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red, white, and blue

Of the many Embassy events that take place each year, the biggest and most important one is the 4th of July party. The anniversary of our nation’s independence provides a unique opportunity to invite high-ranking local counterparts, members of the diplomatic community, and other VIPs to showcase our culture and saturate our guests in Americana. If you think that this joyous occasion is all about fun, however, please permit us to disabuse you of this notion. The 4th of July party is a working event – one whose planning and coordination causes a prolonged Embassy-wide headache that intensifies as the event draws near. Because of local scheduling conflicts, few embassies actually hold the event on the 4th itself, and this year’s celebration fell on June 30th.

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foodie goodies

So, brunch does exist in Nairobi! Given our love for savory breakfast foods, we are thrilled that this tradition will not go unpracticed during our time here. In fact, Nairobi has quite the food scene. We’ve tried the aforementioned Art Café and feasted on crepes at El Rustique, which does a better job of being French than the name might imply. We also keep hearing great things about the nearby River Café, where S bought herbs to plant in our garden.

Other contenders to become our regular haunts include: Read more

out and about

One of the greatest challenges for anyone moving abroad is developing a social circle, especially if one wants to engage with the local culture in addition to (instead of?) hanging out with expats. Lucky for us, we had a leg up on most new arrivals. S’s grad school has a huge research project in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city (4th largest urban area if you count Dadaab refugee camp), and she knew a couple of people here. One of them, M, is engaged to a Kenyan doctor W, and they happened to be in Nairobi for a weekend shortly after we arrived.

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limited options

With a land area of almost 300 square miles, Nairobi is most certainly a driving city. And even when the distances are short, it is still inadvisable to walk. For example, D could physically walk to work – wouldn’t take more than 15 minutes – however, he would run the risk of getting run over as there are no sidewalks, and even if he did make it to work in one piece, he’d likely be covered in the ubiquitous red African soil (see Blood Diamond) that is almost impossible to get out of clothing. Embassy personnel are strictly prohibited from taking matatus, the local minibuses that almost single-handedly make Nairobi one of the car accident capitals of the world. And there’s only one cab company that has been vetted and approved by the Regional Security Office (RSO). After all, this city is not called “Nairobbery” for nothing. Jim Cab is reliable, but cab costs quickly add up, which is why having one’s own vehicle here is imperative.

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the flying ants of Muthaiga

It had rained most of Sunday, and the flying ants were out in full force. The DCM (Deputy Chief of Mission) and his wife had invited us out to dinner. The rain had eased up when they pulled up at the house to pick us up, but it was not the DCM’s smiling face that greeted us when we opened the front door. Instead, we found ourselves in a maelstrom of rapidly beating wings that swarmed ferociously around the lights outside. We had to do some investigative work to figure out that what the locals refer to as flying ants are actually termites. Apparently, they leave their nests in large swarms after the first long rain of the season and fly in search of an acceptable mating site. Termites are poor fliers and tend to lose their wings with the slightest gust of wind, nesting wherever they happen to shed their pinions. Given that they descended on our compound by the thousands, we are fervently hoping that our house will not become a termite breeding ground.

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for the love of cheese

During our layover in Amsterdam, we stocked up on two crucial items – chocolate and cheese. The former was meant to supplement D’s interpersonal skills to ensure that he quickly made allies among his office mates. The latter was entirely for our own consumption. We had heard stories of FSOs (Foreign Service Officers) who brought entire coolers full of frozen cheese to post in lieu of more traditional luggage. After tasting the local dairy offerings we cannot blame them.

S is convinced there is no rhyme or reason to the social sponsor matching process, and that the joys of sponsorship are bestowed at random on anyone who happens to walk by the door of the Community Liaison Office (CLO) and can be coaxed into picking up new arrivals from the airport and stocking their fridge before they arrive. Perhaps. Or perhaps a higher power was operating when assigning former dairy farmers to sponsor your humble, cheese-loving narrators.

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settling in

D was fortunate enough to overlap with his predecessor for about a week, which was not quite enough time to learn everything he needed to know to do his job. But at least it afforded the opportunity to settle in before the full weight of the job was transferred to his shoulders (read: before everyone in the Embassy realized who he was and started directing work his way). He got a checklist of 30 offices he needed to visit in order to become acquainted with how the Embassy runs (he got through 26 and decided that was close enough). S likewise made several trips to the Embassy to attend various briefings (none of which were particularly brief) and to obtain her very own badge so that she could come and go without requiring an escort. Unlike D’s blue badge, S’s is yellow, meaning she doesn’t have a security clearance (yet), but at least she no longer has to be attached to D’s hip when she comes to the Embassy.

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living like kings

S was absolutely convinced from Day 1 that the bed in the master bedroom was not quite a queen, and a queen size bed was what S wanted. She had done her research, emailing D’s predecessor to verify bed size, and had ordered queen size sheets and mattress cover. Only it was impossible that the bed we were given was a queen since it felt just like the full size bed we had in Chicago. We put in an e-service request and a few days later, the warehouse crew showed up with a replacement … that was exactly the same as the one we already had.

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security overseas

Meanwhile at home, S spent the morning unpacking and getting to know the house better. It feels staggering to go from a one-bedroom apartment in Chicago to a 2-floor, 3-bedroom, 2 ½-bath house with a backyard. This is especially true because all of our belongings are in transit and the only thing that filled out the empty space was the generic government furniture that left S feeling rather ambivalent about our new abode. However, things look better in the morning light. Of course, the furniture is used, so there are nicks and scratches, and it doesn’t feel like our own. Then again, neither of us liked the Craigslist-bought furniture in our Chicago apartment either. Besides, it turns out that there are different variations on the government décor theme, as we found out by visiting our neighbors’ homes. We put in several warehouse requests through e-services (an online system that, though far from perfect, is a pretty efficient way to handle all service requests, from changing the display name on D’s office phone to getting firewood delivered to our home) and were able to furnish the home to our liking.

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breakfast with the boss

One of the most priceless pieces of advice D received during orientation was to time our flights in such a way that we’d arrive in Nairobi Thursday night. On Fridays, the Embassy closes midday – just enough time to stop by, pick up admin paperwork, and meet coworkers, leaving the rest of the day and the whole weekend to settle in and get over jet lag.

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