kenyan hospitality

in my travels in kenya thus far i’ve been alternately aided and thwarted by the kenyan population.  they’re friendly and their english is good, so as a solo traveler i find myself meeting and chatting much more openly than in rwanda.  however, i’m not naive, and i quickly discovered that ‘sister, where are you from?’ is swahili for ‘do you need a guide or a safari or a taxi or a room or whatever it is i’m selling?’  street touts and beach bums i find moderately annoying, ever-present, and easy to handle.  the conversation goes something like this:

‘sister, where are you from?’

‘i don’t need a guide, thank you.’

a laugh.  he’s been caught out.  most will leave with little fight.  some persist, and we’ll banter on both knowing it’s for the fun of the haggle and not because i’m actually going to buy anything.  kenyans have a good sense of humor and if they get far enough to find out i live in rwanda, they’ll sometimes joke that i’m african, that i know african ways.  flattering, but still a ploy.  when i’m actually looking to buy it’s a bit more complicated.  for example, i was trying to get an express bus to nairobi from naivasha.  guy told me this bus was going direct, cost 200 shillings, even ripped off a piece of paper ressembling a ticket.  guy next to him laughs, says ‘what’s that? that’s not a ticket! sister, this man is a con man. the price is 150.’  so i buy it, get on the bus, which is definitely not express and which stops in the middle of nowhere.  everyone gets out.  i wait.  nothing.  i get out, find the guy, say ‘this is not nairobi.’  a laugh.  ‘i paid to go to nairobi.’  ‘yeah, yeah, ok. here’s a ticket for the express bus. it will take you there.’  i give him a Good Hard Look.  he smiles.  the ticket is genuine this time, the bus is labelled and its passengers confirm the destination.  i had been had at first, but the guy’s conscience got the best of him and in the end no damage was done.

not all of my encounters are manipulative, and i’ve been fortunate enough to have made some friends here.  in mombasa a nice guy called hassan took me for chai and shared conversation while i waited for a bus for an hour.  a guy named moses in nairobi, an artist into whose shop i wandered looking for christmas presents, spent the afternoon with me, walked me through past office rigamarole to send the gifts, bought me lunch in a real kenyan dive, showed me around town and talked art and politics, helped me guard my bag while i waited for the night bus to mombasa.  in the end all he wanted was my number (he might have had a little crush).  a rasta in lamu called omar took me to a beach party with live reggae, introduced me to his friends, got me a free ride on a sailing dhow.  we caught fresh fish, grilled it over charcoal in the boat, ate it and a side of ugali with our hands in the middle of the ocean.  omar later rescued me from the advances of the less-than-honorable simba (like the lion king- that’s his name, i’m not making it up), a ‘friend’ who took me out to some of the villages, introduced me to the local palm wine and then almost didn’t bring me back.

for every simba, there’s an omar, a hassan, and a moses.  as long as i can tell the difference, i get to see parts of kenya that most tourists miss, and at a huge discount.  the local haunts, the lifestyle, the people.  so in conclusion, cheers to kenyan hospitality.  may it follow me into tanzania.

luck has no magic.  satisfy my soul! omar on his boat colorful bags from moses’ shop

~ by aliciawolcott on December 11, 2007.

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