Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Diani Beach, African South Coast


When you think of a beach vacation or all inclusive resort, the South Coast of Africa is probably not the first place that pops into your mind! However, upon arriving in Mombassa and driving down to Diani Beach it was quickly apparent that the whole area was an incredible spot. The Pinewood Beach Resort and Spa was the perfect spot to wind down after nearly 4 weeks on the go. Our meals were fabulous, the beach was incredible and the people wonderful. We ate fresh mangos and protected our breakfast from sneaky monkeys. They knocked on our windows and stole our orange slices and toast. How can you get mad at those adorable creatures? 

You want white sand, clear blue water and snorkeling? This is the spot and it was HOT! (for us anyway!) We rested, rejuvenated and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. Contrary to many hotels and all inclusive resorts, this one included a full three bedroom apartment with a huge private deck and living space. Using this and a regular room, all 9 of us were perfectly comfortable! 




























The Encounter Mara experience


The word ‘safari’ in English and even defined in an English dictionary is used as “any long or adventurous journey or expedition.” and often specifically for hunting or exploring animals (the dictionary even singles out Eastern African exploration). However, the actual Swahili word “safari” is defined more broadly as a good time, usually involving a trip. So, a good time we had!!!

At 6am we were picked up by a passenger van that took us about 6 hours east to the Savannah and Masai land. Along the way we passed through the Rift Valley with incredible views and then through the flat plains. As we travelled we passed through small villages, spotted a few exciting animals and many herds of sheep, goats and cattle. A few random wildebeest passed by. 

Around noon we entered a Masai village where we transferred into two safari vans (we were 9 people). Our two guides, Moses and Patrick who would travel with us for all three days, drove us deep into Masai land. It wasn’t even our first game drive and we were already spotting zebras, gazelles and a giraffe or two. 

We stopped in the middle of the plains where our guides set up a picnic table and laid out lunch; curry chicken wraps, oranges, juice boxes and banana bread. From there we carried on until we reached our camp around 2:30. It was wonderfully warm and we had an hour or so of free time to have our orientation and get to know our surroundings. 

The Encounter Mara camp is set in a beautiful location with a view of a frequented (but currently dry) watering hole. The camp is run by local Masai and is completely non permanent and as ecologically friendly as possible. It does not take long to realize how much thought and care has been put into disturbing as little of the natural environment as they can. The tents are kind of what you picture from M*A*S*H*, sturdy and steel framed. They have running water for the sinks and toilet and a bucket shower they fill with hot water after your evening game drive. They are also conveniently set up with an emergency whistle... eek!

At 3:30 afternoon tea was served and at 4 we met our guides again for our first game drive. The drives are a funny thing. On one hand you’re in this open sided jeep, getting bounced and jostled around which you wouldn’t think would be relaxing. But I found on the other hand, you’re sitting back taking in the sights and sounds and smells, and nothing could be more relaxing. Our sightings started with zebras, gazelles, giraffes, monkeys, owls and then finished with LIONS. True actual, real life LIONS. Freakin’ awesome. Males, females, cubs, all of it. 

Around 6:30pm we pulled over once more in the middle of the savannah and had the ‘sundowner’ - my new favourite thing. They set out a table of snacks and poured the drinks we had pre ordered at afternoon tea. We stood there wrapped in the Masai blankets given out a little earlier when it cooled off and watched the sun drop, just as you would imagine...

When we arrived back at camp it was dark and chilly - odd after a scorching day - and we went back to the tent to freshen up before dinner. Because it was dark, we now needed Masai guards to escort us around the camp. They have spears... and have used them... In our tents there were bottles of fresh drinking water, a warm thermos of water for face washing and the shower bucket was full. It was enough for a few minutes each and felt fabulous. 


We were led to our dinner which was incredible; first course of soup, main dish of meat and salad and a delicious dessert, and coffee and tea are always available. By this time you’re dead tired!!!! We were led back to our tents where hot water bottles were tucked into our sheets. Such a delight!!! 

You crawl in and collapse and it’s so dark it completely matters not whether your eyes are closed.

This first night I awoke at some point, maybe 3:30am-ish. I lay there for awhile and listened to the quiet and then heard... elephants. Trumpeting elephants... like actual elephants... (I asked the next day to confirm and yes, they had been wandering past quite closely.)

The night before we let our guard know what time we wanted to be woken up. Breakfast is at 6 so around 5:45 we heard a shout out that it was time to get up! It feels cold and it’s so crazy dark...

We were escorted to breakfast which is small, a cookie and some fruit and by 6:30 we were back in our open sided trucks and heading out for the morning game drive watching the sunrise. We were wrapped in our blankets again and enjoying the sites. Today was filled with more of the beautiful and insanely unique animals you would imagine to be there. Not only are you seeing them, but you’re taking in the sounds of the birds, the actual crunch under the feet of giraffes and vultures pulling apart the body of an elephant, killed two weeks earlier in an elephant fight. 

We were back by 10:30 to enjoy a massive brunch with a mixture of delicious breakfast and lunch foods depending on what you feel like! You then have free time until 2:30 when it’s high tea time again! There is a common tent for games and reading, multiple sitting areas around the camp and of course your own porch and chairs overlooking the watering hole. 

