Between Christmas and New Year’s, Gitarama emptied of expats so Karen and I decided a short holiday was a good idea. We had predetermined that we wanted to travel somewhere that had more access to Western things while simultaneously experiencing a new culture. Cairo was on the shortlist but too expensive, Capetown too far and although we had been warned of its well deserved nickname of Nai-robbery, we chose to go to Kenya’s capital. We couldn’t have had a better time if we tried. Within twenty four hours of arriving, we’d hit up two malls and been to the movies.. (Avatar).
**(We had decided to take only taxis as a means to increase our safety. Oddest thing to have your driver immediately lock your doors after you enter the taxi and to pull up to the shopping mall, supermarker or any other parking lot and have to go through an armed security check. No worries, we had absolutely no negative contact during our visit but our budget suffered a bit with this all important transportation decision).
At the mall it was kinda funny because we decided to separate for one hour to give ourselves some shopping time and when we met up again, neither of had bought anything. Karen had an icecap in her hand and I was downing a cup of ice cream. We went outside the mall to the nearby Masai market and proceeded to shop, shop , shop- half wondering what was wrong with us. For me, seeing the clothes, books, jewelry, shoes, STUFF inside the mall (which was four stories and filled with expats or Africans in western dress) just overwhelmed me. There wasn’t anything I NEEDED. There was tons of stuff I could buy but nothing I needed. I hope this feeling stays with me for a long time, I want my whole approach to consumerism to shift towards basic necessity over flashy, shiny new crap.
On Day 2 we visited Nairobi National Park, electing to try it first before booking a larger safari. After three hours in the park, there was no need to go elsewhere. We watched adolescent giraffes play tag, dozens of zebra dart in front of the car, ostrich running at full stretch, impala/dikdik/antelope/can’t tell them apart things running in the fields, water buffalo grazing by the pond and on the proceeding safari walk saw pygmy hippos, a rhino, albino zebra, lions and a cheetah about 40 ft up a tree. Coolest thing on the first safari was the leopard, spotted (by that I mean sighted but also he had spots) on a rock a few hundred metres away, looking across the valley for something to eat. I have some amazing pictures of course. And for some strange reason, we got out of the car to get a closer look. Yup, just like at Akagera when we went down by the hippos, for some reason curiosity and awe replace reason and safety in these scenarios. I lived to tell about it though.
Day 3 we took it easy, visiting the mall again. I went in to the bookstore resembling Chapters and said to Karen in advance- my limit is 3. Two minutes later I approached her with an armful of books and requested an intervention!! I bought a second bag and about a dozen books came home with me. I’ve already finished 4. With my computer on the fritz I haven’t watched many movies lately and there is little else to do in the evening save reading. I might put a book list up though, I’ve read some amazing stories. The non-fiction about the Sudan is great reading.
At the guesthouse we chose, we met some incredible people. It was a bed and breakfast type called African Inland Mission. We met people heading to and coming from some amazing situations. One lady had worked in DRC but been evacuated. One father and son duo from Australia were on their way to Sudan. The Director of an Ethiopian NGO had come to this guesthouse for a stress break. And then we met a young Canadian couple from the University of Western Ontario who live on Sarnia and Wonderland Rd just a stone’s throw from my former apartment!! We made plans to hang out on Day 4.
Day 4 was the coolest day in Nairobi. We visited an elephant orphanage and learned about the fate of dozens of month old or year old baby elephants. Many were saved from poachers traps or wells they had fallen into. The one pictured here had actually been rescued by a local Masai and taken back to his village where he had to lock him in his house to prevent his neighbours from barbequing it !! He alerted the rangers and the baby (3 month old) elephant was brought to the David Sheldrake Orphanage. The afternoon saw us heading to a giraffe sanctuary and hand feeding giraffes!! It’s like when a dog licks your hand only ten times more slobbery and gross!! I couldn’t stop giggling. What a beautiful and complex looking creature. Her eyelashes were longer than my fingers, her patterning incredible. She kept taking my whole hand in her mouth. For the record, there is a handwashing station on site. Then the four of us, the Canadian couple and Karen and I took a walk in the nature forest where supposedly one giraffe lived. We hiked a bit and commented how much it resembled Sifton Bog (a trail back in London, ON) and basically agreed the chances of finding the one giraffe was like spotting Polkaroo. Then, just as we were heading for the exit, I caught sight of him out of the corner of my eye. We approached him, snapped photos, marveled at the uniqueness of the experience and then left. The guard at the gate cautioned us that they can be kind of aggressive but in this case, he was just as curious and wary of us as were of him. The pictures kind of make it look like we’re posing beside a statue of a giraffe, but I promise you he was real.
The kicker of day 4 was a meal at the infamous Carnivore restaurant in Nairobi. Okay, all you vegetarians close your eyes and plug your ears... I ate crocodile and ostrich and every other kinda meat. They literally just keep bringing skewer after skewer and you say yes or no to trying it. Four rounds of lamb, turkey, pork- get that potato off my plate, there's no room in my tummy! And a swirling tray of sauces each designated for a different meat. In the middle of the table, (not joking!) is a little white flag and once you and your friends have decided you've had your fill, you must lay the flag down and surrender! It was a unique dining experience for sure. I made up for 9 months of protein deficiency eating only goat brochettes every few weeks or so in Gitarama. We had wine, chocolate cake, tea.. it was divine. For the record, crocodile is the strangest texture- even worse than the shark I ate in Trinidad years ago. Ostrich, yum!
Day 5 and we’re heading home but first we must stop at the phenomenal Costco-like supermarket and buy some of the many, many things that are unavailable in Rwanda. Popcorn kernels! Ragu! Flavored tea! There was so much to choose from it was unbelievable. We managed to spend 14 dollars. I think we were a little overwhelmed. Best story so far is that we had changed our flight to head home at 2 instead of 8 because I was sick and wanted to see the doctor back in Kigali. We get to the airport, board the plane and the captain informs us that the refueling truck driver pulled away from the plane without detaching and has broken something. We deboard and have to wait 7 hours on New Year’s Eve day in the Nairobi airport as Rwandair has refused to let the airport staff fix it and have flown another plane over from Kigali to take us home. A propeller plane. It takes over two hours to fly the one hour trip home. We arrive around 10:30 flat exhausted and are barely aware when hooting and hollering and drum beating start up in and around Kigali at midnight.
Wonderful trip, magnificent experiences, I’m ready for 2010. Bring it on!