Friday, December 31, 2010

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (8): Amboseli National Park

Stanley's next big adventure (and ours) was to Amboseli National Park. As readers of these posts have learned by now, of all the splendid wildlife in Africa the African bush elephant seems to hold pride of place for Mr. Guy. So for a long time, Amboseli has been a goal for me, not only for its splendid view of Mt. Kilimanjaro (here's how the mountain looked when Stanley first saw it, as we drove into the park) but for the great collection of wildlife, specially the elephants.
For some reason which I haven't learned yet, the area where the Amboseli National Park is located was pretty much unaffected during the great poaching epidemic of the 1980s, when African bush elephants were slaughtered mercilessly for their tusks. As noted in one guidebook, the park "still harbors some of the region's oldest and bulkiest elephants, sporting tusks whose dimensions have been consigned to history elsewhere in the area." Also in the park is the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, started in 1975 and the world's longest study of a wild elephant population. With something like 1,500 elephants in the park, visitors are treated to sightings unlike anywhere else.

So I was a pretty happy fellow in Amboseli, and I think Stanley and the other members of the safari were just about as excited as I was (here's some of what we saw (other photos from our adventures with Stanley in Amboseli are at the Flat Stanley in Kenya album). We saw hundreds and hundreds of elephants every time we went for a game drive while were at Amboseli,, and it was an amazing experience.

We also got to climb up Observation Hill, the only spot in the park where safari participants can get out of their vehicles, but we had a slight scare when we did that. Here's a photo of me showing Stanley the climb up the hill, and as he was beginning to feel a little independent as we started up the hill, he decided to run on ahead of us. Not a good idea when you are only half-an-inch wide. The wind picked him up and just like when his brother and his friends were able to "fly" Stanley like a kite, he went whooshing up into the air. All of Stanley's safari friends were called into action, running after him so he wouldn't be blown out into the lower part of the dried lake, where the hippos (or rhinos - we couldn't tell from where we were) were taking in the sun. Fortunately, we got to him, but we had to be a little stern with him, since Stanley has to stay with his friends if he doesn't want to be blown away.

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (7): More New Friends

Stanley was a big hit in Kenya, and as he got to meet Kenyan children it became clear that young people all over the world like to get to know one another, regardless of where they come from (or how thick they are - even a kid half-an-inch wide can make new friends).

One of our visits was to the community of Gem (pronounced with a hard "G"), near Kisumu, where we visited a family Mr. Guy got to know when he worked in Kenya. As it happened, our friend Sandi Kitt in New York had sent along a present for the young girl of the family, a New Orleans mardi gras mask, and I think Gweth Nyabera was very happy to have the mask to play with. She tried it on immediately and then ran outside to show it to all her friends, so I expect it will hang in a place of honor in her room.

Another highlight for Stanley was a visit to Nyanguru Village, to go to Charles's home and visit with his children and be with his and Jane's family. I had visited Nyanguru Village, near Kisii, earlier in the year because Mr. Charles (who started out as my driver and quickly became one of my best friends in Kenya) had invited me to get to know his family. You can read about that visit here. This photo shows Mr. Guy with three of the children, Justine (who often serves as my "official" photographer when we go on safari together), Ian, and Delfin.

Although I had been to Nyanguru Village before, this visit was very special because now I was going to have the opportunity to visit my African namesake. Claire Kwamboka Ombongi Masese, born just a few weeks ago, is named for Charles's recently deceased sister, and her first name is taken from from my last name. I was very honored when Charles and Jane connected to St. Clair and chose to name their baby Claire. We're calling her "Angel Claire," which is her daddy's special name for her. I am so happy that Stanley and our safari friends could meet her. It was a wonderful day in Nyanguru Village (and in Mr. Guy's heart) when we went to see Claire and all of Charles's wonderful family.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (6): Egerton Castle

Egerton Castle is a very special place for me. I can't say exactly why, except that I greatly admire what Lord Egerton was able to do back in the 20th century, when he lead other settlers in Kenya in helping the local people. It was  his goal to figure out how to strengthen the country's economic role by teaching the citizens about agriculture as a business (instead of limiting agriculture to small farms just for raising what one family required). It was a very noble effort, and it appears to have paid off handsomely, since agriculture is today the country's primary source of income.

Remembering my visit to Egerton Castle back in October (you can read the post here), I knew I wanted to return for a couple of reasons. One, Mr. Andrew is a great lover of architectural history, and I knew he would like this place, as would the others in our safari. Also, since Ms. Nerisa has a connection with Egerton University, she was able to make special arrangements for a private visit and we would have a wonderful guide in Robert Onyiengo (76 years old), who had come to work at the place when the house was being built. So with her help, and that of Mr. Geoffrey, we got to the castle and started with a picnic on the grounds.

As for my second reason to return, I had noted in my first visit that the castle has a children's room, a learning center where young people can learn about how Lord Egerton helped the people of Kenya (along with lots of family photographs about Lord Egerton's family, both in Kenya and back in England), and once we had Flat Stanley on our safari, I wanted to be sure he got to visit Egerton Castle as well.

A special treat for Stanley was that in the children's room he was able to make some new friends, since there was a group of Kenyan families visiting Egerton Castle at the same time we were there. So with all the cameras ready, we were able to take several photos, including one of me with Stanley in the children's room and another as I was introducing Stanley to the other children and their families (I'm not sure they liked the idea of a little boy getting smashed flat, and Mr. Andrew had to explain that very carefully) and describing why Stanley has come on safari with us. Best of all, we were able to have a photograph of two of Stanley's new friends, Valeria and Dorothea (with Mr. Guy grinning like an "I-don't-know-what" - very strange!).

We got the impression from the girls (and their older brothers and sisters and their parents) that they were pleased to have met up with visiting Americans, and they were happy to have met Stanley and learn about his unusual circumstances. I was sorry I did not have an extra copy of the Flat Stanley book with me, but hopefully when the girls get to school they will ask their teachers to find it. Since English is required in Kenya (it's one of the three official languages, the others being Swahili and whatever mother tongue is used in each person's tribe or community), the book can be a good way for young people to be more familiar with English.

Wow! What a Fantastic Way to Celebrate the Season!

Apparently everyone else in the world has seen this, but as I've not been near a computer for a while and my e-mail has not been accessed, it just showed up in my e-mails (from several colleagues both from America and from several different countries, including a note from one international friend who commented: "This is why we love Americans so much!").

So as the holiday season winds down, what a great way to say hello and send best wishes to all my friends!

Go here or click directly:

Happy New Year.

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (5): Lake Nakuru National Park

We don't hear much about the flamingos in Kenya, and Flat Stanley got pretty excited when I told him that we could see thousands and thousands of flamingoes in Lake Nakuru National Park. I went there last year on a safari, and I was amazed at how many flamingoes there (I wrote about the park - and the flamingoes - in a couple of posts that you can check out if you like, here and here and here).

So when I told Stanley that we were going to see the flamingoes, he began to jump up and down and I got a little nervous because he can jump so high I was afraid a gust of wind would sweep him away. Stanley can jump even higher than the Maasai dancers we visited in Masai Mara (I'm not sure they liked that very much, and it seemed to make them a little nervous.

