with another teaching couple and their daughter and what a great time we had on safari with them!  Using the lodges’ guides and safari vehicles only added to the total enjoyment of our drives each morning and afternoon.

DSC_0329

These are two of the hotels safari vehicles. They were spacious, open-roofed, and comfortable with tiered seating.

IMG_7279

The British definition of a SUNDOWNER is “an alcoholic drink taken at sunset” whereas the Australian definition reads “a tramp arriving at a sheep station in the evening under the pretense of seeking work, so as to obtain food and shelter.”  I think you’ll agree that the British have it right!  (BTW Julie has fruit punch).

IMG_7308

The river filled up overnight after a night of rain storms in the mountains far far away.  You can see just how empty the river was when we first arrived by looking at it in the Sundowner photograph above.

DSC_0261

A family of elephants crossing the river spotted on one of our evening safaris.  This is my favorite photograph of the whole trip – I just love the coloring and the horizon.

DSC_0296

Reticulated giraffes were seen on every safari we took. So beautiful, they are one of most enjoyable animals to watch; there’s a reason they’re called gentle giants.

DSC_0248

Baboons families are also readily witnessed. One afternoon I watched a young male baboon being outright bullied by another much larger baboon. It makes we want to know more about how they function in family units.

DSC_0262

Another of my favorite safari animals are the warthogs. Their tails shoot straight up in the air when they run away, even the babies run that way.  It’s not easy to capture good photographs of their faces.  As soon as a the vehicle stops they bolt zig-zag style.

DSC_0320

My first leopard spotting in Kenya. This juvenile was hanging out in the tree near sunset.

DSC_0413

The grevy’s zebra is the most endangered of the three zebra species and is distinguished by its narrow stripes that wrap around its body. We came across a small cluster of moms and their offspring.

IMG_7380

Even the plants are interesting. This succulent was near the entrance gate and the guard there told me to sniff its aroma – smelled like poop!  Guessing it needs flies for pollination.

DSC_0347

We saw many lions at Samburu too, though mostly they were just resting in the shade.

DSC_0290

Henry is forever interested in the birds. These are two different species of African vultures, a lappet-faced vulture (left) and a hooded vulture (right) hanging out together on slim pickings at an old kill.

DSC_0270

A wild member of the dog family, this rare sighting of a wild dog was taken just seconds after a pack of them tore a dik-dik apart. We think that might be a fetus in its mouth from what may have been a pregnant dik-dik.

Though the highlight for us when we travel up-country is the seeing animals in their natural habitat it’s also a chance to learn more about Kenyan culture and to witness the countryside.

IMG_5610

Typical shop buildings as we passed through small towns on our road-trip

IMG_5612

There aren’t huge billboards once you leave Nairobi but the buildings have sponsors. This one is sponsored by Safaricom, one of the largest internet companies in Kenya (and the one we use).

IMG_5615

A typical used clothing shop set up along the road in open-air markets near towns and villages

IMG_5617

Every once in a while you’ll see these roadside shops with meters and meters of tarp and canvas for sale and  a man with a foot-operated sewing machine who will custom build and design for you.

There’s so much I don’t know about Kenya yet. The divide between us and the locals seems to grow larger with each visit I take outside the school confines and the Nairobi suburb in which we live.

IMG_5601

Local hotel just an hour north of Nairobi.  And no, they don’t serve Starbucks coffee in Kenya.

At Elephant Bedroom we were offered  a chance to visit one of the neighboring Samburu Villages just outside the park entrance near Archer’s Gate.  We  jumped at the opportunity even though there was a nominal fee per person attached for this privilege that left me wondering where all that money goes; the money that we handed to the “village chief”.

IMG_7320

Parked under the only tree around that afforded shade just outside the village we visited.

The village had no buildings, a half dozen huts made of trash and branches, no running water, no toilets and no vegetable garden.  They had instead a fence made of dead doum palm leaves (they have spikes along their ridges) and a goat pen in the middle that was empty of goats but filled with goat droppings.

