January 30, 2013

Sparkle, Adoration, Museveni, and Zebra

If you're sitting in Amsterdam or Berlin, looking at a vase of long-stemmed roses (or anticipating such on Valentine's Day), there's a fairly good chance they've come to you from Kenya.  

Flowers, particularly roses, are one of Kenya's biggest agricultural exports, surpassed only by tea (I think).  Apparently the Rift Valley is well-suited for floriculture (yes, it's a word), and the area around Lake Naivasha is dotted with flower-farms.  The exports are too delicate to travel as far as the U.S., but Kenya is one of the biggest flower-suppliers to the E.U.  So much so that after the Icleandic volcano explosion of 2010, Kenya lost millions of US$ daily due to cancelled flights.  For shame, Eyjafjallaj√∂kull!

Before the holidays I tagged along on a friend's work-related trip to one of these farms, because tagging-along is by far the best way to learn and see things you would have never cared about otherwise.  Incidentally, it's also the best way to spend time with vising friends when they're on work-related trips.  

So we made an appointment with a farm just outside of Nairobi, and were given a full tour of the facilities: the factory, the farm, the furry farm animals.

Dozens of different rose varietals with names like "Sparkle" and "Adoration" are bred and grown inside rows of greenhouses.  Separate greenhouses are used to breed small, red, mite-sized pests that look like the ferocious offspring of bedbugs and fleas.  Apparently these red bugs are the good pests who eat the bad pests who destroy flowers.  Thus, the red mites are bred, harvested, transferred to the flower greenhouses, and then washed away before distribution.

Angry red swarms of bio-friends

Peering into harvest jars

After flowers are harvested they're brought to the factory for shucking of thorns, packaging, and shipping.  As you might note from the pesticide-free pest control, the particular farm we visited was very bio-friendly.  No tractors, no fuel, just donkeys named "Museveni" ("This one likes to be a bit aggressive") and "Zebra" ("What do you mean 'identity crisis?'") transporting flowers between venues.  


Thorn shuckin'

In the hours between when they are shucked and the next flight to Berlin, the flowers chill-out in a walk-in refrigerator to keep from blooming prematurely.  Then they're packed on ice and sent to the airport.  If you ever take a factory tour of flower farms in Kenya or elsewhere, bring a parka for the warehouse.  


And the most endearingly-genuine white-board message I've ever seen in a warehouse:

Hence build trust in our customers

Then packaged and shipped, for your Valentine's Day pleasure.

January 21, 2013

Has been trying

Oh, hello.

It's been a while.  I'd like to excuse my lack of updates here by pointing out that I've been out of Kenya for a good chunk of the last month (and didn't want my URL to tell lies), but really I've just been busy.  Or lazy.  But mostly busy.  Mostly.

And then when too much time passes, the burden of making a post worthy of the delay starts to gain weight.  And you worry that your first post back needs to be 4 times as significant to make-up for the 4 weeks of silence.  But mostly, it's the busy thing.

So let me first clear the slate, zero the scale.  Since I was last here I've been in the Amsterdam airport twice, where sitting inside over-sized china is just another day:

Teacup family.  No big deal. 

I spent Christmas and New Years with family and friends in San Francisco:

San Francisco city hall says, "What war on Christmas?"

Oh, and there was this:

San Francisco in December.  Why would you ever go anywhere else?

And now it's 2013.  Who thought we would have made it this far after the millenium?  (A: Not the Mayans)

And after 3 weeks of the new year I can say- without reserve- that it is no cake-walk.  I've been working until 10pm on weeknights and on Sundays for the past 2 weeks, with another week still to go.  I need to move apartments and will probably lose the swimming pool that I never use but like to know that it's there just in case I ever wanted to.  My manuscript got rejected yesterday, and today I saw my first cockroach in the kitchen.  He was big, and he was in the cupboard where I keep my Christmas chocolate.

January, the month of new beginnings, has been trying.

January has also brought an influx of people to Kenya.  Some are people I know, and some are people I don't know but I'd do well to make the professional acquaintance of.  Some are people who left last year and then reappeared without notice.  Some are staying for 2 weeks; others are staying for 2 months.

And as an unapologetic introvert, even just typing that last paragraph felt exhausting.

I used to think that Nairobi ex-pats who compose their friend group solely of those who have been here for a certain length of time (e.g. >2 years) were cliquish.  But now I can really see it as a preservation tactic.

It's uncommonly difficult to build a life around people you know to be temporary.

But there are still 10 days left in January, and anything can happen.  Perhaps the cockroach will decide that he's overstayed his welcome and that he and his family will have a more fulfilling life in someone else's apartment.