Day 202: Karen, Kenya

We had wanted desperately to stay in Karen, home to many of the famous writers Kenyan expats* we have stalked (via their books) over the years. And, now, thankfully, we have landed.

After three days here, the hostel we were staying at, Africa Unleashed, in the suburb of Lavington, was overrun with 30-odd fascinating climate change groupies here for a youth environmental summit of sorts. An overbooking problem led the Africa Unleashed manager Lee to help us find a new locale. After a brief stint at Nairobi Backpackers, which does not have wifi, as the website claims, but rather a computer connected to the internet without a “wire” (huh? this is not wifi as we know it people and thus not a way to get people to book at your hostel), we stumbled upon Karin Kottage thanks to Francis, Mrs. Tolley, and divine providence.

We’re in Karen, the suburb of Nairobi today, staying at a fantastic place – Karin Kottage – where Stanley the great can make your Kenyan experience as pleasant as you can imagine, with free wifi. This wonderful cottage is all thanks to Mrs. Tolley, the mother in law of Kelly’s sister, who has been highly helpful in coordinating much of our Kenyan experience. And also thanks to driver Francis, who had to listen to Claire and Lara fighting on the way to pick up Kelly at the airport last night. If Claire and Lara had shame, or perhaps the fight was not really really important (it was not) perhaps they would have waited to have the fight in private. It was all good, though, when we hugged at the end and told Francis that the problem is that we have been traveling for eight months and are sick of each other and this is actually only our 3rd of 4th fight only and sometimes you just have to “Let it all out!” He responded congenially, “Just like sisters!” to which we failed to counter with “Just like Life Partners!”

Here are some things to know about Kenya, Nairobbery, and the general things we are learning.

1. There is a dispute about whether or not Karen, the famed white expat suburb, is actually named for Karen Blixen or not. Blixen, aka Isak Dinesen, was the Danish author of Out of Africa passed up for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954 when Hemingway won (clearly a tough year). So popular opinion and lore says that Karen was named for her, as she and all her white buddies lived here, but investigative travel journalists (are there such a thing?) say it Karen was actually called Tania during her time in Kenya and thus Karen was named for her cousin, the daughter of the coffee plantation conglomerate the family was involved in.

2. There is a bar in Nairobi called Taco Bell. Lonely Planet seems to believe that the real Taco Bell could get some good money from this people for name usage, as to Claire’s dismay there is nary a burrito in sight.

3. This morning we found the following item on Claire’s compu: “The black hawk war, or how to demolish an entire civilization and still feel good about yourself.”

This was the conversation that ensued in increasingly loud voices in our Karen Kottage kitchen as Kelly continued to sleep off jet lag and we eat a yummy (lame word) breakfast.

Claire: Did you download this?
Lara: Huh?
Claire: What is this?
Claire: It won’t open.
Claire: Why won’t it open?
Claire: I want to open it.
Lara: You don’t know what it is.
Claire: Where is Andy (right here, actually, helping with a wifi problem we have been having in Karen Kottage).
Lara: You don’t KNOW WHAT IT IS so maybe you shouldn’t open it.
Claire: Tell me what it is.
Lara: I didn’t download it.
Claire: Then who did?
Lara: I saw that the other day and assumed it was yours. Who knew what crazy Claire thought would be the start of some weird new project.
Claire: Crazy Lara you mean.
Lara: What?
Claire: I don’t know.
Claire: I see that.
Lara: See what?
Claire: The weird project thing. It looks interesting. We saw that movie at flicks in college.
Lara: What movie?
Claire: Black Hawk Down.
Lara: I don’t remember.
Claire: Because I remember things for you.

And then we went back to sitting on opposite sides of the kitchen balcony with the Kenyan birds singing, Lara doing video editing of Mongolia and Jake the photographer we met, and Claire writing up this conversation, following Andy’s directions like “ping” and simultaneously reading the magazines Kelly brought. We think we could rent the cottage more long term, which would be awesome, so we have to talk to Stanley about that later today.

Note: Is Jessica Alba pigeon toed? It looks suspiciously so based on my US Weekly research.

* Our favorite books on things Kenyan (and some of our favorite life books that happen to be all about Kenya): Out of Africa, White Mischief, West with the Night, Green Hills of Africa (and other Hemingway short stories on the topic), Elephants in the Garden, I Dreamed of Africa (and all Kuki Gallman), Rules of the Wild.


sarah mac said...

oh yeah...i'm giving lara an transatlantic high five right now and i think you both know why. also, if you happen to run into kuki, please tell her about the WIP...she's on my wish list for female contributors.

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