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letters from africa, nine months with shannon switzer Letters from Africa - Nine Months with Shannon Switzer

jettygirl photographer shannon switzer October 3, 2007

Dispatch No. 2: Unexpected Flight Delays Lead to Unexpectedly Good Times

Jambo from Nairobi City,

Yes I am still in Nairobi. I'm currently staring at a life-size mural of the Michelin man from my hotel window. Let me start from the beginning.

On my flight from Heathrow to Nairobi, I met an eager young Kenyan named Phillip and quickly learned that he was a Christian missionary of sorts in New Jersey. He was visiting home after being gone for three years, with the additional goal of recruiting more Kenyans to help bring Americans to know Christ- the idea of which I found happily ironic.

After learning of my plans to stay at the airport until my flight to the Seychelles departed the next day, he suggested that I stay with his family instead. After me declining and him insisting in a merry-go-round fashion, I was finally convinced to accept the offer when he told me he had spoken with his mother and that she was very excited about having a guest.

I spent the next twenty-four hours with the Kayo family- all 20 of them. They lived in what is considered a middle-class suburb known as Buru Buru and were the most gracious and joyful family I've ever encountered. Within ten minutes of our arrival, they had kicked their youngest son out of his room (he actually gave it up willingly) so I would have some space of my own and had a bucket of hot water ready for me to bathe with. All the women were crowded into the kitchen chirping away while they cooked breakfast over two tiny charcoal stoves reminiscent of those one might use while camping.

During breakfast I learned that Phillip's eldest brother Roger was a doctor and had gone to medical school in Russia and that two of his other sisters were currently in college. We spoke of many forward-thinking issues including politics, both American and Kenyan, and how if a woman can raise a family on her own, she is perfectly capable of running a country (an opinion voiced by the males of the group).

I enjoyed two more meals, each one larger than the previous, and all lifted to God with endless thanks. I was introduced to ugali, a traditional Kenyan staple (picture a pot of Cream of Wheat left overnight to congeal), as well as kunde, prepared like spinach but more bitter. Before lunch, Roger, Phillip, and I all danced like fools in the living room to infectious Christian-Swahili music.

Between meals, we walked around the town and ran into many of Phillip's old friends, who greeted both of us with warm "Karibus". We visited three different families during our outings, all of which lived close to the Kayos and in the same type of neighborhood. I noted with amusement that each home had the same brand and color thermos for "taking tea" as well as the same brand of butter, bread, and jam. The British definitely left their legacy behind when it comes to tea. Tea time is a big deal- I consumed a months worth of it in a single day here.

Granted this was a long day, with the time warp that happens as one travels rapidly across the world, it had to have lasted 48 hours minimum. It was a sweet moment then when I was finally able to succumb to the jet-lag that had been percolating in my blood since we landed early that morning and fall asleep to the Kayo family's intoxicating laughter.

This is already long. I will pick up the pace.

The next day I came back to the airport and attempted to check-in. All was going well until the lady at the counter told me while smiling, "Da flight eez overbooked. Dhere eez no room fa you. And da next flight on Choosday eez full too, you can't leave until Tursday."

After registering my look of dismay (I think the tears were a dead give away), she added "But we put you in nice hotel wid all da meals no charge and geeve you some moaney."

So, a few hours later, I found my rag-a-muffin-white-girl self at the Nairobi Safari Club smack in the middle of the city centre, surrounded by powerful-looking Kenyans in dapper business suits and rich Japanese tourists donning full safari getup.

And so here I've been passing the time. I quickly devised my first assignment: project weight gain. In preparation for actually having to pay for all my food in the Seychelles (which I hear can be quite expensive), I've been hard at work, indulging in the full breakfast and lunch buffets and four course dinners (plus dessert!) offered daily. I'm pleased to report that I have been quite successful with this first assignment.