DSC_0409

This fence surrounding a nearby village was made of wire and doum palm branches which have thornes along their edges.

IMG_7325

Several men and women dressed up in traditional clothing for a short musical and dancing show to welcome us to their village.

DSC_0394

They festooned us with local jewelry; which I found to be quite uncomfortable though it was beautiful.

IMG_7339

The huts inside the village we visited were made from branches and trash. We were invited inside one of them and sat on cowhide rugs while being told how each wife has a hut that she shares with her children.

I handed out candy, which was well-received, and noticed brand-new pencils ground into the dirt within the confines of the village, obvious presents from past visitors like ourselves.  There was a school building about a 1km away for the children but we visited on Thursday and saw plenty of children playing within the village confines.  I kick myself for not asking to visit that school.  What was in that building?  Who is their teacher?  And what could they possibly be learning there if pencils aren’t needed?

IMG_7344

Demonstrating how arrows for their sword are forged. The ladies in the background had set up a small market of goods for purchase.

IMG_7341

Gwen negotiating for one of the beaded place mats and a set of beaded coasters.  Gwen noticed that though the women were doing the selling, it was only the men who handled the negotiations and the money.

 I want so much to find something meaningful to do during my time in Kenya beyond the aspects of my job at ISK.  I’ve heard through the grapevine that there is a lot already happening and that it would be best for me to tap into one of those organizations; but at the same time I am working full-time. I have faith though that the right opportunity will be found shortly.

We drove back to Nairobi in one day, stopping for lunch at Barney’s located at the Nanyuki airport and counted the speed-bumps door to door to break up the boredom.  And yes, there really were exactly 110 of them!

Whoosh!

Posted on

 

photo-39

Showing off our Kenyan pride

Being a teacher has a strange pulse, the years are not typical, they don’t ring in with large parties, Auld Lang Syne is not heard, there are no fireworks; but there is symbiosis, there is a rhythm to the year.  A friend recently posted a photograph of teachers from my very first school gathering for dinner and drinks.  I recognized many of the names and some of the faces.  I started this path in the summer of 1994; it was career change for me.  At 30 I had decided to go back to school and to change the trajectory of my life.  What a whirlwind that has been … all the way to now …. 21 years later I find myself beginning my second year at the International School of Kenya, full of knowledge, and wisdom, and still teaching with my eyes wide-open, still learning and growing and still loving every moment (well most of them anyway).

IMG_5258

Creating a classroom “buzz” with my ESOL students who are sorting new vocabulary words

There have been a number of bumps and bruises along the way, but I always manage to pick myself up, and learn from my mistakes and then move on.  I am always on a quest for professional development that advocates “best practices”, workshops and books and mentors, that fill in the gaps of my training and expertise.  I love what I do and I do it with passion.

Flip-Flop Summer

Posted on

It’s Saturday morning, the last day of our first full week with the students, and summer memories are beginning to fade away as the new school year takes shape; the weeks are literally zipping by again.  Vacation this year began in Florida with a week and a half in the glorious “Sunshine State”; a state filled with nostalgic childhood memories – white pavement, blue skies, humidity, delicious sunshine,  yummy garlic drenched seafood, swaying palm trees and mangroves, white sandy beaches, and clear blue water!  It’s where I spent my summers as a preteen and a teenager and also where I went to college for a while.

This summer was our fifth summer back to the states and the culture shock we experience with each trip back is becoming more noticeable.  It is as if everything American is on steroids!

We went out for burgers and fries for our first meal in the states, the food was literally served on plates the size of serving platters; Julie Mei’s wings were huge and the price was staggering as well, but it was delicious and we ate every drop!

IMG_4676

Stopped at this Walmart during our first full day and all three of us were amazed at the sheer size of the place; all filled with “stuff” to buy.

IMG_0774

My brother, Rebel, enjoys showing us his ever evolving back yard which grows thicker and more interesting each year. He’s explaining his new kiln that he made using #10 cans and bricks.