On our last day we turned our morning game drive into our trip to the airport stretching it instead until about 1pm! This time we left the Mara Conservation where we were lucky enough to be the only trucks around, which really helped the feeling of the lack of commercialization. The second we crossed into the national park there were trucks everywhere. 

This day we were treated to one of the world’s phenomenon - the wildebeest migration. Twice a year an estimated million wildebeest travel in and out of Tanzania in search of food and water. If you catch them at the right time you will see massive herds cross rivers one way or the other and sometimes back and forth a few times!!!! We sat for hours watching these crazy animals and their ridiculous patterns. They’re not the smartest in the world... the funniest thing was that it was often a zebra or two that would lead them across! Once they got the drift, a group would run across the river bleating and barking and jumping on each other and slipping and falling. Then one would get spooked and I kid you not - they would all run back to the side they started on!!! This would happen multiple times... they spooked so easily, even if a thousand were right THERE nearly across. It was quite humorous. 

We slowly but surely made our way to the airport, passing another beautiful female lion and about a million more wildebeest. We said goodbye to the incredible savannah with a few last lessons in Masai counting from Moses and Patrick. 

As I finally edit and get ready to post this blog 3 months later, I am awed at how frequently the discussions of this experience come up. Mattea’s memories of the animals and related facts is quite phenomenal and I only hope that with enough discussion and reviewing of pictures she’ll never forget. The rest of us still refer to this as the highlight of the trip. If anyone can ever consider this trip for themselves, I cannot recommend the Encounter Mara experience. 

































Friday, August 23, 2013

Leaving Nairobi


The day before we left on safari we met a man at our going away BBQ named Tony. Tony and his wife are the kind of people that within about 2 minutes you feel the hole of what could have been, why hadn’t we met earlier? What a rip off. 

Tony is a pastor and it doesn’t take long to get an idea of why his services would fill with churchgoers eager to hear his stories. Tony tells everything from happenings at the grocery store to deeply spiritual ones with passion, clarity and connection. Funny enough, we had met his son a few times over the past couple of weeks on campus and he struck me as a shockingly articulate and knowledgable 12 year old... it didn’t take long to see where it came from!

When I mentioned that we were heading out on safari Tony’s reaction wasn’t what I was expecting... there was a part of me that thought maybe local Kenyans thought it a bit silly that vacationers would pay to drive around and stare at their local game! Tony launched into an emotional description of how he himself had gone on safari and though he kept trying to describe the experience to me, he would fall short of words and then say, “It’s just phenomenal”. He said there were moments where you were out on the savannah watching these animals and you want the whole world to see what you’re seeing, that everyone who hasn’t is missing out... but at the same time you want to back away quietly and hope that no one would ever go and disturb them again. Then he launched into a story about his car and a rhino...

 If I hadn’t been before, I was deadly excited now!!!!

I’ve been putting off writing about the safari, because where do I even start? And every time I start thinking about it I get emotional. It was so much to take in, even though it was such a simple journey. You sit in a truck and watch, that’s it, but you’re changed forever. In a word - it was phenomenal. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

London on a time budget (ps I'm behind in posting)

Leave Nairobi and take overnight flight.

Arrive London 12:30pm

At hotel by 3

Nap 3:30-4:30

Out the door by 5:30. Meet Justine on the bank of the Thames. Eat delicious street vendor Mexican, visit and people watch by the water. 

7:30 catch subway to Stratford

8:00 arrive at the Yahoo Wireless festival

9-11pm watch Justin Timberlake kick it big band style

1am crawl into bed

9am wake up

10:30am foot propelled site seeing for 8 hours

9:30 soak dirty and possibly swollen feet. Time for bed

Tomorrow - we take Scotland. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Happy Life Children's Home


On Thursday Riley, Mattea and I went next door to the Happy Life Children's Home to help feed lunch to all the babies. You know this isn't going to be an easy nor fun experience but they're so desperate for the help we wanted to go. There's no question it was difficult, but there's also a reality that sinks in that you just cannot take home 70 babies. So you do your best. 

The conditions of the home were clean, but shockingly run down. They have next to nothing as far as furniture or toys and what they did have was just, well, to me unacceptable. We got there about half an hour before feeding time so we were led into a room into which the toddlers would come when the production of toileting them all was over. It was a room with two ripped up couches, an old china cabinet that was empty and a small fuzzy TV in the corner playing American Christian programming. 

There were two older kids in there playing, but they paid us no attention whatsoever. I spoke to them a bit but they didn't seem interested in us at all. When the 20 toddlers entered the room we had instant friends; on our laps, touching us, looking at us. The caretaker came in the room and instructed (in Swahili) for the children to sit on the carpet. They listened immediately and waited patiently - so did we! What was happening?? She came back with a big tray of Mandazis (a local favourite snack) and each child had 2 or 3 if they wanted. They then waited patiently again until lunch time. When she left the room, they were told to sit on the carpet. They were so cute, you could squeeze them all. 

