Yesterday we decided to go into the city center or “town” with our friend who has been in Nairobi longer than us. I read of a few places I wanted to go, but did not know what the day would look like. We started by walking to “Toy Market” which felt like a thrift shop in the U.S. exploded across a little shanty-town. We wandered in and out of stalls for a little, but I was ready for the African markets, although J did inform me that this was a big part of their economy! We somehow found the Matatu (bus) #46 we needed to get on and the three of us squished into a row. I was on the aisle and kept getting hit in the face by people’s butts and hips as they passed. It was bumpy and slow, but it got us safely to town for less than a dollar!
When we got off the Matatu we tried to find the Kenyatta International Center which J’s friend heard was a tall building with a helipad on top that you get a full view of the city from. We asked the women on the bus in front of us where to go and they pointed to a pink circular building which looked closer than it actually was. As we tried to figure out how to get to the looming tower we stumbled upon the Msai Market. I didn’t think I liked markets until I saw this one. Everything was so fun to look at and the bargaining was a competitive sport.
At first we decided we were just looking and would come back, but once the first purchase was made we couldn’t stop. Each market owner asked where we were from and told us that the U.S. and Kenya were good friends (they explained because Obama is from Kenya). One individual told me and Jamie’s friend that we looked like sisters and when we said no he insisted we were related and smirked asking if I was her mother (ouch). We asked if he thought all white people looked alike and he laughed and nodded.
As I was officially finished shopping two men came up asking for the hair elastic on my wrist. One said he would trade me for something in his shop. The other said it was for his daughter. Both made appealing offers, but I went with the first man who approached me despite feeling like this was some sort of a trick. I somehow ended up buying a pretty bowl from his stall for about $2.50 and I am not sure if the hair tie ploy was just a way to get me to buy something or if they are really scarce here. Who knew hair ties could be part of such a popular sales pitch? Jamie and her friend got food from this stall in the market, but after weighing which was worse street food for my weak stomach or me going several hours without eating, I decided to risk being hangry (my favorite word to describe my common mood). I did get a Stony’s which is this ginger soda here that is so gingery it gave me a coughing fit. One of the Kenyans at the soda stand asked if he should pat me on the back, but I politely declined.
I forgot we had to return the empty bottles so this meant more time spent wandering the market with our sodas. We separated for a little because we both became engaged in long-term sales conversations. We decided to meet back at the soda cart. I returned first and nervously searched for my friends. These two Kenyans began talking to me and when I told them I was looking for my Korean friend with the big hair they were able to locate J across the busy crowd immediately. Despite the fact that most of the time they were trying to sell us things (despite claiming that “looking is free”) the market felt friendly and pretty safe. I panicked when I felt a man bump into my bag, but he was just squeezing by and everyone came over to apologize afterwards and assure me it was okay.
After several hours in the market we finally made our way to the Kenyatta International Conference Center. After being frisked and going through a metal detector we bought our tickets and were escorted into the elevator to the 27th floor. After that we walked up two windy stairwells to the huge open roof. It was almost deserted and we had several photo shoots. If only it had been sunny! We saw the President’s office, where the Parliament meets, and the location of the podium of the first President. Every August our guide told us they display his preserved body.
Trying to find our Matatu home I felt like a dazed tourist. I was aware that I would have hated me if this was rush hour in Manhattan, but I felt rattled. I was hungry and had inhaled enough smog and gotten enough dust on my clothes for the day. We crammed into the bus and I felt claustrophobic and we were lost. I decided to close my eyes and let the other girls (who probably have better senses of direction than me) work it out. We ended up getting off at a street corner near home, purchasing mangos on the side of the road, and getting into a cab. I returned home exhausted, dusty, excited about my purchases, and thrilled that we were able to stumble upon exactly what I could have hoped to see in my first town experience.
*J and I laid out our purchases and realized we could start our own market stalls.