Kristoffer and I had a great, adventurous weekend, beginning when we went to the Masaai Market that comes to the mall near the UN every Friday. We have been a few times, mostly just browsing and scoping out the African merchandise we might like to buy. On Friday, however, we went with a mission. You see, one of my goals when I found out we were moving to Africa was to learn how to play the African drum. In DC, we went to an open-mic night at the bookstore cafe "Busboys and Poets" and saw a woman and 5 teenage girls give an African drum performance. It was amazing and it made me really want to do it. Where better to learn how to play an African drum then in Africa, right? So on Friday we went to buy a drum. There was a beautiful one that we had seen two weeks before that hadn't been sold yet. Kristoffer negotiated a decent price and the drum became mine. I asked the seller, Peter, if he knew how I could find a teacher. He said that if we met him at the Masaai Market in the city center on Saturday morning he would introduce us to someone. We agreed. When we got home with my new drum, Kristoffer mentioned that he also wanted to learn to play (in Denmark he once lived with someone who could play really well) and that we also need buy him a drum! I am excited that we are going to learn together!
So Saturday we set out early in the morning, first to buy a rug for our living room which we accomplished successfully, and then to meet, Peter. When we arrived at the market, we noticed something right away: business was awful! Because of the current crisis, there are few tourists in Kenya right now and the market is suffering. Normally, the vendors are very aggressive but this day they were out of control. People were trying to lead us to different places, shoving items in our faces and competing with each other for our attention. It was extremely uncomfortable and after a few minutes I didn't enjoy "window shopping" anymore. When I called Peter he met us and introduced us to another Peter who will be our teacher. Kristoffer negotiated a price for him to come to our home two evenings a week to give us a private lesson (although we still think he is too expensive and will continue to look around). Now all we had to do was buy another drum. My drum that we bought on Friday is an original drum from Ghana, or at least so we are told. It is obviously higher in quality than many other drums in the market, which the Peters told us were mass produced. Kristoffer wanted to buy a drum as nice as mine so they would have to locate some from which he could choose. We agreed to meet the Peters 3 hours later to buy a drum.
Off we went to the Kenya National Theater and Cultural Center, where we wanted to see if they had less expensive drum teachers or classes where we could learn in a group. The office was closed so we could not get the information just yet, and we observed that the government must not spend a lot of money on culture because the facilities were pretty run down. We bought tickets to see a show next Saturday put on by "actors for peace" with proceeds going directly to the Red Cross for internally displaced persons (IDPs). We think it will be fun to do with my sister, Christine, as she is coming back to Nairobi from Sudan this Wednesday. She will be with us for almost all of February.
Before meeting up with the Peters again we discovered an authentic Italian restaurant in the city's center. When we were looking for parking a man was standing in between traffic lanes and pointed to his spot, indicating that we could have it. He got in and pulled the car out quickly, stopping traffic so that we could turn right and into the spot. Of course he wanted us to pay him for this service, and we discovered that a group of men were running this little "business" (or scam?). They take up a lot of parking spots, and then give them up to people for 50 shillings (less than a dollar). It was obviously not expensive for us, but definitely a weird situation. It was a really nice, delicious restaurant and we will definitely eat there again. When we got back to the car, the guys running the "business" wanted more money for the time we were parked there. They told us that the city "meter maid" charges a lot more and they would "take care of it." At this point, we didn't really have a choice but to pay them the small fee (less than $1.50) because there was no posted parking information and we didn't know if we were supposed to pay someone else from the city. We are learning that some things considered to be "normal" in Africa are definitely sketchy by our American and European standards.
We arrived back at the market a little early because we had each seen something we wanted to buy; Kristoffer saw some beautiful wooden bowls, of which we bought one, and I saw some beautiful clay vases, of which we bought two. Of course the process was very strained because there were so many people clamoring to get at us at once, but we discovered that ignoring them (however rude it felt) was the best way to get them to just leave us alone. We found our Peters again, but they had bad news. They weren't able to bring any drums into the market because "the store" was closed (whatever that means). They told us that "right around the corner" from the Masaai Market was the "West African Market" which they would take us to, because the West Africans had more original drums from Ghana. We agreed to follow them "right around the corner" to find a drum.
