Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Happy Belated Birthday, Relief Society!

Happy belated 177th birthday to the Relief Society, one of the oldest and largest women's organizations in the world, of which I'm delighted to be a member and a local leader! All adult women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are members of the Relief Society. Our motto is "Charity never faileth", taken from 1 Corinthians 13:8 in the New Testament of the Holy Bible.

In the spirit of celebrating sisterhood, Relief Society members across Nairobi came together to commemorate the birthday and have a friendly competition. We made tons of food and let the young women between 12 and 18 judge our creations on taste, presentation, and more. (There were so many categories, I'm pretty sure everyone won something.) Our ward (i.e., congregation, pictured below) went all out with a mix of homemade desserts that vanished in the blink of an eye. There was a diverse selection at the event. I personally felt drawn to the samosa table pictured above... That ward had made what seemed like hundreds and hundreds of delicious beef samosas to share! They were a great complement to our sweets.

We wrapped up the activity with a cake cutting. Our Stake Relief Society President (i.e., regional leader) did an amazing job organizing the party and procuring such a beautiful cake. I don't even want to think about saying goodbye to these amazing ladies - Kenyan and American - who have been such steadfast and loving friends during my time in Kenya, which is going by way too fast. I love them and the Relief Society that has so warmly welcomed me everywhere around the world I've traveled where it exists!

Friday, March 15, 2019

Unconscious Bias at Work

Most of us suffer from some unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias or learned stereotypes that affect our thoughts and actions beneath the level of conscious thought. It's human nature. (You can learn a little about your own implicit biases and help researchers by taking Harvard's online tests for free here.)

I was recently reminded by a recent experience that this unconscious bias has real effects on people's lives and careers. There is a certain prestigious university in Nairobi that I visit frequently for work - there is a grant that I'm in charge of monitoring there, so I stop by for site visits and meetings. I've been going there for over a year, and every time I get to the main gate there is some type of security issue. Even though my contact at the university calls ahead to alert the guards of my arrival, they always ask me to get out of the car and walk to the pedestrian entrance. Sometimes, I have to walk through a metal detector. Other times, my bag is checked. Every time, they check my ID and fill out a visitor form for me.

Because I have always gone on my own with an Embassy motor pool driver (i.e., an official driver for the Embassy), I assumed this was fairly standard. Last time, I learned from my driver that he has been driving plenty of U.S. diplomats to this university for many years - and he told me not once has he ever seen one receive the treatment I did. None of them have ever had to get out of the car or negotiate with security or call one of the higher-ups at the university to be allowed onto the campus, especially when they arrived (as I always do) in an U.S. Embassy car with diplomatic license plates.

That day, I had this realization as a guard asked me why I was there and was confused by my answer of, "I'm a diplomat from the U.S. Embassy, and I have a meeting with one of your professors." He had to call another guy over who said, "So, you're a student." All of my issues gaining access to the compound over the past year suddenly made sense, assuming security was treating me like a student without an ID card rather than a diplomat with a scheduled meeting.

Was it my gender? Was it my age? Was it my ethnically ambiguous face? Most likely, it was a combination of all of those factors that made some people doubt my occupation, single me out, and treat me differently. Certainly, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say this was unconscious bias. They didn't intend to make me feel uncomfortable or irritated, but they responded in line with what their brains and instincts told them: I just didn't look like a diplomat.

Now, just because it's subconscious doesn't mean it's okay. I was so frustrated to learn I've been treated differently on the basis of my appearance this whole time that I raised it with my partners at the university to address with their security team. After all diplomats - and especially the U.S. Foreign Service - are more diverse than ever. (The first photo of this post is a perfect example of this that I distinctly remembered from my childhood and scoured the Internet for just for this post. It's an episode from the Kim Possible TV series [Season 2, Episode 8] featuring a diplomat at a career fair... Could they have gotten any more stereotypical?)

One of my biggest hopes is that by representing my country in the Foreign Service, I'm having an impact on how people see the diversity of the United States and its diplomatic corps - a bunch of mini-PD victories! As frustrating as it can be encountering skepticism on the basis of my appearance alone, leveraging that opportunity to transform someone's perception helps make it all worth it. For now, changing one heart and mind at a time is good enough for me.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Watamu Ni Tamu!

