After returning from the coast and a day before heading out to Kitui, we had a day to just improvise. There were some errands needing to be run, but I just go with the flow when the Malombe sisters head out to shopping centers.
We stopped by a shopping center in Embakasi, a division of Nairobi on the east side. Kenya’s main airport, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, opened in 1958 and was known then as Embakasi Airport. The lady was explaining to me how much more developed it is now than when she was a kid living in the area. What stood out most to me, though, were how many people just hung their clothes on the balcony to dry. Nothing wrong with it; actually, I found it quite fascinating.
Inside Embakasi, we saw something that is quite familiar back home.
I’m not sure how much Najwa understood when we explained we were going to Kenya, but she did understand we weren’t in Washington, DC. It’s a challenge to get a four year old to comprehend traveling over oceans, thousands of miles away, to a land with a complete different culture, history, foods and everything.
But when she saw Santa Claus [or as they call him, Father Christmas], it didn’t matter where we were.
Afterwards we found ourselves at Park Side Towers, home of Airtel. But we weren’t there for minutes [Kenyans still pay for airtime]. We were there for the pizza. After eating at Domino’s while in Bamburi, I was impressed. Maybe Kenyans can make pizza after all, considering I don’t even like Domino’s back home. So, how can you resist a place called Naked Pizza?
[NOTE: At first I thought this was a Kenyan version of a pizza joint. But now I know Naked Pizza, formerly known as World’s Healthiest Pizza until they changed their name in 2008, is based in New Orleans. They even have several locations in the Washington, DC, area. Now I don’t feel as bad for what I’m about to say.]
I tried. When you read the pitch, the pizza really sounds good. And it’s healthy, which should have been a warning. The ingredients are all natural. The crust has 10 grains in it. There are probiotics, and food for those healthy bacteria called prebiotics, and none of the destructive stuff that I realize I love. You know — high fructose corn syrup, heart-attacking cooking oils, and enough cheese to clog all your arteries.
You’ve probably heard about it on the news several times in the past few years, but the antibiotics and growth hormones being fed to the animals that we eat isn’t healthy or safe. Are you worried about it? Maybe you should be. But you don’t have to worry about that here at Naked Pizza! We’re committed to serving only all-natural foods, from the vegetables to the cheese to the meat. Here are some of the things you should know, taken from the list of articles we have here.
If you’re a healthy food eating type of person, this is the place for you. For those who want to enjoy pizza, well, let’s just say Naked Pizza isn’t for me. Cheese? Was I supposed to order extra cheese to get any cheese at all? The pepperonis must’ve been cut out of a pig on a vegan diet. The 10-grain crust was the best part and I couldn’t stand it. Just to be safe, I got some garlic cheese sticks. Two bites and I was begging others to eat them. No takers.
Maybe the Malombes liked the pizza. And maybe the pizza really is delicious and I picked the wrong day. Maybe even I’m just exaggerating [I’m not] because I really wanted Domino’s and it skewed my expectations of what this pizza was going to taste like.
Whatever. No more Naked Pizza for me.
Later, I rolled out with mzee to get the side window fixed, the one tore off the car while riding back from the coast. Hanging by a cable, I’m thinking we’re going to a mechanic shop, a garage where people run around with wrenches, pour cat litter on oil stains and wear blue overalls with their names on their chest.
Instead, we pull over on the side of the road, hopping over puddles and mud from the recent rain, and mzee is talking to whom I thought were just loiterers, but they were the mechanics. Now, there were car parts lying around here and there, and cars that were in need of some serious TLC, but I see that everywhere in Kenya. Who’d have thought that this was the mechanics shop? Or more like, mechanics side of the road?
“This is going to be interesting,” I thought.
While the mechanics got to work, though, I took a walk around the area. We were in Mlolongo, and being the day before Christmas, there was a lot of activity out there. Primarily bus after bus, matatu after matatu, coming in nonstop, picking up dozens of people with their luggage, taking them upcountry for the holidays. Again, thinking about how we do it back home, how can you not admire the way things just work in Kenya?