We walked for 5 minutes and then for 5 minutes more - apparently "right around the corner" means something different here. We were weaving in and out of traffic in the city's center and walking through vendors of different products (not nice African stuff but clothes, socks, sun glasses, that kind of thing). The sun was so hot that I started to feel ill, and Kristoffer knows how fast I can go down hill in the really hot sun if I don't get water. The Peters stopped at a horrible-smelling restaurant so I could buy water bottles to prevent myself from fainting, and then they continued walking! Now when we started out with them, we didn't realize how sketchy this situation was. They weren't complete strangers, but at the same time we don't know them well enough to really trust them (besides the fact that we have been advised by the UN many times to never completely trust any Kenyans we do any business with ever). Probably a total of 15 minutes later and after avoiding being hit by many matatus, we arrived at a building on a side street of the city's central business district. We walked up the stairs and there were men sitting around the hall in their underwear, cats all over the place, and a funky smell: not exactly what we were expecting. We were lead into a small room with a bed and a ton of African merchandise, including 4 drums.
The Peters told us that the "West African Market" is "underground" (aka illegal) because the government won't give permits for West Africans to sell in the regular markets. They also told us that the goods from West Africa are "original", whereas almost all of the stuff sold at the Masaai Markets are mass produced. We are not sure if we believe them about this, but it was obvious that this little "store" - which somebody actually sleeps in - contained a treasure of goods brought from West African countries. Kristoffer investigated and chose a drum for the same price as my drum (although we agree that my drum is a little better) and we set off again to get back to our car. The Peters were very proud to have introduced us to this other market, as if we would ever venture back to it by ourselves! Before leaving them, we agreed that Peter #2 will come to our apartment on Wednesday evening for our first drum lesson.
What a day! So much sun and adventure, and still it wasn't over. We were invited to dinner with Nikolas, one of Kristoffer's colleagues at the WFP who lives in that really nice apartment compound we first loved when we arrived here. Nikolas will be moving to the Netherlands to join his fiance in a few months and it was nice to get to know him better before he leaves (We watched the film he made her to propose last year. He rented out a whole movie theater and filled it with loved ones. Very impressive!). He made us a wonderful dinner and it was really nice to be social; it was our first dinner with a friend in Nairobi and it felt very normal.
After such an eventful Saturday, we decided to lay low yesterday and watch half of the first season of the TV show "24"; my sister Meghan (who loves Keifer Sutherland despite his bad-boy ways) was nice enough to give us the first 4 seasons of the show via Christine. I find the show to be pretty scary, actually, but highly addictive so I prefer to watch it during the day. It is very well written and probably good for my health because it gets my otherwise low blood pressure up! We also got our coffee table and TV stand yesterday from Moses, our carpenter. All we need is cushions and our living room is complete; those should be coming today.
Yesterday marked one month since the Kenyan elections that have thrown the country into the worst crisis it has experienced in over 25 years. The only bad news of our weekend was that the town we were in for our Christmas holiday, Naivasha, which we considered to be our safe haven when the election violence broke out, experienced ethnic violence of its own for the first time yesterday. Varying reports say that between 20 and 30 Kenyans (at least) were killed in this town yesterday. The opposition has made accusations that the government is sponsoring gangs to carry out violence against members of the Luo tribe in revenge for all of the Kikuyus that have been killed. In a similar event as the one that happened to a group of Kikuyus early on in the town of Eldoret, yesterday a group of non-Kikuyus in Naivasha were chased into a local building, locked in, and burned alive. Still today, homes are being burned and people are being attacked with machetes. Tourists in the places we stayed on Lake Naivasha were bused out of the town to escape the violence. We really liked the town of Naivasha and the few people with whom we interacted there; I felt sick to my stomach yesterday upon reading that the violence has reached that place. Kofi Annan is scheduled to hold more talks today with President Kibaki and Raila Odinga, but both parties make new accusations against the other each day and it is really hard to see what their compromise is going to be in the end.
Below you can see a picture of our beautiful new drums (mine is the red one with the lion).
I wonder if we can record sounds of our drumming on this blog?