The title of this post means "Watamu is sweet" in Kiswahili, and very sweet it was (even if I took my sweet time to blog about it)! Watamu is a city on the Kenyan coast, and S and I traveled there for a few days for a girls' trip before she left. We stayed in a gorgeous, elevated, open-air room with beautiful views like the sunset photo above.

We had an amazing time enjoying the sun, sand, and water. We didn't stay right on the beach, but the ocean was only a few minutes' walk away from our room through this lovely path. Once we got there, we were amazed at how empty the beach was (a rare treat in Kenya) and how clear the water was (yes, those are our feet in the ocean)!

It was a coincidence that our trip was timed with the full moon, so we enjoyed some special activities like drinking smoothies on the beach and watching the sun set and the moon rise at the same time. Our first night even happened to be a supermoon! (Can you believe the photo below is of the moon, not the sun?) We also enjoyed a special nighttime float through a mangrove forest thanks to the powerful pull of the full moon - one of the most amazing travel experiences I've ever had. We were very lucky.

Although Watamu was the perfect getaway for us, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that there is a security alert for U.S. citizens in place right now reminding Americans in Kenya to exercise heightened caution, particularly in Nairobi, Naivasha, Nanyuki, and the coast. It's important for every individual and family to inform and prepare themselves as much as possible, but then to make decisions weighing the risks and benefits. This time, we prepared, considered it carefully, and ultimately were so glad we went.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Let's Try This Again: Where We're Going Next!

Sometimes, you make all the plans in the world and they fall apart for reasons outside of your control. This seems to happen with even greater frequency in the Foreign Service, probably because there are more than the average number of opportunities to make plans when your country of residence and job change every few years. We were no strangers to the sometimes fickle treatment of the Department of State, given how my initial job offer was frozen and then unfrozen before I even started and in my first tour I found myself furloughed during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.

Despite these experiences, M and I were still shocked to receive a call from Washington, DC informing us that our positions in our onward assignment, Baghdad, were being cancelled. In other words, jobs that we had accepted in March 2018 were now no longer options. We had made financial and life plans believing that we would be earning substantially more in Iraq. I've been studying Arabic for more than a year in preparation. M was happy to be getting a security clearance that could help him in future job applications. Both of us had been looking forward to serving in our roles in Baghdad.

The regular bid cycle where we would have normally looked for assignments was long past, so my Career Development Officer (CDO) had to whip up a "special bid list" just for me and my weird situation. People love to complain about CDOs, and there are some true horror stories out there, but mine is consistently amazing. She pulled together an excellent bid list in two days flat full of posts I would have been delighted to call home for my second tour.

Of course, at the end of the day, only one post could be our next destination. We just learned that post is... Seoul, South Korea! It feels surreal to discover a place we were trying to link to from Baghdad will now be our next tour anyway. I'll still be doing my Consular tour, so I'm looking forward to interviewing a lot of people for visas... in Korean! Yep, I even get a year of Korean language training to go with the assignment.

Of course, we were disappointed to lose our assignment in Iraq and our well-crafted plan. Yet, given what happened, we are so happy and grateful for this outcome. We're looking forward to spending some time at home getting to see our families and friends during training and ultimately moving to South Korea!

Friday, February 22, 2019

To (Burundi)ch Their Own

This pun elicited a significantly higher groan-to-chuckle ratio than my Rwanda one did. We went so off the beaten path this time I can honestly say I don't know anyone who's been to this country by choice (or maybe even at all).* Burundi doesn't have much of a reputation as a tourist destination, and to be honest I would not recommend it for the faint of heart - experienced and intrepid travelers only!

It was a tough trip even before it started, as it took us three separate appointments at the Burundian Embassy in Nairobi to get our visas. The process included many long, inexplicable, and confusing waits as well as bureaucratic hurdles like requiring payment in cash, but only in U.S. dollars... at the Burundian Embassy... in Kenya. (Needless to say, that had M sprinting down the street to an ATM and then another street for a foreign currency exchange bureau. Also, to be fair, my friend S seemed to have a much more straightforward time with the Burundian Embassy in Washington, DC, so your mileage may vary.)