Next stop, Gig Harbor, Washington to visit my in-laws.  Joel and Meme own a beautiful home right on the sound.  Every year they have undertaken new projects and have completely transformed the place into an amazing home.  The weather was glorious the entire time which we were told was not typical for the month of June.  Though it was hard to get used to the sun setting after 9:00pm each evening, we did enjoy many long happy hour drinks sitting on the back patio and watching the boats in the harbor.  Henry’s mom lives nearby in an assisted living village as well so we managed a few visits with her as well.

IMG_7025

My in-laws have a beautiful home right on the sound in Gig Harbor – best room all summer!

We took a short road trip and got a chance to visit Portland, Oregon for the first time to meet up with our long-time friends, Eric and Wenona.  Eric and I were hiking friends from our Arizona days and it was really great to get together.  Julie Mei and Wenona bonded especially well and we had loads of fun and many laughs together; it was certainly one of the highlights of our summer.

Last morning with Eric and Wenona in Portland

Will need to road-trip down to Oregon more often to explore

Visited “Powell’s City of Books” where Julie Mei loaded up on summer reading (or at least a few weeks worth).

IMG_4750

Of course we had to take Julie Mei to the iconic Voodoo Doughnut shop while in Portland

We also spent a full-day with some Hong Kong friends who came down for a day from Vancouver.  Laura and her family spent a whole day with us in the area.  It’s hard to move to a new home and to start making friends all over again; it takes time and we were friends in Hong Kong for about four years.

IMG_4714

Julie Mei knows how to take the selfies!

We took the ferry from Bremerton over to Seattle for a one-day excursion to meet up with Michelle Segal and her family for a trip to the Aquarium and for dinner.  Michelle and I were also hiking buddies from our Arizona days!

IMG_4783

Henry and I with Michelle in “bubble-gum alley” in Seattle. We hadn’t seen Michelle since her wedding many, many years ago. Was fantastic to meet her children and to reconnect.

Our third stop of the summer took us to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware for two weeks.  This year marked our 17th year coming to the region!  Though my sister wants to stop coming, I love that we’ve turned this pilgrimage into a family tradition and can’t fathom a summer without a visit here.  I think that our time together is very important especially as Julie Mei is an only child and we’re older parents.  She is very close with her cousins and I hope that they’ll stay close for many years.

IMG_0792

Our niece, Nikki came for a weekend and enjoyed the big kid rides at Fun Land with Julie Mei.

IMG_4847

While Henry took his great-nephew, Gunnar, on the little kids rides. How fun is that?

IMG_4869

Julie Mei and I checked out the new bike path to Lewes one day. Every summer we rent bikes for the whole vacation and do all our food shopping and skipping about town on them – such great summer memories for all of us.

IMG_4890

Summer wouldn’t be complete without seeing mom relaxing with the Washington Post on the front patio of the rental house. Thanks for 17 years of Rehoboth Beach summers!

IMG_4913

The whole gang at “pizza-on-the-beach-for dinner” during our last night in Rehoboth.

IMG_4944

Julie Mei and I flew to Oakland, California for one night to visit with family and celebrate Shaya’s first birthday.

Summers in Phoenix, Arizona aren’t ideal (because of the heat) but home-sweet-home it is nonetheless.  It’s always great to be back in the city that we call “home”, where we still own a house, and have an extensive community of friends that go back a few decades.  It’s always such a whirl-wind of a time; each year we promise that we won’t repeat that again, but it can’t be helped either – there are just too many people to see.

IMG_5011

We did manage to get away for 2-nights in Sedona with good friends – so relaxing to spend time catching up with amazing views of red rock country.  Arizona is a beautiful state!

IMG_5050

Dinner at Flo’s Asian Kitchen with  more friends from our hiking days.  Dinner is never enough time but it will have to suffice until we move back to the southwest.

IMG_5053

Celebrating Gabe’s 17th birthday together. Julie Mei made this cake, entirely from scratch, including the decorations.

