Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Welcome to Nairobi, Kenya

The flight to Kenya was long, stopping through Dubai. I met a pro Holland football player (well European football, otherwise known as soccer in the U.S.) who I chatted with briefly and tried a falafel which I thought was the most authentic (compared to McDs or the French Bistro). I also wanted to buy a gift for the project supervisor I was working with in Nairobi so I looked around the airport and saw that dates seemed to be the big thing in Dubai. As I was looking, one of the salesmen offered me a free sample and let me choose which one to try! I chose the white chocolate covered dates with pistachio. WOW! It was delicious. I then chose a box to take as a gift and when I was paying for it, they offered me another sample! This time I chose the milk chocolate one with dates and some other nut inside. This one wasn’t AS good, but it was still quite delectable.

Nairobi is much more developed than the part of India I was in. It is much cleaner and much more modern. It even feels safer. There aren’t any tourists wandering around, so I find that myself and Mario, the student I’m here to document, are the only foreigners. But on the bright side, it means that we’re not getting ripped off too badly.

My first night in Nairobi was a success, Mario made 2 friends here, Samir and Phillippe, who were staying at the same campground for an extended period of time. Samir is 28 and is a professional photojournalist. They took me to visa, a restaurant that sells slabs of goat meat that you pick out and they hack up with a big machete. They cook it on the bone and bring it to your table where they cut it into smaller pieces. You take a cornmeal/water mixture dough, massage it into a ball, pick up a piece of meat and some fresh salsa with it, and eat it in one bite. It was absolutely delicious. I had never had goat meat before, and though it does NOT taste like chicken, it was very good.

It is very different here than in India in terms of culture and the environment, but also in the people I’m living with. In India I was with a bunch of girls and 2 Indian boys that were very conservative, and here I’m with 3 guys and working with basically all males in the shop. The campground has many foreigners but I am often exhausted by the time I get back and do not have the time or the energy to socialize much. The men in the workshop are impressed that I’m so handy, laughing at me as I helped fix the bikes and wowing at my hammering skills. I love making things so I’m very excited that I get to help build the tricycles (for the physically disabled… you pedal with your arms and not your legs). It is also different from India because I blended in slightly better there (some thought I was Tibetan or potentially north Indian) but here, Kenyans don’t seem to know about Korea as much, so they assume that everyone Asian is Chinese, though they know Japanese so that ask me if I’m that a lot. But I am the only Asian I have seen during my entire stay here. It is also very cold here in the mornings and at night (about 40 or 50 degrees F), which is a pleasant and dramatic difference from the humidity and heat of India. Another interesting piece of information is that apparently sex is very acceptable and open here. I expected Kenyans to be more conservative than Americans, but according to the locals, it is perfectly acceptable for the Kenyan girls to have many sexual partners and that it is very common and acceptable.

My free time is spent differently as well because its not as dangerous to go out when you’re with 3 armed guys and because they’re definition of fun is a bit different. In India I watched lots of Bollywood movies and went shopping, here we’re having barbeques watching action movies, and just having discussions around the fire. I made them guacamole and bbqued the hot dogs and buns and they cooked Kenyan food and made me a pineapple drink (a whole fresh pineapple blended into juice with a bit of vanilla…. (extremely good).

The food is amazing in Kenya. In India I ate meat once, but here meat is in everything. I have it in every meal and even in my snacks. India and Kenya seem to have a lot of similarities in food. They have samosas everywhere here, though they are made of meat instead of potatoes. They also have chipote which is basically like nan.. and chevra which is a snack that is like the Indian hot mix. I love the different flavored fantas and they drink tea in the same way as Indians with boiled milk instead of water and tons of sugar. It is quite a treat, though a bit too sweet for my tastes. I just can’t drink too much of it, but the locals can’t seem to get enough of it. One interesting food escapade was trying to order a dish that one of the community members had described as her favorite, and finding out that it definitely wasn’t that. Not knowing what it was, but pretty sure it was some sort of intestines, I forced myself to finish the dish, called Matumbo. I found out later that it was indeed goat intestines so was a bit grossed out, but the sauce was tasty and the intestines were very chewy but good considering, so I survived. I’m definitely trying a LOT of new things.


Anonymous said...

Very nice and interesting observations. Just some clarifications: Kenya is indeed conservative when it comes to sex, though not oppresively so. Relationships I would rate as at the same level as in the US, which means people frequently go all the way without the sky falling down. However it by no means flagrantly sexual. Though some other african or asian countries, Socializing between the sexes is open and not frowned upon.

Kenyans have adopted some indian food favourites. Chapati (not Chipote) is like a nan (though more of a 'pastry' texture), as well as Samosas, and Cherva (I got some of the golden stuff here!). These foods came over with the Indian workers who were brought over by the british in the early 20th century to build the east african railway.

However most Kenyan food is different from indian, it generally is mild, hearty, low in spices and very unlike Carribean or West African food. It also varies tremendously between the regions.

Matumbo is definitely an aquired taste: Think of a bratwurst but more extreme :)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Matumbo is indeed intestines (I confused it with something else), chicken though.

Manuela said...

haha... as a german who lived in Kenya I shake my head and nearly start crying... Matumbo equals Bratwurst?