Going to Lake Nakuru and other places up in the Nakuru area was a big safari for us. Not only was it Mr. Andrew and Mr. Charles and I - just like the trip with Stanley to Masai Mara - we would be joined by Ms. Nerisa and Mr. Geoffrey - our Kenyan friends - and Mr. Richard and Mr. John, who had come from America to be part of the safari. So there was a big gang of us, and we got up very early to make the journey from Nairobi to Lake Nakuru, about three hours away.

The experts tell us that there are more than 500 species of birds listed for Lake Nakuru, and you can believe it, because they are all over the place. But the flamingoes are the best (there are over 2 million of them at the lake at any given time!), and sometimes one whole section of the lake will be just totally pink with the colors of the so-called "Greater Flamingo" (there are also plenty of the so-called "Lesser Flamingo," which are a tiny bit smaller and have feathers that are more white and less pink, if you're interested in that fine distinction). They all mingle together at Lake Nakuru, along with a large number of pelicans, probably more than Stanley and I have ever seen in any one place in America.

A special treat at Lake Nakuru is also the mingling together of the zebras and the waterbucks. The latter is large animal, one of the large antelopes family, with a shaggy grey-brown coat. When they are mixed up with the striped zebras, as one of them is in this group of waterbucks and zebras looking at Stanley, it's a very pretty picture.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (4): Masai Mara Game Reserve

Masai Mara is one of the most famous game reserves in the world, a great place for a flat boy who wants to see some of the wild animals he has read about. I've had two previous adventures in Masai Mara, so I was pretty excited when I was going to be visiting the game reserve again with my partner. The others joining our big safari will be with us later, but for this visit it's just Andrew and me and Charles (our wonderful driver and good friend).

There's much to see and do, and the whole Masai Mara idea just seems to cry out to be shared with someone else (and so as not to repeat, if anyone wants to read about my earlier visits, go to the posts for my first trip to Masai Mara in May, 2010 and the migration safari, written about in September - see links to the left).

I'm a great fan of the famous (and well-managed) Sopa Lodges in Kenya, and Andrew and I opted to use them for this trip. One reason of course might have to do with my great love of the elephants, which the Sopa Lodge folks seem to share. Their decorators include images of elephants in the lobby's wall decorations, giving Flat Stanley and me an appropriate background for our first Masai Mara photo op.

One of the reasons why Masai Mara is so well-regarded is the variety of wildlife. Some claim that lion sightings are almost guaranteed, and perhaps that's so, since we had pretty good luck seeing the lions.These were resting in the sun when we first spotted them, and they were not at all concerned about having a vehicle stop nearby for some photographs. I continue to be intrigued with how docile lions can be when they are not hungry and looking for food. They really are just great big cats, perfectly content to lie in the sun and observe what's going on around them or, with most of them, just sleep the afternoon away.

We also were very lucky with many other animals as well, and Flat Stanley had a good introduction to wildebeests (which I don't think we have in America), hippos, the African buffalo, and all sorts of other animals and birds, including topi, gazelle, eland, and the ostrich and the kori busturd. There are plenty of zebras, great herds of them, and they make a pretty impressive picture when seen from a distance. The zebras, too, don't seem to mind when they are close to the track and a van or 4X4 comes by and stops so the visitors can have a better look.

At Masai Mara we got to see plenty of elephants which pleased me and, I'm happy to say, pleased Andrew and Charles and Flat Stanley as well. The African bush elephant is definitely my favorite animal now, and there's just something about their grace and their huge size that intrigues me. They are very social animals and it is always interesting to watch them moving about in groups and try to figure out what the relationships are. The bulls are often off by themselves, but not always, and as friends and I found out when we was on the migration safari, bulls can be extremely possessive parents.

While at Masai Mara, we had the good fortune to have Tomas as our guide. A member of the Maasai community, Tomas had been our guide when Charles and I visited in May, and it was Tomas who arranged for us to visit a Maasai manyatta, the family compound where he and his relatives live. He took Charles and me there on the previous safari, and he agreed to take Andrew and Charles and Flat Stanley and me there this time. It was a pretty exciting trip, and not only did we and Flat Stanley get a chance to go inside a Maasai hut, the men and women of the community danced for us, demonstrating some of the ritual dances that have become almost a trademark for the Maasai.

The men of the Maasai community are easily recognized by the brightly colored toga-like wrap they wear, the shuka (also now one of the cheapest and most popular souvenirs a visitor can bring home from Kenya). They color their hair with henna, giving it sometimes a rust-colored tint, and they wear a great deal of jewelry, both metal and beaded jewelry. They measure their wealth in the number of children they have and, perhaps as important, the number of cows (they don't use our plural word "cattle"), with a man not being considered wealthy unless he has at least 50 cows. The manyatta is not only the family compound, for at night when the cows are brought in from where they've been taken to graze during the day, it becomes their home for the night, shared with the people living there.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (3): Fourteen Falls

One of Stanley's best adventures came when he visited Fourteen Falls, near Thika. The town of Thika is the setting for one of his favorite books, The Flame Trees of Thika, by Elspeth Huxley, about a little English girl growing up in Kenya at the beginning of the 20th century.

Stanley went to Thika with Mr. Guy and Mr. Andrew and Charles (their driver and friend) to visit the falls, shown here. Water everywhere, and you can go out in a boat and float across the river below the falls. That was fun, and going out in the boat gave Stanley a good view of the falls.

But the boatride also made Stanley very nervous because he's so flat that he would have floated away if he fell out of the boat. But he didn't fall out, and he had fun.

It was an exciting day for Flat Stanley. Guy and Andrew were asked by some of the local boys if they would like to see them (the boys) jump off the falls into the water below. They even offered to take Stanley with them and let him jump shen they jumped, but Mr. Guy wouldn't allow that. After all, what if the wind caught Stanley up and he floated away? What would Mr. Guy tell Mr. and Mrs. Lambchop?

Still, watching the boys jump was a thrill for Stanley, even if he didn't get to try it himself.

At Fourteen Falls, Stanley had his picture made with Mr. Guy and Mr. Andrew. He thought a lot about his friends Mal and Claudia and Bayley in Mobile AL and all his other friends and wished they were in Kenya with him. They would all be having a lot of fun together.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (2): Visiting Mt. Kenya

When Mr. Guy and Mr. Andrew invited Flat Stanley on the Kenya safari, they said he would see some beautiful countryside, and the safari began with a visit to Mt. Kenya. The Kikuyu, Meru, and Akamba communities think of Mt. Kenya as the home of the gods, and it is easy to see why. It is the highest mountain in Kenya, and a great attraction for serious mountain climbers. Our guide, a member of the Akamba community (the Kenyans say "community" instead of "tribe'), is an employee of the Kenya Wildlife Service and he works as a rescuer for climbers who get caught high up on the mountain and need help coming back down.

Our drive took us from the Naro Moru Route up (shown above) to the second "level" of the mountain. We hiked up for a distance from the second level, and here is a photo of Mr. Guy and Mr. Andrew and Stanley as we began our hike. It was from this vantage point that we were able to take photos of the splendid views from the mountain (one of which is shown below).

Flat Stanley really liked the walk up the mountain and he kept talking about how his friends would enjoy the hike as well. There were lots of trees and wildflowers to see, and many bushes and dead trees to jump over as Stanley climbed up ahead of Mr. Andrew and Mr. Guy and the guide and Mr. Charles (their driver and good friend).

