An Hour at Karen Blixen Museum.

Karen Blixen-Finecke was a Danish author who wrote works in Danish and English. She is best known under her pen names Isak Dinesen, used in English-speaking countries, and Tania Blixen, used in German-speaking countries. But thats not all, her early years started here, when she arrived in Kenya to join her husband Baron Bror Fredrik von Blixen-Finecke, a swedish born writer who was a passionate hunter.

Baron had sold his land to settle here, at the foot of Ngong hills, with the hope that he would farm coffee and become a millionaire. Over 4,000 hectares of this land then was filled with coffee, workers quitters, a coffee factory built by Karen’s brother and the house they used to live in. Karen fell in love with this place, having been born in the flat danish landscape, she loved to wake up and enjoy the view of Ngong hills.

The last years of Karen in Kenya were not rosy, she had divorced from her husband, lost her lover and lost interest in farming. Part of the land was subdivided in 20 hectares and sold. She had to arrange the resettlement of her workers and later sold the house to her friend and left the country. Later, out of Africa was born, her first book published in 1937, now translated to seven languages and a famous movie filmed in 1985. Its her writing career that made her famous.

The danish government later bought the house, which they later gifted to the government of Kenya and now its a museum managed by National Museum of Kenya. Some of her household items were also bought and others were donated, noticeable are the pictures she painted while she lived here, and some personal collection of chest cabinets some imported.  When standing at the main door, Karens favorite spot….sitting on her make shift table made from grinding stones imported from India, here she sat and treated her workers as she marvelled at the site of Ngong Hills. The trees have grown but the hills still conquer.

Some of the machines used during those early years of farming still rest here in the field. The oxen plough and the wagon they used to transport coffee from the farm to Nairobi before it could be send to mombasa then shipped for processing.  The old tractor with metal tyres still fights for its survival in the modern world of the ignition key. The kitchen is intact though not factional, with a picture of her chef, who cooked for the Prince of Wales when he visited and for all this years cooked for her. It is here in this house that Karen entertained her guest prince of wales twice.

Karen loved to paint, she loved to write and she loved people. When she lived here, there was no running water, her metal bathtub was filled with water that was boiled from the kitchen adjacent to the house. She did not have electricity either, the reason why the kitchen had to be a few steps from the main house because they used wood to cook and lanterns for light.

Karen and her friend dreamed of one day owning a ship and when the dream took long to mature, she bought two ship lights, one green and one red which she placed on top of her house and got the satisfaction of her house being turned into a ship, at least for a night. Today, the house is surrounded with nature trail, which gives a peaceful walk and being lost in a cold and peaceful natures embrace.

This is a good place to come and unwind, learn something and enjoy just being away from the troubles of the city. In Denmark, part of the house where Karen lived when she left Kenya is also a museum, its a place am looking forward to visit one of this days. Her picture was used on the postal stamp of Denmark on the 50 Danish Kroner note. If you are in Denmark, I hope it will be on your list ‘of places to visit’ the museum and am sure you will enjoy.

Karen’s writing career was very fruitful, she went on to publish other books after Out of Africa’s success with her last book being published after her death. For me her life is a true reflection of living life to the full, creating an impact and shaping the future in a very small way that has a bigger impact.

Welcome to Karen Blixen Museum – Nairobi.


Visiting the Guggenheim Museum in New York

If I had a bucket list, visiting the Guggenheim Museum in New York would be on the top of the list. I don’t know how or why but it’s been a dream to go here for a very long time that I can’t even remember when the seed was planted to go here one day.…

How Netherlands is Reframing Accessibility.

If you ask a large group of people with different kinds of disabilities what they want to be called, you will get a large number of answers. Some prefer “people with disabilities,” some prefer “disabled people,” some prefer their specific situation be called out, some would rather not mention it at all.

For this essay, I chose “people with disabilities” because it’s what my friends call themselves. As always, you should ask a person what the prefer, and respect them by using it.

If we make the choice to consider everyone “a person on the ability spectrum” instead of separating the “able-bodied” from the “disabled,” we stop treating people with different abilities as members of an out-group, and we start treating them as part of our own diverse in-group.

What I have seen here in Netherlands has baffled me. The country has done well in making sure the people with disability are able to move around, be it by trail, bus or just on the streets. A typical street in Amsterdam is busy, with people walking, others cycling and cars. But a blind person with a little training can make their way around, while being safe.

