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Africa » Kenya » Nairobi Province » Nairobi
January 5th 2007
Published: January 11th 2007EDIT THIS ENTRY

Catching up on emailsCatching up on emailsCatching up on emails

James and Julie making the most of the wireless internet at Dotun's!
From Dubai we flew to Nairobi, to meet up with Dotun. We will be spending just over three weeks in Nairobi. Our purpose for being here is to help Dotun and International Teams with the work they are doing with refugees. Rather than giving you a daily description, I have written down bits and pieces of what we have been up to.

Shopping Centres

Nairobi has two worlds - the East African world of matatus, fruit & veg stalls by the side of the road, massive potholes and restaurants selling ugali, chapati and sukuma wiki, and the Mzungu world. This world is found in a couple of places, all of them shopping centres: Village Market, Sarit Centre, Nakumat Junction and the Yaya Centre. Air-conditioned havens of commerce. On our first day in Nairobi, we visited Village Market and its huge supermarket, Nakumart. So exciting! We bought Weetabix!! Not the same as Aussie Weetbix but close enough to remind us of home. We spent time wandering through the shops and eating at the food court. The place was full of staff and families from the various embassies around the area. So very Western.

Since that first experience we have
View from the Balcony at Dotun'sView from the Balcony at Dotun'sView from the Balcony at Dotun's

Dotun & Ami's house is set amongst beautiful gardens in the tea-growing area of Tigoni, Nairobi.
been back a couple of times, generally to pick up groceries, but also once with Julia, Isaac and Augustine to see a movie (The Nativity Story). Julie is working with Dotun and the rest of the International Team workers for a year. She hails all the way from Canada - most of the time we understand each other. Isaac and Augustine are Benedictine monks. Julie met them while she was boarding at the monastery (she was waiting for more permanent accomodation to become available). During the movie, there was a scene where a bull was sacrificed. As the priest raised the knife to slit the cow's throat, Augustine started laughing. When we asked what was up, he said 'Silly man - that's not how you kill a cow!'. Probably a bit different to the conversations we would have at home.

New Years Eve

After spending the day with Augustine and Isaac, we were invited to spend New Years Eve with the rest of the monks at the monastery. With no other plans, and the expectation that we would have been hanging around at home, we accepted. It was a fun night (if not an unusual one) as we
The MonasteryThe MonasteryThe Monastery

While the Brothers were at prayers, we went for a walk and were met with the sight of a rainbow just before sunset.
spent our time playing board games and drinking tea with the monks. James had purchased a couple of fireworks to let off at midnight but we weren't sure how they would be received. Julia asked a couple of the Brothers and they ummed and ahhed and never actually gave us a proper answer. We did, however, get the vibe that the Father would not be impressed. James did look quite disappointed!

At 11.50pm we headed into the chapel for Midnight Mass with a difference. We all stood around hand in hand while the Brothers sang in the New Year. As the bells rang out, we all hugged and wished each other a Happy New Year. All of us were grinning from ear to ear as it was the most unusual start to a year we had experienced. As we exited from the chapel, all the monks were standing outside SMSing friends and family. As soon as they spotted us, they shouted, 'So where are the fireworks!' The Father stood there looking as excited as the rest of the Brothers!

After letting off the fireworks and lighting the sparklers (which most of the Brothers hadn't used before - very
Crazy German Board GameCrazy German Board GameCrazy German Board Game

We played some strange German board game with the brothers.
funny), we headed back inside and ate cake. We spent another hour chatting to a couple of the monastery guests, including a couple who worked as vets about 8 hours north of Nairobi (had great conversation about why she has a camel head in her freezer), then headed back to Dotun's house. A great night!

Masai Markets

I am so lucky to have a husband who doesn't mind shopping. Who, even though his eyes glaze over and he starts clutching his wallet tighter, willingly carries all my purchases and continues on like a trooper. Such appreciative thoughts were running through my head as we caught a matatu home from the Masai Market in town. A visit to the Masai Market was a full day excursion. We (James, Julie and I) left mid-morning and met up with Jack. Jack is a Kenyan, working with Dotun and the International Teams crew. He agreed to come along to give us an idea of 'fair' prices. Good things too, or we would have forked out a veritable fortune as we were constantly given mzungu prices. Jack got quite annoyed at the amount of people trying to overcharge us. I understand that we can probably afford to pay more than the locals that shop at such markets, but some of the prices were ridiculous.

The markets were a conglomeration of stalls selling all sorts of things. The majority of items were aimed at tourists, such as wood carvings and batiks. However, there were a lot of locals (actually more locals than tourists) there buying necklaces, scarfs and bags. Each stall was basically a blanket spread out on a mound of dirt with the wares displayed in various ways on top. We spent a couple of hours wandering in between the rows of stalls, purchasing bits and pieces that caught our eye. When the sun was high overhead and we felt that we had exhausted Jack and James, we headed off to lunch.

