Exploring Nairobi: Coffee, Nightlife, Brunch, and Fun

I finally ventured out of my guest house cocoon this past weekend (3/13-3/14) into the unknown districts across Nairobi.  Soon after arriving in Kenya I discovered a facebook group of expats living in Nairobi.  This past weekend was the first opportunity I had to join in some of their social events.

Jack, ALARM's logistician and driver, dropped me off at Westgate mall in the Westlands to meet the NES group for coffee at Artcaffè, it was a bit like being dropped off at the mall by my dad.  I intended to call a taxi to pick me up, but my Kenyan colleagues despair what might happen to them if something happens to me.  They fear what my dad would do to them if I were to wander aimlessly in Nairobi lost.  Clearly, they have not met my father, who is not an intimidating force (except of course on the witness stand I'm sure or to opposing attorneys who have called him "the biggest baddest boy in Texas," which does not crack my mother and I up in the least...).  Conversation and coffee was good, dinner and drinks after were even better.  I went with a few of the guys from the event to dinner at the Black Diamond followed by people watching and fun at Havana and Casablanca.  "Mosquitoes," the nickname for maurading women at these clubs, were out in force and I had quite a bit of fun playing Pro or No throughout the evening.

Despite a relatively late night I made it to brunch the next morning, got to know some more NES people, and then a friend and I drove around the different neighborhoods of Nairobi.  We started at the National Museum (knocking #4 off The List) and walked through the gardens and admired the art. 
The museum itself was rather expensive to go in and from a previous boring experience at the National Museum in Butare, Rwanda, we decided to pass on the tour.  From there we drove through most of Nairobi and up to the Karen Estates neighborhood.  It's named for Karen Blixen, Danish author of Out of Africa.  We stopped for an iced tea at the Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens, site of the original hunting lodge/farm house on the Karen Blixen estate and near the restored house turned national museum where she lived from 1914 to 1931.  Sitting on the patio of a large, turn-of-the-century house felt like a country club atmosphere and could have easily been somewhere in Dallas, yet as we left we drove past the Nairobi National Park filled with rhinos, giraffes, and more.  I kind of knocked #15 off the list on the way out as well, as you can see by my picture below.

Breaking News Alert: Southern Sudan to meet Captain Awesome

Captain Awesome will travel to Southern Sudan in the upcoming weeks to rescue babies, stop speeding bullets, and spread general awesomeness wherever she may go.  Ah, so are the facts of life for an international superhero. 

I will be in Juba beginning Monday, 3/22, getting to know the city and meeting people while others in my group attend the Church Leaders Forum.  After the conference concludes I will travel to Yei to visit the Christian Leadership Institute of Sudan before returning to Nairobi.

For those of you unaware, Sudan's presidential elections are approaching in April.  It's the first multi-party ballot in 24 years since the sitting president, Omar Hassan Al Bashir, overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister in 1989.  However, with his campaign of intimidation and violence escalating, and now a key opponent murdered, the chances of an unbiased election are growing slim.  Read more here:

Two Sudanese newspapers questioned over insults to president Bashir
South Sudan Journalists Facing Intimidation Before Election
Political motive seen in Sudan murder - police
Sudan: Ahead of Crucial Elections

Captain Awesome learns to cook (chapati that is)

Saturday night Esther (T) and Purity (B) came over for dinner and taught me, yes that's the awesomest Captain Awesome (for those of you doubting the veracity of my claim, you know who you are) below, how to make chapatis.

Chapti chefs extraordinaire:
The ingredients:
flour, (garlic) salt, hot water, wooden spoon (I still cringe when I see one of those...thanks, Mom), vegetable oil, a rolling pin, and someone who knows what they're doing.  For a certain price I'm sure Esther and Purity will hire out their chapati making talents for those of you doubting your ability to read and follow along.
Step 1: 
Add dry ingredients together (easy enough...can't screw that up)...well, they didn't measure, so technically, you can screw up if you guess wrong.  But it's flour.  And salt.  You put too much flour then you get leftover chapatis, no harm, no foul.  And there's no such thing as too much salt.
Step 2: 
Stir in (hot) water with a wooden spoon (apparently hot water makes the texture smoother).
Step 3:
Mash the goop using your hands.
Step 4:
Add oil, vegetable that is, for all of you neophytes trying this at home.
Step 5:
Knead the goop.  Yes, that is the technical term.  How dare you question Captain Awesome?!
Step 6:
It should now look like this.  If it doesn't you screwed up; add some more oil, or water, or better yet, just start over it's probably beyond repair anyway.  It's for the best, I promise.
Step 7:
Cut the dough into strips.
Step 8:
Wrap the slices into rolls, like cinnabons.

Step 9:

No, we're still not done.  Remember this is Africa, we're cooking from scratch here, it takes a bit longer.  Patience is a virtue.  Pull out your rolling pin, or if you're Captain Awesome and don't need one, your glass Coca Cola bottle, and get to flattening those chapatis.  

You can attempt to match Captain Awesome's perfect flattening skills but it's doubtful you will succeed.  Just do your best and remember, size doesn't matter but shape does.  We're going for round here folks, not oblong, not oval, and definitely not misshapen.

Step 10:

Place, don't toss, the chapati onto the hot pan.  

