Monday, April 13

Nairobi in Snaps

Well, I have already gone home and come back to Africa (I'm currently in Zambia). I just finished putting all of my Snapchats into a single video so you can see my whole Nairobi trip in a little under 7 minutes. Add me on Snapchat (teahop) to watch realtime! I will begin posting about this trip once I get out of the (incredibly lovely) hotel.

Saturday, February 28

The Day Off

We took Sunday the 22nd off in part because, well, we needed a day off at some point. The other part because it was my colleague Rafa's birthday. He wanted to go out to the Rift Valley for a hike through a park called Hell's Gate and I was not one to argue with that.

We stopped at the grocery store for sandwich makings and headed a few hours out of Nairobi. It was my first time out of the city and the vastness of the Great Rift was even more majestic than I had romanticized in my mind, along with thoughts of roaming beasts and the dawn of mankind.

Carlos, our driver+translator+fixer extraordinaire had hired Rasto, the same guide he and Rafa had last year when they did this hike. He is a Masaai man who both went to school and spent four years in the bush, so he had a unique perspective on the clash of cultures going on in his country. Here he is telling us about the various clans in his tribe while standing right before the entrance to the Devil's Bedroom, the end of a long canyon we climbed through.

Rasto had a wealth of knowledge about the area having lived in it his whole life, as his father and father's father and so on and so forth since the beginning of humanity. My favorite story started the Monday before we arrived, when a little girl from Sweden asked him if he had ever seen snow. He had not, there had never been snow in the area. He gave her and her family and tour and they left on their way, only to be followed by a storm that brought, can you imagine, snow! The first ever! Hah!

The park has been home to Masaai's long before it was a park and the tribe has been moved a number of times to make space for steam plants that drill down into the earth to harvest the geothermal energy. They were loud and very scary places where it felt like you were hearing the rumble of the depths of the earth's core from miles away. Rasto assured us they were well compensated for their moves, but that it had seriously disrupted their nomadic shepherding ways of life.

We had planned to go to Pride Rock with a potential reenactment of The Lion King, however our climbs through the canyons were slow, sometimes sideways, often through a few feet of murky water and once a 8 foot jump down a steep wall. It was very Indiana Jones, which I had been watching last week while I was sick, so I was totally digging it (even with pitifully low energy levels). Actually, Tomb Raider was filmed there, although I couldn't find a still of it because they made the whole thing look like Cambodia.

I had an interesting conversation with Rasto about education, money and culture. I asked him if it was possible to have all three. He said in his experience you can have education and money (I said lots of people have that in the US) or money and culture (he said some people have that in Kenya), but you can't have education and culture. He agreed that like the US, in Kenya sometimes people get their education, earn their money and come back to attempt to reconnect with their culture. It reminded me that culture really is an education. They are one and the same - we simply have a culture of Western schooling rather than, for example, ancient land-based tradition. Which is also the case for his newborn son, who his wife (from another tribe that doesn't go into the bush like the Masaai) had in January. He said his people were some of the last to get Western style education, which began for them in the 90s, while other tribes began as early as the 40s in Kenya (which, coincidentally, I had learned in my pre-travel research was the beginnings of daycare in the country). It gets my imagination running wild, thinking of what our country might be like if we were just now watching native culture crumble, rather than having decimated it a few hundred years ago!

Thursday, February 26

Climate & Environs

The most surprising thing I learned about Nairobi in my pre-travel research was its elevation: 5,450 feet. This is higher than my elevation in the foothills of the Sierras! I was curious to see how this would feel on the equator and it turns out to be quite lovely. February is the driest, hottest time of the year for Nairobi, but it seemed pretty perfect to me. It was in the high 70s most days and although we got some rain (which is most unusual - typically it doesn't leak at all until the rainy season starts in March) it was mostly sunny with adorable fluffy clouds in the skies.

I actually dreamed about those clouds a few times, including one where I was attempting to photograph a giant Yucca in the sky. Turns out it was a Sisal:

Anyways, back to reality. The city is actually quite garden-like, with bougainvillea abounding and all sorts of (to us exotic) house plants for sale by the side of the road. 

There are also huge cactus trees:

And tons of very large birds of prey. These are vultures above my hotel, I also saw hawks, massive crows, songbirds with long tails and an occasional bright colored or black and white robin-sized creature.

As I mentioned in a previous post, most of the roads aren't paved so there is really a feeling like you are in the country, especially in Kangemi, where there are fields in the middle of the densely-packed housing:

Given the traffic situation, I decided if I needed to live in Nairobi I would somehow infiltrate the Kangemi culture and find a place near one of these fields and just never leave the neighborhood. 

