Downtown Nairobi: Adventures with a Working Woman

CHNEPR IDWhen I was 20, I had a New York State fake ID that a buddy had made in Photoshop.

It was a playing card cut to size using real ID as a template. Inkjet printouts were pasted to the card with double sided sticky tape, the final layer self laminate from Staples. The finishing touch was that one side was carfully dulled by ultra-fine sandpaper. This masterpiece of was then placed in between the pages of a voluminous text with other tomes stacked on top.

I always knew buying the required course material would come in handy.

That summer I’d been employed by a growing Italian restaurant company in Columbus, OH. It was a rotational deal. I worked every position from prep to line to bus boy to server to host to manager. It was the first time I’d ever lived alone.

I spent the first few weeks regretting my decision to move.

To make matters worse, I was surrounded by so many beautiful employees whom I was supposed to manage. The ID I’d bought was confiscated, and my buddy’s barely worked anywhere in Ithaca. I know waht you’re thinking:

“Gosh, this new underwear is bunching in all the wrong places. And why would you try to us a fake ID that is the state in which you’re living?”

It was kind of reverse psychology: ‘No one would be stupid enough to use a fake NY ID in NY…’ There were pretty much two places it would work in Ithaca, but that was good enough for me. Yet after three weeks of being completely miserable in Ohio, I decided I needed to go meet people. Now I suppose I could have joined a church, followed up with some friends of friends, or gone support groups for various terminal illnesses. But the Westerville suburb of Columbus where I lived was on the edge of a dry county and there were a number of bars. I walked into a decent looking place and must’ve looked like a wanted man who happened to be serving hors douvres to be at the Officers Ball. The bartender looked at the ID the window of my tri-fold green corduroy Billabong velcro wallet.

“OK,” he said. “What can I get you?”

“uh,” I gulped. “A Bass?”

“Tall or short?”


There was a couple sitting near me at the bar. The guy was older, maybe late fifties. His wife, maybe late thirties. “Looks like you just made it.”

I smiled, sipped the malty ale, and replied,”You have no idea.”

After that, I’d party with my servers, but professionalism prevailed I did not date a single employee whom I was managing. After six weeks of training in my first location, I went on to be a manager at three other locations for two weeks each, culminating with the opening of a new store in Atlanta. Upon leaving the first restaurant, there was a little party in my honor, and I promised everyone that we’d hang out. After my stint at the next store, and each consecutive one, I noticed a similar effect: I was armed with a new set of phone numbers every few weeks.

It turned out to be a fantastic summer.

The first casualty of war was a food runner from the my training store. She had curly black hair and drove a red honda and was cute, but more boring an Andrew Lloyd Weber Show. I wasn’t really interested in her, but I was interested in finally hanging out with someone other than my 45 year old roommate.

– – – –

At lunch this past friday, I was enjoying a plate of fluffy white rice and light stew chock full of beans, potatoes, carrots, zucchini and a little bit of beef. The IT guys, the safari agent, and a girl from accounts were all near the shade of a tree and we laughed and ate and enjoyed the warm afternoon sun.

As I offered to bus all of our plates, the girl from accounts asked me what I was doing Saturday afternoon, and if I would like to go see a play. Having been in there before, I wanted to refuse.

But what was I gonna say, that I had to make a fresh batch of sock stew?

I figured I’d be able to say I had a lot of work to do, but if I didn’t act like it was a date, then it wouldn’t be. Besides, I’d enjoyed my little walks around town before, but I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to go with a local.

Evening in NairobiAt 2:00 we walked out of base camp to Ngong and went to the bus stop. I was excited to take one of the small, crowded buses, but didn’t want to get lost on my own. All sorts of independent buses run through Nairobi, the most legitmate-looking of which are called City Hoppas. and they are green with pink lettering. An unfathomable system of numbers and ambiguous locations denotes to where the hoppa is going.

I was thankful for my guide. We rode downtown, talking about our respective—and disparate—commutes to work. My guide told me she left her place by 6:30 only to ride for over an hour on one of the crowded hoppas. The attendant had this ticker device that looked like the ones train conducters of yore would’ve had. He wore a maroon uniform with brass buttons and looked like a train conductor. He collected our fare and went on chaining the door shut after each stop. We got dropped off near to where I’d adventured about two weeks before. After a little walk and some more chatting we arrived at the Alliance Francaise, which housed the theatre. Tickets were under three dollars. I almost felt guilty not paying more.

At the beginning we all stood to the national anthem. Other than the Start Spangled Banner, God Save the Queen, and the first four notes to Oh Canada, All other national anthems sound, I dunno, like not national. The play was funny, though it took me a little bit to catch on through the accented enunciation. It was a western play, I think, about a widower and his family. The played off each other well, but used obvious devices of character, and often had difficulty covering up when they miffed their lines.

Attending really gave a new meaning to culture.
Afterwards we had a little dinner at a Kenyan fast food joint.

I know, I know…fast food.

I told her she could pick the place, what was I supposed to do? The food was, well, to say the least, different. They didn’t have the fryer nearly hot enough, so the fries were soggy and a bit greasy. The chicken sandwich really didn’t look like it did in the picture. And I don’t think it was a breast.

We walked on and I was joking with my guide about how she was gonna be my official tour guide when I saw a flurry of activity on the approaching block.

“What’s going on over there?”

“It’s the Maasai market.”

“Awesome. Let’s go.”

“Where do you think I was going to take you?”

Maasai BraceletAs we arrived on the parking lot sprawling with tarps and sheets displaying carvings, paintings, tapestries, and trinkets. People were milling about everywhere and as soon as I arrived I was accosted to buy all sorts of wares that I didn’t need. I did end up buying some beaded masaai jewelry for souvenir gifts. It’s a pretty cool thing, and it’s just like the ones all my guards wear. I’m just not really big on mancessories.

Once, in an airport somewhere, a guy with an earing, a bracelet, a watch, a gold chain and a ring or two sat down across from me. One or two of the aformentioned adornments would have been just fine. But all of them together didn’t seem right.

So while I’m wearing the bracelet for the picture, it’s now sitting in a drawer.

After the market we had a beer in a noisy pub. It was called Winker’s, but upon first glance it totally looked like it was called Wanker’s. She had a Red’s cider and I had a tusker. The place was packed and we sat at a smalle table and talked about our families. We were both middle children: myself, the middle of three, her the middle of ten.

We walked along Kenyatta, the main street in town, and chatted some more. I thanked her for showing me around. I took a city hoppa home. At a stop a man got aboard the bus and was obviously intoxicated. When the conductor got to him I heard alot of yelling, and the hoppa stopped. I assumed the man did not have the forty shillings for the ride. After much commotion, he just left in a huff.

At least the hoppa was stopped when he did
I got off at a stop right near the Jockey Club and I walked along the dark road to back to base camp. There were no guards around. Which was weird, but they around the other side laughing by a fire.

“yo guys! It’s me!”

A few moments later they opened the door for me.

As I walked down to my house, I sighed, glad to be home. Though I’d enjoyed my time with my coworker, it was a bit exhausting. Since we didn’t have much in common, I had to try extra hard to be personable. After a few works of just working and blogging it was serious effort.

I was ready to get to bed.

But when I got to my door I noticed something strange.

It was unlocked.


One Response to Downtown Nairobi: Adventures with a Working Woman

  1. […] After publishing my last story, I realized how inappropriate a cliffhanger ending is for the blog format. There’s no next page, no chapters. Hell, you could be reading CHNEPR for the first time since I sent out the email in August. Throw google in the mix we might as well be talking about a choose your own adventure. […]

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