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Unnatural acts we should outlaw in Africa

Well there is a God Afterall! Yesterday the Malawian president  pardoned Chimbalanga and Monjeza who had been found guilty of charges of unnatural acts and gross indecency because these two men had announced their intention to get married.

First let me say that the charges were ridiculous – and the sentence 14 years of hard labour – frigging outrageoius. But most of us in Kenya were too cowardly to say or do anything to support these two lovers. That’s because if we went to protest at the Malawi embassy we would probably be stoned and mobbed by our own citizens, then arrested and thrown in for the weekend by our own police after a good dousing with tear gas and high pressure water hose.

I wish I could have joined friends and relatives in London who picketed outside the Malawian High Commission there.

I don’ t know what makes our people and our judges think they are better than gay people. These were two people are adults, and they are in love. What they do in the bedroom is their business. I mean, has anyone ever checked whether the judges sexual activities also amounted to unnatural acts (whats the bet that he has child porn stashed away somewhere in his mansion?). Would you share with us your fantasies and activities so that we can judge whether they amount to unnatural acts? Hell NO!

What the hell is an unnatural acts anyway.

Here are just a few of my suggestions of unnatural acts that should be outlawed and punished heavily

  1. Corruption, bribery, cooersion (eg. people at Sheria House who con Kenyan citizens, police)
  2. Pedophilia and child porn
  3. Thieves, robbers, muggers etc
  4. Going to war for no good reason (George Bush and Tony Blaire are you reading this?)
  5. Wife abuse, spouse abuse, battery
  6. Rape (yes even in marriage)
  7. Child abuse
  8. Mob justice
  9. Animal cruelty
  10. Dangerous matatu and bus drivers
  11. Politicians who think they are above the law
  12. Politicians who drive with outriders and flash blue lights
  13. Thugs for hire (Mungiki and their ilk)
  14. Lazy presidents (Kibaki are you reading this?)
  15. Sons of politicians who rig elections (stop pretending you know who you are)
  16. People who promote violence (Malema are you reading this?)
  17. Lying liars (damn! most of these crimes are committed by politicians)

Damn I could go on and on….

Back to Chimbalanga and Monjeza, go in peace brothers. Having just married myself, I know that it really is the best moment in ones life.  I wish you the best happiness in the world. If you can’t achieve it in Malawi then may they find a safe haven in a country that is not populated with biggots and homophobes. I hope that your experience which shocked the world will lead to reform of gay laws across Africa. Thank you for being so brave.

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May 30, 2010 Posted by | gay, Gay Bill, Homosexuality, Injustice, Kenya | Leave a comment

Does kitchen waste produce as much biogas as fresh cow dung?

I am hoping to have a very successful home biogas production system (which I wrote about here)  in about 2 weeks. But what should I feed into my system to make it really successful?

According to Dr. Anand Karve  on the ARTI website 2 kg of carbohydrate rich vegetable feedstock produces about 500 g of methane, and the reaction is completed with 24 hours. While the conventional biogas systems, using cattle dung, uses about 40 kg feedstock to produce the same quantity of methane, and requires about 40 days to complete the reaction. He won an award for this finding.

So should I switch from cow dung to kitchen wastes?  I’m not convinced – maybe Dr. Karve’s Indian cows are less flatulent and produce little biogas – I know that our Kenyan cows are super producers of gas.  But then how can I be sure?

A shitty experiment

To find out whether kitchen waste is better than cow dung, I am conducting an experiment that involved cow dung, plastic cups, condoms, water and kitchen wastes.

I added equal amounts of dung and water and mixed it and poured into a plastic cup, then covered it with a condom to enable me to see the gas forming.

The same amount of kitchen waste was similarly mixed with equal amounts of water and mixed poured into a cup and covered with a condom.

A third experiment involved a mix of dung and mashed kitchen waste, mixed with equal amounts of water, poured into a plastic cup  and covered with a condom. I conducted this experiment in my kitchen using clean disposable utensils and unused condoms (had to say that just in case you people think I’m really weird).

Results

I’ll be posting the results in pictures here

Day 0 (May 25 9 pm)

The condoms are all empty and flaccid. Sad. There was a slight emergency when one of the condoms broke as I was putting it on the cup…  I had to get more condoms purchased at 9 pm. Pharmacist was amused.

Day 2 (May 27th 9 am)

Hmmm, some biogas already being produced and poop looks like it’s slightly more than poop and veg which is more than veg alone. So far I’m putting my money on cow poop.

Day 3 May 28 10.20 pm

Watch this space for coming days and potential explosion of cow poop in my kitchen.

