Thursday, June 21, 2007


The chronciles of time in Kenya would not be complete without a post dedicated to one of the driving forces that brought us here: Bananas.

Since our arrival, I have spent roughly 8 hours a day every weekday thinking about, talking about, and building models about the Musa. And there's more to our little yellow friends than meets the eye, for example, did you know that there are 20 types of bananas, including the small Sweet Banana (sukari ndizi) that is widely consumed in Kenya, the Green Cooking Banana (matoke) which is not sweet at all, and even a seeded banana that grows wild in parts of Asia.

Indeed, I have even been the recipient of banana propaganda (yes, it exists)
At the end of this post is my favorite, entitled "EAT MORE BANANA'S"

But let's get back to the point. Bananas are good business. I learned this working with my client, a small fruit and vegetable producer/distributor located in Meru, on the slopes of Mt. Kenya. With headquarters just a few kilometers from the equator, there was many days during which I got to work in both hemispheres.

Together with my stellar intern Maureen, we developed a business plan for expanding and upscaling banana production to target up-market consumers.

We worked with our client to gather historical financial data, analyze past trends, and put together projections for the next five years. The experience was challenging, educational, and rewarding, and if this sounds a bit sentimental, so be it...I can't think of how else to describe it.

>> Never, put your banana in the refrigerator!!!
>> This is interesting.  
>> After reading this, you'll never look at a banana in the same way
>> again.
>> Bananas contain three natural sugars - sucrose, fructose and glucose
>> combined with fiber. A banana gives an instant, sustained and
>> substantial boost of energy.
>> Research has proven that just two bananas provide enough energy for
>> a strenuous 90-minute workout. No wonder the banana is the number
>> one fruit with the world's leading athletes.  
>> But energy isn't the only way a banana can help us keep fit.  
>> It can also help overcome or prevent a substantial number of
>> illnesses and conditions, making it a must to add to our daily
>> diet.  
>> Depression:  According to a recent survey undertaken by MIND
>> amongst people suffering from depression, many felt much better
>> after eating a banana. This is because bananas contain tryptophan, a
>> type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to make
>> you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel happier.
>> PMS: Forget the pills - eat a banana. The vitamin B6 it contains
>> regulates blood glucose levels, which can affect your mood.  
>> Anemia: High in iron, bananas can stimulate the production of
>> hemoglobin in the blood and so helps in cases of anemia.
>> Blood Pressure: This unique tropical fruit is extremely high in
>> potassium yet low in salt, making it perfect to beat blood pressure.
>> So much so, the US Food and Drug Administration has just allowed the
>> banana industry to make official claims for the fruit's ability to
>> reduce the risk of blood pressure and stroke.
>> Brain Power: 200 students at a Twickenham (Middlesex) school were
>> helped through their exams this year by eating bananas at breakfast,
>> break, and lunch in a bid to boost their brain power. Research has
>> shown that the potassium-packed fruit can assist learning by making
>> pupils more alert.
>> Constipation: High in fiber, including bananas in the diet can
>> help restore normal bowel action, helping to overcome the problem
>> without resorting to laxatives.
>>  Hangovers: One of the quickest
>>  Ways of curing a hangover is to make a banana milkshake, sweetened
>> with honey. The banana calms the stomach and, with the help of the
>> honey, builds up depleted blood sugar levels, while the milk soothes
>> and re-hydrates your system.
>> Heartburn: Bananas have a natural antacid effect in the body, so if
>> you suffer from heartburn, try eating a banana for soothing relief.
>>  Morning Sickness:  Snacking on bananas between meals helps to keep
>> blood sugar levels up and avoid morning sickness.  
>> Mosquito bites:  Before reaching for the insect bite cream, try
>> rubbing the affected area with the inside of a banana skin. Many
>> people find it amazingly successful at reducing swelling and
>> irritation.
>>  Nerves: Bananas are high in B vitamins that help calm the nervous
>> system.
>> Overweight  and at work? Studies at the  Institute of Psychology
>> in Austria found pressure at work leads to gorging on comfort food
>> like chocolate and crisps. Looking at 5,000 hospital patients,
>> researchers found the most obese were more likely to be in
>> high-pressure jobs. The report concluded that, to avoid
>> panic-induced food cravings, we need to control our blood sugar
>> levels by snacking on high carbohydrate foods every two hours to
>> keep levels steady.
>> Ulcers:   The banana is used as the dietary food against intestinal
>> disorders because of its soft texture and smoothness. It is the
>> only raw fruit that can be eaten without distress in over-chronicler
>> cases. It also neutralizes over-acidity and reduces irritation by
>> coating the lining of the stomach.
>> Temperature control:  Many other cultures see bananas as a
>> "cooling" fruit that can lower both the physical and emotional
>> temperature of expectant mothers. In Thailand , for example,
>> pregnant women eat bananas to ensure their baby is born with a cool
>> temperature.
>> Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Bananas can help SAD sufferers
>> because they contain the natural mood enhancer tryptophan.
>>  Smoking &Tobacco Use: Bananas can also help people trying to give
>> up smoking. The B6, B12 they contain, as well as the potassium and
>> magnesium found in them, help the body recover from the effects of
>> nicotine withdrawal.
>>  Stress: Potassium is a vital mineral, which helps normalize the
>> heartbeat, sends oxygen to the brain and regulates your body's water
>> balance. When we are stressed, our metabolic rate rises, thereby
>> reducing our potassium levels. These can be rebalanced with the
>> help of a high-potassium banana snack.
>> Strokes: According to research in The New England Journal of
>> Medicine, eating bananas as part of a regular diet can cut the risk
>> of death by strokes by as much as 40%!
>> Warts:   Those keen on natural alternatives swear that if you want
>> to kill off a wart, take a piece of banana skin and place it on the
>> wart, with the yellow side out. Carefully hold the skin in place
>> with a plaster or surgical tape!
>> So, a banana really is a natural remedy for many ills. When you
>> compare it to an apple, it has four times the protein, twice the
>> carbohydrate, three times the phosphorus, five times the vitamin A
>> and iron, and twice the other vitamins and minerals. It is also rich
>> in potassium and is one of the best value foods around So maybe its
>> time to change that well-known phrase so that we say, "A banana a
>> day keeps the doctor away!"
>> PS: Bananas must be the reason monkeys are so happy all the time! I
>> will add one here; want a quick shine on our shoes?? Take the INSIDE
>> of the banana skin, and rub directly on the shoe...polish with dry
>> cloth. Amazing fruit!  

