The recorded ramblings of an unschooled writer, aspiring biologist, amateur equestrian, ardent bookworm, avid music appreciator, increasingly addicted runner and college student spending the summer in Ely, MN.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How's that breakfast coming on?

[Wallace and Gromit are in the baker's van]
Wallace: How's that breakfast coming on?
[Gromit presses a button on the car radio and a slice of cremated toast pops out from the cassette slot]
Wallace: Well done, lad.
[looks at the burnt toast]
Wallace: *Very* well done.
-Wallace and Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death

My whirlwind 1 or 2 or however many days of travel you want to classify it as has finally ended. I am currently sitting on my bed in my room at the Methodist Guest House, which is located in the suburbs right outside the main downtown area of Nairobi.

The flight to Nairobi from London was the nicest flight of the whole trip. Each of the seats had its own little TV screen in front of it on which unlimited games, movies, tv shows and music could be accessed throughout the flight. I enjoyed the dark comedy film “Sunshine Cleaning”, but mostly was just thrilled that “Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death” could be found under the TV shows section and am not a bit embarassed to admit that I watched it and enjoyed every second of it. The Virgin Atlantic Airline service was overall just excellent – they provided everyone with a little kit with a sleeping eye mask, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a pen, socks and even the food, both dinner and breakfast was not only edible but actually quite tasty. Mostly though, I think my favorite part was the ever chipper British flight attendants who kept asking me “Darling, can I get you another cup of tea?”. Oh, and the “Flag Bearer” painted on the front of the Virgin Atlantic planes made me want to laugh because it is something that would never happen on a US Airline’s planes, given that the flag bearer is a somewhat scantily clad and gorgeous woman waving the British flag!

Arriving in Nairobi early this morning was overwhelming. I couldn’t believe that I’d actually arrived in East Africa and I’m sure that most of fellow L+C students felt that same way. Dr. Ken Clifton, the professor leading the program, and his wife Lisa met us at the airport and helped us all load our bads and ourselves onto a very large bus. We then proceeded to get stuck in some of the worse traffic I have ever seen, which I am told is normal in Nairobi. I am so glad that I will never have to drive here. I don’t think I would fair well as the passive aggressive style needed in order to both survive and reach one’s destiniation in a somewhat timely fashion seems extremely out of my reach.

I was also amazed by the large numbers of people that could be seen walking along the main streets. This wasn’t in the city center. The best I can think of to make a comparison is that it would be like seeing people on foot weaving in and out of and alongide of and across traffic on 217 or I-5 during rush hour. David Sperling, the professor in Kenya who helps to coordinate the program explained to me that this is because even though many people in Kenya have reccently been able to afford cars (leading to the extreme traffic situation because the number of drivers has literally tripled in the last couple of years) there are still many people who cannot afford to drive a car or take the bus and so they walk 2, 4, 6, 8…however many miles are necessary in order to make it to work each day.

We saw an interesting mix of housing on our way to the guest house. Everything from very modern apartment buildings constructed in the past 10 years to flat roofed houses built prior to Kenya’s indepence from British rule. We even caught a glimpse of the very beginnings of the Kibera slum, the largest slum of Nairobi, Kenya and by some accounts the largest in all of sub-Saharan Africa. It was such a strange juxtaposition to see such beautiful new apartment buildings and then just beyond them, tin sheet roofed shacks built of cardboard and plastic. I’m still trying to sort out my feelings about that strange pairing of sights – the mixed emotions were very confusing – sadness, disbelief, hope that the growing middle class will someday grow to include those in Kibera and guilt that simply the accident of where and when I happened to be born placed me in such a different circumstance.

After surviving Nairobi traffic, we did reach the Methodist Guest House where very nice double occupancy rooms were waiting for us. I’m rooming with Rachel, another bio student on the program who I know from some of my classes last year. After a nice welcome to Africa breakfast (fresh bread with jam, a hard boiled egg, pineapple and mango juice – I avoided the many meat products prefered by many of my fellow L+Cers) we had a quick briefing with Dr. Clifton, Dave Sperling and Rose, our primary Kiswahilli teacher.

We were then released to wander Nairobi with a lunch allowance of 500 Kenyan shillings (about $7 US – a very generous amount for lunch alone), with the warning to not be “white chickens”. There is a Swahilli proverb that says “The guest/vistor is the white chicken”, meaning that the guest is easy to see because he looks so different from everyone else just like the very rare white chicken looks so different from every other chicken in the group. Basically we were told to wander, see what we had to see, purchase lunch if we wanted to do so, but generally do so without drawing undue attention to ourselves.

Neither Rachel or I were hungry at all, but we wandered the city for quite a while, strolling through mainly resedential areas and then by a small shopping center. We didn’t go in as neither of us needed anything at the moment and we were simpy enjoying the chance to walk and talk after being trapped on a plane or in the airport for so long. In general the people we passed on the street were very friendly to us, greeting us with a simple “Jambo”, “Hello”, “Hi”, or my personal favorite “Hello Ladies!!!!!”.

We returned from the walk and I immediately took a shower and am finally feeling like a real person again instead of some strange airport zombie. Rachel’s taking a nap and I’m about to start working on my Kiswahilli homework (class begins promptly at 8:20 am tomorrow morning) and maybe take a rest myself before meeting the rest of the group for dinner in the guest house’s dining room in about 3 hours.

- Hillary


  1. Hey Hill! Yay for your safe arrival in Nairobi. I can't say that you'll ever get used to seeing the slums so close to new architecture, nor that the guilt you feel with ever really subside, but you are at an advantage because you recognize the hypocrisy and yo have feelings about it. You'd be amazed at how many people just brush it off with a "well they're used to it" and refuse to seek answers to the uncomfortable questions an experience like that provokes. There is a restaurant in Nairobi called The Carnivore, stay away. I went with my dad because he was sure that it would be impossible for a restaurant to feature an entirely meat menu. He was wrong, even pescatarians are out of luck.
    Good luck with your Swahili tomorrow!

  2. proud of you! Miss and Love ya!