Slowly saying farewell to Kenya

I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave
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What can a man do? Can you fall in love with a country? Can you fall in love with its people? You certainly can and I have. It's the curse of staying too long in a country. It always happens to me. The countries I've stayed in for the longest periods of time have always meant more to me than others. Thank you Kenya for receiving the Saga with open arms.
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Kenyans might very well have come to dominate the social media of the Saga? In just a few days the social media jumped by more than a thousand! In fact I have been busy with talks, interview and meetings. And I feel exhausted, very exhausted. There is no "off button" for this project. If I want a break then I need to take it where I am. This carousel has been spinning for more than 3 years and we have come across 121 countries on 4 continent. And we keep spinning...perhaps I have bitten into too much?
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The Ethiopian visa is now a sticker in my passport. I made a mistake and could have had it long ago. But given that Ethiopia is undergoing 6 months of state of emergency I though it better to "attack" the visa issue head on and powerful. As such I had acquired a Letter of Invitation from the Ethiopian Red Cross. That would be a strong move - no? Well, as it turned out the immigration officers in Ethiopia were unwilling to approve the invitation letter since I wasn't a resident in Kenya where I was applying. But now we were already at that level. It didn't help that the woman at the Ethiopian consulate in Nairobi didn't speak English very well. It took me 4 visits before she sent me to meet the Ambassador. At the Ethiopian embassy they wouldn't let me in without a formal introduction letter from the Danish Embassy. So I went to the Danish Embassy and got that letter. And for that I had to pay? It still puzzles me why I need to pay anything at Danish Embassies? I mean, I have worked hard in Denmark and payed my taxes. And employees at the Embassy are payed by the Danish government. So should their work come straight out of my taxes? Well...its oversimplified of course but it's certainly a thought.
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With the letter from the Danish Embassy I was able to visit the Ethiopian Embassy again the following day. I never entered the the gate they took my passport and the letter. Minutes later a woman returned with the letter which had now been signed. I was then sent back to the Ethiopian consulate. At the consulate I was then able to apply for a tourist visa without being a resident in Kenya. You live you learn. The visa cost $40 and I had it the same day. Valid for 1 month. So now what? Well next step would be to get the visa for Sudan and those wheels had been put in motion already.
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For my Sudanese visa I was relying on the kind assistance of Maersk Line. Steve Felder who is the director manager of Maersk Line for Eastern Africa had asked his office managers to assist me. And they did. Maersk is not an official partner of the Saga and as it turns out they don't want to be. But there is no way around how big a part of this project they have been up to now - and I don't see Maersk's involvement decreasing. Without turning this into a "Maersk blog" I think it's safe to say that I respect the company immensely and its employees even more.
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Now how about Kenya Red Cross? Well, they are not to be neglected either. Because without starting a competition I'm happy to say that Kenya Red Cross is a huge anomaly! They are not the only anomaly I have met with across this planet and the Red Cross all over is doing so much good that you couldn't possibly imagine it. Not even if you're a Red Cross veteran with decades of Red Cross experience!! I've seen, read and heard more than my fragile little mind can bare, and I can't believe I've lived this long without having some real understanding of the humanitarian involvement! You're not helping the Red Cross when you donate time or money - you're helping people! At least 150,000,000 every day. So if you feel like donating a bit to the account here on the Sagas webpage then please be my guest.
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Back to the Kenya Red Cross, I can only say that it's involvement in Kenya is mind boggling. Imagine some form of disaster: a flood, a building collapsed, a traffic accident or something else. Kenyans will go to Red Cross social media and verify that it has happened before they believe the news! Think about that! As a result Kenya Red Cross has some of the largest social media with the Red Cross. They also have the second largest privately owned ambulance service in Africa. They also have two very fine hotels, a training center and much more.
