trip report: kenya

One month ago, I was thousands of miles away from the United States on an intense, week-long, life-changing trip. It’s taken me a while to absorb the intensity of everything- there are so many things that happened and details I’m aching to share, but it’s been so difficult for me to express what I saw and what I felt for a lot of it. I finally put together whatever I could to write up a short summary of my travels in Kenya!

I had never traveled this far before, and especially not to a place that would be so wildly different from everything I’ve known. Before the trip, I was already in a whirlwind of preparations and thoughts. Between getting paperwork in order, scheduling my long list of vaccinations (fun), packing, navigating dance and event obligations (FanimeCon was just a few days before before I left!!), and being very aware of the fact that sheltered and non-worldly me had never even traveled outside of the United States – I did my best to get my LIFE together in the weeks leading up to the trip.

I had a lot of swimming feelings before I even left. How would I feel when I saw what I saw? What was I expecting? Was I nervous, excited, or both? Would I be handle everything coming my way, being so far from home, in a place and culture I didn’t know?

Taking off from San Francisco:
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And landing in Amsterdam, before the next leg to Kenya:
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Two long flights, consisting of 10 hours to Amsterdam, and another 8 hours to Nairobi. At least I watched a ton of Chris Pratt movies, and KLM Airlines offered complimentary wine!

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We landed in Nairobi and had the next day off to explore. It was my very first experience in seeing a culture and people so different from where I’m from, and experiencing what Kenya’s capital had to offer! Personal observation: Wow, most people in Nairobi dress so well (business casual) compared to what I see in the west coast in the US.

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A view of Nairobi, from the top of the convention center.
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Masai market, in downtown Nairobi:
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…and the dress I bought from the market, which I haggled for with the help of a local!
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My first taste of Kenyan coffee – it was so delicious, along with all the other cups of coffee I had on the trip!
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After resting and exploring Nairobi, the next day would be the start of a busy, back-to-back multi-day journey through parts of Kenya. We first drove to visit a partner hospital in the area, where I had the chance to meet surgeons and patients of our work for the first time.

From there, we flew to Eldoret – the home of the Olympic champions. Located in the countryside, the town was incredibly beautiful and such a stark difference from the industrial, city feel of Nairobi.

We stayed in a beautiful, bed & breakfast inn in a charming part of Eldoret.

My first experience with bed nets

My first experience with bed nets

The next day, we drove to visit another partner site. I saw and experienced things in the hospital that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

And again the next day, we drove 3 hours from Eldoret to Mumias to visit our 3rd partner site, in a relatively more rural and remote-ish part of Kenya. The drive for this felt quite adventurous and wobbly, as we navigated through very bumpy streets and off-road areas! As we drove in, we were welcomed by a joyous parade of dancers following our cars, celebrating our visit. It was such amazing!

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Afterwards, we drove again (a lot of traveling!) through the countryside another 40 minutes away to make a more personal visit. We exited our cars and hiked a little ways up to visit the home of a patient in the area.

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From Mumias on that same day, we traveled to Kisumu, and caught a flight back to Nairobi to spend our last night in Kenya before heading home.

It was an exhausting few days, traveling from site to site, and immersing myself in all things so grand, so personal, and so very difficult to express. I was so touched and so humbled to have seen what I’ve seen, but it was also very physically and mentally overwhelming.

On our last day before our flight, I was able to squeeze in some free time for some much-needed and chill tourist activities.

Breakfast while overlooking the Nairobi National Game Park.

Breakfast while overlooking the Nairobi National Game Park.

David Sheldrick elephant orphanage!

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Feeding giraffes!

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I’m grateful that I got to see and experience a range of things from Kenya – the city, the countryside, the ugly, the beautiful, rural villages, remote sites, crowded slums, somber hospitals, cute animals…

Reflecting on the trip, I realized that I wasn’t completely surprised by some of the things I saw, so maybe I would give myself a pat on the back for handling certain first-time experiences well. I think I should feel proud of how I handled meeting different people, aiming for professionalism, and remembering my place as a foreigner from the US, in a space and culture that was not my own. But it didn’t make the trip any less difficult, or less emotional, or less impactful. Some nights on the trip, I cried. And these moments came from a place that felt new and heavy, that I’m still reflecting on and learning how to navigate today. I think it’s important that I carry these moments for the rest of my life.