Tuesday, February 24

Part Two: Nairobi by Car

I have discovered a few more interesting traffic tidbits. First, another cause of travel disruption is things that do not work well with traffic flow:

See the guy under the van?

And here's just a long view with some sweet tunes.

And here is a vocab reminder :)

Friday, February 20

Part One: Nairobi by Car

Bay Area traffic is terrible. LA traffic is terrible. I can imagine NYC traffic is terrible. I will do anything to avoid putting myself in its midsts and most of the time, through waiting, avoiding and careful timing I can more or less pretend it doesn't exist.

When we first arrived, we asked out cab driver about traffic hours. His answer went something like this:

"Well, it starts around 4pm and goes til 8:30pm."
"Oh, ok," we say.
"And in the morning it starts around 6:30am and goes til 10am."
"Wow, ok," we say.
"Then it is all day too."

This has proven itself to be true. So that is the level of congestion we are talking about. Then there is what happens during this congestion:

Yes, it is everywhere. Why is this happening? I have a slew of theories. Let's start with the facts: the cars are right hand drive. The main roads are paved, most of the side roads are not (even in the middle of the city). There are very few, if any (I can't remember of any), stop lights. There are definitely no road lines. The city is growing incredibly quickly and there is tons of construction going on:

This is one of the roads behind our hotel.

Then there are the more subtle things, from which you can draw your own conclusions. Relatively few people have access to optometry. There are vast numbers of public buses, matatus (private mini-bus taxis) and Range Rovers on the road. This is definitely not Switzerland, where everything and everyone is expected on time. Anyways, it makes for very slow travel through the city. But that's ok, god knows I'm in no hurry! 

Sunday, February 15

I'm sorry this blog looks terrible.

Not pleased.
I just want to take a moment to express my extreme dissatisfaction with I have tried, for years now actually, and I'm not sure it is possible to make it any better. I spend most of the precious little free time I have trying to get photos to align and pages to load leaving very little for writing. Not to mention the internets here are slow and I have to transfer photos from my phone to my computer. Does anyone know a better blogging platform? 

Neighborhoods: its all relative

Although we are staying in a pretty posh hotel, our days are spent out in Nairobi's neighborhoods, talking with teachers, health workers, babyminders, pastors & other community leaders. The PC name for these particular areas is informal settlement, the common name is slum. Both names seem offensive to me and they are really just neighborhoods. They are all totally different and mostly not what I was expecting.

As you can see Google isn't afraid to take pictures from above, but they aren't cruising the hoods to figure out what is in there. There is plenty though! Tons and tons! If you search for images you will find all sorts of heartbreaking stuff, but I think its pretty one-sided and sensationalist. I'm not saying I know much about slums or I have seen what its really like. But I have met a whole bunch of amazing people who are trying to make life better for the children of their communities - a problem everyone, everywhere faces. This is one of the meetings Kidogo held where we are discussing what childcare providers need and how to go about getting it.

In one of the interviews before I left, a Kenyan woman living in SF said to remember: You know what? Safety, cleanliness, these things are relative. You may feel unsafe, but this is my home. I know there is better, but I'm doing ok.

This has had a profound effect on me. It has freed me from feeling guilty for my own life or sorry for anyone else's. Who am I to judge? For one very simple example, in San Francisco we have by far way more homeless people, not to mention people are substantially less friendly to their fellow humans. I'm happy I live where I live and I'm sure many would love to visit, but they would certainly miss a lot if they left their homes here, whether their floors are dirt or marble. 


I spent only half a day here, but walked around and went into a couple of homes, so I have a better sense of it than the others. It was much more what I was expecting, with people engaging in much of life on the street, where there is more space than in the homes, most of which are made of tin without any windows so they are hot and dark. I saw some cats here and got to pet one who was sleeping in the babycare center we visited.

I have spent the most time here so far so I know the most people here. It is very different from what I was expecting, it feels much more like a rural village than an urban slum. There is a lot of space around, no open sewers in the streets and the building Kidogo has its babycare in is made of stone. I was told this is one of the newer settlements, so perhaps they built more infrastructure for it than the others. Everyone we talked with lived around the area and many worked outside of it, as taxi drivers, teachers and professionals (like a telcom operator). 

This is the famous one I was telling you about in the last post. I only saw the edges and it was was surprisingly mellow to me. One of the nicest things about these neighborhoods is how few cars are around, that and the general high level of energy because so many people are outside makes them my favorite places to walk. Kibera had few cars but not the high energy part. I will be back there tomorrow, and further in, so perhaps I will have a better update.

This neighborhood is further on the outskirts of town along a truck route, so its a bit rougher and more spacious than the others. As with all of the areas I can't take photos unless I'm either in a car or in someone's home and have asked them for permission, so I don't have much to show here either. Can you tell a little bit how different they are though?