Saturday, June 16, 2007

"In the time of Noah..."

Last weekend Laura and I rented a little toyota corolla, picked up Anthony Musyimi and his two friends, and drove three hours from Nairobi to the rural village of Mantangini in the Central province of Kenya. Anthony, his mom (Margaret), his brother (Martin), and his little niece (Mary), hosted us for a night in their mud brick home in Mantagini. We feasted on chapatis and sheep meat stew and were welcomed at the Mantangini Catholic mass on Sunday as "Christians from America." And, we heard lots of stories that started "in the time of Noah..."
Anthony now lives and works in Nairobi, but 13 years ago he was Noah's host brother. Noah spent a summer in Kenya with a program called Global Routes - as part of his time here, he lived with Anthony and his family while helping to build a school in their village. Amazingly, Noah's been keeping in touch with Anthony by mail ever since.

This is how we found ourselves scraping along 20km of the worst dirt road in the world to Mantagini. We nearly turned back when our little car was faced with fording rivers and rocks bigger than the tires. But, we made it. Anthony and his family were very welcoming.
In the morning they slaughtered a goat for us:

"In the time of Noah, schools were built, Anthony and his family ate guacamole for the first (and only) time, and there was lots of dancing."

This is the school Noah built:

The living/dining room:

Anthony and his brother Martin in front of their house.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Masaai Mara Safari

We've gotten a bit behind in blogging, so we will rewind a few weeks to our safari to the Masaai Mara. Kate Matthay came to visit, so Brian and I decided the time was right for a trip to Kenya's most famous game-viewing destination: the Mara. We boarded a tiny plane that was scarcely larger than a safari van and took off for the bush. Even as we landed, we could see giraffes and hippos dotting the savannah. And that was just the beginning. From there, we saw all manner of beast of bird that body Africana had to offer. Here are some highlights:

We went on game drives in the mornings and afternoons, and in the course learned a number of things.

1) Lions sleep up to 20 hrs a day...and they seem to spend the rest of the time yawning and rolling around and stretching

2) Elephants flap their ears and growl when they get mad

3) Ostriches are the second fastest animal in the savannah; only the cheetah can outrun them

4) In Singapore, the most popular new excercise machine on the market is a device that simulates a bumpy car ride and supposedly tones your muscles as you try to balance hands-free...Madonna supposedly uses it everyday. I figured there was no harm in trying a similar workout...

We met some interesting people along the way.

But the real highlights were the creatures we encountered:

And the beautiful landscape...

And the time we got to spend together...aaaw

Oh yeah, and the lunches!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Swahili Proverbs

We spent the past weekend in Nairobi, so I thought this moment opportune to share a choice excerpt from a note I recently received from a friend:

He writes:
"I thought it would be helpful to pass along some kiswahili proverbs you can use on a daily basis as you help make bananas more profitable. unfortunately i couldn't find the proverbial translation for "daylight come and me wanna go home"...

"Fimbo iliyo mkononi ndiyo iuwayo nyoka: Stick that is in the hand is the one that kills the snake" (who even knew you could kill a snake with a stick? that kicks ass)

"Simba mwendapole ndie mla nyama: A lion that walks quietly is the one that eats meat" (it's a real rainforest out there)

"Jembe lisilo na mpini halilimi: A spade without a handle does not plough" (i don't get it...must be an inside joke)

"Mchagua jembe si mkulima: He who differentiates between spades is not a farmer" (man, they're really into spades over there. you should probably make sure the banana growers are using more high-tech implements)

and my personal favorite,

"Mkono mmoja haupigi makofi: One hand (alone) cannot clap" (they totally stole that from the show "kung fu")

Thanks to the source, who shall remain anonymous, for providing such priceless nugs of wisdom and for making this entry virtually effortless. My own personal fave? "A man without a donkey is donkey"...if you ever go to Lamu, you will understand

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Islamic Hamptons: A weekend in Lamu

This weekend, we jetted off a four day holiday in Lamu, or more accurately, Shella (a small beach town just 4km down shore). In these highly religious, quasi-medieval villages, donkeys and dhows are the only form of transport (as cars are not allowed), ancient buildings and streets are carved from local coral, and most women don the traditional Muslim head coverings, some baring only their eyes...needless to say, we fit right in!
We were even invited, on several occasions to stay longer in the land where camels roam the beach (and where Princess Grace of Monaco has built a beach side villa)--Brian was honored for his skills on the dhow's trapeze, and I for my steering in short short skirts!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Lake Nakuru Safari

Friends! We went on a safari in Lake Nakuru (a flamingo-filled lake) in central Kenya last weekend and saw all kinds of wild beasts. We camped in the rain because Laura insisted.

Lots of baboon sex of course....

...and lions hunting gazelle right next to our car.

Apparently, we 've come to Kenya in the rainy the camping was wet...but dramatic skies:

...and, one fat hippo.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

And Laura finally accomplishes her dreams of making out with a giraffe...

Mmmmm... looks appetizing. I always knew you had it in you, girl.