Explosions, Canadians, Matatus and a Penniless Mzungu

So I want to keep this in as much chronological order as possible, which means I have to breeze through some things to get to what I really want to write about, so hold on to your hats and here we go!

As many of you heard, there was a pipeline explosion in one of Nairobi’s slums: Mukuru Sinai.  Yes, my friends and I were safe and far from the explosion but many lost their lives and many others still were injured, burned and if lucky, managed to get taken to a hospital.  I was part of young people group organizing a response at work.  It was spearheaded by the Kenyans and we collected non-perishable food items and blankets, etc.  These were given to organizations that already had response mechanisms in place to distribute.  There was also a city-wide campaign for blood donations and the clinic at work asked us all to go to one of the designated donation clinics.  I did not donate blood, could not even if I wanted to, but I did what else I could.  I think the saddest part of the whole incident is what I read in the news describing the situation.  It said that there was a leak and that once discovered, residents were not running away.  Some might say greed, but I would lean towards calling it desperation, as the reason why people ran to the leak with whatever they could to fill as vessels for the priceless liquid.  To think that this could have gone so far in one’s life, for their families, for their children, that they run towards something so sensitive.  I don’t know if it was someone cooking, or a cigarette butt, or what, but yes, the gas exploded.  Not only were people’s lives lost or destroyed, but so were homes and livelihoods.  Many of you have contacted me after this so I am glad that the news has reached home, but please don’t forget.  I really wonder what changes will be put into place to prevent such a thing again, or if this is just a risk of living, at least, in Mukuru Sinai.

On another note, that same day I had a visit with friends from Canada!  Well, I know their purpose in coming to Kenya was not entirely, or at all, to visit me, but I am grateful that we managed to get together.  It was lovely.  They are three friends and former colleagues from Speroway, or FTC Canada at the time I was there.  They were here visiting some partner and other organizations operating in Kenya.  They had been to Kibera earlier that day and I am thankful they had not been in Mukuru Sinai.  I can only image what their family and friends at home must have thought knowing they were in a Nairobi slum the day that unfortunate news came on.  We talked about the news, and shared what we have been up to over dinner.   Wine and pizza (because I’m my father’s daughter) for dinner and I must say, best pizza here yet!  It was so nice to see them again.  They were also able to deliver a small package from home.  I was so thankful, what can I say, I understand how valuable luggage space can be.  What a small world we live in!  Oh, and I haven’t had to practice my marriage refusal lines, which I used to know so well in Ghana, until to the taxi driver that night.  I must say, that is a major difference between Western and Eastern Africa.  In Ghana, you are bound to be proposed to numerous times a day.  Here, it is much more discreet and they ask about boyfriends before continuing the conversation.  Even if you try the boyfriend-line in Ghana, it doesn’t always work.  As I was once told, “He’d understand.  We’re brothers and we like to share.”  (Gag reflex.)  Anyway, by the time I arrived at my destination, he had offered to take me dancing, buy me duty-free wine and pay half my rent. Thankfully, I managed my escape gracefully, or so I hope.  Sure I may have been a little blunt, but what can I say?  No is no, and I haven’t had to practice responding to such offers in a while.

I made a new Kenyan friend the other day.  I was trying to load something on my phone which cost 1000 Kshs.  I also needed 1000 Kshs credit for the phone so I could make calls.  I held 1000 Kshs in my hand, debating what to do as the young lady working there told me that they couldn’t test the thing I needed to load, so the 1000 Kshs for that might or might not work.  I waved the bill, “This is my last 1000 so I can’t waste it.  It must go to credit then.”  She laughed and asked why I have only 1000 left.  I looked at her, “Because I had to pay rent.”  Now she wouldn’t stop laughing and I guess it’s because I live in a very well off area where only expats and wealthy Kenyans shop.  Then there’s me: a young mzungu waving around my last 1000 Kshs needing more than I have.  Maybe she felt bad for me, maybe she felt like she could relate to me, but whatever it was I left there with credit and a new number in my phone.  I wonder what would have happened if I had told her that the 1000 Kshs I had been holding, was in fact borrowed from a friend.  Don’t worry, I’m not in a financial crisis, I just needed to get this done before the store closed and I had forgotten to bring the money with me that morning.  ATM’s are always open so I was able to pay the 1000 Kshs back right away.  Oh, life in Nairobi.

I took a matatu to visit Danika last Saturday.  To date it has been the most interesting matatu I have had the privilege of being on in Kenya.  Yes, they all have their own flavour; you can feel it in the music, decor and style of the driver and conductor (the person in charge of getting people to fill in the seats, collecting their payments, remembering who is owed what change, and making sure not to miss someone’s stop).  I had just arrived at the matatu stop and one pulled up. “Hey Lady! Downtown?”  I get on, wiggle my way to the one available spot in the very back, sit down and look around.  On the upper right hand side of the car there are words saying “The Only Money is Hussle Money” and opposite on the left it says “Blessed Mission.”  Straight ahead, where there is usually a place to look out the front window there is a mirror instead with a red silhouette of a woman’s figure sitting in a martini glass painted on.  The ceiling is padded with cushions in a black and white checkered pattern.  There are mini Christmas lights, not currently glowing, around the ceiling of the vehicle and above the mirror.  The conductor is in a flashy Blue Jays jacket and NY Yankees ball cap.  All I can think is matatus?  Man, I know how to choose ’em.  Roll of eyes.

I will write about last Sunday soon.  It has been by far one of my highlights and there will be many photos!  I will update what things are like at work.  In the meantime, the weather here is getting much warmer (you notice the intense heat during mid-day) and yes, for those wondering I am feeling much better!  After a week of unintentional fasting, I woke up from a long and deep sleep fully re-vitalized with enough energy to walk to Village Market (a nearby mall or sorts that reminds me of Wonderland) and buy myself some necessary items like laundry soap.  Yes, and some non-necessary items as well, however I claim these to be celebratory purchases that my strength is back: a salted pretzel from the Austrian-German bakery (which I ate with the mustard at home – so good!), San Benaditto (Frizzante, of course), and a bunch of Gerbera Daisies (nine) for 200 Kshs (or CAD 2.00)!  I finished my laundry+music dance party, and am still feeling great.  To borrow a line from one of my favourite films, Roman Holiday, I am…

“So happy.”


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