Leisure and Learning in Nairobi

The views expressed in this blog are entirely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of the World University Service of Canada, the Kenya Equity in Education Project, or Windle Trust Kenya.

Greetings from Kakuma Refugee Camp!

I arrived here Friday morning by plane, and have been spending some time with the staff, wrapping up a few things I needed to finish from the Nairobi office, and yesterday I went on some remedial class visits in the camp. I’ll wait to write about my experience here in Kakuma until I am back in Nairobi and have a more complete picture. For now, I’ll say that I’m surviving the heat, I’m getting used to the feeling of flies crawling on me, the rationing schedules for water and electricity aren’t so bad, and I can’t wait to get started this week.

I’m here in Kakuma to provide on-the-ground M&E (monitoring and evaluation) support, mainly with data collection and entry, which are immense tasks considering how busy the teachers and education officers are on a daily basis. I’ll be training some youth in Microsoft Excel and coordinating a big data entry exercise. By the time we’re finished, we’ll be able to add last term’s in-school performance figures to our database. I’ll also be running a consultation with KEEP’s community mobilizers and some head teachers to hear their input about challenges related to data collection and school matters in general. Finally, there’s a conference for scholarship girls coming up next month and I’d love to hear from the organizers about how the Nairobi office can better support their plans.

Buuuut this post is meant to update you about the last few weeks in Nairobi. Work-wise, I’ve been doing some data entry (not terribly exciting) and preparing for my trip to Kakuma. A few people have asked what there is to do for fun. I realize museums aren’t exactly everyone’s idea of fun, so I’ve included a different post about the museum.

During my first week in Kenya, some co-workers took me and the outgoing intern, Kevin, to a bar frequented pretty much exclusively by Kenyans. My co-workers said that we would be “going out for a beer after work” which meant something very different to me than it did to everyone else. We arrived at 5:30pm and stayed until almost midnight. When we called for a cab, everyone protested that we were leaving early. I was still a bit jetlagged and otherwise would have stayed. The highlight of going out for drinks with Kenyans is that you might order nyama choma (roasted goat). It’s the go-to snack to have at the bar. Instead of ordering nachos or poutine with your beer, you get a slab of nyama choma to share as a group. The first time I had it at the bar, we had it plain with a some salt on the side, so you could season to your liking. Other times you might have it with ugali (corn flour bread) and/or kachumbari (a mix of diced tomatoes and onions).

There are a few good beers made by East African Breweries that are popular here, two lagers called Tusker and Whitecap. Tusker is more to my liking, and it usually goes for anywhere between 150 and 200 shillings (about $2.00 CAD) for a 500ml bottle, but the more expat-friendly locations will charge more. Heineken and Guiness also pretty popular here. A lot of Kenyans also drink Jameson whiskey. When I’m feeling classy I can go to Beer Bistro near Junction Mall. They have a wide selection of beers (including some Belgian brews I want to try more of) and a really nice interior. It’s obviously more expensive but it’s not so bad during happy hour.


A popular club is Gipsy. It’s in Westlands and I’ve been there a few times. It has three bars. From what I understand, it has a greater mix of Nairobi’s people than other places: varying ages of middle/upper class Kenyans, including Indian Kenyans, and expats. I got into my first car accident in Kenya (probably not the last) during the taxi ride home from my first night at Gipsy. We were driving in a roundabout when a fancy car exited its lane and hit us from behind. Nobody got hurt. It was clearly the other driver’s fault. I sat in the passenger’s seat while the taxi driver argued with the other guy. Like always, their conversation began with a polite exchange of greetings. I didn’t understand everything because they went back and forth between English and Swahili. It was a passionate conversation at some points, as the men held each other by the hands and swore they were honest men. The other driver finally agreed it was his fault and whipped out 7000kshs (about $85) a considerable amount to be carrying around. After a 15-minute discussion, the taxi driver got back in the car and he explained that the man was a prominent government official, and he was driving drunk (I told a few friends this story and they were not surprised at this). No wonder he had no hesitation paying off the taxi driver for damages. Anyway, my driver went to turn his key in the ignition and the car battery had died (oh, of course) while his four-way lights were on. Another cabbie from his company came to jump start us and we were on our way.

I’ve managed to get myself invited to a few house parties in Nairobi with some friends I’ve made from work and elsewhere. I’m incredibly awkward at parties in general, so you can imagine how I appear when I am the only mzungu (foreigner, white guy) at a Kenyan party. Nevertheless, I’m learning/trying to be more outgoing, which is especially necessary when everyone is speaking Swahili and I want someone to talk to me. I’m slowly learning more Swahili as time goes on. Understanding the basic grammatical structures is not difficult, as the complexities with conjugation, gender, etc. with some other languages are not as prevalent. Still, it’s a challenge when the words and sounds have little resemblance to what I’m used to. So far I can introduce myself and greet people in Swahili, count to twenty, and ask a few questions (most importantly, vyo viko wapi? = where is the washroom?). At the office, I’ve been taking my Swahili phrasebook out at lunch time. While everyone is eating, I read out a few phrases I’d like to learn, and after laughing at me, my co-workers correct my pronunciation and provide some alternative (often less formal) ways of saying that phrase.

What else do I do for fun? Well, I’m learning to cook new recipes (partly by necessity, partly out of curiosity). There’s a gym in my building with a treadmill, an elliptical machine, and a bike. My neighbourhood is quiet and a good place to go running. I also learned last week, thanks to my roommate, that there is a bootleg movie store in Westlands. They charge 50kshs ($0.62 CAD) to burn one side of a DVD. For that much, you can usually get a season of a TV show! And it saves me the (sometimes very long time) of downloading. I pray that they are not discovered by the authorities. They have everything. I started watching Veep and I highly recommend it. Hopefully I won’t get too carried away with that luxury. I’m also learning what I like on Kenyan TV. When I’m not watching Aljazeera, BBC or a local news station like Citizen TV, I might watch the Simpsons on Fox Africa or watch one of many Latin American soap operas. Kenyans love Latin American soap operas. They are dubbed in English and it’s hilarious. My favourite so far is a Mexican telenovela called Corazon Indomable.

I think that’s enough for now. Stay tuned!


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