May 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The shittiest job

This is a photo journey about shit and gas. Yes, I’m it’s about my new biogas installation

Stage 1. Get a truck load of shit and two shit shovellers. Have the load delivered and shoveled out at your house

Cost of a truck load of very fresh cow dung Ksh 800. Cost of transport Ksh 1000, cost of shit shovellers Ksh 250 for half a day of really smelly work!

2. Get someone who knows what they are doing to set up your new flexible bag biogas digester

3. Get a bucket and a stick. Add shit and water 1:1 and then stir to the consistency of lumpy porrige

Somehow I felt offended associating this work with my breakfast

4. Pour the mix into the digester

Hold your nose, smile for the camera, pour the crap

5. Wait for gas to form

Full of crap

So what’s so great about this biogas digester?  It’s small, mobile (you have to empty it before you move it), cheap (Costs Ksh 28000), no concrete involved, and its easy to install even if it’s a shitty job.

You simply can’t escape that. Every part of this system is locally and easily available.

How much gas will it produce?

You’ll have to watch this space to find out

What about other biogas systems?

The alternatives available in Kenya involve lots of concrete or huge rubber containers. Both are expensive and neither are mobile. Why do you need a mobile digester – well if you are renting a place, or if  you are a nomadic person like a Masai family.

What if you don’t have cow dung? Then use goat dung, or chicken poop, or even elephant dung. Anything will work. You can even use kitchen wastes but you have to liquidize them first (which might use more energy than the gas produced).

Do you want to order a biogas system?

This system costs 28,000 for the unit, labour for installation, and depending on your location and dung price – you need a pick up load of fresh dung to get it started, and a bucket of dung every other day.

Leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

May 28, 2010 Posted by | biogas | | 9 Comments

Dont forget fellow Kenyans living in IDP camp

Would you use this loo? No? What if you had no choice? Welcome to a Kenyan IDP camp.

Growing up in an IDP camp

As a Kenyan I’m disgusted with how we have  handled the post election crisis and in particular the victims who still live in IDP camps around the country. Two years on, these peole are still living in hell. As a result, we are now raising a generation of children – victims of the post election violence in campas that are beginning to look like slums.  The Kenyan Government does not recognize most  IDP camps near Nakuru  – and have sent the donors away.

Call this a home?

Each member of the camp has a small footprint on which they have a tent donated by UNHCR and intended to be used for 6 months. Back then, remember the post election violence? It was assumed that people would not need to be in IDP camps for more than that. Well, it’s more than 2 years on and they are still in the camps – more than 6,000 people live in this camp. The tents are in tatters.

Although the Chinese government donated metal sheets for roofing, the members of the IDP camp say that the DC in Nakuru has held onto them and will not release them because he wants these IDP’s out of there.

Overflowing toilets have been locked

Although this is a horrible place to live, this camp is surpprisingly well organized, structured and managed by an elected committee. Toilets were put in 2 years ago by WHO but are now full. Most of them are locked. Where to people go? Use your imagination.

Despite the horrendous smell, kids play near the toilets

Drying maize

We spent a couple of hours in the IDP camp meeting and talking to people living there. These are not lazy, uneducated, helpless people. These are people who ran businesses, had homes, farms and jobs. They lost everything.

We asked what their priorities are. The answer was simple, medicine, toilets and food.

Trauma lingers in the faces of people who endure unimaginable suffering

Many of the women were raped, their husbands and family members killed, their children raped, their homes burned, and property looted. They lost their land, and their livestock. They cannot imagine going back to live with the beasts who did this to them. There is no counselling, no support, and no official government efforts to deal with the consequences like HIV.

Clinic officer

Yet these people do live in hope. They have no choice really. Linet is a university student. She also runs the little clinic on the IDP camp serving over hundreds of patients.  Some of them die from manageable diseases. But despite the setbacks, she still has reason to smile. She told me that this IDP camp is now home.

Not lazy, this guy has built a shed for producing mushrooms. A micro enterpriset hhat could be successful if he gets funds to start off the first mushrooms.

Studying in an IDP camp

The place is very congested, but people make do. There are no jobs for these people but that does not stop this student from continuing with his studies.

In the IDP camp we came across a few foreign volunteers who were helping with schools and sports. As Kenyans we need to support these IDP’s too.

You can help

Peter and I asked guests at our wedding to donate funds or materials to this IDP camp. We have raised enough to purchase medicines for the clinic and to build one line of new toilets. We also gave a little something to the kids.We thank all our generous friends who supported this appeal.

If you would like to help  here are some things that these guys need

1. More medical supplies

2. More toilets (a line of 6 toilets costs about Kh 20,000)

3. Help with medical fees – several members of the IDP camps are in hospital and cannot be released until fees are paid up

4. Support for microfinance and studies.

5. Jobs

Leave a comment if you’d like to join us in helping

May 28, 2010 Posted by | Kenya, politics, rape, Women | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Is this corruption at Sheria House?

