the end

the primary language in Kenya is Kiswahili. Swahili is the culture, Kiswahili is the language of it. however, with all the history of Kenya rooted in the different tribal cultures like Masai and other groups, when you get out to the rural areas, you'll find the first language is of their original tribe, then Kiswahili and English.

the main tribe in Njabini is Kikuyu. most of the kids that come to house only know how to speak that when they arrive but slowly learn Kiswahili and English. if they're mad or really need to express their feelings, they're talking in Kikuyu.

most Flying Kites staff and some volunteers that come through the house end up getting a Kikuyu name. Toby, one of the founders and the leader of our Kili climb, his name is Uncle Jamba. Jamba means warrior or cockerel.

stick with me here, it's all part of the story.

about 3 weeks ago, i was finally able to get the brick-oven pieced together at the house. i've never built a brick-oven before. my experience with projects like this is somewhere between "absolutely none" and "i saw one on tv once." so the obvious answer when Brian asked me if it was possible was, "definitely" and my first thought after the answer was, "google".

slip 'n slide day

Mach and Juli


after stumbling over the language barrier talking about bricks with the local contractor that's helped build the school, tree house (more about that in a bit) and is our go to guy on repairs around the house i was well below hopeful that this oven would even work. the reason for the doubt was because everything i found online was Americans building these in their back yards with the best materials possible. the supplies and quality are different in Kenya. i was expecting a smoldering pile of brick crumbles when we fired it up and as it came together, the expectation from the family was heaps of cookies, fresh baked bread, pizza, cakes and the fountain of youth.

every kid asking "Uncle, when will you make the fire for bread!?!?!" as they do a little shimmy dance of excitement. every matron and guardsmen at the house pining with anticipation and every time it would leave me inhaling like i was taking my last breath and trying to temper their expectation with, "we have to test it first" and "i don't know if it'll work" answers. that's one lesson i guess i never learned at my old job in advertising, managing expectations.

judgement day...
it's 6:30am and i come dragging out of the volunteer bedroom across the yard from the house to about 20 kids brushing their teeth and piping full of energy. as soon as one eyeballs me, it sets off this ruckus exchange with all of them,

"UNCLE! TODAY YOU MAKE COOKIES!" but it sounds like i'm in a room that echoes because they're all asking at once.

"hhaaa uuummm uuhhh, can i get a good morning first please?"

"Gooooood morning Uncle! Now bake time!"

"thanks. good morning."

about an hour later i started chopping wood and trying to build a fire. Moses, watching eagerly over my shoulder and seeing me struggle offered to handle the fire for me. within about 30 mins he had a massive blaze going. shortly we had an oven so hot inside you couldn't put your hand in there.

while i was taking fire lessons from Moses, some of the other volunteers were making the cookie mix. oatmeal chocolate chip.

a test batch of cookies was dropped on this piece of scrap metal the matrons use as a lid for cooking rice and other stuff at the house.

with a crowd of eager onlookers and potential rioters, the first batch was escorted across the yard to the oven. in the back of my mind, i had an image of a mixed crowd of 27 sobbing and enraged kids, some carrying pitchforks and torches, cornering me and asking me why i lied, why i cheated them. i think i'm the only one that felt this tension.

within about 45 seconds of going in the oven, our first cookies were done.

i really can't believe it worked.

that night, after family meeting, we all had homemade cookies. i felt like a proud father to see those kids nibbling on these little pieces of luck.

the funny thing about those kids eating cookies though is that not a single one of them stuffed it down like i would have at that age. 2-3 bites and i'm ready for the next and barely tasting the first. they cherished them. it's beautiful to see gratefulness in thoughtless action, not words.

make no mistake, words came later and i'll never forget them.

Uncle Mkate Wa Tangawizi is the Kikuyu name i was given. the loose translation is Uncle Ginger Bread Man.
i'm not sure the family realizes the genious of that. ginger is not a term for redheads like it is in other parts of the world.

every night we have a family meeting. the meeting ends with gratitude. anybody that has something their grateful for can share it. the offerings are always great.

"I'm happy because Uncle Brian is here."

"I'm happy because we got to make necklaces today."

"I'm sad because Uncle Jamba is not here but I'm happy because Uncle Jamba is coming this weekend."

"I'm happy because we had chapati for dinner tonight."

"I'm happy I'm a part of this family."

"I'm happy because we got to slip 'n slide today"

"I'm happy because Simba and Nala (the house cats) are falling in love."

