Monday, October 15, 2018

Camping with Wild Flamingos in Nakuru

After over a year of missing countless opportunities, we finally went camping in Kenya! We spent a weekend at Makalia campsite in Lake Nakuru National Park, and it was a wonderful time.

The landscape was stunning: it's been raining, so the grass was lush and the wildlife was abundant. Thankfully, the weather cooperated with our visit and we only had a light sprinkling of rain a few times. We had awesome game-viewing, and we drove ourselves through the park. The clear highlight for us, though, was the huge flock of beautiful flamingos mixed with pelicans and other birds in the lake (the first photo of this post). We also saw quite a few monkeys, including the rare, black-and-white Colobus monkey we hadn't seen before. There was also a near-constant stream of baboons. A baboon even jumped in our friends' car! We later learned that the baboons in the area are known for their cleverness and mischief.

As we were leaving the park, we casually saw two lionesses right next to the road. They were so close, we almost could have reached out and touched them (but of course, we didn't try).

It felt so good to be able to spend a weekend relaxing with friends, away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi. We highly recommend camping in Kenya as a way to relax and experience this one-of-a-kind country in a new way.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Working a White House Visit

We've had a crazy few weeks at U.S. Embassy Nairobi preparing to support what was my first White House visit. The First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) Melania Trump came to Kenya as part of her four-country Africa tour. You can read about her visit in more detail here.

So what did I have to do? I was the Embassy's press site officer for three events, meaning I worked closely with White House press staff to execute the media plan for each of my sites and manage our relationship with the journalists there on the big day. These journalists were a mix of traveling press, who actually accompany the First Lady on her plane and in her motorcade, international press based in Nairobi, and local Kenyan press. As you can see in the photo below, this added up to quite a few people to inform and assist and direct and keep happy (at least as best as we could).

Although I have worked quite a few visits during my first year as a Public Diplomacy Officer, this one was very different. The Embassy staff really took a backseat to our White House counterparts in the sense that, although we leveraged our on-the-ground expertise and contacts and provided our best advice, at the end of the day we deferred decision-making to the White House. In other words, we had more of a supporting role, especially once the advance team (i.e., the people who arrive before the visit to finalize plans and preparations) arrived.

By all accounts, Mrs. Trump was a wonderful guest. She truly seemed to enjoy spending time with Kenyan children and baby elephants. The Kenyans, as always, were splendid hosts - from Mrs. Kenyatta, the First Lady of Kenya, to the institutions at each site. Thankfully, the trip went off without a hitch and it was all over before we knew it. Mrs. Trump had the opportunity both to learn more about Kenya and to champion her BE BEST initiative focusing on children's issues around the world. Now that's a success for everyone!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

A Quiet Day in Brackenhurst and Tea Fields

Our good friend B suggested we spend a few hours at Brackenhurst. At first, a hotel and conference center seemed like an odd place to enjoy a Saturday morning, but we learned it's a great way to pass a quiet half day. We started it off with a tasty breakfast outside at the Muna Tree Cafe.

The best part was definitely the light hike we took after breakfast. The trails were lovely and virtually empty. It was an easy enough walk, given we were all wearing shoes with enough traction. (Last time we went hiking, I wore my indoor sneakers and wiped out going downhill on the trail. I've learned my lesson.)

That area is known for its tea fields, and tea is a major export of Kenya. The fields were a feast for the eyes in the morning sun. I felt so at peace there. We live fairly close to a beautiful forest, but the tea fields were a refreshing change of landscape.

Our biggest takeaway? You don't always need grand plans to have a great weekend. Sometimes, a departure from the hustle and bustle of daily life and a walk through nature is all you need.