Anyway, despite all the rough times that happen around the world every day, I’m extremely grateful that I have the privilege of being in a place where I see great work being done to help others worldwide. But wow, what an eye-opener. I think I didn’t too too badly for my first time out of my comfy place in the US. Now I’m feeling a little more confident, and a whole lot more wanderlusty and eager to keep seeing the rest of the world!

Surprisingly, which I think was impressive, I didn’t get sick on the trip. Yay for not catching malaria from mosquitoes, and remembering to take my Pepto Bismol! At least, I didn’t get sick until I rode on the crazy-ass Super Shuttle from SFO on the way back home. Nononono. Dude was driving like we were still in the crowded streets of Kenya, but we were on the CA-280 being thrown around in the van like rag dolls in the van at like 80mph. At this point after a 20+ hour trip to the US, all I wanted to do is be home and not feel like puking. worst car ride of my life. almost threw up. never again super shuttle 0/10.

July 9, 2017 - 2:45 am | Comments

trip report: washington dc and 17NTC

I’ve had a busy start to spring!! It took me a while to put this together, and it’s a bit of a late post- one month ago, I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a conference: the 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference! There was a lot of learning and fun times, and I got to visit and experience Washington, D.C. for the first time. Here’s a report of my trip!

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I got to bring my Nintendo Switch on the plane and get some Legend of Zelda time… just like in the commercials. Several people noticed it, including a flight attendant, and were super curious! I was pretty surprised, but I had some good conversations with people about it!

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My first sunrise in DC:

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The conference itself was fun, informative, and great for nerdy, passionate people to support each other in a collaborative environment. I brought a lot of good notes and takeaways back home to my work.

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I got the chance to visit the Smithsonian National Zoo (free!). Unfortunately, many of the animal exhibits were closed, probably due to the colder weather.

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Earlier at the conference during one of the lunch sessions, I asked tablemates for recommendations on desserts and/or cafe recommendations (because finding dessert places in every city is my #1 goal in life)- and one lady said, “You need to go to Un Je Ne Sais Quoi!”

And I was like okay coo I love French places, where is that and how do I get there?

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The Metro in DC is the cleaner, nicer, more crowded version of BART here in California. 100x better and more enjoyable to ride than our Bay Area transportation.

I made my first stop to Metro station in downtown-ish DC somewhere near the National Mall-

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Being the excited tourist I was, I walked and wandered around a lot.

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White House!

More wandering around led me to a field of cherry blossom trees that hadn’t fully bloomed yet, in front of the Washington Monument-

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So with all that walking around, it was time for me to find this French cafe, which would mean another hop on the metro to another part of the city. I ended up in Dupont Circle, one of my favorite spots:

A post shared by Mirabel (@chibi_m7) on

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At Un Je Ne Sais Quois, I ate the creampuff first and tried a cup of their mocha, and OH. MY. GOD. If that wasn’t the most delicious creampuff and cup of mocha I’ve ever had. I’m ruined forever. Because I can definitely taste the difference compared every other creampuff + mocha I’ve eaten. And I’ve eaten a lot of creampuffs and drank a lot of mochas. It’s one of my favorite pastimes.

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I brought back more goodies to the hotel, one of them being the most delicious thing in the world, the MERVEILLEUX. Am pretty disappointed I can’t find another one of these anywhere near me…

There was a cute little French-inspired boutique called Lou Lou’s, which had a lot of goodies – picked up some souvenirs for me and my family here. I really liked shopping here.

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I sat on a bench in front of the fountain as the sun was setting, watching salsa dancers and people going by, with the romantic sounds of aggressive rush hour traffic honking around me. I loved it!

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The rest of the trip and the conference was really enjoyable! Of course, I spent the return trip home on the plane playing more Zelda.

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Was very grateful for the opportunity to come here and learn, as well as be a tourist. As a city girl from the west coast, I’d love to come back and take more time exploring the area, and the east coast in general. Of course, having friends, family, and an SO can be great travel buddies, but seeing new city sights solo is really a special experience that I was long overdue for.

April 28, 2017 - 4:25 pm | Comments

starting off 2017 with a magical vacation!

Kind of a late-ish post. After a busy holiday season at work and dance at the end of 2016, I started off the new year with a wonderful trip! Sharing a report of highlights from our trip from earlier in January, with a few photos taken by me and BH!

