All the countries I have visited

1994 Canada – born!

1995 US – moved to NY then NC

2007 UK (England) – visited Mom’s family

2007 Kenya – visited close family friends

2015 Rwanda – summer internship

2015 Uganda – vacation from summer internship

2015 India – study abroad

2016 France – visiting friend studying abroad

2016 Italy – visiting friend studying abroad

2016 Netherlands – vacation with friends studying abroad in Europe

2017 Zambia – on-boarding to new job

2018 Liberia – work trip

2018 Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls half-marathon with boyfriend

2018 South Africa – work trip

2018 Spain – visiting brother Max studying abroad

2018 Germany – random 12-hour layover

Plan for 2019: Mexico

 

Country 15: Spain, con Max

I just got back from visiting my brother in Spain. He’s studying abroad in Granada, the beautiful city I never wanted to leave.

***

I’ve never been a fan of window seats – I get claustrophobic stuck in the corner, and I always drink a lot of water and then have to pee which means everyone in the row has to get up twice – but I’m glad I forgot to pre-check and choose an aisle seat.

When I landed, I had to take a bus from Málaga to Granada. I spent the two hours staring out the window. Somehow I’d thought Spain was more lush, less dry.

The first night, Max introduced me to tapas, which is the reason I want to live in Granada forever. You hardly need to eat dinner, just go out for drinks and every drink gets you a snack. One place we went gave us mini enchiladas.

I posted up in different cafes to work Monday – Wednesday, and Maxie came and did work with me in between classes.

***

On Friday, Max, his friend Silas, and I went to Albaicín, a neighborhood on a hill that was the original walled city when it was under Arab rule.

We wandered so many good alleys in search of this one lookout Silas remembered. Along the way, we were propositioned to buy weed by this kid who looked 16 and we bought our lunches at a little grocery store.

The lookout had a view of Alhambra, the awesome fort that overlooks the city from a hill.

We wanted to find a quieter lunch spot so we walked all over Albaicín until we found this awesome wall that overlooked caves where people were living and, apparently, farming, as well as the rest of the city.

After a delicious sandwich for lunch (baguette is good in Spain, too), we climbed down the other side of the wall and walked by some of the cave homes on our way down to the river that would lead us back into town.

I would absolutely move to Granada – I would just need a job and also to learn Spanish. (I was totally useless, sometimes forgetting to say “si” instead of “oui” but it was fun to see Max in action with the Spanish.)

The hills were awesome, and from some vantage points you could see the white caps of mountains not too far away. I love the white buildings with the red tile roofs, and the cobblestone streets, and all the bread and cheese. Not sure I could get used to a giant lunch and nothing being open from 2-5 pm, but for the scenery, I would certainly try.

***

Max had been injured while climbing a mountain (he had to be helicoptered out!) before I got there and had just gotten his stitches out. So while I was there, we went on a run together with Silas and his other friend Ivy for his first run back. He was like, great, running with y’all will be so chill, and THEN WE RAN FOR TWO HOURS.

Still chill for him, not so much for me! It was the longest I’ve run since the half marathon in July.

The run was beautiful, though, we ran up into the hills behind Alhambra before turning down into the valley and making our way back along a winding country road. 

I ran on my own on Monday and followed the same trail but not as far. It was so dang beautiful.

I’m trying to run consistently again (Max recommended a training plan), and it would be so easy if I could run on those trails all the time!

My Monday run was the first of the training week and I felt pretty awesome about meeting my goal of sub-9’30” average pace (9’23” in the end). It had a rough start because the first two miles were basically straight uphill past Alhambra. (And miles 6 and 7 were back down the same hills.)

When Max was helping me with a training schedule, he recommended training for 5K instead of the half marathon, since it’s easy to run a lot of 5Ks and see your progress. Plus I’m more of a sprintery type. We’re going to get the whole fam to run a 5K in December when I’m home for the holidays.

I was guessing I’d run that 5K at about 25 minutes and then try to improve all the way down to sub-20 (which is SO FAST – you have to run 6’25” pace!). The only 5K I’ve ever run before (just after volleyball season 3-4 years ago), I did in about 26 mins. But now I’m hoping to get more like 23 or 24 mins, since the last 5K of my 8 mile run was in 25:56. We’ll see!

***

On the last day of my visit, Max took me to see his school. This is the view from the rooftop study area, which is ridiculous:

10/10 would go to Spain again.

Thesis revamp: All hail Ted Miguel, PhD, god of economic writing!