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The hotel part of the Kenyan Red Cross has benefitted me greatly. While both The Boma and The Boma Inn are highly popular, the hotels general manager Mr. Juergen Gruebel, has managed to keep a room for me. To have the same base over a prolonged period of time is a blessing. To have the same base for this long is more than that. The Boma Inn is a 3 star hotel which was constructed 16 years ago and is such a classical beauty. I enjoy walking up the stairs, looking at the lighting, the decorated walls, the warmhearted staff, and the view to The Boma. The Boma was built 3 years ago and might as well have a million stars. It's luxury at its finest and it's certainly among Nairobi's finest. My fiancée and I stayed at The Boma, while she guested Kenya and since I dropped her at the airport I have been comfortable in The Boma Inn.
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I tend to smile a lot and in return I find that people treat me with much kindness. With Kenyans a smile is seldom far away. Kenya as a country boasts a very strong economy and you'll find many rich people here. The middle class is also large, but the trees do not grow all the way into the sky. There is a big gap between the income of various Kenyans and a part of the country must run fast to keep up. As my friend Doctor James Kisia says: "There are many who wish for nothing more than water, education and health". It's easy to oversee those people if you do not look for them. The Red Cross knows they are there.
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Generally I find the average Kenyan to be of an enlightened spirit. They are well informed on world events and know much about Kenya and it's inner workings. I know more than 1 Kenyan who would be more than ready to tell any cocky American who it exactly is that lives in a third world country ;) You could argue that Kenya is a developed country with a developing country within itself. Corruption is on everyone's tongue, which I believe helps keep focus on real development. As far as I'm concerned corruption is the cancer of any country and there's more than enough of it around the planet.
I have a friend who goes back quite a while with me. Her name is Anne-Mette and we were trainees within the same shipping company many years ago. She's a great gal and even at 6,000km distance she's still looking out for me. She introduced me to Jan Jensen who is the managing director at DSV for Kenya and Uganda. I used to know DSV as this relatively small transport company in and around Denmark. To my surprise they are now worldwide! Apparently DSV now has offices in at least 75 countries around the world?!
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Jan invited him to his office here in Nairobi and it was good to enjoy a conversation in Danish for a change. On that note I recently did a Danish radio interview with Malthe at NOVA where I struggled a bit to explain myself. If you're a Viking then you can listen to it here. It's the first 20 minutes:
It was great to meet Jan, his staff and see the office. We agreed that I would come back and deliver a talk on the Saga and he would see how he could help me out. In any case we already have a lunch scheduled which I'm looking forward to.
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Let's end this one by reminding ourselves that people are just people. While some are prone to praying to a God or following a certain political tune, I honestly find that more people are into: family, sports, weather, music and complaining about traffic. When the sun shines down from above it hits our faces equally. There is no difference between the shadow of the man next to me and my own. He listens to music with his ears just like me. Women all over the world worry about their appearance. Makeup, hair, clothes... I have never been to a country I didn't like. Now governments - that's a different story ;)


Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - tired
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga 
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How to leave Kenya?

This is a great logistical challenge!
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Logistics is the art of controlling a large amount of information and releasing it at the right time, to the right people, in the right order.
I feel exhausted. I'm trying to work out why? It could be the high altitude of Kenyas capital Nairobi (1,795m/5,889mi above sea) - but I don't think so. It could be because I sat outside a few days ago while it was cold and windy - but I don't think so. Really I think it's the mental stress and the toll of running into adversity. So what is it this time?
Well, let's take a look at the map. We've been to Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan. We're planing on going to Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan. Ethiopia has declared state of emergency for 6 months and their embassy here in Nairobi is reluctant to give me a visa as long as I'm not a resident in Kenya. To become a resident I would need to pay $5,000, have a job and wait for several months.
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Apparently I can apply for a visa in my home country of Denmark, which is 6,665km (4,142mi) away from here. But I can't apply for it here, which makes no sense to me. Furthermore, I can apply for the same visa from Djibouti without being a resident (I've heard). Which makes it even more senseless that I cannot apply from Kenya? So how about going to Djibouti? Well sure...why not? But to reach Djibouti I would need to go east around Ethiopia, which means to travel overland through Somalia. Unfortunately that comes with warnings of 100% kidnap risk and to be kidnapped in Somalia can easily become a yearlong affair. To go west around Ethiopia would mean to go through South Sudan which comes with more risk than traveling through Somalia. So there you have it.
