Thursday, December 23, 2010

In Canada After All!

Last March we announced on our blog the exciting news that we would be moving to Kenya. Scott had been offered a job in Nairobi, and Kathleen was looking forward to pursuing some exciting textile opportunities there. At the end of April, however, a stunning turn of events changed our plans. Twelve days before we were to fly to Nairobi, the Centers for Disease Control withheld the funding for Scott’s new job because of a freeze on travel and other budget pressures. Our “best laid plans” for moving to Africa were dashed, and we had to plot a new course.

We’ve been very happy with the new course we chose. We returned to our original plan of settling in Canada. After deliberating about whether to settle in Saskatoon, Calgary, or Edmonton, we decided to stay in Saskatoon, Kathleen’s home town.

An important factor in deciding to stay in Saskatoon was that Scott was offered a job at the University of Saskatchewan, which he accepted. His title is Health Research and Innovation Policy Officer, and he’s developing health research policies for the Saskatoon Health Region and the University. He’s also helping set up a new center for clinical research in Saskatoon. Scott’s enjoying his new job, and he really likes his boss and the other people he works with.

We’re particularly enjoying living close to Kathleen’s Mom, who turned 90 this year, as well as Kathleen’s brother, Grattan, his wife Barb, and their son, Casey, who all live in Saskatoon. We also get to see the various other nephews, nieces, and siblings who pass through Saskatoon from time to time. On top of it all, we’re delighting in the new and renewed friendships we’re making in Saskatoon.

This past summer we had the pleasure of attending the wedding of Scott’s niece, Stephanie, in Marblehead, Massachusetts. We were happy to be able to share in Stephanie’s marriage to her new husband, Justin, as well as to be able to visit with Scott’s parents, his sister, Robin, her husband, Tom, and other friends and relatives, including Stephanie’s sister, Kim, who we hadn’t seen for far too many years.

Last month Kathleen returned to Laos and India for five weeks to continue seeking out fabric suppliers. You may recall that our plans to return to India were stopped short last winter when Kathleen broke her wrist in Kenya and had to return to Saskatoon for surgery. Her latest trip allowed her to complete the mission that she set out on when we started our travels over a year ago. Kathleen’s new blog,
http://www.gradybleu.com/, describes some of her recent adventures.

It’s been an exciting year for us, with lots of adventures and changes. Not only do we value the experiences we had, but we also value the friends and family members who followed us on our journeys and gave us encouragement. We’d like to wish you all a very happy holiday season and best wishes for a happy and fruitful 2011.

With warmest regards,
Kathleen and Scott


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Visit to Thailand

On March 17 we flew to Thailand after a two-month break in our Asia/Africa travels. As you know, we returned to Canada at the beginning of the year after Kathleen broke her wrist in Kenya. Her surgery went well and after two months of recuperation we were ready to resume our travels.

We spent two days in Bangkok and then took the overnight train to the northern city of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a popular tourist destination with great food (including mango and sweet sticky rice!) and lots of fun things to do.

(Click on photos to enlarge them.)

One of our favorite experiences in Chiang Mai was visiting the Patara Elephant Farm (http://www.pataraelephantfarm.com/), whose mission is to combat the declining number of Thai elephants through a breeding program and to develop a safe tourism model. As “elephant owners for a day,” we spent the day learning about the elephants, their habitat, their domestication and the threats to their survival. Elephants have a matriarchal society and are very social. Used for working and in war and celebrated for centuries, these majestic animals have historically played a big part in the lives and lore of the Southeast Asian people. Feeding, bathing and riding the elephants was an amazing experience. A special treat was wading in the stream with twins that were just months old. It was with some sadness that we watched the elephants and our “mahout” trainers return to the forest at the end of the day.