"I'm happy because the matrons do so much for us."

a couple days after cookie night, i was away from the house one night for some reason and when i got back Juli passed along one of the gratitudes from the night before. "I am happy because every time I think about cookies, I think of Uncle Sam and what a wonderful man he is."

since cookie night, Brian has made pizza and Devon made cinnamon rolls and apple pie!

i'm happy because there isn't a pile of bricks in the corner of the yard that was wasted as an attempt to make an oven and i'm happy because i'm a part of this family.

it went up in a corner of the school yard in a big blue-gum tree. from the roots, the tree split into 5 or 6 different trunks and went straight up. about 15ft up, we built the house. it's a 2-story clerestory style house with a loft. i can't say i played much of a role in the actual building. i carried supplies and climbed around a bit, but the actual building goes to the crew. i just kept an eye on it and made sure it turned out how we were hoping it would. all the credit goes to Brian's grandfather for donating the money to do it and our local contractor, Sam, and his crew for making it happen.

it's finished and it turned out amazing.

the kids call it the blue-gum house.

i asked Sam how many people it would hold. he told me, "two sleeping elephants."

we're still waiting to find out if this is the first tree house in the history of Kenya.

i came to Kenya without any plans for climbing Kili and changed my mind shortly before Flying Kites was leading a group up as a fundraiser. in less than 2 weeks, i asked you to help me fundraise $3,000.
within a few short hours, you had me over $600. by the time i climbed, you had put up $1,800 and i decided i was happy to pay the rest. when i got off the mountain, more of you had donated.

you donated during tight economic times.

you passed it along to people who otherwise wouldn't have found it.

you gave when you could have tucked it away for tougher times.

you gave to 27 dreams when you could have moved on and forgot about it.

i'm at a loss for words to convey my gratitude.

thank you.

now about the journey because i know you want the story too...

meet our climbing group, i call them the red coats:
Toby Storie-Pugh a.k.a. Uncle Jamba - founder of Flying Kites. british. 36. tough. crazy. really crazy. so crazy he once drove a motorcycle from the UK to South Africa and back up. he tells a great story about sleeping on the side of a dirt road in the African wilderness with a lighter in his hand after having poured a ring of gasoline around him in case the lions, leopards or whatever else there is out there got to close while he was sleeping.

Victoria Eisermann - google her. british. she was in playboy a couple years ago. now she's a huge animal rights and P.E.T.A. activist and vegan. she defined perseverance on this trip. she just competed in the british version of Wipe Out and she's been asked to do british Big Brother later this year.

Zoe Tolkien - british. Cambridge PhD student. i asked her what in. she said "iron" and made me feel really dumb to not have a clue what that meant. she explained, it's more about dietetics and supplements. if she wasn't there, i don't think i would have made it. she has the personality you want to have up there.

an adventure from the start...
just after 1am on the morning we were supposed to leave for Arusha, Tanzania and Kili i woke up and puked. i spent the rest of the night on the hallway floor resting between trips to the bathroom.

at 8am we left for Nairobi to meet Toby and head for Arusha (a six-hour drive from Nairobi) where we would stay the night before heading for the mountain the next day.

at noon, we left Nairobi in a taxi bound for Arusha. we stopped at a gas station to pick up some food for the drive. i'd managed to hold down about 3 gulps of water and a slice of bread. the gas station had the Kenyan equivalent of a KFC at it called Chicken Inn. it's Toby's favorite. it looked good. just like KFC. i walked in and promptly excused myself. i made it out into the middle of the parking lot before keeling over to puke as crowds of people changed paths to Chicken Inn to avoid me. as i finished up in the parking lot Toby walked out of Chicken Inn, gave me a look of, "can could keep going? do you really want to do this?" to which i gave a big grin and asked if he was ready to go.

at 4pm we hit the Tanzanian border. hanging around the immigration office waiting for our car to make it through the border i felt the urge again while mid-conversation with Zoe. no offense to Zoe. i made a break for the bathroom around the corner.

"10 shillings."

"what? (gag)"

"10 shillings to use"

2 second staring contest.

would you pay the equivalent of 10 cents to puke in a squat toilet at the Tanzanian border? me neither. i'm happy to ralph on the side of your building for 10 cents instead and i'm going to make sure i get it all out this time too.

7pm we get to the hotel in Arusha. meet the guides, Oforo and Halson. Oforo is like an east-african mountain guide version of Yoda; quiet, calm and wise. Halson has a cowboy ringtone on his phone is probably in his 30s and very focused. dinner stays down. bedtime.

i feel better the next day. no appetite but i could eat. we downed some continental breakfast and hopped on our bus headed for the gate at Kili.

by Noon we're on the trail up Kili. this first day is gorgeous. it runs up through the most dense, green forest i've seen so far. i'm dragging though. no energy and having a hard time keeping up with the pace of the group. i keep needing breaks. the guides finally approach me, "you're very sick?" after a short rest stop about 2 hours in i feel a little window of clearing from the crappiness and make a run for it. i push the pace hard, get some distance on the group and hope i hit camp before it runs out. it works.

at the start


the distant goal

the next morning, over breakfast, the head cook (Omari) asks for my water bottle. he has a special brew he wants me to drink to feel better. it looks like concentrated urine. it's supposedly water, lemon, salt, sugar and tea. i toss in some water treatment for good measure and start drinking.