Once we actually arrived in country, though, I was glad we'd gone. Burundi is unlike anywhere any of us had ever traveled (and we travel a lot). Its tourism sector was fairly nascent, which was readily apparent throughout our trip. As just one example, we were the only visitors we saw in the entire country, including at every single stop on our day tour with Augustine Tours (the only major tour company we could confirm online). English was extremely limited, so I dug up my high school French skills for an intensive 12-hour immersion and constant conversation with locals and interpretation for M and S. By the end of the day, my brain was fried!

We visited some very cool sites, such as the reputed source of the Nile (which we've noticed several East African countries claim). Regardless, we learned about the interesting history of European explorers searching for the source of the Nile and the journey of the German who discovered the site we visited in Burundi. He even had a pyramid erected there to pay tribute to Egypt! I definitely wasn't expecting to see a tiny stone pyramid on a mountain in Burundi.

Then we took a quick hike to go enjoy the stunning Karera waterfalls surrounded by a lush tropical jungle. We didn't have time to hike to all five of the falls, but I wish we'd been able to do it! Our final stop was the Gishora drum sanctuary. Drums played an important role in the historical monarchy in Burundi, and we learned a lot about royal life (like the king's hut pictured below), Burundian drum culture, and conflict during the colonial era.

So in our short time in Burundi, we got to experience a taste of its rich culture, history, and nature. We appreciated the uniqueness of this particular visit, something that is so difficult to achieve in an increasingly globalized, commercialized, and homogenized world. At the same time, we also learned not to take the comforts (e.g., English speakers, online visa applications, hotels without cockroaches, etc.) of our more common tourist experiences in Kenya and elsewhere for granted. Especially after a trip like this, there's nothing quite like coming home and using your own shower and sleeping in your own bed!

*CORRECTION: I definitely underestimated my intrepid and adventurous friend circle, because after publishing this post I learned I knew at least two people who have traveled to Burundi! What a small world.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Not All Those Who Rwanda Are Lost

Did you enjoy my pun in this post's title, a riff on a famous line by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of The Rings? I'm fairly proud of it. We just wrapped up a fun weekend in Rwanda and Burundi with S, one of my best friends from back home who's visiting us in Kenya. This post is dedicated to our time in Kigali, Rwanda - I'll do a separate post for Burundi.

We covered a lot in our few days in Kigali. The clear first stop for history nerds like me (and to an even greater extent S) was the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which serves as a public museum as well as a burial site for about 250,000 of the more than one million victims of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

The museum wasn't huge, but it was very well curated, organized, and maintained. The exhibits and stories shared within its walls were very powerful; I couldn't help but feel the waves of emotion I felt years ago visiting Buchenwald Memorial, a former Nazi concentration camp in Germany. The patterns repeated in history were chilling. Above, for example, is a photo of some of the propaganda used to prepare the population to commit and accept genocide. The museum also had an exhibit with overviews of other genocides committed around the world, drawing parallels and helping visitors understand how these atrocities were committed (and hopefully, in the long-term, how they can be stopped).

As impactful and painful and recent as the genocide was, it doesn't define the country or its people. It's one of many, many things that are important for understanding Rwanda today. In recognition of that, we went to check out a small slice of Kigali's bustling art scene at Inema Arts Center. Many of the pieces were breathtaking, and we could easily see how the center was able to support not only classes for children but 14 artists-in-residence! Nevertheless, after a quick perusal of the prices, we quickly learned that none of us would be able to afford any of the art in the gallery.

We also enjoyed some of Rwanda's rich food culture, from traditional Rwandan food sharing many of Kenya's staples like matoke and cassava (the starchy root vegetable that looks like chalk pictured above) to high-end fusion like chapati tilapia tacos with guacamole. M was even pleasantly surprised to enjoy a deliciously tender medium rare steak (pictured below). Interestingly, I also learned ugali (the maize flour cake staple of Kenyan cuisine) is commonly made in Rwanda with cassava flour instead.

On our last day in Kigali, we did a walking tour with the Nyamirambo Women's Center, which I can't recommend highly enough. They have a cooking class, basket-making class, and a few other options, but we chose the basic neighborhood walking tour. We started in the women's center itself, which had a beautiful array of handmade products created by local women whose skills have empowered them to become self-reliant (and the center to become self-sustaining). It's an extraordinary accomplishment considering how many similar organizations try and fail to equip beneficiaries with livelihood skills to the extent that external donations are no longer needed to keep everything running. All the women sew one of these fabric hearts somewhere on each product as a symbol of their success as a cooperative and as a sort of signature trademark.