      Ted Miguel, god of economic writing

In order to have a high-quality writing sample for the RA jobs I’m applying to this fall, I am revamping my thesis! Joy of joys!

I thought about doing this earlier in the year and even created a whole plan to do it, but ended up deciding to work on this blog, learning to code, and other, less horrifying professional development activities.

I say horrifying because the thesis I submitted was HORRIBLY WRITTEN. So so so bad. I cringe every time I look back over it. I had tackled a 6-year project (the length of time it took to write the paper I was basing my thesis on, I later found out) in four months time. Too little of the critical thinking I had done on how to handle the piles and piles of data I needed to answer my research question actually ended up in writing.

I thought it would be a drag to fix up the paper. I didn’t expect to still be as intrigued by my research topic (democracy and health in sub-Saharan Africa!) or to be as enthusiastic about practicing my economic writing. I’m taking the unexpected enjoyment as a positive sign that life as a researcher will be awesome.

I’ve been thinking critically about the question of democracy and health and how they’re interrelated and how economic development ties into each. I’ve read (skimmed) a few additional sources that I didn’t even think to look for last time and I already have some good ideas for a new framing of why this research is interesting and important. The first time around, I focused a lot on the cool methodology (spatial regression discontinuity design) because that’s what I spent most of my time working on.

My perspective on the research question has been massively refreshed by time apart from my thesis, new on-the-ground development experience, and the papers I’ve read in the interim.

My first tasks have been to re-read the thesis (yuck), and then gather the resources I need to re-write at least the introduction. I am focusing on the abstract and introduction as the first order of business because some of the writing samples I will need to submit will be or can be shorter and the introduction is as far as most people would get anyways.

To improve my writing and the structure of my introduction, my thesis advisor – who I can now call Erick instead of Professor Gong – recommended reading some of Ted Miguel’s introductions. I printed three and all were well-written and informative in terms of structure; one of them (with Pascaline Dupas) even helped me rethink the context around my research question and link it more solidly to the development economics literature.

The next move is to outline the introduction by writing the topic sentence of each paragraph (a tip taken from my current manager at IDinsight, Ignacio, who is very into policy memo-style writing) using a Miguel-type structure. I’ll edit that structure a bit, then add the text of the paragraphs.

I’m pretty sure I just solved life

Disclaimer: I was a little drunk on power (calculations) when I wrote this, but it’s me figuring out that econometrics is something I might want to specialize in!

I think I just figured out what I want to do with the rest of my career.

I want to contribute to how people actually practice data analysis in the development sector from the technical side.

I want to write about study design and the technical issues that go into running a really good evaluation, and I want to produce open source resources to help people understand and implement the best technical practices.

This is always something that makes me really excited. I don’t think I have a natural/intuitive understanding of some of the technical work, but I really enjoy figuring it out.

And I love writing about/explaining technical topics when I feel like I really “get” a concept.

This is the part of my current job that I’m most in love with. Right now, for example, I’m working on a technical resource to help IDinsight do power calculations better. And I can’t wait to go to work tomorrow and get back into it.

I’ve also been into meta-analysis papers that bring multiple studies together. In general, the meta-practices, including ethical considerations, of development economics are what I want to spend my time working on.

I’ve had this thought before, but I haven’t really had a concept of making that my actual career until now. But I guess I’ve gotten enough context now that it seems plausible.

I definitely geek out the most about these technical questions, and I really admire people who are putting out resources so that other people can geek out and actually run better studies.

I can explore the topics I’m interested in, talk to people who are doing cool work, create practical tools, and link these things that excite me intellectually to having a positive impact in people’s lives.

My mind is already racing with cool things to do in this field. Ultimately, a website that is essentially an encyclopedia of development economics best practices would be so cool. A way to link all open source tools and datasets and papers, etc.

But top of my list for now is doing a good job with and enjoy this power calculations project at work. If it’s as much fun as it was today, I will be in job heaven.

Continue reading I’m pretty sure I just solved life

Recommendations of the Week: June 18-24

Blog

Goddess-Economist Seema Jayachandran wrote about economists’ gendered view of their own discipline back in March. Dr. Jayachandran and PhD student co-author Jamie Daubenspeck investigate:

  1. Percent of woman authors on different development topics: Drawing on all empirical development papers from 2007-2017, they find, out of all papers, “51% were written by all men, and 15% by all women. The average female share of authors was 28% (weighting each paper equally).” Gender, health, trade, migration, education, poverty and conflict are the development topics with a greater than average number of woman authors.
  2. Economists’ perspectives on under-researched topics: They show that there is a negative correlation between a topic’s % of woman authors and perceptions the topic is under-researched, a finding they call “a bit depressing.” Same. (They also write that “whether a topic is under-researched are not significantly correlated with the actual number of articles on the topic published in the JDE over our sample period.” So what do these economists even know?)

