Monthly Archives: July 2014

Observations Pt 1

It’s kinda hot down here..95, 93, 90 Fahrenheit most of the time..that is 35,33,32 degrees celsius for us from British-standards-of-education. I looked up the formula for converting F to C and found this. You subtract 32 then divide by 1.8..Daamn. Feels like going back to Maths class. Anywho it doesn’t feel as hot as Kakuma in Kenya or Nd’jamena in Chad or New York during summer..Those are my SI units for how hot it feels.

What have i observed so far in America..sorry Houston. America is big. You can go for lunch in pajamas. Yesterday i saw a mother and daughter in pajamas at Chili’s..wait for it..at 1300hrs. how now?? They were ahead of us as we waited to be sat at the restaurant. Random stuff i tell you.

In the apartment (we call them flats, except in Kile and Kilimani) complex I’m in I have seen no less that 7 dogs being walked at all times of the day. They are all on a leash however small. In Nairobi you don’t see much of that except in middle and upmarket burbs. I haven’t seen them poop on their walks. Will keep an eye to see what their owners do in such instances..:)

 

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They had tablets on all all tables at the restaurant yesterday..Not I-pad but some tablets that you could re-order drinks on, play games and pay your tab (including a tip slide meter for percentages)..interesting stuff. Kids have to be taken care of that’s why they have the game apps in those things..No swings or jumping castles we have in Kenya.

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The tablet ‘Ziosk”

Oh and the tablet could split the check (bill in Kenyanese). Another word i have to get familiar with. It’s a big deal. Splitting checks (going dutch) is normal. It is expected unless stated otherwise. I have to carry my own money even if someone asks to take me out for a meal or drink unless explicitly stated “I’m buying you lunch” or something..learning as I go along.

And as soon as you are done having your meal they bring the bill chap chap..like pay and get out of there.. I asked why they seemed to be chasing peeps away and I was told the waiters’ portion of their salaries comes from tips. The more you sit there Java-style (Kenya coffee cafe) the less money the waiters will make from potential new customers who see the restaurant full because of you are just chilling there..

My PIN from the government is here, so life should be picking up soon. I can finally do the driving exam, apply for jobs, open a bank account..So far so good, no crazy culture shock yet..

It’s complicated

I’m just chilling, like I’m on holiday..actually I am on vacation until further notice. Whenever further notice will end I have no idea. I can’t do much here for now. I don’t have the documents to function in this country. It’s complicated I tell you. I don’t know when the government will send that crucial document/s my way. This PIN kinda document is so important in this place that without it, I can’t do jerk..and am not doing jerk by the way.

Where do i start..mobile phone SIM card. Normally I walk into a Safaricom (My country’s mobile provider) shop and walk out with a functioning phone fully loaded with data, airtime..you name it. It’s taken me nearly a week to get a SIM card in America. You may ask why. Again it’s complicated. I can’t just walk into AT$T shop and walk out with a line as a foreigner..Actually i can get a pre-paid line but it’s expensive and not as easy as it sounds to get. So last week my host and I went to T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon to compare the cost of different “plans”. A plan is kind of a monthly contract where you get a certain number of minutes, text, data and pay for it at the end of the month. We were looking at family plans meaning more than one line for a household.

We settled on T-Mobile’s family plan. It costs $50 for the 1st line and $30 for the second line..I know, right..complications nazo. So my pal has 3GB of data and I have 1GB of data for 30 days in addition to unlimited calls and texts..wait for it..within America. To text abroad or call abroad, it’s another story. Haven’t figured that out. I was asked to chose an area code..hmm..remember that Ludacris ‘Area code’ song..yea, It came rushing back. I choose an area code ‘832’ and I was included in my friends’ plan. I couldn’t do it on my own because I don’t have a credit history..that’s a story for another day. I finally got a line but it felt like getting a loan from a Kenyan bank. Such a hussle i tell you.

I’ve been driving in Kenya but I have to do a written test here. I just finished going through a 90 page Texas Driver’s handbook. I’ll then do a written test after which i’ll get a learner’s permit which i have to use when driving accompanied by a Texas licensed driver at all times for a couple of months before I can do a practical driving test then and only then after I pass can i be issued with a Texas driving license..woosa woosa 🙂

Anywho internet is fast and I’m catching up on all those TV series I’d lost track of..Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy et al on Netflix. good stuff.

Taking it all in my stride people..I now have to do all the stuff my friends did when they moved here permanently and not be a tourist as I’ve done on my previous US visits.

Vacation is on..gotta watch my weight though..these foods..

The journey into +1..

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Coming in to land at Heathrow

I arrived safely in America. It was a long journey broken into two. I transited through Heathrow Airport on British Airways. 8 and a half hours from Nairobi into London, 4 hours transit time and then 9 and a half hours to Houston Texas. I got to spend time with a woman i really like before i left Nairobi and that helped with the nerves on both legs of the journey. I hope to see her soon 🙂  (This moving life sucks).. I slept most of the time on both legs of the journey.