The Nyamirambo neighborhood was a very interesting place with a large Muslim community composed of those who were brought from Tanzania by German colonialists as translators. After the 1994 genocide, many more Rwandans converted to Islam because of the unique role Muslims played hiding many Tutsis and saving countless lives. One distinct feature of this conservative Muslim area was the lack of any alcohol in sight and the unique institution that arose to meet the demand for a venue for libations, conversation, and friendship: the milk bar. It's exactly what it sounds like: a bar where milk is served instead of alcohol, made even more popular by the fact that drinking milk is a big part of Rwandan (like Kenyan) culture. Sounds like a great time to me!

So although Rwanda is known for its gorilla treks (which proved too time-intensive and costly for us this time), our trip shows there are plenty of other things to experience in even just the capital of Kigali. If we're lucky, we'll be back someday to do it all!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Natural Nairobi

One of the best parts about living in Nairobi if you love the great outdoors is having so many options for quick nature escapes. This weekend, we decided to make a day trip to Karen, a well-to-do Nairobi suburb named for Karen Blixen.

We tried the much-touted Tin Roof Cafe, which lived up to its hipster and socially conscious reputation. We ordered main courses for lunch and served ourselves from a selection of salad side dishes. The food was both filling and light in the way that healthy fare always seems to be. My quiche and M's burger were both delicious.

Then, we explored Oloolua Nature Trail a few minutes away. It contains about 5km of hiking trails, but as we quickly learned much of those are quite poorly marked compared to Karura Forest or other trails we've visited in Kenya. As a result, we spent a lot of time "adventuring" - i.e., wandering around looking for the trail and hoping not to come across any deadly snakes. (We even found a trail map online but none of the paths or landmarks seemed to match it. Thankfully, we had budgeted a few hours!)

The forest is also home to the Institute of Primate Research, and we could see why. There were quite a few monkeys around even in the heat of the middle of the afternoon.

Oloolua was supposedly established to help people who wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi. The vibe we quickly picked up on was that it had become a Kenyan romantic destination of sorts: everyone we encountered seemed to be a couple, and we might have been the only foreigners. We enjoyed the view of the waterfall near the entrance, which was significantly cleaner than Karura Forest's falls but also featured an unsightly set of old pipes spewing water sporadically out their joints! After much deliberation, we couldn't figure out their purpose.

We also came across a cave that's supposedly 33m deep, but we weren't willing to wade through the guano and risk disturbing the bats to find out how accurate that claim is. Legend has it that Mau Mau fighters (i.e., those who fought for Kenyan independence) once stayed there.

Like our beautiful home state of Virginia in the United States, there's so much to do in Kenya and so many ways to enjoy nature in particular. Although we know we won't have time to discover every hidden gem in the months we have remaining, we're so grateful to be surrounded by such awesome and accessible natural beauty all within such a short drive.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Enjoying Scenic Upcountry with Friends

We took a long drive from Nairobi this weekend to visit my friend J's homestead in Eldama Ravine. (M was such a champ for driving seven hours in one day!) Eldama Ravine is famous for its beautiful rose exports and served as provincial headquarters during the British colonial period of Kenya's history. The drive was one of the most scenic we've taken in Kenya. We passed through the more well-known Naivasha and Nakuru areas on the way to Eldama Ravine, and we caught some amazing views of sights like Mt. Longonot and the Rift Valley.

We even stopped for a quick bite of breakfast at a local lodge in Eldama Ravine - M and I both ate for the equivalent of 60 cents! Once we got to my friend's house, she took us to the dam she, her family, and her neighbors rely on for fresh water. She says they would devote an entire day to walking there, collecting water, and walking back. The water was so clean and clear, and the air from the surrounding forests was so fresh.

The occasion for our trip was a lovely party hosted by J's family. We met her extended family, neighbors, and friends. I had the opportunity to share a little bit about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, too, since that's where J and I attend church (and it's how we know each other). M and I also learned a little more about Kenyan (and Kalenjin) culture.

