Vetting of the items in my backpack (police commissioners?)

At the end of 2013, Kenya witnessed an intense vetting process of police commissioners. Whether one believes the process was successful or flawed, we all collectively agree it was quite intense, difficult questions were raised and in certain instances, several skeletons came crashing out of the various closets we chose to look in.

As I prepare to leave on any backpacking trip, I toy with the idea of applying an equally rigorous vetting process for all the clothes and other items that I will be lugging on my back for those 1-2 months....and so it goes....

The Kenyan Explorer: White shirt, can you explain why you think you are the perfect candidate to make it to the short list of tops in the backpack

White shirt: (clearing throat)..Well, The Kenyan Explorer, I have 10 years of relevant experience in a similar field

The Kenyan Explorer: Please elaborate....

White shirt: Well, there was that one time you wore me to climb Mt. Longonot, and I did not disappoint

The Kenyan Explorer: Would you have me believe that based on that one experience you are fit to take on a 2 month trip? The Andes is not Mt. Longonot. Is it not also true that on that same day you proceeded to get soaked in sweat and did not have the decency to hide it?

White shirt: (stuttering)....Well, it wasn't my fault. I am a white shirt after all. I don't absorb heat as much as the black shirt, but of course I will get dirty and sweat will be noticeable

The Kenyan Explorer: Hush! Are you trying to cast blame on your fellow contenders?

The Kenyan Explorer: Moving on! I am done with you white shirt! Brown socks, it states here that you have a thread count of 1000. Could you explain to all those present, how you came to amass such a high thread count?

Brown socks: Well, I got it from my previous position

The Kenyan Explorer: Really? It states here that you started out at your previous position with a thread count of 100. 

Brown socks: (nervous giggle), well, I also had some side hustles

The Kenyan Explorer: Can you elaborate

Brown socks: I did some odd jobs at my previous station and I was able to earn additional thread count

The Kenyan Explorer: So, the rumors are true. Did you or did you not earn your wealth by sabotaging cream and black socks?

Brown socks: (Clearing his throat): That is not true. I earned it fair and square

The Kenyan Explorer: From what we have heard, you made a job out of destroying your peers and taking on their thread count! You are a traitor!

Brown socks: Please, please let me explain

The Kenyan Explorer: No, your time is done. Let me move on to the next candidate - "super pretty bra with the metal wire that occasionally pokes the wearer." "Super pretty bra with the metal wire that occasionally pokes the wearer", what are you doing here today? I believe we kicked you out at the previous round

"Super pretty bra with the metal wire that occasionally pokes the wearer": Well,, I am here to defend my case. I feel that my name has been muddied by evil elements in the closet

The Kenyan Explorer: Please elaborate

"Super pretty bra with the metal wire that occasionally pokes the wearer": I have served for decades in this position and there has never been any issues raised against me. In the past years, though seeds of discontent have been sown by my enemies. In particular I will point out "Super ugly bra that offers maximum support", "Super pretty bra that offers no support" and "push up bra of unknown comfort levels". These newcomers have come in to usurp my position. They know I have served well. 

(Screams in the background from the named bras): Haki yetu! Haki yetu! Down with the old, in with the new. Kazi kwa vijana, pesa kwa wazee! (We demand our rights, Down with the old, in with the new. Work for the young, while money goes to the old?)

The Kenyan Explorer: We do not need this drama. Moving on to the next. "Holey sock", what are you doing here?

Holey sock: A lot of negative things have been said about me, but I want to let you know that this wardrobe was built on my sweat. I was here when the closet was full of threadbare shirts. I have earned these holes.

The Kenyan Explorer: This job requires a sock that can stand both high and low temperatures and effectively protect the wearer. Are we to believe that you are up to this job?

Holey sock: I believe I have. My years of experience make me perfect for this job. My holes also do not prevent me from doing a great job. At the last review, there were only two major holes, and they are at the unimportant toes. I also represent an under-represented group. Red mid-calf socks with my type of experience are in short supply.

The Kenyan Explorer: Oh, look who we have here. "Pretty silk top" what is your value proposition for this job

Pretty silk top: (sashaying to the table): I am extremely unique in that I combine functionality and class. In this new territory, you will need an item that helps you in certain types of classy situations

(Angry voices from the crowd): Did you hear her? She thinks we are not classy? She thinks us we are for being worn at the bar, and she is the one for dinners?

The Kenyan Explorer: Quiet! Quiet! Let "pretty silk top" finish talking

Pretty silk top: Yes, as I was saying before this riff raff jumped in, I am the perfect item to carry with you for those lovely dinners, exquisite parties and so on.

