26 August 2008

A protestant, a catholic and a jew walk into a mosque...

A pretty good few days down here in Nairobi. We moved from the King's Palace to the Pinnacle Court which while lacking the fireplaces and balconies is much closer to the restaurants, shops and illegal DVD vendors of Westlands. Our senior manager arrived on Thursday and to be honest I've been pretty impressed, he's smoked hookah with us till 1am, hung out and played pool (slight aside - I've continued to be the streakiest foreign pool player ever, missing incredibly easy shots then going on a three ball banking tear to win a match), ventured into Kenyan markets, ridden around in matatus and they don't even know! Anyways, on Friday went to this great place for Indian food called Diamond Plaza where there are like twenty different stalls, you sit down at a table and are swarmed by tons of people with menus, order a bunch of dishes from a bunch of different places and have one of the better family style meals out there. Also interesting, avocado shakes which are much, much better than the weird tapioca/pasta milkshakes (I wish I was lying).

On Saturday we matatued into town and had a good wander around. Ended up next to a really big mosque and figured what the hell, why not ask if we could go inside. They found a security guard who took us on a tour, told us a bit of the history and took us to meet an Imam and a Sheik. It was my first time inside a mosque, but once again, the people were really friendly and welcoming, invited us back for Ramadan (take that Israel Birthright) and generally seemed really pleased we were there. Went to the Stanley hotel and had a drink in the Thorn Tree cafe (of Lonely Planet fame), a Nairobi landmark where travelers used to leave notes to eachother pinned to the tree. Tried to check out the soccer match featuring Gore United (ok ok, Gor United) vs Mathari (the top team) which should have been quite good and packed but got mixed up and the five of us ended up being about 10% of the crowd for a match between two shitty teams. Oh well, at least we saw all terrifyingly huge (2~3 foot tall) birds that are a cross between vultures and pteradactyls.

Continuing the animal theme, on Sunday we started at the elephant orphanage which is pretty awesome. They get all these baby elephants whose parents have died, been poached or who have fallen into water holes (that seemed particularly common), raise them for a few years and then slowly (over five to ten years) reintroduce them to the wild. They are really social animals which is why it takes so long to reintroduce them to wild packs and apparently live for seventy years and can remember people they meet once for ten years (on a good day I can remember for about ten minutes). The elephants are pretty cute (though honestly really fucking strange looking creatures) and run around playing soccer and smelling all the tourists.


Followed that up with the giraffe center which was also pretty cool, they run a breeding program for the endangered Rothschild giraffes and then introduce them into the wild. You get to actually feed the giraffes which is cool if a bit slimy. You can also get a giraffe kiss which is a little cool, a little weird and (also) a bit slimy. Both places were good though a bit zooey and a good warmup to a proper safari.


Capped off the day with the best Ethiopian food I've ever had (coincidentally the only Ethiopian I've ever had, but it was really good). We got a big plate of injallah (sort of like a savory crepe) covered with mixed veggies, fish curry, a chick-pea dish and some grilled meat. You eat with your hands and end the meal with incense and super strong coffee. Phenomenal.


Today we were back to work (rough life) and went with two of the Kenyans to this nearby open air market area which was awesome and really felt African. Good mix of fruit, veggies and chaos. Had a lunch of ugali and nyama choma (ugali is like firm grits made with corn, nayam choma is grilled goat) at this very little, very local restaurant (6 bucks for 5 people, pretty good). Then picked up this nifty DVD that has like 40 movies on it, most still in theatres (Dark Night, Wall-E, etc). Phenomenal.

So hopefully fun with Masai Mara and wildebeest migration this weekend. Denverites - enjoy the convention (not surprisingly, Obama is hugely popular here). Cheers!

20 August 2008

Peanut Butter and the Jazerra

So after the initial shock and awe of Nairobi, we’re starting to settle in quite nicely. We survived a matatu ride to work complete with a TV and music videos, though not quite pimp-my-ride style screens in the back headrest (cause there aren’t headrests). Saw our first good African wildlife, some sort of crazy crane bird thing in the park behind our office. But most importantly, I’ve scoured the local Uchumi (comparable to Food Lion, but with these awesome miniature shopping carts) and found a pretty passable selection of peanut butter. I tried the African version, rather enjoyingly named “Nuteez”, and while it will do in a pinch, I think I’m going to splurge for Skippy next time.

More interestingly (though c’mon, who isn’t enthralled by the trials and tribulations of peanut butter in foreign countries) is watching Al-Jazeera on television here. I’ve never actually watched it before and have always associated it with videos sent in by terrorist groups . So I was pretty surprised to turn it on and see a blond guy with an British accent reporting on the Georgia vs Mother Russia festivities. Its actually a pretty impressive news channel with more in depth stuff than you get back home and certainly better than Fox News.

Anyways, met some more people (including someone finishing up an ADP internship – how ridiculous is that?) and tried my first Nyama Choma (roast goat) which is not quite Lomo. The senior manager that was in Argentina gets here tomorrow for three weeks and I’m pretty interested to see how he reacts to the Robi. Hopefully get out to the national park that’s right outside the city this weekend and looking to see the Masai Mara in the next few weeks.


