Thursday, March 19, 2009

I'm in Love!

His name is Maalim and he’s a baby black rhino. He was abandoned by his herd, because he was born premature and is so small. He is absolutely the cutest, little, ugly thing I’ve ever seen in my life. He was so much fun to watch and I did get to pet him.

More info on Maalim from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust:

Playing with the animals

At the Animal Orphanage at Nairobi National Park it's possible to play with the animals. I got to play with 3 5-month old cheetahs. It was amazing. Their fur is really coarse and their bodies are so sturdy. Obviously these are not house cats.

Max, the male, loved being stroked. His Mustang purr was incredible rising from the depths of his throat to transmit his pleasure at receiving affection from yet another stranger. He was lovely and very cuddly as you can tell in the second photo.

Liz, the female in the next two photos, was very playful. She was a little jealous of the attention Max was getting and reached out with her front paws to swat at my bottom while I was petting him. She was nipped at my hands with very sharp teeth and hooked her claws into my pants. I had orange-brown muddy paw prints on my legs from her. She is definitely a hunter. She stretched out and invited me to scratch her belly and under her neck--such a pretty kitty. The other cheetah wasn't too interested in being touched. She was content to sit in the corner and watch.

Afterwards, I fed and petted a 7-month old giraffe. I was laughing the whole time, thinking to myself, “I can’t believe I’m really doing this.” It was great.

What a beautiful moment!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It was my party

Okay, Mom, these are for you! Photos of my birthday party as requested. It was a fun night with 10 adults present and discussing the antics of the 5 babies who were also present. Clearly, when you have more couples with young children than singles in the group, the conversation turns to children and the joys of child delivery--all things to look forward to, I suppose. It was a good night and it was especially nice to be home this year. Thanks to all who attended.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

First day in Nairobi

First day in Kenya was a bit of an eye opener, and that's a bit of an understatement. We had arrived at 0500 and after driving through the pre-dawn quiet that is downtown Kenya, we headed out to where my friend lives for a few hours sleep. Upon waking up, we headed out for my first true glimpse at what life is like in Nairobi. We went to Kibera Slum--the largest slum in Africa and home to about 1,000,000 people.

Not many "mizungu" (Swahili for white people) go to Kibera, so we attracted a bit of attention. Most people, especially men and children, were eager to show off the little English they knew, so we were greeted many times with shouts of "Hi! How are you?" We would reply to the kids asking the kids, "Sah, sah?" and they would reply "Feet" (fine) or "Poah" (cool). Many kids wanted to shake our hands, so we would make a fist and bump fists with them, thus avoiding the transference of unwelcome germs. Word got around that we were there and on the way out even some of the men were making fists for us to bump.

It was weird, because I wasn't too nervous about walking around Kibera, even though it was probably pretty dangerous for us, as I learned after reading some articles about the place upon my return to the U.S. The only time I got nervous, was on our way out when we got in a bit of a bottleneck where everyone was trying to get out the same way and some water trucks were blocking the way. My counter-IED training kicked in and I started thinking, "Okay, is this on purpose? Are they forcing us in here to try to hurt us or rob us?" But I soon realized that they weren't and quickly found a way around the crowd.

It was a memorable day. On our way out to the main road it was all I could do not to have tears running down my face. My heart literally hurt and as I write this and remember my heart hurts again. Even after seeing the reality here, it's absolutely unimaginable to me how people manage to live like this, but they do and many with hope of something better.

This is a photo of the "river" that runs through the middle of the slum. The homes and businesses are built on a mountain of filth and rubbish with sewage running down the middle of the streets. There is also frequent flooding here. You have to be careful where you step, because you could easily slip and end up stepping into something awful.