Kenyans government officials are reputed to be amongst the most corrupt creatures on earth, but I have heard them challenge that allegation and argue about the definition of corruption. There are times when even I wonder whether it’s corruption … a police officer asking for payment to not issue a ticket – that’s obvious, but what about this case?

Is it corruption when a government officer will not give you a receipt for a service provided?

This happened at Sheria House recently. As all Kenyans know, anyone trying to get married in Nairobi must go through Sheria House to register. It’s supposed to be a quick formality, and getting married is supposed to be one of the best things you can do in your life right?

So, like all aspiring couples you have to go to Sheria House to get information because there is nothing on any website. There are no notice boards, no bulletins, no document you can get anywhere else.  You have to to the go down to Sheria House in the middle of the city of Nairobi. In the first office, there you get some of the information necessary and it’s taped onto a desk. All it tells you is what to do if you are a Kenyan marrying a Kenyan and and costs associated with getting married. If you are not Kenyan, most of what you need to know is only available by talking to the officers in charge. This lack of transparency hiding of information should have raised our suspicions…. but we were in love and just looking forward to getting married… read on..

Different strokes for different folks – foreigners pay more!
Amazingly, there are three different types of marriages depending on who you are and who you are marrying – no I’m not talking about Christian Islam issues, I’m talking about if you are a foreigner, or if you are marrying a foreigner.

  1. A Kenyan marrying a Kenyan has only to produce identification and proof of age.
  2. A foreigner marrying a foreigner has to produce identification, proof they aren’t already married, and more money than Kenyans marrying.
  3. A foreigner marrying a Kenyan is as above.
  4. But a Kenyan marrying a foreigner must produce an Affidavit, the wedding invitation!, birth certificate, and passport . There is no information about what this Affidavit must contain. This must be done at least 21 days before the wedding date.
  5. So, you go to the lawyers and they ask you what to put in the affidavit, you don’t know, the lawyers call Sheria House and they can’t answer questions, they simply hang up on you, .. it seems they don’t know what you are to put into the document. Or perhaps it simply doesn’t’ matter. The documents person at Sheria House simply needs to have a document that says “Affidavit”.

So, Ksh 1,500 later, Affidavit in hand, return to Sheria House to submit documents. Write your name on a list in the office, then enter a very long line in a very ugly and noisy corridor and wait.
A few hours later your name may be called, but if you just wait in the office you will see that the queue and the list are sometimes.. jumped. That’s your first sign of corruption in this government office.

Ok, you see the lady who is supposed to interview you – expecting questions? Forget it, she checks the papers and documents and informs you that it will cost 10,500 to get married at Sheria House. But who in their right mind wants to get married at Sheria House? It’s an ugly, noisy and stuffy place filled to the brim with pregnant brides, beach boys and their mamas, … the wedding office with red carpet and fake flower arrangements is just not the memory you want of your BIG DAY.

We wanted a proper out door wedding with friends and flowers … you know the thing? Well, in that case we must pay an additional fee of Ksh 30,000 (USD 400) if we want a Sheria House person to come do the actual legal stuff.

A friends’s wedding was almost ruined when the Sheria House person called on the big day saying that she was tied up and couldn’t make it, could they postpone! Of course they couldn’t, and off course she wasn’t tied up when more funds and a taxi were promised. We were not going to have that kind of crap stressing us out on our wedding day.

So, we decided that even though we are aethiests, we could get a priest to marry us. The lady informs us that we need to give her the name, details and address of the priest who is marrying us. Information that we don’t have at hand.

And wait a minute,, it’s not that simple. The groom is not Kenyan, only certain priests can marry you under Cap 500. That’s the law!  So .. go away and get the name.

What about the 21 days we worry? No problem, she says,  even if you come a week before it will be ok. We know you now.

Nice lady, we think, and sigh with relief (which it turns out later was totally misplaced). Why didn’t we smell a rat? Naive, eager, gullible?

We spend the next few days inquiring about priests – all of the ones we talk to are confused about the process we’ve been told to follow, and advise us to return to Sheria House to talk to someone and get things explained properly. A man called John at Sheria House generously offers to help and takes our documents. He says he can do the wedding himself and asks us to come back the next day.

The next day he says “The Madam has your papers, you have to go see her to get them back”

We stand in the very long queue for 3 more hours to see “The Madam”

Nothiong could have prepared us for her Fury when our turn came round. She is enraged, and shouts at us for going to see her junior officer! How dare you, we she says! We are totally confused. What the Fuck? We tell her we are confused, she says our papers are not signed – that we were to go to room 106 and get them signed and nobody can help us until that is done. And, we should stop going behind her back!