I know that a friend brought the concern to my attention of people coming and going in an orphanage and what that does to their attachment. Unfortunately, it seems as if there are just so many babies that the alternative is the kids just don't get any attention or have to wait forever to get fed. So this 'children's home' will take in anyone willing to come for feedings/changings or for internships. One man was there from Minnesota (though was local) and he was there for a 2 month internship. 

Soon the caretaker came back and brought all the kids and us into the dining room where the children sat on the floor (no chairs or tables) and mostly fed themselves their lunch of rice, beans and bananas. Riley and I helped feed two who couldn't quite do it. When they were finished we headed upstairs to the baby areas. The building seemed to be like an apartment building where all the rooms were divided up and full of cribs or change tables or laundry facilities. There were also guest rooms and staff rooms. 

In the crib rooms we were given a bowl of the same type of meal and just started on one side of the room and worked our way around. There were two other women in my room helping and the same in Riley's. 

Mattea worked her way around the room keeping babies happy who were not so patiently waiting their meals. These babies were in the 5-8 month type category. They could sit in the Bumbo (there were 3) to eat but usually didn't have teeth or flopped around a bit. They ate a shocking amount of food and then went back to their cribs to lie around by themselves. My room had about 10 cribs. Once they were done eating the ladies came and worked their way back through the room changing diapers. 

Not to pick favourites but I must say we fell in love with two particular babies… if only the process was easier. The orphanage has both adoption and sponsorship programs. Here in Kenya you must stay 6 months before being able to take the baby back home. If you were interested, the location where we're staying next door would be ideal, especially for a family. 

I want to look into the sponsorship program they have, because meeting the babies face to face makes it very real. I love our World Vision babies, but it's much different. Maybe I could sponsor and Mom could look in on them.  Though I don't know what happens if they get adopted. 

Most of the orphans are boys, unlike some other countries where girls are left behind. Apparently girls go to the families they marry and boys get the inheritance. Adult males don't want to share an inheritance with adopted siblings so families opt for females.  

One baby was so tiny. They said she was 2 weeks old but there's no way she was full term. Heart breaking. What are her chances if she can't get the 24-7 care she needs? I will have to go back to check on her.

However, in general the babies looked healthy and loved. A couple of babies, in my not so professional opinion, had disabilities, but in general they were growing, responding babies. I was impressed with how much they got to eat, plain as it was, and I got the sense they were truly cared for - to the capacity available anyway. It was the conditions of the house that broke my heart. 

A visit to Windsor


Today (Sunday) we visited the Windsor Golf and Country Club. What a beautiful spot! If you're looking for a vacation, check it out. It is a hotel but they also have lovely two bedroom cottages that back the golf course. There is a trail all around the property with marked paths varying from 1-5km lengths for walking or running and a lot of it is through beautiful forest - with monkeys!!!! In fact, there would be monkeys in the back yards of the cottages. It's quite lovely. 

Windsor has a really nice outdoor pool with high end food service poolside. So, needless to say we felt quite indulgent today!

Mattea swam the whole time and got on well with another little 5 year old in the pool. She has no lack of ability to meet and play with kids! Such a great age for that; before the awkwardness sets in!

We always aim to be back on campus by about 6 or 6:30 as once it gets dark you don't really want to be out in the city. We had eaten lunch so late so dinner was around 7:30 and was with a neighbour. As mom made dinner she also passed a portion on to some other neighbours coming home late from a busy day - such a wonderful community feel!!


We've been without access to the internet today so I'm writing this in the hopes of posting it later. You sure take for granted the ease with which we access communication back home. If I am able to get online and post you can assume it was with much difficulty. Often you'll be in the middle of something and the internet will cut out and you'll have to start all over. Sometimes it's 5 minutes, sometimes a few hours. We're used to grabbing a phone or hopping online anytime we fancy some information or to contact someone. Hopefully we don't forget once we're home how lucky we are, or maybe we'll be slightly less dependant. 

Also, we haven't heard from the guys. Mom's friend tried calling the local phone we sent with them but it said it was unavailable. Maybe the connection has been lost, maybe it's dead and they haven't been able to use it. Today should have been the day they hit the summit at sunrise and it would have been so nice to know if they did and if they're safe and not sick! Ah well, we keep telling ourselves that if something bad had happened we definitely would have heard about that! Though of course… we can't check our email!

The Grocery Store


Yesterday was a quiet day around here, other than a trip into town for some groceries. We laid low and played around here. Mattea is so happy doing that - she's made great friends here and any chance they get they're out playing together. I hope she's able to keep in touch with a few of them. These days of lots of play time are the ones she'll have memories of, more so than some of the other things we've done. 

I went out with Mom and Anne for a quick jump into the grocery store. This of course wasn't the North American version of 'quick' as it involved a 30 minute side trip to a bank, another 20 minutes at a gas station and then a jaunt through a furniture store. After this we decided to split up, so I was put in charge of the grocery store while Mom and Anne went to a different shop. Armed with my list I grabbed a cart and started finding the things I need. I definitely stood out like a sore, colourless thumb. I only had to ask for a few things and learned from a lovely young man who works in the produce area that before leaving the produce area they weigh all the little bags and put price stickers on them. Small differences!! But he could tell I wouldn't do it right because I hadn't used bags for a few of my produce items. Now I know!

