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.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Nairobi National Park Adventures

WARNING: This post contains graphic content. Scroll at your own risk!

We finally made it to Nairobi National Park! My wonderful Public Diplomacy (PD) mentor was in town, so we wanted to give her a memorable experience... and I think it's safe to say we succeeded. Nairobi National Park is a great option for those who are strapped for time or cash - even tourists only have to pay $42/person in park fees for the day, you can drive yourself, and we saw some amazing things.

Of course, I got the iconic Nairobi National Park picture as the first photo of this post: wildlife with skyscrapers in the background. We didn't recognize what this animal was at the time, but it kind of looks like a rare Bongo antelope - which we haven't seen before. (If any hobby zoologists out there are certain, please let me know in the comments below!)

Please don't get too attached to the zebra above, as the graphic photo I warned you about is coming up imminently... Because we were right next to a pride of lions devouring a freshly killed zebra. There were eight lions total - the most we had seen together on any safari! The stench and sight of the lions attacking the inside of the carcass was revolting and fascinating and so natural all at the same time. We felt like we had front row seats to National Geographic.

After we finished our safari, we drove to Boho Eatery, which is conveniently located right next to the park. They had an excellent selection of largely healthy breakfast, lunch, and drink options. The ambiance was perfect, too, combined with the sunny weather. Just check out our table:

A proud millennial, I ordered the most advanced avocado toast I have ever seen: avocado spread on seeded bread with crispy kale chips, red pepper hummus, and pomegranate seeds. The portion was massive, but I devoured the whole thing.

The whole day was an awesome finish to a lovely visit from my mentor. (Isn't woman-to-woman mentorship so powerful?) I also have to share the beautiful gift she brought me from her post of Lesotho: a traditional necklace of beads and fabric. I can't wait to wear it as a statement piece soon!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

5 Awesome (Free Online) Resources for Arabic Learners

As I previously mentioned, I take a Distance Language Learning class with the Foreign Language Institute (a.k.a. FSI, the Diplomat School) to try and maintain some level of Arabic while living in a non-Arabic speaking country. I do enjoy the class, but there's always a gap between semesters. This post is for all the Arabic learners out there like me who want to preserve or enhance their skills. Thankfully, Arabic is a popular enough language that there are plenty of free online resources for students. (I'm not including Anki, because I wrote a whole separate blog post for that. I'm also not including FSI resources, because those aren't really publicly available.)

Without further ado, here's my list of top five free online resources for Arabic students looking to maintain their skills (or even take them to the next level):

  • Reverso Context Dictionary: There are an infinite number of free online dictionaries out there, but I've chosen to highlight Reverso because it uses actual, real-world Arabic-English and English-Arabic translations to add context to recommended words. That way, when you look something up, you can see how professional translators chose to translate that word (as opposed to the crowdsourced translations of Google Translate) and see the surrounding sentences to get a better idea of how it is most commonly used.
  • MohCoolMan: I don't know who MohCoolMan is or why he does so many amazing videos, but his YouTube channel is full of excellent Arabic language videos with subtitles in full Arabic, transliterated Arabic, and the English translation. He does everything from classic Arabic music to Disney songs. It's an unparalleled resource. Plus, who doesn't want to know "Let It Go" in Arabic?
  • All the Arabic You Never Learned the First Time Around: This is exactly what it sounds like. It is especially helpful for students like me who have a smattering of different types of Arabic classes scattered over many years with a lot of gaps in between sessions.
  • DLI Language: There is an astounding compendium of Arabic lessons available from the Defense Language Institute online, focusing on listening and reading. You can filter for specific topics or difficulty levels (all of which are fairly high). The modules are very technically accessible (though a little old-school in design).
  • Gospel Principles: If you're a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (or just interested in what we believe or interested in learning some Christian vocabulary), there's a great series of full Arabic lessons on Gospel Principles available on YouTube.

These recommendations are designed for those who are already at least at an intermediate level of Arabic, but I hope to do a future post with resources for true beginners. If you have a favorite resource I didn't mention, be sure to share it in the comments below!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Making the Most of Too Little Travel Time

Everyone has an opinion when it comes to travel. I touched on this a little bit in my post about our Christmas in Ethiopia last year, which a lot of people teased us about for being too short. There are plenty of reasons why you might be stuck traveling without a lot of time to spare, though: maybe you don't get a lot of vacation time or want to lower your budget for hotels or can't spare the extra days for personal reasons. My advice to all jet-setters is: not only is that completely fine, but it can still be a great travel experience!

We recently experienced the exact same conundrum in San Diego. We were there for a wedding, but we decided to maximize our time visiting family and friends back home in Virginia instead of building in a lot of tourist time in California. As a result, we discovered we simply wouldn't have time to fully enjoy most of the places we had originally planned, from the USS Midway Museum to the San Diego Mormon Battalion Historic Site. Between the driving time and the hours we'd rather spend not feeling rushed, we decided against all the main attractions.

Finding ourselves in Fallbrook (where the wedding was held) with beautiful weather and only half a day to spare, we did some quick online research for a short activity to get us out of the hotel. We stumbled upon Batiquitos Lagoon, which was a short trail not too far away. We went there on a whim and enjoyed a lovely walk and wonderful views. We also encountered this bizarre sculpture called "The Creature from Batiquitos Lagoon" that kind of looked like an early ancestor of a chicken. Surprisingly, it has yet to make an appearance in my nightmares.

Once we had worked up an appetite, we stopped by a restaurant called The Crack Shack, known for chicken. We may have gotten a little carried away with our orders, but the service was fast and the food was tasty.

We followed that up with some homemade ice cream nearby that really reminded me of my beloved Moo Thru from back home.

Best of all, our more relaxed program gave us plenty of time to get back to the hotel and get ready for the wedding that evening. Of course, there are things we'd have loved to see that we couldn't, but that doesn't make the trip a waste - no matter what others say. It happened to be the right plan for us for now. (Plus, it just gives us another reason to come back again!)

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Au Revoir, Virginia

Just like that, our first visit home since we moved to Kenya is already over. I spent my last night in Virginia with one of my best friends, K, who (conveniently) doesn't live far from the airport. She agreed to drop me off to catch my flight early the next morning, and we made a relaxing and fun girls' night out of it. (Her neighborhood is gorgeous, too, as you can see from the photos!)

After a whirlwind two weeks with family and friends, it was wonderful to have a quiet evening at home. (I did go a little crazy at the grocery store, but this was my last chance to enjoy an American grocery store for another year.) The food was so good, I forgot to take a photo. We made roasted brussels sprouts; a vodka sauce with onion, garlic, spinach, and kielbasa over cheese tortellini; caramel apple sparkling cider; and dark chocolate fondue with strawberries and pretzels. It was perfect.

Thankfully, K lives in a suburb with close, easy access to the nature I so vividly associate with home. It's crazy how quickly we can adapt to our surroundings. I was really moved to see several deer on our neighborhood walk because I'm no longer used to seeing them, whereas I've surprised myself in Kenya with how desensitized I've become to zebras and other "exotic" (by our standards) animals.

It helped that we came across this rare white deer. It wasn't albino (as it had a few light brown spots), but it was an extraordinary color I don't think I've ever seen before. (You can learn more about white deer and the superstitions surrounding them here.)

The water in the area was also a treat for the eyes, from the lake we drove by pictured in the first image of this post to the smaller pond below. I couldn't think of a better way to end this precious time in my beautiful home state of Virginia. Until next time!