Saturday, 11 June 2011


Oh you in the blue uniform! If I have wronged you, I will reform!

This is my favourite lyric of all the songs of Kenyan boy band, SAUTI SOL. It's from the song BLUE UNIFORM, and is ironically directed towards Kenya's police. I've had a recent and rather hairy run-in with these awesomely corrupt gents, so I was ready for all the irony they could dish out.

The term boy band seems almost pejorative, somehow, but this is a boy band in the best sense of the term: beautiful men who sing beautifully. What else does one really need in this life?

The band sings in a mix of Swahili and English, to uptempo, danceable, and at least for me, memorable tunes. They give a lovely live show, with lots of fun patter. A sample: 'This next song is about the slave trade. And slavery. And climate change. And yah-dah-yah-dah-yah-dah. Much laughter, actually it is a song about asking someone out to coffee.

I can't think when last I saw a show where the ladies were screaming and falling about quite so enthusiastically, so unashamedly in the best traditions of N'Sync, BoyzIIMen and the like. There was particularly a lot of falling about during the 'dancing competition,' where we were treated to seeing what a crotch isolation actually means.

Here's there MySpace

(Sauti Sol Live Show, Blankets and Wine, 5 June 2011, Ksh 700)

Monday, 6 June 2011


This restaurant is a Nairobi native kind of place. I say this, because if you were not a Nairobi native, you would not know it existed. It exists for some reason in the backyard of a hair salon, where it's existence is completely unadvertised.

And indeed, it if was advertised one might think it was a very oddly situated JFK Memorial. But no, it is just your common-or-garden backyard of a hairdresser restaurant.

But never mind the location, or the name, or the lack of advertising: with chicken this good, you could call it DYSENTRY KNOLL, and put it behind a nuclear station, and people would still come.

The restaurant serves food other than chicken – one of our party had fish and chips, which was very tasty – but the main draw is the chicken. It is called kuku choma, which means it is slow cooked. And I do mean slow: two hours from ordering to eating, but it's worth the wait. The wait is itself sort of fun, allowing you the chance to get mildly or majorly buzzed on reasonably priced alcohol. I had more than one glass of a white wine which strangely seemed to get nicer and nicer as afternoon turned into evening.

The chicken comes in a tasty spicy sauce, and you can choose between sides of roast potatoes, chapatis, and rice. I recommend the deliciously oily chapatis.

THE GRASSY KNOLL is a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon, with good food and a lovely outdoor seating area. If you are very bothered about flies, it might not be quite the place for you: but I just recommend not thinking about the kitchen conditions at all, and you will have an excellent and a tasty time.

THE GRASSY KNOLL, Ngong Road, opposite Shell Station at Karen Roundabout, behind Grassy Knoll Hair Salon. Approx. 1000Ksh/head, food and drinks)

Thursday, 2 June 2011

CITI HOPPA: Public Transport Nairobi

My car is in the garage, and so to get into town I decided to take the city bus.

“It will be terrible,” people warned. These people have clearly not spent the last seven years taking buses in London.

There are no schedules or maps that I could find, but that old invention, the human mouth, worked pretty well and I discovered that I needed to take the 46 from outside Junction, our nearest mall.

Like a hardened Londoner I settled down to wait, only to boggle at a bus immediately arriving. The driver called out the bus number to me in Swahili. (This speaking to me in Swahili happens a fair bit, and I assume must mean that people take me for a Kenyan. I'm not sure I'm not a bit taken aback that I am apparently so obviously a white African. What is it? The dusty feet? the ramshackle air? the plastic slops?)

We established it was indeed the 46, and I got on board. Friends, it was not very clean. But I did not find any cockroaches, which makes it cleaner than my main London bus, that old enemy the 12. The vents by the backseat of the 12 were a regular preparation for life after the nuclear holocaust.

Also different from the London bus system is the distinct absence of yobby teens playing music loudly on their mobiles. Also, of rain outside the bus windows. And of an electronic voice saying DOORS OPENING. In fact, never mind no electronic voice, there were no doors. I tried to regard this as simply providing for an excellent through breeze.

The conductor takes your fare (30 shillings!) and gives you a ticket. A man gets on and sits next to me with immaculately white shirt and white shoes. He smells so bad it is as if someone has reached down into my throat and punched my gag reflex.

When people want to get out, the conductor raps on the roof with a coin to let the driver know, and we don't stop, only slow down, so people can jump. This often happens in the middle of an intersection. DOORS OPENING, indeed.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


At the Nairobi aiport, as you come out of immigration, there are always a number of casually dressed gentlemen who helpfully offer you a taxi. This is I think it is safe to assume an offer of rape-murder, so I tend to turn them down, helpful though they are.

My booked taxi driver, who may of course also be a raping murderer, is there to collect me, and so at 2am we begin a long drive across an impressively dark and empty Nairobi. Not without first of course almost having been run into in the car park by an idiot: it wouldn’t be Nairobi if there wasn’t the constant threat of automotive carnage.

