We’re pretty into pets in our family.  I hate to admit it, but we’ve had a lot over the years.  I also realize that we aren’t the best “long-term” pet keepers.  Some might even say we’re fickle in our pet tastes.  We’ve had: cats, dogs, rats, sheep, chickens and fish.

This week we became the proud owners of two skinny pigs.

That’s guinea pigs to the rest of the world.

Marnix is a friend we’ve made here.  He’s a wonderful Dutch man who started his own children’s home here:  Macheo Children’s Home http://macheo.org/blog.php.  They do some great things there for the children of Kenya.   He’s also our source for guinea pigs.  Apparently he was gifted with some for the kids a while back, and now has a colony? herd? tribe of almost 50.  Yes, they breed like rabbits.

Anyhow, after making the guinea pigs a cage,


We went over the next evening to make the selections.  We chose 2 females (no need for 50 guinea pigs here at Karibu unless we’re finding a way to market them as meat) and the kids cuddled them in the car and when we arrived home.


Lucy keeps choosing “Toby” as the name for her hamster (guinea pig), but that was the name of our Boston, so hers is still nameless.

Eli with "Hampstie"

Eli with "Hampstie"


The kids are doing pretty well with their new pets.  We had to have a couple of lessons on how to pick up pets.  The scoop technique rather than the claw in the ribs technique.  Eli’s doing pretty well with it, although his petting looks a bit much like slapping.  We’ll get there.  Can’t be worse than the Kenyan boy at Macheo Children’s Centre dropping Lucy’s guinea pig from waist high onto the cement.  We’re praying that her skinny pig isn’t delayed as a result.

a little skinny pig time

a little skinny pig time

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I’m a bit behind in interesting posts. It seems that we have to search a little harder these days to find novel and interesting things to tell you about….and then things will just hit us and we’ll have some good material.

Ian and I decided to brave our way to Nairobi during the day this past week. This is risky simply because we are bound by the drop off and pick up times of the kids’ school day. We can leave for Nairobi just as we let the kids off at 8am, and have to be back by noon to get them. We figure an hour driving each way without traffic, which leaves us almost 2 hours for any errands we want to get done. Well, last week, as we were still sitting in traffic on Thika Road into Nairobi, we watched as various vendors walked by our car trying to hawk items to us. One man had a bundle of sticks. “Oh look, kindling” one of us exclaimed.


Esther, who was sitting in the back seat of the car having taken us up on an offer for a jaunt into town, started to guffaw. Not a polite laugh. I said, “What that’s not what they are?” She exclaimed, “No, those are chewing sticks”. Ahh, Ian and I both thought she must be referring to some kind of special tree that released a stimulant or some other drug upon chewing. Wrong again. Esther proceeded to explain that these sticks were used in place of toothbrushes in more rural areas of Kenya (like Western Kenya) and Africa. I think Ian and I both left that conversation thinking, “Huh, interesting.”


Fast forward to this week when I took Esther with me to help me talk to some local nurserymen about some plants I wanted to buy for my Shamba (garden). While browsing around at the plants, choosing an avocado tree, and then being done, the seller must have sensed that we were about to be out of his selling grasp. He questioned Esther and correctly guessed the tribe and area of Kenya that she originates from. With that he said, “Oh, I have something for you!” And what do you know, he popped up with those darn sticks to which Esther replied, “No, these are much too small!” Which caused him to run off in a hunt for a better stick which he brought. Esther grabbed that one too. I turned to her and said, “Is he giving them to you? Are you keeping them?” Which produced a “Duh” look from Esther and the verbal reply of “Of course I’m keeping them!” I haven’t seen her so pleased in days. Who knew a stick could produce so much pleasure! She repeated over and over on the way to the car how the sticks were familiar, and pleasing, and something she was used to.

