Kilimanjaro time-lapse

I’ve had the chance to go out and capture a few time-lapse sequences of Kilimanjaro, usually at sunset, since that’s when it’s most often the clearest. So I put three of them together into a short video.

I’ll also take this opportunity to admit to a secret love of dreamy synth/electronic music – ever since I was a kid in the 80s and early 90s, when synthesizers were making their way into canned elevator music. In fact, I have a very distinct memory of swimming in the pool at my Grandma’s golf club in Arizona and hearing what we then called “New Age” music being piped out of the poolside speakers. I’m sure I had heard that style of music before, but maybe the setting was just right for it to find a place into my heart – bright sun, shimmering desert heat, cool water, navajo flute and electronic drum sequencer… can you blame me?

But I digress. All that is to say that I added some dreamy electronic music under this time-lapse video, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Strange creatures in our backyard

For about a week, we had been hearing squeaks and squawks coming from one of the trees in our backyard. Neither of us could pin down the sound. Maybe a bunch of baby Silvery-cheeked Hornbills? We happen to have between 2 and 5 of the adult version in our yard on any given afternoon, and they make an almost pre-historic squawking sound. But why did they only start up at night? Maybe a large group of baby Bushbaby’s? We have a couple of adult Bushbaby’s that live in the trees in our yard, as well. But if I listened carefully, I could hear wings flapping occasionally. And the strangest thing was that it sounded like there were hundreds of them!

After a few nights of this, we finally adventured out with a strong flashlight, and it took me about 5 seconds to realize it was a colony of fruit bats! There are small fruits on the tree (it’s some kind of indigenous fig tree, i think), which they come to feed on for about 4 or 5 hours right after it gets dark. By midnight, they’re gone.

I spent the rest of the evening observing them from our kitchen window and trying to capture some video of them. The video isn’t the best, but it’ll give you an idea of what I was seeing, and it definitely captured their sounds accurately.

I didn’t realize fruit bats had faces more like dogs. You may disagree with me, but I think they’re kind of cute! Funny, Steve won’t let me keep one as a pet…

Water and gravity

The night before I arrived at RVA, it poured. Five and a half inches (almost 14 cm) in the span of a few hours. Because the campus is sitting on the side of one big hill, and this rainy season has been exceptionally rainy, the circumstances were ripe for the series of landslides that followed. One landslide happened a few miles away, and crushed at least one home, killing three girls from the same family. One landslide blocked the main road leading to Kijabe. And one landslide hit the very edge of the RVA campus, knocking down a corner of the perimeter fence and turning what was once a steep tarmac road into a river of mud and debris. I walked over to see this last landslide and was awe-struck by its power to make a place completely unrecognizable.







Directly above RVA is the main railroad track connecting Kenya and Uganda. It was completely blocked by the landslide, but also probably helped to curb what could have been worse damage below.

Note the railroad tracks in the foreground.

If you look carefully on the hill in the background, you can see the brown trail where the avalanche of mud tore through the forest before it reached the tracks.

You can be sure the family in this house was extremely grateful that the mud changed its course instead of destroying their home!

A few curious RVA students came to check out the aftermath.

What a powerful reminder of our frailty in the face of the unrelenting force of nature. The speaker at RVA’s service that Sunday referenced one of my favorite psalms from the Old Testament as he grappled with the recent events:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46:1-3, 6-7

RVA, old and new

When it began, RVA consisted of one building, Kiambogo.

In fact, in 1909, Teddy Roosevelt laid its cornerstone while he was in Kenya during a hunting trip.


This building is still in use, for all the administrative offices, and apart from a few additions, really hasn’t changed much!

My first dorm at RVA was Stevenson, where I spent my fifth and sixth grade years. It has been renovated fairly extensively since I lived there.

All of the other original elementary school dorms have been torn down and rebuilt. Davis was my older brother’s first dorm. It is a completely new (and much larger) building now.

In eighth grade I lived in a completely new dorm that was built where the old infirmary building used to be.
It took on the name Ndege (meaning ‘bird’ in kiswahili). Ndege was the name of the old eighth grade girls’ dorm, which, interestingly, was the original infirmary before it was converted into a dorm! That old building is still standing, and is now used as the art building. Recycling takes on a whole new meaning…

In high school I lived in the Kedong building. First on the ground floor, then on the top floor.

There have been quite a few additional changes to the campus in the 10 years since I graduated. The cafeteria I remember eating in has been completely rebuilt, and is a much larger building now.



During the school day there is a mid-morning break. It is fondly known as Chai Time, because an endless supply of chai (Kenyan tea with milk) is served, and any leftover desserts from a preceding meal. I laughed when I saw this newest addition to the Chai Time tradition. A tree for students to hang their chai mugs on.


RVA provides a laundry service for all its students, which is really quite incredible, actually, seeing as most other secondary students in Kenya have to wash their own clothes. By hand. The laundry building has been rebuilt and improved.

Every year the senior class contributes some money towards their ‘senior gift’ to the school. This clock tower behind the cafeteria, which shows the time in different places around the world, was built with the help of a senior gift.

One of the high school boy’s dorms, Westervelt, has been added on to and is now the maintenance and grounds building.

And there used to be a lot of tall trees surrounding the edge of what we call ‘lower field.’ Since they’ve been cut down, the view from the top of this field has expanded dramatically.

Although it’s still not quite as striking as the view of Mt. Longonot from the top of ‘upper field’.

Even with all the changes, though, there are parts of the campus that are still as familiar as ever. The library and science buildings, for example (as well as that big old tree).

And what we call the ‘guard’s trail’ – a path that allows campus security to monitor the perimeter of the campus. It was always one of my favorite places to walk when I needed some alone time. It’s also an excellent exercise circuit, since it boasts at least a couple hundred foot incline from top to bottom. The perimeter fence has certainly increased in strength over the years, though! (As have the jokes about RVA being a prison, no doubt.)

There are even still a group of colubus monkeys living in the forest just outside of the lower half of campus! A particularly curious monkey came close enough for me to catch some shots of him.

The very lowest point of the guard’s trail offers, I think, one of the best views of Mt. Longonot and that part of the valley.



And the prayer chapel is also exactly the same. It probably hasn’t changed since it was built.


It’s always interesting going back to visit this campus. It’s like visiting your old house after having sold it and moved away. The things that really make it your home aren’t there anymore, like your furniture and dishes, your curtains, paintings, and knickknacks. But you have so many memories built into its walls and rubbed into its floors that you still feel connected to it in a way that keeps you wanting to come back.