This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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Purple moment


Do you know that moment when day breaks into dusk, and when it is too late for the sun, yet too early for the stars? Up north we call it the blue moment. On Wasini Island the fiery hot sun slowly fades into an orange afterglow, finally washing into a purple watercolor sky. Plain blue would be too simple and subdued after a white-hot day.

(Mkwiro, Kenya; September 2013)


Once a scout…


“Lighting a fire with two sticks? Why, it’s easy, just like one-two-three!” And I cringed at the recollection of a 13-year-old desperately trying to rub a stick on a piece of wood to prove she is really a scout. Shrugging the frustrating memory away I sighed, grabbed the stick and began to twirl it between my hands. “More pressure, come on, every woman in the village does it!” Clearly I have no strength in my deltoids and triceps because I could not produce even the slightest wisp of smoke.

“Oh never mind, give it here” the Maasai sighed. He gave the stick perhaps ten well-targeted twirls, and puff, it began to smoke at the base. A couple of quick blows, a little kindling, and voilá, a little fire. Easy peasy, yes?tsavo-33

(Tsavo East National Park, Kenya; September 2013)

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Sharing a moment with our house mantis


While I did the dishes I was rooting for the praying mantis on the kitchen wall. A fly was walking right into her reach. It stopped to contemplate the world, without noticing the mantis with her claws frozen, ready to attack. “Go grab it!” I cheered. “It’s your dinner, and it looks delicious!” But the mantis sat still, without unraveling her long, spindly, strong front legs into a split-second killing grip. And the fly, finishing its meditation with a quiet “om shanti”, flew off into the night.

Perhaps she is lacking stereo vision, I thought, and inquired, “OK what just happened?” The mantis turned her head slowly and looked at me. Together we shared the regret of dinner gone amiss. Disappointment shone in her eyes, but did I also catch surprise?

Our mantis is not the sharpest tool in the shed, I am afraid.

(Shimoni, Kenya; September 2013)

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The Ghost and the Darkness


The Maasai warriors claimed not to see the lions. Instead they saw dark shadows of pure evil. The Ghost and the Darkness owned the night – and the day, too. In 1898 they killed dozens of railroad workers before they met their own fate, by the hand of John Henry Patterson. Tsavo lions are huge and fearless. What unspeakable terror it must have been to come to strange, hot, foreign Africa to work on a railroad – and to be dragged out of one’s tent at night, just to satisfy a man-eating lion’s thirst for blood.

Graceful, beautiful killers.


(Tsavo East National Park, Kenya; September 2013)

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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)