Price wise, a lot of the groceries are similar to home, though you have to do a quick Kenya Shilling - CAD. A few things were quite a bit cheaper, especially to NL where things like milk and eggs are on the pricy side. 

Milk only seems to come in 3% 3.5% or whole and eggs sit on the shelf all day, not in the fridge. There are even some brands of milk that come in little plastic packs that sit on a shelf. So many varieties of fruit juice!!! The fruit is lovely and mangos and avocados are HUGE ( like avocados the size of gourds).

As an aside: the green grocery called "Zucchini" fresh squeezes juice every day, and makes a delicious juice out of pineapple and mint… mmm…  1 litre is $1. So good. They also make a 'tree tomato' juice which doesn't taste like tomato at all.

I had a totally successful grocery shop and other than accidentally going into the express aisle and being kindly corrected I don't think I made a fool of myself. 

Beads, Elephants and Trinkets - oh my!


Mom's friend took us on a tour of Nairobi Friday. We left in the morning for the east end of town where we first stopped at the Kazuri bead 'factory'. This factory was started over 30 years ago as a way to help women, mostly single mothers, earn a living for their families in an ethical way. Still going strong, the factory employs about 400 women who work 8 hour days for a fixed salary. The beads (and also some pottery) are shaped, fired and painted individually and by hand. They're sold as necklaces, bracelets, earrings, hangings (made on site) and other knick knacks all over the world; in Canada at 10,000 Villages and in England at Harrod's where of course they fetch a pretty penny. 

The clay is from the foothills of Mt Kenya, the firing is a process that can take days, also done on site. 

From Kazuri (which means "small & beautiful" in Swahili) we went to the Elephant Orphanage. Unfortunately we got a bit lost on the way there and only caught the last bit of the daily 'show'. This orphanage experience was slightly different than the Happy Life Children's Home we visited a few days ago… But it's a good program and the elephants are of course adorable. While taking pictures we got a nice background of a family of impalas (I think) that happened to be passing behind the pen. 

From the elephant orphanage, we headed for lunch at a Nairobi Java House which had a lovely menu. 

We finished the day with a trip back to the Village Market which holds a Masaai Market every Friday. This of course was quite the (overwhelming) experience. I prefer to shop without people yelling at me but we did get some beautiful pieces to bring home!

I made dinner this time and Mom and Mattea left by 7:30 so Riley and I, totally pooped, curled up with movies and magazines. Because the sunset here is pretty early (around 6:15 all year) if you don't make use of the morning hours, it's quite a short day. We always seem to be so tired at night so not much gets done once dinner is finished. I'd definitely have to find a way to be a little more productive if I was living here. As a night owl, I would have to learn to be a little more wise about my morning hours - or at least be more productive at night!!! Though the campus is safe at night, it's crazy dark and everyone just seems to be in. Tomorrow evening we're going to try to have some company in after dinner - hopefully we can stay awake!

Wednesday


On Wednesday Mom hired Edwin, one of her regular drivers, to take us to the Village Market. The VM is a combination market and mall with a water slide park and mini golf. It's kind of a bit of everything and designed with very interested features and is partially inside and partially out! We found a few great shops there and had a delicious lunch in the food court (how many times can I eat biryiani on this trip?) 

On the drive to the VM Edwin explained about the neighbourhoods and what was going in the areas. Apparently the VM is located in an area whose property values have quadrupled in the recent couple of years. After a US embassy bombing and other attacks, numerous embassies moved into the area and the result is high, high security. With the decrease in crime there naturally became an increase in demand for property. It also has a highly nutritious and bright red soil, so throughout the area you'll find huge corn fields side by side with large homes in gated communities. Edwin also pointed out that nearly everyone in the area carries a weapon for protection so even if you did try to pull off something ''untoward', you simply wouldn't make it back out. 

The area is also the home neighbourhood of the newly elected president and it's his mission to clean it up. 

There is security at the entrance to all buildings that perform a bag search and sometimes a wand run over, one thing we're definitely not used to - along with mall security carrying rifles. So far, though I know Nairobi has a bad reputation, we haven't felt unsafe. We don't go out after dark and the area around the university is safe and developing. As you get used to the throngs of people around, walking, working, standing and visiting, it all becomes a little less daunting. People are SO friendly, calling out "Karibu Kenya" (welcome!)
a lot. They have big smiles for you and the children. There are a lot of inquisitive looks as this area doesn't have much of a 'white' population. 

The funniest thing happened Friday while we were driving. The windows were open and the "matatu" next to us had it's windows open. One of the kids on my side was looking at me and tugging on his mom's shirt and looking at me some more. I smiled and waved and he yelled something out in Swahili. Anne, the woman driving us around, translated that to mean "what is it?!" LOL. Apparently it can also be translated as a greeting so who knows what he meant. But funny nonetheless because it happens quite a bit. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Compare and Contrast - Part One: Compare


Wednesday mom invited a woman over for tea who lives on campus. She's a former student who now lives here with her four children and her husband who is the director of the counselling program. It fascinated me throughout the conversation how the concerns of women and mothers changes not, no matter the number of continental lines you've crossed. Education, discipline, am I home enough? Do I need to do something different? Do I need help? I live far from family. Did I make a wrong decision with this? Am I doing right by that? 

