Reflections on holiday travel 2011: Part 1, Kenya

First trans-atlantic travel in almost 20 years, first time in Kenya in 17 years although I was Kenyan birth. See I am what is referred to as a TCK i.e. a ‘third culture kid’ in cultural studies–this is because I’m Kenyan born, grew up in France, but have lived most of my life in the USA.  So for better or worse (I think better) I don’t necessarily identify myself exclusively with one flag or culture.  Still it was good to travel to Africa, and yes, I experienced reverse culture shock.  It was short-lived though, and by the time I was leaving I felt at home.  I think one quality about myself I”m noticing is that I am able to adapt, or to “feel at home” to different environments quickly.  Perhaps it’s as a result of the aforementioned travels, but also because of the many roommates I had from age 18, when I stopped living in a conventional family setting.  Anyway, for me three things were notable about Kenya–the poverty, the ‘organized chaos’, and also how in other ways it was remarkably similar to a typical Western city.

Poverty

There is a lot of poverty in Nairobi.  A lot of slums all over the place, perhaps I’m using the word loosely here–but its challenging for me to describe places I saw in any other way (I should have taken more photos).  Anyway, Nairobi has the Kibera slums, one of the largest in the world. Other than a few suburban havens, you’ll see the poverty everywhere mixed in with regular life.  I drove to my cousins place in the other end of town once, and then at night at another time to another cousins, and was dazed looking out the window.  In fact, the family house was an example of such a place–it is in a nice area of Nairobi (Westlands), yet behind the large backyard, there was a  slum. The district office where I went to obtain some documents had people living at the back of the compound in “city huts” (basically makeshift housing, no electricity–but not mud houses with straw and mud–you see lots of this in Nairobi).

This is the most extreme example, Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world. However, smaller scale setups like these can be found in many places in Nairibo.

Backyard of the family house in Nairobi, Kenya. There's a small slum behind it.

While I’m discussing slums here, I’d like to stress that I’m talking about the environment (compared to the sanitized Washington DC environments), and financial status.   There was not a sense of anarchy, gang-warfare, or anything.   While I’ve been told Nairobi has a fair share of carjackings and robberies, but for me it is not that because of the poverty there was an underlying sense of terror everywhere.  Life goes on.  These slums/poor outposts (I’m not finding a way to accurately describe them!) had restaurants, enterprising businesses, clubs, etc.  In Nairobi this is part of the environment. But I didn’t detect that people were *suffering* or waddling in misery necessarily–if anything I found the whole vibe there to be LESS stressful than here in DC.  I think many who participate in OWS protests don’t know how good they have it frankly, much stress here in the US is because of a sense of entitlement and self-created but I won’t get into that here.

Organized Chaos

Another aspect of Nairobi was what I’d describe as organized chaos. I say chaos because relative to home here in Washington DC, things are not as ordered and predictable. This is seen in various ways such as architecture, roads, driving, police behavior, etc  As described above with the slums, there is no zoning really.  Apartment complexes spring up anywhere…..you’ll see Korean and Japanese restaurants in residential areas (also with the same fences and gates).    For example, everyone wants money for everything they do–the guard at an an embassy wants money, the guy that helps you at the airport load your bag wants money, etc etc. People there have learned to live with it, they get to learn the rules, how much to give, when not to give, etc.  It’s a reinforcing cycle as sometimes you’ll have to give a little just to make sure for example the parking attendant doesn’t vandalize your car, but doing that solidifies his expectation and so on.  This is not ideal, but if nothing else, at least it is open and known in the open.  The driving in Nairobi is crazy, but not nerve-wracking like in Cairo which I’ll write about in the next blog.  I’d say it’s about the same as in Italy, where I found the driving tough too.

Just like the West

Despite such difference, in other ways it’s just like any other city I’ve lived in.  Some nightclubs are playing house music.  There’s LG outlets with the latest flat screen TVs.  There’s coffee hangout spots like Starbucks (called Java House there). Basically, if you have the money, there’s nothing you can’t find.  This might seem like something obvious to state, but its easy to get caught in perceptions of places that are not classified as “advanced nations”.  Again life goes on.

