Notes on Nairobi (8): beads, giraffes and Blixen

“Jambo!” (“Hello!”) as we say here in Nairobi.

Day five (Tuesday) of our trip was Mashujaa Day, also known as Heroes’ Day (“mashujaa” is Swahili for “heroes”). This is a national day in Kenya, which is observed on 20 October as a public holiday to honour all those who contributed towards the struggle for Kenya’s independence or positively contributed in the post independence Kenya. Richard still had to work but again Emily and Catrin collected us from our hotel mid morning. We drove out to the most fashionable district of Nairobi called Karen which is named after the Danish writer Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen).

First stop was the location of the factory and a shop of a wonderful enterprise called “Kazuri” (the name means “small and beautiful” in Swahili). Founded in 1975 with just two workers, today this organisation employs 340, mostly single mothers who would otherwise find local employment hard to find. The main output is jewellery made of brightly-coloured ceramic beads, each of which is hand-made and hand-painted on the site.

Although it was a public holiday and the factory was closed, we were given a conducted tour of the site and an explanation of the manufacture of the beads and the ethos of the enterprise which has a private clinic for the staff and their immediate family. Emily already had a number of items of jewellery from “Kazuri” and Vee and I bought five pieces ourselves.

Next stop was another inspiring location: the Giraffe Centre of the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife. This was founded in 1979 to protect a particular giraffe subspecies called the Rothschild’s giraffe. At that time, there were no more than 120 of these beautiful animals, but today there are more than 300 with around half a dozen on display at any one time at the centre.

The great feature of the centre is that visitors can feed food pellets to the giraffes at either ground level or from a raised wooden structure. If one is so inclined, one can hold a pellet between one’s lips or teeth and wait for a giraffe to lean down and gobble it up while using its long and rough tongue to lick one’s face. Catrin had done this on a previous visit and both Vee and Emily did it this time (I gave it a miss and just took photographs of the encounters). Vee reckoned it was the most romantic kiss she has had in years and is hoping that the giraffe in question will be calling her before we leave the country.

At this point, we stopped for lunch at a place called “Tamambo” on a site that used to be part of Karen Blixen’s coffee plantation. The ambience was delightful: we ate outside on the well-kept lawn at a table with a large umbrella sheltering us from the sun. The food was excellent too with a wide choice of both main courses and desserts.

Our third and final stop of the day was to the Karen Blixen House. Sitting underneath a large tree in the extensive grounds, a guide told us the story of the house (built in 1912) and Karen Blixen (born 1885, time in Kenya 1914-1931, died 1962) before taking us on a tour of the house itself. Internationally Blixen is best known as the author of the biographical work “Out Of Africa” (published in 1937) which was made into a film of the same name in 1985 starring Meryl Streep as Blixen and Robert Redford as her lover Denys Finch. In the museum shop, Vee and I bought ourselves a souvenir of Kenya-: a wooden set of wild animals sitting round a table having tea.

We were back at the hotel at 5.30 pm where we were joined by Richard. We always need to eat dinner early because of Catrin’s bedtime, so we all ate this evening at the hotel.



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