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Our January travel timing worked really well. We caught the tail end of the holiday season and lights at the Disney parks, and made it to Las Vegas and home after CES, but before the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend holiday crowd came in. So, prices and crowds were really manageable for a beautiful time of year.

We drove with our buddy down to Anaheim first. He had never been to any Disney parks before, so we were excited to show him a good time. Our first day was at Disney’s California Adventure! I wanted to try so many holiday goodies.

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Photo by BH

We introduced him to the wallet-emptying magic that is pin trading.

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Photo by BH

Our timing for the evening at Disney California Adventure was fantastic- we were able to make it into the Cove Bar (!!) right before it closed, allowing us to land a view of the upcoming World of Color show from the bar. Delicious lobster nachos, delicious drinks, and delightful company with a delightful view? Couldn’t get any better than this!

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The next day was Disneyland. We tried to jam pack everything we could, since it was the last official day of the holiday season (and for other things!). All the major rides, Mickey beignets, Magic Map, Paint the Night’s last showing, holiday fireworks and lights.

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Photo by BH

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Photo by BH

The next day was our buddy’s last day at Anaheim. We ate a great breakfast, and did more pin trading and shopping.

A photo posted by Mirabel (@chibi_m7) on

He went back home that day, leaving me and the bf to do one last Disney visit alone on the day before Vegas. It was kind of sad, actually! We realized that Disney magic really is the people we spend time with along the way. Ha.

The next day, we packed up and had our first ride-share experience to LAX, and headed on a short flight to Las Vegas!!

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I’ve been in Vegas a lot with family as I was growing up. This was my first time going without parents, post 21 years old, and getting to enjoy it fully as an adult! Boy have things changed!

Also wanted to mention that it was our first time redeeming our MyVegas points and getting our Mlife rewards- super easy and very worth it, indeed!

We stayed in Paris with with a view of the Bellagio Hotel- was able to land a high tier room at a good price. The next day, we did some buffet-eating, sight-seeing. We had tickets to see Cirque du Soleil – Ka at MGM Grand that night. Amazing show!

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After the show, we ended the evening with drinks at The Chocolate Bar in NYNY.

A photo posted by Mirabel (@chibi_m7) on

The next day was Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef, with more sight seeing, and more eating!

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We rode the monorail a few times back and forth to see the length of the strip…

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And we later found a nice and crowd-free spot at Caesar’s Palace to take photos.

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We went back to our hotel room to get dolled up a bit (so I didn’t look so much like a little kid, too) and came back to have a little photoshoot in the area!

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On our last day, we used up the last of our Mlife rewards to nab another buffet and check out the secret garden at the Mirage. At this point on Friday evening, the weekend holiday crowds were really starting to come in! We headed to Excalibur to watch Tournament of Kings- a dinner show I watched exactly 10 years ago! It was as fun as I remembered.

More food and more walking.

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A photo posted by Mirabel (@chibi_m7) on

We gambled a little bit of our entertainment money throughout the trip, did a lot of sight-seeing and lounging about. And did a whole. Lot. Of. Eating.  Overall, it was a fun and successful trip, with a lot of discounts and deals acquired! Relaxed and fat, we flew home the next day. Both Las Vegas and SJ airports were very empty.

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I’m really grateful to be at an age and means to experience trips like this. With bf’s graduation and the start of the new year, it was a good time to reflect and appreciate childhood and adult fun… by doing both! We’re already looking forward to the next one!

January 20, 2017 - 1:40 pm | Comments

2016

2016 is coming to a close on my side of the world! It’s been a strange year in social media/politics/pop culture. But on a personal level, it’s been one of the most positive years I’ve had.

A photo posted by Mirabel (@chibi_m7) on

Getting a little personal – 2015 was an incredibly difficult year for me. A toxic job & work environment, a sudden move after losing a home of 15 years, dealing with the fall out of a previous relationship that refused to end, car dealership complexity and greediness- for that time, all of these things caused me a new level of anxiety and depression that I’ve never felt before.

But it was the start of a lot of great new things and transitions too. Immersed myself in dance despite the chaos, blossomed through a new, wonderful and healthy relationship, traveled with friends more than I ever did before, resolved car dealership greediness, and finally broke out of a bad place and into a new one before Christmas.

Then, 2016 happened. It’s been a rough time in the media. But it was a great time for personal blossoming, and I’m super grateful for all the memories and opportunities I’ve been given. I want to recognize a few wins and memories this year!

