Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Some Random Things about Kenya

A few random observations and interpretations based on my recent visit to this exotic equatorial country.

1) Even though the Kenyans are predominantly meat eaters, they have some very tasty vegetarian dishes like githeri (maize+potatoes+beans), irio (mashed potatoes with greens), ugali (steamed maize cake) with greens, mukimbo (pigeon peas in Swahili coastal style) and others.

2) There is no middle class in Kenya. Either people are really poor or really rich.

3) The Kenyans of Indian-origin form the richest group of people in this East African country. They own everything from shopping malls, hotels, key industries and shops to prime real estate.

4) Ki-Swahili, the national language of Kenya has a lot of words from Hindi and Urdu in their dictionary owing to deep Indian influence in their culture and their history with the kingdom of Arabia especially on their eastern coast. For e.g., chai (tea in hindi), chapati (Indian whole wheat bread in Hindi), kachumbari (mixed vegetables or Kachumbar in Hindi), safiri salama (have a safe journey  or safar salaam ho in Urdu)

5) Kenya is a very expensive country even though the people here are very poor. Cabbage, bought from a farm is 100 Kenyan Shillings (roughly 66 Indian rupees) and the daily newspaper costs 50 Kenyan Shillings (roughly 33 Indian rupees). There are a lot other such instances.

6) In spite of being an equatorial country, Kenya has pretty cold winters in most of its provinces. Some places see multiple seasons in a single day (cold mornings, warm afternoons and evening showers).

7) A very high percentage of the Kenyans speak good English.

8) Even though the Kenyans drive on the left side of the road (right hand drive), they have a US like driving system with a wait, yield and go policy.

9) Kenyan drivers are very patient. Even when stuck in morning and evening traffic in Nairobi.

10) The roads of Kenya are pretty much noiseless. People honk only when someone commits a mistake while driving. A true relief for the ears for a lot of us.

11) Marabou storks (a scavenger bird) nests on top of trees in huge numbers right in the busy part of Nairobi.

12) A lot of Kenyans are unhappy with their government.

13) There are a lot of places in Kenya, which the local himself avoids owing to safety reasons.

14) Nakuru is the theft capital of Kenya. All it requires is a momentary lapse for you to lose your belongings including your car.

15) Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have a open roads policy. This means that vehicles of these 3 countries are allowed to drive on roads of all these countries provided they have the right passenger papers.

16) The ‘Lunatic Line’, the railway line from Tanzania and Kenya to Uganda, which took a lot of lives is hardly used these days. In fact, I hear that they use it only for irregular trips between Nairobi and Mombasa. And since they are very expensive, the locals give it a miss.

17) Kenya has hardly any road-based public transport system. This holds good for both inter and intra city transport. Matatu (a van that seats 13 people) is what is used by the people for mass transit. These are run by private players.

18) Kenya is highly corrupt. One can easily get out of an offence by paying a bribe.

19) The Chinese are building most of Kenya’s roads.

20) Maasai Mara tourism, single-handedly accounts for a huge chunk of Kenya’s GDP, but in spite of this benevolence, the government doesn’t want to lay a road to Masai Mara from Narok (roughly a 2 and a half hour  bone-rattling ride).

21) Kenya has the world’s largest tropical lake in Lake Victoria, which it shares with Uganda and Tanzania.

22) Kenya has Africa’s second highest peak in Mount Kenya after Mount Kilimanjaro.

23) It is in Kenya’s Rift valley that mankind originated.

24) Tea is grown on a high plateau in Kenya unlike most of the other tea growing areas in the world where it is grown on slopes.

25) A Giraffe can be regularly seen grazing near the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at Nairobi.

26) Toyota has more or less a monopoly in Kenya. Nissan comes a very far second.

27) Indian car brands – Maruti, Tata and Mahindra and Mahindra are considered pathetic automobile brands by the Kenyan locals and are frowned upon. 

28) In spite of Kenya being a democratic country, its citizens face the government with awe and believe that something bad will happen to them if they complain about the government.

29) The Maasai tribals believe that the Maasai Mara is their home land and birth right. They do not like any other tribe entering their space and take key positions. A lot such inter-tribe animosity can be seen regularly.

30) Race bias is very prevalent in Kenya. A person’s surname can be easily mapped to their tribe. Hence, a lot of students today want to register only their first names in school and colleges.

31) On reaching the age of 18, a male belonging to the Masai tribe has to undergo circumcision. If he sheds a single tear, cries or shouts during this event, he is banished forever from the community.

32) A Masai boy has to kill a lion to become a man.

33) Polygamy is pretty much the norm in all of Kenya’s tribes. A chief of the tribe is known to have a huge harem.

34) The Kenyan law supports its women in all domestic matters! There are no questions asked. If a man is hit by wife and he complains, he is thrown into prison.

35) Most of the Kenyans are scared to break the law because of the extremely shoddy treatment meted out in its prison.

36) The Kikuyu tribe has the prettiest women in Kenya.

37) During the annual wildlife migration, the entire masai mara landscape looks like it is crawling with ants. That is how many animals that are dotting the horizon. In fact, few people will ever see more animals (wild or domestic) in one spot.

38) Kenyans love bargaining. Most of their bargains are done in good jest.

39) Some places in Kenya have unbelievably straight roads/highways.

40) Kenyan tribal women are more hard-working than the men, much like their lionesses.

41) A lot of Kenya’s athletes train in the high altitude zone of the central highlands. They can be regularly seen running and cycling on the highways here.

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