IMG_5070

The Platt family cousins gathered together for a ‘celebration of life’ for my Aunt Debbie; was so nice to see everyone again.

We saw so many others while visiting in Phoenix too; an evening with most of the ‘No Longer Waiting’ group was a highlight for us as well as seeing many of Henry’s friends.  One of Julie Mei’s friends from Kenya happened to be in town and I took the girls to Sunsplash for a day too, and she got a day with her friend Hannah at Wet and Wild.  Our weekend in Sedona with Diane and Maleah was fun, as was Tubing-Down-the-Salt-River with the Wyatt’s and the Ratcliff’s!

Our summers are also filled with shopping for things that are hard to find in Kenya; new clothes and shoes are always on the top of the list but I also brought back some spices and my favorite cast-iron pot, six suitcases in all and some carry-on too.

Our last stop before returning home was a stop in the Netherlands on our way back.  But the best part of that plan was we met up with my mom, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew.  Brenda found an amazing loft style apartment for us in Amsterdam near Centraal Station just above Cafe Kobalt that had a whole lot of steps but was spacious and light.

IMG_5142

It was super chilly on the this private boat trip but so nice to be on the canal’s in Amsterdam.

Had a fantastic time in Amsterdam with them and crammed so much touring and seeing and doing into such a short time that it felt like we were there much longer than six days. Cycling, walking, buses, trams, trains, Gay Pride parade madness, cheese tasting, museums and boat trips. Definitely need to go back and explore more of the country.

Every summer we over extend ourselves, live out of suitcases for weeks and weeks, and arrive back home thoroughly exhausted.  But we are already contemplating doing things a bit differently next year and thinking of trying to stay put for at least half the time.

Zoo Animals in the Wild: A Quick Reflection

Posted on

It’s hard not to reflect on my first year in Kenya. So many changes, so many revelations, and not really sure where or how to begin.

Where Hong Kong was a busy bustling, cement paved metropolitan city, Kenya is lush and green and colorful and moves at a slower pace.  Pole, pole!  Plants bloom here all year long; stick something in the ground and it grows!  Trample the grass at a gathering and the following week you’d never know.

IMG_4456

There are so many flowering plants here that something is blooming all the time making Kenya a very colorful country!

Another thing I love is that Kenyans laugh and smile so much.  Kenyans have a great sense of humor, love to dance and party!  My learning support colleagues are top-notch professionals who have been incredibly supportive and loads of fun to work with.

IMG_4661

Following the end-of-the-year assembly for all the teachers and staff; there was food, beer, wine and loads of dancing – African style!

The school has been amazing, through and through.  At the suggestion of a former  colleague I created a graphic organizer (Brain Frame) to show the differences between the two international schools that I’ve worked at; used A3 paper, and still didn’t have enough room for all the differences.

Some of those differences are architectural in nature while others are more administrative.  Where the school in Hong Kong is a built-up city school that has no real sports fields (beside roof top mini-fields with artificial turf) and limited teaching spaces for learning support teachers, the school here is spacious and large and covered with beautiful landscaping.

There are two huge sports playing fields, basketball courts (indoor and outdoor), tennis courts, a swimming pool, playgrounds with climbing equipment and swings, outdoor dining tables for students and teachers, and trees, trees, trees!  I’ve always been a nature girl and this place feels like home.

IMG_3688

During the school day the pool is fully booked with swim lessons, after-school there is swim team practice, then open-swim for us lap swimmers! During the school year different clubs, grades and teams can book swim parties. The school owns huge supply of fun water equipment for the parties such a inner tubes and noodles.

There are amazing sports program in all three schools, with enough students for intramural teams as well as local leagues and ISSEA (International Schools of Southern and Eastern Africa) tournaments. On Saturdays the school is alive and teeming with action, from games to watch, farmer’s markets to shop at and open-swim at the pool.  It truly feels like a community school.