I love their thoughtful outline of the methodology they used for this little investigation. Describing the world with data is awesome.

Awesome Humans

I ended up hearing about/reading about several amazing humans this week:

Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia – the clinical psychologist running Cook County Jail – had amazing things to say on the Ezra Klein Show last year in July. She is powerful and thoughtful and doing amazing things to improve prisons in the US.

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern gave birth on the 21st. She’s only the second world leader to give birth in office, after Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto. The best part is that she is 100% unapologetic about being a mother in office, even while she acknowledges the challenges she will personally face in balancing a new baby and work.

These two leaders are just out there in the world leading noble, thoughtful, innovative lives. In love.

And then there’s MJ Hegar, who’s running for Congress against a tea partier in Texas. Her amazingly directed ad shows how enduring her dedication to service has been throughout her life:

Life Skill

My best friend Riley and I made a pact to meditate daily for ten days, starting on Monday. I have done it each day this week and my week has felt fuller and more focused than ever. Not willing to attribute full causality to the meditation, but it definitely has been a tool to start my day well and a reminder throughout the day that I can and want to stay focused and in the moment.

Podcast

The Ezra Klein Show interviews are always on point, and “The Green Pill” episode featuring Dr. Melanie Joy was no exception. The June 11 show discussed “carnism” – the unspoken ideology that tells us eating animals, wearing animals, and otherwise instrumentalizing them is good.

I’ve been mulling it over for a while now, but the episode’s frank conversation about why veganism is so hard to talk about pleasantly – and why it’s so hard for people to shift from a carnal mindset – motivated me to head back down the vegetarian path.

I was vegetarian for a year or so in college, but now I’m aiming for veganism, or something close. I’m not eating meat and am not actively purchasing or eating eggs or milk. At this point, I’ll eat eggs or milk or other animal products that are already baked into something – a slice of cake, for example. Eventually, I want to phase out pretty much all animal products. But I’m giving myself some space to adjust and dial back the carnism bit by bit. The incremental approach should let me stick to it better.

Cheese will probably be my “barrier food” – apparently this is so common, there’s a webpage that specifically teaches how to overcome the cheese block. (hehe)

They recommend slowly replacing cheese with guac or hummus, and taking a large break from any cheese before trying vegan cheese. (Which won’t be a problem since I doubt there’s any vegan cheese in Kenya to begin with!)

Cover Image

Fruit

It is not mango season in Kenya, but I had the best mango this week. Maybe because I cut it myself for the first time, making an absolute mess. Or maybe because it was the key ingredient to the first lettuce-containing salad I’ve ever made myself at home. But there’s a lot to be said for a fruit that encourages you to embrace your messy nature.

New insights on the development vs. humanitarian sectors

When I was at Middlebury, I took classes like Famine & Food Security and Economics of Global Health, learning more and more about humanitarian aid and international development. It didn’t really sink in that these were two different sectors until today.

I had a chance to talk to someone who worked for REACH – an organization that tries to collect the most accurate data possible from war zones/humanitarian emergency areas to inform policy. Seem like pretty important work.

Our conversation solidified to me that the humanitarian sector is different from the development sector. The humanitarian sector has a totally different set of actors (dominated by the UN) and missions, although the ultimate mission of a better world is the same.

Development is about the ongoing improvement of individuals living in a comparatively stable system; humanitarian aid is about maintaining human rights and dignities when all those systems break down.

There’s some overlap, of course – regions experiencing ongoing war and violence may be targeted by development and humanitarian programs alike, for example. I also think the vocabulary blurs a bit when discussing funding for development and humanitarian aid.

Development isn’t quite sure how it feels about human rights, though. Rights are good when they lead to economic development, which is equivalent to most development work.

I’d say that my definition of what I want to do in the development sector bleeds over into the human rights and humanitarian arenas. (I’m sure there’s also an important distinction between human rights sector and humanitarian sector – probably that the humanitarian sector is more about meeting people’s basest needs in crisis, although human rights workers also deal with abuses during crises.)

