Take Me Back To Sweet Africa!

What was supposed to be a Christmas vacation with my family to Nairobi quickly turned into a place I called home; for almost two years, 2010 to 2012, this uniquely placed section of Africa extended a love to me that I have never forgotten. Vacationing in Nairobi was more than exciting, as well as a compelling adventure. Travelling two 8-hour flights – that is 6,759 miles away from my birthplace, Saint Lucia, to experience a whole new culture, without a doubt was worth it! On the other hand, when I found out that we were moving to Nairobi, I had mixed feelings; it was not what I anticipated, mostly because I felt distant from my family. Living on the other side of the equator (sounds cool, doesn’t it?) with a seven hour time difference, it often felt impossible to communicate with people back home (unless times had been arranged to Skype or by luck they were online the same time as you). Their summer and winter were opposite to ours. Despite my mixed emotions, I am proud to say, ‘I lived in Kenya.’

I relished Nairobi to my fullest; I had tons of fun though sometimes I caught myself reminiscing about back home and the day I would return to Saint Lucia. That day came and I did not realise how much I subconsciously loved Nairobi, up until the day I left, not knowing when I would return again.

School, on the whole, I disliked; I would give any possible excuse as to why I shouldn’t attend on any given day. Much to my surprise, I found myself missing Hillcrest, the school I attended in Nairobi. I didn’t mind going to the classes, although I would still get into trouble for talking too much – like always. Hillcrest was much different to other schools I’ve been to; I guess that’s why I liked it best. The teachers were easygoing and made classes fun (sometimes); the students were extremely welcoming, friendly, laidback, and never was there a dull moment when hanging out with the ones I called,my friends.

At 13 years old: Michele wearing the lion’s mane with a Maasai warrior.

At 13 years old: Michele wearing the lion’s mane with a Maasai warrior.

On weekends or after school we would head over to an humongous field to just kickback, chill and have some fun. Or head down to Village Market for a day of laughs and smiles on the water park slide, playing mini-golf and bowling, visiting Village Cinema, a food court with delicious, different ethnic foods, stores and, of course, what we all needed: a place to chill. Westgate Mall, a beautifully modernised mall, accommodating a little bit of everything ranging from a food court, Planet Media Cinema, fantastic restaurants with delectable foods to fashionable stores, plus a kids’ corner. Or for amusement we’d go to the ice skating rink and for thrills, head over to the go-karting tracks – boy, did I love that! And there was always a house party to attend, which I loved, as it was different, chilled, yet still a party of the night – if we weren’t going to an event that is. I’m aware most persons are obtuse towards other cultures outside of the western media and would be surprised to know that yes, I had access to all this in Nairobi. Considering also, the media portrays Africa as a backward country.

It didn’t take me long to notice the bulk of their fashion sense was more of a Bohemian style, or Hippie, and I loved it; they rocked it! It was divergent. Sure, they still followed trends but in their own way and still looked fashionable. Most of the locals dressed in their traditional ways, using the African cloth with different prints, which in fact is quite popular now, globally. They would wear the kente wraps, the dashikis, kanga, to name a few. The Kikoy (I own two pairs) is an East African version of a wrap/sarong which has expanded to t-shirts, shorts, pants, pillow cases, etc., especially in Kenya. It is woven with the finest cotton in vibrant colours!

I also noticed almost every ex-pat’s house had an electric fence, security guard(s), and a side living quarters for the helpers. Another thing I realised: having different tribes living or working together can be problematic as some don’t get along with certain other tribes. They tend to set each other up for failure and/or get them in trouble – sometimes going to high extremes. However, I will say that the majority are hard workers and will do the best of their ability, and when desperate for jobs they’ll walk right up to your front door, or should I say, to the security gate, begging for an opportunity. And, for example, if a certain tribe opens up a business, they won’t offer jobs to the tribes they resent. Summing it up, almost all the tribes resent the Kikuyu tribe.

I savoured the long drives to the rural areas with the breathtaking views of the highlands; it really made me think about mother nature and the creation. Saint Lucia is ‘Simply Beautiful’ but Nairobi is a place like no other. I appreciated listening to the people speak about their traditions and learning about their cultures. For instance, when visiting their homes and you’re offered a meal or a drink, if you decline it’s considered an insult to them. That culture taught me the valuable lesson of appreciation – another aspect of Nairobi that now lives within me, wherever I may roam.

Certain wildlife facts are far more interesting to learn firsthand rather than from a TV screen, and living in the heart of Kenya gave me lessons which I can now expertly discuss at length. For example, did you know that when lions are in the mating season, they relocate to an isolated area and mate every fifteen minutes (clock-time) for two weeks? Talk about Mother Nature’s blue pill!

Interacting with the Maasai tribe and hearing them speak about their culture was another invaluable lesson that I would not trade for the world. The males made you feel so special; they would do a welcoming dance then the females follow through with a welcoming song accompanied by mini movements. They made me feel as if I was a part of them; that I was home.

The males take part in lion hunting and, after each age set, usually ages 10-15, they compare how many lions each male has hunted. There are three products that are used from the lion: mane, tail and claws.

The mane is beaded beautifully by the women in the community and, once completed, it is given back to the hunter. The mane is worn over the head but only on special occasions. The mane is also used for the other warriors in further communities to identify the toughest warrior. And the lion’s tail goes to the strongest warrior, as it requires tackling the lion. And I proudly wore one.

After the ceremony, when the warrior becomes a junior elder, he is compelled to throw away the lion’s mane. He must make a sacrificial occurrence for the mane prior to throwing it, which is to slaughter a sheep and grease the mane with the mixture of sheep oil and ochre. The reason for this sacrificial occurrence is to avoid bad spirits. The mane is considered to have a special bond with the warrior and it is a must that the warrior honours the mane!

I can compare Nairobi to Saint Lucia regarding its similarities but they are limited so I can only mention a few. The pronunciation of most words/slang: in Saint Lucia we often say the phrase ‘AA’ whereas Kenyans use the term in the same context except they pronounce it as ‘Ah-Ah’. The food dishes: though slightly different, they reminded me of meals back home, just like the Sunday lunches, stewed chicken, macaroni pie, salad, etc. Each house has it own distinct look on the inside but certain tiny details made me think about houses back in Saint Lucia. Just like Saint Lucians, citizens were welcoming, friendly, helpful, and, on the whole, were generous. Even though both countries carry some similarities, they are still distinct.

Nairobi isn’t Saint Lucia but it was my home away from home. Writing this reminded me vividly of what I missed about Nairobi the most. It was truly a great experience. I’ve learned valuable lessons and my appreciation has grown. If I ever get the chance to go back to Nairobi, I will be there in a heartbeat!

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