Here is some excerped stick information I found on the web in a published article by Yoseph Negusse Araya:

“Miswak (chewing sticks)  were in use from as early as some 7000 years ago by the Babylonians; and later on throughout the Greek, Roman and Islamic empires. It is also believed to be the precursor to the modern day toothbrush and was used in Europe about 300 years ago (Lewis and Lewis, 1977).Today, miswak is being used in Africa, South America, Asia, the Middle East including Saudi Arabia, and throughout the Islamic countries (e.g. Yarde and Robinson, 1996; Hattab, 1997, Darout et al., 2005).


In terms of oral health, the major advantages of miswak over that of western toothbrush are that it is cost effective for users, especially for those in developing countries. This is because firstly, the miswak can be used for longer time duration – several weeks at a time. It usually is replaced when it gets too dry or rather more likely when lost. Another merit, unlike its common English name “toothbrush stick”, it is actually combined toothbrush and tooth paste. This further cuts down the cost, e.g. 75 ml tooth paste costs about US $ 2 in Asmara, several fold of the price of miswak (US $ 0.10). Another advantage is the ready availability of miswak in towns or villages. In addition, as it is dry and small size, it is easily carried around, hence enabling the user to prompt use after every meal or when killing time.

Despite these benefits, I think we’ll hold on to our rotating head Bob the Builder and Dora toothbrushes for a while…but I’d be happy to send some Miswak your way!

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On our new BBQ that is.   Mmm.   We purchased our first steaks while living here in Africa, and decided that they simply had to be grilled out (that’s the Stoughton term for Barbequing).

Only problem is: we don’t have a BBQ.

Ian’s never been one to let that slow him down. We’ve taken stock of the ones available at the supermarket, and really, just couldn’t handle paying what they were asking…just for a little round metal one that you put charcoal in.

So when we got home, Ian set to building himself a BBQ. We have plenty of rock here, so with that and a little baling wire, he had one built in no time:

that's the stone BBQ next to the outside cabinet for our stove's propane tank.

The boys grilling out on Father's Day

The boys grilling out on Father's Day

We can’t wait to have our dinner:  steaks, grilled zucchini and carrots and rice!   Yum.  This beats Nyoma Choma any day.

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I knew it. I knew that there had to be some knitting needles somewhere in this town. Today I found them, in the Moi Market in Thika.  Try googling that, I wonder if it will come up?  Who knew?  They were in a completely logical place…..an entire road (or aisle as they are called still) of sewing related shops etc.  Course the sizes on the needles are way wrong.  I tried to explain that the larger the number, the larger the needle was supposed to be, but perhaps these were reject needles from China or somewhere?  Can’t complain though, the pair that my househelp found me first cost about a whopping 50 cents, and the other plastic pair I bought cost a little over a buck.  And yarn for about 90 cents each.  Though no one in Thika seems to have wool yarn, I’ll make due with some acrylic stuff for now I guess.  I’m itching (literally) to make Ian one of those sweet baby hoodies that we keep seeing.  A picture of that would be about equal to the picture he posted of himself on facebook a while back wearing a Size 2 Toddler shirt..perfect grown man half-shirt material.   Here’s a refresher if you didn’t see it the first time.  Get your jabs in before Ian sees this and removes the picture!

2-T shirt Shirt Challenge

  I also had more women ask to touch my hair.  This time they started pulling it up to look at the roots, and them Esther informed them that it was my own hair.  No weave here ladies.

The kids are safely back from their all day field trip to the Giraffe Center in Nairobi.  They fed the giraffes animal biscuits and Eli demonstrated for me the sweet tongue flick they used to eat the food.  No giraffe licks or kisses today though.  They are getting along in amazing fashion for being gone from 8am-3pm and not having a nap.  Thank goodness for small blessings.