In ending I strongly I recommend that if you live in a Western city, that you do your best to travel to a non-western city at least once in your life.  It’s eye-opening to see how others live.  Grateful to live in Washington DC, appreciate the people and the circumstances that have made it so. Also I had a blast in Nairobi, catching up with cousins and old friends–interesting how it did not feel like I’d been away almost 20 years, I think this is because of facebook, which has eliminated barriers of distance. There’s a lot more to Kenya than all of this, but this was just a sampling of observations I had, feel free to drop any observations in the comments.  Hope to share reflections on the Egypt leg of the trip within a week– look out for it!

Fairytale Matrimonio (Wedding) nella Città Eterna

Wedding was good.

A little hectic and somethings lost in communication but that’s to be expected with a transatlantic wedding I suppose.

Nonetheless, it was very memorable.  Hard to communicate the excitement through text but allow me to give it an attempt.

The wedding day itself was awesome. What a fairytale. The photographers were at my place to take pictures of me as I prepared. They only spoke Italian, and they were pretty strict. I felt like a supermodel, they had me doing all kind of poses at the house. They left the place around noon and went over to Stella’s to take pictures of the girls. The girls spent the night at a friend of my mums place, who has a house like a palace.  I’ll wait for the pictures to see it.  The lady that did their makeup is from Cyprus and she’s an internationally known makeup artist who does famous figures in Eastern Europe.  Unfortunately, the wedding run late.  I got to the church much earlier than the womens’ party…it was me and three of my groomsmen. My boy Lenny and Luis, my best man, had gone to get the girls.  So while waiting we went to a bar and took some shots of jack daniels whiskey. Funny thing is I was not really nervous I wouldn’t say I was. It was more like a serene calm that had come over me. I was rather quiet and reflective, but then I usually am. My main worry as we walked the streets in the vicinity of the church was making sure I didn’t get drenched in sweat, but I had this mind-breaking idea to….take of my jacket. Heh 🙂 At this time the groomsmen I was walking around with were Nick, Peter (my sisters boyfriend) and my brother Rob/Silas. We had to keep ourselves occupied a little longer. The church is right downtown, so it’s not like a large compound to hide. We had to try and hide to keep the guests from seeing us, as people were mingling in the courtyard, but then the bridal party arrived. Ahh, the moment was getting closer!

Me goofing off outside the house.  This was when the groomsmen were leaving the residence to go to church.  My boy Nick is taking one of the pictures, and those are my aunts and cousin the background. The aunts went with the best man to pick up the bride and ladies.

Me goofing off outside the house. This was when the groomsmen were leaving the residence to go to church. Those are my aunts and cousin the background. The aunts went with the best man to pick up the bride and ladies.

The wedding party had a convoy of Luxury Mercedes cars.  This really upped the glitz, paparazzi factor, people'd be smiling and taking photos of us as they drove.

The wedding party had a convoy of Luxury Mercedes cars. This really upped the glitz, paparazzi factor, people'd be smiling and taking photos of us as they drove.

By now, Lenny and Luis had exited their cars, and some of the bridesmaids were coming in. Except the sweet girl, Stella’s sister ChiChi, who was with Stella (funny ancedote, my friend calls Stella Rihanna and Chichi Beyonce). There was almost a mishap as inexplicably they started getting Stella out her car on arrival, but I had to send my dad sprinting towards the car to keep her in as I’m not supposed to see her until she’s led to the alter. Well soon it was game time, we were running pretty late but just as the men lined up the service started, and one of the organizers from the church came out to give us the go ahead signal to enter. For those few seconds, I shared the feeling that world class athletes or performers must experience at the moment of truth. Entrance is pretty simple for the men, you just walk into the church looking cool. Luis was whispering in my ear, about speed, counting, etc etc. I should’ve reached my open palm backwards in response but i decided to be nice 🙂 j/k….that’s my man. So we walked in, by the way, seating arrangements had changed last minute but luckily it was simpler, I’d been a little worried of forgetting seating arrangements, but the change made things much simpler. So up the front I was, then the processional begun. The beautiful classical music kicked in and then the ladies came out….with Stella last, led by her dad. I wasn’t supposed to turn around, so i didn’t see her until that moment until she was literally handed to me, and my what a beautiful elegant lady she looked, draped in her white garments. Her face was so pure, a uniform caramel complexion, and her eyes seemed to sparkle. Few moments in life genuinely take your breath away, I’d have to say that was one of them. As she sat next to me, I teased her and asked her not to cry, she said she wouldn’t. Stella’s generally not the emotional crying type though. Rest of the service proceeded ok. It was long, it seemed pretty long. Funny moment that drew some chuckles was during the part when it’s asked if there are any objections, someone stood fixing something on their seat, causing some murmuring then I looked back and was raising my hands in a confused protest. Hahaha, that was a funny moment, I hope they don’t edit it out of the video.