if day one hiking i felt like 60%, today i feel like 80%. by day 3 i'm almost back to normal. the only thing that concerns me is my lack of appetite. we're not high enough yet that it's a side effect of the altitude but every meal is a fun game of how much can i eat before i gag. Toby is playing too.

the itinerary for this is 6 days of hiking with slow elevation gains, everyday sleeping lower than your highest elevation of the day to help with acclimatization. on day six we summit and head most of the way back down. day 7 we're off the mountain and back into Arusha. day 8 we're back in Nairobi.

over the 6 days up, i feel better every day. every day i ask for that special concoction from Omari. it's particularly good when it's hot.

everyday we wake up, eat breakfast in the mess tent, hike 4-6 hours (stopping for lunch), get to camp, have tea, rest, eat dinner and go to bed. the mess tent scenes remind of U.S. sitcoms. moving slowly up the mountain we're constantly passed by porters (our own and other groups) hustling along in odd combinations of outfits with a small backpack on and a 40lb+ pack balanced on their head while smoking a cigarette and passing around a bottle gin.

Kili requires 3 porters for every client. beyond that we have 2 guides, a cook and 3 other skilled porters. all told, for our group of four we have an attentive staff of 19. there are 100-200 other climbers up there with other companies on the same route.

the group dynamic is fun. Zoe and Toby know each other from attending school together at age 15 or so. Victoria has never done anything even remotely like this before but is loving it.

Toby worries me. he's decided to carry his own pack up. it starts at about 45lbs but 2 days in he decides he wants to add weight so at one rest stop he has me distract the guides for a second while he tosses in two rocks that push his pack up over 60lbs. what worries me is that the entire time he's had a really bad chest infection leaving him in these nasty coughing fits and only able to take shallow breaths. he looks terrible. no offense, but it's true Toby.

one morning, i'm waiting to get going and watching the scene of camp. Toby is packing his bag and the porters are distributing the food and camp gear, i notice some of the porters half-jokingly waving their hands in Toby's direction and back at all the camp gear. i realize what they're huffing about and relay the message to Toby.

"Toby, the porters would like it if you stop being such a fool, carrying useless rocks up the mountain and actually take some of the camp stuff instead."

the camp laughs but you can tell the porters kind of mean it.

it was dusty


camping looking towards the next days climb

high camp, looking up to tomorrow's climb

summit night
we get into the high camp around 11am. eat lunch and rest. dinner is at 5. we're having tea at 11pm before heading off for the summit to hit by sunrise at 6am. everyone must have 3 liters of water with them. we'll be going from 11pm - 9am.

when we get up for tea Toby looks terrible and Zoe is admittedly sick. Zoe has been the healthiest of us all this entire trip so far. she feels really nauseous and looks like a shell of the personality we've had over the last 5 days. i feel the strongest i've been in days.

i'm wearing a t-shirt, 2 long-sleeve thermals, a light fleece, light gloves, a hat, soft-shell pants, a pair of wool socks and trail running shoes. i'm packing along an extra thermal long-sleeve, a light down jacket, big gloves and waterproof jacket and pants.

when we get rolling the order is Oforo, Zoe, me, Toby, Victoria, Halson. it's been said that we'll move at whatever pace is needed. if someone is falling behind, Halson will hang back with them.

about an hour in, Victoria slides back with Halson at a slower pace and our group continues.

we keep having to stop because Toby is sick and struggling and Zoe is a zombie. Zoe doesn't have the mental clarity to turn her headlamp on or get it pointed to where she's looking. she's also forgetting to blow-back on her camelback which means her water will freeze in the drinking tube. i keep remindering her. at rest stops we sit, Toby keels over, i eat and drink and offer up to everyone in the group which no one takes and Zoe leans over to rest her head on my shoulder. she feels like my sick daughter that just wants to go home.

we're going so slow i'm having a hard time maintaining body heat. it's much colder than i was expecting. it's apparently -10 to -20 F. i've already added the extra thermal, down jacket, waterproof pants and thick gloves. my feet are going between severely cold and really really really painful. at the next break i ask Oforo, "i'm having a hard time staying warm, if i have to can i move on ahead on my own?" he says yes.

the mustache of my beard is frozen solid.

about 3 hours in Toby finally decides to ditch the pack, tosses it in some rock outcroppings and carries on with 1/2 liter of water and a candy bar. 30 mins later, Zoe announces her camelback is frozen. i've got about 2 liters on me. Oforo asks me to save it and share with the group if we need it.

we're moving faster now that Toby has ditched his stubbornness bag.

the majority of the summit hike from camp is spent getting to Stella Point. by earlier estimates, we were to expect 5-6hrs to get there. from Stella its another hour or so steady gain to the summit but all the hard work is done.