But even if they can't be with him, Stanley sends good wishes to his friends in Colorado and to Brian Hopkins and Julian Lafferty in Santa Cruz, CA. He wishes they were with him on this safari so they could all have a good time together.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (1): Arrival in Nairobi

When our friends decided to have a three-week safari and explore Kenya, we thought our group was a pretty good one, made up of congenial friends who would have a good time together.

And then our safari got better. We got an added bonus: Flat Stanley would be coming with us.

[If you don't know Flat Stanley, here's how they describe him on the back of the book about his adventures (Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure, by Jeff Brown, published by HarperCollinsChildress, 1964): "Flat Stanley is an ordinary boy. At least he was, until the night his bulletin board fell off the wall and flattened him. All of a sudden, Stanley can slide under doors, mail himself across the country in an envelope, and fly like a kite!"]

Mr. Guy and Mr. Andrew brought Stanley to Africa because Cindy Hill, a good friend in Los Altos, California, mailed him to them. When Stanley arrived at the St. Clair/Berner house in New York, he politely asked to come to Kenya, as his friend JT in Mrs. Nix's Class at Alpine Elementary School in Longmont, Colorado would be very happy if Stanley could visit Kenya and go on Safari.

So welcome, Flat Stanley. Here is a picture of Stanley arriving at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi on a wet Sunday night (with Mr. Guy and Mr. Andrew - in Maasai clothes - and their friend, Ms. Nerisa, and in another picture with Mr. Andrew and Mr. Geoffrey and Ms. Nerisa). He is happy to be in Kenya with his new friends (and soon some other Americans will join them for the safari).

Flat Stanley says hello to his friends in America and all over the world, and especially to JT in Colorado.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Visit to the Nairobi National Museum

A recent Sunday provided three of The Great Four (Geoffrey couldn't join us) an opportunity to have a day out, spending lots of time doing things we had wanted to do but had not been able to fit into the schedule. It was a sort of gloomy day anyway, so we decided to take on activities that would mostly keep us indoors, starting with church (hence the way we are dressed).

Our first stop was a long-delayed visit to the Nairobi National Museum (see a selection of photos here). The flagship museum of the National Museums of Kenya, the Nairobi National Museum was started in 1910 by the then East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society. In those days, the organization was mostly colonial settlers and naturalists who wanted to keep and preserve their collections of various specimens, and that's the sense that comes through, especially when you look at some of the older collections. The bird collection is definitely dated in its style and presentation, but it is so comprehensive you just don't think about that. It's an amazing collection (and I've just offered a tiny sample in the photos).

The Great Hall of Mammals is quite spectacular (and a neat spot for some close-up pictures with some of the animals you dare not get close to on safari!). Also great fun (and a unique learning experience) is the Cradle of Humankind exhibition, with a reconstruction of how human beings lived millions of years ago. A recent addition (and behind very secure doors and a two-doored walkway) is the collection of skulls and skeletons from early mankind, deposited at the museum from Louis Leakey's Centre for Prehistory and Paleontology from the days when he was the museum's honorary curator (1941-1961). Very impressive indeed.

And for fun, perhaps the most visited exhibit is in the museum's courtyard: Ahmed the Elephant. He is enormous and has those fabulous, long tusks. Actually, what's on display is a replica of Ahmed, to bring attention to the the famous tusker who was put under armed protection in the 1970s to demonstrate Kenya's commitment to eradicating poaching (and connecting with the beautiful memorial at the National National Park).

Friday, December 3, 2010

Very Unusual Art Work

Not being an expert in the fine arts, I'm somewhat at a loss as to how to describe some of the things I run across in my travels. And I have to admit that even with that caveat, I'm a little challenged about the art work I found in one section of the Crocodile Farm in Nairobi (the Nairobi Mamba Village).

It is the facade of a building that - I gather - once housed an art gallery and gift shops, but now it is totally abandoned and even gives off the air that the inhabitants left in a hurry (perhaps the crocodiles got loose one night?). Even the gift shop still has many items inside, all covered with dust, sort of as if in an old-fashioned "ghost town" one sees from time to time in the American West.

Whatever its purpose, it's not a small building, and it is spread out over a good-sized area, and mostly one floor, although one can discern some second-floor space at some sections). But what fascinates me and my friends, as you can see from the photographs, is the artwork fashioned into the facade of the building. It's a little of everything, depicting African historical themes, considerable early-history warfare (I presume tribal, although one conquering warrior seems to be in Arabic dress), wildlife, what appear to be legends or narratives of one sort of another, and a depiction of ritual circumcision. Someone put a great deal of thought and labor and talent into the creation of this facade, and the whole work is quite charming.

Not surprisingly, we were very distressed to see the condition of the facade, and who knows what will happen to it? Whatever the fate of the art, seeing it is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While some of the photographs give some idea of what it looks like, the facade also appears destined to be a thing of the past, since I don't have the sense that it is cared for or will have any future. I think the medium is poured concrete, molded before it set, but it could be anything (again, I'm not an expert in these things). No matter. As a fascinated thing to view this art work is a real treat, and if it disappears, that will be too bad.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nairobi's Crocodile Farm

Yes, you read that right. In Nairobi - right in the city - there's a place called "The Crocodile Farm" and all I can say is that I'm happy I don't live in that neighborhood. Of course it's not dangerous and the area is well controlled but it's not a place I would particularly want to be near. I seem to have this attitude about crocodiles, probably dating back to a first safari a long time ago in Kruger National Park, in South Africa. Even though we were far away - as we were when we viewed the crocodiles on the migration safari in September in Kenya - I just don't want to be anywhere near crocodiles.

The place is officially known as Nairobi Mamba Village and it's not exactly in the heart of Nairobi, so I should not have worried. But it is in the rather up-scale suburb of Karen, and it's laid out around a man-made lake with beautiful gardens. I don't think it's a government or local authority place, as it seems to be more of a private operation and, sadly, seems to be a little run-down. There are several buildings that are not open and in obvious disrepair, and even though there is a playground with rides and such (and a reticulated giraffe and quite a few ostriches, which visitors can feed from their hands) and a very nice restaurant, you get the feeling that the place has seen better days. There's even a nightclub attached, built up over the place where the 60-some Nile crocodiles are kept and fed (gory thought, that) and while the mamba (the Swahili word for crocodile) are all fenced in, it's a strange sort of attraction. The crocodiles are mostly docile during the day, but at feeding time when chunks of what smelled to me like very rancid meat (I had to leave the area) are tossed to them by the attendants they become extremely active. It was all pretty unpleasant, as far as I was concerned.

Nerisa, brave soul that she is, took the photos and she did a great job. I will enjoy remembering my visit to the Crocodile Farm from looking at her good pictures. That's close enough for me.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Professional Colleagues: Meet Nerisa Kamar

I'm happy to refer readers of this post to a professional description of my friend Nerisa Jepkorir Kamar in Nairobi.

I've often written about her and shared photographs of Nerisa at this post, as she is one of "The Great Four" and, as with my pals Geoffrey Onyango Opile and Charles Ombongi Masese, Nerisa has played an important role in my personal success in Kenya.

Nerisa is also an outstanding example of the KM/knowledge services leaders now emerging in Africa, and a brief profile of Nerisa is available at the SMR Int'l - Knowledge Services Notes, our company's corporate blog.

Please take a look if you would like to read about someone who is doing exceptional work in the KM/knowledge services field.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day - Mr. Guy's Thanksgiving Project

Last Sunday, a brief post on this blog introduced Mr. Guy's Thanksgiving Project, asking people to share any particular parts of their lives that bring special meaning, things they are thankful for.

