Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A Kampalan in Nairobi

The cold, chilly Nairobi dawn air greeted me as I stepped off the bus on my maiden voyage to this city I had heard so much about. I looked around as the city woke up for a new day and I wondered how the next four days would play themselves out. I was in town with some Ugandans to attend a conference but enjoying the evening life was way higher up on my priorities list.

Everything started off quite well with cocktail party at The Hilton Hotel on the evening of my arrival. I rubbed shoulders with some of the region’s most loaded people and after an evening of mingling and engaging conversations I felt rich by association (or was it the tusker beer giving me ideas?).

However, since these loaded people became loaded by sleeping early, the cocktail ended while the night was young and that all-important Liverpool-AC Milan champions league final was pending so I had to hit a real bar. Luckily some of my hosts were thinking likewise and decide to take me and some other Ugandans to a pub called Tropeez. At Tropeez I guzzled draught Tusker by the pitchers and generally had fun-until the match began.

I am not a traditional Liverpool supporter but I have always had a soft spot for that team. So when the match appeared like it was turning into a one-sided goal-fest I decided that I was not going to risk the wrath of Nairobi’s thugs (and cops, who I had heard were probably just as nasty especially if you are a foreigner) by moving to the hotel late after losing a match. I quickly sped off to my hotel after the first half, not because I expected much out of the match but because I wanted to hang out closer to “home”. I had hardly settled down before I started witnessing one of the most amazing comebacks in football history.

The euphoria was only marred by the barman refusing to keep the pints flowing after 11pm. I had to beg his pardon because he was not making any sense to me since this was only 3 or 4 minutes past the hour. The man was adamant and said his licence would be revoked if he sold me anything (apparently there were some city council spies masquerading as customers). No beer past 11pm, how do these people survive?

I later learnt that there were different licences for different establishments, which dictated for how long one could sell alcohol because before long I would be leaving the club straight for the bus as the sun crept up. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The following evening, we visitors were hosted to a dinner at Carnivore. I had heard so much about this place and its exotic roast meat and that I could not wait to partake of what it had to offer. Suffice it to say I did not turn down anything, beef, lamb, ostrich, crocodile, camel- the works. I was also enjoying the share of the Ugandan chick next to me. She said she could not eat that weird meat (chicks...hmm, never to adventure).

After the dinner and speeches we were told to board the official bus back to the hotel. Our Kenyan friends had told us that that there was a wicked disco on the premises, which we had not seen since we had been in tents outside. A few like-minded Ugandans and me decided to let the bus go and chose to find our own way home.

First, a crucial point. Two words every linguistically impaired (Swahili-wise, that is) Ugandan beer lover visiting Nairobi has to learn are baridi (cold) and moto (warm/hot). Because I had earlier been taking draught, which was by default cold, I had not realised that these Kenyans actually liked their beer warm. While in Uganda the warm beer is the exception, back in Nairobi one has to specifically ask for baridi.

Being a Thursday, the disco was not happening so we were relocated to another place called Choices (or choi as these chaps call it). This place is a cross between Fat Boyz and Al's bar; therefore it was happening. Our hosts got tired and left us on the dance floor after we assured them that we would be fine as long as we knew the fare for a cab. Every thing went on fine until some drunk fellow nearly started a fight with us. Probably he was not amused by the fact that the foreigners were outdancing everybody and drinking the bar dry. The issue was sorted out before any bottles flew and we saw this as a warning to flee the scene.

With heavy heads, my pals and me woke up to another day whose evening highlight was a home hospitality. Our hosts were some lovely ladies who treated us to a night of Kenyan cuisine and some fun and games. The githeri, kachumbari, and some other dishes I can't remember were superb except for some mixture of mashed vegetables and fermented milk ( that takes some getting used to).

We later ended up in a club called Casablanca, which was full of white, Indian and Arab guys. I felt that this was the place to be and was all geared up to have a blast until I realised from the bill that a beer was 200Kshs, which did not bother me (I might have still been high on that hot flavoured bubbly Morroccan steam pipe I had just smoked) until some quick arithmetic told me I was drinking a beer at Ushs 4,600. I then realised two things: why there were hardly any locals in the bar and why I had to get the hell out very fast.

A few calls later, the guys and me were being driven to Klub House 2 (K2), which is a much larger version of Wagadugu in Kamwokya. This was my kind of place. Here was cheap beer, music and pool. The party went on until the very wee hours of the morning of our last day in Nairobi.

By the last day, the body was weak and I felt I could not push it any more. Thankfully the conference closed at mid-day, which left me a few hours to chill before the banquet later in the evening after which I thought I would have my first full night’s sleep since hitting this town.

The banquet was a tame affair at the Stanley Hotel, which I later discovered is the oldest hotel in East Africa (103 years old). Being a 5-star hotel one had to be wary about how one dealt with the cash bar. We had been told that the hotel had given a discount and beers would be Kshs150 (UShs3500) as opposed to the usual Kshs200 (prices like this made me rethink my opinion on Rhino Pub at The Kampala Sheraton). I had to be easy on the beers, which was made hard by the waiters ever hovering above my head asking if I needed a refill (as if they were the ones buying the beer).

As soon as the banquet ended the Kenyans were suggesting a proper send-off at Florida 2000 nightclub. All the plans for an early night immediately disappeared. Since we were all leaving on the same bus early the next morning my Ugandan chaps and I reasoned that we would hang out in the club until late, head straight for the hotel, shower and board the bus.

Having sorted that out, we hit the club. We shook, watched dancers that would have made the former Shadow’s Angel’s appear as tame as Sunday school kids, and generally made merry until the sun was about to come up.

As I settled my sleep deprived body in the bus I could not help thinking how much of a blast I had had. I promised myself to come back next time and get to see what the city looks like outside the bars and nightclubs. I was also feeling a conspicuous lightness in my wallet. But that would be a worry for another day. Right then all I wanted to do was sleep for all the 13 hours to Kampala.

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