Our counterparts welcomed a baby boy into the world this week, a bit earlier than expected, but welcome, so they have been occupied in the hospital while we hold down the fort here.  Another productive week with women and children


….and afterwards I went with several of the women (great women who have been volunteering to help out with all of the clean-up that is involved in feeding close to 200 people..on dishes…without a dishwasher) to see their homes in the Umoja slum next to our place.  I feel pretty ok referring to it as a slum as that is what they call it themselves.  They are keenly aware that they are the poorest of the poor and that their homes are made of very little.   Honestly, if you have a Tuff Shed at your home there in America, or the equivalent, that is about a hundred steps up from what most of these people are living in.  It is simply hard to wrap my mind around their living conditions.   If you ever saw some of the migrant camps there in Oregon, Idaho etc  for the workers….it makes them look pretty luxurious.  Still the women were proud to have me over to their places, and our tour through Umoja “Estate” (yeah, it’s really called that) lasted about an hour…and they are clamoring for me to return with my camera and pen to record their stories.  “Perhaps then someone will be moved to help us” one woman said.

Truly there is never a shortage of heartwrenching stories here.   It is like a slap of reality each day….and yet it is easy to become numb to it all.  

We’re doin’ what we can.  Little by little.   And we’re thankful for all of you who are too.  It ALL makes a difference to these people whose names and stories we are learning.

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Today I looked up and saw a bus with the most random collection of decorations I’ve seen yet.  The whole thing is painted  bright red and yellow.  On the back it says the following:  “Mexico City” then below that “Red Hot Cake” then below that a huge picture of Osama Bin Laden, then on the huge mudflap something in Arabic with the word Allah in the middle.  The side of the bus is decorated with decals that said “Hater-Aid, the Suck Quencher”  and some random ad for a store alternating down the whole thing.  Then there is an American flag flying from the antena up front.  I was definitely entertained trying to decode the message.  Any ideas?  I’m still stumped.  Ian

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I love to knit.  Knit and purl, and slip one over. 

In the big process of packing up our house for Kenya, Ian inadvertantly packed my knitting….just in the wrong place:  a huge box and NOT my suitcase.  I thought about digging it out until I saw the box it was in the bottom of.  Ian replied, “I’m sure you won’t be knitting in Africa.”  Famous last words.

I even have a sweet case for all of my needles that my awesome sewing sister-in-law made that looks kind of like this except in pink and black (at least I think it’s pink and black, it’s in the bottom of that box you know):

Every once in a while I get the need to knit, and then I knit like a fool for a while, and then leave it for a while or longer.  I have started many a sweater only to finish it after my child is too big for it, and thus I have to find another use for it:  like donating it to the Women of Vision silent auction.  I took a picture of the “Lucy sweater”  before I sent it off, because I thought it was an especially cute sweater & I was especially proud of learning the new technique to get the lacey edging look:

Isn't it cute?

Isn't it cute?

I think I got the pattern for it from this book, but course the book is in that darn box, so now I’m not sure:

Needless to say, I thought it would be pretty easy to find some knitting needles here.  Not so.  I am sad.  I spent yesterday afternoon scouring the  Makongeni Market with Esther, my house help, but to no avail.  I could tell what the shopkeepers  were saying by their nonverbals and gestures in other directions. “Not here, no I haven’t seen them, try down that way.” 

I’ve googled about every different configuration of knitting and  Nairobi, and haven’t found anything yet.  I know that there must be women knitting here!  I see pictures of African women posted on the web spinning and dying wool for yarn.  And, they wear sweaters and knitted hats when it’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit out here for goodness sakes!  Our night guard (yes, they are different from the day guard people)  even has a sweet knitted ski mask that he wears, except that it looks like it was sized for a baby.  He’s not the only one I’ve seen wearing something like that.  I’ll ask him if it’s ok for me to take his picture some night.  It’s quite a sight:  him in his professional “security guard” uniform and then the baby ski mask thingy.

If I can’t find some needles soon, I might be having one of you back home making a run to the knitting store (if you craft, sew or knit–knitting shops are a visual paradise) to grab a couple pairs of needles and some cheap skeins of yarn.

