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.