Nairobi National Park

While I thought that my life goals had been accomplished in August 2011 (see Camel Derby), my PhD advisor thought differently, and sent me back to Nairobi to continue my research study (measles vaccine effectiveness in HIV+ kids). It feels great to be back in Nairobi; connecting again with friends, meeting face-to-face with colleagues, and living in a city that I feel somewhat comfortable in, thanks to my two-month stint last year.

Lest you think I work too much, let me present to you: a game drive in the Nairobi National Park.

Peter, the most excellent of all Kenyan taxi drivers, traded in his car for a day and showed up to Savannah Sands at 6am Saturday with a full pop-up-top safari van. I could barely contain my glee, nor could the other three girls who went with me – all students working on various research studies here in Nairobi.

Only 4km from the city center, and about 20 minutes from our apartment, the National Park was mystical and serene at dawn.

Early morning Eland sighting

This is one of the only natural parks that runs literally to the edge of a city (or, perhaps, the city runs into the park?). It makes for quite the backdrop – savannah and skyscrapers. Here: impala and Nairobi.

Masai giraffe necking

he knows exactly how photogenic he is.

Baboon baby!

Peter, who is also a professional safari guide, sighted an ostrich running through the grass. He said that it appeared as though he was going to overtake another male and steal a female ostrich. Sure enough, we watched as this male ran, kicking and fluffing his feathers, and chased another male away from a female. Intense! These birds are weird looking!

impala and his morning snack

African buffalo were blocking the road, and we had to cautiously and slowly move our vehicle close to move them off the path. They are one of the more dangerous animals in Kenya due to their unpredictable behavior and bad tempers. He is not impressed.

This bird seems to get along with them just fine.

After the National Park, we couldn’t help but go to the elephant orphanage that is on the perimeter of the park. I know I posted pictures of this last year, but seriously. How could you get sick of these guys?!? So big and so small at the same time! Would you believe that this little elephant is only 3 weeks old?

he just needs a little love

after about 2 years, the elephants can be reintroduced into the wild

the elephant keepers stay with the baby elephants all the time; they even sleep with them at night. this is truly a great sanctuary.

…and we also went to the giraffe center. These are Rothschild giraffe, who get reintroduced in other parts of the country after they grow up a bit. I could hang with these guys all day❤

Sympathy bite.


…and thus concludes an animal-packed day. Guess I should get back to Stata…

How to place second* in a Tri-Camelon

(full disclosure: *out of three women)

Travel 12 hours by bus on the bumpiest road in Kenya to Maralal, a desert town in the North.

Pick a Camel.

Take notes from those who race in the 10-Kilometer “Disabled” (Amateur) Camel race… one can race by 1) Dragging Camel

2) Running with Camel

3) Riding on top of Camel (novel, and seemingly most challenging)

Enjoy local culture and traditions while becoming more and more nervous about what exactly you signed up for.

Trick two friends (adversaries) into participating in tri-camelon.

Upon race time, take mountain bicycle from African child. Ensure that the bike is not only too small, but that the chain is on the hardest (or easiest in adversary’s case) gear, cannot be shifted, and is full of sand.

Abstain from any exercise for months, and come prepared to race in pajamas.  Note that camels are much taller than you had hoped.

Set a moderate-to-slow running pace at the beginning of the race to the cheers (no, wait, was that laughter??) of the crowd.

After 3km run through cattle herds, transition to camel.  Be happy that you picked a calm, willing, and peaceful animal to ride.

Allow camel to be dragged 3-5 km (unknown) by 13-year old camel handler, with PETA-approved encouragement tactics by local boys behind said camel.

Be happy that the camel section of triathlon did not include the following 1) camel fainting and falling into cacti 2) magical disappearance of camel 3) refusal of camel to move, and that your camel only once decided to sit down in the middle of the race. Realize that, despite your initial concern, your camel is quite lovely, and went at an appropriate trot for most of the race.

Accept that you will be defeated (and how) by world-class Olympic athlete.

Transition to bike and maneuver your way for 3-5km (unknown) around potholes and children passing you on much larger bikes (not fair!) who tell you to “try try” and produce “more effort”.  Such encouraging words were never spoken.

Finish race a comfortable second (out of three women) to more laughter from the crowd.

Receive highly sought-after Camel Deby medal.

Celebrate with friend/adversary, Leila, who absolutely kicked your butt and came in overall second only to a guy who brought his own mountain bike, which was clearly cheating.

Continue celebration by relieving local Samburu of all of their beadwork.

Enjoy an unofficial safari on the bus ride home.

What a silly weekend.

similar adventure, different perspective

for lack of knowing a better way to do this, here are my fellow UW travelers Kara and Anjuli’s blogs:

Kara: living in Nairobi, fellow matatu-dodger and eater of Egyptian foods…

Anjuli: living in Western Kenya (Ahero), welcomed guest in Nairobi and compulsive globe-trotter…

Biiiig baby (elephant)

This weekend’s escapade included a trek out to the David Sherlick Wildlife Trust, accompanied by Anjuli and Kara, where orphan baby elephants are raised and eventually released to the wild.  Daily feeding from 11-12 offers an amazing opportunity to see, feel, and hear elephants from 3 1/2 months to ~2 years of age, as they plod across a field and receive infant formula out of elephant-appropriate baby bottles.  After feeding, they romp around, toss dirt at each other, kick around a soccer ball, and lovingly headbutt their caretakers to the squealing delight of the crowd gathered to watch.  So adorable!