The specific conversation revolving around her decision to homeschool her 4 daughters (ages 13, 11 and twins 7) was especially interesting. Another older woman who joined us, a campus lifer, was so concerned for the well being of the girls, their socialization and the strain it put on their mother. It was a conversation I've heard in Canada countless times. But all of the mother's concerns; help for her slower daughter, the long commute to the school that shared her values, the time she wanted to spend with them, the curriculum she wanted them to learn, all were exactly the same concerns mothers back home have that send them down the homeschooling road. But the older woman again was concerned; will they still be able to get into university?! 

There are so many things on this journey so far that have stood out to me as things, concerns and ideas that have no political boundary. Here's my list:

  • Temper Tantrums: *sigh* they happen to all kids, all over the world 
  • Dishpan hands. Turns out every country has dish soap that claims to provide sparkling dishes and be soft hands while hard on grease
  • Working against the violence against women
  • Massages. I had a massage this morning that would have rivalled any massage therapist in Canada. I've also had one in Mexico and the entire process is almost identical. Kenya was my first massage ever that massaged my stomach. Once I got used to it, it was okay - though when she was finished I was hungry and really had to pee…
  • The need/desire to gather over a warm cup of just about anything. Barton would argue it's an industry geared towards addiction. I would argue it's geared towards the closeness and comfort it brings to sit with a friend with a warm cup in your hands. The caffeine content matters not. Cafes and patisseries all over the world provide this for you, often surrounded by cozy book shelves or trendy art work or local antiques. Here it is just as common and comforting to gather in the living room mid afternoon for a cup of tea with whomever is available. Especially on these "cold Kenyan winter days" :)
  •  Sports and games. It brings people together. From the acknowledging nod when you pass someone wearing your team's hat to the friendly ribbing at someone supporting your rival, sports break the ice and somehow make you more comfortable making conversation with a stranger. Nothing has brought out the kids on this campus and broken the ice and cultural divides like the frisbee, lacrosse sticks and bubble wands that we brought here did. It was magical!! Our first day here Nikolai marched down a Kenyan street vendor alley proudly wearing an Arsenal jersey… only to discover it would seem Kenyans are Chelsea fans! He experienced the cheers, friendly taunts and shouts of "Karibo Kenya!" (welcome to Kenya!) and a whole lot of unexpected attention. It was quite hummurous and it would seem as though the young men quite enjoyed it. It freaked him out a little, but was pretty funny. 
  • Pastry. Why is it so good - anywhere you go??
  • American Music. You can't escape Fun or Pink
  • News reporters - they sound the same everywhere
  • Teachers strike 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Conversations with TJ - Part One (because I'm pretty sure there will be lots of these)

There are two brothers here on the campus, sons of the Chaplain. TJ is almost 13 and his brother is 9. The reason I call him TJ's brother is because I got him to spell his name which he pronounced completely differently and now I have forgotten both. I will have to find out a way to get his name again without sounding like the village idiot because I can't remember. I'm trying to get them all straight but there's a couple I'm struggling with. Regardless, they're all stealing little pieces of my heart.

TJ and his brother are very inquisitive and very knowledgeable. The only thing that would make reading snipits of our conversations better would be if you could hear their beautiful accents. I have learned that it is assumed Kenyans speak three languages. They speak Swahili, their own mother tongue and then they do all of their education in English, which is usually impeccable with a beautiful vocabulary.

So, here is my first instalment of conversations with TJ:


TJ - So you live in Canada?
ME - Yup
TJ - Do you live in a gated estate?
ME- Erm… no…
TJ - Why not?
ME - Well, we don't have much crime, so we don't need a gate.
TJ - So there are no robbers?
ME - Well there are some, but it's pretty safe. Sometimes I leave my door unlocked.
TJ - Whoa. 
ME - Do you feel unsafe when you go out?
TJ - Well, not really but there are places I don't go. If you have to go there you wear shoes you've been wearing for 5 years. If you wear new shoes you will never see them again. If you ride your new bike there it will be the first and last time you see it.

---

TJ - Where do your children go to school?
ME - It's a day school close to our house
TJ - What is it called?
ME - Holy Trinity. They go to school in French
TJ - Why french?
ME - Because canada has two official languages, so we thought it would be good if they spoke french
TJ - Well, I'd hate that. I hate French
ME - Ooookay. How come?
TJ - I hate all languages except English
ME - But don't you speak three languages?
TJ - Yes…

---
Yesterday:
TJ's brother - What country do you come from?
ME - Canada
TJ's brother - In which state?
ME  - They're provinces. Newfoundland. It's an island off the east coast of Canada
TJ's brother - So it snows every day?
ME - No - It's summer there now so it's getting nice and warm. But in winter it feels like the inside of your fridge (the only way I can explain the temps in canada because it's FREEZING for them at 14* and they just can't imagine)
TJ's brother - Have you been to the states?
ME -  Yes
TJ's brother - Which ones?
ME - List of states including California
TJ's brother - Hollywood?
ME - Yes
TJ's brother - Disneyland?
ME - Yup
ME - Are you learning about the states?
TJ's brother - No, but I have been there 
ME - Why?
TJ's brother - Holidays.