at 4:30am or so Oforo says its another 2 hours to Stella. we're all a little crushed to hear this.

at 5:15am we hit Stella. Oforo knows how to manage expectations.

we summit at 6:13am on August, 28.

it's still dark but over the 15 mins we're there the sun rises, shedding light on what we've just come through. we're on top of the African continent at over 19,000ft and we take the obligatory pictures in front of the sign.

everyone from our group summitted.

at the top


on the way back down

on the way back down and the last known picture of trip.

as we set off back down the mountain i realize something special. every step i take from here takes me directly home. i have a plane ticket bound for NYC on Aug 31 at 5pm and Seattle on Sept 3. these are my steps walking away from a trip around the world.

at some point you go from out exploring new boundaries and what's out in the world to turning around and heading back. this really feels like the end and i'm all elation, content and pure happiness.

the rest of the time on the mountain slips away. dinner that night is the funniest yet.

on the day we get off the mountain, instead of staying in Arusha with the rest of the group, i head back to Nairobi on a bus because i want to get back to the house in Njabini and get as much time with the kids as possible before i leave.

as i walk in the gate at the house i get spear tackled from the side by Gitogo. Rahab comes in high, leaping from a couple feet away and throws me off balance, taking me to the ground as a horde of 15 kids pile on screaming and laughing.

i'm happy because i'm part of this family.

at the check-in counter in the airport in Nairobi, i ask the lady at the desk if i can weigh myself on the luggage scale. she laughs and says yes. 78kg (170lbs) in jeans, shoes and everything. if i'm in a towel, i'm probably 165lbs, what i weighed at age 15.  she says, "you shouldn't be 78kg. you should be a bigger man than that."

the next day goes by in a blur. i fly out. i have 4 hours or so in Dubai before leaving at 2am bound for NYC. i get into NYC at 8am. Mike, my brother, meets me at the airport. he's flown out from Seattle to meet me. one of the first things he says to me is, "that's quite the beard you've got, how long have you had that thing going?" it's been almost 2 months. i make a joke about how i'm going to drink tap water until i puke purely because tap water is entirely safe to drink now.

by 11am we're checked into the hotel and head out to find some food and a barber.

lunch was a BBQ brisket sandwich.

we find a trendy men's barbershop in NYC for a haircut and old fashioned straight-edge razor shave. hot towel and all. haircut first, shave second. when the barber sits me up in the chair at the end i don't recognize the guy in the mirror. the first time Mike sees me i can see the same startled look on his face.

we wander around NYC a little more, take a nap at the hotel and get dinner at this great Italian place in the East Village.

the next day we get up early, catch the subway to Central Park, get bagels and coffee and walk around. after that we head for Brooklyn, stop in the Flying Kites office to say hi and then go back to the hotel. from there we head for Yankee Stadium for the game. they play the Blue Jays. on the way we stop at the original John's Pizzaria. supposedly the best NY style pizza in town. we get to the stadium, scalp some tickets and head in. it was a sunny 75 degree day in NYC and a 7pm night game couldn't feel better.

Yankee Stadium is only impressive from the outside. other than that, it's really not that great of a place.

after the game we get a couple drinks at Stan's, bar next to the stadium and take in the scene. our favorite is the guy that looks like a miniature Paul O'Neil with a giant foam Yankees top-hat on. we're chatting with him for a second as gives us the timeout signal, looks directly at the girl having a drink with her boyfriend standing next to us and says, "you're hot, you like this?" the boyfriend snaps his head around and stares at Paul Jr. and Paul quickly responds with a slightly slurred "sorry, no offense man." 30 mins later we see Paul Jr. out in the street buttering up 4 cops and getting his picture taken with them.

the following morning we fly back to Seattle. Mike heads off to a wedding and i head to my parents house in Puyallup where there is a salmon dinner and freshly baked peach pie with my name on it.

by 4pm i'm unconscious in a chair with college football on tv.

i'm home now, writing this from the bed i slept in for 20+ years, watching the sunrise, glancing at the postered walls of my youth and listening to the a train pass through town in the distance.

i don't know what the days ahead will bring me. the last couple weeks in Kenya people would ask me how i'm feeling about leaving, about heading back. i could never put a thumb on it and i still can't and i'm not going to try to. there are some good learning lessons from this journey and one has been that there is no point in getting caught up thinking about the future (or the past really either). the best you can do is take in the day. take in all that it's got in store for you.

i know a full-time job is on the horizon. there are a lot of things on the horizon and i'm excited to embrace them, whatever they are.

one day i was caught off guard by how comfortable and normal what i was doing felt. how it felt exactly the same as when i was working 9-5 and living in Seattle. i was really pleased with that because both of those times were merely moments in my life and there are more to come. the point is that regardless of the situation, i've learned to cherish that moment and enjoy it. we only get so many and it took me a trip around the world to realize that you can't compare sitting at your desk, sending emails with the moment at the summit of some mountain or after a good surf or puking your guts out the window of bus on the highway of a developing country. they're vastly different and should be enjoyed for what they are, not what they're not.

that's it. this is the end of the blog. i won't be posting anymore after this. i hope you've enjoyed this. i certainly did and while i wish you could have been there in person with me, at least you were there in thought. it was a truly great journey. i wish you all the best and encourage you to find your own journey.

much love,
Sam Horn

P.S. anyone know of any job openings?

