Journey into Africa

Tuesday, October 11, 2011  at 6:58 AM
Written by: Chris Coulon.

As the summer comes to an end and Europe begins to cool before the oncoming chills of fall, we’ve decided to chance our fortunes in warmer climes.  And what better place than the equator?  On a chilly Friday morning, we rose from our warm couch cushions and set off to catch a 4:15AM train to Frankfurt Germany and our plane to Kenya.  

Pan African Highway
The Pan African Highway outside of Nairobi.

The change was incredible, aside from the equatorial climate, we found ourselves in a world apart.  My first impression of the city was that of an ant hill; people, and lots of them, everywhere, moving with a purpose.  There seem to be people everywhere we look, in the streets of the city center, all along the surrounding roads both major and minor; even the outskirts of town where we are staying appears to be a bustlin’ hotspot for locals hawking their wares, walking or simply sitting and chatting the daily news.  Exotic fruits of all colors are available wherever we turn.  Street vendors are happy to help out in teaching us the names of all the new fruits and how to tell when they are ripe.  After a while we begin to wander away, arms laden with piles of new fruits; only to come back a short while later to find out how exactly to go about eating each particular piece.

Maasai Market
Maasai Market just outside Nairobi city limits.

As we wander through the always of shacks and shops, we are greeted often by children calling out “Mzungu! How are you?” and waving enthusiastically.  People on the street, enjoy stopping us to chat, find out where we are from and to say “Hujambo!” the Swahili greeting and welcome.  On a street corner in the city center a small girl of no more than two grasps Danalynn’s wrist staring up wide-eyed.  An elderly woman shuffles up from behind and picks the girl up, laughing and telling Danalynn, the little girl likes her color. 

Zebras and Skyline
Zebras outside Kenya's Capital.

During one of our wanderings through the city center we found ourselves inside a kind of permanent bazaar, a labyrinth of alleys and small shops selling clothing, suites, purses, plastic buckets, and other assortments for Kenyan daily life.  Rounding a corner we are greeted by the wafting scent of grilled Goat and chicken and soon find ourselves bombarded from all sides by food vendors trying to entice us into their corner of the alley with promises of great food and samples.  Since it was nearly lunchtime anyway we simply shrugged and allowed ourselves to be tugged into one of the side buildings to enjoy a lunch of Ugali (a dense paste made from corn meal), Sumuka (fried kale with onions and sometimes tomatoes) and barbequed goat.

Maasai Figures
Maasai figures.

Traditional Kenyan cuisine often entails eating sans cutlery.  Small bits of Ugali are broken off from the main portion and compressed in one hand to roughly the size of a foosball.  Then using your thumb you press in to flatten the ball and create a divot in the center.  This is then used to spoon up the main courses.  Needless to say, eating is a slightly messier affair here.  To compensate, each of the stalls has a large metal basin in front heated from below by coals and a tap to wash hands before and after each meal and on the plus side, many less dishes.

Cooking at David's
Cooking Ugali with our host in Nairobi.

It is good to be back in Africa!  We are looking forward to spending more time with our hosts and a few other couchsurfers here in Nairobi for the next week or so; who knows, we might even go on a safari.  We have left behind our roles as vagabonding Yankees in Europe and have officially become Wzungu!   
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