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Sunset in the Rift Valley, Kenya

Several years ago I visited the Rift Valley in Kenya, Africa, spending two weeks with an orphanage and visiting schools around the valley, photographing the children for an aid organization. I found it a stark, desolate, and beautiful place.

This is one of my favorite Sunset photos I’ve ever made. To me, the beauty is in it’s simplicity. The image is almost comically postcard-centric; it’s a view we’ve all seen before. But the rich colors, the silhouetted Umbrella Thorn Acacia Tree, and the mountains in the distance make it an image I’ve returned to again and again.

Sunset in the Rift Valley, Kenya

Click to fill your screen with this photo!

The recent blog format

I’ve been meaning to ask; what do you think of this new method of posting photos, where you can click to pop-up a larger view? Are any of you clicking on it, or are you getting what you want from the 800-pixel view as you see it above? I ask because while I really like it myself, it doesn’t give me the flexibility I had before of linking to my SmugMug gallery. I have been thinking about how to redo this blog, now that I’ve been posting (nearly) daily, and posting individual images instead of galleries.

I’d like to go back to the SmugMug galleries, but add each daily image into a single “blog gallery” one at a time. One of the key advantages is I can offer prints for sale through there (if any of you are interested). The problem though is if I post through SmugMug, it makes it harder to stage the releases days in advance since all the photos would be visible in the gallery before they are posted here.

Anyway I have to figure this out and welcome your input. I hope, by the way, that you’ve been enjoying these daily photos. Traffic is certainly up, which is nice to see :)



My Pokot family in Kenya, safe so far

I've been in SMS contact with my friends in Kenya since the start of the violence. When the clash was restricted to Nairobi it wasn't much of a concern to most of them, as they live out in the Rift Valley (except for the students in Nairobi, and I can only hope they are safe).

I grew more concerned as I saw that the violence has spread to Nakuru. Those of you who followed my trip may recall that Nakuru is the last city on the edge of the Rift Valley, and is also home to the amazing Lake Nakuru National Park. IHF (the organization I was shooting for) had purchased a building on the edge of town, for the children to live and learn in. Many from the orphanage had been moved there over the last several months, and as soon as I heard that the violence had reached Nakuru, I started to worry.

I'm happy to report that there is good news. The clashing tribes appear to be primarily the Kikuyu (generally the ruling tribe in Kenya, and the tribe of President Kibaki -- the one who is accused of stealing this election), the Luo and the Kalenjin. My friends are Pokot, and their tribe is considered savage by many Kenyans (tourists in Nairobi or Nakuru who say they are traveling into the Rift Valley are usually warned not to -- told that they will meet a brutal death at the hands of the Pokot and never be seen again). While the Masai have the spotlight as the warrior tribe, the Pokot are the ones who are truly feared.

Reportedly all the buildings surrounding the children's new home have been burned to the ground. But the IHF buildings have been left alone. The Kikuyu and Kalenjin know these are Pokot children, and know to leave them alone.



IHF needs help!

I woke up this morning to find this email in my inbox from Carol Sasaki, founder of IHF.

Dear Volunteers and Sponsors, IHF is currently in an extremely vulnerable financial situation. I am being told by board members that there is simply not enough money this month to continue providing for all the children in my centres. I cannot let this happen. I cannot tell any child that they must leave because there is not enough money. I cannot tell them that they have not been picked when they have been told this so many times before. I am determined to prevent this from happening and I hope that by revealing to you all the true situation of IHF, you too will feel my determination. This letter, therefore, comes to you as an urgent appeal for help. I am pleading with you, with whatever dignity I have left, to come up with enough money for at least one class ($30) and donate it today. This month, IHF's children depend on it. For next month onwards, I am asking you to please make it your personal duty to find at least one sponsor. If everyone who received this email did this, IHF would survive and thrive. We need to just make it until February when we have regular funds guaranteed. It would be absurd to for IHF to fall apart now. Please, please, if you are in denial, let this email be a wake up call. Please help ensure the future of IHF, by going to Yours Faithfully, Carol

I already volunteer many hours to this organization, as well as the photo trip to Kenya I did on their behalf, and am additionally going to sponsor a child now because of this situation. Just to drive the point home, these are photos of children who are not under the care of IHF.

And these are children who are.

Yes, you can make a difference. Please, if you can, help.