P.P.S. watch this video:


Kilimanjaro for the Kids

the other night i was helping Benson with his reading comprehension homework while laying on the couch together. Benson is 9. he asked if i knew what culture is except he said it, "coolchurre" with a rolled r. i asked him to repeat it about 3 times before i caught on at which point i did the obligatory western, English speaking unintentionally snobby response "OOOhhhh, you mean CULTURE!" Benny said, "No. coolchurre." i said, "no, culture." this game continued 3 or 4 rounds before Benny finally stopped, stared me straight in the eye with a dead serious face and put his hand on my forehead. Benny said, "Uncle, close your eyes." to which i obliged while also wondering, good lord, did i do something wrong? did i offend him? i totally offended him. i'm a jerk. what is going to happen? giggling Benny launched into the following sermon, "dear god, please let simple-minded Uncle Sam learn and remember how to correctly say culture. he is a very good man but sometimes he is slow to learn. amen."

good huh? he's crafty.

i replied with a prayer for Benny of my own and we finished the reading session with one of the most solid belly-laughs i've had in a long time. please understand this though, religion is not pushed on the kids here. Flying Kites is not a religious organization. Christianity is just really really prominent here.

these kinds of stories happen every day. this place is an insane combination of hilarious, heartwarming and crazy which is why i need you to read through the rest of this post.

here's the challenge. i dare you to look at these videos and pictures and not smile, chuckle and think these kids are cool. i dare you. i double dog dare you. i have one rule though, you have watch the videos and you have to click on the picture and look at the enlarged versions.

first, the video

and now some pictures

and now the reason...

so if you're reading this blog you've probably been following along off and on for awhile now and know that this is just one stop on my trip around the world. Kenya and Flying Kites was a stop i knew i was going to make when i started the journey back in April but i made no plans beyond that. after just a couple weeks here i've found the best way to finish out this trip but i need your help to make it happen.

i'm going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro as a fundraiser for those kids you saw in the pictures and videos and the stories like Benny's. every single one of them. each of them found their way to this house and my life through a rougher road than i could have ever imagined. i will not share their stories with you because they are not mine to tell but i will tell you it's an incredibly noble and awesome thing happening here.

my climb will start Aug. 19 and every step of the journey will be for each of the nearly 30 smiling faces and their big dreams of becoming doctors, pilots and presidents.

i am asking you to join me in this effort by helping me fundraise $3,000. it's a big undertaking in a short amount of time but i know we can do it. your donation helps Flying Kites house and educate these kids in hope of breaking the cycle of poverty for children in Kenya. everything you give will go to the children and programs at Flying Kites and any amounts helps.

sponsoring me is easy, go to this website:

it's really simple, fast and secure. on top of that, your donation is tax deductible.

i'm guessing you've enjoyed some of my  stories over the past couple months and i can't tell you how much i love sharing those with you and feeling your support through them. now, i'm asking you to give a little support to the 27 orphaned, abused and abandoned children that have been kind enough to welcome me into their new family here at Flying Kites.

if you know of anyone else who might be interested in supporting this cause, please pass it along. anything helps.

here's the link again, in case you missed it:

thank you for taking time to read this. i truly appreciate it.

i hope this finds you well,

P.S. about the toe. i cut it on a rock on the beach on the Kenyan coast about a week ago and it got infected. i didn't take much notice of it until i started having really bad groin pain in the leg attached to said toe. at which point i called a med student i met here and asked her what i should do. the next morning i woke up with a fever, headache and body aches. if you're following at home, these are all really really bad signs of infection. after 2 days of cipro waiting for a levo pack to make it to Njabini, here's where i stand. no increased pain, the redness isn't spreading, the headaches, body aches, fever are gone and the groin pain, which the med student guessed was a lymph node, has reduced.

to be honest, i'm not that worried anymore. i think with the antibiotics i'm on, i've turned the corner and i'll be fine. that doesn't mean i haven't gotten a fare amount of emails from my mom though. sorry mom. i promise i'll see a doctor if it gets worse. and i promise i won't post another picture of my screwed up feet. i'd also like to apologize in advance to the nice person who will be giving me a pedicure when i get home. i promise i'll tip good.


tribal chic

let me first start off by saying that Kenya is amazing. it's the combination of a lot of different things that make it so beautiful and me so thankful to be here.

before i get into all the Kenya goods, let me cap things off in Nepal with a couple pictures of Rajesh, the director of the volunteer program i was with, and his family. i will always consider them as my Nepali family. i can't overstate just how much they remind me of my own family in every essence. Rajesh and his wife, Bandana, are incredibly compassionate and warm people that even in their little habits and ways reminded me of my parents. it's something i'll always be very grateful for finding along the way. Nepal would have been very different without them.

