I was in Nairobi this weekend and some friends and I happened to stop by Carnivore for “Rock Night.” I had never been to Carnivore before, and all I had heard about it was that they serve crazy meat like giraffe, alligator, rhino, and who knows what else. I guess “game meat” is the proper term, maybe someone can enlighten me. I’m still not sure about the meat part because we were their for the dancing. Who knew it was a restaurant by day and a club by night!
Because it was “Rock Night” I put on the only “rock” shirt I have, a Ramones shirt I had just randomly found earlier that day for 150 shillings ($2). Most of you know that my taste in music is a bit extreme, so what may seem like “rock” to the average Kenyan sounds like a lullaby to me. The music on the dance floor was about 50% rock and then some crunk rap and even some trance house music. The place was packed and the crowd was lively so dancing was a lot of fun. I was surprised when I found that a local coffee chain has a little kiosk near the bar because, of course, my drink of choice is not alcohol or soda!
I was in Nairobi for a few errands this weekend, one of which was to go shopping for some clothes. I realized recently that my wardrobe was in pretty bad shape. A few months ago my Che Guevara shirt was stolen from the laundry line and last week my bike accident destroyed my only pair of jeans and one of my nicer shirts. I decided it was time to invest in some clothes.
After spending about $30 on a pair of new jeans I walked over to Nairobi’s Ngara district, where a friend of mine had said there were lots of street vendors selling second-hand clothing. As I approached the line of hawkers they all panicked, picked up, and ran (in like ten seconds flat). I wasn’t sure what made them flee, but it didn’t matter because they were back after a few minutes. In the meantime I had stumbled into an Indian bulk retail store and picked up 100 grams of garam masala for real cheap. In walking back towards the hawkers my eyes started to water and I thought I had rubbed some spices in my eyes until…
Boom! And all the hawkers were running again. Down the street I saw some smoke but couldn’t make anything of it. As I kept walking a police officer ran past me with some canister and then boom! Tear gas! I briskly walked away from the action and saw a big truck full of police officers. I thought, “this is crazy” and, as I had already bought one shirt for about two dollars, headed back towards Nairobi’s town center.
Last week I traveled to Nairobi by myself for the first time. I had two items on my agenda: the first was to volunteer for UN International Volunteers’ Day (December 5th) and the second was to visit a Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Clinic and shadow a dietitian. My trip from Tala to Nairobi was quite interesting. I didn’t end up leaving Tala until 4:30pm, by which it was prime evening traffic in Nairobi. The trip usually takes an hour, but two hours later we were still stuck in the suburbs of Nairobi not moving more than a foot every 5 minutes. As it was getting darker and darker voices of VSO Jitolee popped into my head, “You shouldn’t be out in Nairobi after dark, especially by yourself…” Dammit. Then, of course, the matatu gets a flat tire and pulls over to the side of the road. With the sky getting darker and traffic getting worse, options started running through my head. Contrary to my normal emergency plan, my instinct was telling me to get out of the matatu and get in another one heading downtown.
As I boarded my second matatu I envisioned roaming around downtown Nairobi alone at night with no sense of direction as to where the matatu to Westlands (where I was staying the night) was. Sitting next to me was a nice Kenyan woman, probably my age, who could tell I was worried about getting to my destination on time. She asked where I was going and offered to help me get there. By this time it was pitch black and there were hoards of people outside. It seems as though three times as many people come out after dark, which makes Nairobi seem even crazier than it usually is.
When we got into the bus to Westlands I thought I was home free, but that was not the case. As we were approaching Westlands I noticed the bus driver was not slowing down. I signaled the caller (the guy who lets people on and off) to pull over, but he didn’t seem to care. He just kept pointing up to the ceiling, and I didn’t have the slightest clue what that meant. Then I noticed a small red button on the ceiling that apparently you have to push so the driver knows to stop. This is unlike a matatu where you just tap the caller and he signals to driver to pull over. As I went to reach for the tiny red button it became apparent that I was about 2 feet too short. So here I am, hopping up and down in the bus trying to push that damn red button. When the bus finally stopped I was well past my destination and wasn’t too excited about walking the distance to my friend’s house. Then I remembered one of the last purchases I had made in California before coming here. Pepper spray! I flashed back to standing in line at Big 5 Sporting Goods with Alan, thinking, “I probably won’t ever need this, but it’s just good to have.” I quickly pulled it out of my purse and held it firmly in my hand, ready to spray anything so little as an insect that should happen to come within 10 feet of me. Thankfully I made it to Westlands with no problems, save having to cross two major roads with racing matatus on either side.
After a good nights rest we woke early to go to Nairobi River and pick up trash for IVD. When we arrived we were given trash bags and gloves. For the next two hours we walked along the river, picking up trash and avoiding the feces. I know it’s a little graphic, but the problem with the river is it’s the dumpster and bathroom for the neighboring slums. On the other side of the river is an even bigger pile of trash, which may make you feel like, “What’s the point?” but the side of the river we were cleaning up used to look like the other side. It’s still sad, any way you look at it, but at least we felt like we were making some sort of impact.