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A "welcome letter" for future Pokot visitors

I thought this would be fun to share. I've written a (lengthy!) letter/document on "what to expect in Kenya", written for the western traveler, which will be included in a "new volunteers manual" that the IHF is working on. Probably a good read for anyone going into the wild of a developing nation! It's too long to just drop in the blog, so you can read it here.

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Letter to the children

The 'goodbye' letter I wrote to the children in the Pokot orphanage has been posted on the IHF website; how sweet. I'll copy it here for your enjoyment.

My dear children, I am so sorry that I was not able to say goodbye properly. When Past President Moi departed, I ended up getting a ride with his security team back to Nakuru and had to leave immediately. It pained me to not be able to say goodbye in person. I so very much enjoyed my time with all of you. You are wonderful, wonderful children, and I wish I could take you all home with me. The welcome you gave me when mommy Carol and I arrived was one of the most amazing, warm, and loving welcomes anyone could ask for. Your constant hugs were a treasure and made me feel immediately at home. When I went to Nakuru for a couple of days then came back to you all, I felt truly like I was coming home again. Thank you for your love and affection and for teaching me so much about your lives. And thank you for such a wonderful opportunity to photograph all of you. I will be sure to send pictures for you all to enjoy just as soon as I can. Chemariach Lomertelo, my poet. We never had time to record your poem or for me to write it down. I hope that you will write it for me and have Daniel send it to me by email. Never stop writing. You are, and can always be, an inspiration to us all. I love you. Chepkopus Lale, always with a smile for the camera. Never stop smiling; you can brighten any room. I love you. Kevin Kiyech, never stop looking to the stars for knowledge and wonder. You are blessed with one of the most amazing sky's in the world to gaze upon. Always know that when you look up to the stars and the moon, your daddy Joseph will be looking up as well. I love you. Newton Kamarino and Patrick Ruto, you both have amazing futures ahead of you. Stay strong in school and you will go far. I love you both. Moses Korireng, You amazed me with your knowledge of American politics and your thirst for knowledge. I wish you the best in your quest to study Business at Kabarak University. I love you. And of course Chepanga, my special Pokot daughter. I will miss you terribly, and I will be watching over you from afar. I look forward to hearing about your life as you grow into a young woman, and know that you always have a daddy, somewhere in the world. I love you. And to everyone else, my greatest love to you all, Daddy Joseph


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Back in California

Hi everyone, I'm home now. After many long flights from Nairobi to London, London to Los Angeles, then Los Angeles to San Jose, I'm home. Amazingly my baggage made it 10,000 miles to LAX where I cleared it through customs, only to have them not manage to make it the last 350 miles to SJC. Go figure. (They just arrived at home a few minutes ago) It took a while to find my way home last night as every freeway entrance to downtown San Jose was blocked off for the Cinco de Mayo weekend, but I finally got through. I wandered out for a sushi dinner (ahhh, food!!) then passed out around 10. So good to be back on a nice mattress instead of the 3-inch thick foam I've been on for two weeks. A hot shower! Smooth roads! Cappuccino! Ahhh But… I miss Kenya already. I miss the kids. The smiles. The stars. The sound of animals instead of traffic. And lots of other little things that will undoubtedly sink in over the course of this first day back. I love you Kenya, you were good to me. I will return one day, without question. I have a TON more to write and post, and will do it as quickly as possible. I shot over 6,000 pictures and need to finish sorting them. On Friday, the orphanage was visited by past President Moi, and I have a massive gallery of that visit.

Me meeting former President Moi.

Photo credit: Solomon Kipsang Tallam, President Moi's personal photographer

On my last day we went out at sunrise to see the Lake Nakuru National Park, home to 1.5 million flamingos, as well as giraffe, zebra, hippo, dik dik, black and white rhino, baboon, monkey, and many many more wonderful animals. As I go through these and other pictures I'll recall other stories to tell, and will get them up here quickly. For now though… it's back to the other world. Thank you all for following, and for posting comments, and generally coming along for a ride with me. The show is over but the stories will continue. hwakerini, -Joseph

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Let's talk about food

(Written Friday May 4, 19:44 Kenya time – regarding the whole trip) As I sat having lunch in Nginyang, it occurred to me that I haven't talked about food that much. And for those who know me, you'll recognize that as a glaring omission. So, let's talk. There ain't much. And by that don't mean quantity, but variety. There is a very short list of what is on every menu, in every restaurant, in every kitchen, in every hotel. Here's the list. VEGETABLES

  • White rice – usually served with some tomatoes mixed in, almost always undercooked (nearly crunchy). Flavorless

  • Beans – sometimes served alone, but usually served with maize. Can be tasty, and is a staple at the orphanage

  • Maize – looks like corn but much bigger and tougher kernels, never served alone (see Beans)

  • Potatoes – boiled or fried, but if they're fried, they're soggy

  • Cabbage – also usually served with tomatoes mixed in. There's cabbage everywhere here, and in the markets it's very sadly wilted looking. I guess it lasts a while though as it's everywhere

  • Kale – again with tomatoes (I think). The single most flavorful dish I ate while here. But as anyone who's cooked kale before will tell you, you have to cook it to death to make it edible.