My interest in humanitarian work has been piqued by this conversation today, though. It was also piqued by my former roommate’s description of her work with Doctors without Borders. The idea of going on an intense mission trip for a period of time, being all-in, then taking a break is kind of appealing. Although REACH itself wasn’t described as a great work experience. Really long hours, but fairly repetitive work.

Maybe I should read more about the economics/humanitarian aid/data overlap.

Meditation Pact

My best friend Riley and I agreed to meditate every day for the next 10 days.

I got up early this morning for the first day – it’s starting to be winter in Nairobi so I was snug in warm clothes when I did my 10 minutes on the balcony.

The part I love most about the Headspace meditation is when you let go of all thoughts and let your brain wander, then center back into your body and physical sensations. Always makes me feel light but grounded.

What next? Hiking the Appalachian Trail?

Photo by adrian on Unsplash

I’ve only hiked one brief section of the Appalachian Trail. It was just over the NC border in Tennessee, it was steep, and it was beautiful.

I’ve been hiking twice in my now 7 months of living in Nairobi. One of those hikes lasted 2.5 hours longer than it should have and was essentially straight up and then straight down a river of mud – and I got altitude sickness.

And yet I’ve gotten a strong itch to hike the entire Appalachian Trail as a thru hiker.

Why?

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, all the way from Georgia to Maine, has always appealed to me. But I’ve never seriously thought about training for it and fitting it into my plans. I want to do so much (I want to do about 10 different grad programs), and taking 5 months “off” for an expensive trek in the wilderness isn’t very convenient.

But living in a city for the first time is reinforcing for me how much I love and miss nature. Every moment I spend hiking, rock climbing, or just surrounded by green refreshes and energizes me.

I grew up in a well-treed town, with a whole network of trails and a creek just behind my house. I went to college in a small town nestled among the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks. I miss the East Coast trees and mountains. Trekking through that landscape, getting intimate with the dirt and rocks and trees, getting offline – that sounds like the best way to return home.

Plus, I think it’d be pretty badass to carry your life on your back for 2,181 miles.

How?

Hiking the AT requires a lot of prep and money. It costs about $5,000 not including gear. And it takes about 5 months: April-August if you’re hiking from Georgia to Maine (NOBO) or June/July-October/November if you’re hiking south (SOBO).

Most people hike NOBO, ending the hike with the most challenging sections in the White Mountains before summiting Mt. Katahdin for the finish. So many people hike the AT every year now that the NOBO route can be pretty crowded. As of May 16, 2,508 people were registered to thru-hike NOBO, while only 218 were registered for SOBO hiking.

The idea of doing SOBO appeals to me just on that basis, but I’d have to weigh a lot of variables carefully before choosing.

The timeline alone makes SOBO a difficult choice. Unless I’m going to do it starting next July. Which I am wholly unqualified to do.

I have never been backpacking. I’m working on planning my first trip soon, but I’d need to go on plenty of longer trips before heading off for 5 months. (Assuming I like backpacking!)

I’d also want to get trained in wilderness first aid, wear in my gear beforehand, and coordinate how friends can join me for sections of the trail. I’m fine to hike alone if no one else wants to take 5 months off to join me, but I’d want my favorite humans to join for at least a little bit each!

I know my father and brother would join for at least a week each. And the boyfriend. And I have several friends who I could probably convince to do a few weeks each.

Fitting the hike into my own schedule will be hard enough… although the NOBO timing probably works pretty well for right before starting a grad school program.

It’s likely that I won’t end up thru-hiking the AT. I’ve never taken such a big risk to do something so outside the normal career path. But I’m going to start doing some backpacking, just in case I fall in love.

On a rock wall. Afraid of heights.

Two weeks ago, I had my first opportunity to climb outdoors. My friends were going to Hell’s Gate – the national park two hours outside Nairobi that inspired much of the Lion King film.

I have been afraid of heights my whole life. That fear is one of the main reasons I’ve never gone rock climbing outdoors. In a rock climbing gym, the controlled environment feels like a pretty safe space to dangle from a rope two to three stories up. But when I get near the edge of a cliff, I feel like I suddenly have to fight the urge to leap into the void.

This really freaked me out when I was younger, even though the fear was tinged with a sense of exhilaration, too.

Aside: Recently (read: five minutes ago), I learned this urge is called the “high place phenomenon.” In one study on the feeling, researchers found the desire to jump wasn’t correlated with suicidal thoughts and was instead correlated with “anxiety sensitivity.” Anxiety sensitivity is essentially how anxious being anxious makes you – specifically how reactive you are to the physical sensations of your body telling you it’s in danger (like the quaking in your knees as you look over a cliff).