We go to room 106, a guy doesn’t even look at the papers, signs them and we go back to “The Madam” (what the hell is this guys purpose in the big scheme of thing?)

We queue to see “The Madam” again and she asks us what help we need – we tell her we can’t find a priest, time is running out and we’ve decided on a Sheria House person coming to our wedding. We need to finalize.

I’m busy on your date she says. But John is available we suggest. Oh she’s says, John (not his real name) can help you? Then go and see John! But she will not enter the date in her calendar until we have Johns confirmation. Come back and see me after you’ve confirmed with him.

Back down the corridor, but John tells us he cannot help us. Now, you see, he is going on leave and will not be available on our wedding date. But you said you could last time we met! Things have changed, my leave application has been approved. You have to go see “The Madam” for help.
Back up the corridor and the queue, “The Madam” smirks at us, so John cant help you? What do you want me to do? We need someone to marry us. But I’m busy and I don’t have any other staff on that day.

Ok, then we will do a Sheria House wedding before hand. She looks at her calendar. I have no dates available. You see you left things until too late.  You will have to delay your wedding. Please, we beg, can’t you just add one more wedding on any of the next few days? “I can’t overwork my staff with an “extra wedding” she shouts. Just have the wedding ceremony as planned, and then come back afterwards to finalise the legalities she offers. No we can’t do that.

Then delay your wedding she resolves.  No, we can’t, people are flying in from overseas, the venue is already booked and paid for. Well I can’t help you. I’m busy. You see there are many more people  in the queue waiting to see me.

Ok we are now thinking out of the box. What about marrying us before the wedding date. No, I’m too busy on the next two weekends. We’ll come to wherever you are, we plead. No, I’m too busy. What about John we suggest? Ok, yes, John can marry you before he goes on leave. You go and agree with John then come back to me.

Shuttling back down the corridor, we find John hurriedly leaving for lunch, promises to be back ty 2 pm. We wait in the stuffy corridor. He gets back at 3.30 pm. She said that? He says, then insists he can’t do anything until he talks to “ the Madam”.
A few minutes later he returns, I can’t work when I’m on leave. You see, I’ll be officially off duty. When do you go on leave – Monday (It’s Wednesday), Ok, what about today, tomorrow, Saturday? No we can’t do it on weekdays. I cant do it on Saturday because I hand over on Friday. You have to go back and see “The Madam” for help. There’s no point pleading with him. We go back up the corridor.
Now I’m almost in tears. I realise why nobody in Sheria House is smiling, the happiest day of most couples lives are being ruined by stupid bureaucrats.
It’s 5 pm and people want to go home. We beg and beseech “the Madam” who seems to be enjoying the drama unfolding, she calls John on her cell and laughing says “Paula is crying now, can you help them” …we’re sent back to Johns office, he has finally agreed to do the formalities of the wedding this Saturday (3 days away). The actual wedding is still 2 weeks away.
He is smiling. You see they are going to help us after all! We are relieved… then he says… but you know there’s an extra fee, I’ll be working on my day off, …..
How much is the fee we ask?
How much can you pay? He responds

How much do you normally charge?

15k! gulp, ok,
But you know I can’t issue a receipt…

Silence ….

Cash is transferred behind closed doors, forms are filled and he is smiling.

On Saturday he turns up exactly on time and does the necessary, d rinks a Soda, wishes us a good life and disappears on leave. We were legally married but really quite annoyed. Everything about the Sheria House experience was ugly.
Was this corruption – sanctioned from the top of Sheria House? Why can’t they issue receipts?
The difference in price for a Sheria House wedding vs an out of Sheria House wedding is Ksh5,500 which probably is the fee given to the officer who takes his weekend off to do it. Why do they charge this additional variable amount?

May 24, 2010 Posted by | corruption | 9 Comments

Our wedding is helping Kenya’s IDPs

During a visit to Nakuru recently we dropped in on an IDP camp.

What we saw and heard was infuriating, humbling and down right wrong. The Kenyan Government has abandoned thousands of people who cannot go back to where they came from.

Today we are going back to the IDP camp after we made a promise that we would try to help. On our own a contribution would not have really amounted to much.

So we asked all our friends and guests at our wedding to help – and they have.

We’ve raised a little money which we will take today. Watch this space for photos.

May 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Kenyan politicians head to hollywood

Well it’s out, Kenyan leaders and their wives have been approached by Hollywood Directors in a move that could guarantee that these non starters of 2012 could have a life beyond politics.