  • Bananas are abundant

  • Watermelon on occasion

  • Pears? Not really sure if that's what those were…

  • Mango, maybe? Again not sure, never had one


  • Eggs – quite dreary looking in restaurants, although out at Joshua's home we had fresh eggs from his own hens, and WOW those were good.


  • Flat bread (fry bread?)—unleavened bread cooked on coals and served covered in ash

  • Sliced bread – only in restaurants, and oddly when served with breakfast, never ever toasted


  • Goat – Usually served as a stew. I heard it is also sometimes roasted, but never saw that. Unfortunately they don't carefully remove the meat from bone and gristle – instead it's chopped up by a large cleaver and all mixed together. You pick up a piece with your fingers and eat what you can. It is, however, quite tasty. They say the meat is so good because the goats eat the nettle trees. These trees are covered with poisonous 3-inch spikes and hurt like hell if you touch them. Yummy.

  • Chicken – only seen in restaurants in Nairobi and Nakuru. Very scrawny birds go into this – not a lot of meat to chew on.

  • Fish – Talapia, talapia, and talapia. I had it once in Nairobi with some kind of breading and sauce, but otherwise it's served whole. In one place it was actually fried up beautifully with crisply skin and while overcooked, was still a delight to eat. The other time it probably started off well, but by the time I got it it had been soaking in run-off from the veggies (of which the sauce is liberally poured over everything else) and so the entire fish was soggy.

  • Suasage – hard, dry, but tasty. Only saw this with breakfast at the Carnation hotel in Nakuru


  • Tea – black Kenyan tea, served everywhere all the time. Milky and sweet and quite good.


  • Salt – and actually a very good salt. Don't know where it comes from but it's nice

  • Pepper sauce – generic, not-too-spicy, red sauce

  • Green Chilies – got these once at a the restaurant in Nginyang, but even the second time we were there they didn't have them. Too bad, they added some flavor to the rest of the food.


  • Ugali – that tasteless, incredibly thick (like super-thick mashed potatoes), cornmeal foodstuff that is served with every meal. It's very filling, and is what is made from the cornmeal we were giving out at the famine feeds. To eat, a chunk is pulled off in the hand and squished and pressed into the fist, then dipped into sauce or used to scoop up kale or cabbage. [link - Wikipedia]

And that's pretty much it. The entire food supply of every restaurant I was in. Most places don't even have menus – seriously – because they all serve the same stuff. And asking what they have is like a comedy routine. For example…

Pokot—what do you want?

Me—what do they have?

Translated to server—what do you have?

(response) Pokot—beans

Me—um, ok, anything else? (I'll cut out the back and forth translation, but trust me it's a "who's on first" routine)

Me—so beans or rice… ok. I'll have rice

Pokot—do you want a vegetable?

Me—oh they have vegetables! Great… what do they have


Me—oh right. Ok, sure

and so on… finally, you get a plate of rice or beans, with kale or cabbage or boiled potatoes or a combination of the three, and either ugali or flatbread. On occasion you get some meat, but unless it's a big city it's chicken or fish or goat, never a choice, just one of the three And curiously, beer is usually not available in restaurants. Never saw wine anywhere. Damn I can't wait to eat cheese… and fresh vegetables… and fish other than Talapia… ooh, sushi. Yeah. And pizza. And anything Mexican or Italian or Spanish or Thai. I'm hungry now :( Oh a curious point – so I have to assume that Nairobi, a big city, has restaurants serving food from around the world. But everyone I asked who goes to Nairobi often – or even lives there, has never been. Not once. I haven't met a single Kenyan who has eaten anything other than Kenyan food – and that includes the students in University! It's very curious. I'm meeting James, one of the Pokot university students, in Nairobi for dinner before my flight out. Hopefully I can get him into something other than goat and ugali. Wish me luck.



