Posted by: Caitlin | November 5, 2008

Observations on Kenya’s reaction to the U.S. election

Just a few quick reflections on the experience of watching the U.S. elections in Kenya: 


  • Before the election, Obama fans in Kisumu and Kibera slum Nairobi, areas heavily populated with people from Obama’s father’s Luo tribe, were threatening to repeat post-election riots if Obama lost. Recalling the scenes from last January, this was a frightening prospect.  There was talk of recycling the “No Raila, no Peace” adage for “No Obama, no peace”. Luckily it didn’t happen. Still it is funny that Kenyans (especially Luos) feel just as passionate about Obama as they do about their own candidate.
  •  Kenyans are expecting a lot from an Obama presidency, and on many fronts they are likely to be disappointed. Expectations of all Kenyans getting visas to the U.S., discounted plane tickets, and special opportunities for work and study in the U.S. are unlikely to come to fruition.  Although it’s nice for me to picture hundreds of Kenyans selling roasted maize and ‘jua cali’ handmade furniture on the Mall, we can file that under not gonna happen.  Also, many Kenyans are looking forward to the day when, as  promised in a song, the White House will actually physically be painted black.
  • Many babies born in Kenya today and this month are sure to be named Obama, President Barack, President Obama, and other variations thereof. Since it is a Kenyan tradition to name children after events that happen on the day of the birth, and since Kenyans favor naming their children after African-American figures (a friend recently named her child Maya Angelou), I am guessing there will be a lot of baby Obama’s. I’ve also heard tell of one poor Kenyan who was named Merrychristmas. No joke. Ouch.    

          On the subject of names: Joe Biden is called J’Biden by many Kenyans. Awesome. I’ve started using it and you should too. 

  • Thursday has been declared a national holiday to celebrate the election of a Kenyan-American as the 44th president of the US.  As the Daily Nation newspaper reports, ‘Kenyans will take a day off to mark the historic election of Obama to the most powerful office on earth.’  It is also, as a friend noted, the first time a Kenyan has been democratically elected ever. And after no sleep and too many bloody marys and champagne, I’m going to need it! Ok, back to pretending to work, ugh… lakini TULISHINDA!!!!!
Posted by: Caitlin | May 8, 2008

This strange thing called social inequality

I was talking with a Swedish friend last weekend, who, after having met a Swedish teacher who was a real douche to some Kenyans, mentioned how important it is for the teachers at the Swedish school in Kenya to be culturally sensitive and be able to explain complex social issues like class difference. “Because we don’t have that in Sweden”, she said.  (Yes, there is a Swedish School in Nairobi, as well as a French School, a German School, a few British schools, and probably more.  No wonder Kenya is such a great posting for expat families.)

I had never thought about this before, but in social welfare states like the Scandinavian countries children have to be taught about poverty and wealth and why income gaps exist in other countries. Although I admit it would be hard to surrender 40% of my income to taxes, that seems like a wonderful society to live in.

On a related note, Robert Kuttner has an interesting article in Foreign Affairs about how Denmark has managed to preserve its social welfare system while opening up to free trade and instating flexible labor policies. I bet his new book on globalization and the welfare state will be interesting.

Posted by: Caitlin | April 27, 2008

Raila O’Clock

I found this awesome Raila Odinga clock while sitting in the kind of traffic that makes you crazy enough to buy anything. When I bought the clock a few weeks ago, Raila had not yet been named prime minister, but I guess the manufacturer was fairly confident about how things would turn out. The vendor also had President Kibaki clocks and Kofi Annan clocks, but I couldn’t get the price low enough to buy all three.

Also, seeing these three former political rivals now sharing the pie as president, prime minister, and vice president makes the pain of the post-election violence more acute. Of course Kenyans welcome the outcome of the “Grand Coalition Government”, but with hindsight it is easy to ask how many lives and homes could have been saved if these three would have agreed to share power a bit earlier.

Maybe the U.S should forgo this whole drawn out primary and election process, create a prime minister post, and divvy up the three positions. Clinton for PM!

Posted by: Caitlin | April 23, 2008

Are we the only crackers in this country?

D and I have been looking for crackers lately- the salty, crispy kind that make a lovely vessel for cheese. For some reason this task has proven difficult here. There are lots of snacky carbohydrates packaged as crackers, but then they always turn out to be cookies (deceptively called biscuits, which actually means cookie).

