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Friday, June 4, 2010

The 5 senses of Nairobi

WE HAVE ARRIVED! All my five senses tell me that I have definitely arrived in Nairobi. So many interesting things to take in everyday - Let me try to summarize the experience so far.

Sight - The city is busy, chaotic, traffic filled, and tropical. On any main street you will see nice, new office buildings next to dilapidated structures, next to beautiful villa style houses, next to old dirty looking apartments with clothes hanging everywhere - You see street vendors, women selling loads of vegetables on their backs along the street, people biking, walking, talking, waiting, everywhere. On any main road during the day you will see men in business suits walking next to others in raggedy worn clothing, next to a trendy young lady with skinny jeans and high heels and other women in traditional Kenyan dress with vibrant prints and colors and puffy sleeves. You also see lots of men wearing coveralls and rubber boots for manual labor. You see it all..and once in a while you see a Muzungu ("white person", which could be any ethnicity really except black African or Indian..wuzungu for plural) walking in the middle of it all.
There is greenery everywhere! Right here in Nairobi, you find forests, and farms, and amazing natural tropical flowers and plants everywhere. It is so green and beautiful - in the apartments that we live, there is a gorgeous landscaping everywhere - My favorite are the huge banana leafs and the fan palms..i love them! Outside our window there is a beautiful huge bush with orange flowers and there are large trees with tiny vibrant fuchsia flowers all over the place. It's just so green and lush here - I love it.

Smell - There are many nasal experiences here (nasal experience???)- my nose is getting its work out for sure. Since I have to start somewhere I will begin with..you guessed it..BODY ODOR! WOW! I've said it before and I'll say it again..you could seriously harvest smelling salts that could revive people in the deepest of comas from the funk that is causing that smell. It's not unlike the European body odor that i found often in Madrid..but there is some difference and i haven't quite put my finger on it..and i don't plan to! This body odor is not totally rampant - I have deduced by now that it's mostly the manual/street labor class, security guards (thousands of them here), taxi drivers, builders, street vendors, etc...mostly those that are not daily influenced by the modern world of bodily hygiene that is found in indoor offices, etc. After all, I suppose that if you are living on $10 a day, you would not be selecting deodorant over food for the family - on top of that, people that come from distant villages and are still living that lifestyle believe that a man should smell like a "man". If that is what a "man" smells like, I definitely prefer my man smelling like a woman!
Besides that, as long as you are in Nairobi center, you smell exhaust fumes - There are tons small city buses/vans that emit strong plumes of smoke and exhaust everywhere you go - it can definitely be hard to breathe at times, but i think I'm already getting used to it - not sure if that's good or bad. Once you leave the city and get out into the beauty of Kenya, you smell the freshest of air - It's the smell of a tropical cool climate - In the morning there is a fresh wet green smell - sort of like Washington state - Some areas remind me a lot of Olympia, WA where my grandparents lived. And Sergio constantly says how much it is like Guatemala here - which brings me to the next sense - Touch/Feel!!

Touch/Feel - The weather here is AMAZING! We have no A/C and do not need it so far. The mornings and evenings are cool like maybe 60 -65F. During the day, if it's not cloudy (raining season right now), the sun can warm it up to 80ish..but usually there are patchy clouds that keep it around 75 or so. It's been great..although I am definitely missing out on having a "summer" for now..but i have been told that after August it will be warm - I remember coming in October 2 years ago and it was hot..so i might be eating my words later..we'll see. We have a pool at the apartment and the water is freezing so I'm looking forward to being able to use it later in the year. I should note that this is just the situation in Nairobi right now - the coast is hot - and I'm planning my first trip out there for 4th of July weekend! Woo woo! it will be my first opportunity to get a real tan and I heard the ocean is really warm!
Also in the touch category,I'd like to talk about the hand holding here. People are into it! It's like the middle east with men on men, women on women hand holding. We have a serial hand holder man at work and my co-worker Scott is learning on coping with it. I'll look across the table during a staff meeting and see him sitting there with a scared and frettful look on his face and then i look down and see that Autman (the handholder man in the office) has Scott's hand hostage in a gentle grip while the staff meeting goes on. It kills me! I'm learning to censor my desire to bust out laughing - there is just so many funny things that take place at work ..funny to me of course..not to them. I read an article in the paper here that says "Laughing has it's place, but not in the office!" and it went on to describe office laughers as hyenas. It's a pretty serious atmosphere for the most part. I've come to grips with the fact that I AM the office hyena..whatever, fine with me...better than a wart-hog!