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I have investigated my options for obtaining a visa from the Ethiopian high commission in Uganda. But that's the same story. My visas for Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania are still valid so there is room for exploration. However, we have already traveled a distance equal to going 3 times around the planet and I'm not looking positively at adding to that distance by going in the wrong direction. Frankly I'm quite fed up with transportation and the insanely congested traffic of Nairobi does not improve on that. Nairobi is however a great city! I could certainly live here and be happy. Nairobi has large green parks, everything modern you can imagine, the newest movies in the cinemas, cool cafes, lots of shopping opportunities, a nice temperature, a national park and Kibera slum. So what's more interesting? That Nairobi has a massive slum area with as many as 1.5 million inhabitants or that there is actually a large national park here with lions, elephants and the rest of Disney's cast? I'll let you decide.
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The traffic is truly extreme. During certain hours it's fine, but when it isn't, it really isn't! Kenya is an economically powerful country and certainly in Africa's top 5 along with Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Morocco. The middle class of Kenya grew really fast in the past 10 years and as a result Nairobi suddenly had a lot more cars. The cars are just as modern as in Europe and the roads here are really good. The issue is simply that there are too many of them. Then you can add the matatus to the equation. A matatu is a public bus operated by a private company/owner. They are everywhere and they are pretty cheap. They all drive around as if they own the place, but they are cool to look at, as most matatus have been creatively decorated. Finally you have the boda bodas which are motorcycle taxis. Those are my favorite, because they move through traffic while everyone else gets stuck. Walking is in fact a very viable option too, as long as you don't need to go on the other side of town. But pedestrians generally have it good with sidewalks, bridges and walkways to escape the traffic (although boda boda drivers may also opt to ride on the sidewalks). It's truly a great city! :)
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With its population of around 46 million people, Kenya has a large amount of celebrities. But as western culture doesn't mix much with African culture, I rarely have a clue about who they are. In my defense I would be surprised if Kenyans knew any Danish celebrities? As such I have been shaking hands with a lot of well known people without really knowing much about them. The Kenyan Red Cross Society is impressively powerful throughout Kenya and the Secretary General is pretty much a celebrity on his own. His name is Abbas Gullet and he has basically revolutionized the Kenyan Red Cross from its former state to become a strong, highly independent national society with hotels, training centers and Africas 2nd largest privately owned ambulance service! On top of that it's transparent too, which really combats the regional corruption of Eastern Africa. As Abbas is quite influential he may be able to help with the Ethiopian predicament if he should chose to do so?
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The Kenyan Red Cross has a goodwill ambassador in Gina Din. Gina is also a UN ambassador, a formidable businesswoman, a multiple award winner, a defender of women's rights and a mother of 2. I think most people would find it hard to keep up with her! I had a meeting scheduled with Gina 3 weeks ago which I missed. So we had to reschedule which wasn't easy as Gina left for New York to accept The Stevie Award woman of the year for media and communication!! As such she became the first East African woman to hold that honor and its well deserved.
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I managed to meet with Gina who is basically as lovely as one can be! She's bright, kind, attentive, funny and adventurous. It didn't take long before I felt that she grasped the struggle and hardship I'd been through to reach Kenya, since the Sagas beginning. More importantly I sensed that she also understood the beauty, importance and potential in this project, which really surprised me! On the other hand Gina wasn't born yesterday and makes her living from understanding companies, projects and organizations in order to boost their market positions when asked too. Gina, of course, happens to be a good friend of Abbas.