The streets are paved with a special kind of tile with groves, with different patterns guiding to the bus door, crossing points, turnings etc. The country has done more to ensure that there wheelchair users can have access to and from the city. If you are arriving in Schiphol by train or flight, you can book for wheelchair assistance prior to your travel.

When intending to use a train, getting around Netherlands, you also have to book for wheelchair assistance. A platform which is mobile will be lowered on the platform for you to wheel yourself into the train and when you reach your destination, somebody will be waiting for you, to do the same thing. In buses and trains, there are places reserved for wheelchairs.

There are many restaurants and coffee house who have also taken this seriously. I dont know if your favorite restaurant in Amsterdam is accessible by wheelchair but if its not, then its not favorite anymore. My few hours there I managed to spot a few in Amsterdam and Daan Hang too.

I have travelled in many cities in europe and before I arrived in Netherlands i was in Rome. If you have visited Rome you will agree with me that there hills and some obstacles for wheelchair users unlike in Amsterdam with a fairly level ground. In some cities, the infrastructure is not maintained, rendering it very unfit for use.

 


A Roman Holiday.

Greetings from Rome. Home of the Pope and the Italian people. A place many of you have either visited or would like to visit. I am writing this blog to inspire you to continue desiring to visit this place. It will be worth it. A trip to Rome is as much about lapping up the dolce vita lifestyle as gorging on art and culture. Idling around picturesque streets, whiling away hours at streetside cafes, people-watching on pretty piazzas – these are all an integral part of the Roman experience.

The tempo rises as the heat of the day gives way to the evening cool and the fashionably dressed aperitivo (pre-dinner drinks) crowd descends on the city’s bars and cafes. Restaurants and trattorias hum with activity and cheerful hordes mill around popular haunts before heading off to cocktail bars and late-night clubs.

 

Rome’s great gladiatorial arena is the most thrilling of the city’s ancient sights. Inaugurated in AD 80, the 50,000-seat Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, was clad in travertine and covered by a huge canvas awning held aloft by 240 masts. Inside, tiered seating encircled the arena, itself built over an underground complex (the hypogeum) where animals were caged and stage sets prepared. Games involved gladiators fighting wild animals or each other.

To enter, we cross the pronaos with its imposing granite column forest. There are sixteen, monoliths, more than 14 metres high, some grey others in pink granite from Aswan, the latter brought from ancient Egypt by transport that would be considered exceptional even today.

The Bronze door at the end of the columns is just as impressive in size, 7 metres high, a real record for the times.

 

Rome could not be imagined without the remarkable counterpoint of its squares and fountains. Enclosed in the fabric of the renaissance and baroque districts or designed as a spectacular backdrop for the most important roads, the squares of Rome scatter the city with numerous points of historical, architectural and tourist interest.

And there is not a square in Rome without a fountain. Water flows plentifully in the subsoil and gushes forth from the hundreds of small and large fountains, each with its own artistic value and history.

rome by night

St.Peter’s Basilica, this is a journey into the heart of Christianity where spiritual and artistic excellence is exemplified in the masterpieces of renowned artists such as Michelangelo, Bernini and Raphael.


Being in the history of currency.

Greetings from Rome. Rome, Italy’s capital, is a sprawling, cosmopolitan city with nearly 3,000 years of globally influential art, architecture and culture on display. Ancient ruins such as the Forum and the Colosseum evoke the power of the former Roman Empire. Vatican City, headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, has St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, which house masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes.

It has taken me to come to Rome to learn about two currencies I knew nothing about. The Lira and US 2 dollar bill note. The lira was introduced in Europe by Charlemagne (c. 742–814), who based it on the pound (Latin: libra) of silver. No lira coins were struck during the Middle Ages, and the lira remained strictly a money of account.

By the 16th century several of the Italian states actually struck lira coins, but they varied considerably in weight. One of the states that used the lira was the kingdom of Sardinia, and this monetary unit was adopted in all of Italy when it became unified under Sardinian leadership.

In the United States, the story of the $2 bill starts in 1862, when the federal government printed its first nationalized paper bills, Bennardo says. The $2 bill was in that first printing, along with the $1 bill, but it took a while for paper money to catch on.

