09.28.2011 - 10.02.2011
Nairobi, Kenya is known as one of the most dangerous cities in Africa, so much so that it has earned the nickname “Nairobbery” and even beats out Jo’burg. Because of this reputation, I was expecting the worst. But, like so many things in life, it really wasn’t at all like I expected - it was better. Nairobi is a busy, cosmopolitan African city, even modern and sophisticated in parts. Sure, it has rough neighborhoods, but it also has a lot of first world amenities, and we took full advantage.
We’ve been traveling very fast the last few weeks, so we’ve become a little run down and under the weather. We decided to spend our time in Nairobi taking it easy and indulging in the first world amenities. First stop, the newest mall in town, of course. We had lunch at a nice bistro (it could have been anywhere in the US), got some cupcakes and gelato, and went to the movies. And I when I say “went to the movies”, I’m almost embarrassed to say it… we saw three movies in a row - triple feature - Crazy/Stupid/Love, Contagion, and Friends with Benefits. They were all entertaining, but Crazy/Stupid/Love was our favorite. Between movies two and three, we had Chinese food for dinner in the food court. It was a day of fabulous, over-indulgence!
Ahhh..first world mall and cupcakes
A stop at the American Embassy Memorial Garden where the bombings happened in 1998
Before our flight from Nairobi to Cairo, Egypt, we made the obligatory pilgrimage to the restaurant Carnivore, well known for serving copious amounts of charred meat in an “all you can eat” fashion. Jeff was in heaven. You control a flag at your table and when the flag is up, servers stop by and offer you whatever meat they are serving. When you are done and cannot possibly eat any more, you surrender by lowering the flag. While some meats were better than others, we at least tried them all: beef rump steak, beef sausage, leg of lamb, lamb sausage, lamb chops, leg of pork, pork sausage, pork spare ribs, turkey, chicken wings, chicken liver, chicken gizzards, and . . . ox balls. “Wait, what?” I asked. “Ox testicles” he says to get the point across. “Seriously?” “Yup, you wanna try?” They taste about how you think they would. I think some parts are better left uncooked if you know what I mean, but at least they use the whole animal. The food was good and it was a fun atmosphere, I just felt like I needed to take a Lipitor when we were done.
Jeff taking in a local Tusker and the massive quantity of meat they serve
Our time in Africa has come to an end (I know Egypt is technically in Africa, but it’s more the Middle East to me). It is hard to believe that we have been on the road for over four months, time flies. It has been a great experience – we will never forget it!
Over the last three months, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and Africa. Every country we’ve visited has been unique and interesting, with its own particular highs and lows, but in the end all positive experiences. We’ve had our challenges that’s for sure. Getting around without spending a fortune was probably the biggest for us. But in the process, I have learned that I’m more flexible than I realized…you want me to hold your child on the bus? Put a bag of rice under my feet? Fall asleep on my shoulder…sure, no problem. The joke in Africa is “how many people can you fit in a minibus/combi/dalla-dalla”? “One more”. But please, no stinky, dried fish, hand me the chicken. We’ve been squished, uncomfortable and hot as sin in those things, but it has gotten us closer to the local people, who almost unanimously turned out to be friendly and generous. People have gone out of their way to help us find things, translate, get a ride, make sure we’re not getting ripped off, etc.
Also, travelling in a private car had its own interesting challenges. Police officers and military personnel often wanted bribes at checkpoints, which we just had to flat out deny. My favorite line was “it’s not a bribe, it’s a gift”. “Show me your papers, where are your seatbelts, your fire extinguisher, your first aid kit, you were speeding, you were five minutes past the gate closing time, what’s in the car…show me, now show me your passports, ok give me money”. We just smiled, said no, and kept driving.
While getting around, we’ve seen poverty and sadness, but Africans are resilient, so a lot of joy as well, especially from children who know no different. Being here has made me feel so lucky for all the things I have - it’s reinforced daily. I have a new respect for amenities such as running water, hot water, a toilet, a private room, internet access, air conditioning, paved roads, and fixed prices.
The constant hassle from touts was also at times a challenge. “You need to exchange money, Mama/Sister/ Auntie, my shop is around the corner, you want bracelet, are you signed up for a tour, you need a taxi, I give you good price, give me money, etc.” They’re just trying to make a living, but they don’t realize that you just got asked the same question by five other people all clamoring for your attention. You just have to take it all in stride and have a sense of humor and you’ll be fine
The landscape and safaris were amazing. It’s the stuff dreams are made of and we got to experience the Africa you read about and see on the Discovery Channel. From watching a massive migration of wildebeest, to elephant herds playing in the mud, to watching lions taking shade from the hot African sun, it turns you into a kid again staring open mouthed fixed in one position for hours. For those that come after us, Etosha National Park in Namibia was our favorite for animal watching, but you can’t beat the scenery in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
We’ve had a lot of fun seeing the sights and taking in the culture. Trying to explain culture here is like peeling an onion. There are so many layers to it. For starters, there are Muslims, Christians, tribal beliefs, and Hindus... then there are Africans who are white, black, Asian and Indian… educated and uneducated… rich, but mostly poor… city dwellers and subsistence farmers… All told, the people watching here is amazing and getting to experience it first hand by eating at local places and standing on the roadside with locals waiting for a ride has been fun.
Africa has been a fascinating experience and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience it. Now we are moving on to the Middle East, away from scenery and safaris and on to history and religion. It should be a nice change. Plus, I’m looking forward to couscous, hummus, and kebabs We will write more in Egypt. Until then, we leave you with much love from Africa!