The quiet sound of Christian radio from the front seat is comforting, and I am just drifting away into my own thoughts when the brakes squeal and I abruptly discover I am not wearing a seat belt. A herd of Zebra is revealed in the headlights, and confusedly staggers off the four lane highway and towards a warehouse. “Never seen that before,” says the driver.

We pass a tree full of sleeping Marabou storks, and then a prostitute, posing very strangely on the side of the road; probably very high, and with good reason, poor lady, to get through the night. There is also a homeless man sitting on the verge and staring at his hands with delight. We get to Kibera, and the driver speeds up: rapist and murderer he may be, but he sure doesn’t want to get carjacked.

We turn into my road at last, and a big car slides in beside us. The taxi driver quickly draws in a breath , but the car, apparently innocent, pulls ahead and out of sight.

Sunday, 17 April 2011


Under a couple of hours from Nairobi, on the shore of Lake Naivasha, can be found this charming little place, with campsites and little cottages. The view is directly onto the lake, with mountains all around. It is very pretty, and very chill.

We arrived in time for a picnic lunch - what we could steal back from the bees - under a set of trees in which monkeys were playing. In the evening we went on a boat ride, which was a very pretty way to see the lake, and also, for those with poor social skills, a good chance to see and argue about bird species. There was also a sizeable pod of hippos.

We had dinner in Carnelly’s charming little restaurant, which is quaint and Kenyan without inducing nausea, quite a feat. There may have been some boozing, and some pingpong. Before bed, a double miracle: showers open to the sky that were both hot and clean.

We had a lovely jasmine scented sleep, as there was a hedge outside our door, and woke up to breakfast at the still quaint and Kenyan restaurant.

I saw a woman I presume to be the owner, who was tall and blond, wearing shorts, a T-shirt and slick of red on her lips. Now, I regard this as hardly generous. It is not kind to others to look this good at 8am on campsite. It almost undid all the good of my holiday, really, but somehow I soldiered on, forcing down my delicious banana pancakes like a champ, and seeking consolation in the view.

Their website is here. Camping 600KSh/person, Dorms 800 KSh/person, cottages vary.

Friday, 8 April 2011


I got amazingly lost trying to find this museum. This is no exaggeration, because when I asked a passerby, she literally said, “You are so lost, it is amazing!”

So, having amazed at least some portion of the Nairobi populace, I eventually arrived at this rather charming colonial house. It is the former home of the writer Isak Dinesen, or Karen Blixen, who wrote OUT OF AFRICA, and is retained as a museum of her life and work by the Kenyan government.

It has high roofs and mahogany paneling, and while some of the contents are props from the movie, much is original, and rather touching. So though you can indeed see Robert Redford’s trousers, you can also see the massive suitcase which she bought on the steamship, still with its original label; you can see a paniting her mum brought her, to encourage her to go back to her hobby; you can see her butter churn; you can see her really very sweet sock dryers, which are a pair of flat wooden cutouts of feet, for stretching wet socks.

In the garden, there is a flame tree more than a hundred years old, which was there when she arrived, and the palm trees she planted. You can see where she used to sit in her garden, with its gorgeous view of the Ngong Hills. She had set up her seat so as to be able to see her lover’s grave there.

I found visiting her house and learning about her life quite heartening. The reason that there is not much of her original stuff in the house is that she was bankrupt by the time she was forced to leave Africa. Her coffee plantation was a failure, she was divorced, her lover was dead, and she had syphilis.

And yet here we were at a museum to her life, being led around by a very knowledgable guide who obvoiusly considered her a remarkable Kenyan. Clearly you can screw your life up royally, professionally and personally, and still make it out the other end museum-worthy.

More really than this outward success, what I found touching was the ordinary details of the life of what had clearly been a very kind hearted lady. You can see in the house a picture of a little boy who worked in her kitchen, whose education she paid for, and who became a successful lawyer, and later the first judge of his native Somalia. He died in the civil war in that country in 1984. This is just one year, the guide told us most seriously, before the movie came out.

That this lady was a true original is amply testified to by the many pictures of her in the house in which she is to be found wearing two hats. She believed the African sun was too harsh for just the one.

(Karen Blixen Museum, Karen Road, Nairobi, Non Resident 800KSh, Residents 100KSh)

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

SAVANNAH COFFEE LOUNGE at the Nairobi National Museum

Where BLANKETS AND WINE, previously blogged about, is about seeing and being seen, this lovely little cafe is mostly about seeing.

I recommend it especially early in the morning - from 7.30 am or so. It is quiet, and empty. The outdoor seating is on the second floor, so you sit among the trees, looking out at the museum gardens. In the distance, you can see the Nairobi skyline, looking uncharacteristically still and peaceful.

The kites swoop all around you, and there are hammerkops building their nests. If you are lucky, you will even see a Sykes monkey swinging through the canopy.

Less exotic, but just as much a must-see are the museum cats, who are usually stretched out in the sun on a neighbouring roof. They generally lie so still I fear they are dead, but so far not: they are just very relaxed.

The Americanos are very nice, and come with a little biscuit. You might just end up as relaxed as the cats.