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After boarding the plane at 3:30AM in Addis, I very promptly passed out, and slept for the whole flight save for 5 minutes when I awoke just long enough to down a continental breakfast of yogurt and croissants. We touched down at Kenyatta International at 6 and it took only ten minutes (and $25) to get the visa and clear customs. The disheveled dishware box that held my burlap sack full of souvenirs was already circling the belts when I arrived. Exiting into the arrival lounge, I looked through the line of drivers multiple times for Dr. Obonyo who had promised to meet me there; just before I hopped on a matatu into town, I thought to look for my name and promptly found my driver who had been sent by the YMCA.
Reaching the Y, I quickly ascertained that no one was expecting me and there would be no rooms available for the next three hours. I walked 100m down the street and caught an 8AM service at the Catholic church; besides a slew of Swahili hymns and a small bit of code-switching in the homily, the Mass was delightfully easy to understand (particularly compared to Ethiopia where I never even figured out where or when Masses were held).
By 9, they had cleared a room for me, and, having been told multiple times by the staff to leave nothing of value in my room, took off with all of my most valuable possessions to explore downtown Nairobi. To see Nairobi's CBD, particularly so short a time after leaving Addis Ababa, you would think you had landed in some Canadian metropolis. Modern skyscrapers tower over well-manicured streets and green spaces. Enormous banners, billboards and even LCD screens advertise Coca Cola and other international brands. Public drinking fountains and rubbish bins line wide sidewalks, which are frequently decorated with flowering shrubs. If you stay within this area of about fifty city blocks, it is not at all difficult to completely neglect the fact that you're actually in Africa. Walk a bit too far in any one direction, however, and a frenzy of pimped-out buses, street vendors, beggars, disorderly market stalls, and a hundred other sights, sounds, and smells will bring you careening back toward reality.
I was looking for a place to get some authentic Kenyan grub, but the first streets I walked down offered only fried chicken, burgers and fish and chips. I finally stopped into a suspiciously chain-like establishment offering "real African food" and got some chapati and beans for a handful of shillings. I tracked down an internet café, the only one open of about a hundred I passed, that offered access about five times as fast and half as expensive as anything I found in Ethiopia.
I followed the city's greenbelt of enormous open parks, full of gospel singers, evangelists, and picnickers, back to the hotel. There I found Dr. Obonyo and Dr. Oonge, two of the program's faculty supporters; they were on their way to pick up Dr. Ries, a third faculty member who was flying all the way from Florida (about 30 hours each way with even the most direct routes) to visit for just 3 days. I tagged along and had many fascinating conversations about Kenyan culture, including an extended discussion of the still enforced custom of negotiating a number of cattle and goats to be given to the bride's father upon marriage to a Kenyan girl (and the subsequent return of said livestock in the event of a divorce). We took a car tour of the school and surrounding neighborhoods. There was talk of eating at an exotic restaurant, but we ended up just grabbing dinner at the Y.
Three of the other students would arrive that night after I went to sleep; the fourth had been delayed by a full day of cancelled flights leaving Gainesville and would not show up for another 24 hours. We would spend the next few days touring the university campus, shaking hands with many important people, and getting acclimated to our new environs. We visited the Arboretum where we saw wild monkeys leaping among the tropical trees. We found a number of student cafeterias where we could get lunches and dinners of cabbage, rice, and beans for around fifty cents. We found the groceries, the two-plex Hollywood movie theatre, and the serpentarium. On Wednesday, we took a three-hour drive out into the country to look at a sand dam, as well as a couple of more traditional earth dams, and get some insight into what it was we were going to be working on for the next ten weeks.
Besides our strange tendency to wake at 4 each morning, and besides annoying inconveniences such as a lack of decent internet at our workplace or hotel (I splurged and bought a $50 3G modem), no kitchen with which to cook our own meals (I got a thermos and took to stealing the hotel's hot water at breakfast), and nowhere safe and convenient to leave our stuff, there seemed to be little difference between our life here and that at home. This perception changed a tad on the first Friday of our stay.
A Kenyan coworker convinced us to take off at 4 and go on a pub crawl. While we sat at the second bar at dusk, a friend of the coworker arrived and casually mentioned that tear gas was being fired in the streets below, and this was why all of our sinuses were burning. We took this as a good cue to leave and head back to campus. Reaching ground level, we heard the sounds of gun shots coming from a few blocks away, and joined in a mob of people running at a good clip in the opposite direction. A nearby mosque was in the midst of its call to prayer, and this sound commingled with those of the shots and footsteps on pavement to make for a very surreal experience. We kept running for some time, and soon found that we were the only ones running, and the locals walking along our route were laughing at us, despite the still audible shots. Talking to some of them, we found that no one had any idea what was going on, but the consensus seemed to suggest that this sort of thing was pretty routine and was really no cause for alarm.
On Saturday, three of us dropped by the National Museum which housed a massive collection of stuffed animals; we vowed to see every last one of them in the wild, particularly the rare and fascinating pandolin. Much to our dismay, the snake exhibit would be closed for renovation for the duration of our stay. We called up the other two and arranged to meet them at the famed Carnivore restaurant, which we would all reach by matatus. By some strange fluke, the matatu that they boarded some thirty minutes after we made that call, was the same one that picked us up just a few hundred meters down the road. The bus dropped us a kilometer from the restaurant, so we arrived at Nairobi's most exclusive eating establishment on foot.
Ranked among the top fifty restaurants in the world, the Carnivore features an enormous central barbecue pit where every sort of domesticated and game animal is prepared. A series of attendants with skewers or swords laden with meat walk around to each table and give you as much as you want; this continues until you lower your table's flag in surrender. The meats on offer when we visited included the following: lamb chops, leg of lamb, roast beef, chicken wings, chicken legs, turkey, beef sausage, pork sausage, chicken gizzards, chicken livers, pork ribs, ostrich meatballs, and crocodile; sadly, we had arrived a few years after they passed laws removing such delicacies as zebra and wildebeest from the menu. The meal also included soup, salad, bread, potatoes, a variety of sauces, a big bowl of ice cream or pie, and tea; there was little risk of us leaving hungry. The price tag came out to be just a hair under 2000 shillings, or approximately the equivalent of 40 meals at one of the school's cafeterias. Our bellies much heavier and our wallets a good bit lighter, we grabbed another matatu back to town.
Weekend 1 - Mombasa, Malindi, Gede, Watamu
Weekend 2 - Nakuru, Menengai Crater, Lake Naivasha, Hells Gate National Park
Weekend 3 - Tallahassee