After Uganda took the title of "first ever African country I would spend a night in", Kenya followed suit shortly in September 2011. I was going to show off the Swahili I had learnt from my East African friends and been taught by my Kenyan KiSwahili teacher at Stanford. I was in Kenya for more than a week, up till date the most amount of time I have spent in any other African country. I had a lot of friends in Nairobi too. A Kenyan friend commented on an "African returnee" conversation we were having saying, "As for we Kenyans, we move back". Kweli kabisa. I had asked my Kenya based friends et al on Facebook & Twitter what I should do before I left Kenya and I tried to go through with some of their suggestions. I had every intention of getting stories to tell so let's recount the Mighty African experiences.
I arrived in Nairobi on a Saturday and was welcomed by traffic from the Jomo Kenyatta airport on our way to Hotel Sankara. I recognised Nyayo stadium on the way (yea, I pay close attention to my friends' Facebook statuses too). After I checked in, the first thing I wanted to do was get a local SIM card and call my Nairobi connects. After much debate, I settled on getting an Airtel one instead of Safaricom. I was gonna choose Safaricom as the 'African sounding one' till I realized it was mostly owned by Vodafone. Airtel is owned by Indians (Kenya has a lot of native Indians too) but at least I used them in Ghana too. "Niko na Afrika mashariki". I finally called up a few and lined up my Saturday agenda which started with lunch at Pizza Garden with @arthurbuliva who I'd done work with on both Kasahorow & Museke. No, we didn't have nyama choma :-)
I was then properly welcomed by Sankara as I rested before dinner. Hotel Sankara is probably my favoritest African hotel. Highly recommended. They welcome you on their TVs. I met up with two of my favorite people @eyedol, a Ghanaian who's working with the famous Ushahidi & Paa Kwesi Imbeah at an open eatery frequented by many Indians. We joined others to go to KlubHouse where we played some pool and then listened to Gogo Simo band play live. Since we were more than 5 and felt like taking one taxi, I rode the journey in the boot. So I could come and tell you the story today :-) I was shocked to have never heard of them. It's probably the most popular Kenyan band but they have close to zero Youtube presence. Sio nzuri. My friend Eston who moved back to Kenya shortly after MIT came by to take me to explore the Kenyan nightlife. After bumping into a Kenyan Stanford alum (yeah, what are the chances) at , we hit a number of clubs in Westlands, which is right by where Sankara is.
Was I gonna have a chillaxing Sunday? No. From listening to Jua Kali, I knew there was California in Kenya. Nyokabi lit up my Sunday with some sunshine as we met up with maybe the most networked Nairobi resident Buddha Blaze at HillCrest school. There, the famous Wanuri Kahiu (yes, of 'From a Whisper' & 'Pumzi' fame) was working on the set of her next big project, Sauti, a TV show to be broadcast on a Turner network. Yes, African film director making a show for mainstream US television. #Twende! After complaining to Wanuri, I couldn't get Pumzi to watch anywhere, she gave me a personal DVD. Wowzers! Too bad I couldn't get to meet other awesome members of the cast then. Nyo, Buddha and I picked up Buddha's friend and then we went on a Ghanaian restaurant hunt. Mind you, even Arthur & Henry didn't know this existed. The restaurant we found was Nigerian and because they didn't have plantains we didn't buy there. They also didn't have any signage which led us to suspect they might be hiding from the tax authorities. 419 :-) Ended up at Tamasha where I had my first taste of 'Nyama choma'. Meat lovers, rejoice. I was also introduced by Stony Tangawizi here. GogoSimo performed here too. I was entrusted in the care of a couple of ladies (one who had also lived in the Bay Area) and they took me round to some Westlands spots before I retired to prepare for G-Kenya.