I think I’ll be working on a pair of these to wear here in Kenya:

Or maybe these:

Or, I’ll just stick to this kind of thing (yes, I think this is cute):

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Sniff, sniff

In talking with my twin brother Andy and his wife Kori last night
, Ian and I realized that we have not done a post of the “smells” of Kenya. There are some things here that after a week or two, you just start to take it for granted and you forget how unique or different it is.

That is the amazing ability of the mind….to filter out routine or non-threatening stimuli so that your mind can remain alert for new and possibly threatening stimuli. I started an amazing book before I left that talks about this: The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dogby Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz http://www.amazon.com/Boy-Who-Was-Raised-Psychiatrists/dp/0465056520. The book talks about the effects of trauma on children (and people for that matter) giving true life case studies. It has a bit of everything….neurology, psychology, funny, sad.

Anyhow, back to the topic of smells. Everything here smells stronger. Whether it is the pollution, or trash being burnt (that’s how most people get rid of their trash…remember my horror of Lucy’s burning diapers wafting in my window), or the trash just sitting by the side of the road,

OuterRing Road Nairobi
or Jikos cooking lunch/dinner (a  jiko is a ceramic container held in a metal frame that utilizes charcoal, or another heat source for cooking), or body odor (yes, American are obsessed with smelling clean compared to anywhere else in the world), or the smell of raw sewage (we are SOO lucky to have the city sewer line run right through our property) when the main pipeline gets backed up, or the many smells that emminate from a herd of cows or goats walking down the highway by your car Just goats...,

or untreated industrial waste water, or chemicals used on fields.

There is a constant barrage of smells coming at one here, and after a while, the mind tunes them out and you stop smelling them.

We discovered that this was happening when Ian noticed that he was having to wear about 5 sprays of cologne every day rather than the usual 1 spritz it would take at home. He has to use that much just to compete with all of the other smells that are assaulting the nose on a regular basis here.

We had to laugh at the fact.

That and the fact that if a Kenyan (Ok, not every Kenyan, but most) rides in the car with us the smell of B.O. lingers for a LONG time. But geez, you can’t blame them…most of them hardly have enough money to make ends meet let alone worry about buying and applying deodorant.

Ian says he kind of likes the smell of B.O. here. Figures. If you know Ian, it wouldn’t surprise you that he says that! It just gives him the opportunity to try “something new” and go on another deodorant fast.

Chris Livingston: no cancer from deodorant aluminum for Ian.

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Typical cart.

Typical cart.

So today we took a little trip into Nairobo to explore some more. We found some new spots and drove some new roads, it feels goo to be getting somewhat independent in the big city. We drove by Kibera, the largest slum in Africa: 1 + million people living in one square mile, right in the middle of Nairobi. We scouted the route we’ll likely take to the airport when YOU come to visit. I decided to snap some shots of things people cary on hand carts, they are everywhere and we really didn’t even try, just shot the camera out the window when we saw one.

These carts are used to pull stuff to markets, take stuff home, and everything else you could think of.  They are usually on the road, not uncommon on the freeway, not uncommon going the wrong way against traffic or reverse direction around a roundabout. You just try not to hit them and keep on going. Here’s some images:

Typical cart in the middle of the road.

Typical cart in the middle of the road.

























That is a HUGE shipping container.

That is a HUGE Safaricom kiosk on there. It must be well balanced load.









Typical cart guy. Anne gave him 10 shillings to snap a shot.

Typical cart guy. Anne gave him 10 shillings to snap a shot.


















Here's a sweet bus load, guess someone picked up some couches and is taking them home.

Here's a sweet bus load, guess someone picked up some couches and is taking them home.









Weird Sadam matatu.  No words, no explanation, just a random picture of Sadam shouting at you.  I wish I knew what they were thinking when they chose that sticker for the Matatu.

Weird Sadam matatu. No words, no explanation, just a random picture of Sadam shouting at you. I wish I knew what they were thinking when they chose that sticker for the Matatu.

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