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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Kenya: Mangoes and Roses



Before I came to Nairobi, I pictured it as flat, yellow, dry and a huge city. It is a big city of over 3 million people. Yet parts of it are beautifully hilly, lush and green. 
All week I have stayed in a cute little cottage, among huge palm leaves and bright bougainvilleas. Birds twitter and sing in the green leaves.

Last weekend I visited elephants and giraffes. I went to amazing craft places with baskets, weaving, masks, and necklaces. It is hard not to go home with a suitcase full of gorgeous Kenyan art. You can buy huge masks with beadwork, 2 meter tall carved giraffes, tablecloths and blankets of red Maasai and Kente cloth. 

All week I got picked up early by ‘my driver’ who took me to school and who then sat studying for his next guide exam while I spoke to hundreds of kids at the international schools. Kids from England, Japan, Spain, Holland, Canada, and many more countries around the world. There was a lot of excitement about my books, about writing their own stories and about books in general. Wonderful librarians stimulate these kids who have a well stocked library at their fingertips.

During the week we ate dinners at lovely places: a large patio in a green forest, in the garden of the principal surrounding by candles, and in many other interesting places. 

It’s been warm: 30, 32ºC but often with a nice breeze and it’s a dry heat right now. People are looking forward to the rains, which will rinse off the red dust and bring new flowers. But I’m kind of glad not to have rain while I’m here…. 

The center of Nairobi is crowded with modern buildings and sidewalks full of people of all races and backgrounds. I’ve never seen traffic like here. Completely clogged roundabouts, 4 lanes of cars completely tied into a knot. Apparently all the traffic lights work but no one looks at them. There’s a policeman at every roundabout directing traffic, regardless of what the lights say… If cars had elbows, that what you use here. You just push ahead, whether space allows it or not.


But my favorite is to drive along the streets with tiny little shops leaning against each other. Corrugated tin forms the walls or roofs, rough wood keeps it all together. A rusty sign announces the ‘Meddle Some Beauty Parlor’ or the ‘Banana Hill Hardware Shop’ - which looks like it is in dire need of hardware. Plastic chairs outside for shopkeepers or customers… A wash basin is used by a barber. Goats, babies, bales of fabric - all crowded onto the city sidewalks while overloaded buses and motorbikes and cars push past. A woman cuts sugar cane, someone is roasting corn. I love the women with broad smiles, swaying hips and long, brightly coloured skirts. Many have headscarves wound around their hair or carry babies in a cloth on their back. Others carry a basket of carrots or tomatoes in their head. 
Today I saw women and children washing clothes in a pond, drying them on the grass. I ate the biggest juiciest mangoes you can imagine and I bought an armload of roses for my hosts: 20 fresh, longtime roses for 2 dollars!
This, I think, is Africa.

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