Published On: Fri, Dec 30th, 2016
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Everything Else About Our Visit to Kenya

When we go to Kenya, we go for two weeks, which may seem like ample time to really relax — that times flies. As soon as you land, it’s time to pack up to go back home. Over the course of those two weeks, everything happens in a blur. This trip we went to Leopard Beach Resort for several days, made a trip to Shimoni to visit the Slave Caves, took a day trip to Lake Magadi, spent a couple of days in Kitui, and were always in motion in all the days in between.

Being my third trip, I didn’t take as many photos as I have in the past, Still, between me and Nduku, we still took many hundreds of photos, though not all have been posted. Najwa also took dozens, mostly of herself making silly faces.

But there are always those photos that don’t go well with any narrative, weren’t part of any major trip somewhere or event we did. They were just random moments scattered throughout our two weeks. And it’s sometimes those moments that really stick out the most.

Since our last visit, Nduku’s parents moved into a new place, yet still in Mlolongo. At their last place, because of Kenya’s lack of strict zoning, such as requiring a paved road to lead to apartment complexes, we drove down a very bumpy dirt road to get to her parent’s place. This time, though, very modern. Paved roads, ample parking for everyone, well manicured landscaping, and to my surprise, a lot of Chinese residents who were there for the many projects that the Chinese were doing in Kenya [I thought it would be weird taking photos of the Chinese so nothing to share there.]

Next to their place stood a very tall mango tree. Want mango? Just step outside and knock one out the tree. That’s exactly what Nduku’s mom asked me to do one day. I can’t even describe the homemade tool I was using, but it was heavy considering it had to reach up a couple of stories to get the mangoes at the top of the tree.

When I first started hitting them, I punctured it and had dribbles of milk spilling down. After several more hits, I knocked it lose, threw my hands up catch the mango, and completely underestimated how heavy these things were. I’m not sure what would’ve happened if it hit me on my head, but I was more cautious with the next two.

Next visit, I’m bringing a slingshot.

Nduku in front of her parent's house in Mlolongo, Kenya

One of the more colorful parts of Kenya are its matatus. They’re as much a part of Kenya as the game parks and the Maasai. At one point the government discouraged the painting of matatus, minibuses that locals use as mass transit. But once the matatu owners were given the green light, it was on. And I’m grateful for it.

These are some of the photos, but they’re probably only 0.001% of the matatus.  Most of the time we were in a car and I couldn’t get a picture in, bad angles, bad light, cars in the way, or I just wasn’t ready.

The best matatu, though, I didn’t get a photo of.  It’s the best one I’ve seen from all three visits.  It had the American flag draping it with an amazing photo of Michelle Obama.  The artistry and talent alone were worth admiration.

One morning, Nduku wanted to go for a walk.  Thinking it would be just around the gated community, we ended up doing almost four miles, part of it walking, but some of it actually jogging.  I don’t run.

Where we were, we had to walk/jog on the side of the highway.  Many lanes of cars and huge trucks flying past, kicking up dust, spitting out exhaust, everyone honking, it was interesting.  Not to mention going by the sign that said “beware of the lions” at the entrance to the game park.  At first, though, we tried to avoid the highway, sticking to the dirt path that ran parallel to the road.  But it was too dusty and at one point, we ran into a small creek and had to get back to the roadway, across a makeshift bridge.

It was obvious Nduku wasn’t feeling the bridge. I almost thought she was going to go back to where we started to cross over solid ground.

During past visits, Nduku and a sister or mom would plan a day to go to the market to get her hair done.  This time her sister recommended someone who could come to the house and do her hair.  But not just anyone for the convenience, this hair stylist had the skills to do anything.  Nduku shwed her a photo of some hairstyle, something about faux locks, and I must say, I was impressed.

When I first heard someone was coming to do Nduku’s hair, I figured it would be a local, someone quiet and shy, someone who’ll come in, do Nduku’s hair, say nothing, and keep it moving.

Wendy Aydah, the guru of ‘do, surprised me. She has a degree in urban planning, but for reasons Kenyans know too well, it’s not that easy to get a job in urban planning. And when you see how developments are pieced together, you’d wonder why there isn’t a huge demand for urban planners.

Nevertheless, Wendy did a phenomenal job, and I almost never compliment Nduku on her hair. It’s not that I don’t like her hair, but I find her beautiful however her hair looks. It’s her cheekbones and smile that stand out the most. But with this faux locks look, and since I like locks, this one is the best look she’s had since we met.

