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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.

We decided to meet up with them at the Israeli-owned Art Café, which in addition to having an excellent brunch and dinner menu features “exceptional sangria” (according to S; D wouldn’t know because he spent the night sampling the local brews). Of course, a night out on the town with Kenyan friends means an open invitation, and as we worked our way through the first round of drinks, other people kept pulling up chairs around our table – W’s sister, friends of his, friends of hers… W’s sister works for the World Bank and the conversation quickly veered towards politics, covering most of the hot topics of the day: Kenya’s new constitution and the slow-moving process of devolution; the drought that is affecting Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, and which is considered to be the worst in half a century; economic disparities and Kibera, the second largest slum in Africa.

Eventually, we made our way over to Mercury, a trendy lounge with bass pumping techno but without the typically overt prostitutes hanging around. Somehow, despite the late hour and the packed house, we found a corner table that fit all eight of us, but D started fading fast (some crummy excuse about working long hours) and we only stayed for one round before calling it a night. To make up for D’s poor showing, we made plans with M&W the following night and wound up going to a lock and key party, which featured a good DJ and great accompanying African drummer on the djembe. No, it wasn’t a key jar party. Rather, the ladies were given locks and the gentleman keys, and we were told that the first 10 couples who managed to find their match would get a case of wine. The wine never materialized, but we did learn not to buy Kenyan locks… it was quite exciting when D’s key opened S’s lock but less so when it also opened the locks belonging to several other ladies.

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