Sound - There are so many sounds - especially at night and in the morning - you here the cawing of crows, the calls of so many other birds (bird watching is huge here), loud chirping of crickets, the constant hum of a nearby generator, people talking in houses around with their windows open, car alarms, and even goats and roosters. One night i work up to like 5 second intermittent zapping..like the sound of those old bug zappers except really loud - There is an electric fence outside our window and it was going off for like 2 hours - most likely an animal tripped it. During the day on the streets, it's the sound of traffic and old crappy engines roaring, squealing breaks, and people talking on the street - and construction, there is construction sounds everywhere. Every block seems to have some apartment or office building under construction.

Taste - Let's start with the good - There are so many tropical flavorful fruits here and they're cheap! Well cheap at the local markets, not at the grocery stores. Year round there is papaya, kiwi, star fruit, mango, guava, pineapples, melons, CHEAP and ENORMOUS avocados, oranges, tangerines, baby bananas, and all sorts of things i haven't identified yet. Everything is pretty tasty too - On the vegetable end, there is a ton of variety as well..only problem being everything is caked in mud when you bring it home..so there is tons of work involved after you buy things. The heads of lettuce are pretty ugly until you wash them and strip away a few layers. I guess that is just another convenience of living in the US - the cleaning and waxing process that the produce goes through before hitting the shelf is pretty intense. I mean, for potatoes, i literally had to scrub them with a brush to get the mud off - This is all part of the reason people get house help here - A) It's cheap and gives someone a job B) It actually saves you money because these local women can go to the open air markets and buy a ton of stuff at half the price that the wazungu (plural white people)can get it and C) it literally takes about an hour and a half at least to clean up the things you have bought. We have decided to have someone for one day a week. With as much dust and bugs that this place has, there is double the need to clean as there was at home. The windows have no screens but you have to keep some of them open so the bugs and dirt pile up. Plus, with no dryer, the clothes take forever to dry and Rebeca irons Sergio's shirts and stuff, which is something that wasn't an issue when we had a dryer.
On the restaurant end, we have found a good number of places that we like. That being said, nothing tastes like you would expect for the most part. Everything is a little off - that is partly because the ingredients that you find here are a little off. For example - cheese. Most cheeses taste a little sour/bitter compared to home - so if you order a pizza, there is just a twinge of a different taste to the mozzarella. There is no good tex-mex, though we did find an El Salvadorean restaurant here that has burritos. Again, it's just a little off. There is no good sour cream here at all. It's all pretty gross. No chips and salsa served, etc. WHich is good for my waste line but bad for my emotional well-being. I found two decent Lebanese places - but again..it's just a little off. The lebne is not so hot..but it suffices. There are a few things we love but haven't been able to find - IF you come visit, please bring tortillas, sour cream (if possible), and zaatar! We haven't found any here. I'm going to have to get good at making my own lebne - dang! I'm not much of a baker but from what i see, I'll need to become one if we want any baked goods that taste like home. I think because of the altitude the bread just doesn't taste so good here - The texture is all off. Again, good for the waist-line bad for the mental health. In general we can get everything we need though and there is lots of choice here. I haven't eaten much Kenyan cuisine though we are supposed to go have Nyama Choma (most popular dish here - roast goat) with one of the concierge guys that we became friends with at the hotel we stayed at for a month The truth is that in our area of Nairobi there is more Indian food here than anything else. It's good Indian food - we are starting to get hooked. The reason that there is so much Indian food here is that there are TONS of Indians! tons! They are the top minority here and they own the Westlands area where we live. They are business owners and well off for the most part. I'm thinking of taking some Indian cooking classes - it's good stuff!

So, that wraps up the 5 senses of Nairobi - I hope I've done justice here with my descriptions. And now that I'm through with my general update, my subsequent posts will be on experiences and what we're up to here! I miss you all! and wish you could all visit and see, hear, taste, touch, and SMELL for yourselves! We're loving it so far!
(The photos are of us posing at the Tribe hotel, where we stayed for the first month)