Friday, 10 July 2009

Beginnings - Nairobi and the journey to Kisii

Firstly, apologies for the massive delay in posting. Internet is slow so I thought it best to wait until I had a lot to say! So, from the top, here we go...

Along the road from Nairobi airport to the city center are scattered billboards that convey a sense of the character of the capital - they are covered with advertisements for the latest four by fours, luxury car engines, corporate insurance, business loans from western banks and private security. As one drives into the heart of the city the buildings and the people give the impression of the great contrasts and extremes within Nairobi: wealth and poverty, state of the art business technology and primitive transport, central superstores and suburban shanty-towns.

The wealthy professional elite (bankers, lawyers, doctors and politicians) in their tailored suits and high-rise offices rub shoulders with the peddlers and market stall owners. Mobile phones, and advertisements for the two competing brands Zain and Safaricom, are everywhere - no street is complete without at least one retailer offering sim cards, credit, and accessories. Yet, the matatus, old Nissan minibuses that provide the main means of transport within Nairobi and Kenya as a whole, shudder and splutter along, looking as though they should have been taken out of service years ago. The pristine supermarkets (Nakumatt is the main brand name) with their clinical cleanliness and neatly-stacked shelves of central Nairobi are far removed from the crudewooden shacks of the suburbs that offer everything from basic groceries to bicycle repair.

After the early landing and a brief walk around the city, all the project workers and coordinators spent a single night in the heavily guarded Shalom House at Dagorati Corner, a dusty extremity of Nairobi. Our first introduction to Kenyan rain was an especially violent one - having not broken for almost a week, the clouds unleashed a power cut inducing torrent, saturating the ground and darkening the skyline so that is resembled night rather than day.

The matatu ride to Kisii the following day was fairly uneventful. Bumpy, cramped and painfully long all come to mind and yet, a combination of retro pop and rock music blasting from the speakers and the east African countryside flying past was oddly atmospheric. We stopped at a roadside cafe to experience several firsts: long drops (the most common toilet in Kenya, essentially a deep hole in the ground), mandazi (deep-frying dough balls, Kenyan donuts) and Crest (a bitter lemon soft drink made in Kisii). Needless to say, after a sweaty matatu ride, the latter were considerably more welcome than the first! I also had a plate of fried rice and some small peas, a meal that indirectly led to our abortive attempts to cook similar peas in Kiamoncha - the lesson not to by small, unidentifyable legumes from Kisii market was learnt very quickly!

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