Sunday, April 21, 2013

Day 13: Part II – Austerity to Luxury

After returning from our trip to IDP that morning, we headed back to Nairobi to meet up with the Hovingh's and have one last day together. As we drove, there was an obvious change of scenery. The roads became smoother, the houses got bigger, and the commerce seemed to be more sophisticated. A shift in socioeconomic status was evident. I was amazed at the difference! When we arrived in Nairobi the first day, the sun had already set so, we weren't able to really see much of Nairobi on the drive up. 

We arrived at the mall and weekend market in Nairobi and met for lunch. The open air food court was beautiful... I felt like I was in Chicago or somewhere out west.
All I could think about was all the villages we had visited, the hospital, the ladies at Gil Gil, the kids at Helping Hands and House of Hope. Those images flooded my mind as we ate in the busy food court. I looked at my surrounding and felt like a foreigner in such a modern city. I've lived near Chicago all my life, visited Beijing, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Houston, D.C. and several other larger cities, but having been in such opposite circumstances for a seemingly long time, I felt new to this arena. 

After eating lunch, we went to a market, not the Masai market, but one that was comparable. We were able to get most of what you would find at Masai. We entered the market being greeted by eager sales people. Each had their own space on the roof of the mall. They were shaded by umbrellas from the scorching sun that afternoon. 

In Beijing's pearl market, I had experienced aggressive sales people before all shouting at the foreigners. Their attempts were unfeeling and non relational; cold to a point. Walking down the aisles of the market that day was warm, friendly, and inviting. They addressed me as "Sister" and gave a warm smile. The welcome I felt was different and comforting as they had hoped me to feel. As I relaxed and accepted the greetings, I began looking at the variety of fares I could take home to show my friends and family. The sales people were friendly up to the point of the sale – then reality hit. I was looking at a map that was carved on a thin piece of delicate bark from a tree. This type of tree was rare, so it was going to be more expensive. It had a hole in it which was probably natural, but the sales person wanted about 2,000 shilling (roughly $25) for it. He offered it to me for 2,000 shillings to begin, and I came back at 1,000. I then said that I needed to think about it and I proceeded to browse around. There were several other sellers I could buy the same type of map from, and this sales person was painfully aware of that. A few minutes later, I see him approaching with the map. He said, "Okay Sister, I give it to you for your price, 1,000."  I say, no thank you, and move on. 

The frustration from him and my anxiety of the situation was teeming. Not understanding the culture and what could make or break a sales person's business, I was confused and afraid to be alone! I usually love shopping and looking at what I can bring home to show everyone, but this was too intense for me. 

In China, since I had worked there and understood the commerce and appropriate income, I could be at more ease. While the Kenyan culture is welcoming and more relational than I've ever experienced, I felt uneasy and a little cheated that day. I'm not reflecting my feelings of the market experience on the culture as a whole; it was just such a contrast between what I had experienced the days prior to now. I decided to stick closely to Lisa the rest of the day knowing that she could help me understand what is cheating the sales and what is appropriate. We struck up a pretty decent deal with a very comical and skilled sales woman. We bartered her down from 2,500 shillings to 1,600 for two skirts and a wooden giraffe. At one point during the end of the sale, she said, “Okay, don't talk anymore, you cut me!” as she motioned with her finger sliding across her neck. Lisa and I both knew that this was a reasonable deal and she would still get a good profit from it. She just had to make a big deal as she knew we were right. 

Later that afternoon, the kids and a few of the adults wanted to go to a giraffe exhibit. It was all the way across town. It closed at 5pm and it was around 4:30 and traffic was horrendous. We made it after closing time, but they let us in for a discounted rate. They gave us pellets to feed the giraffes. The workers said that some people enjoyed feeding them from their mouths. Well, being the adventure seeker that I am, I couldn't pass this up.

That evening we went to a restaurant called, "Carnivore" and you can guess what they served, meat and lots of it. It was like a Brazilian steakhouse. We ended up ordering a platter of meats consisting of chicken, beef, sausage, lamb, crocodile and ostrich. I ate all of them. The ostrich meatball was my favorite. The crocodile was fishy and stringy which is now my least favorite of animals to consume. Apparently, I had part of the arm which isn't the best. The tail has the best steaks, but I guess those are too pricy!

After dinner, we headed to our guesthouse for the night. When we arrived, it was late and dark. We had to get up at 4 am in order to catch our plane in time. Before settling in for our last night in Kenya, we had to check to make sure there were no TIA situations that would happen in the morning. In other words, we wanted to make sure a driver would be there to take us to the airport at 4 am, not 6 am or even 5 am. When it comes to making a flight, there is no room for TIA (This is Africa). When they assigned our rooms, they gave us all separate rooms even though each room had two beds- I ended up on the top floor while everyone else was on the first floor. All I could think about was not waking up. I went up to my room and the windows were open which meant mosquitoes were my sleeping pals for the night. When I went to close the windows, two geckos scurried up the wall. I had had it. I went downstairs and asked to be in one of the rooms on the floor with my team! My gracious bunk-mate from our room in Naivasha agreed to let me sleep in the spare bed in her room. We all woke up in time and our driver was right on time. These Kenyans knew that TIA would be unacceptable for this group of westerners.