After a week in Chiang Mai, we took an overnight van to Northeast Thailand where Scott spent two years in the Peace Corps in the 70’s. At 4:45 am, while we and the 11 other passengers (all of us foreigners) slept, the van slammed into a slow-moving truck. We awoke to the sound of a loud impact and being thrown forward (we had no seatbelts). The front of the vehicle was destroyed. A young British man sitting in the front seat had to be cut out of the vehicle by the rescue team that arrived 20 minutes later. He was the most seriously injured with a cracked vertebra in his neck and broken facial bones. The rest of us managed to climb out of the van. All of us were taken to the hospital in the nearby city (Udon Thani). We were lucky to have been seated in the middle of the van and, amazingly, escaped without serious injury – just some significant bruises and scrapes.


A little worse for wear, we made it to the town, Tha Bo (pronounced “tah-baw”), where Scott lived during his two years of Peace Corps service. Tha Bo is located across the Mekong River from Vientiane, Laos (the Mekong serves as the Thai-Lao border). Staying in a local hotel and using bicycles to get around town, we spent four remarkable days visiting with Scott’s old friends, including his best friend and former coworker, Thawatchai, and his wife, Nang. Scott hadn’t visited Tha Bo since he left 32 years ago, but it was remarkable how the old friendships were quickly rekindled. We shared stories and laughs and also sorrows over the passing of old friends and family members.


It was particularly gratifying and heart-warming to see how Thawatchai (pronounced “tah-what-chai”) and Nang’s children had grown up into delightful adults. We spent quite a bit of time with their daughter, Ao (pronounced “Oh”). She’s married to a good husband, has two teenage children, and owns a small dress shop in town. Ao was just two-three years old when Scott was in the Peace Corps. Scott used to drive her and her older sister around on his motorcycle in the evenings.



With our Tha Bo friends we visited several Buddhist temples, including the forest monastery (Wat Hin Mak Beng) on the Mekong River where Scott got his first exposure to Vipassana meditation. From time to time during his Peace Corps days, Scott would visit the monastery to practice meditation and to hear the resident meditation master, Ajahn Thet, talk about the Buddha’s teachings. Ajahn Thet, who passed away many years ago, is now a revered figure in Thailand. It was moving for Scott to revisit the place where he first got a “taste of Dhamma.”


After a very full four days of visiting, Thawatchai, Nang, and several other friends escorted us across the river to Vientiane, the next destination on our journey. It was sad to say goodbye, but we were grateful for the very special time we had visiting with Scott’s old friends. We appreciated the unique experience that the Peace Corps offers – to develop relationships with people from other cultures on their terms. We were able to go beyond being tourists to instead relating as friends with these fine and generous people in Thailand.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We're Moving to Kenya!

As you know, in January we returned to Canada for Kathleen to have wrist surgery. The surgery went well, the cast is off, and physiotherapy continues. Next week on March 17th we head out to resume our travels in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. We’re soooo excited!

The even bigger news is we’re moving to Kenya! We fly to Nairobi on May 1st. During our time in Nairobi in December, Scott was offered a job to work on HIV research with Michael Chung’s group through the University of Washington (see earlier post). Kathleen found some wonderful opportunities to discover beautiful African fabrics. She’ll also be looking into Kenya Fashion Week, an annual fashion gala in Nairobi (http://www.fafakenya.org/).

We really enjoyed our visit to Kenya and are looking forward to living there. We found the people, wildlife and countryside fascinating. We think it will be a great opportunity to experience amazing Africa. There will be many things to discover in Kenya. Nairobi National Park, which is just four miles from downtown Nairobi, has lions, rhinos, giraffes and more. There’s also the vibrant Nairobi arts and music scene, the Karen Blixen Museum (think Out of Africa), other wonderful museums, weekends for birding, safaris, the gorgeous Kenyan coast, and much more. (Check out http://nairobinow.wordpress.com/.) Kenya boasts a mild climate with an elevation of 2,000 ft above sea level. So, while it’s close to the equator, the temperature stays mild year round.

We’ll continue to keep you posted as we go on our way to Kenya.


Zebra Art in Saskatoon!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cast off! Castaway!

