Thursday, February 1

I suppose it takes a lot for a city nicknamed Nairobbery to experience a crime wave, but apparently we are. Last Friday, I went to an Ethiopian restaurant for lunch with a bunch of folks from work (the vegetarian platter is the same one at all the U St. spots in DC). A pretty nice place in a compound with a big fence and everything. A couple hours later, some people held the place up and robbed everyone there. The next day that carload of Americans was attacked. The Kenyans I work with tell me nobody who knew what they were doing would pull over where they did. Apparently as the two women lay dying, the other passengers took out a suitcase, which was promptly robbed from them. A lot of people seem to think all the crime has something to do with elections coming up. Sounds unlikely, though a more plausible story is that the Interior Minister doesn't get along with the new police chief, and is sabotaging his policing efforts.

This weekend I decided to avoid flashy cars and get to know the matatu (crowded minibus). Taxis are expensive here (since everybody has to take them after dark due to the crime), so this is the way to go during the day. Downtown was not nearly as frantic as I'd been told it would be, even for a weekend, and I hardly even had to pat my pockets. I got my touristy panorama view of the city from the Kenyatta Conference Centre tower. The main museum is closed, so I checked out the National Archives which has a jumble of random Kenyan and African art, and a somewhat shabby photographic tribute to Kenya's freedom fighters and post-colonial leaders. On the way there I happened to run into Malavika, my long-lost comrade from the Stanford coop and activist scene, in town for the World Social Forum, the yearly ragtag leftist answer to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The Forum was in Nairobi last week. I didn't attend, but I did read a lot about how it had brought a bunch of gays to Kenya, or at least was encouraging the ones here to speak out - generally viewed as quite a bad thing. Even the radio host I was listening to who supported gay rights made her point by telling listeners that before they accuse gays of setting a bad example for their children, they should look their own adulterous, thieving selves. I hear the Forum also banned Coke from being sold inside, in the spirit of anti-corporatism, though apparently it was sponsored by one of the major cellular providers here.

Sunday, I checked out the 100th anniversary of the Arboretum, a quite pleasant park with lots of species of trees. Along with local performers, there was a crappy new age band (actual chorus, repeated over and over: "there's no peace, there's no harmony") and a bunch of stalls selling local organic products, from coffee to shea butter. I could have been in Marin County, except for the fact that they have monkeys in this park. Monkeys that have grown accustomed to the close proximity of humans and who have developed a taste for french fries, and whose cute appearances are offset by their unpleasant demeanors.

In terms of work, I got to meet a bunch of people from the Sudanese diaspora living in Nairobi, a few of whom will help out on focus groups NDI is conducting in Southern Sudan, and scored a poolside hotel lunch in the process. Interesting tidbit for those unfamiliar: Southern Sudanese people tend to like George Bush a lot, which is probably fair, since he did do a lot to help push the peace agreement through in 2005 (though we'll see if it lasts). We'll also see how Bush's reputation holds up with people in Darfur.

Well, a cable for my camera has been obtained. An internet connection fast enough to upload some pictures has not. We will try again soon. Also, thank you to Robin for the sweet picture of me on the zebra.

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