When Julia had visited the markets before, she had been taken to a restaurant. We agreed that if she could find it again, we would eat there. We took off up the road. As we walked (and clutched our bags) we looked at the various shops we passed. One of the signs that caught our eyes was for a place called 'The Stomach Clinic'. I chuckled to myself, thinking
Captain JackCaptain JackCaptain Jack

Our fearless shopper. Jack was a legend when it came to bargaining.
that it was a funny name for a doctor or chemist. Then Julia turned into that doorway. 'The Stomach Clinic' was the name of the restaurant. Nervously, we perused the menu. It held the usual choice of nyama choma (bbq meat), stew, ugali, rice and chapati. We told the waiter our choices and when our food arrived, we were pleasantly surprised. The food was really tasty and held no promise of the possible stomach pumping that the restaurant name implied.

Once we had received an energy boost from our food, we headed back out to the market to grab a couple of last items, then farewelled Jack and caught a matatu back home.

Langatta Giraffe Centre

I’m afraid that our visit to the Giraffe centre caused some marital problems as James refused to kiss me after I received a peck on the cheek from one of the giraffes. Actually, it was more like he licked my entire face. Still, I did have to remind James of our wedding vows (although he mentioned there was no clause about giraffe slobber).

The giraffe centre is essentially a place where you can hand feed giraffes. It was quite touristy but still lots of fun. Basically, you are given pellets of food (like the kind you feed guinea pigs or rabbits with) and you hold them in one hand and pat the giraffe with the other. They are quite greedy and you have to watch out that they don’t head butt you if you withhold any food.

Now, the kiss. I had to do it. It was actually a matter of saving face. Janice, my mother in law had done it, and I couldn’t really return to Australia and say I chickened out. So…I did it. I think my facial expression on the video explains what I thought of it.

Carnivore

A couple of months ago, we saw a t-shirt which had the words, "Meat is murder. Tasty, tasty murder". Not a shirt for vegetarians. Nor is Carnivore a restuarant for those opposed to eating cute little animals. That said, we had a great time! Basically, the menu consisted of soup and bread, a potato, then meat, meat, meat. Lamb, chicken wings, chicken liver, chicken gizzards, crocodile, ostrich, beef, pork ribs, turkey and more. Pretty exciting stuff, especially for James. But that wasn't the highlight. The best part was that we got to meet up with Xan and Dan Boyce, friends from Sydney. They were in Nairobi with students from their school, doing mission work. It was such a treat to see a familiar face - we were so hyped. We spent the night catching up on 3 months worth of news. Nobody else got a chance to get a word in edgewise!

As a restuarant, Carnivore was ok. I was expecting it to be more touristy though, particularly after people talked it up so much. Not that it is a bad thing but I was suprised it wasn't more like Moya, the restaurant we visited in Cape Town. I also know that it is all about the meat, but a couple more vegies wouldn't have gone amiss. Still, for us, it wasn't really about the food but more about spending time with our friends.

Matatus

One of the main types of public transport in and around Nairobi are matatus. These are basically modified mini vans, fitted out to (legally) transport 14 passengers. However, there are usually more people crammed into the seats than that. We have travelled on these a couple of times now and almost without fail found things that make us do a double take. Not that they are really awful things - they are just different to home.

For example, we caught two matatus to get home today. While we were waiting for the number 115 to come along (actually, a couple had already come along but they were so full we would have had to hang out the door), a couple of number 30 and number 106 matatus stopped and random passengers would yell out, 'Hey Mzungu! Where you going?'. This caught the attention of the matatu tout, who would then try and get us onto his matatu (even though it was not heading anywhere near where we were going). The matutu tout is essentially the person who jumps out of the mini bus whenever there are possible passengers, shows them where to sit, then jumps back on the bus as it starts to move off. If there are enough seats left, he will close the door as the bus accelerates out onto the highway. If not, he will hang onto something as he stands on the running board. Occasionally, if the matatu is really full, a passenger will have to join him. The tout also collects money at random points in the journey, assuming that everyone knows how much to pay. Thankfully, we always had a friend to ask how much we should fork over. Otherwise, I'm sure we would definitely be paying mzungu prices. Finally, the tout is the one who bangs a coin on the window to alert the driver that someone wants to get off. He probably has the most difficult job on the matatu - I mean, all the driver has to do is negotiate Nairobi traffic, dodge pedestrians treating the road like a game of Frogger, turn the stereo to volumes that make your ears bleed and make sure that nothing important falls off the vehicle. (True story: one of the monks was travelling on a matatu when suddenly one of the wheels that should have been on the van went flying past it and off into the bush. They spent an hour looking for it)

So, apart from the nerve-wracking driving, the possibility of something crucial falling off the van (including the tout or a passenger) and the experience of being jammed up against several complete strangers, you just have to worry about getting robbed. Thankfully, it didn't happen to us (yet) and the only item lost by one of our friends was a hat. But that is another story.


Much more has happened over the last two weeks but that will have to wait for another blog!




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