of course…

---

TJ - To which countries have you been?
ME - List of countries including UAE
TJ - I love Dubai. I love the water park
ME - Me too! that was fun!
TJ - Did you go to the desert safari?
ME - No, we didn't have time. I really wanted to!
TJ - Did you go to the tallest tower that looks like a cross?
ME - Yes
TJ - What is it now? It was a hotel when I was there
ME - Yes, still a hotel. Plus apartments and offices
TJ - It's very expensive there. $100,000 a night (not quite)
ME - Yes, we didn't stay there
TJ - That's enough to buy a house for my wife
ME - It sure would
TJ - And 4 cows…

mischevious grin

---

TJ - Have you seen <insert show name here> it's animation
ME - No I haven't
TJ - Your daughter is named after one of the characters
ME - Riley?
TJ - Yes. They're very racist. They hate white people
ME - Well, I probably wouldn't like it then!
TJ - Yes, when they see white people they call them bad names
TJ - It's rated R
ME - You probably shouldn't watch it then
TJ - Yeah, they say a lot of bad words

Well Africa - we're here!!!

I just can't believe we're here!!!  But the birds, the trees and the curious stares confirm it!!!

We landed safely in Nairobi on Sunday night around 8pm. Such a contrast from the glitz and glam of the Dubai airport. We were picked up by Mom and Dad and the driver they hired to bring us home in a large passenger van and the first thing we did was get to the wrong side of the van... oh yeah! Right hand drive! We'll have to remember that when crossing the street! The moon was nearly full so our drive in was bright. We were brought up to our new home for the next two weeks and had the chance to visit with Mom and Dad for a bit. It was so nice not to arrive dead tired and off by a half day in time change - the decision to make stops along the way was a good one. Nairobi is an hour back from Dubai and considering we probably weren't quite changed to Dubai it worked out well and the flight was only 4.5 hours in the afternoon. Easy peasy.

Mattea was anxious to spend the night at Grampa and Gramma's so we said good night to her there. We slept pretty well in our three bedroom, two bathroom apartment (lucky much?!) and awoke to roosters!!! We dragged our butts out of bed around 9.

Because the boys were already planning their trip to Kili, they spend some of the morning making their travel piles and going over what they needed. I wandered the campus taking some pics and getting lost. I received many curious stares...

Mom's neighbour has a nephew, Dennis, who is visiting on a break from Grade 12 and he joined us for lunch. He loves football (we're talking real football now, not american football!) so the boys were ready to go play. We were unable to find a ball so while Dad and Barton ran to the store we pulled out one of the frisbees we brought. The kids and Dennis hit the field to play for a bit and while I was watching I noticed three adorable little kids watching from a yard across the way. Every few minutes they inched forward a bit but just lay on their stomachs watching. One of them disappeared for a few minutes and came back with an old scratched CD and started trying to throw it like a frisbee. I gestured her to come over and she ran over with a big smile and I tried to show her how to throw it.  She is 2 year old Angel. The two boys stayed back though, they weren't quite as interested. When the guys showed up with the football and basketball Mattea came over and started playing with the real frisbee and then the boys ran over to join in. Soon there were 5 of them playing with her.

While the guys practised football and tried to learn some fancy moves, a man named Samuel came over to see what was going on. He's a first year student here and was on his way to chapel. After chatting with me for awhile, voicing his concern about the hardness of the frisbee and teaching me some swahili he couldn't resist the fun going on in front of him. He joined in on the football and was probably late for chapel. By the time we were called in for lunch (which is eaten later here, around 1:30) there were numerous kids out in the field having lots of fun together - the ice was broken and Mattea had friends for good. They now come looking for her and all she wants when we come in is to go find them. It reminds me of Riley at UBC.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Wild Wadi Waterpark and more

We were told we HAD to visit WWW when we were in Dubai. Knowing it would be hot, this seemed like a great idea and looked like a ton of fun!! Reading ahead of time that Dubai was consistently hitting 45* during the day I had no idea if we'd last very long here. It seems it didn't really feel as hot as it sounds even in regular situations, but being in the water was awesome. We actually spent nearly 8 hours here! It was a blast!!

In addition to the water slides and tube rides there was a "fish massage" which Riley and I decided to give a try! It was so hilarious, bizarre and a little disgusting... video to come... you sit on a bench and drop your fit and lower legs into a clear tank with fish about 3 times the size of a minnow. They rush your feet and legs and commence devouring the dead skin off of you... yes... your dead skin... It did work, we had soft supple skin after the 20 minutes - but it would only work if you can stand it! :) Apparently in Turkey there are rivers full of these fish and you can just fully submerge yourself to enjoy the benefits... I might pass on that.

After our full day of water fun we walked down the streets to the Souks (markets) which didn't necessarily turn out the way I pictured. We were also too tired and hungry to think about shopping and bartering so we just got dinner and then a cab back. But not before enjoying some ice cream and Starbucks which happened to be beside the restaurant...