Step 11:

Do not, I repeat, do not, put oil in the pan first.  Why, you ask?  I have no idea.  But I'm told the correct browning method is to hold the oil in a container in one hand and then spoon it over the chapati before flipping.  

The real deal:
Don't expect to match Captain Awesome's perfect chapati on your first try.  It takes minutes upon minutes to master this stunning technique.

The final product:

Fajitas masterpiece African style!  Both Esther and Purity were fajitas virgins but they loved them, I mean who wouldn't?  Esther declared it was "a little bit of heaven in your mouth."

The Top Three Reasons I Love My Mosquito Net

3. Even when my bed's a mess, it still looks cool.

2. It feels like camping in a gauzy white tent.

1. It keeps the bloodthirsty mosquitoes out of my mzungu blood for a few hours each night.

Swahili word of the day:
mzungu- foreigner a.k.a. whitey

Nakumatt, where have you been all my life?

   Karibu to the joys of Nakumatt.  Furniture, fish heads, cell phones, and pink toilet paper all in one place.  No such luck finding a Swahili-English dictionary though.  Trashy romance novels galore, but no helpful guide to Swahili was to be found.  Instead I’ve taken to entering Swahili words and phrases into my phone so I can slowly but surely memorize them.  Despite this travesty, Nakumatt still stands head and shoulders above the other wannabe superstores for their one great marketing ploy of large, not-at-all tacky, elephant statues outside all of the stores I’ve visited thus far.  This one stands inside Nakumatt Junction.
Don’t worry; I have resisted the urge to ride one thus far, despite urging from my coworkers this evening. 

Swahili words of the day:
Karibu- welcome
Nakumatt- Kenya’s answer to Walmart

Matatus and Pentecostals and goats, oh my!

Sunday was my first introduction to the convenient yet terrifying world of matatus.  Not quite awake and on my way to church I looked death in the face and survived.  
(T) Matatu crammed full of people 
(B) People just walk into oncoming traffic in the street.  A little terrifying to say the least. 

Matatus should hold about 14-20 people, but can be crammed with close to 20-30 strangers in a very confined space (see above).  They drive manically through town cutting people off and nearly plowing into things with little regard for those around them much less those riding in the vehicle.  Think soccer mom minivan plus 20-30 strangers sitting/standing in your personal space while being bounced over potholes and dodging pedestrians at 80 kilometers an hour (approximately 50 mph).  Fortunately for me, it only cost ishirini shillings (about 27 cents) for our thrill ride.  Im sure in a matter of weeks I will be an old pro at hailing these death cabs, jumping in while it is still in motion without inflicting total disfigurement, and letting them know when I’d like to alight from the vehicle so as not to be forced to ride around town for hours on end. 

Church was the destination of this joyride.  Purity and Esther, Emily’s daughter who was home from college for the weekend, took me to the early “youth” (anyone under the age of 35-40 and not considered an old fogey) service at their church, Nairobi Pentecostal Church- Valley Road.  For those of you who have known me awhile, you will remember that I grew up in an Assembly of God/non-denominational congregation in Plano.  Since I’m not well versed in the varying beliefs of every sect of Christianity I cannot tell you the theological differences between non-denominational and Pentecostal, however this church felt like home (e.g. arm raising and dancing during worship and an invitational at the end of service).  I didn’t even know that people don’t normally shout out “Amen” or “Praise the Lord” in affirmation of the pastor’s message or dance around during the praise and worship at other churches until I brought my boyfriend from college home one weekend and took him to a church service.  It was a comfort to find some familiarity so far away from home.

On the other hand, on the way home from church I saw something completely different from home: Goats!  After a second harrowing journey aboard a matatu I was greeted by these friendly creatures upon disembarking from the minibus.  Sawa, we’ve all seen goats at one point or another, or at the very least tasted some of their yummy cheese at a wine tasting, but how many of you have seen them walking down the street grazing?  That’s what I thought.  The goat walking toward me in the picture on the right was particularly friendly and ventured closer when realizing it was being photographed. 

Later in the day came my introduction to Kenyan weddings.  No, unfortunately I cannot mark #17 off my list, but I did attend a play about Kenyan weddings, “It’s Not about the Bride: The Kenyan Wedding Story.”  Imagine “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” meets Kenya.  It was amusing, well what parts I could understand since about half of it was in Swahili.  Their wedding process is quite a bit different than in the States.  A guy proposes to a girl and some give engagement rings, but they do not typically include a diamond or any stone at all.  Then the guy goes to the girl’s family and offers them a dowry for her.  They barter her value with cows, goats, and chickens.  However, instead of actually giving her parents these animals, the guy’s family pays them what these animals are worth.  Next (insert audible sigh of relief by all parents in Kenya) the engaged couple raises the funds to pay for the wedding themselves.  They form a committee of close, financially stable friends and their friends pledge money to help the couple pay for the event.  The example they used as an outrageous lavish wedding in the play had the couple struggling to come up with about $12,000.  Now, I’ve never been married, but from what I understand, it’s not easy to accomplish even a simple wedding for that amount in Dallas.  I now know where my future wedding to my imaginary husband is going to take place!

Swahili words of the day:
Matatu- minibus
Ishirini- twenty (20)
Sawa- okay