Saturday, December 19, 2009

Socializing and Eating (I)

Jamhari Day

The joys of living in a welcoming society are naturally enhanced when people get together. I was lucky to experience two delightful social occasions in the past week, and I want to tell you about them. So this post is not about the work (which is going well), and as it happens one of the advantages of the good work situation is what seems to be my expanding social network.

The first social event was not work-connected, however. It wasn’t even very Kenyan, although its purpose was probably somewhat influence by a sense of celebration, since last Saturday, December 12, was Jamhuri, Kenya’s Independence Day. There’s lots going on, with a presidential speech and many speeches by local government leaders. I had heard that there would be parades and fireworks and, as one colleague put it, “special dances in the public squares,” but somehow all that sort of eluded me (perhaps as a result of being only a few days back from two weeks in Italy). In any event, although Friday was a holiday at my client’s offices – which I used to go for the drive in the country, described in the last post – I had not anticipated Jamhuri in any particular way.

By mid-morning, though, I knew the celebrating has started. The noise overhead was pretty spectacular and when my hosts in the house where I live told me it was the holiday fly-over put on by the air force and related aviators, I have to say I was pretty impressed. [The house is shown here, with our man coming to open the gate for me.] With the excitement of the air show, I gave a few minutes thought to going into the City Center to see if I wanted to get caught up in the celebrations but the decision made for me by an invitation from our next-door neighbor.

Coming to Nairobi from Spain, our neighbor is a lady who runs her own NGO and has come to Africa to use her private resources to “give something back” (as we Americans might put it). While she herself is very modest about her organization’s work – and would probably be a little embarrassed to have me telling my friends about what she does – I have to say that I was very pleased to meet her. And very impressed to come in contact with someone of independent means who has herself chosen to come to work (with her own hand-picked team, to be sure) to do what they can to help people learn more about health care, nutrition, and the value of education for their children. With her colleagues – all nationals born and raised in Kenya – she is doing very fine work and it was inspiring to hear her speak about the NGO’s work. And to be fair, as I say she was very modest about what she does and what I gleaned from our conversation about her work was mostly in response to my queries.

“It’s just not such a big deal,” she seems to be saying. “I’m just doing what I should be doing.”

And the social occasion. Well, it too, she made clear, was not to be such a big deal.

“Just come for an aperitif.”

Aperitif indeed! Our neighbor laid on such a lunch! All wonderful food that she had obviously spent all morning fixing, and it was all Spanish in origin (although prepared of course with local ingredients). And while I cannot begin to describe the food with any justice, it was lovely and we sort of ate a nice bit to begin with and then spend the rest of our time together coming back to the plates to have a nibble of this or another taste of that. Very good.

As for the party, well I can certainly describe that part of our celebratory day. First of all, we decided to go outdoors and have a picnic (a very un-Kenyan thing to do, by the way, since most folks here prefer to eat at a table, preferably in the shade, and think the white people’s idea of picnicking sort of funny). We spread big cloths on the grass under the trees, surrounded by flowering plants and shrubs (all over the place of course! as I’m finding throughout Kenya), and just had ourselves an entire afternoon talking, telling stories, enjoying the beautiful day, and very, very happy to be together.

The story-telling, needless to say, was wide-ranging, for each of us guests was from a different place: Kenya, of course, Spain, Poland, and the U.S.A. Everyone wanted to know about how this or that is perceived in different places and one theme running though all the discussion was Mr. Obama’s impact internationally and how the “mood” about America seems to be changing (for the better, I perceived). Everyone indicated that they were holding our much hope for the climate change conference and it soon became clear that many people are looking to the American President to lead the charge, so to speak.

Ah, the joys of taking time out just to be with friends. Can’t think of a nicer way to have spent a holiday Saturday not at home.

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