This is really about Nairobi

This is not about Dili at all but reading about Kenya being on the edge of civil war brought back memories of some quite risky behaviour on my part once.

I had just finished a 4 week safari tour of Kenya, Tanzania, Zaire, Rwanda and Uganda on the back of one of those open safari trucks.  Four weeks, about a dozen people, shorts and t-shirts throughout and a fair bit of testosterone.   After farewelling all the others, I spent the last couple of days in the 680 Hotel by myself.
I was alone in the bar one night and the black guy next to me suddenly turns around and says “why do you white guys all stick to this part of town … you never come and mix with where the black people live”.  Perhaps it was the sudden absence of heaps of company (including one or two girls that I regretted not having made advances towards) or perhaps it was the drink but I agreed with him.  He goaded me before finally offering to take me to “where the black people live” north of Tom Mboya street.  I agreed.

So off we go on foot and as we pass Tom Mboya street, the general streetscape tended to head to a rougher style.  We went into a bar – rough-looking by western standards.  Not a white man in sight.  My “mate” orders 2 beers.  I don’t understand what he says but he ends up having an argument with the barman.  He finally comes back with 2 warm beers.  I say to him, “it was me, wasn’t it?” He said, “Yes”.  I gradually feel more uncomfortable and am not really enjoying this beer (too warm) much at all.  About 20 bright white eyes stare at me.

He sees my discomfort and after the beers are demolished, offers succour by asking me, “let’s get out here … why not come and see where we really live out in the suburbs”.  It is now dark and I am obviously in a very uncomfortable place for a white man and say “yeah, why not!”

So off we go to a bus stop and hop in a small mini-bus.  He has a another argument with the driver.  I knew it was me again.  “So what was it this time?”, I ask.   He replied, “the driver wanted the white man to pay 3 times the normal fare … don’t worry, you are my guest, it is now OK”.

It is pitch black outside and we are clearly leaving town for god knows where.  About 20 minutes later, we pull up in some village out of town and go to yet another bar.  This time, I know there is not another white man for miles.  There is a group of guys playing guitar and singing.  They all say hello to me and make me feel quite welcome.  I have a beer.  This is not too bad, I tell myself.

Then my host says to me, “I have to go, I’ll be back later”.  And he leaves.  So there I am drinking beer in a bar after dark way out of town without a clue where I am and outside the bar, it is totally pitch black.  I start fretting.  For an hour, I find solace in beer and pretend that I really have not put a skid mark on my y-fronts when I am sure that I have.

Finally, my mate returns and I spin a story that I have to get back into town as I have arranged to meet friends for dinner.  He orders a car and the guy drives me back to my hotel and everything was fine.

It was probably next day that I decided to do a brewery tour of the Kenya brewery.  I manage to find a bus going the 20kms out of town and ask the driver to stop at the appropriate place.  He did and pointed me in the general direction.   The Kenya brewery campus is huge and has a mini-bus that runs non-stop in a huge loop around the place.  I find the main office and ask about the brewery tour.  It was Wednesday and the tour was only weekly on a Tuesday.  The security guard directs me to a brewery bar instead.  Regretfully, I accept this fall-back position.

I am walking through the campus and again, it appears I am the only white guy.  Everyone stares at the white guy with shorts, t-shirt, thongs and day-pack.  I walk past a small building with a trestle seat running across the full-length of the front of the bulding.  There are black guys sitting backs to the wall, all necking from large beer bottles.  They all stare at me.  I conclude that the only way out of this was to assume this was the bar and do what nature intended in this circumstance and join them on the seat drinking beer with back to the wall.

I purchased a wonderful cold beer from the bar which was surrounded by prison bars.  Except in this case, it looked like the barman was the prisoner.  I found my spot on the wall, drank some beer, no-one looked at me anymore and life was good.  Then it started going downhill.  I had obviously sat next to the brewery drunk.  We strike up conversation.  He is drunk but I press on.  He asks me why I am there and then starts getting awfully sorry that I had travelled so far and couldn’t do a tour.  I ask if there are any trinkets like brewery caps, glasses, bottle openers etc.  Of course, in the sales department.  He goes off to clock off for the day, we hop onto the mini-bus and shuffle off to the marketing building and I purchase my stash.

Suitably satiated, my drunken friend suggests we go to another bar on campus.  I agree.  This one is much smaller but still has the bar surrounded by iron bars.  I have a few more beers then my drunken friend starts asking for my phone number and address.  Then he calls the bar-woman for more beer.  The rather large lady brings the 2 bottles over and my friend starts massaging her breasts.  She doesn’t bat an eyelid.  He could have been checking them for ripeness – slightly uncool, me thinks.  A whiff of common sense tells me that it is now time to go so I spin the old chestnut about meeting friends for dinner and say I must go.

My drunken friend follows me out the main road inside the brewery campus.  There are food stalls lining the road and my friend is getting extremely garrulous.  He starts talking to some ladies at the stalls and offers to arrange a woman for the night for me.  And oh yeah, I tell him one of the friends is my girlfriend.  My speed hastens as I head for the bus.

On the bus which was packed, my drunken friend stood up the front next to the driver and was telling anyone within earshot that I was his mate.  Gulp.  In the end, no problems.

I have since been told several times, “you must have rocks in your head … you could get killed”.  Dili is so much easier and there are no bars out of town to get me into trouble.  And never make assumptions about anything.