Surprisingly, since Thanksgiving Day is an American holiday and Americans are generally thought of as religious people (at least in terms of public or "civic" religion, regardless of what they feel in their hearts or how they act), responses were muted in terms of any religious connection. Little religious perspective carried over into the comments people made about what they are grateful for (which in itself might be something to be grateful for, considering what comes from some of our more "religious" citizens!). The few people who mentioned "faith" simply mentioned it that way, as something to be thankful for. They did not elaborate.

Even without the religious connection, and with the full recognition that Thanksgiving started as a religious observance among early Christian believers in New England and Virginia, lovely themes are being played out on this most American of holidays. Generally, these themes fall into three categories: family, friends, and health. The last we don't need to speak much about. In a time when healthcare and the American government's role in supporting healthcare for citizens is much talked about, those people fortunate enough to be in good health, or under the care of a good healthcare team if they have health needs, are indeed very blessed, and it was good to hear that they are thankful for their good fortune.

Family is another matter. There are many platitudes about dealing with family "issues" during the holiday season which for many people begins with Thanksgiving, and colleagues (and even the media) are full of stories about the dissension that seems to come to a head in one's family at this time of year. In the long run, though (from my observance and from what people told me), all the stories and gossip seem to be just that. Most people, given the opportunity to have a family observance of Thanksgiving and the year-end season are grateful for that opportunity. Even for those of us separated from our families by great distances seem to make particular effort think of other family members at this time of year, even - when possible - calling or sending an e-mail to have some brief interaction. It's a sweet activity and one that happily puts the lie to all those so-called "horror stories" about family gatherings. They make for amusing (and sometimes not-so-amusing) sitcoms on television and in the movies, but they are not how most people spend Thanksgiving dealing with their families. Most folks are grateful for the love they share with their families and relatives.

Which brings us to friends, a topic that could be the subject of a post all by itself. Here we have a clear statement of what being thankful is all about, and this is an easy matter to discuss. Apparently most of us are very aware of the role of friends in our lives, and even people who don't spend a lot of time thinking about gratitude and thankfulness as part of their daily lives move specifically in this direction when asked to describe what they are grateful for. Certainly for most people, we long ago learned that we cannot function alone, and even the most private of people seem to have some need for connecting with others, whether in the workplace or in their personal lives (look at the popularity and on-going utilization of mobile phones for an example - if you live in a metropolitan area as I do, you are very aware that most of those conversations are visits, and people are having a good time with those visits, even if they are not face-to-face).

For me, it's the connection with friends that provides the true link to Thanksgiving, and this year, particularly, it's a great joy for me to think about what's gone on in my life over the past year and reflect on my friends and how important they are to me. It hardly needs saying that living in a distant land for a year strengthens the role of friendship in one's life, and I'm very, very grateful to my American and international colleagues for being so "close" while I have been so far away. Personal friends, professional colleagues, even some people I never realized were particularly interested in my life or what I do have all kept up their connection with me (thank goodness for Skype, the posts of fellow bloggers, and especially e-mail). I have been truly blessed while I've been in Kenya.

And while it is probably not fair to single out individuals, the other three of what has become known as "The Great Four" of my African friends and colleagues and the other people I've met in Africa really need to be mentioned. It is not possible for me to identify and list all the many people I met in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya (after all, my work there required me to meet and interview what must have been a couple of hundred people!). Nevertheless, I am grateful and so blessed to have established a relationship with these three wonderful people. I wrote about Nerisa and Charles and Geoffrey in a post early in the month, so I won't embarrass them by going into a lot of detail here, but it is a special pleasure to submit this word of gratitude to them. And to the other colleagues and friends I've met in Africa, both professional friends in my work at UN-Habitat (especially Hellen Nyabera, Joseph Gichuki, Isaack Waruru, and Daniel Mukangura) and in my volunteer work at the Information Africa Organization, I send my gratitude.

So for my many personal friends, acquaintances, and colleagues with whom I've had the pleasure to interact during the past year (indeed, throughout my life), I am very, very thankful. If Mr. Guy's personal Thanksgiving Project had been a competition, it's obvious to me that although family, health, and even faith are important as we count our blessings, it's our connection with our friends that wins hands down. I'm very grateful to each and every one of them for including me in their lives, and my life is richer because of them.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Slums Do Not Have to Be Bleak

I'm impressed with what's going on in Rio de Janeiro, as reported by my friend Tom Rink on his blog.

Having worked recently in developing knowledge strategy for an organization dealing with sustainable urbanization (UN's Human Settlements Programme - UN-Habitat - in Nairobi, Kenya) and having visited Rio last March, Tom's post has special resonance for me. Perhaps for you, too.

Worth a look: Rio slum transformed into canvas bursting with color (be sure to scroll down and view the CNN report)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Thanksgiving Project

People in other countries are often impressed with the American holiday of Thanksgiving, to be observed this year on Thursday, November 25.

This annual tribute, in gratitude for the bounty of the land, is one of America's great traditions. This sort of grateful acknowledgement of  the "good things in life," so to speak, began for Americans with the first colonists, in Massachusetts back in the 17th century (although some credit its source to the Virginia colonists in the same period).

Thanksgiving is not limited to the United States (Canada's observance comes to mind), but in the States the day is given special recognition by many citizens. Observance of the holiday usually focuses on a special meal with family and friends, with some participants often travelling far to be part of the group. For many people in the States, the holiday has a special meaning because it introduces our end-of-the-year holiday season, and we all find (or try to find) ourselves in a mood that lifts us a little above the mundane and the ordinary for a few weeks.

This year I'm taking a cue from WQXR, New York's classical music radio station, which is running for the second year something called "The Gratitude Project," inviting listeners to identify the music they're most grateful for, which is then playing on air. For readers of this blog, I'm suggesting "The Thanksgiving Project," only let's do it with a little different twist. Let's share what we are grateful for as 2010 begins to come to an end.

It doesn't matter what it is, but we would be very interested in hearing from you. Share something for which you're grateful. Just submit a comment below and tell us what you are thankful for. Perhaps it's someone in your life who is special to you, or an event that got you to thinking differently, an unexpected windfall of some sort (or better yet, some tragedy or sadness avoided), or something simple that you're just happy is part of your life, such as the good music you hear, your friendships, or your success in your profession or work.

Send a few words to The Thanksgiving Project. We'll share them on Thursday.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Kenya: The People, The Places, The Culture (3)

Party Time

There's probably no better way to convey one's impressions of a different place than to describe how people have fun together. As it turned out, my pals and I were up for a good party back at the beginning of the month when my friend Joseph Gichuki decided to have a party for Mr. Guy.

We later learned that the party was to be an all-day affair, somehow built around the goat we were going to be eating. That idea didn't come through to me, and we arrived after the goat had been slaughtered and was being grilled. But even if we missed the beginning of the festivities we still - to no one's surprise - had ourselves a swell time.

We gathered at a place Joseph knew, and the event included a lot of just sitting around and visiting, which was very nice. No formal agenda or activities, just enjoying each other's company. New people joined us - friends of Joseph and his wife Esther - so the conversations covered just about every subject that has come up since I've been in Kenya. We spoke about politics and the new constitution, of course, and there was also lots of talk about the cultural differences between the Americans and the rest of the world - a very popular topic of conversation for international visitors these days, especially this time, just a few days after the mid-term election in the United States. My Kenyan friends - both old friends and new people I met for the first time - were intrigued with what's going on in the U.S. and conveyed to me, it seemed, some nervousness about the results of the election.