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Then I've met with Oga Obinna (278,000 followers on Instagram) who is an award winning comedian who definitely made me laugh. He was the MC at the gala which both my fiancée and I attended a few weeks ago. When we took a selfie together I had no idea about who he was. How could I? But he was kind, interesting and funny - that I knew immediately. Lately I met Eric Wainaina who's a Kenyan singer and songwriter who on Facebook is followed by 206,869 people. Eric was super kind to me! We met a the Kenyan Red Cross Shinda Washinda lottery show. Eric told me he might know someone who could help with the Ethiopian visa too. People know people...
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Last week I was invited to speak at the local Maersk Office in Nairobi. That's how I met with Steve Felder who is the Director Manager for all of East Africa. I guess I've seen him more on TV talking about the financial development of Eastern Africa then I have in real life. But in person he's really down to earth and he has been a good friend already. Maersk being the worlds leading container shipping company, is very influential and Steve's help has already proven really valuable. In fact Steve's Managing Directors in the region are doing what they can to help the situation. In the most extreme I could imagine making my way to Mombasa which is the main port city in Kenya. From there I could possibly find a ship to Salalah in Oman and make a connection to Djibouti. While that sounds easy in theory you might just want to consider that it's nearly impossible in reality. Especially for most people. However we have 151,450km (94,107mi), 4 continents, 121 countries, 3 years and an endless amount of handshakes behind us. And that is no small thing! This is not an "I project", it's a "we project" and when the right people step up to the task nothing is impossible as we have seen many times before. So surely we will solve this predicament too. 

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In fact we've been on every ship we needed to board. We've crossed every border we had to cross. We have received every visa we needed to have. We beat every virus and parasite my body took in. There is a certain comfort to look at life like that. We have come this far successfully.
I'll end with a special treat for those of you who speak Danishly (as Helen Russell would say). The Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet released this article by Johanne Eliasson:

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - logistics coordinator
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga 
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Still in Kenya...and here we'll stay for a while

A few weeks ago I question if Kenya might be the best country in the world?
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I never got around to it. But it's simply a part of a philosophy, where any country could be the best country in the world. Forget about all those measurable things as health, wealth, corruption and education. I guarantee you that you can visit any country in the world, and someone there will say it's the best country in the world. Somalia has endless prestigious beaches, Syria has unparalleled history and culture, South Sudan has astonishing nature and so does North Korea. As such I believe that any country could be the best country in the world. In fact I would argue that it's your job to prove that the country you're in is the best country in the world. Because it is to someone. As such Kenya is currently the best country in the world - and looking at my current visa situation it could remain the best country for a while to come...
I need to get from Kenya to Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, back through Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, back through Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Algeria, before we leave Africa. Currently the prospects seem to be that we could be leaving the continent around February 2017. As you may already have gathered, I would need multiple entry visas for both Ethiopia and Sudan. Those two visas (single entry or multiple) are harder than what I first thought. And it doesn't help much that Ethiopia has recently declared 6 months state of emergency. I'm truly looking forward to visiting Ethiopia though, as I hear absolutely wonderful things about its development during the past 15 years. And almost anyone knows of its natural wonders. We'll see soon enough.
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Defending Kenya as the best country in the world is kind of an easy job. Kenya isn't perfect and I haven't been to a country which is. If you want all the negativity then pick up a newspaper. However, Kenya is one of Africa's strongest economies, highest developed countries and is easily a strikingly beautiful place to visit. In fact I've found that you can often see very far across the landscapes which just make Kenya look extraordinary large to me! And it is in fact a large country with an abundance of wildlife and tourist attractions. Do you like the beach? Great, there's plenty of it. Do you like hiking? No problem, Kenya has it in excess. Do you want city life? Please check out the stores, clubs, restaurants, markets, cinemas and parks of Nairobi. Do you want culture? Dive into more than 40 different tribes. Safari? You've got it!! Hakuna matata.
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The Boma seen from the Boma Inn.
