Nick's first night in Nairobi
05 May 2007

My friend Nick from high school flew in on Friday to Nairobi with Air Kenya.

He said the service was OK, with average food, and a little disappointed that movies couldn’t be started on demand.

Still, the service on Friday’s London Nairobi flight wasn’t as bad as it was on Saturday’s Cameroon Nairobi flight, which crashed and killed 114 people somewhere over the southern Cameroon.  

To celebrate Nick’s safe arrival in his first ‘poor’ country (excluding provincial England), we decided a taste of Kenyan culture was in order. What better than a visit to the Kenya National Theatre, where they was a local production of a romantic comedy!

Arriving five minutes before the curtain raised, we realised the play would be in local dialect. A group huddle was in order to decide our plan of action: should we sit and soak up the cultural experience without understanding it…or just go to the bar? It was 6:25pm.

Some of us thought that well-acted theatre transcends barriers of language…and besides, romantic comedies are usually fairly predictable and therefore it would be easily understandable.
Others thought that the novelty would wear off after 15 minutes and that we’d be well bored by the end of the hour and a half. 

For me, I just wanted to see what the Kenyan Hugh Grant looked like.
Then everyone remembered Bridget Jones’ Diary 2: The Edge of Reason, and all the sudden we all went off the idea of seeing a romantic comedy.

At this point we had a R.A.M (Random African Moment). Across the road they were running a dance class and, despite it being Latin night, we convinced the teacher to run an extra late class to teach us the African hip swivels.

We commenced the class. Having hit the bar for the hour in between our stomachs were well lubricated, even if our hips, knees, shoulders and necks joints apparently were not.

African dancing is based around moving all the body at once, and good performers can indeed look like they are in a trance when they are fully gripped with the bongo fever.

By contrast, Westerners performing African dancing look more like they are fully gripped in the final stages of rabies, when your joints lock up and you spasm, very un-rhythmically. But we had fun, and once we’d wiped the saliva off our chins, we decided to head to the nearest bar to put what we’d just learnt into practice.

Simmers was the name of the bar, the same place Peter (who is the ‘old Nick’, and was the ‘new Don’) and I had been to one month ago in Nairobi. We drank beer, ate kebabs, and chewed on shoots of a local grass that was supposed to have a depressant effect. 

Then a prostitute came over and explained everyone else in the bar was laughing at us and we were chewing the plant the wrong way. I didn’t mind though, as I had also been using it instead of a toothpick to get rid of the kebab.

Then I went to the toilet. Last time I went to the toilet at this bar, the man next to me had burst into hysterics laughing with incredulity “you’re not chopped!”
Once I realised what he was referring to – circumcision is a rite of passage for boys to become men – I said “Well what are looking down there for anyway?”

This time there was an extremely short man who couldn’t reach to pee in the porcelain urinals (despite his being extremely well-endowed!), so instead he peed in the corner. The guy whose foot he was nearly peeing on got quite annoyed and a fight was narrowly avoided. By the time everyone was calmed down, everyone had also trodden in the guy’s urine, which was now trickling back through out the bathroom floor.

Once I left the toilet (hell, I wasn’t in there for THAT long time), the rest of the Westerners from the dance class were on the dance floor, dancing with heaps of men, because men can and do dance all the time in Africa.

I joined them, and the last remaining female left the dance floor.

The music stopped and a live band took to the stage. The short guy was playing bongos, standing on an upturned crate. A transvestite wearing what looked like a possum fur trimmed aviator hat, white make-up, a leotard and six (!!) g-strings started a routine whereby he would dance very well and then suddenly collapse on the his side, or on his back. At one point he lay on his back for 5 whole minutes, which wasn’t hard to realise was his interpretation of old Western women in Kenya.

Despite the theatrics on stage, locals seemed more attracted to Nick, who, being extremely white and with extremely red hair, was about as far removed from what a typical African looks like, and thus seemed far more exciting. Indeed, in the morning he woke up not only with a substantial hangover, but also the torn corner of a cigarette packet, the phone number for a man called Felix.