Though both of these schools have similar views on learning support their administrative approaches are vastly different. I’ll have my own classroom next year, the first time in fifteen years!  As we packed up our classrooms last week in preparation for the move to the new ES building I finally have allowed myself to get excited.

IMG_4528

The elementary learning support teachers waiting for our hard-hats so that we can take a tour of the new elementary school buildings

I’ll still do a lot of push-in work but I will finally be allocated a space where students can come and visit, where they can post their work on bulletin boards, where I can plan dynamic and engaging lessons that don’t have to fit into a folder or zipper pouch (or win the approval of homeroom teachers), where I can give new strategies a go and where I can meet with parents on my turf instead of “rented space”.

This huge room is going to be my classroom next year! I don't think I'll know what to do with all of that space but the students can count on lots of movement breaks.

This huge room is going to be my classroom next year! I don’t think I’ll know what to do with all of that space but the students can count on lots of movement breaks.

The creative arts program is thriving here with music concerts from all three divisions, and plays in the middle and the high school, and art shows.  What hits me the most is not just how happy the students are here, but how happy the teachers and staff are too.  It has really been an enjoyable place to work.

IMG_4521

The entrance displays to the elementary school art exhibit that took place two weeks ago. Each student had several pieces on display!

IMG_4518

The steel panels surrounding the construction site for the new elementary school were subdivided and different clubs were allowed to paint their own murals.

My only regret this year is that we never made it to the coast.  The Kenyan coast is supposed to be beautiful and I cannot wait to explore some of its magic next year.

This year we visited several of the countries national parks, Nairobi National Park, Amboseli, Tsavo West, Hell’s Gate and Lake Nakuru (just last week) — as well as Lake Naivasha and Ol Pejeta Conservancy.  We’ve seen lions, cheetahs, water bucks, wildebeest, antelopes, impalas, water buffaloes, elephants, hyenas, jackets, an aardvark, porcupines, giraffes, ostriches, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, zebras, crocodiles and countless birds – that’s a lot of zoo animals we’ve seen in the wild!  But the absolute best part of seeing all these animals is seeing their babies and they all have them.

And though we’re excited to travel back to the states tonight to see family and friends, we will miss it here too, especially our two Kenyan born cats, Paka (Swahili for ‘cat’) and Duma (Swahili for ‘cheetah’) who have turned out to be the most darling cats ever (except for the one incontinent one that is driving us all batty).

IMG_6174

They started out as teeny-tiny kittens that needed to be spoon fed baby formula….mewing endlessly and climbing up our legs, panted or bare, whenever we were in the kitchen (ouch).

IMG_4640

Almost full-grown and looking just a bit sad that we’re all packed up and ready to leave them for holiday

 

Castle Forest Lodge near Mt. Kenya

Posted on

We were invited to join friends for the long Easter weekend to this lodge nestled at the base of Mt. Kenya.  Though I like my friends quite a bit, and really wanted to spend the time away from Nairobi, I was hesitant to join only because this is the exact same lodge that a teacher from ISK had been staying about five years prior when he tragically lost both his wife and daughter in an elephant attack.  But after many days of vacillating over it decided that it was a “freak” accident and not likely to reoccur during our visit.

IMG_4259

The roads are surprisingly well maintained whenever we have driven out of Nairobi — that is as long as we are not on the main thoroughfare from Mombasa to Nairobi (which is full of trucks transporting goods from the docks).

Our friends have only one child, also a daughter in 8th grade whom Julie Mei befriended on the school bus during our first month here when we still lived in Loresho.

IMG_4260

The entrance gate to Mt. Kenya Nat’l Park and to our lodge which lies within the par boundaries

After inviting them over for dinner we quickly found out that we had a lot in common, including that they’re both biologists and scuba divers (including their daughter).  Since then we’ve been to each others houses many times, hung out on campus at the girls’ games and met at restaurants for dinners.

Henry standing outside our cottage.

Henry standing outside our cottage.