The recessional was a Kenyan song which we danced out to. No it wasn’t as animated as the infamous Chris Brown Forever sensation, but we did ok :). Then we mingled in the courtyard a little bit before heading out to il colloseo for pictures with the very strict but fun photographers. Service was running late, so we only had time to do the colloseum, and we went to a nice hill which had the colloseum as a spectacular backdrop – you may have seen some of the self-taken pictures from there on facebook already. Man there’s no secret with facebook anymore is there?  In between the service and reception, there’d been confusion as apparently people didn’t find the shuttle bus, there was brief period of anxiety for a few people but in the end everything went ok.

St. Pauls Within the Walls church is a spectacular church right in the heart of Rome.

St. Pauls Within the Walls church is a spectacular church right in the heart of Rome.

Thats my brother and my sister with us in this photo

Thats my brother and my sister with us in this photo

Dreams come true.  When I begun taking an interest in Italy a few years go I hadn't met Stella and my family didn't leave in Italy.

Dreams come true. When I begun taking an interest in Italy a few years go I hadn't met Stella and my family didn't leave in Italy.

Arrival at the reception site presented a little more delay. But first I must say that the entrance had very much a paparazzi feel to it. Get this, I was being snapped, the video was filming and the flashes were going off as I got out the car in my tux and opened the door for Stella, and brought her out of the car. Speaking of which, it’s funny as we were driving around, lots of people in other cars were giving us smiles, and taking pictures of us. Anyway, yes, Marriot Park is kind of a glitzy elegant type hotel, so we walked into the lobby and we were being followed with all the flashes. Some guests who were waiting in the lobby were coming up to us as we marched to the elevators and asking to have their pictures taken with us. Now once at the Marriot, the girls went to a suite to freshen up, but inexplicably, I was separated from the rest of my groomsmen. This ended up causing the interesting situation (it was not so interesting at the time though, I grew increasingly irritated) in which the groomsmen took longer to get ready than the bridesmaids. I’d called down two of my groomsmen to come and help me get ready, but then the hotel manager, and invited guest was there and he led me up to the sixth floor to get the reception started. See I’d been kept away from the sixth floor with the others because the crowd wasn’t to see me. But why did they not keep the other guys as well? Anyway, so Stella and all the bridesmaids were there. I was there minus three of the groomsmen. Mum and the hotel manager came out of say enter…but waitaminute my mum said they wanted to clap and chant some Kenyan song. I immediately vetoed that suggestion. We’d specifically asked for a special entrance of our own before the reception. Why was it being overriden? I insisted on the originally planned entrance and so we marched in, men in tuxedo’s, beautiful ladies on their arms to….BOND! Yes, the theme music to our entry at the reception was 007 music, the version from Quantam of Solace. It was very much appropriate with our tuxedo outfits – the ladies didn’t change, but the men had switched from lavender vests/long tie to black bowties, and I’d switched to a white bowtie.

