Monday, July 11, 2011

You can take the girl out of L.A., but...

I am now happily settled in Migori after one last visit to the Lasjona Hotel to pick up a few things I had left there. Good riddance! I am now staying at the home of the cousin of a friend of one of our interviewers, and in addition to being about half the price it is MUCH nicer to be staying in a place with a full kitchen and a functioning toilet.

But anyway, before I get too excited about my new digs in Migori, I figure I should devote some space to writing about the last week, which I spent in Nairobi. Though I spent the majority of my time there supervising data entry, I did have a few days to explore, and found myself really liking the city. It has a much more modern, cosmopolitan feel than Dar, and I could see myself living there for a while. The “Nairobbery” moniker strikes me as inappropriate; indeed an op-ed piece in one of the local papers recently defended the city, asking whether any Kenyan has ever called it by this nickname. Perhaps it would better be interpreted as a reference to the prices, which were the main reason I was happy to curtail my stay there. My only other complaint was the weather: Nairobi in July is cold!! At least, colder than my good-for-Africa wardrobe had prepared me for.

Anyway, after spending my first 5 days in Nairobi in a quiet guesthouse close to the Uwezo office, I decided to shift to a place called Wildebeest, which had come highly recommended, particularly as a good place to meet interesting fellow travelers. Wildebeest is a tented safari camp in the heart of the city – a bit silly, perhaps, but the wazungu love it. On my first night there I got in pretty late and spent a restless night shivering in my tent, kept awake by the cacophony of the nearby disco. I was seriously regretting my choice to shift from the pleasant guesthouse, and planned on leaving as soon as I woke up even if it meant forfeiting my deposit. But then at the communal breakfast table, I struck up a conversation with the woman next to me, after overhearing that she was a fellow PhD student in Political Science (at Harvard, no less). We nerded out for a while about our respective research this summer, and then when she mentioned going running later I asked if I could tag along. On our run she asked me how I like living in L.A.. I told her that I was enjoying it much more than I had anticipated and feel like being there for grad school is kind of the perfect situation since you can take advantage of the good (weather, beach proximity, people-watching) and avoid the bad (freeway traffic, vapid industry people) though the Hollywood scene can be fun to check out once in a while. At this she responded, “Or you can take in the Hollywood scene here.” When I looked bewildered she explained that one of our fellow guests at the breakfast table was a fairly well-known child actor, having recently appeared as the kid in Date Night and starred in Bedtime Stories with Adam Sandler. At dinner that night I learned that his father (who was accompanying him) had worked for a number of years supervising films for Disney. This “supervision” appeared to mainly consist of managing famous animals – whether organizing airplane transport of the elephant in Operation Dumbo Drop, or corralling 150 dalmations in Paris (apparently they needed a few extra). At the mention of 101 Dalmations, an older British guest piped up, “Oh, so you know my friend Glenn Close.” This guy explained that Glenn was “lovely” though did not exactly explain how he had come to meet her. He did, however, share a colorful story about drinking tea in a Masai village: Having been invited into the chief’s home while on a safari, and asked what he would like to drink. When he requested tea, he was made to wait while someone cycled 20 km to the neighboring village in order get him a teabag (there being none available in the village he was in). This unfortunate courier got stuck in a massive downpour but returned triumphantly with the teabag, which the chief then proudly brewed for my British friend with cow’s milk and fresh blood!

In the end I decided I could handle another slightly chilly night at Wildebeest, given the interesting company. And after chatting with them over two generous glasses of wine I hardly noticed the cold.

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