That’s because a lot of folks made less than $15 a month before the turn of the century. Inflation slowly brought the value of paper money down, but then the Great Depression hit. “This was a time when our country did not have much wealth, and a lot of things cost less than a dollar,” Bennardo says. “So the $2 bill really didn’t have much of a practical use.”

The economy recovered, but the $2 bill eventually found itself in a strange price point. It became the the perfect note for some rather nefarious purposes. “Politicians used to be known for bribing people for votes, and they would give them a $2 bill, so if you had one it meant that perhaps you’d been bribed by a politician,” Bennardo says. “Prostitution back in the day was $2 for a trick, so if you were spending $2 bills it might get you into trouble with your wife. $2 is the standard bet at a race track, so if you were betting $2 and you won, you might get a bunch of $2 bills back and that would show that you were gambling.”

My friend after giving me to note for the two dollar bill told me how rare the note is, that there are some US citizens who have never seen the bill and on many occasions calls have been made to the police, when making payments with the bills with the assumption that its a fake note. The Lira on the other hand has gone to its grave. Here in Rome, while I was on my morning run, I encountered two pieces on Lira notes.

Here in Italy, it’s not easy finding this notes and today was a lucky day for me because I get to see one. As a collector, this has revealed a lot about the Italian History. I am on my Roman holiday.

When in Rome, do what the Romans do.


Visa Duties…The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

schengen visa

Visa application is always a challenging process. I have never meet anyone, either a frequent or a first time traveller, who has gotten used to this tedious process. But there are countries that one doesn’t have to go through all this, but unfortunately they are few, so we can’t avoid it, and if you are doing business globally, touring or visiting family this, is a cake you must bake.

The most important thing to prepare for this day is to have a lot of luck. I have seen people who had their Paperwork right and still missed the visa. If you come from countries such as Kenya, having a stable job helps a lot. The trouble is that most people who would go through the visa process and still defile the same laws are people in stable employment.

When you are in business, depending on what kind you are doing. Sometimes you are ahead and sometimes you are behind. But my argument has always been that their is no way you will know the person who will want to defile the immigration law and the one who will not buy only looking at their faces. I agree that the information has to be accurate, but yes, if the person you are looking at has been travelling and never broken any immigration laws, then his passport should help you make a decision amongst other requirements.

We all agree that there are countries taking their fair share of their shit, be it economically, politically and socially. The life span difference between the African countries and western countries is like how far east from west. Kenya for example has a very challenging political environment and especially at this time.  And the same time I was planning my travel and if you looked at the situation at present, it will be very easy for you to overlook the big picture if you are the one with the authority to issue a visa.

So when I went for the visa, i realized that the Italian embassy has different requirements than other Schengen countries. They require you to have a eight days international insurance after you land back home. They need six months of bank statement and copy of identification of the person inviting you. After a lot of shuttling to meet the requirements, and fifteenth day of waiting, my visa was granted. Breathing a sigh of relief I walked to the bureau that processed my visa and pick my passport with my visa.

My itinerary had a ten hours layover in Abu Dhabi, something that needed a visa for me to be able to transit through Abu Dhabi International. So I went to the website where Etihad recommends for their passengers seeking visas. With all the documentations scanned, I filled in the online forms attaching my documents amongst them my bio page, Ticket that is confirmed, my hotel booking in Abu Dhabi and my earlier visa when I travelled to the United Arabs Emirates for business, my current schengen visa that I was travelling on.

I later received a message from the organisation that is tasked to processing the visas. The gentleman said that he is sure my visa request will be negative, and the reason is that because I am Kenyan and most Kenyan passport holders have been denied the visas to transit through Abu Dhabi. The weird thing you are thinking is that why would someone want you to pay him for flying in his place and deny you a place to rest your head. I took the chances and allowed the gentleman to go ahead with my application knowing very well that if it comes out negative, I would lose my visa fees.

It was a few hours, maybe two or three, after I had given a confirmation that I received an email from the same gentleman that my request had been denied. Yes, I also wondered how. For the rest of the day I nursed my devastated heart, went to bed feeling sad and lived to make new plans. As I said, I have never meet anyone who has this process covered for themselves. Maybe my circle is not of influence, but still my statements stands.

If you are a traveller, and you go through this every time, this is something that many travellers have to go through. The bureaucracy that many countries have put between countries and citizens to restrict movement. And this kind of stuff, affect many people who would wish to travel either for business or pleasure. The people enforcing them sometimes don’t do them well.