Rajesh and Bandana

the kids - Pratna, Laxmi and Bivor

on to Kenya

my flight left Kathmandu at 11am. it wasn't until i got to the security line did i realize i had packed my leatherman in my carry on. some how, it cleared the scanner AND and full bag search though. part of me was relieved, part of me was a little concerned what other people had gotten through. by the time i boarded the plane, that leatherman with a full-sized blade had cleared 4 different security check-points.

to get to Kenya from Nepal, i had a layover in Mumbai, India. 13 hours. i was going to lock-up my bag and head out to the city to see it for a bit but as i was headed for the door, i glanced at the news on the tv to see BBC breaking news of a terrorist attack in Mumbai that included 3 separate bombings with more than 20 killed and over 100 reported injuries. maybe next time, Mumbai. instead, i settled for a book and KFC for dinner.

at 3am, my flight left Mumbai for Nairobi, Kenya. i got in at 7am and wasn't able to clear customs until after 9am but i met a nice girl in line. she was Indian and was on my flight. both her parents are indian but everyone lived in Uganda. she had attended a private Belgium school there and was now finishing up her BS in chemical engineering from M.I.T. and applying for med school and wanted to focus on oncology. she can speak English, Hindi, another Indian language i can't remember, Swahili and French.

walking out of the Nairobi airport, i was looking for my friend from home, Brian Jones. he'd be the first face i've seen from back home since leaving in April. Brian came out to Kenya almost 2 years ago to work at Flying Kites, an organization working in Kenya. i lived with Brian for a year after college. i don't know how to describe Brian in a simple, clear and concise form. everyone is drawn to him. he's incredibly genuine. he's the most artistically gifted person i know. he can piece together songs from scratch like nothing i seen before. he's a great cook, a fantastic writer, he's got a style that is truly his own and impossible to replicate. the saying "marches to the beat of his own drum" comes to mind but it's more like his own percussion section.

if you want to read more about Flying Kites or follow the blogs of Brian or others from the organization, here's a  link to their website: http://www.flyingkitesglobal.org/

i haven't seen Brian since he left for Kenya almost 2 years ago though and i wasn't really sure what to expect. what i saw was shaggy blonde haired guy and a funky african style and a fiercely strong light in his eyes that screams of conquered wildness. Kenya is his element and it's beautiful to get to watch someone work at his level. you can just tell the game moves slower for him here.

what Brian and Flying Kites does is more than just love and provide for children, they've immersed the organization into the local community to help in every conceivable way. farmer co-ops, AA groups and more. they've built a great family home for these kids and been a resource the community can rely on.

the home is located almost 2 hours outside Nairobi, in a town called Njabini. the N is silent. it's in the hills/mountains of Kenya at almost 9,000 ft. agriculturally is very rich and the climate is cool in comparison to the rest of Kenya. this is the dead of winter and temperatures usually get into the 70s during the day but can also idle around the 40s or 50s while Nairobi and the rest of the lower elevation regions are in the 80s and 90s and fighting drought.

since i've been here, the home has had a steady stream of volunteers around, usually around 6-10. every one from the U.S. and in their early 20s. the daily routine is tutoring at school from 10-1, down time until 4ish, play with the kids, dinner, family meeting, studying and down time before bed.

Brian's pulled me aside to help with some other projects here too. we're going to build a tree house at school, a brick oven at the house, a hand washing station at school and other logistical things to help make things run more efficiently here.

story time...

this weekend Brian and i went to Nairobi to see off a friend and volunteer. Chase is from Spokane, WA, long-time family friends of Brian and heading into his final year of high school. i met Chase once a couple years ago when i was living with Brian. he was pretty quiet then but being here with him allowed us to become good friends.

first we hit the Maasai Market, essentially a farmers market for crafts. it's got tons of carvings, painting, metal work and other stuff. i didn't know it until i got here but the culture has extremely gifted craftsmen. the Maasai Market is where they sell and take advantage of tourists. any price they give you is easily 50% too high. if you like bartering, this is the place to go. i got a carving for 2,000 shillings (~$20) that was originally priced at 10,000 shillings. i've been shamefully poor at collecting gifts and souveniers along the way. that's all going to change here though. Brian's given me an extra suitcase they had laying around to pack all the stuff home.

after the market we stopped in at the Tribe Hotel for a drink. the Tribe Hotel is a legitimate 5-star hotel that supports Flying Kites. after a beer, we headed back to our hotel for dinner.

