Facts From Nairobi’s Belly

For an Ethiopian who has not been there before, groups of people who play music loudly in the middle of sidewalks and colorful matatus are distinct characteristics of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. A Pentecostal preaching the Bible on the side of the road, long queues for transportation, and deafening music from boutiques, on the other hand, are commonalities the city holds with the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. EBR’s Kiya Ali, who visited Nairobi last month, explores.

For Anne Twaem, a 26-year-old woman who was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, the hustle and bustle of the chaotic city is the source of her inspiration. The emotional roller-coaster called life has inevitably entwined her fate with that of the city. This complex, and at times unconscious, process has made her love the city. Anne states that the city is both kind and cruel to her. “Like other African countries, Kenya also suffers from high youth unemployment, so I couldn’t get a job after I graduated from university,” Anne remarked.

Anne earned her BA degree in economics from the University of Nairobi two years ago, but she was not lucky enough to secure a job. “In Nairobi, being unemployed is not easy. By tradition, we are expected to leave our parents’ house when we become 18 and join university. After graduation, we have to rent our own house and become independent. So, I had to get a job and earn money to cover my basic needs,” says Anne, who struggled to get a job for seven months after her graduation. “I was frustrated and my hopelessness was one of the factors that created the flipside of my story.”

Anne’s seven months of struggle and disappointment did not keep her down for long, instead it spurred her on to become an entrepreneur. “Nairobi is a fast-paced, noisy and chaotic environment. Most of the residents of Nairobi do not have much time,” Anne reckons. After observing the problem, she started a food delivery business so people do not have to get out of their offices in search of food and waste their precious time.

“They can just call me and order what they want from the comfort of their offices,” Anne realized. Now Anne delivers fast food based on call-ins. When she started the business, her average monthly income was KSH9,000 (USD90). Currently, her business has picked pace with her average monthly income surging up to KSH25,000 (USD250). “After starting my own business, Nairobi has become more kind to me,” she remarks joyfully.

Although Ugali is generally the staple food in Kenya and specifically in Nairobi, chicken and fish are the favorite foods for a large section of Kenyans. In Nairobi restaurants, Ugali is sold for KSH100 (one US dollar). It is mostly prepared from maize flour but sometimes millet or sorghum flour can also be used. The flour is cooked in boiling water or milk until it forms a semi-solid, dough-like substance. Ugali is mostly served with vegetables or meat stew. Mukimo is another common food in Nairobi which is a mash-up of potatoes, corn, and greens. It is served at all events, whether it’s celebrating the birth of a new baby, a wedding, or a funeral. Just like Mukimo, chapattis, soft pan-fried wheat flour bread, are common in social celebrations in Nairobi.

There are also numerous restaurants in Nairobi that serve cuisine from specific countries. Ethiopian restaurants that offer Ethiopian food make up a section of these specialized service providers. EBR met Yidnekachew Fikadu at one such restaurant in Nairobi. He was there with his two Ethiopian and two Kenyan friends. The restaurant is located inside a big compound. On the right side of the restaurant’s gate, there is a traditional Ethiopian clothes and jewelries shop. “Traditional shops are not something special when you are in Ethiopia. Outside of Ethiopia, however, everything about your homeland starts to make sense,” Yidnekachew said.

The tables and the upper end of the doors in the restaurant are adorned with the green, yellow and red colors of the Ethiopian flag. The songs playing and the paintings hanging on the walls are all Ethiopian. A girl baking Injera and a mother carrying her child on her back are among the paintings that show and remind customers of life in Ethiopia. Ethiopians, Kenyans and nationals of other countries wine and dine at the Ethiopian restaurant.

A variety of Ethiopian food such as Shiro, Beyaynet, Mahiberawi, and many more are served for an average price of between KSH800 (USD8) to KSH1,200 (USD12). “Although Injera (Ethiopia’s traditional “spongy bread”), served in this restaurant, is made of rice instead of teff, it is delicious,” Yidnekachew states. Kwamboka Wayne, a Kenyan colleague of Yidnekachew’s, agrees. “Though Ethiopian food is oily, spicy and a bit hot owing to the pepper, it is lip-smacking,” she says. At times, Injera is made from brown teff, but the white Injera made of rice is a common substitute for the more expensive white teff. “The price of white teff keeps appreciating and it is not easily available. That is why we use rice as a substitute to bake white Injera,” Alazar Kassahun, a waiter at the restaurant, explains.

Nairobi spreads over 696 square kilometers of land and is home to nearly 4.4 million inhabitants. In addition to hosting a sizeable expat community working in international organizations, the city is home to many immigrants like Alazar who come from different parts of east Africa. “I came here four years ago with hopes of bettering my life,” he told EBR. Alazar shares a house with his friend to reduce the burden of rent. “House rent is very expensive in Nairobi. The average charge for one bedroom is estimated between KSH 18,000 and KSH35,000 (USD180 – 350). Yet, in Kibera (the largest slum in the city), the price is relatively better,” he says.

To taste Kenyan and other cuisines, shop for clothes and shoes, Eastleigh is among the best places to go. There is something about Eastleigh that resembles Addis Ababa’s Merkato, including the fact that it is known for affordable prices. Somalis make up the majority of merchants in Eastleigh. For affordable, beautiful and colorful souvenirs, Maasai market is the right place to shop. It is an open air market with a wide variety of African items to purchase including pots, pans, paintings, curios, jewelry, shoes, bags, clothes and utensils. The name of the market is derived from one of the most popular tribes in Kenya, the Maasai.

