Saturday, July 16, 2011

East Africa Day 64 (Sat July 16): Exploring Westlands

Before I left the USA for Kenya and during my apartment search, I heard a few ex-pats mention Westlands. Upon learning that the neighborhood has a good Ethiopian restaurant and a health food store, I figured today would be a good day to check it out.

I grabbed two reusable Chico bags that stuff into themselves (these bags have turned out to be some of the best things I brought with me to East Africa) and headed out of my apartment compound on foot. (BTW - at least in Uganda, you wouldn't say that you are going to "walk there" - you say that you are going to "foot it." I don't know if this phrase applies to Kenya or not, yet.) It's another beautiful day - bright sun, warm air - reminds me of late spring on the East Coast:)

I hadn't walked far from the compound when I found the Nairobi National Museum. I went in to take a quick look and decided that I'll definitely have to come back. I then walked along a back street, passing a sign for Saatchi & Saatchi, which made me smile:) It was then a quick walk to the Westlands neighborhood, though when I got there I was a little lost. When I did find the Sarit Centre (one of the two malls in Westlands) I felt like I might not be in Nairobi any longer. I considered taking a photo of the mall from the entrance to the complex, but I assume that you're familiar with a Western mall and parking lot full of shiny cars:)

The mall has a big Uchumi grocery store in it, which was full of customers. I walked through most of the aisles and found a lot of things ... just not really the kind of stuff that I am looking for. I then found the Sarit Centre's Healthy U shop, and picked up some organic quinoa, chocolate soy milk, and falafel mix. Headed back to Uchumi and got some whole grain Uji mix (we had Uji daily at Daraja for breakfast, and I loved it), fruits and vegetables. I looked for plain soy milk for the uji, because the instructions on the package call for soy milk. The closest thing Uchumi had on its shelves was soy milk with green tea extract and vegetable fat in it. I hesitated before putting it my basket, but figured I might as well give it a chance. Obviously people drink it.

I found a salad bar type of outlet in the food court, and had a great lunch from the salad bar, with a freshly-made strawberry and orange juice drink. (Strawberries are very hard to find here - these were the first I've had since I left the USA.) Yet the amount of single-use plastic that I had to use with my meal was appalling. While sitting in the food court, I looked around at the other customers. It was an assortment of races and ages, and with the infrastructure in the mall you could almost forget that you are in Africa, at all. This environment was so far removed from village life, as I've experienced it. I wanted to think that it's amazing that there are such great disparities in wealth in Kenya, but I know that it exists in the USA, too.

I stopped at the Textbook Centre in the mall (a book store chain, I think) to see if the store carried any KCSE or college search guide books. I asked an employee who showed me a row of KCSE prep books, each book designed to cover a specific subject or two, such as Chemistry, etc. They reminded me of the prep books that we used in high school to prepare for the New York State Regents Exams. I flipped through a few of the books but couldn't tell if they were any good or not. As for college prep books ... there were two. They just listed schools and their program offerings, and contact info. Not really helpful. I left all of the books at the store. Especially when I saw that the best book of the lot had printed "KCSE" as "KSCE" on the top margin of an entire chapter, in large, bold font. Uhhhh I know typos happen, but even my American eye caught that one:) Needless to say, I wasn't particularly impressed, and a little disheartened. I wouldn't mind if someone else has already written a good college prep book.

When I got back to the compound, I snapped some photos of my block, the complex, our compound gate, and the view from my window:)

I then got to meet Ashley, who stopped back at the apartment with her grandmother and mom to pick up her stuff. They are heading to the airport tomorrow to fly back to Connecticut. So glad I got to meet the Emory MPH student who introduced me to the apartment, via Lucy in Kampala:) I also met my new roommate, whose name I've forgotten, when she came to look at the apartment and then decided to move in! She arrived in East Africa three days ago, and is working on a project for her advanced degree, having something to do with nutrition. She lives in Washington, DC but flew here from San Diego where she was hanging out for a few days. She'll be here for the rest of the time that I am here. Awesome!

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