Sunday, December 9, 2007

December 9, 2007 - We are here!

Today is our third full day in Nairobi! I apologize in advance for the length of this entry, but the internet at our hotel has been down, so I have just been compiling a lot to post. In the future, I will keep it shorter and, hopefully, Kristoffer will write too!

To begin…after a difficult goodbye in Boston last week, Rome was a fantastic treat. Kristoffer felt that his briefings at the world headquarters of the World Food Programme (WFP) were extremely useful. Our first night there we visited the Spanish Steps and ate dinner at a really posh vegetarian place. I spent the next day walking around Rome and seeing all of my favorite sights, but the herniated disk in my back was not thrilled about all of the straight walking so the next day I took it much easier. A funny moment for me was when I went to the WFP to get one final shot (yes, there was actually one we didn’t get in the US!) and the security guard was pleased that I have the same model pacemaker as his mother! That night Kristoffer finally had time to see some wonderful places before we left for Nairobi on our third day.

It was a good thing we got to the airport so early on Wednesday because Qatar Airways was not very happy to see us with 6 pieces of luggage to check. They wanted to charge us 4100 euros (approx. $6000 US) because our bags were much, much heavier than the allotted 40kg. Kristoffer was very assertive explaining why we could not and would not pay 4100 euros; he made many sane arguments but my personal favorite line was, “…We could probably rent a private jet for that much money!” I think the airline employees knew how ridiculous the fee was, but it took awhile for them to get clearance to charge us only a few hundred dollars instead. Phew! We were definitely a little nervous that our bags might “accidentally” not make it to Nairobi!

Qatar Airways was an extremely nice airline and we arrived in Doha, Qatar very comfortably on Wednesday evening. It turns out that the airline will usually put customers up in a hotel when they have a layover over night, but because we bought our tickets from a discount website we were not eligible for that perk. We had to buy visas to leave the airport and struggled to find a hotel room because there was a conference of Gulf Coast Countries going on (at least that is what we were told). The hotel was 20 minutes away from the airport with several extremely long lights (we are talking 4 and 5 minutes each red light) so we did get to see some of Doha, which is extremely wealthy and Americanized. We saw every fast food chain on the same strip as Chili’s, Applebees, and even a Ponderosa! It was very interesting for us to experience being in a Muslim country, even if it was only for a short period of time.

Our flight from Doha to Nairobi was also very smooth and comfortable. The first thing I did when we arrived was use the airport bathroom and, to my surprise, in each stall there was only a porcelain-molded hole in the ground over which one must squat to go to the bathroom. In other words, there is no toilet seat (is this called a “Turkish toilet”?). Not a great first impression, if you ask me! However, when we were going through immigration there were two TVs: one was showing an episode of “Seinfeld” and the other was showing “The Amazing Race”. We took these shows as a good sign and I quickly recovered from my bathroom experience!

To our delight all of our bags arrived! The WFP had sent a taxi for us and we squished into a small car with all of our bags; Nairobi lives up to its reputation of having terrible traffic, as it took us almost 2 hours to drive to our nearby hotel. Our hotel, China Garden, is one block from the US Embassy and is across the street from the UN compound. We are staying in a 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment with a living room, dining room, kitchen, and porch until we find a permanent place to live. Of course we don’t actually need this much space, but it is very comfortable and the hotel is gated and has security guards; we are probably in the safest neighborhood of Nairobi.

Very close to China Garden is the “Village Market” which is a large indoor/outdoor mall with many nice stores (both local and international), a movie theater, food court, and huge grocery store, called Nakumatt, which is like a Super Walmart or Target Greatland. It has absolutely everything one could ever need. We have been there a few times by taxi (we are actually there now, using an internet cafĂ©) and have been able to buy cell phones, get food, and contact a property company. For me, going to the “Village Market” helped me fully realize that we aren’t exactly roughing it here.

