Giraffes, Presidents, and Forests Oh My!

This last week and half was filled with several high points and low points. Even though I’ve had some minor frustrations with Nairobi and myself at times, these frustrations haven’t detracted from my overall positive experiences here.

As this post title hints, last weekend I had the opportunity to feed giraffes at the Giraffe Center in Karen, Nairobi with the other PiAf fellows. Walking into the park was kind of surreal–never did I imagine that I would get to be so close to a giraffe in its natural habitat! Upon entering the park, I could see a crowd swarming to feed the only  giraffe that felt like approaching humans on the observation deck.

img_0603After a quick safety briefing from one of the handlers, we were given a pile of pellets to lure the giraffes. Everyone else in my group was excited to “kiss” the giraffe. We each tried to bait the giraffes and beat out little kids for an opportunity to feed one. Our perseverance paid off because each one of us got that Instagram-able shot of us feeding a giraffe. As we were about to leave, Cami, one of other fellows asked if I kissed a giraffe. I scoffed and replied no. Welp, she made me feel like a total dweeb when she said everyone else kissed a giraffe except for me.

Accepting that this is a rare opportunity and will give me a cool story to tell years from now, I marched back up to the observation deck, stuck a pellet between my teeth, and waited for one of those stubborn giraffes to come over. I definitely got the sauciest giraffe of the day because this fella nipped the pellet from my teeth and then proceeded to lick half my face. The slobber was worth it because I definitely had the best video documenting my triumph.

Giraffes weren’t the only animals I got to spend quality time with that day. Karen also has an elephant orphanage that rescues baby elephants whose families have been poached or were too weak to keep up with the herd. Even though some of the elephants I got to meet were only three months old, they were still fiesty little dudes. At one point, three of them escaped the pen after the crowd overexcited them. img_0602

Once the calves were brought back and calmed down with several liters of milk, the handlers would bait the elephants with milk and tree branches to parade them around for the crowd to pet. Watching them walk around and interact with me was truly amazing. Despite being such rotund animals, they can really move! I don’t think I have the right words to describe how the elephant’s skin felt–cracked leather with a combination of course and softer hair. The sensation of one calf’s trunk around my forearm was unreal. He definitely would have beaten me if we went arm-to-trunk wrestling.

Meeting these beautiful animals was definitely one of the best parts of my week. But, with the good always comes some bad. A couple of days later, I got food poisoning. The two worst parts of that episode of food poisoning were: 1) being unable to sleep because of the severe cramps and 2) being incredibly hungry and unable to eat.

While the food poisoning was terrible and all I wanted to do was stay in bed to Netflix the pain away, I am so glad that I decided to push through and attend the 2016 African Green Revolution Forum hosted at the UN offices in Nairobi. All of the movers and shakers of the African agriculture world were present at this conference, and I was so excited to represent AWARD’s booth and receptions.

On the third day of the conference, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta along with other dignitaries including Rwandan president Paul Kagame attended to give keynote addresses and reveal plans for the future of Africa’s agricultural sector. About half an hour before President Kenyatta makes his entrance, my supervisor tells my co-worker and I to go and get view. We picked great spots because PRESIDENT KENYATTA SHOOK OUR HANDS! Never in a million years did I think that I would be in the same room as President Kenyatta much less SHAKE HIS HAND. I would definitely call that moment the ultimate “karibu” to Kenya.

Besiimg_0132des meeting the president, I’m also glad I got to participate in this conference because it was my first real assignment as a member of AWARD’s communications team. I learned so much more about the work AWARD does, how many amazing women it has impacted, and how many more people are now thinking about the importance of gender in agriculture research and development as a result of AWARD’s studies and trainings.

After such a busy week, I was definitely looking forward to the weekend, especially because most of the other Kenya PiAf fellows from outside Nairobi came in for a weekend. It was lovely catching up with everyone and hearing how their posts were going since we last saw each other in June during orientation. I think my favorite part of our Kenya reunion was seeing how happy the fellows from more rural locations were to have Chinese food (Kenyan dim sum was surprisingly good!).

This weekend was also a turning point in my perspective of living and working in Gigiri. Out of all the Nairobi fellows, I live the farthest away  from everyone else and my neighborhood within the city feels the least “Nairobi” of all the other fellows. In Kilimani and Westlands, there’s always activity and there’s a greater mix between local Kenyans and expats. Here in Gigiri, it’s embassy after embassy, mansion after mansion, guard after guard. It just feels so out of touch with the rest of the city.

I think part of my frustration comes from feeling like I won’t actually get to feel comfortable in the rest of Nairobi because I’m not living there. I also don’t live in those other areas because the Nairobi traffic is too horrendous to travel through to and from work every day. Currently, I only go to the other neighborhoods on the weekends to meet up with the other fellows.

I’m definitely not being patient enough with myself to acclimate, and I also don’t know if I’ve fully tested how far I can push my boundaries in terms of doing more exploring on my own, but I’m hoping that with time, all parts of Nairobi will feel like home.


My Karura Forest outing was the perfect gals’ day out.

I gained a more positive outlook on living in Gigiri because I finally took the time to explore beyond AWARD’s offices at ICRAF and apartment hunting. Yesterday, I invited the other fellows to go on a hike with me through the Karura Forest and then have lunch at Village Market. Walking outside and appreciating the beautiful landscapes of Kenya that are often forgotten when one thinks of Nairobi was incredibly peaceful.

Gigiri is also growing on me because I’ve finally found an apartment that has most of the qualities I wanted. Even though it’s slightly stressful trying to figure out moving logistics and furniture purchases in a foreign country, I’m very excited to make a home for myself. My location will also allow me to be closer to stores, have easier access to the main road to the other neighborhoods within Nairobi, and be able to walk to and from work. The major plus is being much closer to the Karura forest.

I honestly didn’t realize how much I missed greenery and (relative to the rest of Nairobi) peaceful streets until this forest hike and exploration around Gigiri. Even though I am still the farthest out Nairobi fellow,  I think living in this urban paradise that is Gigiri will force me to be more outgoing and conscientious of my adjustment to Nairobi in the long run. I also think I’ll get a greater appreciation for the hustle and bustle if I also get to escape it.

Random Thoughts:

  • Fewer selfies in the next post
  • Flora, the owner of my current guest house, is amazing. She prepared an AMAZING Kenyan feast for me on Saturday.
  • Kenyan style kale > American style kale
  • I bartered down a beautiful handmade skirt by $5
  • Kericho Tea is the new start to my day
  • There’s no Starbucks or McDonald’s that I’ve seen so far. Though, Dominos and KFC are everywhere.
  • Crossing the street is still the scariest thing about living in Kenya
  • Thank goodness for ciprofloxacin

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