Such talk did not inhibit our good time - not with this crowd. The Tuskers were eagerly enjoyed (Tusker being the popular brand of bottled beer in Kenya), and we had many good comments (and O.K. - a few laughs) about how Mr. Guy looks in his African shirt. Made from the fabric used for the Maasai shuka, the colorful wraps worn by not only the Maasai but just about everybody else in Kenya, the shirt was a present as we started off on our excursion to the party and I was delighted. Finally I'm going to be dressed like some of the fellows I see as I roam about Kenya.

A Maasai vendor lady visited us, and while none of us was particularly interested in making any purchases, Joseph did decide that I needed a beaded Maasai wristband to go with my shirt, so instead of the guest giving the host a gift, the gesture was turned around, and I'm very grateful.

Indeed, very grateful all the way 'round to Joseph and Esther for provided such a lovely day and this happy party. It was truly a good time, and we really enjoyed ourselves. The Tuskers were delicious on a warm early-summer day, and all that good goat meat just kept coming and coming. While none of us really overate, I suppose, we did consume a lot of goat (must have been a big goat!).

And as part of the goat-eating, I experienced again something that's been happening to me recently in Kenya: the elegant respect for me because I'm older. I've long known that the Kenyans (and possibly all Africans, for all I know) have a particular code of behavior with respect to the elders of their society, but somehow it had eluded me that I'm one of that group. No one has - during my time in Kenya - made any particular comments or deference to me because of my age (well, except for with my best buddies, who do make lots of humorous comments about the wide gap between their ages and mine!), but in the last couple of weeks or so, I've noticed a little trend in this direction.

And it was made very clear at this party. I asked about it, and when Joseph and some of the other fellows explained to me why I was being treated in a special way, I was very honored. It was almost as if my age had moved me from being simply a tourist and/or a temporary employee in their country to someone (almost) matching the position of their own elders. At the party, the idea was made manifest in a couple of very sweet gestures. For example, when food was served (as it was many times during the day) it was put in front of me first, and I realized that everyone was looking at me. When I asked what was going on, it was explained to me that it was my job - as the oldest person present - to pick up my piece of goat meat and begin eating first, after which everyone else would eat.

The same thing happened as we got toward the end of the meal (not the exact end, because we had to leave early for the drive back to Nairoibi, and we didn't participate in eating the goat's head or the ritual soup that ends the meal, to come late the day). I was handed a large piece of meat, still attached to a bone and it was my job - as the oldest person - to break a hole in the bone (which I finally was able to muster, when my friends showed me how to use a beer bottle as a sort of hammer to crack to bone). The purpose of the hole? Fascinating "cycle-of-life" sequence: the bone will be thrown into the field, the grass will grow up through the hole, and the other goats will eat it through the hole, thus creating a connection between the goats that provide sustenance and the people who will be eating the goat.

The photos tell the story, so interested readers can go to Gichuki Party 06 Nov 2010 to get the full description of this particular day in Mr. Guy's life in Kenya.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Kenya: The People, The Places, The Culture (2)

My plans for preparing a series of posts with my "closing" (you might say) comments as I prepare to leave Kenya were interrupted. Professional priorities took over, and we all know what that means in the scheme of things.

"The best-laid plans," etc....

So apologies to regular readers of these posts. Will hope to stay on track over the next few weeks.

In keeping with my little theme, I was duly impressed with not only the Winner of the Women's Open Division of the New York Marathon (Edna Kiplagat of Kenya) but with David Brooks's essay in today's New York Times.

In The Crossroads Nation, Brooks makes his usual strong and well-thought out case for his topic, which this time is how America attracts creative and innovative people, how in the United States people who have the talent to move forward with their ideas can do so. Despite the difficult times we're living in, Brooks notes, there is still an opportunity for creative people to find a place where they can fulfill their creative destiny. It doesn't seem to matter where you come from (he refers to someone living in "some small town in Ukraine or Kenya or some other place, foreign or domestic"). You want to go, he says, to "where people are gathering to think about the things you are thinking about, creating the things you want to create." And he's right. America - especially the United States - is the place you want to go. American truly is - and always has been - the "crossroads nation."

But is it?

I'm not an expert in these things, but of course I couldn't resist, and I responded to David's column (I read him so often I feel like we should be on a first-name basis!).

From my experience - from what I've observed and from what I've heard Africans speak about - I fear there is one important barrier inhibiting the United States as a crossroads nation, at least for people from outside our borders. Here's what I said:

"Thank you, David, for this cogent and stimulating essay: I totally agree with what you've said, and being a crossroads nation has many important implications for us both as a nation and as a society. However, there is one 'layer' (we might call it) that is preventing our moving forward in this direction: the dangerous, petty, and offensive resistance at embassies with respect to granting visas. I'm currently wrapping up a year-long business assignment in Kenya, and I'm shocked to hear the stories people tell about attempts to come to the United States from several of the African countries. In fact, the joke here is that 'it's easier to get into Heaven than to get into America.' In the past, I had not thought about this very much, and it is very sad to hear about this. It's a situation that, I fear, could be a serious impediment to our being a crossroads nation. Thanks again for your good essays. Good work. All the best."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Kenya: The People, The Places, The Culture (1)

As the professional assignment winds down and this homesick wanderer prepares to end his stay in Kenya, it seems appropriate to give some thought to what has impressed me about this beautiful land.

That "homesick" is a little hard to explain, though, for despite the fact that I've been in Nairobi since last November 12, there have been two nice visits home, and to Brussels and Geneva and San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro as well, all dutifully described (well, I hope not "dutifully" - certainly "enthusiastic" is more accurate!) in posts to this blog. And even occasionally at the corporate blog where my colleagues and I try to share our knowledge and interests with professional colleagues and clients. So it's not like I've been on the other side of the world for a year. Or stationed in some remote, out-of-the-way place where I would be totally out of contact with home.

But there's no question about it: it is a long way from Nairobi to New York (one return journey was 34 hours door-to-door!). So despite the pleasures of Kenya, the intrepid Manhattan-ite has had his moments of longing, wishing he could hear Jeff on WQXR or head off to the opera house to hear one of the favorites or even, simply (and in typical New York style), just head over to his club and spend a couple of hours reading magazines that aren't available at home.

And when in Kenya?

It's those "pleasures of Kenya" that have made it all worthwhile. To my way of thinking, those pleasures fall into three categories: the people, the places, and the culture. And while I can't predict whether I'll be able to give due attention to all three, I can begin with the people. Even thinking about what I want to say about the people of Kenya fills me with such pre-nostalgia that I'm expecting to find myself a little homesick in the other direction very soon.

