A Month In Kenya: Day 2 (Thursday, June 22)


Thursday (Day 2) was another languid day at home resting from our travels. Harry and I each had awoken about 3:30 a.m. and were WIDE AWAKE. Harry finally gave up on falling back asleep and got up at 5:00 a.m. I decided to stay in bed listening to my Wisconsin Public Radio app (it's so funny to be in Kenya listening to WI weather forecasts!) hoping sleep would find me eventually, which it did shortly after Harry got up. I slept until 8:00, and came out to the living room to find the boys also awake, so we worked on our art journals. We spent a couple of happy hours on that, then Harry made eggs. (Nehemiah: "Ezzy, are you sure you don't want this one? It's AMAZING!")

Then the boys watched some Pokemon episodes while I hung out by the window trying to catch sight of a bird that kept making a crazy loud cry (It sounded like that Eric bird in the movie Up!). Then we played some cards. At midday, Courtney came by to get the boys. (Our complex has a locked gate at the entrance to our wing, so we have to let people in. When Harry went down to meet her, 25-week-pregnant Courtney took one look up the five flights of stairs and said, "Um, I'll climb up when I'm here to stay for awhile.") She took the boys to her house to play with their cousins Taye and Micah. I found out later that she ordered Domino's pizza for them and the boys had a huge Nerf gun war throughout the house and in the maze of backyards at their flats.) Meanwhile, Harry and I had a quiet, relaxing afternoon by ourselves, with Harry taking a long nap and I working on my photos and blog, and recharging our devices. (That's something I'm planning to cover in another post.) 

About 4:30 p.m., Mark picked up me and Harry. The plan was to make a quick stop at the Yaya Mall to get SIM cards for our phones, then Mark would drop us off at Patrice and Courtney's for dinner and hanging out. After days of feeling removed from the world, I was so excited even by the short ride to the mall! One of the things I love about Nairobi is how ALIVE and ACTIVE everything feels. Cars press together haphazardly on the streets and drivers make up their own rules, but it all seems to work just fine and (oddly) I rarely feel stressed or nervous about the traffic. 

One of the other things that makes Nairobi feel so vibrant is that there are people everywhere. Unlike New York (one of my other favorite places in the world), people in Nairobi don't generally seem to be in too much of a rush and they mingle with the traffic unabashedly.  

It's also startling to be gazing out the car window and suddenly see a sleek, modern building rise glimmering from behind the surrounding concrete block walls, tarped fruit stands, and littered roadsides.  

The FCB Mihrab Building

The FCB Mihrab Building

Cars arriving at YaYa Shopping Centre (or any other mall) are subjected to a vehicle search. The security guard opened each of the car doors and looked inside, then Mark popped the trunk so the guard could examine that. Eventually the guard signaled to another guard, who opened the gate and did something that electronically lowered a metal bollard into the ground so we could proceed into the parking lot. I've seen some pretty narrow spots in downtown Madison lots, but these seemed even tighter to me and we had to exit the vehicle before Mark skillfully maneuvered the car into its spot.

The entrance to the mall itself was surrounded by a tall metal fence, and we had to pass through a metal detector while a guard checked inside our bags.  (For obvious reasons, I didn't take a picture.) We walked into the phone store and one of its two security guards ushered us into the left queue (line) where we waited for AGES for Mark and Harry each to get a SIM card, which is a tiny plastic card that replaces our Verizon one so that we can use our phones in Kenya. When they got to the front of the line, the woman asked them each some questions, then handed two SIM card packages (almost like the little envelopes that used to hold hotel keys) to the security guard, whose job includes opening the packages and overseeing the completion of necessary paperwork. Then Mark and Harry had to wait in a second line to submit their paperwork, purchase the cards, and get them activated. 

We'd thought the whole process would take 10 minutes. It took two hours. Harry and Mark were bantering with the guy behind us in line about how it was typical Kenya to have employees there to do something in an hour (like enter the personal information from the form into the system) that a person could have done online himself in five minutes. Harry pointed out that Kenyans would never stand for that, though, because they always want an actual person to help them, even at something like an ATM.  When Mark reached the front of the line, they entered his information, processed his payment, and activated his card relatively ("relatively" being the operative word) quickly. When Harry stepped forward and handed over his SIM card envelope, which had only been in the hands of himself and the security guard, the employee discovered that the actual SIM card was missing from the package. (The SIM card is a tiny chip about the size of a fingernail that gets punched out of a plastic wafer that looks like a credit card.) There was all kinds of confusion about what to do and how they would solve the problem, so Harry had to wait in line even LONGER to get that figured out.

Meanwhile, Mark and I went to FoodPlus grocery store a few doors down. (In Kenya, it's common for supermarkets to be the anchor stores in a mall.) I was so sad that I didn't have my phone because there was so much I wanted to capture there! The shelves were very tall and the aisles were super narrow and meandered around a bit, almost like an old used bookstore. And some of the signage is so humorous (I plan to do a separate post on signage). The one I liked best hung above the checkout line. It was a piece of plain white paper with basic block font and said something like, "POLITE NOTICE: Please kindly prepare your money whilst you wait. Kind regards, Management". I loved that in the span of a modest 8.5 x 11 piece of paper, 3 of the 13 words had to do with politeness/kindness. One of the many benefits of a culture that combines British gentility and Kenyan goodheartedness. 

Mark dropped us at Patrice and Courtney's a little after 6:00 p.m. They live in a beautiful complex called Pergola Flats, which is about 15 minutes straight east of us, nearer to the center of Nairobi. Their neighborhood contains the police headquarters, a bunch of embassies, and is a short distance from the President's house. Harry's second-eldest brother Maurice also lives in Pergola Flats. In fact, he's lived there since he moved back to Kenya from the U.S. almost a decade ago, and we stayed in his unit last time we were here (2010). Now he lives there with his wife Wambui (pronounced Wom-BOY) and their three-year-old son Lemayian. Patrice and Courtney moved into the next-door unit two years ago when they moved from California to Kenya.

It was wonderful to be back at the complex. It's beautifully designed, with intersecting planes of brown brick, dark wood planks, and white stucco, and framed by lush tropical plantings. It feels much more removed from the city than it actually is.

View from driveway outside Pergola Flats. New building in the background is Prism Tower. 

View from driveway outside Pergola Flats. New building in the background is Prism Tower. 

Harry and I hung out with Patrice in the living room and the boys raced upstairs to play video games with Taye and Micah while Courtney and Betty (their nanny/househelp) prepared dinner. Shortly after we arrived, Maurice, Wambui, and Lemayian joined us from next door, and all the kids played while the adults chatted and had tea and digestives. As we prepared to sit for dinner, Ezra became so tired that he lay on the couch and fell asleep. The rest of us ate in shifts around the table, though Nehemiah was not interested in eating much. We left, exhausted but content, at 9:45 p.m. and the boys were asleep before we'd even left the parking lot at Patrice and Courtney's. 

At least these long days and late nights mean that the boys are sleeping well at night! Let's hope that continues.