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Nairobi First Impressions

July 22, 2010

We’ve been here a whole week already and it some ways we have settled right in. And in some ways there are an awful lot of things to get used to…

(Note for grandparents and others short of time, you may wish to scroll down to the Alfie Update at this point.)

So much to tell! Where to start? Well, on the way into Nairobi from the airport we were greeted by flocks of ibis overhead and trees full of marabou storks. There is also a preponderance of red kites in the city, a couple of which fly over our apartments every day, looking very large and majestic. But while the wildlife is many and varied, the mass of people is wild. They swarm across the highways, perilously close to the cars, to get across 3 lanes of traffic as they walk to work. The traffic and the driving is mental, busy and free for all with no discernible speed limits or indeed rules of the road. There may be traffic lights and roundabouts but there may also be traffic police so sometimes you can ignore them (the lights, not the police!) Rush hour is almost as bad as London and the state of the roads is mostly appalling with potholes everywhere and no pavements but plenty of people by the side of the road, either walking, catching ‘matatus’ (local minibuses) or selling their wares as you sit in your inevitable traffic jam. And you can buy ANYTHING from your car as the vendors stroll up and down showing off auto spares, newspapers, grilled corn, puppies, maps, paintings, jewellery, a pair of lovebirds in a cage and posters of the periodic table and so on. Lovely and mad at the same time. The beggars fill me with dread however, as it is usually young boys either on their own or with crippled relatives. The first time I cried helplessly as we drove past and yet only today I turned away and waved one of them off my car quite callously. Horrendous.

Driving is a must however and thankfully we have been given a battered old Nissan Sunny to play with. I had a quick driving test with Gerry from Save the Children and once I’d managed to get out of the car park (ooops) I seemed to be OK. Driving in these conditions is actually quite fun!

We live on Riverside Drive, sandwiched between the Netherlands Embassy on one side and the Chilean Embassy on the other. Our apartment is HUGE; 4 beds and 3 baths with an extra office (massive) and ‘servants quarters’ (another bedroom and bathroom) on the other side of the utility room. We don’t have an outside area as such though plenty of people hang about in our mostly empty car park. They take security VERY seriously around here. We have a 12’ wall around us strung with 7 lines of razor wire and an electric fence atop that. Plus 24 hour ‘askari’ (guards) who have the unenviable task of opening and closing the gate every 5 minutes for residents and visitors, with a neat sideline in helping carry the shopping and washing the cars now and again. Pete gave me a quick lesson in how not to get carjacked (keep all doors closed always and be ultra aware of anyone trying to box you in or tailgate you outside the apartment), which was possibly not what I wanted to hear on my first day. Anyway, considering the traffic jams they’d be well lucky to catch you alone I say but then I haven’t ventured too far yet as I’m still getting used to the layout, so to speak.

There is a ‘city’ part of Nairobi, or downtown as they call it here, but it’s pretty ropey and due to lots of open violence a decade ago has declined considerably. Mostly we ‘muzungu’ (white person; ‘wazungu’ is the plural) go from shopping centre to shopping centre as these are many and varied and have parking and plenty of guards (and more people to help with the shopping; in the greengrocers you can either shop yourself or let a man run around the shop for you. Genius when you have a baby in tow!) They are also the only places you can push a buggy around because as well as no pavements and heavy/fast traffic, the roads only ever peter out into ditches, dirt and storm drains. The shops can be very swanky indeed; lots of Spanish and Turkish clothing imports (eh?) and a very odd Woolworths selling winter clothes around £40 a pop which seems very expensive, but also lovely local crafts such as beads, glassware, leather goods and baskets, which are really good quality. We also visited a material shop selling kangas, kikois (various sarong types) and bright African print shirts and skirts, some of it very cheaply. And there is lots of masai work (beading) on everything from belts to bags and shoes. There is so much I want to bring home! That I haven’t yet bought any masai sandals is quite a testament to my willpower I feel. There are also loads of great and reasonable places to eat and as £20 a head is considered a very pricey meal indeed (only charged by the poshest places which we haven’t yet visited) we often eat out. A couple of places also have lush gardens for Alfie to run around; one up the road even has a little playground which is possibly the only one in town, so I really have become a lady who lunches!

There is a real international flavour here, with a plethora of schools and kindergartens for various nationalities; Swedish, Dutch, German for example and bizarrely both a Braeside and a Braeburn College for the Scots/British. And loads of Montessori schools. Whilst the Kenyan calendar has a long summer break around Christmas , many people still keep to the English system so some of the activities I have found (yoga, Baby Singalong) have finished. Boo. I’m also determined to find a swimming pool though it may have to be the outdoor one at the legendary Norfolk Hotel, where you would drink your G&T on the balcony whilst shooting the passing game, back in the day (as late as the 1960’s apparently). It’s terribly upmarket so I don’t mind if I do! Swim, that is, not shoot animals.

A quick word about the weather (you know you want to). Kenyans think it is very cold as it is winter and wrap themselves and their babies up in fleeces etc. It is in fact about 20+ degrees during the day, sometimes it can be a chilly-ish 18 or so but hardly winter as we know it. That said, many days are grey and cloudy and it’s occasionally breezy (Nairobi is very hilly) but when the sun comes out it is scorchio. So when we eat out, we eat outside, see?