Wendy is truly an artist.

[When in Nairobi and in need of a hairdo, call Wendy Aydah.]

Kenya is a trip.  Whenever I get back, everyone asks how was it, but how do you really talk about it without either really diving deep into the culture of Kenya?  I could give the bullet points, but then the essence is lost.  We went to Lake Magadi, south coast, Kitui, blah, blah, blah.

This trip is part vacation, but mostly about family and friends.  As much as the road trips are memorable, it’s obvious that moments with family and friends are Nduku’s favorite part.  And why not?  She only sees them every two years.  Though I have friends I haven’t seen in much longer than that, I know they’re either right around the corner or just a short hop away.  We’re talking thousands of miles away for Nduku and her people so, when we’re there, ample time is dedicated to catching up.

One of Nduku’s really, really, really good friends, since childhood, is Vanya. Maybe they all are, but I hear these Vanya stories a lot. And Vanya is cool. When we met up with her, the plan was to check out the Nairobi club scene. We got a taste of it last visit when her friend was performing at this jazz club, but Vanya wanted to take us out to a more club scene.

First we started at this rather upscale South African cafe-like place. I’m pretty allergic to bougie, and this place was borderline bougie, but the food hit the spot. Delish. Then, me wanting to go a dive bar, we went to this dive, which was a dive. We’re in the bougie side of town, but this place was pretty much un-bougie. Maybe it was the guy at the next table smoking cigarettes making it unpleasant to breathe or the person who took our group photo with her finger covering parts of the photo. Whatever, I enjoyed the place. But it was just a bar. And Vanya wanted to take us to a place called Kiza.

Now, when we first got into Kiza, I couldn’t comprehend what I was looking at. The music was blasting, the view out the window was perfect, the place was bougie, there were a lot of foreign students and people from other countries so it was the most diverse place I’ve seen in all of Kenya. I just couldn’t figure out why people were wearing headphones. Actual headphones with neon lights on them. I mean, who goes to a club and dances wearing headphones!?

It was such a distraction, what I felt like was the lamest thing I’ve seen i na club, people listening to music while at a club, I almost couldn’t enjoy myself.  I just couldn’t seem to figure it out.  Maybe because it was near the end of our two week journey, the food at the South African cafe we were just at gave me the -itis, the music was loud and not familiar [Kenyan and African hip hop artists which sounds like a cross between rap, gangsta rap, hip hop, reggae and maybe something else I don’t know, all rolled up into one.], I was tired and seeing all those neon-lit headphones on the dance floor and people walking around was just too strange for me.

Then, someone at the other end of the booth we were sitting at, for whatever reason, handed me his headphones. Sure. Why not. What’s the hype.

I put them on. He explained that there are three channels: one for the music playing in the club and two other channels with different music. I tried them all and you know, listening to the same music as the rest of the people in the club, but through the headphones, well, it does something. I doubt I’ll be able to explain it, but it’s like you’re there with everyone else, but because the music you’re listening to is so localized through your headphones, you’re in your own little world.

Whatever the psychology of it all is, I liked it. Actually, it was like an enlightenment. I liked it so much that when he asked for his headphones back, almost half an hour later because I forgot they were his, I went to the front desk to get my own. And another set for Nduku’s sister who obviously like the concept more than me, but I’ll let her tell that story one day.

As much as I want to keep describing the headphones, it’s one of those things where you really just have to experience it for yourself. I hear it’s popular in some European countries. Maybe they do this in Miami [the neon lights make me think of Miami]. Wherever they do it, it has to be a hit. And anyone who goes someplace where they give out headphones at a club, grab a pair. It transform the experience.

But the greatest satisfaction I get from our visits to Kenya, is the experience that Najwa gets from it. Normally I’d say how many kids her age has traveled to Kenya, to Africa, or even overseas, but then I know a lot of adults my age who also haven’t.

The first time in Kenya, she was too young to understand what was going on. The second visit was smooth, but it started with the first few hours with najwa crying that she wanted to go home, and crying louder when we told her we will in two weeks. This time, though, she fit right in. Najwa had a ball, and she’s old enough to remember it. It’s important to me for her to see the world outside the United States and meet her family. We need to start planning a trip to meet her family in Korea. Especially since the last time I met them was when I was leaving at the age of 8-months-old when my dad was being stationed back in the U.S. I don’t even know how much family we have there, what they’re names, or even where to start finding them. But that’ll be for next time.

This time, it’s about Najwa and her family in Kenya. And having a good time.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.

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