This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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The Indian Ocean is swarming with flip-flops


While combing a small stretch of Shimoni beach during International Coastal Cleanup Day, I picked up about two dozen strayed flip-flops, or pieces of plastic once pretending to be a flip-flop. Kenyans by the coast wear nothing but flip-flops, and if they can’t afford to buy some they make their own from rubber tire soles. A villager on Wasini island even makes his living from carving key fobs and jewelry out of colorful, abandoned flip-flop soles.

But oh! the woes when a flip-flop is lost overboard or gets sucked into the sand during a tidal wave washing seaward! What the sea takes, she makes her own. When we litter, she fights back. For now.

(Shimoni, Kenya; September 2013)

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Life on the blue marble

whale-1Imagine us standing on a small dhow boat popping on the waves when a dark, huge shadow of a humpback whale glides underneath the boat, just to resurface and blow steam right behind the engine. We practically stood on top of a humpback whale! And imagine our wonder when another, much larger shadow floats up right behind it: the shadow we thought was a whale was just a baby and the mother is huge as a cruise vessel. Had she missed the angle to the surface with just a few degrees, we would have been in the water trying to climb on top of a capsized dhow boat.

dolphin-1Seven hours a day tracking dolphins and whales gives a pretty good tan after a few weeks. The scorching sun and the tan – brown or red – is completely forgotten as we watch the lovely folly of the dolphins, bow-riding, spinning, tail-smacking, and wrestling.

Shimoni-24What a privilege to spend so many days on a little sliver of turquoise and golden paradise on earth.

shimoni-12(Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park, Kenya; September 2013)

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Darwin’s giraffes and other odd animals


Thinking about Darwin’s and Lamarck’s giraffes, and how the African animals are so odd-looking. Seriously, how did an elephant end up with a trunk and sail-size ears? And why does a giraffe have a blue tongue and reeeaallly long eyelashes and a random two to five horns? Why is the zebra jazzing black and white stripes, when yellow and brown blotches would probably be a better camouflage color? And how come it yips like a dog when all other equids sound at least remotely like a horse? Was Mother Nature being creative or just plain quirky?


(Tsavo East National Park, Kenya; September 2013)

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The secrets beneath the waves

Shimoni-1Imagine deepest indigo waters that slowly shift into a brilliant turquoise and then a bright emerald green, topped with sun sparkles. Now add a dramatic rock stubbornly receiving the incoming blows of the Indian Ocean, and you have an image of Kisite island and its surrounding lagoon, all part of the Kisite-Mpunguti marine park.

While skimming through the water on our research boat, the space above the waves seems endless. A quick dip under the surface reveals quite another dimension: our world may feel empty but underneath the waves another world reigns. A snorkel, mask, and flippers allow us to briefly visit this brilliant blue place. In addition to dolphins and whales, in the marine project at Shimoni we also look for other large marine animals such as turtles, rays, and reef sharks. Staring eye to eye with a giant green turtle is a highlight, but the underwater camera runs hot when reef fish surprise us with glimpses into their everyday life.

greenturtleJust yesterday I learned a beauty secret of the deep when bumping into a large pufferfish: it was receiving a morning facial treatment by little fish carefully cleaning the skin. Swimming in the middle of a shoal of hundreds of little gem-like fish is just as fantastic as playing hide and seek with a moray eel peeking from its den.

Sometimes, just sometimes we glimpse the wonders of the underwater world above the surface, too. The first time I saw a flying fish masterly skim the waves for dozens of meters I thought I had spotted a giant dragonfly. It was being chased by a larger fish, also surfing the air above the waves. Who knows, maybe the next step in fish evolution is reaching for the skies – quite literally?

(Originally posted in the GVI Kenya blog)

(Mkwiro, Kenya; September 2013) 

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Welcome home


How odd it is for a Nordic person to trace one’s roots back to equatorial Africa, the cradle of human evolution and the birthplace of the primordial Eve. Myself white as a sheet, easily burned, with aqua-color eyes offering no protection from sunlight, it is strange to think this is the place of all our ancestors. This hot, scorchingly dry or exhaustingly humid place has been the true home of our ancestors for a longer time than any other place in the world. This is where our DNA belongs and where we evolved into human beings.

And yet so many of us fear Africa: fear the uncontrollable, the bugs, the diseases, the people so different to us on the outside. All the while when we are clearly built for this place, to survive it for hundreds of thousands of years. And as for the people? They may be different on the outside from us North Europeans, but we share 99.9% identical DNA, as well as the same basic human values, thoughts, fears, and emotions. The differences are dust in the wind. Kenyans welcome us as guests by their grace, and we are expected to behave accordingly. Those who do will find Kenyans as beautiful as the country they inhabit.


(Tsavo East National Park, Kenya; September 2013)

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When the night is thin


One of the last days in July, when the night is thin, an a cappella quartet croons us goodbye as we push off, pick up our sweep oars, and row out onto the lake. We push through the blanket-soft air: creak-swish, creak-swish. Suddenly we hear the soft sound of a saxophone, playing a haunting tune like from David Lynch’s dreams. A man stands on a rock ledge a few inches above the water, channeling his heart through the brass. And there is no next nor memories inside the cloud of music softly blowing over the water, only now, for ever, for a minute.

(Our Festival, Tuusula, Finland; July 2013)

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La Traviata: latex, decadence, and neon glow in a medieval castle

savonlinna-3Why puff around in mighty silks and wigs when the age-old story of a woman who strayed rings a bigger bell of bittersweet when it plays out in a luxurious and provocative night club? Sometimes it is the message and not the word that matters, and so a courtisan today may be scantily clad in latex hotpants and heels, shaking her booty to Verdi’s timeless tune. And when Violetta is revealed to be withering away, the flash and neon glow is transformed into an ugly glare.

In the midst of the heartache and arias of the tormented I step outside into the soft summer night and soak in the heat of the sun-warmed stones. Gazing over the blue waters I vow never to forget that we are only as trapped as we feel. There is always a way out, although we never know exactly where it may lead us.
savonlinna-2(Savonlinna Opera Festival, Savonlinna, Finland; July 2013)