For me, I pray not to break any countries immigration laws, to respect my host, to be at my best behaviour while am being hosted in a foreign land. This is the right thing to do, and the wise thing if you intend to continue travelling……just like me.

Wherever your travel my take you, I hope it’s fun and profitable.

 


Holidays in Jordan, Part 2

I already wrote a bit about our holiday in Jordan last week. Today, we fly back home, my head is full with pictures and impressions. I need to sort out and reflect on what I have seen and experienced. From the Dead Sea we drove through the Dana National Park to Petra. Already on the ...

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Holidays in Jordan

Since a few days we are traveling through Jordan. We visited Amman, Jerash and Madaba and now I am sitting in a very posh hotel at the Dead Sea, feeling bizarre when hearing the muezzin calling for the evening prayer and western music from the outside pool at the same time. Jordan is a very ...

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Traveling to Kakamega.

Last weekend we were traveling to Kakamega, to see my parents and to be with one of my sisters who lost her father in law. As usual, I start my trips really early for two reasons. It is peaceful in the morning , the roads are deserted and the NTSA usually at this time, they are not awake……meaning No speed guns. Unfortunately for us, our trip started with a warning light on the dash, its called a limb light or limp light mode. Today, nearly every system in your vehicle is operated by the computer – including the transmission’s line pressure, shift timing, sequence and feel. The vehicle speed sensor provides input to help control ABS, fuel mixture, fuel injection and transmission operation. The manifold absolute pressure (MAP) sensor and throttle position sensor (TPS) provide the engine’s load information which is used to manage the shift and downshifting in the transmission when you’re driving up an incline or you’ve put the pedal to the metal. “Fail Code” conditions or “Limp Mode” occurs when there is a problem with the logic of a vehicle’s computer. When the signal value sent by a sensor to the computer is not within a pre-programmed range specified by the manufacturer, it will switch to “secondary” programming. These procedures are designed to protect the transmission from further damage that could be caused by the signal error. As long as the computer is receiving signals from the MAP, TPS, vehicle speed and other sensors that fall within their “normal” ranges based on the current conditions, the transmission will operate normally. However, as mentioned above, if it receives a signal that is outside of the expected range, it will switch to secondary/emergency operation. The exact measures taken in secondary operation is determined by the computer’s logic as programmed by the manufacturer and depends on how far outside the acceptable range the signal is (if there is any signal at all). It might react differently when the value is higher than the highest parameter than it does when the value is lower than the lowest allowable value. We arrived home to a well welcome of pumpkin leaves for dinner. It has been long since I had this kind of a meal. I took my time to enjoy with my family. This grows in my mothers garden, normally….just on their own. We have been having vegetables growing here since I was a child, sometimes neighbours would just walk in and help themselves with it…something like community sharing. This is how I remember my childhood. Many nights I walked through this door and walk down to the pit latrine, for many years the rear door connected me to everything, school, playground, garden and to the second kitchen that was usually outside. When my uncle was around, he used the room next to the door. Every Night he played music from his philips stereo. The smell of cows overwhelms me everytime. My life has always been surrounded by cows, I mean, if I could not afford one…….maybe I would not be married. The traces that cows exists are everywhere you look. They will be grazing somewhere, you will encounter manure proudly made by them helping the garden thrive. Dogs, they provide security. They are not seen during the day…..sleep all day and work all night. Everyone has made the garden their haven. We feed from it, the cows feed from it, the birds feed from it and the dogs secures it. Life is made and destroyed from it. Water drips from the tap that connects to a black water tank acting as a reservoir. Water is everything….water is important and life surrounds it. There is a representation of the new and the old, what has died and what is still alive. The bird create their new home, step by step. Its a well worked out system you can watch all day. If you have no idea what is happening here rest assured, someone is looking for food. This is how termites are collected. The blacket acts as a disguise, creating an illusion of darkness but once they are out and see the light, they run towards it. Their journey is always short lived as they slide on the banana leaves ending up in a small hole. The chickens love to eat them and so do the human beings. Before I left home, I sat here captured by my different view. One of the lawn that leads to the perimeter fence, I could still see the garden. The other one not so exiting, the car in front of me and the third one the bird, still on its mission…..on building a nest. And my time to depart had come, and it was sad to leave. As they always say……Home is always home. And the roads will always lead me there.