I also worked up the courage to explore the city a bit, despite horror stories I had heard about it. But the Nairobi I saw didn't match those scary depictions. I found it to be a very modern, relatively clean city. I was struck by the complete absence of graffiti or beggars (more homeless people can be found on the streets in downtown Santa Barbara). For the most part people regarded me with indifference despite the fact that the only other white person I saw during my outing was myself when I happened by a mirror in one of the shops.

Yesterday I had enough of the hotel and city and decided to do a little safari-ing myself. So I decided to check out the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage (which I had seen a special about on the Animal Planet a while back) as well as the adjacent Nairobi National Park to see some local fauna. My driver and guide, Humphrey, was a walking encyclopedia and history book all rolled into one.

As we passed the city park on our way there, he told me a funny story. In the late 80's the Kenyan President at the time wanted to replace the park with a high-rise commercial building. He might have gotten away with it had it not been for one feisty local lady. She was a well-known Nobel Laureate in the environmental field and rallied over 6,000 other women to strip nude and lay around the park in protest. Apparently in Kenyan lore, when a group of women "streep naked eat eez a curse," and the president feared that the proposed building might spontaneously collapse upon completion. And so the park was saved.

Now, those of you who know my extreme love for animals can probably guess how excited I was to see some true African animals, so I will spare you the details on that. However, I will share two things that struck me during my excursion.

On our way to the elephant orphanage we passed the second largest slum in all of Africa known as Kebara. Smashed conspicuously between the main road, a rich housing development, and an odd assembly of government buildings, over 800,000 people live within a square mile, sharing one rusty tin shanty with 40 or more people. Humphrey said that while the government is trying to improve housing conditions here, many residents are resistant to change, because they consider it home and are used to their way of life. He also said they fear that their livelihoods of prostitution and drug dealing will be threatened if the government becomes more involved.

Continuing on, just a few miles away from Kebara is Nairobi National Park. I didn't have very high hopes of viewing abundant wildlife here, due to its proximity to so much urbanity. Nevertheless, as soon as Humphrey opened the sun-roof-on-steroids, out popped my blonde head above the truck, letting my inner-child reign free. As suspected, I could see the airport, skyscrapers, and local housing developments fringing the distant borders of the square-shaped park. But strangely I found this appealing.

Imagine seeing bison, elk, wolves, and bears roaming free just fifteen minutes outside of Washington D.C. That is what I discovered here. Rhino, giraffe, zebra, ostrich, water buffalo, and antelope mingling lazily, just down the road from Kenya's capital city. It definitely beat passing another day in the hotel.

That's it for now. Tomorrow I fly to the Seychelles- hopefully for real this time.

I have so appreciated hearing from everyone and about all of your adventures too! Definitely continue to keep me in the loop.


Shannon's Previous Letter: "Whale Sharks, Sea Turtles, and Chimps- OH MY!"


About "Letters From Africa - Nine Months with Shannon Switzer": JettyGirl photographer Shannon Switzer left a few days ago on the trip of a lifetime. Although not necessarily a surf trip per se, we think her adventure is a story well-worth sharing with others. Before she departed, a few surf companies jumped on board with sticker donations for Shannon's trip. Her plan is to pass stickers out to the kids she meets as she travels throughout Africa. Special thanks to all who answered our call for stickers: Transworld SURF, Walking on Water, Mutiny Media, Leucadia Surf Shop, and Dal Sarcos. The kids are going to be stoked! If you or your company is interested in donating stickers to Shannon, please contact me at --Chris Grant

My friends Phillip and Roger
Phillip & Roger

preparing kunde
Preparing Kunde

nairobi marketplace
Nairobi Marketplace

kebara, home to over 800,000 people
Kebara, home to over 800,000 people

baby elephant at the sheldrick elephant orphanage
Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage

sheldrick elephant orphanage
Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage

nairobi national park
Nairobi National Park

nairobi national park zebras and girafee
Nairobi National Park

All Photos ©


Photo: Gabe Rogel


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