i had a cheese burger, my first burger and first beef in a really really long time. afterward i felt pretty stuffed and we called it a night by 10.

what ensued is the story behind me giving up beef at least until i get back to U.S., if not longer.

the next morning we sent Chase off at 5am and went back to bed. at 8 we got back up. at 9 i puked. Brian went to run some errands. i got sick again at 10ish as Brian was getting back. from here the options were:

  1. get a taxi back to Njabini ($50)
  2. take the local bus ($1.50)
  3. let Brian head back while I hunker down in the hotel to wait out the food poison storm and head back after (min $30).

i told Brian, lets sit tight for 30 mins, wait for me to ralph again and catch the bus immediately after to give me the fewest chances of puking on the bus.

i packed my bag, stuffed a couple extra plastic bags in my pockets and waited for the urge to heave. at this point, there was nothing left inside my stomach. just the bile and my stomach wanted that out too.

i puked, walked out of the bathroom and as i walked out, before Brian could say anything, i said "let's roll".

we walked the 1/4 mile to the bus station and got on the next bus to Njabini. i got a window seat, second to last row on the right hand side of the bus, which is on the middle of the road side of the bus because they drive on the left hand side of the road. as the bus filled, i decided to buy the seat next to me for a little extra room. Brian sat in the seat in front of me. we waited about 30 mins for the bus to fill before leaving. i held it together before the bus left. showing my cards before the bus left the station wouldn't have helped the situation.

within 30 mins of getting going my body up to my waist was hanging out the window as i puked my guts out and the bus flew down the highway going 50+ mph.

two things to keep in mind while puking out of the side of a bus on the highway going 50 mph.

  1. you have to puke/spit hard enough to get the stuff away from you or else it ends up on the side of your face.
  2. you have to keep an eye on what's coming because on coming traffic will take you out.

after the first session on the bus i slid back into my seat, half conscious, the lady sitting across the isle tapped me on the shoulder and said, "could you close the window a bit please." she should have been my target for the next session.

the second session came in the thick, black exhaust cloud of a semi-truck and the sounds of cars behind us honking their horns in anger. as our bus pulled over, i continued my work to the angry looks from drivers in puke covered cars passing before giving the bus driver a thumbs up to get going again.

the third session was more of the same.

i was beat.

at one pit stop on the way, i was hanging out the window, getting some air as locals shoved roasted corn, water, oranges and packaged biscuits in the face to buy. they wanted to chat. i played along, told them about my experience so far. dry-heaves didn't scare them off.

after the pit stop the road conditions deteriorated and it felt like the bus was getting hit by mortars and my muscles were so exhausted i just bounced around like a lotto ball in the back of the bus.

we got pulled over by the cops for a routine check. i was hanging out the window again, getting air. the policeman asked me the customary, "how are you" to which is replied, "just peachy."

when we finally got to Njabini, there was one more hurdle to cross. the motorbike ride up to the house. as i got on the back of the bike i grabbed the guy by the shoulder and said, "if i hit you or say anything, stop the bike." then i got off the bike and dry-heaved at the curb once more before we got going.

the bike ride was brutal. it was super cold, i was dead weight and just zoned out, staring at the back of the driver.

nonetheless, i made it. the rest of the day was miserable. the day after was better and i'll be back to normal soon.

it's not fitting of my time here but that day is the most memorable day yet. i will never forget dangling out the side of the bus, puke swirling out of my face and into the hot, dusty and car-exhaust filled air behind me. i laughed a bit about it then and a little bit more every day.

adventures ahead...

climbing Kilimanjaro, safari during the great migration, a weekend trip to this island off the coast called Lamu, maybe rafting the Nile in Uganda, meeting up with another friend from home, Dave Betts, and maybe a side trip to Rwanda.

the fearless leader - Brian Jones
Julianna - she runs all the volunteer side of things

the company car - a hardcore toyota landcruiser.

tutoring at school

hoops anyone?

talent show at the house. Chase and i did a ribbon dancing routine.

my first weekend here fell on Brian's birthday so we dressed up in costumes and celebrated.

the birthday boy
awesome Ronnie Coleman poster in the background


monsoon anyone?

for the last 8 days, i've been out hiking, or trekking as they call it. i think trekking sounds dorky though. what i didn't realize before was that trekking is different than hiking. all the hikes i've been on are either pretty much straight up and back down, flat or some combination of the two and a couple days at most. trekking is longer and way more up and down. you might end up ascending 9,000 ft, but you're going to do it in chunks of up 2,000 and then down 1,500. if you don't mentally prepare for that ahead of time, it's really frustrating.

