Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dateline Nairobi: Returning Home, and Birthday Thanks to Many Kind People

The Great FOGs/FOAs Safari has come to an end. Designed to share the Great Migration and Mr. Guy's Elephant Infatuation with a group of friends (both American and Kenyan), it was a splendid time for all of us.

Wonderful trip, wonderful interactions with friends (including many Kenyan friends from when I worked in Nairobi), and - very specially - wonderful memories to keep forever.

Recording safari memories begins with the birthday. While I've reached that point in my life where birthdays are best left unmentioned, I was amazed - once Stateside again - to see the number of greetings sent in my direction. Loved all the cards and "catch-up" letters from all around the world, and I can't get over the number of email messages and greetings awaiting me once I opened the trusty iMac.

Wow! So gratifying (and so humbling). In the future, I will assuredly try to be a little more charitable with my sometimes loose comments about the place of personal social media in our lives (like most people of my generation, I can sometimes be a little spiky about how too much focus on social media is not necessarily a good thing). This has been a very sweet experience, and I just might get over my usual "birthday-avoidance" syndrome!

So let me pause for just a moment to say a big Thank You to all the people who took the time to wish me a Happy Birthday. I'm very grateful, and I very much appreciate it.

In Nairobi, with no idea what was being sent to me via the Internet or the USPS, we celebrated with much enthusiasm. While some of our safari group of the last few weeks had returned to America, those of us remaining managed to share two good meals and an afternoon visit together. And despite the fact that there were just a few of us (Andrew, Sandi, Nerisa, Charles, myself and - joining us in the evening - Nerisa's niece Angie, whom we had come to know well during our time in Kenya), we managed to make Mr. Guy's birthday yet another Kenyan day to remember.

And perhaps mention should be made here about one of the cultural differences I learned about when I lived in Kenya: birthdays are not a big thing amongst most Kenyans. While there are occasional birthday observances (probably going back to the European expatriates in the 1920s and 1930s), you won't find many Kenya people paying much attention to birthdays. I don't know why. Perhaps it's economic, since there isn't a lot of discretionary cash floating around for most families. And there is a little more of it nowadays, with some sections of some shops - larger shops - selling greeting cards, including birthday cards. But I don't really know. I just know from my own observations and the comments of many of my Kenya friends, birthday celebrations are pretty rare.

Did that stop the St. Clair Gang? Not at all. While - as noted above - I might have preferred a little less fuss, we had to have lunch, we wanted to have a visit with Charles, and we would have to have dinner, so it all seemed to fall into place. Again, as with the other well-wishers, I'm very thankful to my little group for this day of fun. 

The first of the birthday meals was at a lovely upscale Nairobi restaurant specializing in Kenya food. The restaurant takes its name from amaika, a Luhya word that refers to the traditional Luhya cooking area or kitchen. Although the spelling is sightly different in the restaurant's name, Amaica is a very pleasant place for Sunday lunch (and it apparently becomes very crowded a little later on Sunday afternoon - when we arrived we were the first customers). This photo gives an idea of the space and the splendid decor, with Sandi and Nerisa waiting for me to take yet another photo.

Amaica started out as a restaurant focusing on food from Western Kenya, the part of the country which, in the words of the restaurant's owners, "boasts the widest variety of delicacies." Now the restaurant's cuisine has expanded to include specialties from all parts of Kenya, and the overall mealtime experience is delightfully Kenyan. The restaurant's flagship meal, a delicious dish of smoked beef, is joined together with other pleasurable indigenous foods such as wild traditional mushrooms, bambara nuts, groundnuts, and white ants (which our group did not try). Much of the food is cooked in African clay pots, using techniques and methods learned from traditional food experts throughout Kenya.

One of the joys of the restaurant is the great mass of trees behind the building. The dining area overlooks a large, deep ravine just full of tangled growth, and of course some of Kenya's famous birds - including this trio - come to visit. Very nice.

The afternoon was spent with Charles at his home near Nairobi. Readers of these posts know Charles well, as he was my driver and became my Kenya Brother when I lived in Nairobi (and it was Charles who led me off on my many safaris during my time in Kenya in 2009-2010, with many of these experiences described here - see the 2009 to early 2011 posts in the Archive to the left). Back in October, 2010, I had written The Children of Gachie and Charles' son Justine Ombongi and his cousin Steve Onpinta provided the photographs.

The birthday visit took us to Charles' new home, and we had a very nice time, enjoying the Masese hospitality and sharing much good conversation (and meeting up again with cousins who came by to say hello).

The birthday dinner took us to Mr. Guy's favorite Nairobi restaurant, Osteria Gigiri in the Village Market enclave. The name of the shopping center is a bit of a Kenya joke, since the rather grand establishment is nothing like a traditional village market and in many respects the location is one of the most "Western" spots in Nairobi (it's in the area where many of the embassies, including the United States Embassy, the United Nations, and some of the city's finest homes are located).

Nevertheless, Osteria Gigiri is anything but pretentious or grand. There is a terrific wine bar, and the restaurant is both intimate and expansive, with a large outdoor dining area under a large canopy. Very pleasant, and the staff and management go out of their way to make all customers feel welcome, including bringing along a complementary bruschetta once the diners at the table are seated. It was my "home away from home" when I lived in Nairobi, the perfect place to close out the birthday celebrations.

So. A few notes to begin the story of the latest Kenya experience (a few more photos are here). There'll be more. Watch this space.

1 comment:

Paul said...

From March to December 2009 I sought for advices among my friends whether or not I should leave my lovely France to come to America. The financial crisis was at its high in US, and in France I had a good job opportunity. Someone told me: "I know you are always looking to learn new cultures. Don't have a plan B, go in America as if there is no return and pursue your dram. Go fast do not look back". Guy, your post recalls that time of life.I love to return in places where I lived to look back of what has changed:me,the people,or the place.