Friday, July 27, 2007

Sleeping in Nairobi

As I mentioned in our last blog entry, our flight from Cape Town to Jo'burg and then on to Nairobi was a bit of a beast. After having a "traditional Xhosa meal" at our hostel in Cape town, we caught a cab to the airport, and boarded our flight to Johannesburg.

Our flight arrived in Johannesburg shortly after midnight. And, since our flight on to Nairobi departed early the next morning, we decided to wait it out in the airport, instead of paying a lot of money for a hotel room that we'd only use for a few hours. Unfortunately, in the middle of the night, the Jo'burg airport was a desolate place. After hiking our bags from the domestic area through a winding corridor of contruction barriers and a parking garage to the international departures area, we hunkered down in a closed food court.

At that hour, the only other people there were a few bored looking security guards and one of two pairs of similar, weary-looking travellers trying to make themselves comfortable in the food courts stiff plastic chairs or on the cold marble floor. With about six hours to burn, Sarah's main consolation was that the new Harry Potter novel was supposed to be released that night, and if we made it to 5AM, she could buy a copy in the bookstore downstairs when it opened.

So, at 4:59, I went downstairs for her and was the first person in line (OK, the only person in line) to buy a copy of the final Harry Potter installment. With her new book in hand, Sarah and I boarded our flight shortly after 8AM.

We'd been worried, for a number of reasons, that when we arrived in Nairobi, we'd have trouble with getting our Kenyan visas. But, our worrying turned out to be unfounded, and getting through immigration and customs in Kenya proved to be easier than the last couple legs of our journey. Soon, we were waiting for our luggage while waving to Donald and Caren who waited for us outside.

Donald is an old friend of mine from back in College. Technicially, we both went to Western Washington University, but by the time I transfered there, he'd left to live and travel in Kenya. Eventually, on one of his trips to Kenya, he met Caren, who he married a short time later. Now, him, Caren and their two children Cortez and Bradley split their time between Kenya and Washington State.

Donald watches over Bradley ...or "Badley" as Cortez calls him.

"Cortez, are you mopping the deck?" "I am mopping the deck." Cortez enjoys turning every question into a statement of intent.

After a quick reunion in the airport, we all loaded into a van and made our way to their rented house in the outskirts of Nairobi. There, we were introduced to several of Caren's sisters and one of her brothers, and we treated to a wonderful homecooked meals before crashing out in their guestroom.

Sleeping would play a major part of our first several days in Kenya. After all these months of guesthouses, hotels and hostels, Donald and Caren's house proved to be a welcome oasis for us. I don't think Sarah and I had realized how much we'd missed the sensation of "being home." No matter how comfortable the hotel, I don't think you ever sleep quiet as heavily as you do when home... or in this case, at a friend's house.

In addition, they continued to feed us huge and wonderful meals (Sarah's going to enjoy doing her Kenyan food entry). And, just catching up with Donald and Caren, and playing with Cortez and Bradley proved to be a great change of pace. Hopefully, all the lounging on their couches, eating, drinking and staring at the TV doesn't reinforce any "lazy American" stereotypes.

After a day of resting, Donald (with Cortez in arm) took us into downtown to do some sightseeing. Now, reading Lonely Planet, you'd think that Nairobi was a dirty, lawless, boarderline warzone to be avoided at all costs. So, I think that Sarah and I were a bit surprised to find the downtown to be a surprisingly clean and green city. All the buildings looked like they were built in 1974 and then promptly abandoned to gather layers of brown dust, but apparently the current government has made some recent strides to improve the downtown and it's safety. It's still a place where you don't want to be wearing expensive jewelry, but (as we've found with other places on this trip) Lonely Planet has been a bit -shall we say- melodramatic when describing it.

The following day (after sleeping in, of course), Donald took us downtown again. This time, he was going to show us the school he'd started, the East African School of Media Studies. Several years ago, when people asked Donald what he was doing in Kenya, he'd give vague answers about how he'd "started a film production school in Nairobi." But, I think it was safe to say that my friends and I generally had sort of presumed that it was a crackpot scheme... the sort of thing that many of my friends seemed to get mixed up in the years immediately following College. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was, well, a real, legitimate school!

First, Donald took Sarah and I to Nairobi's central park, where we were met a well dressed Kenyan man who introduced himself as the head of the school's Music and Drama Department. He escorted us to a field filled with a group of about fifty twenty-something Kenyans: the school's choir. They were practicing for a competition that will (unfortunately) start the day after we are scheduled to leave Kenya. While we stood there, the choir performed four songs for Donald and his guests of honor... us. Standing in the center of a half-circle of young Kenyan's singing traditional music proved to the first of several "whoa" moments we'd have over the next couple of days.

After the performance, Donald addressed the students briefly, and then let them ask us any questions about America they'd like. These questions ranged from ones about music ("Do you listen to Hip Hop? Or Country?") to politics (Obama's a local favorite here, because of his father's Kenyan roots).

Peeling us away from his students, Donald next took us to the school itself. The EASMS school is made up of several classrooms, a computer room and a make-shift studio in a high-rise downtown. The student body is about 150 students, with about 8 instructors. As he showed us around, I couldn't help but think that might career of making webpages and pop-up ads seemed sort of trivial in comparison to founding a techincal school in Kenya.

While at the school, Donald introduced us to one of his students, Hesaan. Hesaan is a Maasai at the school pursuing his dream of becoming a documentary filmmaker. Talking to him, I could help but think that he reminded me a bit of Dao from our motorcycle tour in Vietnam; he had that unique combination of having one foot in traditional culture while also being modern, media-saavy and looking toward the future. Donald had talked to him before our arrival and asked him to take us around, introduce us to Maasai culture and see some of the local wildlife.

Hassan seemed eager to show us around, so early the next morning we hit the road in a hired Rav 4.

Oh, but first I got another haircut:
From this.... this!

Note: Sarah is set to do the following blog entry, but she's sleeping (surprise!) so her entry will be posted later.

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