For me, any thought of the people of Kenya is going to begin with happy memories of The Great Four, this funny gang of people who discovered each other shortly after my arrival in Nairobi a year ago. We've come to care very much for each other, and now seems a good time to pay a special tribute to them (and to provide just a hint of how much I'll miss them after I leave). As readers of these posts know, Charles (second from right in the photo above) is my driver and boon companion and now, almost family, since he and his wife have named their new daughter Claire, honoring my last name more graciously that I ever expected to experience. As for Geoffrey and Nerisa, we got to know each other professionally early on, as they are both KM/knowledge services specialists. For Nerisa, dealing with strategic knowledge is her professional focus in the workplace, and she takes much pleasure in directing her clients to the right "knowledge-sharing" opportunity. Geoffrey is fascinated by how KM/knowledge services is being embraced in Kenya, and he is bound and determined to provide the country's KM market with the highest standards of KM service delivery (to the extent of initiating an informal branch of SMR International - SMR Africa - to bring the SMR brand of KM/knowledge services to this wonderful place).

But it is unfair to limit my characterization of Geoffrey and Nerisa as "professional," for our friendships now far exceed the professional and with Charles, we modestly describe ourselves as The Great Four. And why not? When people come to Africa to go on safari to pursue The Big Five, why shouldn't they also run across The Great Four? We could probably lead them on some very interesting adventures.

Silliness? Of course. But adding greatly to the enormous stockpile of memories that will stay with us forever.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Andrew Doughman: Writing and Sharing are All Part of the Picture

The subject of this post is Andrew Doughman, a young journalist I met recently in Nairobi. Andrew's work has made quite an impression on me and some of my friends in the community.

Andrew is finishing up his studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, and he has been in Kenya to work as an intern for the East African, one of the most important and popular newspapers in the area. He has had several valuable internships, including a three-month reporting internship at the news desk of the Seattle Times and a stint in legislative reporting at the state capitol in Olympia, where he wrote for the Skagit Valley Herald.

I didn't get to read any of his work for those assignments, but if the articles he wrote are as impressive as what I've read in Kenya, Andrew Doughman is moving into a solid career as a writer.

He has always loved to write, he tells me, and we got together recently to speak about journalism and how journalism and writing connect - in my mind - with knowledge development and knowledge sharing, what we in the field like to call "KD/KS." As Andrew and I spoke, it became clear that journalists and strategic knowledge professionals are very much on the same page (excuse the pun).

For one thing, both fields bring out one's passion for sharing. In Andrew's case, as he said, he has always loved to write, and when he arrived at university as a freshman - even before he had gone to his first class - he had managed to get into a meeting at the student newspaper and land a freshman job writing for the paper.

Why did he take on such demanding work? Because he wanted to learn, to work for an editor who would - simply in the editor's role of providing Andrew with what he calls "institutionalized feedback" - provide Andrew with critical feedback (and, as Andrew noted with a laugh, force him to learn to meet deadlines).
"I want to work with people who know more than I do," Andrew says, "and then I can share what I know later on."

It's a fine goal, and as he describes it, he's making it clear that as he pursues his own career, he would be able to work from one of his basic beliefs, that "it's better to be a coach than a boss."

Well said, Andrew, and it's a principle that - for most professional strategic knowledge workers - provides the foundation for success as a knowledge thought leader, no matter what kind of organization you work for.

Another connection between writing and KD/KS has to do with delivery, and I wanted to pursue some thoughts with Andrew about the differences between writing for print journalism and online content delivery. These are media formats that strategic knowledge professionals think much about, and my conversation with Andrew seemed like a perfect opportunity to hear what someone on the other side of the desk thinks about what's happening as we seek to deal with print and digitized content.

"There is no distinction," Andrew says quickly, and I'm impressed. This man is confident in his opinions on this subject.

"If there is a difference," Andrew continues, "it is with breaking news. Online reporting is fast, and as a writer you are required to get your story up fast, to provide a glimpse of what's happening. Then, as the day goes on, the story gets filled in, fleshed out, and by the time the print story is ready, it's a fuller version of what you started out with in the beginning.

"But the rules are the same. Good writing, whether it is for print or online, must be clean, it must be clear, and you have to write to very high standards. The rules don't change. Only the format changes."

And dear to the hearts of those of us who think in terms of legacy content, of professions like librarianship, archives, records management, and the like, Andrew made another point that resonates.

"Well, there is another difference," he said. "With online writing you're creating a permanent archive, an opportunity to come back and review something that's been written on your subject before, and to do it very easily, right at the desktop."

The example Andrew gave, of following what had been previously written on a subject that interested him in a recent magazine story, made his point, but I could not resist raising the issue of quantity vs. quality.

"But what about all that's out there, all that's available in digitized copy?" I had to ask. "Isn't there a lot of just bad writing out there? What about that? How do we deal with that?"

"We don't," Andrew said. "Good writing, copy coming from someone who has something to say will bubble up, and it will be read."

So now it was becoming clear that Andrew isn't too concerned about bad writing. His focus is on good writing, on following those rules of writing that don't change (except for social networking media, he points out, where the same rules are still valid but "the tone changes").

So we return to what good writing is, and the example from Andrew Doughman's work that so impressed me in the first place. Since I've been in Kenya (actually since before, from when I had visited South Africa several years ago), I had been aware of the tremendous focus on slums, those urban spaces where so many poor people live. Slums and sub-standard housing are a critical challenge for society, and since my work in Kenya is with the development of knowledge strategy for dealing with sustainable urbanization, I've read and seen a lot about slums.

But nothing has impressed me like Andrew's article in the East African, published a couple of weeks ago. In the article, "An American in Kibera," Andrew takes a different look at Africa's slums and the citizens who live there. Instead of going as a "slum tourist" - an unfortunate direction now being provided as an attraction for some visitors to Kenya - Andrew went into the community to visit, to get to know people, and to write about them. He lived in Kibera for four days and four nights, collecting knowledge to share, to enable people to understand what life is like in the slums. It was  remarkable experience for Andrew Doughman and - we're very grateful - for the rest of us as well.

Read the story, and send your comments to SMR International. Or if you want to contact Andrew Doughman

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thika: The Fourteen Falls and the Blue Post Hotel (and its Falls)

There is much to see in the Thika area, and time spent in the Thika area is well worth the trouble. There is the beautiful Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park, described previously, and while I ran out of time and didn't get to Lord Macmillan's home or the home of Jomo Kenyatta, I had a lovely visit to two other attractions in the area.

One was the famous Fourteen Falls, a favorite attraction for many local people, and it was lovely to be there on a Saturday afternoon and see so many people enjoying themselves. The waterfalls are an amazing sight, and while the local boys are anxious to pick up a few extra shillings by taking you out in the water for a ride in their boats (none of which looked particularly secure to me), I declined. I also declined the offer from one fellow to go to the top of the falls and dive in ("It won't cost you much," he said, but I wasn't so sure - if he were knocked dead from the fall, where would the blame land, I wonder? Would I suddenly become an "accomplice" in a local's death in a foreign country? Not a chance I wanted to take!).

Also well worth the visit (but not really an attraction in the safari-travelling sense of the word) is the lovely Blue Post Hotel just on the edge of Thika, with its own splendid waterfalls. Actually, the waterfalls - both of which seem to be artificial to me (one has a highway going across it) - are lovely to look at, but I think the hotel simply happens to be there. Nevertheless, it's a very special place to go for an early dinner before the long drive back to Nairobi, and there's no question about it: falling water does provide a certain ambiance that can't be found in any other experience. (View my photos here.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Yet Another National Park in Kenya: Ol Donyo Sabuk

Not too far from Thika (of The Flame Trees of... fame), there's a lovely mountain park that I did not really have on my list, but as I had not spent much time in the Thika area, why not? That's what Saturdays in Kenya are for, right?