I’ve heard that some of the recent proposals  (top secret so don’t tell anyone) include

1. Lucy Kibaki and other African first ladies will be starring in the sequel to Good Hair titled “Really Bad Hair”by Chris Rock.

Mwai, George and his wife will play their parts too

Producers have a huge selection of other stars to choose from – if Lucy agrees to share the stage of course. This lady comes ready prepared with body guards and weapon. Of courses the authors recommend that the title be extended to read “Really bad Hair, hats and expressions”.

2. The third installment of the trilogy Night at the Museum which will be titled “Day at the Zoo” – a documentary about one day in the Kenyan parliament (though rumour has it that Kenyan MP’s are asking for astronomical daily sitting and standing allowances to appear  in this film and so the producers are now considering shifting to work on the Somali parliament – (if there is one to talk about in coming days).  The title of this movie has been change several times from “Funny People” to “Demons and even more Demons” and “Public enemies” before settling on “Day at the Zoo”.

3. In a much awaited sequel to Box office  Hit Ferris Buelers day off,  comes “Mwai Kibaki’s Day off”,  a low budget documentary  that will feature the daily life of Kenya’s current president. No doubt this will become a much loved and re-watched that Kenyans in particular where viewers will vote with a resounding thumbs down.

4. Big name producers have proposed a sequel to “Land of the Lost”, the produces have proposed a 3 hour “Avatar” style extravaganza about Kenyan voters.

5. Based on a  true story, “Predators in Kenya” is the inside story of Luis Moreno Ocampo’s search and arrest for the culprits of the Kenya’s post electionViolence.

Don't miss this gripping thriller "Predators"

7. Finally, a new rumour has just come – Gideon Moi has purchased the rights (with your money) to produce a real life feature about himself titled “Hell Boy 3”. Nough said.

8. Goldfinger 2: life in Kenya is a new title proposed for a fantasy film about a diamond stealing, lying, cheating, born again christian named Paul who is of indian origin. It will also feature Finger of God cult stars  if they can get out of jail in time.

9. South African president Jacob Zuma will star in the latest installment of Meet the Parents called  “Fathers of the Brides” – about his bride price wrangles.

“I’ll kick your ass!!”

10. Coming soon is another expected box office hit,  “Bad Boys 3” about the aspiring  sons of fathers of politics in Kenya. In this  feature Jimmy, Gideon, Uhuru and others will play themselves. It is rumoured that Margaryan and Sagarsyan, the infamous Artur Brothers are providing never seen before material or this real life drama. The title of this flick has been changed from “more than 12 monkeys”, and “Amageddon in Kenya’.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Donkey | | Leave a comment

Panda – a German Shepherd with a rare white Gene.

Nothing can prepare you for losing your best friend. When Panda passed on, at first I couldn’t believe it, then I was angry, intensely angry, then filled with guilt and sadness. It has taken me some weeks to come to terms with her death, and it’s still excruciatingly painful to recall memories of her.

DSC_6917.jpg

I was travelling in the United States when I first learned that she had been bitten by a leopard. Living on the edge of the Nairobi Park we always knew our pets would be at risk, but Panda was too smart to get into trouble. If anyone was to get caught by a leopard or lion, we thought, it would be the other older, slower, geriatric and arthritic members of the Kahumbu-Greste Pack – Harry or Sniffy. So when I got that shocking email that Panda had been attacked but had survived I was sad but relieved. The vet said she was torn up but she’d be ok. X-ray revealed no major damage and by the third day she was up and about, he promised she’d be home by the weekend. We planned how we’d re-arrange our daily programs and looked forward to nursing her back to health. But the day before she was to come home she silently passed away in the night without any warning.

I felt cheated.

Wet panda.jpg

I remember well my last adventure with Panda. We had gone to the Kiserian river – Panda was addicted to water and we couldn’t stop her from leaping in. We spent hours trying to get her out of the raging water but she was in doggy-heaven swimming in circles, and ‘laughing’ at us on the slopes and bridge above. When I say addicted to water I mean SERIOUSLY ADDICTED – any amount of water would do for panda to try and submerge herself. Muddy ponds and rivers along the daily walk were what she looked for. The muddier the better.

at haller park.jpg

We feared a croc would get her that day, and we knew that we’d be helpless if that happened. I was almost hoarse with screaming and whistling for her – we had to pretend to go home for her to emerge, and shake her sodden coat all over us – punishment for cutting short her game. She lost her brand new beaded collar in the river that day – it was a beautiful colourful rainbow job with her name boldly across it. We searched but never found it.