The Kenyan Explorer: Would you have us believe that the stories are not true? Is it not true that you do not really work well with the other commissioners? That you are always demanding more? Did you not once say, "I cannot go to work without being ironed?"

Pretty silk top: That was taken out of context. I was just saying that I need different terms to work well. 

(Angry voices from the crowd): Drama queen! Drama queen!

Pretty silk top: (shouting): Can you bunch of torn, tattered, wrinkled clothes shut up!

The Kenyan Explorer: We cannot have this. Whoever comes on this trip has to be a team player. We cannot have items that need preferential treatment. On this trip, "all clothes are created equal and none is more equal than the others." 

The Kenyan Explorer: Yes, lipstick and nail polish, I see you have come in a bit late. Tell us why you should make it into the backpack

Lipstick and nail polish: I think we speak for our fellow comrades - the other lipsticks and nail polishes - when we say that we are the single most important item for this trip.

The Kenyan Explorer: I agree with you. Let me put you in the backpack right now. 




Steak, music and theater in Buenos Aires

Lunch at Don Julio was amazing - one of the top steak restaurants in Argentina and in the world. What was most impressive was the fair price for the meal. Sometimes I forget just how expensive Nairobi has become. Here I was eating the most delicious steak I have ever eaten, for USD 20 in this amazing restaurant in Buenos Aires, and it made me think of all the mediocre meals that one can eat in some Nairobi restaurants for more than that. There is a good reason why I went to Don Julio three times during my 1.5 week stay in Buenos Aires. 

In the evening a few of us congregated at the hostel lounge. My Scottish friend brought out his guitar, and the next thing I know was that we had started a little singing troupe - me as the lead singer, my Scottish friend as the lead guitarist and a few spectators. It was wonderful - we did a bit of Bob Marley, a bit of Lucky Dube, a bit of Madonna ("Don't cry for me Argentina") etc.

In the evening we went to an amazing gay theater/club. It was quite fascinating - something like moulin rouge - an interesting combination of theater, singing, popular club music. Our merry troupe left the club at 7:30am and went back to the hostel rooftop to watch the sunrise. It was a wonderful morning of laughter fits, fun conversations and selfies. 

Day one of Carnival in Rio - partying is a very hard job

I know it's been a few days since I blogged, so I will jump straight into Carnival stories and update you later about what I was doing before that. The night before Carnival started, my friend informed me, "We need to be up at 6am to go for the first Carnival party." My heart almost stopped. Anyone who knows me, knows that early mornings are to me, what Kryptonite is to superman. I wondered to myself, "What type of party starts that early?" He said one of the best troops would be starting to perform in another part of town at 7am and they were among the best. I slept and was promptly awake at 6am. It took us a while to get into costume - mine wasn't too complicated. I had a kitenge crop top that I got made by my amazing tailor in Nairobi and I was wearing some tiny shorts that I bought on the beach the previous day. My friend was going as the devil and his costume was pretty low maintenance (a speedo, horns, a cape and a tail), but he needed to be covered in red paint to really look the part. His girlfriend was not wearing a specific costume as she had not had time to buy one before Carnival.

We left the house by 6:45am. We hopped on the bus and that's when I realized I was hungry. We couldn't stop to eat, but thankfully we had carried quite a few beers. So I had a few for breakfast....on the bus. We made friends on the bus and the 30 minute bus ride felt short. My friend had warned me not to carry any bag. Anything we needed had to be discreetly stored on your body. It kind of felt like we were going to a reggae concert in Kenya....except the performers actually showed up (Tarrus Riley, anyone:-) We got to the carnival party and it was all sorts of chaos. Our first bus got us to the bottom of a hill (mountain?) and the carnival troupe was at the very top. A second bus got us to the next one. The waiting point at the bottom of the hill was full of very many, very happy and very drunk and very loud people (I really wish I spoke Portuguese..I am sure I missed some amazing stories.) We got to the top and there were thousands of people all lined up on a very narrow street. We were all moving forward very slowly to the source of music, but never quite made it.

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By around 9am, my friend, his girlfriend and I had finished the few beers we had brought with us and started buying some off the street peddlers. At some point we also had little cools of caipirinha - very much like the cools we used to have when we were kids except for the fact that instead of sugar, color and ice, they had rum and sugar. By around 10am, I began to feel overwhelmed by the heat, the drinks, the crowd, the drumbeats. I remember taking lots of pictures and getting anxious because my camera started acting up (and I didn't want to use my phone and have it die on me.)