G-Kenya? Find out all about it here. A conference held in a movie theatre complex? Only Google will organize something as cool. :-) After finally meeting up Corine Onyango (who I'd set eyes on since 'From A Whisper'), I visited HomeBoyz radio with my Stanford rafiki (Jisas). There, I was on two radio shows, one in which I got to rate four new songs and the other where I chose 10 songs to play on radio. My hosts were some mrembo 'homegirlz', Raquel and Amina. I also talked to the folks at Homeboyzproduschizzle, I even bumped into Wyre da Love Child! Homeboyz does some pretty awesome animation work too. Later on the Tuesday night, I met up with various folks I knew based in Nairobi at a place called 'Casablanca'. That was fun, I was connecting folks in a city I'd never been, one of my things I was born to do.
The next couple of days, we had a little Google retreat where we socialized amidst doing some work. This offered me the chance to go on a Safari. Thank Mungu! Cos I don't think I would have paid to go on a Safari myself :-) Apparently on a real safari, you wanna see 5 things - lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalos and elephants. We saw them all except lions and leopards. In fact, I made sure we combed as much of the game reserve as we could looking for the king of the jungle. But like a wise man said, "If you see zebras and antelopes, don't expect to see lions and leopards". We only discovered the a sign that said we were on the equator. Satisfaction. I returned from the 'retreat' or 'advance' if you may to attend the music video premieres of Wyre's 'Njoo Nami' and Camp Mulla's 'Party Don't Stop' where I met several Kenyan musicians including Sauti Sol, Dela, Habida, as well as Jaguar whose Kigeugeu was ruling the Kenyan airwaves.
I do love the idea of getting exotic meats in Kenya though. I visited the famous Carnivore restaurant, though I didn't eat there. I eventually had some crocodile meat at Fogo Gaucho. Eventually that week, I met up two other Stanford Kenyans at Blix, a club that one of them owns. I should go to clubs which my friends own my often. Had a blast there. You know Kenyans are famous for drinking right? Everytime I meet a Kenyan who does not 'drink', I am shockprised. Pombe! I like to claim "Kenyans drink a lot, and then they sit around. Ugandans drink a lot too, and then they dance". Through Blix and more Westlands bars' frolicking, I managed not to get drunk, cos I don't get drunk cos I don't drink plenty lol.
I woke up Saturday morning with no Las Vegas type hangover. So I did what every tech enthusiast who visits Kenya should do - visit the iHub. The iHub is like a tourist attraction. There, I met awesome African developers, including this guy of Olalashe fame who had just won Google's Android Developer Challenge. I also had lunch with Wesley Kirinya, one half of LetiGames, Africa's first and foremost game development company (shout-out to Eyram Tawia). That was not before I bumped into yet another Kenyan I knew, Ciru, who I met by bumping her into at the 2009 Harvard African Business Forum. I even bumped into Mista Majani of Kenyanlyrics who I was also Facebook friends with. I'm not making this up. Bump this if you love Nairobi. Made some great contacts there after which @eyedol took me to Masai mara market in a "matatu" for me to get some gifts for loved ones in Ghana. But on the real though, every African country needs an iHub. It's my prayer that 2.54 years from this post, every African nation gets one. Amen.
So I left Nairobi with no Nairobbery or safari horror stories. I didn't see any lions so no lions chased me. I didn't get to visit Livingstone Lovington or trek to Kisumu or Mombasa. But Kenya felt like home even if its city development had left is less African. I tried to speak Swahili at every opportunity, even teasing the Kenyans that Tanzanians speak better Swahili than them. I should work on my sheng though. Kenya is also home to a lot of tourists, Nairobi is surely the innovation capital of Africa. One of my Stanford friends was working on a Kenyan-made tablet pc. It is similar to Ghana in many ways. Matatus have inscriptions on them just like trotros in Ghana do.
"Narudi Nyumbani". Didn't get to meet Nameless but his "Coming Home" anthem was on my lips throughout my Kenyan stay. Ghana has a lot to learn from Kenya and vice versa. Kenya has a lot more malls, and great infrastructure. Ghana will get that but I hope we keep our culture and 'Africanness' in doing so. I got to see more neighbourhoods in Nairobi but I wish I had visited some young professionals in Nairobi to see where they lived. I didn't go to the Kenya to see tourist sites, I went there to meet and live with the people. That's the way to African unity. That's the MightyAfrican way.