DSC_6864.jpg

Everyone who met her was affected by Panda. Many asked where she was from, what kind of dog she was and where they could get one like her. She was beautiful. She had a face shaped like a shepherd, partly white partly brown – hence her name. She had pointed ears and her lips seemed to be painted, as well as her eyelids. She had the look of a dog wearing make-up. Under all the long silky fur she had a smallish body, with the most spectacular fox like tail. Unlike any dog I’ve ever seen Panda had the ability to speak with her eyes, she could make hundreds of expressions with her eyes alone ; confusion, smiling, sad, questioning, begging, tired, alert, suspicious, about to attack you, about to play …. What kind of dog was she? Well our vet said she was some sort of water dog, but we always suspected that Panda was actually a dog from space, some sort of curious alien sent to earth to experiment on humans and send signals back to the home planet. We got her from Kilifi one Christmas many years ago – she was Joshua’s dog, but make no mistake, he didn’t chose her, Panda chose him.

Josh & Panda.jpg

She was one of many little black puppies being sold by a cheating old German lady in Kilifi who must have thought we were ignorant fools. She wanted tens of thousands for this “German Shepherd with a rare white gene” – I could have laughed when she produced vaccination records in a pathetic attempt to persuade me that these were the pedigree certificates. Seeing that the place was a disgusting puppy mill, I planned only to get out of there as fast as possible and report them to the KSPCA. But as we sat there surrounded by sickly stinking puppies and their emaciated parents, one ugly pup leaped onto Joshuas lap and lovingly licked his chin.

Puppy Panda 1.jpg

That was the moment he knew that he had been chosen.

One hundred dollars later as we drove off with the smelly ball of flea filled fur and a belly full of worms I felt distinctly robbed. She was black with a white patch on her face and there was nothing pleasant about her … but she would not be ignored, she had an adorable and adoring face. That was five years ago. I feel deep guilt for almost leaving her, no amount money could be worth Panda and the joy she brought to us, and we would pay any amount of money to bring her back.

Puppy making mischief.jpg

Even after a bath panda was still very ugly but she had an insatiable desire to play. Harry was the play-thing off which she hung as he yelped helplessly in pain. She had very weird features and the other dogs hated her. Her introduction to Kelly the matriarch was a chase down the lawn and a very serious bite on the back if the neck. But soon the others grudgingly accepted her. Joshua loved her and she loved him twice as much back. She loved sleeping on his bed, she didn’t like being cuddled by anyone else and would rarely look us in the eye, well, unless you had something she really wanted. Unlike most shepherds, she got on with everyone and she would observe us in a way that felt distinctly as if we were being ‘studied’. As she grew up we realized just how special she was.

Josh & Panda 1.jpg

When Josh tried to teach her some tricks we discovered that she was not just smart, she was super smart. The dog training book called for repetitive attempts to teach the dog to sit, lie down, beg, stay, and retrieve. Panda learned the tricks so quickly that we ran out of things to teach her. She could sniff out things with amazing skill – and combined with her love to chase balls meant that tennis played badly was a game that everyone including Panda could enjoy. If the ball went out of court she would find it within seconds. We once lost a squash ball down a steep rock slope of the rift valley – within minutes she found it, and many others that previous players had lost over the years.

To Panda all other dogs were playthings, and all human beings were created to throw stones, balls, sticks, Frisbees or anything else. She seemed to understand English and it didn’t’ matter what accent was used. When KK said “Poshishon” she knew what he meant and would sit in a specific spot to wait for food. We started all using the word but it took me a long time to understand that “Poshishon” meant “Position!” – it was his way of getting all the dogs to sit to attention before meals were served.

Dogs at Corner Baridi.jpg

For years KK, our gardner, was to Panda the provider of food and play. He didn’t teach her anything, she taught him. By tracking his footprints in the beach he saw that she could find him no matter how hard he tried to hide. This led to a game that revealed just how powerful her sense of smell was. We could hide a rock or toy anywhere around the house and she would trace our steps and find it. This worked without fail and became a favourite party trick. When conversation slowed you could trust Panda to revive the crowd. And she loved other people and crowds. Panda would make a point of introducing herself to everyone, including neighbours and visiting strangers. She was especially friendly when they had parties and would notice the activity as parties were being prepared and join in. Nobody ever complained but we always apologized and tried to bring her back – she’d always find a way of going back.

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Joshua began to question Panda’s loyalty when she responded more to KK than to him. At 12 years he didn’t understand that she could bond with several people. I tried to explain but he was in tears and decided to test her loyalty. One day he took her for a walk then collapsed and feigned dead. He thought she’d abandon him and justify his sore feelings, but she didn’t. She sniffed him all over, seeing that he was ok and probably sleeping she simply curled up beside him and went to sleep too. Josh was the only person who could actually snuggle with Panda, she didn’t like anyone else getting too close to her face although she would concede and let anyone give her a good back scratch.