Okay, I want to learn to carry things on my head. Look at her perfect posture and gracefulness. It was amazing how the women could walk through a crowd without losing their balance and keep their packages on their heads. I never saw a man carrying anything on his head, only the women. This woman is walking through the main market street of Kibera that lines the train tracks there, and she doesn't miss a beat.
This is the main market street lining the train tracks. Everything is sold here that you would need in order to live--shoes, clothes, coffee thermoses, fruits and vegetables that looked on the verge of being rotten to me, and lots and lots of other items needed for everyday life. The train tracks are in use and the locals know the schedule, so they clear the tracks ahead of time.

We visited the medical clinic where my friend volunteers. This is their blood lab. They have a small pharmacy that doesn't have much. However, the thing that makes this clinic special is that they have a sonogram machine and a licensed technician who runs it. Many of the locals who volunteer here are members of the LDS church. By the way, here you don't volunteer for free. Each volunteer gets paid a small wage for their work. For one girl I spoke with working in the clinic is her only job and the only way to pay for school. She is studying to be a public health administrator.

This is what really gets at your heart. These are a few of the pre-K children of the largest school in Kibera. They are so alive, and full of light and hope. I learned at the clinic that most children have some sort of fungal disease, and 1 in 5 will probably die of malnutrition. The parents of these children have more money than others because they can afford to send their children to this school. One of the marks of a good school is whether or not they teach kids English. This one does and it's a Christian school too.

Yeah, I look really out of place here. The buildings behind me are typical of what I saw here.

Wickipedia has some great information about Kibera:
In particular the phenomenon of Flying Toilets and what they've done to stop them.
BBC reporter Andrew Harding wrote a series of 4 articles about life in Kibera. He describes it much better than I do. It's worth reading. The links to the articles are here:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Everything's amazing and we aren't happy

So, my sister-in-law sent this clip to me and it really resonated with everything I've seen and experienced over the past year. I think Louis CK, the comedian featured in the clip, really says something that more of us should listen to.

Unfortunately, the embedding was disabled on YouTube, but here's the link:

Vanity Fair did a follow up interview with him about this clip. I'll give you fair warning, VF doesn't edit out the language.

It's just a different voice saying many of the same things are church leaders have been saying. However, people are paying attention to this guy. I find it all interesting and hope you do too.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Glimpses of Rome

In Ancient Rome, there are mazes of narrow, cobbled streets and while I would love to walk every one there is only time for a glimpse as I pass by. It is difficult to capture the whole scene, so the following photos are glimpses of Rome taken while out for an evening walk.

Piazza di Spagna with the lights of evening.

Reminders of Madonna and Child everywhere you look. This one is inside the Pantheon.

The piazza and entrance to the Pantheon. Apparently the original street was about 6 feet lower, so it would have been even more imposing.

Arches, arches everywhere and Via Giulia is one of the most beautiful and leads to a terrace along the Tiber River.

A scene at Piazza Navona. It's difficult to capture the whole place, so I only took photos that are glimpses or pieces of the entire scene.

The church at Piazza Navona bathed in the golden light of a Roman sunset.

Street corners are often outdoor museums. Often they are reminders that God and the Madonna should be ever present in one's life.

A Roman in all his glory standing watch on a bridge.

Just a few glimpses of a city that captured me for a few days.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The island at the bottom of Italy that is its own country

So, there is an island chain in the Mediterranean Ocean at the bottom of Italy (no, it's not Sicily) that really is its own nation. Comprised of several islands, only three of which are inhabited, it is very small and charming and full of historical, religious and architectural charm and importance. I especially enjoyed seeing friends there and spending some time in a place where time seems to have slowed a bit.

A masterpiece of Baroque architecture, with a dash of Arabian influence and the most pristine waters in the Med, Malta is gorgeous. Here are a few glimpses:

More ceilings which produces a crick in your neck as you stare upwards for several minutes at a time without pausing.

The floor in the Cathedral in Valleta where marble epitaphs in Latin cover the floor and pay homage to a rich and colorful past complete with the Maltese knights.

The walls of this church are covered with this beautiful carving complete with Maltese crosses. I've seen ornamental churches, but this one wins the prize.