Finally, I know you’re all dying to know about our maid. Pamela is a marvel and is with us every day Mon- Fri from about 8am til 4pm. It really is remarkable how quickly one gets used to not washing up or even clearing the dishes and it is such a treat to open the wardrobe to find all your clothes washed and ironed, not to mention the beds made and everything wiped! (Mums will understand about the wiping especially). I’m slowly getting used to letting her do more and more, such as unpack the shopping and wash the fruit and veg (everything is rinsed with chlorine tablets and we only use the water out of the taps for washing, not drinking or cooking.) Best of all, she is FANTASTIC with Alfie and he adores her, more of which now:-

Alfie Update: Well clearly the best thing about Kenya is Daddy who can induce paroxysms of excitement by just turning up at the door. (Conversely, leaving in the morning brings about a minute or so of crying complaint, which never happens when mummy leaves the house). There was very little hesitation on Alfie’s part and he seems to have taken Daddy’s absence and reappearance in his usual stride. Then there is Pamela of course, who is almost as exciting and infinitely more so than mummy. Such is our lot, sigh. She plays with him and throws him up in the air and is determined he will walk unaided so hothouses him furiously. Today I left them together for the first time while I went to buy more water (so much easier on your own) and I think my absence barely registered, which bodes well for the future.

He continues to develop apace and now crawls up stairs with ease, down one step quite fearlessly, walks holding on to one hand only (barely) and loves to play with the toilets, trying to flush them and pulling the toilet roll out in big heaps. Hilarious. He can also drink through a straw, says oh-oh when pulling something off the sofa, waves bye bye and hello, puts his hand up for a ‘high five’ and points the remote control at the television. Hmm. His appetite faltered soon after we arrived but that could be due to the 2 new teeth he’s just cut. He continues to beam at everyone and doesn’t seem to mind the prodding and poking which seems to be part of the culture. It is lovely how much they like children here and men and women alike with stop and chat to him and play games like peekaboo and high five, even if it’s just for 2 minutes in the lift. They are uniformly surprised at his age however and suitably impressed with his size. As are we all; I’m sure he’s taller than ever. Not quite towering over me yet, but…

He loves the laptop, licking the mouse and tippy tappy typing when allowed near it (not often and rarely intentionally). Keys are the best thing ever, but the car keys are best (?) and he gets quite upset when things are taken away from him. Our new game is chase, when mummy crawls behind him and catches him with kisses and raspberries and this is the funniest thing ever. And a couple of times he has slept from 7pm to 6.30am though often he’s awake around 5am as usual (though it’s still pitch black here then so here’s hoping…)

He loved the elephant and rhino orphanage and we intend to become regular visitors to that as well as the giraffes next door, once mummy has the hang of driving out of the city. There’s also the railway museum and arboretum on our list as well as weekend trips to nature reserves and national parks. Mombasa and the Masai Mara are top of the list!

It’s time I went or I shan’t have enough material for another post. I still haven’t mentioned some of the downsides, such as sporadic water supply (we’d just had the thermostat fixed and at last had hot water when the water simply stopped completely). There are also periodic blackouts and the internet connection is a mare. Ah well, more of this another time!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 26, 2010 3:05 pm

    Fantastic blog, Vics, it sounds amazing (though really not sure I could cope with the driving, myself!). All's good in The Stow, more aubergines in the bowls again now, and tons of cheap and delicious cherries. Ventured to exotic Ilford for the first time, last night, to try and see a film, but made the mistake of thinking it would be a casual affair like the West End – turned up at the beginning of program time, was met by a mile long queue (they have a lot of screens there) and found out that our film was sold out already anyway (luckily, hadn't actually joined the queue). So, we went for an amazing Turkish meal instead. Sat outside the resturant, staring at the glamourous main road and colourful characters passing by, and enjoying the waiter popping out every 2 mins to shout "Dad…" to every single person driving a BMW or Mercedes. He told us he was saving for one, though had no time to take his driving test because he had to work so many hours. Sweet. Saw Pricilla Q O T Desert for the 3rd time the other day – don't think I'll ever get tired of beautiful, camp guys strutting about in feathers and high heels singing disco…… Dave's doing great, his college's end of year show is on and he's getting a great response to his work. After that, he's setting it up in a new Cafe / Gallery in Hackney (Mayer st I think) – great news! I start my new job (fingers crossed all the in-depth checking comes through in time and is okay!) in 2 weeks, and am having a Rosen Supervision week this week – looking forward. Off to a little opera tonight, and hope to be seeing "The Room" film on Friday (do you know about it? – Aparently, the worst film ever made, there are some clips on Youtube and it does look terrible). What's funny, is, it has developed a cult following for being so bad, and the makers have tried to kind of re-market it saying it was meant to be funny, but you can tell that's a load of B/S! Hope Alfie's okay after his bump – seems no-one can get through childhood without one; they'll probably discover there is some essential physiological process triggered by the childhood head-wallop! Lots of love to all of you! Deb X x x x x x

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