I woke up every hour on the hour. I finally rose with the roosters at 5:30am. After washing up in the morning quiet, I went outside just after six, and it was starting to get light out. The security guard and I exchanged greetings, and I stepped out of the gate to visit the shop next door. With water and a banana in hand, I sat on the couch in front of the guesthouse, the one covered in traditional Masai fabrics, and I breathed in the morning air- the smell of smoking fires cooking mandazis and samosas and heating sweet chai that is a daily necessity here in Kenya. It’s such a distinct smell against the fresh, dewy air and the rush of being back in this beautiful country finally hits me. I continue to hear the roosters who are greeting people as they walk to work. A beautiful woman steps out of the guesthouse, and I wish her a good morning. She flashes a bright white smile that contrasts against her glowing dark skin. She walks over to the outdoor laundry area and emerges moments later in a chef hat. Heading for the kitchen, she is the first employee awake. Scooby the guard dog curls up in the chair next to me, and I pet his adorable face. Shortly after, the staff and sleepy backpackers will join me and the place will be abuzz, but for now I have this moment of an awakening city to myself.
I have been back in Kenya for a few weeks now, and everyday I come home completely exhausted. But mostly exhausted and happy. Some days are rougher than others, like when a bus driver tries to keep my change and we proceed to have an animated argument or I sit in endless of hours of traffic, breathing in horrible car fumes and thinking I might die of smoke inhalation. But then there are days when you see that gleaming smile of hope on someone’s face, have a successful meeting, or make new friends in a very random fashion- and those are the days that make it all worthwhile.
I spent my first few days at a guesthouse here in Nairobi. I found this guesthouse on a hostel site after reading accommodation reviews, availability and hotel prices. Normally, I stay at this really rundown hotel in the town center (like you shouldn’t be surprised if your bathroom door is missing the handle… but I still love it), however, this trip I chose a hostel in a more upscale and safer area for the sake of being closer to the neighborhood where I was looking for an apartment. I found my apartment the first day, but spent the next week trying to finalize the paperwork, hire someone to clean it, and buy furniture and have it delivered. It was only made worse by the fact that public transportation went on strike my very first day and I spent days getting around only using taxis (i.e. insanely expensive). I viewed my apartment the first day, then came back the next day to sign the paperwork and pay the deposit and rent, only to find out I had to deposit the money in town first. Twenty-five dollars in taxi money down the drain plus the entire afternoon, meant it would take an additional day to complete the task. These are the frustrating aspects of being in Kenya that you begin to get used to. My dear friend (who is a godsend) bargained for all of my furniture and the transport for it, while I hid out across the street. Mzungu pricing would have easily been 50% higher. Then I had to spend several more days making multiple trips to town and various other neighborhoods to find all of the little things I would need. Even now, I am still getting some small things for the apartment.
The kitchen only comes with a kitchen sink, so I had to buy a cooktop. I have no oven (the hardest thing to live without perhaps) and no fridge at the moment (though someone is graciously lending me theirs in January), but I make do. Luckily, I’m not a big meat eater, but I have made chicken once and just had to buy it the day I wanted to make it. I boil all of my drinking water to avoid purchasing water and the plastic waste that comes with it. I cringe every time I throw plastic and tin cans away, but recycling isn’t exactly well-known around these parts. I love my neighborhood and the conveniences that come with it. I live in a very quiet apartment building and don’t get stared at as a mzungu. The guards are friendly, the local shopkeepers greet me daily, and my housekeeper is lovely. I have grown fond of my little haven in Nairobi.
After starting out my stay with an early holiday vacation, I am back to work and staying busier than ever. If I’m not meeting with potential artisans or employees, I’m running around for supplies and other things. Like I’ve mentioned, it’s exhausting and sometimes stressful. But it’s not work. I absolutely love it.
I’ve officially brought on my first employee and am meeting with more people this week to finalize all artisans and suppliers. We’ve scouted out a potential workshop, and even though I was hesitant to sign on at first, I’m in love with the idea now. Operating with a fair trade mindset, people should have good working conditions. I didn’t think I was ready to make that kind of commitment yet, but at the same time, working in a tiny, cramped, and dark shanty in the slum is not easy. And it is also reflected in quality. And though with any business you must find a starting point and build on it, a small but bright and clean workshop is looking like a good idea.
I might be selling some items earlier than expected. It is looking like we will do an accessories sale, prior to our official launch in the States, to raise funds for the workshop. We have some beautiful designs in mind, so stay tuned in the next couple of months. I will of course be announcing the sale on my blog.
Before Christmas, I am trying to cram in as much planning as possible, which includes visiting another workshop and trying to finalize the artisans we will be working with on our first line. In time I will be sharing more artisan photos and telling you about these visits. For now it is time to finalize an agenda for my next meeting and work further on the budget before taking a break to make dinner. There is never a dull moment!
I will write soon about my holiday to a Turkana village and shed more light on my business. But if you have any questions for me about my life here in Nairobi or travel in Kenya, please ask!