It was one of the most beautiful days I have ever experienced. It had been rainy all week (we’re just wrapping up the rainy season in Kenya), but the day we were climbing was all sunshine and scudding clouds.

We hired a climbing guide to set up two top ropes so that we could belay ourselves after that. We had one easier climb and one harder one. Later, another climber showed up and set up another climb and we moved the easier rope to another wall. I was able to try all four and got to the top of three. The fourth had an overhang and was the last one I attempted. I got my arms onto the overhang but couldn’t haul myself over the top that late in the day.

Nervous? Who, me?
My friend Maddy documented my first climb of the day
I learned some actual climbing technique on the many cracks in the wall. Improving over the day felt like the biggest win.

I was pretty freaked out by the view and the drop off at the top of this one, but after the first descent I got comfy sitting on the rope and hanging out at the top of the other climbs.
Also got to learn how to belay with a gri-gri.
It was Maddy’s first time climbing outside, too.

After we “cleaned” the routes (removed the equipment we had used for top-roping), we drove through the rest of the park to reach some sulphur hot springs on the opposite side. The whole landscape was wide open and gorgeous.

At one point a giraffe just started running alongside our car. It was magical.

10/10 experience and made me really want to climb more!

Abhi toh Party shuru hui hai

It was my friend Jayne’s sister’s wedding this weekend.

Sunday…

we performed our dances, then danced the rest of the night even when the lights went out and it was pouring rain.

I knew so many of the songs and it was so great to dance to them again (including ones I danced to with Midd Masti! – the Humma Song and Nachde me Saare). The dance’s choreographer and cousin to the bride said he’s going to quit his life as a banker and come back to Nairobi and start a dance crew. Vas and I signed up to be the first students if it ever really happens.

I would love to spend all my free time learning Bollywood dances.

Vas, Maddy, and me at the dancing/cocktail party on Sunday.

On Monday night…

we went to the Oshwal Centre for a quick greet with the families (lots of namaste-ing to adorable teeny grannies in beautiful saris) and then a thali-style dinner. The pistachio burfi was so good.

Me, Vas, Jayne (sister of the bride), and Maddy after dinner Monday night. I’m always the short one in volleyball team pics but the towering giant in pics with other friends.

The first night, we wore kurtis for the dancing and on Friday everyone was in a mix of Indo-Western styles.

Tuesday…

was a public holiday in Kenya, and the date of the final ceremony. We started our morning early with some ball gowns in Java.

Vas and I did a quick Java run for coffee and muffins.

We drove out into the countryside to the gorgeous Fuscia Gardens our among the tea farms. First, we welcomed the groom’s party with dancing and also the bride’s family stole his shoes?! He’s supposed to pay to get them back but I’m not sure how that worked out in the end. “London Thumakda” got way stuck in my head, and we had a reprisal of Bollywood “Shape of You.”

The bride’s family blessed the groom and his family as they entered – during the blessing, the bride’s auntie tried to grab the groom’s nose, like you play when you’re little with your parents. He couldn’t move away, but his friends and family would pull him away if she got close. Whether she grabbed it was supposed to symbolize whether the bride’s family will have much say in the bride’s new married life.

The camera guys were intense. Also, the groom doesn’t have shoes on in this pic. Just stolen!

Then we had chai (mmmmm) and noms, including poori, the best breakfast food of all time. There was a break as we waited for the bride to officially arrive, so we took advantage of the ominous clouds and our swirly dresses.

We’ve decided everyone should just wear formal Indian outfits all the time. So colorful and flowy and swirly!

There was a cute moment after the bride’s party officially entered where the groom was “revealed” to the bride by popping up from behind a banner before both were seated on the ceremony dais. They were draped in enormous garlands of white and pink flowers and a thin chain that went over both their heads, linking them together. The bride’s skirt was also tied to a piece of cloth draped over the groom’s neck.

Dhruti and Keval looking amazing at the start of the ceremony

There were a lot of prayers and throwing things into the fire and tying their hands together during the ceremony. I couldn’t quite follow since it was in Gujarati. Got some good Hindi word recognition practice out of it though!

The most famous and exciting part of the ceremony was when the bride led the groom around the fire. She led him three times, each time greeting and accepting blessings from different family members: her parents, her father’s eldest relatives, her mother’s eldest relatives. The fourth and final time around the fire, he led her and they were greeted and blessed by the groom’s family.