They're everywhere! I can't escape them...

But only in Malta would there be a McDonalds in the bottom level of a 17th century Baroque bulding.

The walls of the citadel in Valletta, where the Maltese held off the invasion of the Ottoman-Turks in the 16th century.

One of the many ports in this tiny island nation.

Malta has a rich cinematic history, whihc includes the filmings of Troy, and the Count of Monte Cristo. The not so rich history includes the filming of Popeye The Movie, starring Robin Williams. It was filmed in this little village, constructed especially for the film.

This scene makes me want to live here.

More outdoor art in the walled city of Mdina.

Mdina is a beautiful walled city on top of a hill surrounded by the original walls. The streets are cobbled with large flat stones and driving is limited to the residents so as to preserve the city. It's like wandering through a set for the filming of a 16th century movie. I love the red raspberry colored door and windows.

One of the views from Mdina, looking at the dome in the next town over.

Another glimpse... and a bright navy blue door.

Okay, someday I want a house with an upstairs terrace where I too can grow oranges.

Another reason to look up.

14th Century fresco in the prison where the shipwrecked Saint Paul was imprisoned for several months.

More outdoor art--these particular pieces are everywhere and very beautiful.

The Azure Window one of the natural wonders of the world; maybe not officially, but it is.

One of the beautiful views on the island of Gozo.

Another beautiful glimpse of raspberry red.

Looking Up

Basilica di San Pietro, the Catholic Mecca, is truly a place where you feel the power of the Catholic Church. Not only do you feel it, but you see it as well. The huge square outside is one of the few places in the world where I've stood and felt very small. It's easy to see how millions can come here to be inspired.

My friend Jen and I climbed to the top of the cupola, 551 stairs. Yes, that's right--talk about the ultimate stair stepper workout. Basically, when you travel anywhere in Europe forget about wearing heels or boots, buy the cutest, trendiest pair of walking shoes you can find and wear those, 'cause you're gonna be hiking everywhere you go.

So, here's the photo tour...

Piazza di San Pietro. See, I really am small standing there.

La Pieta', one of Michealangelo's master pieces. It's just inside one of the main doors and it's breath taking in its detail and composition. It's one of my favorites. More info at:

This is the dome. It's massive and has the most beautiful detail. One interesting thing about the basilica is that other cathedrals from throughout the world are much smaller than this one. There are plaques in the floor showing the sizes of other cathedrals such as St. Paul's in London or the National Cathedral in DC (at least they were there 7 years ago, I didn't find them this time).

Looking down from about halfway up. The mosaics are amazing and it's not the just the ceiling that that is ornamented but the floor as well in a marble mosaic of symmetry.

The view from the top, looking out over Piazza di San Pietro towards the Tiber River. It was a cold, rainy January day, but it was still very beautiful.

I noticed that I spent a lot of time looking up here. Seems they want you be looking up and contemplating the grandeur of God or the Church. I look up anyway, because ceilings here are just the beginning.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Inauguration

So, I was in DC to finish out processing off active duty (I am now officially a civilian as of 16 Jan, woohoo!), pack for my month long vacation and attend the inauguration. Some of the photos from that day.

The 3rd Street tunnel was closed to traffic, but not human traffic as you can see. It was amazing to hearing the singing and cheering as people came up out of the tunnel. It's normally about 3-4 lanes of vehicle traffic.

My ring side seat view of the inauguration from inside the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences on 6th and E NW. They had a big screen in the main hall and filled it with as many people as wouldn't violate the fire code. There were people out in the foyer as well. It was so cool.

This was the crowd we watched the inauguration with. Everyone was pretty excited and there seemed to be a great sense of reverence for the historical-ness of the moment. It was pretty cool to be a part of it in the same city.

So, even if you don't agree with the politics of the current administration, it was still very cool. It was a day that set an example of democracy at its finest and truest to the rest of the world. It was a fine day to be in DC.