Jambo Nairobi!

April 27, 2010

The past few days are a blur. After 30 hours of travel, the bulk of which included meandering deliriously around the Johannesburg Airport, we finally made it to Nairobi. Kathleen’s old friends, Joseph and his son Justus met us at the airport and drove us to the United Kenya Club conveniently located between the National Museum and the University. The 15 minute drive from the airport ended up taking almost two hours as the mutatas (commuter vans jammed with 6 rows of people) and diesel trucks honked out fumes and people weaved in and out of the traffic on foot to get to work or sell things like pillows, bananas, and fake passports through car windows.

The fields soon gave way to the odd factory, Toyota dealership, or furniture outlet. Soon the sidewalks became more defined and the green hills and impressive Nandi Flame Trees punctuated the landscape. I saw my first marabou stork. Bill said, if you see a crazy old man in a gray suit, it’s a mariboo. They are massive. Everything seems to be on a larger scale here, at least the plants and animals.

Everybody was moving. People were walking in all directions along the sidewalks bursting with bougamvilia and succulents. Even the fields that stretched into the National Park were dotted with people walking and walking. Men in double breasted blazers. Women in heels going to corporate jobs. University students with notebooks and well worn shoes. I only saw two Maasai men walking in a median strip wrapped in their red blankets.

Jenn, Bill and Kathleen Going to the National Museum of Kenya

After checking in, we were back out into the traffic again. We went to the National Museum of Kenya where Kathleen had to submit some paperwork. The Museum, much like the Penn Museum doubles as a research institution. It’s exhibitions are only the tip of the iceberg. The tableau of taxidermy in the first room reminded me instantly of the Natural History Museum in DC.

I hope to write a bit more about the Museum later, but I am currently in an internet cafe in a giant mall with faint R&B playing over the air conditioning. After 3 sleepless days of breathing recycled air, I’m in a bit of a hurry to get back out into the open.

Kathleen just sat down at the computer station next to me and said she was containing a bout of hysterics. The ATM ate her credit card and the bank is closed. These things happen. It could be worse.

I am just happy we made it here. Now to stand around and pretend I can offer any administrative help in the matter.

Oh, “jambo” means hello, how are you? I haven’t been brave enough to use it yet as I haven’t figured out its more subtle connotations. Swahili, I’m told, is another one of those tonal languages that can get you into a heap of trouble with the slightest slurring of your vowels.

Here we are at the United Kenya Club a bit bleary-eyed. Note the Tusker beer – great graphic design and branding, and it’s not bad either. Kenyans order it at room temperature. They were surprised when Bill knew to ask for it “warm.” I’m told we are not allowed to bring any to the excavation site.