I’ve (perhaps unhealthily) been daydreaming a lot the last couple of weeks about things I’ll do when I get back to Vancouver and places I’ll go and things I’ll eat. This stems partly from boredom with Hannah et al.’s departures and partly from homesickness. I know I come from an amazing city and I am excited to see familiar places and people. I also know that while the first few weeks back will be great that I’ll miss Nairobi. I’ve prematurely started mentally preparing myself for what will be incredibly painful goodbyes because I know how fast these last few months will go. I want to soak up every last minute I have with people here because I know that this moment will not happen again. Even if or when I come back, the experience and dynamic will be different. Sooo… instead of thinking about all the great sushi I’ll eat or the hugs I’ll get or the winter outfits I can wear (I miss you boots) when I get home, I decided to share about some of my favourite places in Nairobi.
Amani Ya Juu, which means “peace from above” is by far one of the best places in Nairobi. It’s combination workshop, store and cafe where they sell hand made crafts made by marginalized women. They have stores in DC and Chattanooga, Tennessee (I’m sure there’s a reason), Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and a couple more countries. Each item you buy comes with a little tag with the name of the woman who crafted it and where she comes from. The garden cafe is a lovely oasis in the city, and they serve this AMAZING salad with avocado, chicken, egg and blue cheese with a poppy seed dressing for $5 USD. It’s good quality crafts (compared to something you might find in a market) and it supports a self sustaining project.
The grand piano at church. It’s no Steinway and I’ve only played a couple times, but I can definitively say that the most homesick day I’ve had here was made better by getting to play for a few hours alone. A piano is like the best friend, whatever mood I’m in or emotion I’m feeling whether it’s anger, sadness, or joy it matches me. It takes all of that and it turns it into something beautiful.
Junction Mall. If you know me you knew I’d throw a mall in the mix. I love Junction because 1) it has the best Nakumatt (which is like Kenyan Wal Mart) with the best selection of groceries. 2) It has a movie theater where on Tuesdays, for $8 USD I can see a movie and get a soda, popcorn and hot dog or nachos. 3) It has Subway. 4) It has a bookstore with a pretty good selection of cheap novels and cool pens (cause journalling is more fun in colour). 5) It’s the home of ArtCafe my undisputed favourite restaurant in Nairobi.
Toi Market. According to Wikipedia, before the post election violence in 2007 it was home to almost 5000 traders. I have no idea how many there are now but I love the market. It’s full of vibrant coloured fabric, piles upon piles of used clothing, potatoes picked fresh from the shamba, fruit that smells so fragrant, old electronics that probably some kids at home don’t even know what it is and basically anything else you can think of. I love hearing the music coming from little FM radios (a surprising love of the 90s here) and seeing the vendors lazing about as they wait for their next customer. It’s a great place to spend time if you’re feeling adventurous and willing to peruse stall upon stall. Bring a seasoned shopper though lest you want to get lost in the maze of mud paths.
For You Chinese Restaurant. Owned and operated by a lovely woman from Shanghai, it’s great cheap Chinese. It has made my year infinitely better by keeping me stocked with dumplings and chow mein although her wontons will never be as good as my mom’s! Even Hannah’s last meal in Kenya was had at here, one of our favourite haunts.
Casa de Holmertz. PJ’s jokes plus Emily’s kindness and hospitality plus two cute kids who are fun (most of the time) equals a great place to be. I love hanging out on their super comfy couch or roasting hot dogs and marshmallows out back around their fire pit. There’s also always something delicious here that Emily has whipped up. Most of all, I think it’s a favourite because the love this family has for each other and for their guests is so evident and contagious. It’s hard not to love being around them!
International Arrivals at the airport. I’ve spent a number of hours sitting on the concrete barriers outside (non travelers are not allowed inside any airport buildings for security reasons) with a hundred Kenyan drivers waiting for this businessman or that tourist. I love watching people come out of the terminal (which is actually a converted parking garage after a devastating fire last year) and trying to guess where they’re from and where they’re going. Once Hannah and I were there waiting and started saying welcome in kiswahili to people as they passed. We think we’re pretty funny.
Evidently I really like eating and shopping but if you didn’t know that already we’re probably strangers. Nairobi is noisy, the smog from buses and matatus are enough to make your white clothes grey and I hate not being able to go somewhere after dark. The traffic is abysmal and stuff is expensive. I cherish any opportunity to escape this city and head out to the country to soak in the views and beauty of this country outside Nairobi.
That being said, I love it here. It’s a melting pot of people from all over Africa and the world and you just never know what the day will bring. You can get a dozen roses for $3 USD or pay $15 USD for the worst pizza you’ve ever had. It’s a place where life is happening, people are going places and things are getting done (more or less). The energy of the city is palpable and contagious. It’s home… at least for now.