This box for example, looked promising. But notice the “biscuits” in small text. Yep. They were sweet, although not quite sweet enough to constitute a good cookie.

The quest continues.

Good news for fans of figure skating and funniness: it looks like there is a real life figure skating rivalry to mirror the story in the tremendous film Blades of Glory.


Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek, above, are bitter rivals and actually tied for first at the U.S. championships, just like Will Ferrell and Jon Heder in the movie.blades-of-glory-movie.jpg

The NYT  also suggests that Lysacek maybe planning to put the “flying lotus” into practice:

    “‘There’s a whole dimension of skating that hasn’t been broken into,’    Lysacek said over a post-training dinner last month. ‘Not just on a flat surface. Something way crazier. Maybe more like aerial skiing.’

Upon hearing these ideas, Weir shuddered.”

I know I often check the Times when it is 3a.m. in New York, but still I am frequently amazed at what makes he homepage cover stories when its morning for me, and how the focus changes as sunlight is hitting North America.

Posted by: Caitlin | March 11, 2008

The bad luck row

Is this normal?

I flew from Entebbe to Nairobi on Sunday on a new airline called Air Uganda.  I liked Air Uganda, which is operated by an Italian company called Celestairair-uganda.jpg, because they had comfortable seats and good food, and because they served wine and beer. The airline doesn’t have a Web site yet, but hey, you can’t have everything.

So, I go to board the flight in Entebbe, at check in the woman had written seat 13A on my boarding pass. But once aboard the plane I discovered there was no row 13! The rows jumped right from 12 to 14. I’ve heard of this superstition in hotels, but airplanes? My impression is that if something bad happens on a plane it is going to be pretty deleterious to everyone, no matter which row you’re in.

The funnier part is that I was still assigned to the non-existent row 13. Luckily seats 12A and 14A  were available.

Posted by: Caitlin | February 28, 2008

In agreement

The mood in Nairobi tonight is jubilant after president Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga signed a peace agreement this afternoon. The agreement creates a government of unity with Raila as prime minister. There will be two deputy prime ministers, one from each side, and the remainder of the cabinet positions will be assigned based on proportion in the parliament.  The details remain to be worked out, but the agreement represents major progress, especially since the peace talks nearly collapsed earlier this week.

In the spirit of peace agreement, my regular taxi company, who I had left for a cheaper company, decided to come back to the negotiating table today and decrease the rate on my route by 100 shillings. Hopefully the lower price will still hold once the tourists start coming back.

Posted by: Caitlin | February 19, 2008


I receive “Word of the Day” emails from They are usually not very helpful: previous words of the day have included varicolored, ennui, nolens volens, and potboiler.
But the two definitions given for this recent Word of the Day, virago, evoke eerie similarities to the dichotomous opinions about a certain presidential candidate:

Word of the Day

virago \vuh-RAH-go; vuh-RAY-go\, noun:

1. A woman of extraordinary stature, strength, and courage.
2. A woman regarded as loud, scolding, ill-tempered, quarrelsome, or overbearing.

The intrepid heroines range from Unn the Deep Minded, the Viking virago who colonized Iceland, to Sue Hendrikson, a school dropout who became one of the great experts on amber, fossils and shipwrecks.
— Ann Prichard, “Coffee-table: Africa, cathedrals, animals, ‘Sue'”, USA Today, November 28, 2001

This virago, this madwoman, finally got to me, and I was subjected to the most rude, the most shocking violence I can remember.
— José Limón, An Unfinished Memoir

Virago comes from Latin virago, “a man-like woman, a female warrior, a heroine” from vir, “a man.”


Posted by: Caitlin | February 18, 2008

Woo hoo! Trip to Africa!


Sweet. Looks like Bush’s trip to Africa is off to a niiiiice start.

Posted by: Caitlin | February 13, 2008

On tribe and economics

Simuyu Barasa has a compelling op-ed in NYT about the experience of coming from mixed-tribe heritage in Kenya today, and about the manifestation of tribalism more broadly.

In the Christian Science Monitor, Kodi Barth makes the argument that economic disparity is fueling the conflict in Kenya. Barth argues that the current violence is represents a “necessary catharsis” and a revolt against “chauvinistic power, skewed economics, weak institutions, and failed politics.”

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