04 September 2012

On the milk route to Yellowknife

I've reached the half way point of my northern adventure. Well, that is, if you consider Thunder Bay to be north.  Obviously Torontonians do think this, actually they probably think a trip to the moon would be closer and more hospitable.  Thunder Bay is however south of the 49th parallel, that magical line that separates Canada from our neighbors to the south.  Geography was never my forté but by that definition, Thunder Bay is clearly south of 99% of Canada. But for the sake of argument, we will go back to saying that Thunder Bay is north and I'm halfway through my northern adventure. 

The second half of my northern adventure commenced with a flight to Yellowknife connecting in Calgary.  All I remember is boarding the plane, sitting down and promptly falling asleep after my third night of calls in a row.  I woke up in Calgary two hours and one missed connection later than expected. Apparently we were delayed but I slept like a baby and missed the announcement.  Now I am starting my milk run to Yellowknife. 

The game plan according to customers service at Air Canada is three connections, eight hours of layovers and sixteen hours of total travel time. I'm at the half way point and I feel like I got sideswipped by an oil tanker making a home run to Fort McMurray.

The arsenal for my counter attack includes two ten dollar meal voutures, free wifi and two maple sours at Montana's at lunch time.  I realize my offence is weak. 

Score: Air Canada 1, Nahawna 0

12 March 2011

Women on parade

Tuesday was International Women's Day. The centenary in fact. A day that was largely ignored in Eldoret with the exception of me telling all of the medical students that they should say thank you to all the women they know. And then watching in disbelief as the students went bed to bed to say thank you to the nurses and the women on the ward. My heart sank a little deeper when there was a party for International Kidney Day on 10 March and my ears had been deafened by the silence of International Women's Day.

Then on Saturday, as I was walking to market, there were 20 or so women on parade, big banners and an off-key marching band. Stopping traffic. They circled through the main streets of town grinding the city to a halt. "End gender based violence" "Embrace the new constitution and rights for women" "Stop violence against women." If only the messages from the media had such clarity. A few more headlines, this time taken in the week surrounding International Women's Day.
And the last word goes to the president.

28 February 2011

E is for Elusive

E is for elephant. My proverbial hunt for this large yet elusive beast continues. Mt Elgon is equally as well known for its caves as it is for the mountain itself. Famous and infamous can be applied fluidly to the caves: famous for the elephants who mine for salt in their depths and infamous for an ebola outbreak that also originated in their depths.

Tracking the pachyderm into the darkness . . .

Millions of eyes were upon us as we ventured deeper into the hollows . . .

Etchings in the rock from mining with their tusks . . .

Evidence of recent "activity" . . .

There isn't always a pachyderm at the end of every rainbow but sometimes the spectacle is reward enough.

Reaching new heights

A few posts ago, I was complaining about how colonialists had an outrageous desire to kill big animals in the African savannah on foot culminating in the designation of the big five. I too have my own irrational desire and it is to climb things like walls fashioned to look like mountains ie indoor rock climbing. However, Kenya has an abundance of the real thing, mountains that is, that are relatively easy to climb with no specialised equipment. Or so the guidebook says. As long as you don't mind the trio of palpitations, dizzyness and nausea - otherwise known as altitude sickness - you should reach the summit in a jiffy.

On flat ground with the summit in the distance. Heart rate 100.

Climbed a few foothills, nearing the half way mark. Heart rate 150.

The vertical ascent to the summit. Heart rate 220. The views from 4222m (13 852 feet) were spectacular and well worth the effort. Behind me was Uganda and in front, Kenya.

22 February 2011

Hope is a thing with feathers, that perches on the soul . . .

I was reminded of this poem on a walk through Kakamega Forest. Part of a forest that used to extend around the girth of the continent from West Africa, across the Congo delta to the Indian Ocean. Now an island, the last remaining rainforest in Kenya. Tranquil but aflutter with activity. Hundreds of butterflies like confetti falling from heaven were all around me. Alighting on a leaf before floating skyward, the light dancing on their wings. The hopes of my patients in flight.