Kathleen got her cast off today! It’s a relief, but she’ll also miss her good buddy. It feels really vulnerable when it first comes off - as anyone who’s ever had surgery or needed to have a cast would know. This is the third cast since the fall happened on Dec. 23rd. Arriving in Saskatoon on Dec. 30th, she was processed quickly by the Canadian healthcare system and had surgery two days later. She had the best wrist surgeon in town (at the University of Saskatchewan Medical School) - another blessing. She even got to choose which color she wanted; pink, black, green or blue. She chose the blue.



Picture 1: Her last day in the cast! Kathleen plays with the shadows the morning before she goes to get the cast off.

After the cast was taken off the surgeon showed Kathleen and Scott the x-rays; a titanium plate with seven (yes, seven!!) screws to hold the bones in place in the wrist. Kathleen is grateful for the simple things in life and the things one takes for granted – like mobility in all of the limbs. The healing process is a “journey” for sure.


Pictures 2 & 3: Kathleen plays with the morning shadows.


Picture 4: The plastic bag goes over her lower arm before she takes a shower. The bag is from a Canadian store – see the maple leaf?

Monday, January 18, 2010

KATHLEEN TAKES A FALL!

On, December 23, the opening evening of the Vipassana course that we were conducting in Nairobi, Kenya, Kathleen slipped and fell during a heavy thunderstorm, breaking her wrist. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where she had her wrist set and put in a cast. She was advised that her wrist would need surgery. On the 29th, Kathleen returned to Canada for surgery. Scott returned a week later after completing the Vipassana course. We’re back in Saskatoon! Needless to say, we were disappointed over the disruption to our travel plans, but we know there is a silver lining hidden in this turn of events. We haven’t given up on our plans, and we intend to resume our travels in some form once Kathleen’s wrist has healed. We’ll keep you posted as our plans develop and we're back on our way.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Into (and Out of) Africa

We spent a memorable month of December in Kenya, where we went on a safari (see our January 13 blog posting) and conducted a 10-day Vipassana meditation course. During our time in Nairobi, we were graciously hosted by two delightful families. Both families have been instrumental in organizing Vipassana courses in Kenya.

For the first two weeks, we stayed with Dr. Michael Chung, his wife Viviane Chao, and their four-year-old son, Adrien. Michael and Viviane are both involved in work with HIV. Michael has set up the Hope Center for Infectious Diseases which treats patients with HIV. He also does HIV research in Nairobi for the University of Washington. Viviane has been Kenya PEPFAR Deputy Country Director at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. PEPFAR is the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which provides funding to treat HIV patients in resource-strapped countries. Adrien is a budding musician who plays the violin and excels at the drums.

For the latter part of our time in Nairobi, we stayed with Kishor and Kusum Pindolia, Kusum’s mother visiting from England, and Kishor and Kusum’s three children. Kishor is a successful businessman in the metals industry. Kusum was born in Uganda, spent part of her childhood in England, and moved to Kenya as an adult. The family maintains strong ties to their family roots in Gujarat, India. We enjoyed getting to know the family and were grateful recipients of the exquisite meals prepared by Kusum.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kenya Safari

We arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, on December 7. A week later we went on a seven-day camping safari. It was a phenomenal experience seeing the amazing African animals in their natural habitat. We visited Samburu National Reserve, lakes in the Great Rift Valley, and Masai Mara National Reserve. We saw our first lion, a female which emerged from the brush and walked right in front of our vehicle, as we drove through Samburu Park to our campsite on the first evening. Over the next week we saw an incredible variety of animals.

Seeing a bull elephant flaring its ears as it walked toward us took our breaths away. Seeing two young male lions licking each other in the shade reminded us of our kitties at home, but we also knew that stepping out of the vehicle would have put our lives at risk. We didn’t anticipate the awe we felt seeing a mature male lion with full mane in the wild. (Click on a photo to enlarge it.)




Twice we were lucky enough to see leopards. These consummate predators spend much of their time hidden in trees or in the brush and are difficult to see. In Samburu, we watched a leopard carry a small antelope it had just killed back to its lair in a big tree. It stashed the kill up high and then settled down straddling a big branch to lick itself clean. Herds of graceful impalas, constantly on alert (with good reason!), were a common sight. We occasionally saw vervet monkeys, with their striking black faces. Vervets are known for their intelligence and for their adeptness at stealing food out of the hands of unsuspecting tourists. We saw many giraffes and were struck by how graceful they are despite their long legs and neck.




