This week my post comes from Kenya. It’s a midlife shopping bag of African thoughts. We are taking a break from Zanzibar, in case there’s a military coup on the island. My husband’s boss thought it would be a good idea if we disappeared for a few days while the elections took place. “Better to be safe than sorry”, he said. So we have been sent to stay in a beautiful tiny house in Karen, Nairobi. I am left wondering if moving from Zanzibar to Nairobi is any safer.
African Thoughts: Zanzibar Election
In Zanzibar, the main road near our home had been quite noisy this week, lots of loudspeakers and election rallying. As an incentive to vote, local people were given free booze and petrol (…at the same time). The results were staggering to see, and you wouldn’t want to be driving on the road after the incentives were handed out!
Zanzibar is a one-main-road island. Providing you are not on it when others are partying it seems a relatively safe place to be. You might encounter a wandering stray cow, road runner-type chicken, or a very fast matatu (taxi bus) overtaking on the wrong side, yet that’s about it as far as risks go.
African Thoughts: Nairobi Malls
Here in Nairobi I am suffering from sensory overload. Kenya is one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa. This is one huge, busy, noisy metropolis. Like most big cities it seems to be there solely for the purpose of money. ‘Buy, buy, buy’ everywhere you look. In order to buy you need to ‘work, work, work’.
I feel uncomfortable, not in a security sense, although I am aware things are done differently here. We take taxis everywhere and we lock the internal security gate below the stairs before going to bed each evening. At the moment things seem to be safe, yet there is always a tangible undercurrent that next moment they might not be. Personally, I feel uncomfortable through lack of choice.
I want to go shopping for the things I miss in Zanzibar. The shopping malls are designed to meet that want, and there are many here in Nairobi, with more being built and due to open in the next few years.
Yet . . . since the Islamic shootings at the Westgate Shopping Mall on 21st September 2013, where 67 people were killed, commercialism and tourism Kenya have had a mixed bag of reviews. Westgate opened anew this July, two years after the shootings and the looting of the shops. Some feel it was an important turning point, a sign of Kenya’s spirit against adversity, and there are others who feel the shopping centre is now a living grave and have vowed never to return.
Am I really in need of a shopping fix?
It certainly got me thinking. Living in Zanzibar I have become acutely aware of the real basics needed in order to survive life. Shopping is done at the local duka, where you will find, if you are lucky, a carton of milk, a box of washing powder and so on. There is no choice, and I quite like not having to decide which brand is best, or which offers the better value for money. If it’s not on the shelf, you do without, until next week or next month or whenever it appears again. The suggestion that we must consume more is a lie.
Yesterday I hit two shopping malls, (not Westgate) looking for the things I cannot find in Zanzibar, the health food shop being the biggest attraction. The airport-style security system at the entrance gives you a sense of safety.
After stocking a carrier bag with the things on my list; sushi, quinoa, essential oils and suchlike, I looked at the other shops. I found them visually noisy and garish, claustrophobic, nauseating and more to the point, the same as anywhere else in the Western world.
The more choice I had, the worse the fever felt. How could I be stressing yet again over the ‘buy one get one free’ offer! My head spun, my whole body ached, I had to get out.
Today I am sitting in front of my tiny house, thinking African thoughts, enjoying the peaceful bird sounds, the sun on my back, and life feels good. My fever and headache have gone. I have had my midlife African shopping fix. It will last me until the next time!