The reception room…what a great ballroom.  Here is a link to the photo tour of the hotel, you can look for the Da Vinci Ballroom there. Two ends of the room had windows as the entire wall. The carpet was a royal red with black and white patterns. I’d feared it’d take away from the lavender color of our wedding, but it didn’t. The tables were draped with white linen, with different types of glasses carefully placed everywhere, beatiful centerpieces of white and lavender flowers. There was a “gate” adorned with grey and purple balloons through which we entered. Each of the tables was named an animal from Kenya – the high table was Lion/Simba.

reception table

There was a buzz to the room, with guests such as ambassadors and CEOs of major companies present. It was a good mixed crowd as we had “dignitaries”, relatives, young kids, friends from Kenya, friends from USA. The menu was a sumptious selection of traditional kenyan foods such as pilau rice and chapati, but also Italian samplings like Lasagna. There were tens of desserts to select from as well, and of course the wine kept flowing all night. Speeches were kicked of by my best man, followed by Stella’s dad, my dad, Stella’s uncle, an elder from my dad’s village, my aunt, a member of the local wedding planning committee in Rome, by an Ambassador which was a great honor to be addressed directly by her, and ended by me. I gave thanks to those attending, and just spoke from my heart, about people in the USA that have been of influence to me as well as to publically express my love for Stella which I wish I’d have had more time to do. After the speech it was cut-the-cake time, Aunt Ann had been selected to help cut the cake. What a beautiful cake!! Stella and I did the honors of feeding each other, then feeding our parents. Soon after that it was the first dance. The song we selected was a version of “Malaika”. We had only practiced the first dance twice in the USA, and that was 3 weeks earlier. Luckily, it was a short song, only two and a half minutes, but we were smiling and genuinely having fun so I think we’d have gotten away doing anything. To kickoff the dance floor what we did was immediately after the first dance, a faster version of “Malaika” played and for that the rest of the bridal party got onto the floor. We’d originally wanted to do a shuffle, but I was nervous that I’d break the flow (I don’t know how to shuffle!) so we settled on freestyle. My aunts soon joined in the dancing and it was on for about half an hour. Only half an hour? Yes, there was only half an hour of dancing at the reception, then it ended. That’s because there was more….

Part three of the wedding was an after party in a lounge that was reserved for us. The lounge was called the Kalypso Wine Room (you can google that too), and was also located in the same Marriott Park hotel. Open bar. We had a different DJ for this playing more contemporary music, but also kenyan hip-hop.  The DJ playing for the after-party is one of the best known and sought after producers, mixers and DJs in Italy among the young crowd.  It was funny, even the Hotel planner recognized him when he had come the day before to do the paper work and view the sight.  Anyway, most of the young crowd moved downstairs for this. The ambience was good with dimmed lights, red and yellow accents, roundtables, and an open patio. It was good, and we even invited some curious Italian girls in to party with us. My fondest aspect was seeing different groups of friends and relatives mingle with each other. By the end of the night, due in part to the open bar and due in part to sheer exhaustion people were ready to hit the bed. I was sleeping in the lobby 🙂 My mum’d been nice enough to get Stella and I a suite for two nights at the same hotel, so we waited downstairs as people called for taxi’s then we went up to the suite and just slept.

The wedding was memorable. Ever since the wedding announcement that Stella’s sister e-mailed out for us, it’s been non-stop planning and it’s occupied mental space. It’s been the main focus of our lives, but the end event was truly worth it. Just seeing Stella in her dress, slipping her ring onto her finger, pictures with the collosseum as a backdrop, memories. I know I’m not a girl, and a wedding is more of the girls side of things, but this was truly an event to cherish, which I’ll forever hold in my heart.

I am in great gratitude to my mum, who wants the best for her son, and who insisted on making it a beatiful grand event. I’d originally wanted a small wedding, with just family and two or three friends but she’d not hear of it. Through the wedding, many travelled to Rome, and in turn had many experiences.

This note is just about the wedding, but the next night was a pub-crawl in the streets of Rome at night, with DJ dedications to me & Stella, and then there was a day2 of photography, and then there was a full tour of the Vatican/Vatican Museum – that’s all in the past 5 days, each of which a note as long as this could be written.

Best of all, I have Stella to share the rest of my life with, and more adventures to look forward too. truly I am a lucky man to have experienced what i did, and to be with who i am.