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Nice view of a B747 as we get parked at our gate..

London Heathrow is a crazy airport to transit through especially when you have a short transit period. Luckily I didn’t have to change terminals. My flights into and out of terminal 5 were without drama.

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The madness that is Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London

 

Arrived in Houston on time. Went through immigration after a 45 minute wait..THEN. waited for 3 hours to be processed by CBP (Customs and Border Protection) officers. It was madness to say the least. Just sitting there in a room with others guys from around the world. Mainly South Americans, Chinese and Middle Eastern peeps waiting to process their student, internship and residency permits. They had only 2 officers processing over 50 people. Lessons in patience were handed out freely by those CBP officers. No phones were allowed in that office. Some Mexicans’ phone was confiscated for ignoring the “No phones allowed” warning. Had fingerprints taken at some point the old school Kenyan CID way with black ink on a board. I landed at 1430hrs and left the airport at 1830hrs. My host had waited and waited. Luckily for me my Safaricom (Kenyan line) was roaming with T-Mobile and I was able to communicate and inform my host of my predicament. It would have been much worse not knowing what was going on.

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View of Terminal 5

George Bush International Airport (IAH) is a massive airport serving as the main hub for United Airlines. After my long wait, i found bags at the British Airways carousel..They’d been sitting there for hours and i was worried I might not find them, but they are efficient..Exit carousel and I’d forgotten the Exit control procedure..there were at least a thousand people waiting to clear with customs..more madness. Luckily they were fast in in 15 minutes i was out. My host was patiently waiting for me all this time.

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My ride from Heathrow to Houston..B747-400

 

It’s been a while since i was in America and they traffic and freeways are something else. We went to seafood restaurant and what do you know. Had to wait for 35 minutes to be get a table. Welcome to America Guriix. Food came fast but shock on me as i ordered a rum and coke. I was met with a ” Can I see some ID?” I nearly laughed but the waiter was serious. Had to show my passport to prove I’m of legal age to partake of an alcoholic beverage. It’s not the first time I’m showing my passport as proof of age in America but this was so soon after arrival.

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Great view of take-offs from the boarding gate..

 

I have lots of adjustments to make as I adjust to this life..My body wants to sleep as it’s used to but unfortunately it’s 8 hours time difference with Nairobi, so I’m awake at weird hours of the night. Same with air conditioning everywhere..airport, restaurants, house, in the car..It will take a bit to adjust but… So far so good..I Miss you..yes.wewe..you know yourself.

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Checking out Houston..

 

 

 

4,3,2,1….Wheels up

My flight is later on today, It hasn’t hit me yet that i’m making a major life decision. Uprooting myself from the familiar to the unfamiliar. I thought it would be kinda easy but as I’m finding out it is quite the opposite.

I’m currently running around like a headless chicken, I’m glad i didn’t sell the car. I don’t know how I would have made it these last few days. I’ve been getting a maximum of 4 hours everyday for the last week. Tough I tell you.

Finally the day is here and I’m still on the beat, haven’t finished packing. Not that i have that much to pack anyway but I’m sure it’s going to come close to the 46Kgs that I’m allowed on British Airways. I’m carrying most of my cycling accessories. Helmet, Shoes, Cleats & Pedals, Cycling kit etc. That stuff cost me a minimum of USD 300 so there is no need to start all over again when i land on the other side.

I’m from Kenya and I have to carry some shopping for my peeps on the other side. You might be asking what might that be. It’s basically spices, tea, coffee and traditional medicine..Not really, just some over the counter medication that they can’t find in America.

My flight is late at night so i have lots of time between now and then but with Nairobi mad traffic i might as well be there early just to avoid last minute rushing.

Anxiety is killing me more than anything else.

I have charged most of my gadgets so as to comply with the new British and American airport rules that were introduced recently. If you can’t switch on any of those, you are leaving them at security in the airport.

And finally joke of this month..The Kenyan Government issued a travel advisory against Heathrow Airport advising Kenyans to avoid that airport as they have received intelligence from American officials that it might be targetted by terrorists. I had already booked my flight before this on BA and it’s not like i was going to change it after the advisory 🙂

That’s it from +254..signing out till i get to +1.

 

 

Last day of work in Kenya..

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Nairobi National Park

Today is my last day at my current job. It’s been a great experience and I will cherish the memories I’m taking away with me. I joined when i was a young man and leave as a middle aged man. It’s been great. I love being in the outdoors and i traveled in job just as I’d imagined.

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City of Nairobi in the background as viewed from inside the national park..20 minutes from the city center

I have seen at least 10 of my former colleagues move to the states under this program and never did i imagine that one day it’d be me. Finally it has come to pass. I’ll see what the other ‘greener’ pastures hold for me. I’ve bid my colleagues farewell and I’m ready but anxious about what the next stage holds. I’ll be off to see my parents, siblings, a few of the extended family on the weekend and be back in time for my flight. It’s not an easy time but it has to be done. Suddenly there isn’t enough time to meet all my friends. It’s going to be very tight.