It never failed to shock us when we stepped outside. The air conditioning is usually on bust and then it's dark so you kind of just assume it'll be cold. 35* at 10:30pm is not cold. :)

In the morning we packed our stuff and some family went swimming and some went for one last rush of the Mall of the Emirates. Our hotel was conveniently right next door... :)

In another flurry of activity we found ourselves back at the massive Dubai airport awaiting our last flight!!!! It was so hard to believe we were finally heading into Africa. Our flight this time was equally as pleasurable on the 777 and had us in Nairobi, Kenya in less than 4.5 hours.




Some notes on staying in Dubai:

Dubai was a lovely cultural experience, even though it was very rushed. The people are fabulous and love families and children. Many people reached out to touch fair and nearly-blonde Mattea. Where in Iceland the kid's first impression of people was stern until you talked to them, in Dubai people seemed open and friendly right away. I don't know why but it stood out to me that I noticed parents carrying tiny babies instead of pushing strollers. I also noticed that friends of the same sex were very physically attached often holding hands, linking arms and touching while talking. At first when I noticed I thought it was a brazen male couple (seeing as same sex relationships are illegal) because in North America it wouldn't stand out as much for female friends to grab hands or link arms. But then I started noticing it more and more. I realized it was a cultural ability to be physical close without being 'weirded out' - how wonderful - I have since learned it is the same in Kenya.

It is a very modest culture, so most people are dressed to not show knees and shoulders and for the malls it is recommended as a dress code. It is very comfortable and refreshing. Even though in a place like WWW or the beach you can wear what you want, I could probably have counted on two hands the number of bikinis I saw. Even those who were not fully covered had capris and long shirts on. WWW holds a Lady's Night on Thursdays nights where they close early and have female only staff and don't allow men or cameras. I imagine the glitz and glam comes out then!

We kept this in mind when heading out for the day and we didn't feel nearly as hot as I thought in capris and shrugs. But it felt good to know we were respecting the local tradition. The first time we hit the mall I forgot my little cardigan and I had seen a few people out in tank tops and sundresses so I thought it would be okay. I'm sure it was, but those that weren't covered that way did stick out. After skiing I took Riley's cardigan and her shoulders were covered anyway. It didn't seem like you needed to be super strict, but it just felt better putting that thought into it.

I also learned that my ignorance had me believing that all burqas were the same simple black. So not true. From fabrics to embroidery to colourful touches and variations in quality, I was surprised to be surprised to see that personal expression was just as evident in these cloaks as any other outfit. Eye makeup was also often heavy and colourful - even in the water!

Woman who chose not to be fully cloaked but wore a hijab or head scarf chose very colourful and often elaborate fabrics or those perfectly matched to their outfits. Contrary to the popular North American idea that less is more - it clearly is not. While our culture often sees it as oppressive and forced, after some research and this short first hand experience, I quickly saw that it is a very powerful choice and would be freeing in many ways.

You should try Dubai

Our less-than-three day stay in Dubai was like a Cole's Notes version. We definitely needed one more day as I didn't get my feet in the Persian Gulf or sandy beach. I really wanted to do a desert safari and we didn't visit the Palm Island or the gold or fabric souks. Maybe that's two days...

We forced ourselves to wake up around 10:30 to try to make our free breakfast! 5.5 hours of sleep and a 4 hour time change was a little rough. We decided the best way to try to wake ourselves up was to first hit the roof top pool before doing anything else. Turns out this was a great idea and has become the theme of the trip. It was already about 35* and the pool was excellent. A light breeze at the top kept us comfortable and the heat was very enjoyable.

First things first - let's go skiing!!! So we swam outside in Iceland and we're skiing inside in the desert. Funny! Ski Dubai is located inside the Mall of the Emirates, a *largeish* mall in Dubai. To be confused with the Dubai Mall, the other *largeish* mall down the road. Inclusive in your 2 hour ski pass is your full ski suit and equipment rentals, we had brought our own gloves. The best way to describe skiing inside is that it felt like an ice rink. That same feeling of artificial cold air and man made snow. It continued to refresh us and get the blood pumping through our jet lagged bodies. We all had fun and even saw some penguins!

The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest manmade structure, allows tourists to get to the 124th floor to get a view from the top. You book your times ahead of time and are allowed to purchase your tickets online up to 30 days in advance. I did that, taking the risk of choosing a time not knowing what we'd be doing that day. All the write ups online and even the BK website says to pick your times carefully because the line (from when you check in with your ticket) to actually getting to the top can be about 1.5 hours. Along the waiting corridors they have information and pictures about the construction of the building to pass your time. Learning this I booked 5:30pm in the hopes we'd hit the top for the approx 7:15pm sunset. We finished up our skiing just before 5 and booted it over to the tower. By the time we'd figured out the sky train route and paid for it we were at the tower at 5:55. Thankfully they still let us up which I'm guessing was 5 minutes away from not happening! The sign said all the times were sold out until about 8pm so I was also thankful I had bought those tickets ahead of time! However, for some reason we sailed right up the corridor and were at the elevator gates minutes later. The view from the top is quite spectacular though the smog was pretty bad - I'm guessing that's a usual site. We did get to see the 6:30 fountain display from above and took lots of pics of the surrounding city.

