“Here begineth a new life” – Dante, La Vita Nuova
So here I am. A 37-year-old reformed securities/regulatory lawyer from Toronto, embarking on the latest chapter of the story of my life at an NGO in Nairobi. It’s about time for this change. I’ve always been more of a hippy of sorts, anyway. Well, a “Pippy,” to be more exact, standing for Persian Hippy, a slightly different breed, with good clean hair.
I haven’t had many interactions in Nairobi yet, so not much to report. I will just make two observations.
First, human beings are assholes. My flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi was a bit of a nightmare. A very large woman with a strong odor sat in the middle, next to me. My heart sank instantly. So did the entire row. I wished, desperately, for a nasal numbing agent, but I had to settle for putting a finger under and against my nose as though I was contemplating something in the movie! I held it there for over an hour. I saw the crack of her large rear end at least a dozen times, but that’s not why I say people are assholes. She was actually very nice. She was from Portland, but had lived in the bush in Alaska and in rural Mexico. She was moving onwards to Uganda to check out a property where she might retire. She talked a lot about fishing, the great outdoors, and indigenous Mexicans. She cautioned, “you know you can’t just move to the bush and expect to survive. You need things, supplies, stuff – like a coat, and heat. You can’t just go gallivanting into the bush and expect to find food! People die. They DIE!” That’s just great. There goes my dream of building a shelter from twigs and my Klingon t-shirt, living off wild berries, enjoying the occasional waltz with a baby grizzly or puffin.
On the subject of the sovereignty of indigenous Mexicans: “Would you believe that an entire family of Indians would sit in one of their blankets – right in the middle of a BANK!” “Like a picnic?” I asked. “Yeeaahhhhh! Like a picnic”, she confirmed. She had an urban twang in her voice (reminded me of my Detroit days) that I found grating. And she sure liked to talk (to the young man to her right, to the Somali kids in front of her). I kept my ear buds in and stuck to my films, for the most part. She would shout and wave her hands an animation whenever she spoke, repeatedly blocking my screen. I shoo’d her hand away once, and my nail caught her skin. Though I don’t think that counts as a slap. if it does, that makes the second time I’ve slapped a person on a flight (the first time was no accident).
I think she may have been a bit slow, which made me feel ashamed for the contempt in my heart. I tried to change seats, but that is when I observed how truly greedy and nasty people can be on long flights. Take away a well-fed belly from the homo sapien, and you get a nasty person. Put her on a plane, and you get a homicidal maniac. It took every fibre of my being not to get into several flights with people who made it obvious they don’t want me taking the precious empty seat next to them. The worst I said, to some lady, was a “UGh, never mind! I don’t want to sit next to you anyway!” I said something or another about this not being her private plane and that we don’t always get what we want. Then I called her a b*tch to the flight attendant, within earshot, and the flight attendant and I giggled. So take that! Better to take my chances with the unfortunate soul sitting next to me, with my dignity intact. At least she was kind, and a part of me loved her for it. After a while, she didn’t seem so bad anymore. An interaction with a guy in the exit row was the worst. He was a royal asshole. Royal. When I saw him again at customs, I literally fantasized about kicking him in the shin. That would have wiped the stupid grin off his stupid face. Alas I didn’t wanna risk getting arrested, or saying something I’d regret (“well lookie here – yet another self entitled white guy in Africa!”). I was at the very back of the massive airplane, and needless to say, clearing the plane and the absurdly slow customs line was a scene out of Zootopia (the sloth scene at the DMV comes to mind).
Second observation: this city is stunning. There are jacaranda and jacaranda-like trees everywhere, full of purple, fusia and yellow flowers, and they are magnificent. I’ve never been to a city with so many vendors selling varieties of plants alongside the roads, in stunning clay pots of assorted sizes. They seem to be everywhere. I am taking it as a sign that I *could* live here. My plants would be called Denison, Millicent, Gertrude, and the like. The city’s basic infrastructure is more undeveloped than I realized. A ton of bumpy dirt roads, and I don’t know how my drivers’ jalopy is managing. We drove through a freakin muddy lake at one point (I exaggerate, but a several meter long ditch full of water is more than a puddle). I drove past a mini slum and saw a woman picking through a large heap of garbage while another cooked and sold fish down the alley. Very sad sight. Most of the city is pretty though, with lots of British East Africa style red shingled roofs. Fenced barbed wire is common, as expected.
At the time of writing, I am sitting at the Karen Blixen grounds. KB was the Danish baroness played by Meryl Streep in the stunningly beautiful “Out of Africa” and the grounds were the place where she famously wrote about in the opening lines of her memoir, “ I had a farm in Africa. At the foot of the Ngong hills.” I can understand why she never stopped longing for this stunning place. Even the red mud beneath my feet is exquisite. I am sitting in a beautiful garden, waiting to eat lunch. It’s almost 2:30, and there is a cool breeze. A British mum just censured her snotty chubby little boy next to me. It was very funny. He didn’t give her any lip, but he pouted and dragged his arms back to the table like a caveman. I bet he picks his nose, and that any minute now I’ll hear him saying “mummy, where’s my chocolate, mummy?!” An American woman gave a piece of her mind to a waitress just now, saying they’ve been waiting for 1.5 hours to eat and that she wants to speak to a manager. She said coming to this place was a mistake and that her day is a write off. I usually despise people like her, but I have a feeling that she is beyond hungry. Everything here happens painfully slowly. I’ve only been here for 24 hours, but it’s undeniable.
My driver won’t be back for another couple of hours. I can hardly understand a word out of his mouth. Literally. He says “tree” and I hear “fish.” It’s likely that he thinks I’m unintelligent. I adore him already.