We're honored that J and her family hosted us so graciously - a shining example of famous Kenyan warmth and hospitality! One of the best parts about living in Kenya is having the opportunity to make real, lasting friendships with people we might never otherwise have been lucky enough to meet. It's fun to explore Kenya's less touristy regions and interact with so many who might have never met an American before. (Building people-to-people ties just makes my Public Diplomacy Officer heart soar!) Tutaonana tena; see you again, friends!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Ubiquity of Evil

For those blog readers who may have wondered: yes, M and I are safe in Nairobi. For those who have not heard by now, there was just a terror attack here. You can read all about the latest breaking news on BBC, CNN, AP, and many other outlets. The image above is a screencap from Citizen TV, the biggest TV station in Kenya.

The attack took place at 14 Riverside Drive, in the compound of the DusitD2 hotel, in the high-end neighborhood of Westlands, Nairobi. It is about 20 minutes away from our house, and we drove past it twice on the day of the attack, mere hours beforehand. (I was and am still furloughed and therefore not working.)

I won't pretend I have any idea what it was like to be trapped in the building for hours not knowing whether I'd make it, to be praying for my family member who works in the area, or to be on the ground during the attack. If I know anything about the intrepid reporters who call Nairobi home, those accounts will come soon enough. I only had a few thoughts I wanted to share with whomever happens to read this.

First, nothing sparks fake news quite like a crisis. From the moment the attack began, rumors began flying around on social media. I saw everything from false contact information for emergency services to rampant speculation about the terrorists' target to conflicting descriptions of the details of the attack (including something as basic as the number of attackers). The takeaway: very few sources can be trusted in a developing crisis. It's worth taking everything you hear with a grain of salt and to verify information with official sources - in this case, those would be the Government of Kenya security services (and, if you're a U.S. citizen, the U.S. Embassy).

That being said, if you're an American and you want information from the U.S. Embassy in a crisis, please register for STEP. This is the only way we know to email you when something like this happens. We do our best to disseminate information as widely as possible, including on our website and social media, but if you're not in the STEP system for that country you just might miss crucial information at a crucial time.

Aside from the practical things, I hope you'll indulge me to share a few reflections on evil. Hannah Arendt argues in her famous book Eichmann in Jerusalem that Eichmann, a man billed as an architect of the Holocaust, is more clown than monster and more average Joe than fanatic anti-Semite. In this book, she coins the now-famous expression "the banality of evil", concluding that the actors behind the Holocaust and their motivations are unexceptional even if their actions and the outcomes were extraordinarily horrific and cruel.

Well, if evil is banal I'd also say that it's ubiquitous. There are many people back home who might be worried for our safety, but the reality is we live in a fallen world with many broken institutions and people. In Kenya, there's the ever-lingering threat of Al Shabaab, the Somalia-based terror group that has claimed responsibility for the most recent Nairobi attack. Yet when I interned in Paris, France, the Charlie Hebdo shooting happened. Even in our beautiful home country, the United States, schoolchildren and parents prepare themselves for the next mass shooting. The perpetrator may be an incel or an ISIS-inspired recruit or just someone who didn't get the help he needed in time. In places like Kabul, Afghanistan, terrorism strikes with even more alarming frequency.

There's nothing separating you or me from the innocent victims of these unimaginable acts of violence except sheer, dumb luck. "There but for the grace of God, go I." So may our hearts and thoughts and prayers be with the victims, but let's do more. Let's donate our time and blood and resources to those who are most afflicted. Let's help bear one another's burdens, mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. Let's stand in solidarity together, strengthen partnerships between nations, build up each other's communities, expand access to education and opportunities, and pursue policies that will help us root out evil wherever it festers and mitigate its damage when it strikes...

For if there's one thing tragedy has taught me over and over again it's that, though evil may be ubiquitous, goodness is even more so. And with that goodness comes hope, love, charity, and - with time - healing. No terrorist or mass murderer or evil actor of any kind can change that, and at the end of the day that's why they'll never win. In the meantime, the rest of us have work to do.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

When They Go (Fur)lough, We Go High

I'm really proud of this post's title, a pun riffing on an awesome quote from former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama: "When they go low, we go high." (And for those not already familiar with the term, furlough rhymes with "low" or "toe" with a long "o" sound.)

Anyway, I spent the past few weeks being furloughed due to the government shutdown. I already wrote a bit previously about what happens in an Embassy when the government shuts down. Last time, though, the shutdown was much shorter, meaning the consequences are quite a bit more intensely felt this time around. If you want some background on the political debate behind the shutdown, you can read about it here.