Before each circle around the fire, there were prayers and the couple threw rice into the flames. After each circle, the man presiding over the ceremony would count to three and they would sit as fast as possible – the one who sat first would signify who would have more control over the household.

The whole wedding was full of fun and silly traditions, vibrant colors, and lots of involvement from all friends and family.

At the end of the amazing weekend and, for Jayne, months of wedding prep. Jayne: I need a drink!

Elephant Hill

Two weekends ago, I went on one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever been on – Elephant Hills in the Aberdares.

The optimistic first minutes

Unfortunately, the hike was 3 hours longer than advertised, we ran out of water, we had to hike in the dark (with hyenas??), and I got altitude sickness and threw up. Otherwise, best hike ever.

The second fall and we weren’t even in the woods yet

“The Aberdares? In the rainy season? Are you crazy?!” – My boss when she heard about our trip at work the next day

Lots of recovering from falls

Mikala found a group hiking Elephant Hills – a hike we’d all heard was crazy beautiful – and invited Brooke and me. I added Nick and Alice from work to the hiking crew. Women Who Hike Kenya organized the buses, park fees, park rangers, and “personal photographer” (which is why I have so many pics from the hike – I didn’t get my phone out to take any pics until we reached the peak).

Unfortunately, the personal photographer took pictures of everything, including my return from peeing in the bushes

The best section going up and down was the bamboo forest we passed through. On the way up, we thought this was the middle third of the hike up – it was more like one of the middle tenths of the climb.

We started out by criss-crossing a muddy road, then followed the road through potato farms, through a pine forest, through an electric fence to keep the game out, through more trees, and along another open grassy section before reaching the bamboo part. On the way down, these pre-bamboo sections all merged into one quick burst in our minds… instead, it kept going and going and going. The bamboo section was just a vertical shoot up a mud slide between gorgeous bamboo shoots – lots more falling.

This pic captures the beauty, but not the steepness

After the long bamboo section, we took a quick break on a grassy knoll. A bunch of us thought it was the elephant’s head, so we ate all our lunch. But then on we went.

Me finding out this isn’t the top as the peak in the background emerged from the clouds

The next section was just a muddy stream of squelching mud sprinkled with safari ants (vicious biters, but I thankfully wasn’t bit). We also thought this was the last section…

Valiantly attempting to keep up the pep as the altitude starts hitting us

…until we arrived at another grassy section leading us up into the clouds.

“Really?”

After that, I started feeling really sick and decided I had to just power through to the peak. The clouds faked us out at least 5 or 6 times before I finally made it. As soon as I reached the top, the clouds parted and we were treated to incredible 360 views. I was too busy dying of altitude sickness to notice at first. I recovered a bit and ate some of my leftover “I’m not going to Liberia for two months!”chocolate cake from Java.

I was desperate to get down from altitude (about 12,500 ft at the peak, up nearly 3000 ft from the trailhead), so I tried to keep up with Alice and Nick. They hadn’t been feeling the altitude sickness like Brooke, Mikala, and me. Pretty quickly, though, I had to stop and almost started crying my head hurt so much. I let the rest of the summiters pass me by until Brooke and Mikala reached me and rallied my spirits.

Still, Mikala and I were hit pretty hard and it was slow going. Meanwhile, Brooke was calculating how long it would take to get down, comparing that timeline to when it would get dark, and debating whether it was better to push us to go faster when we were feeling so crappy or to be in a national park with wild animals after dark. Actually, at that point, we were more worried about being in that dense, slippery bamboo in the dark.

My head was pounding, I felt hopeless but knew I had to keep going, and my legs were quaking. I’ve never seen my legs shake as hard as they did each time I paused to take a sip of water or breath more deeply. I’d been sitting on the idea that I needed to throw up for about 15 minutes when I finally sped up a bit, turned off the trail and puked. After that, I felt AWESOME. My legs were still shaking, but now my head wasn’t pounding.

We made it to the first grassy knoll where we’d eaten lunch. Happily, another group of friends on the hike had over-prepared with extra gatorades and lent us some. We refueled and then plunged back into the bamboo forest.

Just leave me here to die

We had some great jungle-woman moments slipping and sliding down the increasingly dimly lit bamboo section. The bamboo  on the edge of the path were key; we swung between them rather than trust our weight on the muddy slope.

By the time we made it to the end of the bamboo, we were euphoric and wanted to power through the final spurt. But by the time we hit the pine tree forest again, it was already dark. At that point, one of the more experienced hikers who had done Elephant Hills seven or eight times before started getting antsy. He kept hiking super fast but also yelling at the few stragglers to stay with the group and warning everyone about hyenas.

