First Impressions: Kenya

Kenya lettering

They say honesty is key to telling a story. A good story.

The truth is, I’ve never had any desire to visit Kenya, let alone Africa. Maybe Morocco or Egypt but not so much Africa. The savannahs never really called to me the way lush rainforest did.

But I find myself in Kenya, nonetheless, and I decided to make the most out of the opportunity.

Despite being well traveled and organized, I am always aflustered the day of travel. The house has to be cleaned spotless before departure, the dog sent to camp and the cat prepared meals in advanced. It’s a time consuming process and with only half a day to prepare, I somehow made it and arrived at the airport. Of course, without my phone cable. Why does Apple make their phone cables differ for various devices? Money, most likely.

The travel to Kenya from New York’s “esteemed” JFK was grueling. It had to be one of my longest flight, countering at 24 hours door to door, including 3 hours of layover in London’s Heathrow. Fortunately, we were in one of Heathrow’s more modern and sleeker terminal that will remind one of Munich, and not one of Heathrow’s duller terminals trapped in 1970s. There were crying babies on both flight, the first bellowing in the pains of ear ache. The second leg of the flight included children who would not stop screaming. Needless to say, I won”t be flying with a baby anytime soon.

Kenya’s arrival was less than glamorous. I was told there was a fire in the previous years or so at Kenya’s airport so we were taken to another part of the airport, via bus, crushed in together like sardines. I had thought I left New York behind many hundred miles ago.

Aside: There are rumors that the government had burned down some computer to rid of “paper trails”. I wonder if they realize that information on a computer can be hacked into and destroying it doesn’t actually erase it.

The terminal was greeted with some African art before entering a tarmac-like room, basically a garage at one point, now converted to a “temporary” passport control. If you didn’t know, Kenya requires an entry visa. I had asked, why didn’t we get it done at the consulate? Apparently, it is normally done on arrival with a payment of $50USD or 40 euros.

I debated whether or not to talk about the oddities at the airport. But honesty compels me to tell you the shocking details. Via flight, we were given 2 slips, one for custom declaration and another for Visa application. I thoroughly filled them out like I normally do when returning to the states. I am always proud of myself for completing a form. But at the passport control gate, despite the fact that it was only one plane arriving, the lines were outrageously long.

They told us to go to another line where we gave our slips. I was standing beside the desk instead of the front and had full view of the custom officer throwing the slips filled out underneath the desk while asking for our money. That was my first shock.

It isn’t late yet, maybe 11PM. After gathering passport and visa, as well as luggages, the next barrier should be customs. There’s no one really stopping you. I was about to walk straight through customs and no one said anything. I thought it a bit odd and stopped and ask. A man sighed before strolling on over and asked, “do you have anything to claim?” I responded negatively and he just waved his hand to go.

I always thought Italy was corrupt but I’ve found the next best country for corruption. Kenya.

My first impression of Kenya is thus less than pristine.

The first full day of Kenya was a day of recovery. Breakfast and lunch was at home, giving me time to read Outlander and doing some drawing and photography.

It feels like I lost a day with traveling and another being a lazy vacationer. But later that night, I went to a “Christmas Carol-Off” at the famous Muthaiga Club. I read that it is thee second club in Kenya but one of the largest, boasting over 6,000 members. It is known for its exclusivity and pomp and poshness. To me, it felt like a privilege prison.

Driving to the club, I could see the locals walking on the street as sidewalks were not made yet. The road is paved into the dirt. One wrong move and you could fall into a ditch. Random kiosks and carts line the road. People just sat around. Even in the capital of Nairobi, I felt there was a lack of concern for its citizen. Drivers pass by like crazy. Walkers just walk anywhere even if it’s the expressway. Trash strewn the strees, old building crumbling besides newly deverloped buildings. Some developments stood along valley tediously clinging in fear of falling into the valley below. The bright burnt siena dirt stood in contrast to the thickly lushed green tall trees.

But entering the Muthaiga club, you feel as if you are taken away from the poverty and incivility of the the capital. You enter a well gated lot, a pink one-floor house greets you. You will find a rolling lawn of greens and thickly lushed trees lining well-manicured walkway. It is said to be created for ex-pats who wanted to feel at home when in Africa. I would tell those people to just go home.

The Christmas Carol-Off is basically a group of members, drunk with mulled wine and camembert cheese samosas, singing against each other. It is a club for both men and women (as of 2013). But to get any drink or food, one needs a member to file it under their name.

There are 2 restaurants at the club. One is formal, La Brasserie, and the other is informal, Pink. The formal is so formal that you cannot wear jeans. But polos are ok. It seemed a bit pretentious but I supposed, that is the case with all private clubs. That is not to say that the food is any good. At the informal restaurant, Pink, I ordered a shrimp and avocado with spicy gazpacho, It was really just ketchup spread on top of overcooked/dry baby shrimp and tasteless avocado. I was told the avocado in Kenya is one of the best but I haven’t found that to be true thus far. And the margharita pizza was subpar. Even dessert, sticky toffee pudding was less than enthusiastic.

Muthaiga Country Club

Its suffice to say that even a renowned private club cannot hold a candle to the cheapest and most casual restaurant in Astoria. It was pompous, pretentious, and purely a legacy of colonial imperialism, with very strong power over the country itself, mainly because of the monetary value they bring.

But the night was not so much a failure. I did meet a wonderful family who has been inn Kenya for over 30 years. A psychiatrist and his wife, an ex-model, with their son, who truly resembles Russell Brand with the English accent on top of his native Italian tongue. Great company always makes up for forgettable meal.