Wednesday, September 30, 2009


It is difficult to get on the internet in rural Kenya. We knew this would be true, but the fact that it is not impossible makes the difficulty more irritating.

SUNDAY: Hey Aunt Debbie, back home in the U.S. Can we get on the internet? Yes, there is a satellite modem thing kicking around. Can we have it? Yes, ask Rukia; it should be in your house. Hey Rukia, where in the house is the modem? It is not in the house. Lawrence has it; ask him.

MONDAY: Hey Lawrence, do you have the modem? Yes, it is at my house, I will bring it tomorrow. Great. So we will be able to use it with our computer? No, you will have to use the computer in the computer lab. [The "computer lab" is one of the only rooms on the school grounds that has electricity. It contains ten computers, only two of which seem to work, though I hope to change that.] The modem won't work with our computer? No, you will have to buy a new modem, because to prevent theft, each modem is keyed to work with only one computer. Very smart, I admit. Can we get a modem in the local town? Wah ha hah! No. You will have to go to Nairobi for that.

TUESDAY: Here is the modem. In order to make it work, you will have to put money on its SIM card, just like the phone. Oh and how do we do that? You walk to town and buy little cards in small denominations and punch a little code into your phone. Okay, so that's for the phone, but what about the modem? I do not know. Ask them in town.

WEDNESDAY: Jacky, at the store in town that sells minutes, can I put 2,500 KSH worth of minutes on my modem's SIM? Yes but the largest denomination I have is 100. And I only have 14 of those so after that you will have to key in 50s.

I will spare you more complainy details because -- if you are reading this -- it seems like the modem is working! I can't stay mad at you, Kenyan internet!

Watch this space for updates unrelated to technological obstacles.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Baby Wipes

Here is what 90% of people who have been to Africa will say when you tell them you are going to Africa: "baby wipes." They will look very serious when they say this. People who have not been to Africa will ask you if you got all your shots. But seasoned travelers to the dark continent will look at you as if your fly is undone and say "baby wipes" until you nod knowingly.

All of these people know that Bridget and I do not have a baby. So why do we need baby wipes? I refuse to demonstrate my ignorance by asking. But I have some theories:
  • In Africa, you are expected to wipe off other people's babies.
  • Holding a baby wipe in each hand while waving your arms is an internationally-recognized distress signal.
  • Storing fruit in baby wipes keeps it fresh when you have no refrigerator.
  • Baby wipes are accepted as local currency in certain regions.
  • You can make a delicious emergency crêpe by filling a baby wipe with hand sanitizer and malaria pills.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Getting ready

Packing stuff for a trip is like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle by imagining where all the pieces go before you start moving any of them -- trying to picture what I might want to wear six months from now to teach a writing class in Isinya or to work in the garden of the Zendo or to walk around Pokhara. Will I be hot? Cold? How modest or formal should I be? What can I imagine washing in a sink, or wearing 20 days out of 30, or wearing to a Hindu temple or on the beaches in Malindi? Packing is the manifestation of my desires to control the future, which is still unknowable and beyond my influence. I want to be able to pack everything into these two suitcases- the security of my home, my friends and family, my favorite foods, fellowship and recovery, sanity, safety, comfort. But this is not how it works.

My grandfather used to say "take less stuff and more money", but one also has the feeling that it might be difficult to obtain what we want in the isolation of Isinya -- unless we are looking for kangas or pangas or school uniforms.

If I step back to look at what we are actually about to do, it all feels a bit abstract and overwhelming but also incredibly exciting. I have had the experience before of tossing myself into the waves, diving headlong into an experience and hoping for the best, but now it is the two of us standing on the high dive, staring down into that abyss that seems unfathomably far and dim, holding hands, starting the countdown -- ten, nine, eight....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pre-travel introduction

Though our big travels haven't really begun, Bridget and I got married 4 days ago in Adirondack State Park in upstate NY, after having driven there from Newburyport, MA and Brooklyn, NY, respectively. We drove to and honeymooned briefly in Mystic, CT. To get back to Brooklyn, I did my first real long-distance drive operating a standard transmission, which Bridget basically tricked me into by going limp, civil-disobedience-style, whenever I suggested she drive. It was tough love, like tossing your infant into the pool to trigger his ancient, ancestral memory from when we were water apes. I made it the whole way stalling only once, surviving a trafficky Kosciusko bridge and a parallel parking job.

Tomorrow we are supposed to drive 7 hours to Lake Winnipesaukee, NH. We travel a lot.