It was a beautiful drive to Thika, once we got away from the construction on the new Thika highway (the Chinese are doing the Kenyans a big favor with all the road construction they're sponsoring, but it sure does make a mess - and tie up traffic, even on week-ends!).

The park itself is named for the great mountain in its midst, the Masai word for "big mountain." The Kikuku tribe calls the mountain (and the park) Kilima Mbogo, their word for the African buffalo, and one can understand why they gave it the name. The park is famous for the buffalo, often found in great numbers in the park, and we had heard many stories about the many African buffalo we would see there, in great herds.

That was not to be our experience, alas. For some reason, the buffalo were in hiding, and we did not see a single one! Our guide opined that it was because we were there in the middle of the day, and it was - unusual for us but apparently not so unusual for this part of the country - very hot.

So while we were not going to get to see the buffalo (and not a big deal, really, as we've seen plenty of them in other places), we were going to see some magnificent scenery. We feasted our eyes and shot many photographs simply because, like when we were at the Menengei Crater, there's just so much to see and the vistas are so spectacular. In fact, if I were in charge of tourism for the Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park, I would just skip over the buffalo stuff and go straight to the scenery. You can see some of our photographs here.

The park has quite a history, too. For one thing, the country's more recent history is represented near here as the home of the country's first President - Jomo Kenyatta - is nearby. We didn't get a chance to visit, but apparently the Kenyans often stop by to pay homage. Also nearby is the birthplace of Tom Mboya, born in the area in 1930. One of Kenya's most important politicians, Mobya's career was cut short with his dreadful assassination in 1969.

The colorful history of the area goes back even further. Part of the wicked Happy Valley (ahem!) activities took place in the surrounding countryside but an even more important legacy is the contribution of Lord William Northrop Macmillan (1872-1925). Despite the title, he was an American, from St. Louis. He came to Kenya for big-game hunting (even hosting Theodore Roosevelt for a hunting excursion or two) and stayed on to become a major philanthropist for the country. Like Lord Egerton, Lord Macmillan had much to do with the establishment of Kenya's agricultural economy, and he and his wife - both buried on the mountain - are warmly remembered by the people of the area.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Menengei Crater

One of the most spectacular sites in Kenya happens to be not too far from Nairobi, about two hours' drive up toward the Rift Valley.

I had seen another spectacular view (well, there have been many, really) on a safari in this direction, when Charles drove me to the Hell's Gate National Park and we descended into the famous Gorge and then, upon coming up again, climbed up to some very splendid views. [That safari is described here and here.]

The Menengei Crater is something else again. We had not really planned this excursion, but as I was giving speech that day at an international conference at Egerton University, near Nakuru, and since my presentation and the reception following were finished by noon, Charles and Nerisa and I decided to do some exploring. Beside, we wanted a preview, because as Charles continues with his tour guiding (and since fellow Americans are going to give his business a jump-start when we come for a three-week safari in December), the Menengei Crater was being considered as a likely spot to visit.

Were we impressed? Absolutely. See for yourself (Menengei Crater near Nakuru). The photographs show off the beauty of the place, and it is at times I wish I were more skilled as a photographer, but I think enough shows through to give an idea of the spectacle of the Menengei Crater. I'm already looking forward to returning there with my friends in December.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dame Joan Sutherland: Grieve, Heart, and Rejoice in Happy Memories

Dame Joan Sutherland
(Credit: Noosa Federation of the Arts) 
Dame Joan has died, and many of us are very sad. Our lives were so enriched - made so beautiful and so much happier - by that glorious sound, and while none of us is surprised about the aging process, true fans keep wanting the inevitable to be put off... and off... and off.

The memories are many, and mine - just another fan's but including several occasions when Dame Joan and I actually interacted with one another - are I suppose no more or less than anyone else's.

Still, it pleases me to think now about Dame Joan and share some of those memories.

They began many years ago, as she was first making her name in America. I'm not sure of all the specifics (I'm relying on my memory here), but my first encounter was when I was at university. Joan Sutherland was travelling about the United States under the sponsorship of her managers and participating in something called the Columbia Artists Series. It was the organization that brought artists to the Grounds of the University of Virginia, and I was a student at Mr. Jefferson's University at the time.

Several young performers gained valuable name recognition with these recitals (I remember Marilyn Horne was another singer who visited us in Charlottesville), and the recitals - held in the University's famous Cabell Hall - were very popular. I don't remember my connection with the Music Department (I was a liberal arts major not a music major) but for some reason some of us were asked to volunteer for particular tasks, like insuring that the route to the dressing rooms were clear, dealing with backstage visitors, and similar little tasks.

And for some reason, after the recital and when the crowd was moving away, I was still in the area with someone from the music faculty (don't remember who it is was) and we were chatting with Miss Sutherland. She expressed an interest in seeing a little more of the Virginia countryside, and as she did not have a train out of Charlottesville until late the next afternoon, she asked if it would be possible to have a drive. As it turned out, the faculty member wasn't available (or perhaps he didn't have an opportunity to offer since I - not being a shy fellow - possibly forged ahead with my offer - I don't remember, thankfully!).

So I volunteered my little Hillman Minx, and we agreed on a time to meet at her hotel. I got there on time, and Miss Sutherland and Mr. Guy had a delightful drive all about Albemarle Country (and beyond). We spoke about everything under the sun, and she made me promise to come to see her whenever she was singing somewhere and I was in the audience (and it was a promise she kept, for whenever I sent a note backstage - even at the Metropolitan Opera - I was admitted to join the group congratulating her on her performance, and she always greeted me warmly). She always remembered me, and even years later, when I would send a newspaper clipping or a birthday card, I always had a nice note back in return.

Not only a great singer, a great lady.

And the performances! I cannot begin to enumerate all of what I heard over the years. It so happened that my time in New York began just as her career was in its very best years, and for more than two decades I got to hear her in so many spectacular performances in New York and even - sometimes - in London and a few other places. Memories - performances - I'll never forget.

On the mantle in my sitting room there is a lovely photograph of her - signed to me - in that voluminous white gown from "La Traviata," to me one of her greatest roles. And across the room is a happy photograph - also signed to me - of her in costume as Marie in "La Fille du Regiment," which the Met mounted just for her and Luciano Pavarotti. One of her greatest successes (not surprisingly, since Joan Sutherland had a rather wild and very delightful sense of humor - she loved to laugh and have fun!).

And far too many other performances to list, but oh, how I loved her in the famous "Lucia," the three heroines of "Les Contes d'Hoffmann," "Norma" (with the great Marilyn Horne - who could ever forget their "Mira O Norma"? - hear them sing it it here in a 1979 recital) and so many more. And after an absence of a few years from the Met, she came back with Alfredo Kraus for a revival of "I Puritani," which was worth the wait. And as my then-wife and I walked across the Lincoln Center Plaza to go into the house, we were approached by a man with a big sign: "$1,000 for a ticket." My wife suggested we sell him our tickets and go off on a great vacation. No way. We were going to hear Joan Sutherland and Alfredo Kraus in "I Puritani." A vacation simply paled by comparison.

Then, toward the end of her singing career, a splendid Sunday-afternoon recital at the Metropolitan Opera House. Two memories: In the first, I knew someone who worked in the house and he happened to be standing next to her as she and Richard Bonynge were speaking before she went on stage. She was having great difficulties with the huge blue hoop skirt of her gown, and she turned to her husband with a great frown on her face and said: "I'm getting too old for this!" He simply smiled and gently pushed her out on to the great Met stage.