One thing we have experienced here is power outages; there are a few every afternoon/evening. Now that we have unpacked our camping headlights and bought candles, we are prepared for them. They don’t usually last very long but they take some getting used to. At our hotel, there is also a Chinese restaurant; we have eaten there twice and find the food to be good and inexpensive (and neither of us has gotten sick). I am eating vegetarian so far (Kristoffer is so happy!). Last night after dinner we asked our waiter to see the dessert menu. He went to the kitchen and when he came back opened the menu to the desserts and said, “You can see these are our desserts, but tonight we don’t have any.” He took us quite literally when we asked to see the menu, but he could have saved himself the trip and just told us that they didn’t have any desserts for us to order!

China Garden is a beautiful complex; there are gorgeous flowers, trees, and grass. During the day it is completely serene. It was a bit tricky, though, when we walked back to our room after dinner last night because out of the bushes came this enormous wolf-dog. Seriously, we were so startled! It was bigger than a German Shepard. We stared each other down for a few seconds before Kristoffer just started walking towards it (apparently, dogs like this can smell fear?) and it walked away. All I kept thinking was, “Good thing we got our rabies shots!”

In terms of work, Kristoffer had a great day on Friday. He met one of the other Danes at the WFP and he learned that Nairobi is the 3rd largest UN complex in the world – he says it is like working in a big park. He also learned that they changed his job description to make it more project oriented, and he is thrilled about the change! He actually hasn’t stopped beaming since the plane landed! Tomorrow (Monday) he has a meeting with Kenyan Minister of Health, which he has been preparing for a lot this weekend. He took me to visit the UN Compound yesterday and he was definitely right; I felt like I was walking around a beautiful zoo (without the animals). It is a huge complex with a recreation center, several cafeterias, and a large duty-free store. Tomorrow I will go to get my own UN security pass so that I can enter the complex as I please (so fancy!). I am also considering doing some volunteer work there, hopefully for UNICEF, which could possibly turn into paid work. This week I will also contact the three high schools that were interested in my resume to find out about interviewing or having an informational meeting.

I will register at the US Embassy tomorrow as well, because they were closed when I got there on Friday. It seems that everyone pretty much works a half day on Fridays. We were hoping to apartment hunt this weekend but most property companies are closed on the weekend so tomorrow I will try to schedule some appointments. We have a list of requirements and neighborhoods that we are interested in so we hope the process won’t take too long. The Danish guy Kristoffer met at the WFP on Friday invited us to visit his apartment complex today so we will go check that out this afternoon. If there are vacancies, it would be nice to live some place where we know someone else is happy and safe.

Everyone we have met so far has been very nice and we are so pleased with the weather: sunny and warm with a nice breeze! We are taking every safety and sanitary precaution we can so far – not wearing our wedding rings and not drinking water, for example. It doesn’t really feel like we live here yet, more like we are on a weird sort of vacation, but I am sure once we get our own place and buy a car we will feel more at home. Next weekend we will see animals for the first time, either on safari or at the animal orphanage, and I am sure that will be a great reminder that we are really living in Africa! It is a comfort to both Kristoffer and me that our adventure is off to a great start, and we hope that anyone worrying in the US or in Denmark feels better after reading about our first days.



kittegert said...

Hello you two!
Before we go on reading your interesting blog, we will tell you that we enjoy it!
Kitte and Gert

rebecca said...

Funny story on the toilet. When I first moved to NYC (pretty westernized, no?), I lived in a Barnard dorm and worked with their summer housing program. There were a lot of internationals staying there, taking English immersion classes for the summer. On rainy days, you would see muddy footprints on the toilets. Those unaccustomed to American toilets would stand on them and squat!

TonyM said...

Kristoffer & Lisa,

Very interesting story indeed. I've accepted a position with the United Nations and will be coming to Nairobi towards the end of January '08. The China Garden sounds great and I'm trying to get contact information to make a reservation but all numbers posted on the web don't seem to work. If you could be so kind as to please post their updated information. Thanks in advance and looking forward to an adventure hopefully just as memorable. Hopefully I'll see you in Nairobi. Have an awesome New Year!!