What to do when the electricity cuts out for 12 hours?
Light candles and play drinking games, obviously

17 August 2008

Nairobi... woah

So its been about four days since I got to Nairobi and I think the best description is simply woah. A good woah. But definitely woah. (So this is going to be a long one, but if you want just the summary: Nairobi is crazy, Nairobi traffic is crazy, our apartment is crazy nice, the contrast between Western and Kenyan cultures next to each other is crazy, meeting some important government official is crazy, the Kenya-Uganda was crazy fun and once again Nairobi is crazy)

Got in Thursday morning after a pretty easy flight, met Rob (the other consultant I'm working with), met my bags, met my taxi driver and ventured into big, bad Nairobi. The first thing that struck me was the absolutely horrific traffic. I expected some crazy driving but there wasn't really a chance for that with tons of cars, trucks, SUVs and busses inching along the generally inadequate roads (shocking I know, the infrastructure here is not quite up to par). As a result, there are tons of people walking around here (from mothers with children strapped to their backs to businessmen in suits), though most often on little dirt paths next to the road rather than proper sidewalks. Or they take matatus, converted vans that careen all around the city with a reputations for overcrowding (like 25 people), crashing and having sayings like "Psycho Beast" on the windscreen. Woah.

So we arrived in our temporary apartment which is probably best described as a Swahili prince's palace. Its a huge, lavishly decorated, 3 bedroom, 3 bath, 2 balcony apartment in a complex that looks more like a castle than a building. And while there is satellite TV, wireless and 24 hour guards, the electricity has cut out right now, the internet is dreadfully slow and the water heater is on some sort of time I can't figure out. I know, I know, a tad ridiculous (affected?) to bitch that the wireless internet in the penthouse apartment in the middle of Kenya is too slow to download Generation Kill.

Settled in to the apartment and wandered around the Westlands neighborhood where we are living. Its an interesting area, right across from a big western style mall is a market of narrow passageways between corrugated iron stalls selling food, hair cuts and African masks, then down the street is a big dubai style mall that is more luxurious (and expensive) than anything in Denver or DC. Woah. Picked up cell phones (you know the drill… +254 714 392 061) had some Chinese for dinner and hit the hay.

The next day we met with the Kenya Information and Communications Technology Board who is giving us office space while we are here. The folks at the board were unbelievably nice, welcoming us, helping find us places to live, offering to plan outings and driving us around (which is nice since driving is not on the top of my list of things to do here). We met the Permanent Secretary for IT in Kenya, a PhD who is like fifth in line for the Kenyan Presidency (same as Condi), and who really I have absolutely no business being allowed to talk to (though he was more impressed with my business card than anyone I have ever seen). Woah. Had some late conference calls (that’s going to be a theme here) and then met two other ADPers for a really nice Italian meal.

Saturday was a grand East African day. Woke up late and was treated to lunch by the CEO of the ICT Board at the aforementioned dubai-style mall. Then headed across town for the Elgon Cup rugby match between Kenya and Uganda. The stadium (well bleachers around a field) was packed and Kenya put on a great show playing pretty impressive rugby. Push-over trys, drop goals, speedy wings and a great individual counter by a flanker helped Kenya to a 39-20 win and the Elgon Cup championship. After the match everyone crowded on the field, took pictures with the Kenya players and drank Tuskers (kenya’s beer).

We then hopped on a bus (once again, busses don’t come to a full stop) for the city center which was good fun, about 30 cents to get a few miles and be the only white faces amongst fifty people. Walked around the center city which was just jammed full of people and matatus (like literally thousands) and grabbed some more beers at some bar. Then went for another really nice Italian meal (this time in a courtyard surrounded by fire pits) with a big random group of aid workers and Kenyans and then capped off the day at a hookah bar (actually capped off the day in a cab driving off road since a tree has been blocking some street for who knows how long… infrastructure). Woah.

So in conclusion: Woah, I need to try some African food and thanks for tuning in (comment, skype, text or call!)

Your friendly neighborhood kiosk

13 August 2008

On the road again

I’ve written a number of these blog entries, from South East Asia to Palm Springs down to South America, but this is the first time I’m writing one from a plane. According to the screen in front of me, I’m at 39,000 feet above the Mediterranean, somewhere slightly west of Sicily. I’m also drinking my second carafe of wine, following a double whiskey (Kenya Air… pretty friendly) following an ambien induced red-eye from Denver to jolly ole London. So this may not be my best post ever.

Anyways, I’m on my way to Nairobi and should be there in about 6 hours. I had a nice eight hour layover in the UK and was able to catch up with Frankie, one of the girls from Khao Lak. She’s a solicitor, which is a British word for a lawyer who wears a funny wig when in court (not making this up, those crazy fucks still do that). Before leaving Denver, I had a fun dinner with Mike, Jenny, Dirt and Margie, the family from Denver that I ran into in Nepal and proceeded to get unbelievably shitfaced with. This time we laid off the apple brandy (unfortunately) but it was still pretty fun to talk about our different stories (I ‘m pretty sure Mike has been to every country on Earth and hitchhiked/sold brownies to survive in most of them).

I also managed a trip to DC, a night in New York and a trip to the mountains to climb 14,000 foot Mt Yale. In fact, in the last 5 weeks week I’ve been on 4 continents, 5 countries and 10 cities. So not a bad go. Anyways, my computer is telling me its 3:40pm on Wednesday in Denver and that sounds like the perfect time for my next sleeping pill.

Until Kenya,

PS. So apparently there are some Christian missionaries on this flight, and they were making some big deal before the flight took off that their bibles didn’t get on board, and that brought a little smile to my face.