I have speedy internet, so let's re-cap the past week:
On Thursday I turned 28. What a great age! That evening, my boss and several new friends took me to an Italian restaurant in Nairobi where they serve homemade mozzarella, handmade pasta and raspberry cheesecake. As the guest of honor, I instituted a law wherein guests were not allowed to discuss public health (cholera, infant mortality, diarrhea, latrines etc.) more than 35 percent of the time. The law was broken, but we formulated a plan. Everyone at the table had to talk about things we would like to see happen in the coming year. It sounds silly, but if you put 10 people at a table from NGOs, government ministries and research institutions... and ask them to articulate personal goals, they'll drum up interesting plans. Suffice it to say I'll remember the chat at my 28th birthday for a long, long time.
Near the end of dinner, somebody told the waiters it was my birthday. The wait staff (and kitchen staff) brought out a sparkler-topped cake and sang the most vibrant version of Happy Birthday I've ever heard. It included harmony, percussion and Masaii grunts. I was torn between blowing out the sparkler and giving a standing ovation.
Friday, Cade turned 1. My only major regret of the past several (and upcoming) months is that I don’t get to hang out with him. I hear that Cade picked up his 5-pound cake (see below) and lobbed to the floor. Bravo little buddy! You rock!
Saturday, I relaxed with Adina. Adina is a Swiss friend I met at a campsite on my first day in Nairobi. We hit it off. Here's Adina:
Its a World Cup qualifying match. Kenya versus Nigeria. And they're VIP seats and we can take a car. Are you sure?
When Kenya lost to Nigeria last Saturday, Adina and I were right there hurling insults at the ref, making cracks about Nigerian corruption and trying desperately to learn the rules of soccer and avoid using the bathroom (as it lacked a toilet, wiping supplies and water). The stadium was half-filled. The scoreboard and lights broken. The refreshment stand empty. When a Kenyan player was given a yellow-card, people began tossing bottles, shoes and other debris onto the field. At one point, a fan yelled, "I HATE YOU NIGERIA. GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY AND SEND YOUR STUPID SPAM." I only wish I brought my camera to the grocery store that morning.
Sunday, Adina and I met a couple of her colleagues for lunch in Karen. Karen is a very uppity neighborhood of Nairobi named for Karen Blixen (of Out of Africa fame). Blixen's farm used to cover what is today a suburb of the city. Adina's colleagues treated for lunch at Talisman, a restaurant run by expats who also import goods from the Middle East. The decor is part-Turkish kilim, part- African wildlife infused with a love of food and drinks and people. It's what this blog would be if it were a restaurant. I loved it. Here's Talisman:
When the luggage ladies, Priska and Carol, heard that this was my first day in Tanzania they decided to help me “overcome the luggage and sort out lady needs.” Priska left her post at the luggage desk, grabbed my hand, walked me past customs and taxi touts to the entryway of the airport. “First, you need to know the exchange rates Shanni,” she said. We learned the exchange rate at a currency counter, made some calculations, walked to the ATM and got some cash. Priska stood guard while I collected the cash. She talked about Tanzanian men and dating. We went to the cell phone service counter, “Shanni, you will be in a remote area in mountains. Zain is the service for you. It’s for the remote areas.” At the Zain phone counter, Priska kept talking about men while she installed my new SIM card, topped up my phone with points and then walked me to the cab stands. With the cabbies, Priska (who has the stature of an American 11-year-old) drove a hard bargain. From speaking with expats in Tanzania, I knew the cab rates a white person can expect to get from the airport to the city. When she started driving for an even lower rate, I said, “Priska, for real, I’m ok with the Mzungu rate.” It was a difference of $1.
My cab driver, Wallace, was equally awesome. He discussed the history of Dar, his favorite foods, origins of Swahili words and architecture. Wallace offered to take me to Subway (as in the American sandwich chain) on the way to my friend Pam’s house. “You will like it,” he said. “Americans know their sandwiches.”
“Wallace,” I said. “I am American.”
And then began the conversation on how much he loves Mr. Obama and how much I do not look American.
We drove along Dar’s picturesque Ocean Drive. Ocean Drive stretches along the coast and features the Presidential residence, palatial homes and- as luck would have it- my friend Pam’s modest-yet-beautiful apartment. Pam and I are friends from Johns Hopkins where she studied family health. Pam oriented me to the city, took me on a quick walk along the water and introduced me to a cliffside restaurant. I kept saying, “Pam. I am so lucky. What are the chances that you would be here? That this would be so beautiful? That we would get paid to do this?” She said, “I know. It’s crazy. I feel the same way.” Here's Pam at our seaside dinner date:
I was nervous about coming to Tanzania. And, thinking more broadly, about coming to Africa. A piece of me is constantly wondering if this will all end in disaster. But after weeks like this past one, another part of me knows… I’ll be just fine.