Pianos, Presidents, and Plaits

November just seems to be flying by. It is really hard to get a sense of time passing here – every day is sunny and warm (but not too hot) and a lot like the previous one. There is also a lot less commercialization here, so you don’t feel the anticipation of holidays like you do in the US. Thanksgiving is not celebrated here, so we were surprised to realize that it is this week. We have seen a few Christmas decorations at Nakumatt – the Walmart of Kenya – but not to the level back home.

The month began with the US presidential election. Jen and I, along with the other Fulbrighters here in Kenya, were invited to a big election morning celebration at the US Ambassador’s residence. Several hundred Americans and Kenyans gathered at 5:00 AM Kenyan time (9:00 PM Eastern time) to watch the election results come in. We had a great time eating breakfast (bagels!) and mingling with the other ex-pats. One of the other Fulbrighters is working on elephant conservation at Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Did you see that YouTube video of two guys rescuing a baby elephant from a well with a rope at Amboseli National Park? That was our friend Mark (in blue)! Our friend Tom also has a blog about his Kenya experience teaching math.

People were pretty excited here that Obama won. He has that family connection to Kenya – probably not unlike how the Irish felt when Kennedy became president. Jen was interviewed for the local news about her reaction to the election, but her segment did not air. Kenya is gearing up for its own presidential election in March 2013. Kenyan politics is based almost entirely on tribes (42 of them), each tribe voting for its own candidate. Coalition-building is everything and discussion of issues is virtually non-existent. It is quite different from America. I’ll write more about the Kenyan election later. It’s grows more complicated by the day.

Linnea and Garrett have been taking piano lessons through school. They had been learning piano back home and we enjoyed listening to them practice on our own piano. Since we moved here, they’ve been practicing at school and we don’t get to hear them play. Last week the kids had their end of term piano recital and they were terrific. Linnea played “Ode to Joy” and Garrett played “Chimes.” Garrett was also the youngest player at the concert. The music teachers really inspire all of the students who played so well.

We have made some great friends since we arrived, and we finally had people over to our house. Last Saturday evening we had our neighbors over for tea (chai in Swahili) and sandwiches. The grownups had great conversation and the kids entertained themselves. Then on Sunday we had a family we know from school (the Wright’s) over for the afternoon. The husband is a secondary school science teacher at the kids’ school and his wife is trained as a nurse. Their oldest daughter is in class with Linnea, their son is a year younger than Garrett, and they have another daughter in the middle. We had planned to go hiking at Kilimambogo, a nearby mountain, but the mud made the entrance road impassable. So we just had a picnic lunch at our house. Our only snag was that we had no electricity but we’re getting used to our weekly rationing when we must go without electricity all day on Sunday. Fortunately, the other family has lived here for three years so they are very familiar with the drill. It was a great weekend of socializing with new friends.

Many of the girls in our neighborhood have their hair braided, or “plaited” as they say here. Linnea has been begging to have her hair plaited for a while now. We checked with the school and there was no rule against it (some schools require girls to have short hair, essentially military crew cuts to minimize favoritism amongst the co-ed students). So Jen and Linnea took a trip into Nairobi to a well-recommended hair salon. Linnea sat still for 4 hours while the woman braided her hair, complete with extensions. Caucasian hair is “slippery” and is more difficult to braid. Linnea’s plaits turned out great and she is very happy to have a style like the other girls on the block.

Thanksgiving will come and go without much of a fuss here. We did see some live turkeys on the side of the road near the town of Limuru, so we could get one and have it butchered, but that seems like a lot of work. Living here certainly makes you keenly aware of just how lucky we are. We will take some time this week to be thankful for everything we have – food, friends, and family.

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