  • Got my first custom-made latin dance dress
  • Performed open routines in competition for the first time
  • My 1st annual Silicon Valley Comic Con
  • My 1st NTC – Nonprofit Technology Conference
  • A photo posted by Mirabel (@chibi_m7) on

  • My 9th year attending FanimeCon and my 6th year staffing!
  • Danced a Metal Gear Solid routine for said anime convention ball
  • Utada Hikaru’s new album
  • Frank Ocean’s new album
  • The Weeknd’s new album
  • Bruno Mars’ new album
  • Pokemon Sun/Moon
  • Having someone special to play Pokemon with
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  • Final Fantasy XV
  • Rogue One
  • Captain America: CIVIL WAR NUFF SAID
  • Doctor Strange came out on my birthday
  • Movies in general- watched 23 of them in theaters (the most I’ve ever seen in theaters in a year! Thanks to bf for loving movies so much!)
  • Cardcaptor Sakura anime announced
  • Ballroom e Youkoso anime announced
  • Reunited with my childhood summer vacation family in SoCal for the first time in 14 years
  • Met my favorite VA, Steven Blum, for the first time
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  • Saw my favorite childhood boyband, Backstreet Boys, live for the first time
  • Celebrated the 1 year anniversary of the best job ever

Cheers to nostalgia of old times past, the exciting and ever-changing present, and to a great new year full of more memories in 2017!

December 31, 2016 - 11:30 am | Comments

happy autumn! & project announcement!

Autumn is my favorite time of year! It’s been a good past month to attend a lot of events and enjoy the transition into fall.

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We went to San Francisco a few weeks ago to watch the Blue Angels during fleet week. I wanted to visit a place I’ve been eyeing for a while (La Marais Bakery), because I heard about their delicious french desserts – I tried a nutella creampuff and it was amazing…

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Wearing a handmade dress to match SF!

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We went to Berkeley this past weekend to attend and photograph a beginner ballroom dancesport event. It was a lot of fun to see newcomers enjoying themselves. We got to dance just a little bit, too.

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While in downtown, we checked out this dessert place for delicious taiyaki with black sesame ice cream… it was pretty delicious.

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Later that night, we attended SJSU School of Music and Dance’s first annual Kaleidoscope event! My cousin performed as a pianist for one of the acts. Overall, it was an ah-may-zing show!

So, I’ve been having a lot of fun lately- attending shows, trying out all the food, attending new/familiar events, keeping up my physical health, dancing, staying in touch with good people and colleagues, being in a great career, seeing new sights in familiar places in the Bay Area. I’ve even recollected some materials to bring back sewing and crafts into my time again. The past year has been really good to me, and I’m really grateful for where I am now. Because one year ago, that was certainly not the case.

Autumn is really important time of year to me. It’s been almost a year since I underwent a major change, closing a new chapter and starting a new one.

In the past year, I’ve discovered how fulfilled I felt working in the tech sector of the nonprofit world and contributing towards an international cause. For the first time, I feel like I’ve finally arrived at a working environment and mission that’s right for me. An article on Medium.com that recently went viral dredged up some sudden memories from last year, and I’ve been reflecting a lot on that experience lately. Too  much of the article hit home and were eerily similar to what I experienced and observed. A friend told me a while ago that I was basically coping with post-trauma. I’ll be finally ready to share that story soon.

At the same time, I’ve been inspired by positive friends, family, colleagues, podcasts, and media to try some projects and have a little bit of fun, with a little bit of challenge and and a little bit of vulnerability. Not sure how things will go, but figured I might try this!

Inspired by a few things and itching to do more things outside of work and dance, I’m excited and nervous to share:

1. An experimental podcast project, featuring friends and colleagues in the arts/tech/creative industries
2. A writeup about my transition from startups to nonprofits

I’ve been listening to a lot of excellent podcasts lately, in genres ranging from comics to coding to fiction. After mulling it over and planning it out through September with ideas, I decided to try it out as an experiment, and have asked a few initial people about it. I have a list of people in mind, and have already asked a few. Microphone and the rest of the equipment is basically ready to go- it’s just taking the first step that’s the hardest! I hope to be a better speaker and a better listener through this journey. More details to come later!

October 24, 2016 - 5:48 pm | Comments