Friday, December 28, 2007

On to Africa

I leave for Africa later today; specifically, I'm going to Kenya and Tanzania. A few minutes ago I came across a travel warning on the US State Department web site regarding Kenya. Here's a snippet:

The Department continues to recommend that private American citizens in Kenya evaluate their personal security situation in light of continuing terrorist threats and increasing incidents of violent crime. Terrorist acts may include suicide operations, bombings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in or near Kenyan ports. Violent criminal attacks, including armed carjacking, kidnappings, and home invasions/burglary, can occur at any time and in any location, and are becoming increasingly frequent, brazen, vicious, and often fatal. In January 2007, two family members of a U.S. Embassy employee were killed by armed carjackers. Kenyan authorities have limited capacity to deter and investigate such acts.

Hmmm... sounds delightful. Well, not much I can do about this now, other than be a bit careful, I suppose. I guess a question would be whether I'd have still bought my plane ticket had I read this warning earlier. I dunno. Probably not.

Oh well. It'll be an adventure.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My worst commute ever

Today I had my worst commute home from work ever - or at least the worst I can remember. There was a weather forecast for 6 to 12 inches of snow, due to start around noon and continue until mid-evening. Because of this, just about every school system in the state let the kids go home early, and many businesses (including where I work) let their employees work just half a day. Unfortunately, this led to way more cars on the road in the early afternoon and combined with terrible road conditions, it was a total mess.

Before I knew we were able to leave work early I took a short drive to get some lunch around noon. What was normally a 5 minute drive to get back to work took me about 30 minutes! Then, when I got back to work I learned we could all leave. Having just experienced the terrible traffic jams on all the city roads and looking out the window and seeing the highway a parking lot in both directions, I was in no hurry to leave. I figured I'd wait it out a while until things got a bit better. The only problem was, they were officially closing the office at 3:00, which meant I really couldn't wait it out too long. Then I realized since it was actually snowing, and snow tends to accumulate, the roads probably wouldn't be getting better any time soon. (Ha, I'm really getting my money's worth out of this college education. I can use logic and reasoning...) So, I finally decided to head out at 2:30.

Initially, at least for the first few minutes, the drive wasn't bad. The roads were fairly empty and snow covered, but I have all-wheel drive, so it was easy going. Easy going until I got to the highway on-ramps. I have a choice of going either north or south and either works due to some other highway splits along the way. Usually if I see the highway slow going one way, I'll just take the other ramp. Unfortunately, this time both ramps were completely backed up and didn't appear to be moving at all.

Not being one to enjoy sitting in traffic, especially for what looked to be a several hour ordeal, I decided to try getting home via back roads. I figured the drive to the onramps had been fairly smooth going, maybe everyone was stuck on the highway and the back roads are clear. Well, that turned out to be wrong. That initial strip of clear road was the only bit of clear road I'd see the rest of my drive home. I felt like I was in one of those "end of the world" movies where everyone was on the road running away from something. The only difference was there were traffic jams in every direction. Whatever this end of the world disaster was, there was no clear agreement on where it was coming from or where we should be running to.

So, what normally takes 30 minutes, instead took me over 2 hours. I know my friends living in the Los Angeles area will think this is nothing - they have to deal with stuff like this every day. But for someone who has been spoiled by a fairly easy 30 minute commute, taking over 2 hours to go 20 miles is a bit of a pain.

The one positive of all this is got a lot of experience driving my Rav4 in the snow. I had bought it back in the spring, so I think I only drove it in a small amount of snow once before. The all-wheel-drive seems to handle things fine. I never found myself slipping or sliding when accelerating. In some cases that was a disappointment - it's kind of fun sliding around corners when pulling out of a side street. Now, the car instead starts beeping and cuts the power to the accelerator, activating some sort of anti-skid traction control. Bah! Darn highway safety....

Edit 12/17/07: I recently spoke with a friend from karate class and his commute that same day was the worst I've heard of so far. It took him 7 and a half hours to get home from work!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

My body is teeming with microorganisms!

I haven't noticed any adverse side effects yet, but my body is teeming with microorganisms right now. Tonight I received five vaccinations - one each for yellow fever, polio, typhoid, hepatitis-A, and the flu. I'll be going to Africa - Kenya and Tanzania more specifically - in a few weeks. In preparation for the trip, I visited a travel clinic at a local hospital to find out what was recommended for preventive medicine.

The clinic was pretty informative, although it took way more time than I expected. I had a 5:00 appointment, but didn't finally get out of the hospital until some time after 7:00. In turns out the clinic consisted of an initial group seminar led by a doctor who explained all the different vaccinations and medicines , their benefits and risks, which ones are needed based on travel destination and so forth. The doctor then asked each of us in the group which of the vaccines and other preventative medicine prescriptions we wanted. I opted for getting pretty much everything that was recommended, including a prescription for anti-malaria pills.

The yellow fever vaccination was kind of scary to read about. I had to sign a waiver for it and the doctor warned me there was a chance I could die from it. Seriously. It's only a small chance, but still, it happens. The vaccination is required for entry into Kenya and Tanzania, so I didn't really have much of a choice. And yellow fever sounds pretty nasty, too, so I was happy to get the vaccination. Fifteen percent of the people who contract yellow fever end up with really awful symptoms within 24 hours - including vomiting blood and other such nastiness. Of those who get these terrible symptoms, half of them die within two weeks! There's no cure for the disease once you contract it, either. Your body has to just fight it off on its own. So, here's hoping the vaccine works as advertised....

The choices for malaria drugs were interesting. I don't remember the exact details anymore, but there were three options - one drug had side effects that included causing bad dreams and depression, another lacked any significant side effects but had to be taken once a day and cost $15 per pill, and a third option was more reasonably priced, but caused sensitivity to sun. I was tempted by the idea of a drug that causes bad dreams, but instead opted for the sun sensitivity. The $15 per pill option (Malarone) had to be taken for a significant number of days after the trip, so the complete dosage would have cost me about $300. Yikes!

As it was, including the costs of the vaccines, this trip to the doctor cost over $350. The good news is most of these vaccines are good for 5 or more years, so it's not like I'll need to get them again any time soon.

I'll be sure to post a followup if I develop any super powers from this combination of vaccines and medicine.