Known as “Asians,” Indians make up a significant part of the East African population. Though the minority, their culture has been strongly integrated into the East African culture. Considering themselves Asian-Africans, the Indian community in Kenya are well-respected and mostly in the higher economic class. Though I did not interact with any Asian-Africans in Kenya, the integration of the two cultures was obvious. However, I should say, the differences were pronounced and some environmental factors were almost the opposite of what they were in India.
One major difference between India and Kenya is the abundance of meat in Kenya. Immediately after arriving at the Upperhill campground on the outskirts of Nairobi, Mario A. Bollini ’09, Samir, and Phillippe, took me out to dinner. As soon as I walked into the open air restaurant with a live band (like so many others in Kenya), I saw animal carcasses hanging from the walls. The boys asked for goat meat in kilos, and the butcher hacked off the right amount with a machete. It was cooked on the bone and brought to our table, where it was again cut into smaller pieces. Yes, with a machete.
Goat meat is eaten with ugali, a mixture of corn flour and water, which is massaged like Play-Doh and used to pick up a piece of meat and some fresh salsa. Silverware is nonexistent. I had never had goat meat before, and while it does not taste like chicken, it was absolutely delicious.
The meat took a while to cook, and while we waited hungrily, my friends remembered the amazing samosas at the restaurant and ordered some. The restaurant was out, so they made them fresh just for us. I was expecting aloo (potato) samosas, like those I had in India, and so was surprised to find that these samosas were filled with goat meat. We squeezed a green lemon (citrus fruits are the opposite colors of those in the United States — limes are yellow and lemons are green) into the samosa and took a bite. Fantastic! After a vegetarian diet during my two weeks in India, the meat satisfied the angry carnivore in me. It seems nearly impossible to be a vegetarian in Kenya.
The weather in Kenya was also a nice change from India’s hot, humid weather. The mornings and nights were cold with about 40–50°F weather while the daytime was chilly but refreshing. The cooler weather allowed me to spend my free time outside without fear of heatstroke. My three new friends and I enjoyed Samir’s traditional Kenyan cooking, as well as other meals that I concocted. I was actually able to leave the campground after nightfall because I was with three armed men. Phillippe always carried a machete, Samir a knife, and Mario his pocket knife. Since the crime rate is high in Nairobi, safety was a serious concern even for the males.
The Association for the Physically Disabled where Mario was working was two bus rides away, and we woke up early to get to the workshop by 9 a.m. We had tea time as in India, and a local woman came by every day to sell her homemade samosas and chapati. Though I had chapati frequently with meals in India, in Kenya I ate it as a tea-time snack with a hard-boiled egg folded into it with a sprinkle of salt. Tea time was a great relaxing time where everyone stopped working to sit back and tell stories while enjoying tea made with hot milk and spoonfuls of sugar, made the same way as in India.
The world is a big place, and the differences interesting and exciting to discover, but little details can connect it together, making it seem like one warm community. In Tanzania, my host family was Asian-African, so I will go into more of their roles in East African society when we move south.