At that point, though, I was actually in a great mood. I had a stick to wave menacingly at the dark edges of the path, I wasn’t at a crazy altitude anymore, and I knew where we were and how to get back.

In all, we hiked 12 miles, straight up and straight down through deep mud. No switchbacks in the Aberdares, apparently! I was out on the trail from 9 am to 7 pm.

10/10 would do again… but maybe only through the bamboo section. And probably not in the rainy season!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quickie reflection on first PD session

Today was the first day I used my new weekly professional development time block.

I had hoped to spend 2 hours reading and summarizing an academic article, and then 1 hour researching geospatial data in Africa.

Instead, I spent all three hours summarizing and digesting some research on grounded theory methodology I did two weeks ago. I had hoped to accomplish that writing and then read and write about an academic paper on GT and economics.

One of my PD goals is to track my predictions of how I will spend my time and evaluate whether those predictions were accurate. In this case, not so much. I feel good about how I spent the time today. I learned a lot by reviewing and digesting the notes I had previously taken.

I learn a lot every time I try to describe something I’ve read. Not sure if I will write Grounded Theory, Part 2: Grounded Theory & Economics next week during my PD session, or if I will use it for something else. Another related topic I want to understand is what the difference between heterodox and traditional economics really is.

Maybe some of it will happen in my PD session, maybe I’ll do one or both in my own time throughout the week and use next week for looking into the GIS/African data thing. TBD, but I feel good about my time spent this morning.

What you can get for $50 [repost]

So I was phoneless in Kenya…

After my iPhone took a dive onto the floor of my shower room (showers have their own rooms in Nairobi), it finally powered off for good.

The shower incident was this particular phone’s second aquatic misadventure, and despite a full recovery that lasted nearly a month, it stopped charging properly and I judged it good and dead this time.

So I was phoneless in Kenya, where people buy SIM cards and phones separately, and don’t buy longterm contracts like we do in the States. This meant that a new iPhone would cost out-of-pocket nearly $1000.

I had to get some kind of phone, though, because Uber or Taxify apps are really the only way to get around without a car, especially at night, unless you have a “guy,” a word which here means someone you trust to drive you around at all hours and who can usually take your calls.

People have a different “guy” (see also: “fundi”) for every need. There’s the chair fundi, the boda guy (boda = motorcycle), and even the guy guy, who can find you the right guy for whatever needs getting done.

At the Safaricom shop, I perused a wall of smartphones. I left ten minutes later with a fully functioning smartphone, just $50 lighter. I was euphoric — a smartphone for $50!? And I can download Medium, Facebook, a podcast app, Audible, even Spotify? Maybe I won’t get a new iPhone when I’m home for Christmas. What on earth are we shelling out a thousand dollars to Apple for?

Mmm…. quite a lot it turns out. While technically the phone does everything an iPhone would do, it does it all worse and at one tenth the speed.

Still, it’s incredible that Tecno has made something so functional — if not smooth — for $50. Really, I got exactly what I was looking for: a cheap phone that works for calls and texts, and close enough for Uber.

So what else can you get in Nairobi for $50?

5 months worth of plenty of data.

25 days worth of “Traditional Veg Mix + Chapati (x2)” delivered lunches.

5/6 of an amazing Festive Cheetah “explorer pillow” from artist Kanagrui. (Okay, seriously, how great are these cheetahs?)

2500 trips to work from the closest matatu stop (if I take the cheaper matatu).

5x$10 knock-off iPhone charging cords that are not broken and which you can buy to find out that your iPhone chargers were all broken (including the brand new one you bought 3 weeks ago, somehow), and that your iPhone is actually fine.

The Mzungu Who Thought She Knew About Public Transportation [repost]

I have been meaning to write a comprehensive update of what has happened since I suffered a 36-hour airport-hopping journey to move across the world, from my childhood home in Chapel Hill, NC, USA to Nairobi, Kenya. Of course, every day I put off writing a full update, I add another day to describe and make it even less likely I ever send anything. So. New tactic: sporadic updates with whatever scenes I’m motivated to share. Otherwise it’s just not gonna happen.


At lunchtime on Oct. 30, we found out that the Kenyan election board (IEBC) would soon be releasing results from the re-run election that took place on Thursday, Oct. 26.

For those who aren’t following the Kenyan election drama, incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta won the initial election in August. But second-place opposition leader Raila Odinga of NASA (not the U.S. space organization — Kenya’s main opposition party!) challenged the results in court, claiming that there were constitutional violations in the handling of voting data, etc.