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At 10:30am, my friend said there was another carnival party close to our house that we needed to go to. We went there and it was amazing! This one was less crowded so we could see the musicians and hear the drum beats. The music felt very African. Even though I didn't understand a word, I knew how to dance to it. We stayed there for an hour and danced to our heart's content. Around noon, my friend said we should go to the beach. I couldn't imagine dealing with any more heat. Rio is hot on a completely different level. Temperatures can rise up to 40 degrees celcius and the humidity is even crazier than Mombasa or Boston in the summer. My friend and his girlfriend went to the beach and I came home to recuperate.

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I got home and fiddled with my camera for an hour or more before finally getting it to work. Just when I was about to take a nap, my friend and his girlfriend came home. We chatted a bit, and again just as I was about to take a nap, our new roommates from Sao Paolo got in. They had lots of energy and we took some drinks to welcome them. Around 4pm I finally took a nap. My friend and his girlfriend had tickets to an official carnival procession that was taking place in the evening. I planned to party with our new roommates. Around 7pm one of them woke me up to say they were leaving. I told them I would meet them in an hour. I set my alarm but didn't hear it at all. I woke up around 12:30am when my new roommates were staggering back into the house.

Partying is a really really hard job:-) Especially when it starts at 6am. I have no idea how anyone manages to party from 6am to past midnight, but that is quite common here during carnival. I need to build my stamina.

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Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer)

I had only one main plan yesterday - to get to the Iconic Rio monument of Christ - Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer). Most people have seen this monument when watching football games based in Rio, watching documentaries, Brazilian movies and soaps etc. You see Cristo Redentor and you know it is Rio. Kind of the same way you see the Taj Mahal and you know it's India. Cristo Redentor is the world's largest art deco statue and was completed in 1931 after 9 years of construction. Funding for it was mostly obtained from the local Catholic community. There had been plans to build some sort of monument on Mt. Corcovado from as early as the 1850s and requests had been made at the time to Princess Isabel of Brazil (known as Isabel the redemptress for signing the Golden law in 1888 that abolished slavery in Brazil), but none had been fruitful. Finally in 1931, Rio got the monument it had long wished for on the peak of Mt. Corcovado. 


Cristo Redentor is primarily built of reinforced concrete inside and soapstone on the outside (I see all the Kisiis here thinking about building their own statue:-) I was not quite sure what the easiest way to get there was. I spent some time googling it and I found a bus that left from close to my apartment in Gavea, and took me to Largo Do Machado. From there it seemed I would be able to buy a $20 ticket from the base of Mt. Corcovado, and then take a train straight up to Cristo Redentor. With my limited (non-existent) Portuguese and unlimited hand symbols, I asked the conductor to let me know when we got to Largo Do Machado. A sweet old lady came and sat next to me on the bus and said "" I thought she was asking me to take a photo of her, but instead she took out her phone and took a photo of me - then put her phone away. Quite similar to Kenya, a guy got on the bus and started selling sweets, biscuits and chewing gum. He was speaking in Portuguese and started giving out candy. I couldn't tell it it was free samples or some Hare Krishnaesque type of trade (now that I gave you that flower which you stupidly thought was a gift, give me money!) I chose to error on the side of caution and declined the candy offer. 

But candy would not let me be. The kind old lady who had taken my picture, opened her handbag, took out some candy and gave it to me. I need to confess that I am generally very trusting. During this trip I have promised to put on my skeptic hat to make sure I don't end up in any tricky situations. My first thought was "aaaah. Sweet lady giving me candy. Such hospitable people, these Brazilians." My second thought was, "Do you remember that documentary you watched with your cousin? The one about the South American drug that takes away free will? The one you find yourself taking someone to the ATM and withdrawing all your money? Then taking them to your house and helping them pack your stuff? Why did she take your picture? Is it part of some identification process? Yes, this is the one I drugged on the bus to Largo Do Machado. We will call her "number 4." 

As my brain was doing all this crazy things, she opened up her sweet and ate it. That gave me peace that it was safe to eat it. All of a sudden I noticed that in the midst of all this candy drama, I had not paid attention to where we were. I suddenly saw "Cristo Redentor" off in the far distance, and I had a suspicion we overshot it. I asked the conductor and she said in Portuguese, what I believe was along the lines of "Oh snap! I forgot to tell you when we got there! Ok. Get out now, cross the road and take the bus in the opposite direction.) I hopped off and went to look for a bus heading back in that direction. I was now in the city centre and none of the bus numbers were similar to the ones I had written down. I must have asked at least 10 bus drivers, "Cristo Redentor, Cristo Redentor......" I think I must even have once said, "Cristo Dementor (hopefully no Harry Potter fans here.) It really was a tongue twister. Finally I got there around 5:30pm and it was magical.......

Ate mais!

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