Maya milking one of the cow's

Maya milking one of the cows

Julie Mei giggled her way through the entire process as would be expected of a teenager.

Julie Mei giggled her way through the entire process as would be expected of a teenager.

IMG_7159

Hanging out together on the porch of their cabin. Maya always has that red Massai blanket wrapped around her and Julie Mei always wears her HKA hoodie.

IMG_7129

The lodge owns just three horses available for riding – both girls went out with a guide twice and loved it!

Signage in the room warning us to hike only with a guide

Signage in the room warning us to hike only with a guide

While the adults went for a hike (with a guide).  These are pesky black flies that clung to our clothes but didn't sting.  Just gross!

So while the girls were horseback riding the adults went for a hike (with a guide). These are pesky black flies that clung to our clothes but didn’t sting. Just gross!

Hanging out as we're packing.

Hanging out in the hatchback as we were packing on our last day.

The restaurant food was delicious and the outdoor patio was very comfortable with great views of the valley below

The restaurant food was delicious and the outdoor patio was very comfortable with great views of the valley below

It was a fun, but wet weekend.  There are so many weekend opportunities here in Kenya and feel as if we’ve barely gotten started. We have one more long weekend before summer vacation and we’re going with them again but this time to a lodge near Lake Nakuru for two nights!  What a great way to end our first school year at ISK.

“Spoilt for Choice” Spring Break Fun!

Posted on
IMG_3669

Kenyan Pride is very strong

Last month we had our first overseas visitor come to see us in Nairobi.  My mom arrived late on the Friday night, one week before our spring break and stayed for two full weeks (and three weekends). Her vacation started and ended with a jam-packed itinerary that I’d prepared which included museum visits, safaris, restaurants, home cooked meals, school trip, market shopping and farm tours.  There is so much to do and see in Kenya that anyone who visits is spoilt for choice!

On her first day, by special request, we kept the agenda low-key.  We went to the “Save our Elephants” music festival at the UN fairgrounds and then relaxed at home with a home-cooked dinner on the back patio.  The weather here is amazing and we take advantage of being outdoors all the time.

IMG_3672

Large billboard at the “Save Our Elephants” music festival.  Just in case you miss this fact, that’s a pen at the end of the rifle.

Then on Sunday we woke up extra early for a sunrise safari through Nairobi National Park before meeting teacher friends inside the park for a catered bubbly brunch.

988479_1616634955232153_3599463045135564120_n

Julie Mei’s very first photograph with her brand-new camera

IMG_3684

White linen, china and champagne flutes while wild animals roam.

IMG_3702

While I worked during the week, my mom was able to visit several museums including the well-known Nairobi National Museum

IMG_3706

At the train museum you get to actually climb aboard some turn-of-the-century carriages

IMG_3725

Karen Blixen’s house is a museum run by the government — interesting bit of modern history

IMG_3853

Took a tour at the fair trade Kazuri bead factory where women and orphans are employed.

IMG_3829

Wet and dry (fired) beads which are made entirely by hand

IMG_3805

We also went to Ocean Soles, where flip flops rescued from Kenya’s shoreline, are recycled into colorful new and entirely fun objects — too bad they were so expensive!  Though I would have preferred the large size we did buy a medium Warthog for my collection

IMG_3810

A giraffe this size cost about $200

IMG_3893

Mom and I went to the very posh Irish Ball that was sponsored by the Irish Embassy and held downtown.

IMG_3901

On entry there was a nice variety of drinks — beer, whiskey and my favorite, Baileys and Whiskey over ice of which I may have one too many.

IMG_3894

Some of my colleagues from ISK who came to the Ball as well.

IMG_3907

On the table was all-you-could drink Baileys, Whiskey and red wine, but when we asked the waiter for more water, they charged us 400ksh per bottle. Only at an Irish Ball would we have to pay for water – go figure.