Shockingly, the Supreme Court actually ruled in his favor (giving the NYTimes a bit of whiplash as they went from calling him a sore loser to praising this step for democracy) and set up re-run elections between the two leaders (Odinga and President Kenyatta) scheduled first for mid-October, then for October 26. Ahead of the run-off, however, NASA decided to boycott the new election, saying that the election board had failed to make meaningful changes. Reports at the time said turn-out was very low on Oct. 26 (in the end, it was about 39%, compared to over 80% in the original elections), and some areas, especially where Odinga has a lot of support, did not even vote (due to a combination of the boycotts and physical blockades set up by protesters to prevent people from reaching the polling stations).

My colleagues and I were instructed to stock up on food and water and stay at home in the days around the election, just to be safe. Some staff heard gun shots and I saw smoke from my balcony in the direction of Kawangware, where there were fires and gangs taking advantage of the chaos to perpetrate tribally motivated violence. We were all safe, though. 

Twitter was the best source for live up-dates during the election.

The next Monday, we went back to work, thinking we’d be working from home later in the week whenever they planned to announce the results of the run-off. We were surprised to hear they would be that afternoon and so were all sent home early so we would not have to travel right after results were released, in case of really bad traffic or violence.

At 2:30 pm, I walked to the bus stop just down the street from my office to take a matatu home. The announcement was scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and my ride home should take about 15 minutes, 30 if the traffic is bad.

Matatus, for those who have not yet had the pleasure, are what buses are called in much of Eastern Africa. The term can apply to the more official coach bus-style public transport that has been mapped (very cool!) or to the classic, old-timey, VW-style vans with about 15 seats (but which can be seen carrying up to 18 or 20 people). The bus to work, if I take a coach-style matatu, costs about 40 cents. A smaller matatu costs 20 cents.

So I’m waiting for a matatu, listening to the Spirits podcast (highly recommend), and one of the small matatus pulls up. Not as comfy, but I’m just ready to go home, so I ask if the matatu goes to Valley Arcade, a mall near my house. The small matatus are not marked very clearly (at least not in any system that I’ve figured out!) so I always have to ask. The man nods, I repeat myself, he nods again and ushers me aboard. I slide along the bench to sit by the window with my phone tightly in hand and backpack on my lap (requisite security measures for any rider unless you want your belongings nabbed by an opportunistic passenger or passerby).

We drive on and turn off the route I’m expecting. I know there’s an alternative route I’ve taken in Ubers occasionally, so I’m not too concerned… until we fly past that turn-off, too. I tap the driver’s assistant (fare collector and passenger recruiter) on the shoulder and ask again, Do you go to Valley Aracade? No, no.

Well. Great.

I am ushered off at the next stop and pointed toward another cluster of matatus and assured those will take me to Valley Arcade. A bit peeved that I’d been swindled by a matatu, I walked up to the new matatu and repeated my question three times: Do you go to Valley Arcade? Yes, yes, valley arcade. In I go. I think you have already guessed this matatu does not go to Valley Arcade either.

We’re going in the right direction, past Junction Mall, which is a 15-minute walk from home, but then we don’t turn and instead start heading off in the opposite direction. I ask the driver’s assistant, Do you go around to Valley Arcade? Maybe they loop around, I think, attempting to hold onto a shred of optimism… No. He gives me a curious look, wondering why I would think that.

It’s 3:10 and I’m starting to get a bit anxious about getting home by 3:30.

The man sitting next to me, dressed in formal business attire, very helpfully says I can get off at the next stop where he is also getting out and he can show me how to get to the 46, the bus I probably should have just waited for in the first place. Great. We hop out and he makes to walk into Kawangware: To cross over to where the 46 is, he says when I stop walking. Nope, nope, nope. Not right before election results are announced.

Instead, I catch yet another matatu heading back in the other direction, get off at Junction Mall, and walk home. I get in right at 3:30 pm, just in time for the announcement.

Except the election results weren’t announced until around 8 pm that night, and by that time I was rock climbing with a friend all the way across town. We were warned there might be celebrations or protests blocking our way back home, but there wasn’t even extra traffic when we finally headed back.

Twice swindled by matatus in one day. But, in the end, the little adventure only cost me my pride at being a mzungu who understands public transportation and an extra 40 cents.

Originally posted Nov. 4, 2017 on my Unofficial Economist Medium publication.