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.