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Nights out, Markets, Giraffes & Kenyan dancing...

KENYA | Tuesday, 24 November 2009 | Views [616]

My first weekend in Nairobi city lived up to expectations. On Friday night I headed out to Simmers, an infamous Congolese dance parlour where patrons consume Tusky’s (good local Kenyan beer) by the schooner (the beers here are sold in 500ml bottles and are pleasingly cheap and potent!) and well-practised Kenyans carve up the dance floor with booty shaking and grooving next to none. Jessie (another intern from Canada) and her partner Will (a local Nairobian) accompanied me, along with Jessie’s friend Kibe who used to work with her as a social worker caring for vulnerable children at an NGO in Nairobi. It was fun to let my hair down (figuratively speaking…my hair actually was quite greasy and so stayed in its regulation bun), and I even had a bit of a dance, although Kibe kindly accompanied me to the dance floor and made my self-conscious jiggling look like child’s play.. There were professional dancers who delighted the audience with lots of coordinated shaking of their thang and strutting of their stuff, and the band powered on for most of the evening. After consuming kebabs and fried chicken with chips (again, vegetarianism was not an option on this menu) and as many beers as we could while still being able to stand, we finally piled into a taxi and headed to our respective homes.

On Saturday morning my host sisters Naomi and Vivian took me shopping at Ndengu market, where stalls cascade across the sidewalk in all directions, sporting shoes, bags, pants, business shirts, jeans and bras and undies, all bursting off teetering stands. These and various other products were thrust at us by eager vendors shouting, “sister! sister!” as we wound our way through the crowd. An adjacent street was lined with stalls piled with mangos, limes, bananas, potatos, and heaps of maize (which uncannily resembles corn; in fact “sweet maize” as Kenyans call it is actually corn, and is eaten as a desert or with breakfast). We had a deliciously greasy lunch of chips with sweet chilli sauce and soda before they popped me on matatu to the city so that I could check out the masai market…

After meeting Jessie and Will in the city, Jessie kindly offered to show me around the market. I was supremely grateful to her, for upon entering we were confronted with a cacophony of bright stalls, many selling similar or identical wares. Like a local Nairobian (she has been here nearly a year), Jessie helped me to navigate among the vendors, and with her wining smile (they all loved her!) helped me get a good price for my purchases. I enjoyed the haggling and the vendors were often pleasingly explicit about the whole process, saying “okay, so I give my first price, then you give your first price, then I come down a little and you come up a little and we meet in the middle!”, and were without a doubt the best actors I have ever seen, with one gravely nodding his head and explaining that the materials used to make this particular sculpture were “very rare, very special” while the vendor next door agrees to sell them to me for much cheaper as long as I don’t let on to the others. Jessie explained afterward that often the vendors agree on minimum prices for their wares to avoid undercutting, and so if any of them break this rule they warn you not to tell anyone else, as it will push prices down market-wide. A clever scheme if you ask me! Weary and satisfied, when we had shopped all we could and I was carrying not one but two bags (hello Christmas presents!), we retired to CoCo Lounge near the university for a drink, before I headed home and stumbled into bed.

The next morning I woke early and headed off to see the famous Nairobi National Park which, located just 7km south of the CBD, is almost suburban (if you ignore the lions and rhinos). On getting there I was disappointed to find that (predictably) I’d failed to read the guide book properly and had missed out on meeting the baby elephants rescued by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org), for which there is a daily viewing where the little guys (some the size of big dogs) romp around and play in the mud. These animals are mostly orphans or have been separated from their families as a result of poaching and/or destruction of their habitat.

I decided to jump in another matatu and visit the Giraffe Centre, a breeding centre for the endangered Rothschild Giraffe (www.giraffecentre.org). The bus stop was a little further from the centre than I realized and so, after accidentally cueing up for what turned out to be the annual expat Christmas Fair, I wandered the genteel tree-lined streets of Langata (a prestigious suburb populated mainly by the descendants of while settlers and foreign expats) until I eventually found it. The giraffes walked up to a viewing platform where you could feed them food pellets and even kiss them if you so desired. The baby giraffes were very cute, and the sight of a giraffe sticking out its long tongue in anticipation of a treat was quite comical!

After I’d tasted giraffe saliva and felt that my experience was complete, I walked back to the matatu stop, chatting to a nice English bloke called Dave who’d been working in Kenya for four months on a reading project in schools. While he headed onto Nairobi to catch his flight home to Britain, I set off to see some traditional Kenyan dances at the Bomas of Kenya entertainment complex (www.bomasofkenya.co.ke). Although quite touristy, it was a good chance to see a cross-section of dances from a range of different Kenyan tribes, many of which have become less commonly performed as people move to the cities and traditional customs become less an aspect of everyday life. My favourite was the Giriama Wedding dance, where the groom had to enlist the skills of a medicine man after his bride was bewitched into not wanting to marry him! The acting was very dramatic and comical and it ended happily when the bride finally escaped her curse and they were married. The costumes and technical ability were amazing to watch, and I realized where the ubiquitous Kenyan skill in booty-shaking comes from as most of the dances contained a decent amount of this, albeit performed quite differently to the moves observed at Simmers on Friday night!

On Wednesday I head to Zanzibar in Tanzania for an AIESEC conference, and will look forward to experiencing a different country and meeting other AIESEC delegates from Tanzania and Uganda!



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