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Panda didn’t just play, she let us play with her too. She’d be up for any experiment, any adventure, and she also loved just curling up at my feet. When she wasn’t playing she’d be exploring, sniffing things out like hedgehogs, warthogs and genet cats. Now that I’ve mentioned it – cats. … whoa betide any cats in the area, …. Well domestic cats anyway. She always tried to do the right thing – perhaps she’d seen us killing rats or somehow knew that rats were not acceptable, Panda would go for anything small and rat like. Sometimes she’d get it totally wrong. One year she caught a giant rat, it’s a friendly cat sized forest animal that does not spread disease. Well she killed it and attempted to eat it. But she left the best part for me. I knew that something was wrong by the stench coming from the sofa on the veranda. There placed perfectly on the couch was the head of giant rat – she had eaten the rest of it but it had sickened her and she had thrown up little bundles of hair with tiny feet. I didn’t know what she’d eaten until I found my gift, the rotting head. The smell permeated the entire house and left us retching for days. She couldn’t have known that she did anything wrong and that experience didn’t stop her from catching rats elsewhere and delivering them like parcels at the kitchen door.

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They say that dogs are like their owners – yes Peter was like Harry the golden lab, blond, always eating, friendly – far to friendly and extremely gullible. But Josh is just like Panda, wild free spirited and yes, they both share a coat full of dreadlocks.

I don’t think we ever understood or fully appreciated the capacity of her intelligence. Panda seemed to understand a huge vocabulary and learned many tricks, but perhaps what was most unique about Panda was her ability to sense the feelings of those around her. Last year after a particularly painful operation when I came home sore and sickly. She seemed to instinctively know that she had to be gentle with me. I could see the understanding of my pain in her eyes, in the way she behaved around me and in her attempts to gently please me. She would also herd away the other ignorant dogs if they were being too rough or close to me by using her body to shield me from them and their rough attempts to play.

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I got the news that Panda had died when I was visiting Josh in Boston. We were both in shock, unable to talk or grieve properly. I know that like me he must have cried and cried. It didn’t make any sense, we weren’t prepared, and both of us felt cheated of a chance to say goodbye to her. We aren’t the only ones who grieved her loss, everyone at home was devastated, including the dogs. From his expressions, Pluto seemed to also understand that she had died and for weeks the other dogs didn’t go out doors and lost all interest in walks or playing. They lay about as if grieving. The life of the pack had been stripped. I know that my life has totally changed too and I struggle with memories of her every day. It’s hard to explain why she was so important to us. When giving away one of her last puppies I couldn’t be there when the lady came to meet the pups. She called me to tell me how thrilled she was with all our dogs and especially the puppy she chose and asked if we would come to her house and spend time with her. She said that she we must be a lovely people – and that she could tell through the personalities of our dogs. Most people would be insulted if they were told that they were like their dogs, not me, I am honored that someone thinks that I’m at least as good as Panda was.

On March 10th Panda was fatally wounded by a leopard that attacked as she tried to escape. She had spent the previous three nights barking incessantly from inside the kitchen where she slept with the other dogs for her own protection from predators. On that day at 10.30 am she barked and barked at a small bush  then suddenly turned and ran. A leopard emerged from the bush and caught her within a few bounds. It was not at all surprising that she died trying to protect us.

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RIP Panda, sweet sweet girl.

May 11, 2010 Posted by | Kenya | , , , , , | 10 Comments

No matter what, don’t bribe the police in Kenya

Not all experiences with the Kenyan police are bad, but we all know that most of them are.  I’m one of those people whose heart starts to race at every road block, and I avoid eye contact with our boys in blue unless absolutely necessary.

You’d think I’m a mass murder, but the truth is I am not guilty of any crime. I pride myself in never breaking the law, I always carry my license, make sure insurance is up to date, and keep the car in good nick, I don’t go off road, throw litter, or speed… well, that’s on most days anyway.

But then of course the one day that I do press the accelerator a little too hard, I get caught.  It’s sods law and it has happened to all of us, that crushing feeling that you are on the wrong side of the law and you deserve punishment … and you know that the cops are salivating at the opportunity to make a quick buck.

We were driving to Laikipia from Nairobi on the Nakuru Highway and I was at the wheel driving well within the speed limit. We made  made a short stop but I had to catch up with the other car in our convoy –  I know that I was just over the 100kph speed limit. Guilty as charged. Just my luck that the police caught me at that exact moment. I was waved over by a swaggering young police man with a friendly face and big “gotcha” attitude. This was going to be an easy kill for him.