Since my fiancée boarded her flight back to Denmark last Sunday, I have checked out of the luxurious Boma and into the neighboring Boma Inn. The Boma Inn was the first hotel which the Kenya Red Cross built around 16 years ago. All profits fund the Kenya Red Cross so that's quite clever. I've generously been offered a room for a week, but it might be a lot harder to stay next week as December is approaching! Apparently Kenyans are quite ordinary people most of the year. Kenyans have families, hobbies, play games, update Facebook, get stuck in traffic, go to work, study and all that ordinary stuff we share with the rest of the planet. BUT: Then December comes!!! I've been told that Kenyans save up all year for December, when they apparently go bonkers for a month and spend all their money?!? So that's going to be interesting! That could also mean that the Boma and Boma Inn might get fully booked. And that would actually be great news which I'll explain in a bit.
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Kenya Red Cross ambulances and the lovely Noellah.
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Live morning TV on K24 with the lovely Amina.
The Kenya Red Cross is something of an anomaly within the world of the Red Cross Red Crescent. It's immensely powerful and extraordinarily active throughout the East African region and especially in Kenya. To give an example (apart from the 2 impressive hotels) Kenya Red Cross runs Africas second largest privatized ambulance service! I've seen the call center and it's really quite impressive. Something interesting came to mind as I was learning about maintenance: The Red Cross ambulances are well equipped and routinely get replaced after 150,000km (93,000mi). Since I left home in 2013, the Saga has brought us across more than 151,450km (4 continents). Maybe it's time for me to get replaced ;) That distance is somewhere between 3-4 times around the planet and we've still got 82 more countries to cover. I'm so exhausted...on that note this is the Friday blog and it's Saturday while I write it. I've got no real excuse for delivering a day late except for being tired. To use a Lord of the Rings reference I could say: "I feel like butter spread over too much bread..."
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The Red Cross Shinda washinde lottery show.
At times I do wonder if I've bitten off more than I can chew? Simply getting from country to country would appear to be more than enough for anyone. Adding the social media and the Red Cross doesn't make it easier. And the mental toll is hard to escape. I need a new firm landmark for the Saga to boost my spirits: I need to leave Africa successfully.
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Friday evening traffic in Nairobi.
But here we still are, and it's truly a magnificent continent, which I would give an arm and a leg to return to someday. I've hardly seen a fraction of the continent although we've partially seen 45 of its countries. The diversity is staggering and I sense that I'll be defending that for the rest of my life. I'm no fan of pan Africanism although I clearly seen certain trades and trends transcend the continent. Just as I see humanity and culture transcend the 121 countries we've covered so far. Thank you for being a part of it. The Saga would be something else without you. And that's the truth.
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Maersk Line in Nairobi. Amazing atmosphere!
Last night I was invited to join a family celebrate Shabbat. That's a Jewish tradition and I'm always open to learn new things. In terms of religion I've covered a lot of christian denominations already. Especially throughout the Caribbean I was invited to church a lot. In Greenland I joined Jehovahs Witnesses at their Kingdom Hall. In Sierra Leone I attended a Muslim wedding. In Nigeria I enjoyed experiencing a Pentecostal Church. Last night was really pleasant. It was Devorah who reached out to me on Facebook. She is married to Steve who works for Maersk. I accepted the invitation and did some research on what one could expect from taking part in the Shabbat. As it turns out there are millions of ways to be Jewish and we didn't follow all the traditions I had been reading about, but we did follow some. And I got to wear a yamaka aka yarmulke aka kippah aka "skullcap. It's like a tiny soft hat to cover your skull if you're a man. The lights were lit, the children were blessed, we broke bread and had a great time together. The food was fantastic and Devorah and Steve had also invited some friends and neighbors to join the table so conversations were plentiful.
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I have reached season 5 of the Sopranos. It's a great way for me to take my mind off things.
I've really seen and experienced a lot of our world. And while I haven't seen it all, I've seen enough to wonder why we tend to focus so harshly on our minor differences when we have clearly got so much in common?
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I guess I think too much. Or maybe I do not think enough? Or..? ;)

Best regards

Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - thinking!
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
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