“I am Obama’s brother!” a stranger shouted to me through the open window of a matatu (small bus) as I was crossing the lush countryside of western Kenya. That was 2006. According to a New York Times article this week, cars in western Kenya “now sport bumper stickers with statements like ‘Obama, first cousin.’” Kenya has claimed America’s president-elect as its own, and the badge is revitalizing tourism, which plummeted following the gruesome riots during the country’s elections last December. Kogelo, the village where Obama’s father grew up, has become a hot ticket on Kenya’s tourist trail, according to the Times article. But there is another reason to visit the region: Kakamega Rainforest. Home to more than 400 species of birds and five types of monkeys, Kakamega is a bite-sized remnant of the vast tropical forest that once spanned the waist of Africa. The forest is being chipped away, but two guru birders aim to save it.
A new report on abrupt climate change doesn’t necessarily say the sky is falling but portrays a complex world that it is clearly undergoing great change. Some change has been wrought by humans and some seems unrelated to our presence on the planet. The Southwest may be drying up, although we didn’t necessarily do it. Greenland and Antarctica are melting; we didn’t necessarily do it but we are certainly contributing. Warm, salty currents in the Atlantic Ocean that circulate heat probably won’t collapse this century, but they could. And the catastrophic methane release some scientists have predicted is unlikely to happen anytime soon, but methane, a greenhouse gas significantly more potent than carbon dioxide, will surely continue to increase in the atmosphere.
Sometime around 1970, a crate, or perhaps it was a cage, shipped from somewhere in South America, landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Inside were monk parakeets, bright green birds native to the savannahs and scrubland of Paraguay and Argentina. Mobsters may have popped the lid to inspect the goods, expecting fine wine or rare art, a baggage handler could have dropped the cargo, or the container may have been cracked or broken to begin with, no one knows for sure. But somehow the parakeets got out, and in certain communities they continue to cause a fracas.