“Madam you were speeding, let me see your license” he says. I turn on my “F*** You attitude” and say “ no I was not speeding sir, I’ve been monitoring the speedometer and I was within 100 kph”

Policeman – “Madam, my friend has captured you on the radar, you were speeding. You were going 107 kpm”.

Damn! I know I was over the limit so it’s not worth pushing this line of argument so I switch to “grovel mode”

“Sir, I’m very sorry, perhaps my eyes strayed momentarily, I will drive more carefully”,

Policeman – “no I have to give you a ticket….” he looks me in the eye knowingly – I play total ignorace.  I know he’s playing with me…

I sigh audibly and hand him my drivers license “I will issue you an instant fine, it is 3000 shillings…” he says in Kiswahili

Peter my melanin deficient fiancé in the passenger seat oblivious of what we are saying

“I don’t have three thousand shillings” I respond in Swahili

The Cop continues “…and you have to go to court on Monday”.

He checks over the car and starts scribbling something in a little blank black exercise book-

I say “you don’t have a receipt book?” and he responds “no but my friend has one,…. I need you to give me 3,000 shillings and can you go to court on Monday ” (I know that its either an instant fine or court but not both – but I’m on the defensive now and making like a drowning duck)

Me-  “please officer, you know I was only just over the speed limit, please forgive me, I don’t have the money and I can’t go to court on Monday”

Him “ok, just give me 3,000 cash and I’ll let you go”

Peter asks “what’s he saying?” and the cop asks angrily “what’s he saying”

Me “he’s asking about the fine, we don’t have the money”

Cop “ok, give me 2,000 cash and you can go”

“I don’t have 2,000″ I wail

“Ok, just give me 1,000 cash and I’ll forgive you” He puts his note book in his pocket

By now I’m pissed off. This is clearly soliciting for a  bribe.

Me “Sir, I have lived all my 42 years in Kenya and I have never given a bribe in Kenya and I’m not giving a bribe today. Please don’t ruin my record for me”

Him “Oh, you are older than me, ok just give me the 1000 shillings for lunch and then you can go”

“No, I’m not responsible for your lunch, …..” then i go out on a limb “you know corruption is what is ruining Kenya”

Peter is fidgeting uneasily at the conversation and rummaging around in his backpack

Cop “You are right, corruption is destroying our country” … he ponders “ok madam, just give me 100 shillings and you can go”.

I’m on the verge of bursting into laughter, I hold it in.

“no” I say and I recline my seat ready for a long stay on the road side.

The cop stares at me in disbelief, then he walks away momentarily his attention diverted by all the other cars that are watching us and passing him by, then he comes back and says

“Madam I am going to forgive you this time, please drive carefully”

I pull out and press the acceleartor carefully watching the cop through my rear view mirror as I tell Peter what transpired.We are both angry yet relieved.

I ask Peter what he was doing “looking for my BBC press badge, if all else fails with Kenyan cops just flash a press card and they step away “.

I realized too late that I didn’t get that damn cops name or badge number, next time I’ll be sure to send it along with a narrative to the Anti corruption officials. Quick calculation – if these cops at Gilgil are getting 1000 from every few cars that they stop they must be earning a good 30,000 each per day just be terrorizing us drivers. I just hope that they don’t sleep at night and all that ill gotten wealth makes them very very sick in mind, heart and body.

In most countries there is a 10% allowance – ie if the speed limit is 100kph you can get away with 110 but with a warning at most.

So here’s your ticket out of coersion into giving a bribe

1. Play ignorant – when they ask for chai or tea tell them you forgot your flask at home. If they say they are thirsty and ask for soda or water just tell them that you passed a kiosk and they can walk down.

2. If they find you guilty of anything just sit tight and ignore all the threats. If they insist on writing a ticket let them do it – its not in their interest to tie up the court with petty issues. I know of a kid who departed with Ksh 30,000 because he was afraid of going to jail for smoking  a cigarette in his car. Don’t assume you have to give a bribe.

3. Study the policemans/womans face, get their name and badge number – when you are in a particularly tight corner pretend you are totally ignorant, new to Kenya, and make a fake call to your lawyer make it obvious that you are writing it all down, and loudly tell the person what is happening – where it is and who the cop is say things like “oh, are you on your way?” Some cops get pissed off by this so play it by ear.

4. If they ask for a ride tell them its’ not your car and the owner is your boss and he/she does not allow it.

5. Tell them you have never given a bribe before. Hide your money and tell them you have none.

6. Don’t break the law, don’t use your phone in the car, overload, speed or drive with no lights at night.

7. Play ignorant, apologise, be friendly, praise them for doing such a good job..

No matter what, never bribe the police in Kenya.

May 6, 2010 Posted by | corruption, police | 8 Comments