During my spring break from school we planned to visit Ol Pejeta Conservancy near Nanyuki, located north of Nairobi between Mt. Kenya and the Aberdares.  We rented a three-bedroom house inside the Conservancy called Pelican House and shared this with new friends: Jon, Josee and Mady Marshall.  We left early on Sunday morning where we devoured and enjoyed the gourmet brunch at the Mt. Kenya Safari Club.  Yummy!  Rather than an omelet bar they had a “chapatti” bar.  The Indian influence is very strong here.  And the weather is always so nice and crisp.  I have always loved dining outside too.  After the girls explored the living maze, we visited the William Sheldon Animal Orphanage.

IMG_3919

We took our time at the brunch taking a few hours to finish off several courses before paying.

IMG_3931

Mom standing right on the equator – one foot in the southern hemisphere and the other in the northern.  Personally I wasn’t too thrilled to see these huge elephant tusks still gracing the entrance to the lounge but they’ve been there for almost a century so guess they’re more iconic than anything.

IMG_3938

The lounge/bar area at the Mt. Kenya safari club has got to be the most beautiful one ever with magnificent views of Mt. Kenya

IMG_0273

Mt Kenya in the background on this gorgeous day on the Earth’s equator.

IMG_0350

After brunch we spent an hour or two at the Animal Orphanage, right next door, and saw many species of endangered animals. This one year old cheetah was rescued from being someone’s pet and is now a permanent fixture at the orphanage.  It was purring loudly when the girls petted it, Julie Mei has the video to prove it.

IMG_0407

A pair of pygmy hippopotamus’s were given as a gift to Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, from Liberia’s president, William Tolbert, in the early 60s and these two are the last remaining offspring. They are sadly now mostly extinct in Liberia.

We rented a 3-bedroom house, Pelican House, located inside Ol Pejeta Conversancy for four nights along with our friends the Marshall’s.  The house comes with a fully stocked kitchen, and two house helpers who cleaned our dishes, and set the tables!  There were two dining tables, one inside and one outside, a huge viewing deck out back, directly over the mostly dried-out watering hole (it was the dry season in the middle of a drought).  But we still had dozens of animals come every day to the salt-lick.  The most exciting thing was that on our first morning we found three sleeping rhinoceros right in front of our house – beside the electric fence that surrounds the house of course.

IMG_0488

The outdoor dining table was also a covered patio, ideal for bird watching and relaxing with a good book.

IMG_3981

Each bedroom had a queen sized bed and one or two single beds. The entire house sleeps 12 people but we were only 7.

IMG_4006

Part of the map of Ol Pejeta Conservancy. So many opportunities for wildlife viewing right at our doorstep.

IMG_3996

Outside of Pelican House looking towards the water hole.

DSC_0153

African buffalo with a few Ox-peckers on his back.

DSC_0035

Impala

IMG_3773

Giraffe

DSC_0155

Helmeted Guinea Fowl

DSC_0080

Typical safari scene with so many different animals together – just amazing!

DSC_0072

Crowned plover

IMG_4003

Sundowner (happy hour) on the back porch

IMG_3790

Just another “you’re on the equator” photo opportunity

IMG_4011

The donation box at the conservancy – a rhino sculpture!

IMG_4164

Once back in Nairobi we continued with day trips to fascinating places and for some shopping. This was my first visit to Kitengela Glass and this article sums it up perfectly, it certainly was weird yet wonderful.

IMG_4148

Sculpture on the grounds of Kitengela

IMG_3805

Last minute shopping at the Masai Market; an outdoor market that sells everything from jewelry, fabric, clothing, art work, souvenirs, wooden bowls and metal sculptures. I love going there and have bought so much fun stuff over the months.

This was a hard blog post to write because I really could have written a post about each place that we visited and included so many more photographs.  But it takes so much time to put these posts together and I wanted to capture the essence of my mom’s visit and  how much we were able to do in just two weeks.  I’m already collecting ideas for her visit next year — the Aberdares, Naivaisha, Samburu’s elephant camp, village and local school visits, and of course the beautiful Kenyan coast are all on the list!