Friday, 30 September 2011

Nairobi Msafiri

We came to Africa to “see the world”, and we have not wasted any opportunity to do so. The clock is ticking and who knows when it will be time for kwaheri. Although Aamir’s contract with the company at Nairobi is for two years, he has work permit for only one year so far (although every body has assured us that the extension is more or less guaranteed, only a matter of more paper work and more payment).

First day at Nairobi, Sunday late afternoon at Inter Continental – we had rested and were ready for action. So we went for a walk to Uhuru Gardens – right opposite the hotel. We asked the staff the routine first timer question: is it safe to walk to the gardens – a concern totally unnecessary in hindsight. Once we had the approval from the staff, we started off, pushing baby in the stroller (his thoughts were obviously on using his own legs, but most of the time as it happens on outings, his attempts were throttled based on our convenience). We found the usual family park scenes – people having a good time chatting and lazing around, hawkers trying to attract the attention of children, balloons flying all around (but no Mhindi in sight) - overall a couple of hours family outing spot.

After we moved to the company provided service apartment (where we stayed for nearly one month), we were settled almost immediately – after all it was temporary, not much settling was required to be done. The service apartment is very much in the Wahindi hub of Nairobi (Parklands); so as I connected to the network, I had the all the numbers in no time – starting from bread eggs duka to Indian grocer home delivery (home delivery is a luxury that I do not have in my rented home, but I can always send askaris/driver/house keeper to buy; for me sending the house keeper is the norm).

So our second Sunday in Nairobi, we were ready for a sightseeing trip. We thought better to do it that week before we get into house hunting and settling down business. This time we went to Giraffe Center. Giraffe Center was our first experience with these camel leopards (twiga in Kiswahili). The height just amazes you (tallest land animal after all with 6 feet long neck and another 6 feet long legs). You are allowed to see them close up and feed them, the center has an elevated platform (height above first storey) to do so. It becomes obvious that the giraffes are accustomed to being fed. When hungry, they would come near humans; scan 180 degrees to see who has the most promising proposition and then get their tongues out to grab the food. When full, they just go back to the neighboring jungle. It feels great to feed them – if you do not mind the thick sticky saliva from the 18 inch blue tongue. Alternatively you could master a throwing technique, giraffes do not mind either ways as long as it ends up in their mouths. The center has all the provisions of giraffe food (mixed nutrition in the shape of round balls) and soap to clean your hands. There is also an information center inside where we tried to sink in the differences between Rothschild, Maasai & Reticulated giraffes. A fact that specially caught my eye, the giraffes sleep for only about half an hour a day – it is amazing how they manage with so less (I guess they cannot afford to take more with predators lurking every where). We found the egg sandwich at the restaurant to be tasteful and filling.

The next stop over was Crocodile or Mamba Village on the same day.  Majority of all tourist places in Kenya have different rates for citizens, residents and foreign tourists. So till we had our passports stamped with resident re-entry authorizations, we had to pay foreign tourist rates. One of the attendants promptly selected us (especially mtoto) for the well practiced antics. Junior was not really impressed with his efforts to mobilize the otherwise lazy animals to action. The baby crocodiles had a separate pool by themselves, I would assume to protect them from the big bullies. Before we could react, our guide had picked up a baby croc and placed it on Adi’s shoulders, keeping the crocodile’s mouth tightly shut with one of his hands. Both babies were visibly displeased. We got to hold a crocodile egg as well. Needless to say, the attendant got a good tip in return. We went around the farm – green parks, open air restaurant, boat rides and camel rides for children – nice ambiance overall. It also has an ostrich (mbuni in Kiswahili) farm – we are told that the restaurant serves their meat, have not checked though. Adi definitely preferred the ostriches over the “snapping” crocodiles (he showed off his two hands crocodile mouth snap shut action and animal identification skills to every body around). Later we got to know that black feather ones are male ostriches and brown ones are females. We came back to crocodiles during their feeding time at four PM. The staff shoved the crocodiles with sticks to put them back to water (for feeding) and then threw what looked like animal intestines at water. All the crocodiles started feeding on them. There was one however who refused to budge and move back to water. He was fuming and in his anger, appeared to be chewing leaves. Adi summed up the day’s travel as “camel did potty” (he saw one indeed in this act), “uncle beat crocodile with stick” (used the Bangla word daanda) – he was very disturbed at this, in fact wanted us to go away - and “crocodile ate leaves” (used the Bangla word paataa). He went on to repeat these sentences for many days. Both Giraffe Center and Mamba Village are very tourist friendly places (would have been even better if the animals had been left in peace) and must see while at Nairobi. Some of our photos are available at:

Last Sunday late morning we went to the Arboretum – less than ten minutes drive from our house. It reminded us of the botanical gardens in India – a collection of indigenous and exotic trees planted by British. The fertile soil and good weather ensure that the trees continue to thrive. The display boards informed us that the arboretum supplied the fuel required by railway steam engines till the time diesel fuel replaced wood fuel. The poison arrow tree greeted us near the entrance (now of course I have forgotten its name). The first lane displayed the boards with names of the trees next to the trees, but there were no boards beyond the first lane. We could manage to navigate the baby stroller around, although it proved to be difficult in some areas. Adi was finally given a chance to be on his feet on a level ground. He joined in with claps to the tune of local songs being sung by a group of people sitting nearby. Overall a very good jogging place and a place to take long green breaths – we should definitely go there more often given the proximity. There is an active Friends of Nairobi Arboretum group who among other activities conduct nature walks on second Saturday mornings – hopefully some day we can manage to go on one of them and spot some birds as well. By the time we were leaving, the picnickers started arriving and the ice cream vendors finally readied themselves up for some business.

Before my planned India visit (Oct-Nov 2011), one of the to-dos is to take mementos for family and friends back home. And hence two trips to Maasai Market. Looks like a third one may be required; since after coming back, the count of items bought do not add up to the people in the to be given list. This is an every day crafts bazaar at different parts of the city, the venue decided based on the day of the week. The items are really good – stone work, wood work (good wood is plentiful here), bead work, paintings (was not aware that African tradition has Batik till I saw the art pieces). Drizzle and baby exploratory urges caused the first trip to end abruptly; hence I planned the second trip during Adi’s school hours. My limited bargaining skills pose a double handicap since the vendors prepare themselves for haggling the moment they see a Mhindi. I make it a point not to mention the price to any one. It is blissful to be ignorant about the fact that your neighbor got it at one tenth of the price.

I am busy planning future trips and the msafiri in me always keeps the antenna on – there are signals to catch all around. For instance, how in the course of its travels, the language diction mutates from musafir to msafiri.

PS Some of the photos of our later trips in and around Nairobi can be found here.

1 comment:

  1. Giraffe feed at the Giraffe Center is a mix of molasses, wheat and corn.