Headbutt!  So much love!

playing in the dirt…

The elephants have a huge area to roam during the day, and the smaller ones are brought into elephant stables at night, where they sleep on mattresses (no joke) and are accompanied, overnight, by their caretaker.  Babies need company!

There was also a beautiful blind rhino at the compound.

Next we went to the Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens Restaurant and feasted upon the best buffet I’ve had in awhile.

The guest house still contained colonial-era furnishing, which was really interesting.

Now that is a croquet set.

The Karen Blixen Museum is just down the road.  You may recognize the name from the autobiographical book-turned-movie Out of Africa, which I have yet to read/watch.  Apparently Karen Blixen moved to Nairobi from Holland with her coffee-farming husband who gave her syphilis and then left her.  Sounds like an upstanding fellow.  She stayed in Nairobi and continued farming, and fell in love with a British pilot who would fly in and visit her.  My favorite part of the tour was learning about two big lanterns that she kept in her house, one red, and one green.  She would place the red one in the front of the house when she wasn’t in the mood to see her boyfriend, and the green one when he was allowed to enter (genius).  ‘Just flew all the way from the UK to see me?  Oh that’s so nice…you can stay in the guest house.’

I’ve been posting a lot of pictures on a Flickr account, because I simply cannot fit them all on this blog, so if you are in the mood for more baby elephants (who isn’t really), you can go here:

Look to the right of the page, find and click on the set “Elephant Sanctuary”, and view to your heart’s content.  Other sets include lots of pictures that I’m sure you have the time and interest to view.

I’m loving the proximity of awesome animals and nature to Nairobi.  For being such a populous city, it’s been pretty easy to escape the commotion on the weekends and catch a glimpse of the natural beauty that Kenya has to offer!

New apt!

New roommates (from UW and Vanderbilt) means new apartment unit!  Same building, 5 times as much space!  3bdrm, 3 1/2 bath is lovely, except for the stove plug…

“Lick your fingers and hold this for me? No, I promise it will be fine, just try it.”

New roommate unimpressed.


On July 19th, just a few days after Anjuli’s arrival from Bondo to Nairobi and some QT with giraffes with her and Kara, we were all lucky enough to have her boyfriend, Jake, visit us (and by us I mean her) in the big city.

A trip to Nairobi is incomplete, or so I am told, without a stop at Carnivore!

Featured on their menu: camel, crocodile, ostrich meat balls, ox balls, cow heart, chicken livers. A meat-eater’s delight.

Flag’s up!  Bring on the meat!

This is kind of ridiculous.

More meat than I have eaten in the last year, cumulatively.  Top, clockwise; potato, pork rib, camel, beef, and crocodile in the center, accompanied by dipping sauces. Crocodile was a bit tough!!

The girls!

Carnivore was quite the experience, and it was so fun to have dinner with some great friends.


Savannah Sands

To quell what must be overwhelming curiosity about my living conditions, I will tell you this: Savannah Sands is plush.  I also would like to dedicate this post to a certain Erika Helgerson, for reasons listed below.

The apartments are really new, and are walking distance to work.

View from my balcony on the 5th floor.  Clothes dryers don’t really exist here, so lots of colorful laundry lines the rails.

Compound next door that houses a few families.  Someone goes around ringing a meal bell at 7:30am (i’m already up), 1pm, and 7pm, and all of the kids come running to eat.  It’s adorable.

I have an unnecessarily large African King bed.  I’m convinced it is a California King + Twin size, as it is far wider than it is long.  This picture may be deceiving.  I, of course, take up about 1/8 of the bed in the upper left hand corner.

Hidden nook with yet another bed. (mirror on the wall, not another King)

Lovely Western bathroom.  This may be the most important luxury item in the house.

Conversation-prohibiting echo-y dining nook


Living room with lovely day-bed-esque couch. Dad: I have turned on the TV and I, unfortunately, only get static.  The opportunity to watch Kenyan commercials will have to be fulfilled at another location and time.

Now, onto Erika.  Let me tell you a bit about her.  She enjoys sitting, watching Elf around the holidays, and unplugging her microwave when it’s not in use.  Which I found to be particularly strange, even though she is convinced that it saves power, until  I got to Nairobi.  Each of my outlets has a switch that you must turn on before the outlet will work.  This is surely the solution to high energy bills, and should be installed in Erika’s apartment immediately.

I’m also happy to have hot water, just 15 minutes after a flip of this switch.  I was nervous about 2 months of cold bucket-water showers, so this was a godsend.

I promise I haven’t done anything fun in the last two weeks, but will attempt to update this blog more frequently with pictures of Nairobi and probably the outside of the hospital where I spend the majority of my days.