And the second memory: Not so nice. Two uninterested older ladies were seated just behind me and my friends. They spoke all through whatever prelude was played to start the recital off (I don't remember what it was) and they continued to speak during the first aria, even when Miss Sutherland was actually singing. As my friends tell it, I kept getting more and more agitated, and my friends were actually looking at me, worried about what I would do. I wasn't aware that they were watching me, but I didn't disappoint them. When the aria ended, during the applause, I jumped up in my seat, turned around, and screamed at the ladies: "If you don't shut up I am going to kill you!" We didn't hear another sound from them (and they didn't return after the intermission!).

OK. Perhaps not a Joan Sutherland story. Or perhaps it is. Perhaps it demonstrates the kind of passion this lady's talent brought out in her fans.

Thank you, dear Dame Joan, for all you gave us. We have been so blessed to have you with us.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Egerton Castle

And now it's time to give some thought to Lord Egerton.

Have been fascinated with expatriate life in Kenya, from the turn of the last century up to (and sometimes including) World War II, I greatly enjoy reading about the personalities involved. And yes, I've read (twice) James Fox's good history of the infamous Happy Valley crowd, White Mischief, and I highly recommend it. The early days of the country's colonial history are pretty gripping, and just about anything you find about what went on in those days, from the commercial exploitation to establishing the government, is well worth reading.

The other favorite book on the subject is Karen Blixen's Out of Africa, and both the book and the film are now classics. Blixen's home outside of Nairobi is good excursion for anyone interested in the expatriate life (or simply interested in how a fine writer lived at one point in her life). It's in a town called "Karen." I've heard both that the town was named in her honor and that it's simply a coincidence that both she and the town share the name,  but I've never checked it out, since how the town got its name really isn't part of the story. (I wrote about my visit to the house here.)

Now I've become intrigued with Lord Maurice Egerton, the elegant gentleman farmer who is generally given credit for bringing agricultural science to Kenya, and for developing agriculture as a business, leading to its role now as the country's primary economic resources. He established a training school ("a farm school") for agricultural science in 1939, and it became the now-famous Egerton University, known internationally for its excellence in the study of agricultural science (and, incidentally, as the site of a knowledge management course integrated into the Agriculture Information and Communication Management  curriculum).

Egerton, 4th and last Baron Egerton of Tatton, was well known as an innovator and, according to one account, "a man of great inventive and technical skill." He was an early aviator, photographer, and filmmaker and in addition to his work in agriculture, Egerton achieved a considerable reputation as an early motorist.

When he came to Kenya to set up his work, he acquired huge land holdings, much of which at his death in 1958 became the grounds of Egerton University. Additionally, though, Lord Egerton build a rather fabulous home on his estate, and my friends and I recently had a splendid visit to "Egerton Castle," as the house is now known.

Used by the university for ceremonial events, the house, now empty, is lovingly cared for by Robert Onyiego, 76, who came to work at the house when it was being built (his parents were working there as well). Onyiego eventually worked his way up to being deputy engineer for the construction of the house, which went on over a period of several years. [Photographs of our visit are here and include snaps of Mr. Guy and Nerisa and Charles and even of Mr. Onyiego himself, who was extremely gracious in leading us about.]

Built for a lady to whom Baron Egerton wished to become engaged, the house is something of an anachronism. As it happened, the lady refused him, not once but twice, and Egerton's heart was broken . He lived the remainder of his life totally without women in his life, even to the point of excluding them from the grounds of the estate. The story is well told by Beatrice Obwocha here in an amusing - and sad - version. It will stretch your imagination and make you wonder about how some of these people came to think the way they did.

My favorite part of the story - not surprising to anyone who knows me (and not much emphasized in the Egerton legend) - is the Baron's great love of music. One great end of the mansion was his music room (the huge room shown in the photographs). The remains of the great organ for which he brought famous musicians to Egerton Caster is still in place, and the story is told that - even when there were guests - Lord Egerton loved to sit in one of the window alcoves with the heavy draperies closed, to listen to the music in his own solitude. It is a spectacular room, and obviously was the setting for great entertainment in Lord Egerton's day.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Quick Announcement: National Geographic on Migrations

For friends and colleagues who were following Mr. Guy's posts about the Great Migration, just had news that the National Geographic network will be showing a series on migrations. [The posts were uploaded August 27 - September 25 - see Archives List to the left.]

Called "Great Migrations: A Global Television Event," the series begins November 7.

The preliminary information indicates that a couple of the programs will have to do with Africa's Great Migration, but I could not confirm the exact dates for those showings.

Might be worth viewing. I certainly intend to watch this, since it connects so closely with what I experienced when I viewed Africa's Great Migration in Masai Mara. People are already asking about how they can view the migration in 2011. The person to ask is my driver, Charles Masese, who will be happy to provide guidance. He arranges all my safari trips, and has been doing so since November, 2009.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

World Habitat Day - Sharing Knowledge about Cities and How We Live in Them

In the public arena, knowledge development and knowledge sharing (KD/KS) is often experienced in official observances and celebrations. Most participants are usually not aware that they are engaged in an activity as significant in their lives as KD/KS, but that's fine, too. Knowledge development and knowledge sharing are such a universal human trait, it's not necessary to be always aware when it's happening.

Nevertheless, when there are such events, it's good to take notice of them, for they are an essential element in society. We are  better people (and better informed) when we take part in these activities.

A case in point is World Habitat Day, observed internationally on the first Monday in October is. This year - October 4 - the theme is Better City Better Life.

Designated by the United Nations to call attention to the right of all citizens to safe and secure urban housing, World Habitat Day is sponsored by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya.

Started in 1978, UN-HABITAT is mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities, with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. The programme is a fully fledged programme of the UN system, positioned squarely in the mainstream of the UN’s development agenda for poverty reduction. Through its work (known as the "Habitat Agenda"), UN-HABITAT contributes to the UN's overall objective to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development, with most of the programme budget coming in the form of contributions from multilateral and bilateral partners for technical cooperation (with about 5 per cent from the regular UN budget). Its partners range from governments and local authorities to a wide international cross-section of Non-Governmental Organisations and civil society groups.

Executive Director Designate Joan Clos, the former two-term Mayor of Barcelona and most recently Spain's Ambassador to the Republics of Turkey and Azerbaijan, takes office on October 18. Until then, Deputy Executive Director Inga Björk-Klevby is UN-HABITAT's Officer-in-Charge. In a recent statement, Mrs. Björk-Klevby discusses World Habitat Day:

In her comments, Mrs. Björk-Klevby identifies five steps for society to take if sustainable urbanization is to be realized:
  1. Improve quality of life for people living in slums and other sub-standard housing
  2. Invest in human capital
  3. Foster sustained economic opportunities
  4. Enhance political inclusion ("bringing government into the reach of ordinary people")
  5. Promote cultural inclusion, noting that culture has in the past been conventionally left out of the international urbanization agenda
Probably one of the best examples of KM/knowledge services in action, World Habitat Day provides an excellent opportunity for strategic knowledge professionals to consider their role in society and, particularly, their role in addressing one of the major global issues of our time.

[Disclosure: UN-HABITAT is a current client, and I am presently working in Nairobi as a consultant in knowledge strategy development for UN-HABITAT.]