Snake Bite, Famine Feed, more celebration, and more TEP kids

(Written Friday May 4, 18:30 Kenya time – regarding Wed May 2, noon) We arrived in Kadingding after about 30 or 40 minutes of driving. This is the village where Amos is the chief. We came to deliver some food, and to photograph a couple of TEP kids.

While there I was asked to photograph this young boy, Korkor Lomakul. As you can see from the photo, he's missing a leg. This is one of the very sad examples of inferior medical care in the area. He was bitten by a snake. I don't know the whole story, but the medical services either didn't know how to treat the bite or didn't have the anti-venom, but for whatever reason, they decided they couldn't treat him – and so amputated his leg. This is part of the painful reality of the society out here. One one hand, there is medical treatment, but it's not great and it's hard to get to. And that treatment occasionally does things like cuts off an entire leg to treat a snake bite. On the other hand, if there were no treatment available at all, then the boy probably would have died. Cutting off his leg probably saved his life, but it also partially destroyed it. His family abandoned him when he lost his leg. This goes back to something I was talking about earlier where deformed children are said to have "bad spirits" and will be shunned, abandoned, never married. It's a very rough life out here in the bush. Amos's clan adopted him, and he lives here now, in Kadingding.

More celebration was had to thank our delivery of food. This was much lower key and smaller than the big feed at the Watering Hole, as it was only one village. But there was no less enthusiasm. It's such a treat to see this native dancing and singing, and to know they are truly grateful for what they are given. It's incredibly heart warming to see. I photographed two more TEP kids here at Kadingding. We then moved on to Watering Hole where I photographed one, and to Nginyang for another. Yes I was supposed to see more kids in these villages – but if they weren't there, they didn't get their picture taken. Frustrating and sad.



Food is highly overrated

(Written Friday May 4, 18:19 Kenya time – regarding Wed May 2, noon) Not to sound like a whiney American, but it really just adds into the disorganization of it all. And it's time to vent. When the famine feed was over, it was noon. The orphanage cook had been making lunch since morning, and it was nearly ready. And since my breakfast consisted of tea and a few biscuits, I was hungry. OK it sounds really lame to talk about being hungry when we just handed out cornmeal and potatoes to support the various nomadic tribes in the area who mainly subsist on roots and the occasional goat, but still, a man's gotta eat. And I was looking forward to the beans and maize that had been stewing all morning. So, Moses says it's time to go. Since we were supposed to leave hours and hours ago, I feel in my right to ask him "what about lunch". He says we'll eat on the way (not like there's an In-N-Out Burger along the way, mind you). I say, "look the food here is nearly ready, let me just grab a bowl and I'll eat it in the car". "No no, it's OK, we'll stop at a shop and get some food". Shop?? OK then… he's the chief. Off we go.

We drive for about 10 minutes, and in the middle of freakin' nowhere, very close to the orphanage, is a shop. Really! It's no 7-11, but it's a typical base-supplies (meaning dried beans, rice, maize, soap, etc) shop. He goes in, comes back with a bunch of warm soda's for everyone in the car… and a bag of crackers. Honestly. This is to be my lunch. I'm hot, cranky, and hungry, and have just been denied a proper lunch because we're in a hurry. Which is obviously not my fault. So now I'm pissed.

OK, enough whining. Back to work. PS – a warm coke in 100 degree heat is still refreshing. PSS – to make myself feel better about this post, I'll note that the Pokot are used to surviving on a lot less food than we are. And at first I felt bad when Carol would get mad at people for not feeding us, but now I understand why. This is an on-going battle with them, and many more volunteers will follow me out here. If the volunteers aren't fed, they'll stop coming.



Famine Feed at the orphanage

(Written Friday May 4, 17:49 Kenya time – regarding Wed May 2, late-morning)

Ah, the truck has finally arrived! As they were unloading, Moses (village chief) showed me the receipts for the money they spent on the famine feed, for cornmeal, potatoes, and fuel (which they bought on credit). The total was Sh 18,300. I had Sh 13,000 and a receipt for Sh 5,000 in fuel in my pocket. Clearly the money wasn't enough. And to make things worse, I couldn't give it to him. Until the confirmation comes from Tim, I'm not to hand the money over. And the latest word was that only 10 of 30-something emails had been sent. Ugh.

This was a much smaller feed than the others as people came to us. It was interesting to see the clans gathering in the orphanage though, waiting for the truck to arrive.