At the Great Rift Valley lakes, we saw large flocks of flamingos wading in the shallow waters. We were mesmerized by the stepping of hundreds of pink legs as the gaudy birds walked in unison. At Lake Nakuru, we saw the white rhino, the docile cousin of the black rhino. We also saw herds of zebras and African buffalos, also known as cape buffalos. African buffalo and black rhino (which we didn’t see) are two of the most dangerous animals in Africa. We took comfort in our guide’s reassurances that we were safe as long as we stayed in the vehicle.




Masai Mara is the northern extension in Kenya of Tanzania’s Serengeti. It’s famous for the huge wildebeest migration that occurs in July and August. Two to three million wildebeests come to feed on the tall grass that grows in Kenya after the monsoons. They then head south back into Tanzania. We walked down to the Mara River to see hippos, crocodiles, and one of the famous points where the wildebeests cross as they head south. The wildebeests are pursued by lions and other predators, and they are ambushed by crocodiles as they cross the river. The park ranger who accompanied us carried an automatic rifle for our protection (both hippos and crocodiles are very dangerous). On the grassy bank above the river he said, “If you come here at night, you would see very many animals, but I think you would not survive. “ At Masai Mara we were lucky to see cheetahs. The cheetah, the fastest land animal, can run as fast as 75 mph in short bursts. In comparison, the top speed for an impala is 55 mph. Groups of baboons were a common site and were morning visitors to our campsite. The big males can be dangerous, and we kept a watchful eye on them.



The equator passes through the middle of Kenya. At a crossing point, we paid a few Kenyan shillings to watch a local woman show us how water draining from a leaking vessel rotated counter-clockwise a few feet north of the equator and clockwise south of the equator (it took a few tries for her to get it right, and we refrained from challenging the experimental validity; instead we delighted in the unique experience). Our safari vehicle was a Toyota Land Cruiser that had seen years of use but handled the rough terrain of the rural roads admirably. Our driver and guide, George, was delightful and full of fascinating information about the wildlife. A nice bonus was his prowess at identifying birds (Kenya birding is fantastic). An activity we saw again and again as we traveled through rural Kenya was people (usually women) hauling water, often over long distances. Kenya had been experiencing devastating drought, and in some remote places the only source of water was a muddy puddle in a mostly dry river bed. At Lake Boringo, we met two girls who were carrying lake water home. Kathleen helped out for part of the way.




Kenya has over 40 tribes, and Kenyans identify strongly with their tribal origins. One of the most famous and fascinating tribes is the Masai. The Masai are cattle herders who have a close relationship with the land and its wildlife. The Masai are known for the bright colors they wear and for their fierceness. Traditionally, to pass into manhood, Masai males have undergone a ritual of killing a lion with a spear. Thankfully, this practice is less common than it used to be. However, seeing a lone Masai, armed only with knife and club, tending his herd of cattle on the Masai Mara plains as night descends makes one admire their bravery. It’s said that lions can distinguish Masai from other humans and will keep their distance from them (we wouldn’t command such feline respect, on the other hand).

We paid a visit to a Masai village just outside the park boundary. The villagers live in mud huts and practice polygamy. Cholera and malaria have been serious problems. Recently, however, with the help of a Canadian NGO the village has dug a well from which to draw clean water, drastically reducing the incidence of cholera (malaria is still a problem, however). Our guide through the village was a young man in traditional dress who had recently completed secondary school. His English was impeccable, and he intends to go to college and become a doctor. In addition, to knife and club, Masai warriors now carry mobile phones. A way of life that has existed for centuries is changing rapidly and will perhaps disappear within a generation or two.



We were grateful to have had an opportunity to witness Kenya’s unsurpassed land and wildlife and to come in contact with some of Africa’s remarkable people.

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