when i first thought about coming to Nepal, i wanted to do this long trek, 14+ days. then after some reading i scrapped it because it's monsoon season and it's supposed to be pretty miserable. after i got here, Rajesh, the director of my program, talked me into it again. the end result was a 10-day trek up to Annapurna Base Camp, back down half way and then head out west to Poon Hill and then south to meet out starting point again. Here's a link to a decent map. what i found out right as i left was that our 10-day trek was typically a 14-day route.

it took us three days to get to base camp. the entire time it rained. literally, the entire time. many times along the way my guide, Chhiring, said, "if it was clear, you could see some really amazing mountains right now...". thank you Chhiring. even when we got to base camp, it was completely socked in with clouds. i had talked to people coming down though and all said it cleared in the evening and morning. that evening it didn't clear. that evening i told Chhiring we were going to stay an extra day and night up there and weren't going to go to Poon Hill on the way back down, we'd just head straight back down.

in the morning it cleared. not entirely but enough to see what was out there and it was spectacular.

i couldn't find any info on elevation gain or distance for the trek. the only numbers i have are hours spent hiking each day and the number of leeches i got. hours of hiking is boring. i got 8 leeches total. i was lucky i think. one lady i met got 15 the first day including 3 in her hair and one in her mouth. she was hiking really slow though so i think she was an easy target.

the drive out to the trail

my guide, Chhriring

you got it


lodge 1

we walked past a little store on the trail and they had a baby pet monkey. he was tied to a rope on a post at table level in the store/restaurant. the rope was about 5ft long, just long enough to reach the edge of the store. the best part is he would walk out to the end of the rope, walk back about 2ft, turn and then sprint for the edge to hopefully break the rope and escape. instead he just whip-lashed his entire little monkey body and when sprawling over the edge.



curt schilling would be proud
3 hours later, still bleeding
lodge 2

looks like a nice day for a hike doesn't it
at one point we had to pass this goat herd. it was about 200 goats.
Annapurna Base Camp

Annapurna Base Camp with Mt. Machapuchare in the background. Machapuchare is a holy mountain in  Nepal. it's never been climbed before. locals call it Fish Tail.
waiting for the clouds to clear

Annapurna I

Annapurna South

Ten Peak

Annapurna I again
proof I didn't just take these photos from Google Image search

People and stuff up at ABC

the head honcho

beach volleyball anyone?

Chhiring and i at the top

i met a handful of people up there; British, French, Korean, Chinese, Canadian and others. this guy was French. i think he looks pretty French in this picture

this dog followed me up the trail for about 2 hours and looks exactly like my parents dog back home except 15lbs lighter and blind in one eye. people tell you don't pet the dogs because you might get rabies. he was too nice not to pet a little. it's been over 5 days now, i don't think i have rabies.

guess at the nationality again...

snickers roll. they take some dough, wrap it around a snickers bar like a mini calzone and then deep-fry it.

my guide said keep it clean on food going up so i stuck to dal bhat and healthy stuff all the way up despite all sorts of western food being available. i'm glad i did too because dal bhat gave me so much energy, it was incredible. it might sound a little snotty but the folks that all the way out here, trekking in Nepal and order pasta/pizza and hot chocolate for every meal seem like sally's. you can get pizza at home, why not eat Nepali food when you're in Nepal? would you order chicken strips in Italy? not unless you were drunk and found a Burger King.
Anyway, when i got to the top, i finally ordered a pizza. this was the mixed pizza. mixed pizza meant just about anything they could find in the kitchen which included cabbage, tuna fish, chicken, egg, canned mushrooms and cheese. somehow, it still tasted like pizza.

view down at ABC

the road back down

i'm guessing they stole that sign or they're lying.

here's what trekking is. you see that village across on the hillside? we were headed there, to the a place in the top left section. but to get there we had to go all the way to the bottom of the valley and back up. from the river through the village were steps the whole way. i counted 2,546 steps from the river to our lodge.

basketball anyone? the crazy thing about this is somebody had to haul a backboard and those steel poles all the way up here, a solid 2-day hike from town. i don't love basketball that much.


end of the road, waiting for get a taxi

Chhiring and i at the end.
dear Mercer Island Marathon, thank you for the hat and working at your event last year. after two months in NZ,  one in Nepal and however long in Kenya wearing your hat, i would like to request 10% of all registration fees from those countries. it's only fair. you're getting free advertising.


you've been warned. don't scroll down if you think feet are disgusting or don't want to see some that hiked for 8 days in the same pair of sopping wet shoes and socks because nothing would ever dry out. i don't know anything about jungle rot but i think i was starting to get some on my feet.

these shoes are toast. done. finished. i was on a 7hr bus ride with a bunch of locals. everyone had taken off their shoes to get comfortable and sleep. i did the same and immediately noticed half the bus eyeing me, spitting out the window and covering their faces. i would imagine they're experienced far worse smells in their life than i have but the fact that my shoes could cause such a reaction. i felt a combination of embarrassed and like a proud father.