Friday, November 20, 2009

Kenya Interruptus

Some First Impressions

Leaving Kenya for a couple of weeks, as I have an assignment in Sicily and Rome to deal with - a very pleasant assignment, obviously. But as the commitment was made before I came to Nairobi, I must be away from Kenya and interrupt my work and the very nice lifestyle that seems to be falling into place for me in Nairobi.

Not a bad thing, really, because now I have time to record a few first impressions and then, when I return for my longer say, I'll see if my impressions are the same.

So far, this is some of what I have noticed:

Clothes. Professional people dress really well. Suits and ties are de riguer for men, and where these women shop I don't know, but the look in the workplace is very professional. And extremely fashionable. Of course there are some open-neck shirts on the guys, but no one is really sloppy. In the outdoor eating areas in town, lots of casual clothes, but you can always spot the professional classes by the way they are dressed.

Spectacles. No one wants to wear glasses. Sunglasses are hardly ever seen except on non-locals. The local people just don't bother. As for prescription glasses, you occasionally see an over-40 pull out a pair of reading glasses but most people don't wear glasses all the time, especially men. I asked about this, and one guy said it's just not what Kenyan men do. They don't want to wear glasses.

Walking. People are walking all over the place, which is interesting considering how few sidewalks there are, especially away from the downtown areas. I asked if this is because people are too poor to walk, or have cars, or if there is some other reason. Everyone I've asked just says it's because walking is the way to get around. On the other hand....

Taxis. Absolutely essential. Not at all expensive, and for folks like me who don't want to deal with driving - or who really would be afraid to drive on Kenyon roads - taxicabs are the lifeblood of moving about. I walk a lot, too (as I have noted here) but if I have any distance to go (or if it is after dark, since you don't walk in some areas after dark) I take a taxi. They are all over the place.

Food. Nothing exotic yet. Lots of chicken, both in the restaurants at the client office and in public places. Had the opportunity for some fried goat meat with Saffron rice the other day but decided to pass it up. Will get into that later. My driver is anxious to have me eat some of the fried ground nuts that are hawked all over the place, but I may wait a bit for that.

Words - English and Otherwise. Lots of fun sometimes with what happens to the language. First of all, many of us speaking English do it in different ways, using the same words and expressing the same concepts differently. And then things just get mixed up. There's lots of stuff being sold on the streets, especially by vendors walking among the cars (many of which are moving very slowly, or at all, because of the driving conditions). So while the cars are stalled, vendors walk along selling just about everything you can think of, fruit, papers, pots and pans, all sorts of edible stuff, and those ground nuts I just mentioned. I was surprised in a car yesterday to have my driver refer to the vendors as "hookers." No, not that kind. It's just as example of what happens with the language. They are people who are "hawking" their goods as they walk among the cars, and somehow over the years "hawkers" transitioned to "hookers." Quite reasonable, when you think about it, but try explaining what the term "hookers" might mean if you use the term as you are driving along the road in, say, downtown Los Angeles, for example. Or just about anywhere else.

Holidays. Have a holiday in mid-December (the 11th) but haven't been able to figure out what it is yet. Lots of different versions being told to me. We'll see. But in any case, the Christmas season is coming up, and that's what people are talking about. Decorations are already up, children are asking for Christmas trees, shopping is in full swing, and I get the impression that this is what everyone has been waiting for. Many nationals take holiday (vacations) during the Christmas period, but most international staff - including myself - are here and I get the impression we'll do quite a bit of celebrating during the Christmas and New Year's period. Already have some invitations for home visits with local colleagues, and I'm anticipating the celebrations with much enthusiasm.

1 comment:

mdoll said...

Great impressions, Guy. You're such a vivid writer and I laughed at least four times! So glad you're having a good time. Sicily and Rome sound like a great side trip.
- Michelle