The most popular Maasai market, among many in Nairobi, is located in the city center behind the Hilton Hotel at the High Court parking lot. Similar markets are also available elsewhere like the Yaya Centre in Hurlingham on Sundays, the Nakumatt Junction Shopping Mall on Ngong Road on Thursdays, and the Westgate Shopping Mall in Westland’s on Tuesdays, to mention a few locations of Maasai markets. Most of the items that are available at Maasai markets are handmade. At this market, a traditional handmade bag is available for an average price of KSH1,000 (USD10); traditional sandals cost KSH600 (USD 6); earrings are sold for KSH150 (USD1.5); necklaces are available for KSH800 (USD 8), T-shirt for KSH2,000 (USD20) and dresses for KSH2,500 (USD25).

Electronics can also be found at relatively cheaper prices in Nairobi. “However, from my experience, if you want to buy electronics you should be cautious. Preferably, it is better to shop alongside a Kenyan. If possible, go with someone who knows electronics,” says Martha Alemu, an Ethiopian who was in Nairobi for training. Martha says that she bought a laptop for KSH21,000 (USD210). When she got back to her hotel room, however, she found out that its battery does not work. Therefore, she had to get back to the shop and get a replacement. However, she said she had to pay additional KSH5,000 (USD50) to get a replacement.

Mobile phones are also available at affordable prices in Nairobi. Though the price range depends on the model, Samsung phones, on average, are available for KSH16,000 (USD160) and Infinix phones cost around KSH12,000 (USD120). Other brands that cost below KSH8,000 (USD80) are also available at the mobile shops of Nairobi. Signifying the vast coverage of telecom infrastructure, 35Pct of the Kenyan population is on a 4G network while 86Pct access 3G networks, according to the 2018 Safaricom annual report. In addition to the burgeoning telecoms sector, Nairobi also offers vast digitalization of activities. The malls and supermarkets in the city are digitized. Salespersons use inventory management software to find out about the type of item, price and stock information. Although the e-commerce sector is still in its infancy in Kenya, few full-fledged online companies are already in operation throughout the country.

Moving on to tourism in the city, Nairobi National Park, Kenya’s first national park is among the top tourist attraction sites in the city. Located 10kms away from the city center, the park is home to more than 400 species of birds. Other animals include lions, zebras, cheetahs, ostriches, giraffes and more than 50 rhinos. Nairobi National Museum is also another tourist attraction site in the city. The museum was built in 1929 to reflect the history, nature, culture and contemporary art of Kenya.

Inside the museum, around 900 life size stuffed birds of East Africa are found. Similarly, in an adjacent room, called the Great Hall of Mammals, there are life sized stuffed mammals. Further, there is the Cradle of Humankind exhibition that shows the evolution and progressive development of human beings. Upstairs, Kenyan history and ethnological artifacts from various tribes are well presented. The grounds are also famous for snakes, fish and crocodiles.

The exhibited items in the museum are self explanatory with labels and clear cursory captions in front of each historical, cultural, ethnological, contemporary art piece and stuffed specimen. Moreover, a restaurant with Wi-Fi and well-equiped souvenir shops are available at the Nairobi National Museum. The entrance fee for adult citizens is KSH300 (three US dollars), whereas it is KSH600 (six US dollars) and KSH1,500 (USD15) for residents from east Africa and non-resident adults, respectively.

Bomas of Kenya is also a recommended place for tourists. It is a village in Langata, Nairobi. Bomas of Kenya displays traditional villages and homesteads of various Kenyan tribes. All houses of the tribes are well labeled and described. Inside the compound, there is the 3,000-capacity auditorium built in the shape of a ‘traditional’ African hut.

The auditorium hosts daily song, dance, and gymnastic performances from various Kenyan tribes. “Most of the time, tourists and upper class citizens are the ones who visit this place. Since it might be hard for tourists to visit every tribe found in Kenya, it is the best alternative to come to Bomas of Kenya and visit the villages that are built to represent all tribes. The various cultural songs and dances at the auditorium give visitors an insight into the different ethnic groups of Kenya,” a ticket officer of the auditorium tells EBR. The entrance fee to watch the song, dance and gymnastic performances is KSH500 (five US dollars) for east African residents and KSH1,000 (USD10) for non-residents. There is also a restaurant inside the compound.

Although a lot of African countries have predominantly shrugged off their home-schooling raditions after adopting the western education model, westerners themselves have come to embrace home schooling. Now Kenya seems to have followed suit as home schooling is on the rise. The practice is considered an alternative legal option for parents in Kenya.

Matatus (minibus) is a common means of transportation in Nairobi. Loud sound systems and large flat screen TVs are part of the matatu ride. Furthermore, Uber, Bolt, and Talixo are some of alternative means of transportation for Nairobi residents or visitors who want to hail rides from their smart phones.

Although Nairobi is going through massive transformation on various fronts, it faces challenges just like other cities in the world including inadequate infrastructure, high unemployment, corruption, and crime. Pick pocketing without arousing the attention of victims is very apparent in Nairobi. So, people who wander around the city always hold their purses and bags tight and are cautious of who is around them. To avoid attention, residents advise not to go around flashing expensive jewelry or bags while moving around. Keeping that aside, everything, except traffic, moves very fast in Nairobi and the hectic life of the day time is replaced by one of dancing and music during the night. “Party after party is the motto for many Nairobi residents,” Anne concludes.

9th Year • Jan.16 – Feb.15 2020 • No. 82

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