20 February 2011

Taking pictures of black rhinos in the dark

I went on my first real safari this weekend. It felt like I was back in girl guides except there were boys. We all piled into the van with travel guides, cameras and keenness. We were off to Lake Nakuru to see the Big Five minus one. I recognise that I'm probably the only person who doesn't know what the Big Five are, but here they are: Lions, Leopards, Elephants, Black Rhinocerus and Cape Buffalos. Apparently these are the most dangerous animals to hunt on foot in Africa. Now, obviously, it's very illegal to hunt endagered species so I went armed with a point and shoot camera wearing flip flops and a flowery top. But for the sake of the story picture me as a swarthy character like Hemingway with a shotgun, moleskine notebook and a flask of rum in my pocket.

So the first of the big five I shot was a black rhino in the dark. I'll be the first to admit that it's not easy to shoot black rhinos in the dark and bring home convincing evidence of your hunting prowess. But here's the shot nonetheless.

There were many white rhinos, but apparently they don't count. Perhaps because they come out in daylight.

The second of the Big Five we saw were lions. In particular two female lions chowing down on their freshly killed breakfast while staring down the encroaching hyenas. Yes, the animals are amazingly camouflaged in the dry grass, but if you use your imagination you can see two lions, a hyena and some fresh meat. One only wants to get so close to a wild animal who is gleefully tearing another wild animal with its claws and teeth.

If you didn't think those were plausible trophy photos, I'd love to hear what you think about this next one.

It's my attempt at being artistic, an impressionistic version of a leopard. I favour Monet over say Degas or Matisse but I could settle for Renoir. My friend kindly gave me a realist version of the same image, shot simultaneously but with better effect.

Last but not least is the Cape Buffalo. (I know that's only four animals but I did say the Big Five minus one. Sadly there are no elephants at Lake Nakuru.) This is probably the least impressive animal on the savannah and the most numerous. Allegedly it's prized because it's behaviour is so unpredictable that it's tough to catch. All I can say is this guy wasn't going anywhere fast.

13 February 2011

Luo dancing girls

One of the nightwatchmen and I prepared a pan-African meal for all of the guards on duty. By that I mean we used local ingredients to try to recreate a typical Ghanaian meal of banku, tilapia and a fresh hot pepper sauce and shito. Of course there were modifications. We used Kenyan ugali instead of banku (both are made from cornflour but ugali is much harder than banku and banku is lightly fermented whereas ugali is not.) The tilapia we got from a Luo lady at the fish market in town. The Luo are a tribe that live on the shores of Lake Victoria and, according to the nightwatchmen, have the best tilapia in the world. The hot pepper sauce was intact but with a fraction of the pepper a Ghanaian would use. There was no shito to be found - shito is a hoooooot pepper paste made of dried baby shrimps and hoooooot peppers.

The guards couldn't stomach the thought of a fresh pepper sauce with plain fried fish so we fried the fish then fried the fish again in the fresh pepper sauce. They reserved a fraction of the fresh pepper sauce to try on the side. All of this was prepared in the communal kitchen while blasting Ghanaian hiplife from my iPhone to create the atmosphere. The overall result was a meal somewhere in between what we would both eat normally but incredibly tasty and fun.

The most enduring part of the meal is the slow-cooker friendship between me and the nightwatchmen. He was orphaned after his family died in a road traffic accident and lived off the kindness of strangers until he started a family of his own. He now has four children plus an orphaned boy he and his wife care for. The stories continued with heroic feats of killing a (?dead) lion, and tragedy after suffering a vicious attack while on duty that literally left him speechless for a year.

A few days after our feast, the nightwatchmen brought me a cd of traditional Luo music and asked if I would come to meet his family at their home in Langas, a slum outside of Eldoret. That weekend we boarded a matatu (local public transport van) with a bag of groceries in hand and took the 15 minute drive to his house. I was greeted by about twenty kids under the age of eight who had come to see the mizungo (foreigner). His wife recreated our panafrican meal, I was soooo touched. After lunch and some hairpulling (the little girls wanted to see if my hair was attached to my head and wanted to keep a strand each as a souvenir) the kids taught me how to dance to traditional Luo music in the street. It's one of the best weekends I've had so far.