We have bus depots and stations; orderly lines [queues for my Kenyan friends] marked with ropes and gate numbers; buses that arrive on a schedule, depart at a specific time, with pre-determined stops; brochures of distant places you can visit; a driver in a pressed uniform, company-branded hat, dress shoes. In Washington, DC, you go to Union Station where there’s a mall with expensive restaurants, affordable eateries, a food court with fast food and local joints; gift shops and bookstores, retail stores; connections to Amtrak that’ll take you anywhere in the country, MARC and VRE for local transits, the Metro to get around DC, a cab station with dozens if not a hundred cabs; and outside is a view of the U.S. Capitol Building and statues and flags of countries from around the world and…
In Mlolongo, as in many of these towns in Kenya, I marvel at how simple it is and how it makes me wonder why we have to overdo everything we do in America. Not that I mind grabbing an overpriced soda before getting on the Megabus, but the simplicity of just standing on the side of the highway, no sign, no platforms or ropes or gate numbers, even in mud puddles and dodging 18-wheelers barreling down the road — I just find it amazing.
Mlolongo amazes me. It’s a beehive of activity. It started out as a place where trucks would pile up either waiting for or attempting to avoid the weigh stations. Businesses proliferated to accommodate these drivers, then for the people running the businesses, a small slum growing into a little town.
Through urban sprawl, numerous townships that provide cheaper housing and more economic opportunities have been developed. One interesting case is the development of Mlolongo township, along the busy Nairobi to Mombasa Highway. The township lies about fifteen kilometers from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, and traces its origin and development from the lorries that parked around the area in an attempt to avoid weigh-bridge payments that are located nearby. It is these same trucks that are said to have influenced the name “Mlolongo.”
Mlolongo township rose from a slum of just a few iron sheet shacks that had no amenities, such as water, to a considerably large township that accommodates several thousands of people. Business is booming, with real estate development being a popular venture.
The area is developed in the sense of a lot of businesses, a lot of people, a lot of kiosks selling anything you can imagine, but it’s not a quiet, clean suburb of Nairobi. It’s a bit grimy, it’s realistic and easy to underestimate. The lady, an avid gym rat, found a fitness center that had everything you would find back home. There’s a hotel with swimming pool, stage for live performances, outdoor secluded seating areas for private get togethers, business center and so forth. There’s a multi-level grocery store, akin to a big box store in America. There’s restaurants, many bars and clubs, everything you need to live a normal life. But it’s still grimy.
I stopped by this place called Kitindo Bar for some nyama choma. Unlike our restaurants where the food is cooked in the back, they just put the grill in the lobby and get to roasting.
Just down the street, a building was being built. And like just about every building in Kenya, it was building built with concrete and mud bricks. But what I shake my head at is how they put up the scaffolding. Instead of the metal and steel structures we see in America, with people hooked up to something in case they fall, with stairs, ladders and rails — they just find some long wood logs and just somehow figure out how to get to the top of the building.
I went back to where mzee was getting the car fixed. I met some of the locals. I couldn’t tell if they were mechanics, bystanders or just people wanting to pretend like they weren’t looking at the American walking around as if he was in Times Square. Cool people.
The side mirror? Brand new.
I didn’t see how they did it, or where they got their materials, but it was back to normal. And when mzee told me it was maybe 1500 Kenyan Shillings, the equivalent of just under $20 and done in just over an hour, I couldn’t help but marvel at the ingenuity of people.
[I forgot to take a picture of it, but I promise it was brand new]
Interesting day out and about. How many times do people visit a foreign land and stay hunkered down in a resort, only visit the places in tour guides and only talking to hospitality people paid to make you feel like you’re at home? If you go to Nairobi, you have to venture out of the city, not meaning the safaris, and meet the people, walk with the people and eat with the people. Just not at Naked Pizza.
Eventually, we all made it home. The cousins resumed their obsession with electronic games, which was fine with me as long as they didn’t fight over the tablets [which they did nonstop]. We took a few photos, then it was off to bed to get ready for our trip out to Kitui for Christmas.