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
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
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
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
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
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
firstname.lastname@example.org --Chris Grant
Phillip & Roger
Kebara, home to over 800,000 people
Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
Nairobi National Park
Nairobi National Park
All Photos ©ShannonSwitzer.com