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Inside the only park located close to a capital city

The Diversity Visa program ended on a sour note this week. Not all ‘selectees’ made the cut. The cut off numbers were much lower that the number of applicants chosen. This means that thousands will not get an interview slot with a consular officer at an American Embassy abroad..Sucks. I was in the 40k range and they made the cut at 81k. The chosen applicants’ case numbers extended above 110k. This means they exhausted the visas available before all ‘selectees’ were interviewed.

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Sunset at the Nairobi National Park

From the forums that i follow, many people were excited by previous years’ experiences which indicated everyone selected would be interviewed. It was quite a shocker to many that this year turned out different. Such is life. It’s never fair. Hopefully next time.

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View of the city from inside the park

 

Goodbyes suck..

My heart is heavy with sadness. I’ve started the farewell thee well process. Bidding farewell to colleagues, family, friends. It’s always been my weakness, saying goodbye to loved ones. I’m glad I’m not dating because that would have been painful parting ways.

I prefer low key meetings with all the above named, no big party-type thing. That’s too much attention on me and I can’t take it. So i got back on saturday, went out with my close friends. Got smashed and had a great time. Woke up with a hangover. Went out to the Nairobi national park just outside of the city for a friend’s birthday. Did a game drive and just took it all in one last time. I’ll miss the Kenya outdoors. It’s been great..gamedrives, off road car competitions, rallying, camping and just road trips around the country.

This week promises more of that. Going out, having a last drink with friends until i see them when i’ll be visiting in the near future. Most of my colleagues are out in the field, it pains me that i wont be able to see them before i fly out. I’ve sent each of them a farewell email. What else to do?

I’ll travel out of town to see my folks one more time before i check out. I care about them so much and they’ll be my motivation to make trips back as much as i can afford. So help me God.

I’m sad, anxious and happy at the same time. I can’t sleep well and I’m an emotional mess. It’s going to be a long couple of months to come..

Addis Ababa..Last trip

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Kenya Airways B787-800 Dreamliner at Jomo Kenya International Airport

Today is my last day here in Addis Ababa, I love Addis because normally i shop till i drop. I’ve bought 80% of my shoes in this town, they have good affordable/cheap leather..but i didn’t shop at all on this trip. Why? because what I’m I going to do with more shoes..I gave away over 10 pairs before i came here because i won’t have space to take all of them with me when i move next in 2 weeks time.

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Jomo Kenyatta International Airport..East and Central Africa’s connection hub

Addis has a lively night life. But i didn’t go out this time round. I was here a fortnight ago and checked out the nightlife for a bit. This time round i was too sleepy by the time the 2nd World Cup game ended and boy they’ve been on for like 3 weeks. I’m glad i got to reduce the sleep deficit the last two nights. Today I’m watching the quarter finals in my room reflecting on how it’s all been the last couple of years.

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Isn’t that Dreamliner just stunning..hope i fly it one day

Living out of a suitcase has been fun, traveling to remote places i would never dream of going by myself. My work took me to all these place and am forever grateful. The women in this town are easy on the eye too. Too many of my Kenyan brothers can’t wait to come and check out this place. Unfortunately I don’t feel the same. I stillprefer our Kenyan sisters..My bad.

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Kenya Airways B777-200ER..

Ethiopian Airlines is another reason that you’ll most likely find yourself in this town if you are going to random Central and West African countries. It’s a beast of an airline that is government owned so they can afford to go where our dear Kenya Airways won’t venture.

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The tip of Mt. Kenya as visible from the Nairobi-Addis flight

The headquarters of African Union also means that to get visas to some African countries you have to transit here and cool your heels for a couple of days as they process the visa. Getting a visa on arrival doesn’t apply to those countries in case you are wondering.

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The Ethiopian Airlines B737-800 near empty flight..I sometimes wonder how these airlines make money

The Kenyan Embassy in Addis throws down some mean parties by the way, on our(taxpayers) account by the way. I’ve attended two on consecutive Jamhuri days (Independence day) which happens to be on December 12 and they were quite something. At least i can say i enjoyed the fruits of my labor. Pun intended. You can also drop by the embassy any saturday and have some nyama choma (unfortunately not on the embassy entertainment budget). You pay for it on a first-come-first-served basis. You just show your national ID at the gate and you are in.

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Addis is quite advance infrastructure wise with by-passes and a light rail project on-going

I’ll be back some day but until then..Adios Addis I’ll miss the good times I’ve had here till we meet again.

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Addis Ababa view from my hotel view..notice the poor planning

 

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The light rail under construction in Addis Picture courtesy: http://www.dillemma-x.com