Happy Monday to you.
Kristoffer’s Uncle Gert recently commented on our blog that, while he likes all of our big stories about safaris and politics, he is really curious our every day life here in Nairobi, all the small stuff. So here I go to answer his questions and add a few more details about daily life in Kenya.
Nairobi is a high city – actually called Denver’s Sister City, I believe – a little over 5,000 ft. above sea level. When we first arrived here we were really, really tired and we were told that was because of the altitude. Even now, when something goes wrong or we are feeling lazy we usually blame it on the altitude. In the very downtown of Nairobi, called the Central Business District (CBD), there are tall buildings and it is mostly concrete like any other city. There are some public parks in that area as well. As you get away from CBD you see more green around you; the further you get out the more rural it becomes. Driving around, even though the roads are often full of pot holes, ditches, traffic or accidents, the view is usually scenic and beautiful. There is one strip of road on the way from our apartment to the UN that looks like a beautiful jungle. I half-expect to see Tarzan swinging through on a vine each day. At this time of year, the country is pretty dry. The Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) of the country often experience drought when it is not the rainy season, as now, but here in Nairobi we get a little rain at night every few weeks. The long rains (rain all day every day) are supposed to begin in March and last through May and the short rains come in November and December, which means mostly brief showers and often in the evening. I have heard from people here that global climate changes are affecting the seasons here and there is more overlap than there used to be. As of right now the weather is quite beautiful – it is basically spring all the time. One morning a week it may be overcast but by the afternoon the sun is shining. I do find it chilly in the mornings and usually wear a jacket or sweater that I take off late morning, but Kristoffer loves it and it is always comfortable in his usual work attire. About clothing in Kenya: people wear very bright colors here, women and men tend to get pretty dressed up for work (at least at the UN people are nicely dressed, women often wear African dresses or skirts), and Kenyans never, ever wear shorts – no matter how hot it is. Maybe that is an African thing, but it is a sure way to identify yourself as a foreigner (in case skin color doesn’t give you away!) to wear shorts. Usually wearing pants of some kind and skirts once a week (never jeans) to work, I am often underdressed compared to Kenyan women. Kristoffer, wearing a shirt and nice work pants, is dressed pretty much like all the other men (especially the other white men).
What else? Traffic here can definitely be a nightmare – we time where and when we drive certain places for that reason. The city does not have the infrastructure to support its population, and because of the weather and the infrastructure the roads are terrible. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death here, I believe, and most of those involve the crazy matatus (mini-buses) in some way or another. There are a lot of cars on the road, and some bikers, but Kenyans do a lot of walking (not advised for white people). People walk to and from work because matatus might be too expensive for them as well as city buses. Bikes are also expensive to buy, and those who do ride them have old, heavy bikes and do not wear helmets. It is very dangerous! As for walking, our day guards, for example, say that they leave their home at 4am to walk to work for 6am. There are not sidewalks in most places, just dirt paths next to the road, and people don’t usually wear reflective gear or anything so at night it is really hard to see them! In the evening you see a lot of women, domestic workers, walking home. Every day coming home from the UN, we see old women carrying extremely large loads of wood on their backs. Kristoffer says it is the worst part of his day, every day, because it kills him to see these old women laboring so.
I will be honest and say that we eat out a lot; we have found the following restaurants that are good and safe to eat at: 2 or 3 Italian places, 1 specific pizza place, 1 Thai place, 1 Chinese place, 1 Lebanese place, 1 fondu place, and a couple of places for brunch that have assorted menus. We are trying to eat more at home, but when we first moved here we sort of got into an “eating out” routine. Because we are vegetarians (yes, me too now) we mostly eat rice, pasta or quinoa with different vegetables in different sauces, potatoes, bread and cheese, and a lot of fruit. I am also a fan of pancakes for dinner (thanks to my dad) but Kristoffer isn’t quite so into that. We haven’t had a hard time finding fresh fruit and vegetables, as long as we wash them well with filtered water. The one I guess that proves to be a bit tricky is tomatoes, because in stores and markets they are often not handled well and so they are often bruised or smooshed – for me that has been the most annoying because I typically eat a lot of tomatoes. We have also discovered, much to my horror and dismay, that ice cream here in Kenya isn’t very good. I will greatly look forward to going back to the US for the first time and getting a big mint chocolate chip ice cream sundae! We buy lunch at the UN Compound every day; there is a food court with an African booth, an Italian booth, and an Asian/Indian booth (from which we usually eat). It is extremely cheap to eat here, costing about $6 or $7 total for two people to eat a full plate of rice and vegetables with juice and water.
As for animals, hopefully you could see from our pictures that animals are very close to us in Nairobi. Day to day in the city, though, we don’t really see them, unless we go back to that park with all of the monkeys. In our apartment THANK GOODNESS we have only had one small gecko lizard, mosquitoes and ants. I will be none to happy if we get any other visitors where we live.
Something that we have recently found to be a crazy phenomenon here is the major problem, also because of infrastructure, with street lighting. There are street lamps installed all over the place, but they are not always, or even often, working. There are a few roads that we drive each day that have street lamps on DURING the day but then if we drive them at night it will be pitch-black with no street lamps lit at all. As someone in my office said today about that very thing, “Welcome to Kenya.” Living in a developing country, it is extremely easy to realize all of the small things at home in America or Europe that we (Kristoffer and Lisa) take for granted, like street lamps and being able to easily buy tomatoes.
Some things that I don’t love about Kenya:
1. We have to use bottled water to brush our teeth.
2. We have to boil water to wash the dishes and then boil more water to rinse them (otherwise, why clean food with filtered water if you are going to prepare/serve them on dishes washed in bacteria?),
3. We don’t have a clothes dryer, which I know a lot of people don’t have throughout the world by choice, I am just very spoiled and miss being able to get my clothes dry very fast. Especially because there is a lot of construction behind our apartment building and our open-air laundry room is exposed to all of the dust, I actually think our clothes get dirty again when they are hanging out to dry!
4. There is so much poverty here.
5. Its proximity to the US and Denmark.
Some things that I really like about Kenya:
1. Weather makes us feel great (at least until the long rains come)
2. It is a beautiful country with amazing landscape and the animals, it is a really special place
3. We get very good, fresh fruit juice here
4. Kenyans are typically very friendly and nice, at least most of those with whom we have interacted (even the guy who stole my sim card was very nice before giving me a $7,000 phone bill!)
*I am sure this list will get longer as we live here longer and as I get more used to being so far away.
To mention briefly the political update, media reports in the last few days have indicated that the politicians are very close to a final political agreement, but ODM and PNU members are individually reporting that this is not so. Yes, progress has been made in getting both sides to agree to a power-sharing government, but no details have been agreed to. Talks were resuming today after a break over the weekend, and ODM has threatened more mass action on Wednesday if the deal is not done. Kenyans are equally hopeful and terrified that this week will bring great news or more violence; I would say Kristoffer and I feel like Kenyans in this regard.