Being furloughed means I (along with about 400,000 other federal employees) haven't been allowed to work (or get paid for those weeks) since the shutdown started on December 22, 2018. What's happened with every modern shutdown is that Congress approves back-pay for all of us who were furloughed. In other words, 400,000 employees including me will get paid, late, with taxpayer dollars, for sitting around wishing we could work. A lot of other countries find our system a little nuts in this regard, and quite a few Americans seem to agree.

For work during the shutdown, we keep a low profile and limit our operations in unfunded departments (like mine) to those that are deemed "essential": mostly pertaining to life and safety. (In other words, no #throwbackthursday Embassy Tweets for now.) Thankfully, we have strong contingencies in place for the shutdown that have allowed our essential operations to continue relatively smoothly. (We aren't experiencing anything like our poor colleagues at U.S. National Parks, for instance.)

I did learn something else about furloughs this time around, too. You can be furloughed based on your current position and then un-furloughed to fill an essential position. When my boss is out and I need to fill in for her, I go from being "non-excepted" (i.e., non-essential - no offense taken) to "excepted" (i.e., essential). Even if the government is still shut down, I'll go back to work in that unique case.

It's a little complicated, but like it or not it's all part of one of the biggest quirks of our government. And until I have to go back in, I'm taking advantage of every spare minute to catch up on reading, spend quality time with M, and get a strong start to my New Year's Resolutions.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

All I Wanted for Christmas Was Family

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year to all! I had an extra special holiday season this time around because my mom and sister came all the way to Kenya to celebrate with us. When you live as far from home as we do, you can't take seeing family for the holidays for granted.

They were only here for a short amount of time, and we stayed around Nairobi, so I tried to cram in as much fun into as short a time as possible. The day they arrived, we picked them up from the airport around 4am (those long-haul flights to Nairobi are pretty brutal no matter which route you take). We had a relaxed lunch at the River Cafe in Karura Forest, which boasts tasty food, a peaceful ambiance, and a convenient location. Then, we all had pedicures done by P, my dear friend and nail technician extraordinaire. We swung by Spinner's Web for some souvenirs and then tried the new Village Market location for CJ's restaurant. The menu was huge - it took M and me an embarrassingly long time to decide what to order.

On Christmas Day, my sister and I worked out (mostly because she's an awesome exercise buddy and I would never have been motivated enough to do Pilates Intense Interval Training on Christmas on my own). Then, we went to Nairobi National Park, the Giraffe Centre, and the Karen Blixen Museum. My favorite stop was the Giraffe Center, where we got to feed giraffes from our hands (!) and learn about giraffe conservation efforts. My mom, though, was especially delighted by the visit to the Karen Blixen Museum, devoted to the legendary late Danish settler Karen Blixen, a.k.a. Isak Dinesan, famous for her book Out of Africa and its Hollywood adaptation.

We followed that up with a day trip to Naivasha (fun fact: Karen Blixen honeymooned there), including Crescent Island, Sanctuary Farm, and Hell's Gate. We enjoyed great views of wildlife and landscapes all day. At one point, a baboon even jumped on our car!

The next day, we booked a tour of the United Nations Headquarters in Nairobi - one of only four in the world. (The others are in Geneva, Vienna, and of course New York City.) We took a picture in front of the "Karibuni" sign, which means "Welcome, all" in Kiswahili. I also brought my family to the U.S. Embassy to show them where I work.

Sadly, my mom had to leave right after that. My sister stayed for a few more days, so we went fabric and souvenir shopping in downtown Nairobi with my friend A (the same one who came over and cooked Kenyan food soon after we arrived). We also woke up early and hiked Mount Longonot, got massages at Serenity Spa, checked out a new trampoline park, and volunteered at a local orphanage called Mogra.

I also brought my sister to church and introduced her to some of my friends in Nairobi. We rang in the new year by hosting a laid-back evening with card games. My sis was also kind enough to bring her Nintendo Switch so we could even play some of her video games. Eventually, though, she had to get on a plane to head home, too. I miss my family already, but I'm so glad I got to spend this special time with them. I'll always treasure making these memories and sharing our adventures with people I love so much.