We ate dinner in the Dubai Mall (at the foot of the BK) and slowly made our way back to the hotel checking out shops along the way.

We slept pretty well and planned to hit the Wild Wadi Waterpark the next morning.



Out of Iceland and into Dubai


Once again we woke up to sun and warm weather in Akureyri. I've been watching for a few weeks and it seems to be consistently warmer up here than in Reykjavik which seems very odd. We needed to check out by 11 so we just went downtown to sight see. 

We ate our picnic in a parking lot with a view of a massive cruise ship that has somehow entered the tiny harbour. 

After lunch we dropped Barton and Nikolai off at the local airport for their quick flight to Grimsey Island (see previous post) where they got to cross the Arctic Circle. We spent a couple of hours checking out different neighbourhoods and enjoying a snack at a book store/coffee shop. 

We had a long layover there, about 5 hours, but just getting from one terminal to the other and through customs and security etc took a good long time. I was happy I hadn't taken the risk in booking the flight to Dubai with only a 2.5 hour layover! They have a great family lounge with a play area and game room - excellent way to spend the time. 

We picked them up at 3:30 and headed back down to Reykjavik, this time taking the island highway down the west coast. If you had more time, you could stop frequently to have a quick dip in a thermal bath as there are signs all along the highway letting you know where they are.Just before Reykjavik you enter a 6km tunnel to save yourself a 45 minute drive around. We couldn't hold our breath the whole time...

Getting up the next morning was a bit rough as we tried to get out the door by 5:30. We were once again on Icelandair for the easy flight of 2.5 hours into Heathrow. It was pretty darn exciting to be there for the first time!! Riley was excited to get a shot of Buckingham Palace from the air! 

This flight stretch is the longest of our summer journey. The ticket said it would be 7 hours, but the passenger announcement said it would be 6:20, which is always a fun surprise! 

This was also the most exciting because we got to fly the Emirates Airbus 380 - the largest passenger plane in the world. It's a double decker and rumour has it that the first class suites have couches and showers... Though we wouldn't know (and never will). It was pretty awesome though. We were row 65 and not even close to the back. The attendants were so friendly (one was from Vancouver??) and the service was amazing. First off, at your seat you have a pillow, blanket and a new headset. Before take off they bring you a towel (cold on the first flight, hot on the second) and a menu for the flight's meal and let me tell you - it's no rubber chicken. Then they come by to all the kids and they get a fun pack. The first leg it was a lunch kit type with a Dr Seuss mini book, deck of cards, Quicksilver game cards and some snacks and a sleeping eye mask (with winkie eyes drawn on). The second time (out of Dubai on the 777) it was a cross shoulder pack with a different Dr Seuss book, more snacks, another mask and a Quicksilver travel journal. Once you're flying you get your first drink service and a snack. Partway in they bring the meal and a drink service with compliment bar drink. Before landing its another drink and snack. On the 777 she came by with a Polaroid camera, took our family pic (missing 2) and put in on a certificate for flying. Even though the second one was only 4:20 we got three drinks and a meal and all those other extras. 

I'm actually serious. 

Anywho... It didn't feel too terribly long and because we left in the afternoon and jumped ahead 4 hours we only felt like it was about 11 pm when we landed. We definitely felt tired but the movie options were endless so we were all occupied!!! 

We were safely in Dubai and on our third continent of the week!

As of about a week before we left home, Canadians no longer need visas to enter Dubai for up to 30 days. So we were stamped and through customs no problem. 

We picked up our luggage and stepped out into serious and glorious HEAT. We found a cab big enough for us all and were on our way. 

Unfortunately with a 3 am arrival it was necessary to book a hotel from the night before because where else would we go??? We arrived at the hotel around 4 getting a tiny glimpse of the city as we drove through. They had two rooms pretty close to each other for us so the big kids went in one and us with Mattea in the other. We crashed like no one has crashed before. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Visit to the Arctic Circle - guest blogger Nikolai Thiessen

On the 19th Barton and Nikolai went the Arctic Circle. Here is Nikolai's description of the trip.

Dad and I went to the Arctic Circle on a little plane with 10 other people. When we landed we walked on a path to  the sign telling us that we had crossed the arctic circle. While we were walking on the path, local birds were dive bombing us. They looked like pigeons. 

We also saw horses and were allowed to pet them. There were puffins sitting on the rocks overhanging the water. 

We walked back and the ground service lady gave us a ride around Grimsey and we learned that there were 13 kids in the school on the island all in one classroom. There were 10 girls and 3 boys. Another 4 boys are in preschool. 

On Grimsey they call codfish baccalao and the trees grow to only 3' tall. 

Grimsey has a swimming pool, a school, a b&b, camping, houses and a population of 60 in the winter and 100 in the summer. It is 5 km across. 

When we left there were 3 other people on the plane counting the pilot and co-pilot because some people spent the night. We were given certificates saying we had been there. The co-pilot said fasten your seatbelt, turn off your mobile, your life jacket's under your seat and you know where the exits are. 

End of story.