Sunday, August 2, 2015

Back from Africa

Every day market in Lamu, Kenya

We have been back for a week now, and I'm still recovering from half a summer spent in Africa.  There was a lot to get used to and I have to admit some culture shock in seeing how the people on the other side of the world live.  I have never felt so fortunate to have running water, enough food, and a comfortable home.  We stayed just over 2 weeks in Ethiopia, and another 3 weeks in Kenya.  We visited some of the places that President Obama recently visited, so it wasn't unusual to be asked if we were part of the "advance team". Ha!  Well, not officially! He was so respected there that they were doing lots of street beautification projects.  We saw flowers being planted in the medians.  Ladies were repainting stripes on the curbs to make them look fresh.  People were hired to sweep the street with handmade brooms, even when they weren't paved!  Garbage bags of stuff were removed from the drainage ditches that run beside the streets.  They made such an effort and employed hundreds of people.  I was impressed.

I feel like I should be wearing a T-shirt that says, "I Survived Africa".  It wasn't a vacation to be sure, but more of an adventure.  I had stomach issues and diarrhea from day one.  I took a couple rounds of cipro antibiotics to help with that, but overall, every day food choices were a challenge. Because the water had stuff in it my body wasn't used to, anything washed in it would make me sick.  And then there was the soil which when mixed with animal feces, rainwater, garbage, etc. made my sandaled feet turn a nice brown color and the toes and heels cracked filling them with bacteria that had to be removed using an industrial strength lava rock and 2 hours of soapy water and scrubbing from a professional. I learned that mosquitoes do bite, everywhere you go, though with a good dose of bug repellent and a mosquito net over your bed, you may be a bit safer.  I found out that centipedes, though tiny, pack a mean punch.  In Kenya one was on a pool towel that I wrapped around my shoulders.  It crawled on my shoulder, left a toxin, walked around a bit before I detected it, and sent me screaming to the shower with an allergic reaction. I still have a pancake sized mark from it, and it took several days of benadryl and some essential oils before the itching and swelling stopped. Then there was the itching all over my head one night while I tried to sleep.  I had friends.  Head lice.  A kind Kenyan pharmacist recommended some nice smelling toxic shampoo that I had to keep on overnight tucked inside of a pretty polka dotted shower cap, but my long hair made it impossible to comb out all the eggs, so I had a second coming just a few days ago.  I went to a hairdresser here in Wisconsin who cut off most of my hair and recommended an electronic lice comb that zaps the buggers and gets rid of eggs, along with a tea tree oil shampoo and conditioner.  So far no one else has them, but what a lot of work.  Yep, a real adventure.
The aftermath of the centipede even weeks later
We did have some fun.  Though I admit to spending nearly the entire flight from Ethiopia to Kenya in tears because I was so homesick, my husband made promises to take me on a safari for a couple days and it was pretty amazing- sleeping in luxury tents while hippos "snorked" and ate grass just a few feet from us. We also saw a pretty Swahili town on the island of Lamu, in spite of the area being on the terrorist watch list due to El Shebab.  I've discovered a few things about the state department warnings: 1) They aren't always accurate 2) They destroy tourism 3) It makes the best destinations super cheap. We had a luxury resort nearly to ourselves, with the exception of 12 Chinese business people who were working on the nearby future port, and it cost us about as much as a US hotel stay and included meals and flights.  I also learned to ignore full page ads in glossy magazines like National Geographic about wonderful travel destinations and tours.  The costs they indicate are so outrageously overpriced that someone is making too much money.  By going to a local travel agent (and most hotels have a travel desk) you can find a last minute deal to anywhere in the country for a low price.  The agents also know the best hotels and can negotiate for better rooms, flights, meals, etc.  so that you end up getting a package deal that includes everything you thought you wanted plus more.
Our room at Majlis Resort near Lamu

People (of course) ask about the food.  It was generally pretty good when I wasn't feeling sick.  We couldn't eat fresh vegetables so I missed those immensely, but the teff injeera, that most people know of as huge pancakes, were pretty tasty.  They were served up with all kinds of beans, lentils, and cooked vegetables with spices.  I always asked for mild seasonings, which still kind of left my mouth on fire. We had a Somali cook at the home we stayed at in Ethiopia so she made sambusa, a triangular fried dough filled with meat,  nearly every day.  They were very tasty.  Most people we stayed with were observing Ramadan so meals were quite late and sometimes in the dark due to daily power outages in Ethiopia.  I was impressed that there was always a meal in spite of not usually having power when they were cooking.  They used a charcoal burner on the patio when necessary. We didn't have much chicken and I wondered why.  I found out when I accompanied the family on a meat market visit.  If you buy beef or lamb, it comes in a nice plastic bag.  If you want chicken, it comes LIVE so you have to kill it, pluck it and cook it.  Too much work for most people, and definitely not something I'd want to do. I never really got the hang of eating with my hands as most of the locals do, especially for hot stews. Seeing the kids eat spaghetti with their hands was interesting.  You just twist the long noodles around and around your wrist as you stuff it in your mouth.  I have so much yet to learn.
A sampling of Ramadan dinners

injeera with toppings

You just need long arms to eat spaghetti

Over the next few weeks I'll share photos and stories about the places we went and the people we met.  There was a hot air balloon ride, a tea farm tour, safari, some beautiful UNESCO world heritage sites, as well as every day shopping and life. I hope you will enjoy reading about my adventures in Africa!

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