Ngong Hills

Last week, on a rare day off, we hired our trusty taxi driver, Wyckliff (yes, he spells his name that way), to drive us to Ngong Hills Forest Reserve for a little fresh air. There are four or five hills that you can hike up, each with progressively better views. To the east, you can see Nairobi and other small towns, while the Great Rift Valley expands to the west. On the way up the first hill, there are a few windmills that generate electricity.

We mistakenly stopped at the forest reserve office prior to hiking. This proved to be a mistake, as the rangers proceeded to try to get us to hire two armed rangers for the walk. These rangers come at a price of 1,500 KES each, or just under $20. We found this to be rather unreasonable, especially since the guy at the forest reserve did not seem to have any good reason for having two people come with us. “Anytime you have someone with a gun, you need two people. All around the world this is the standard.” Noting our skepticism at his logic, he quickly added, “There are buffalo. And a lion.”

ha. There were definitely no lions in the hills. And eventually we just left the office and did the walk without the armed rangers. Instead of lions and buffalo, which would have been quite exciting, we ran into a group of school children who were there on a field trip. Very dangerous, indeed.

After the walk, we stopped by Brew Bistro for some well-deserved beers. Happy hour runs from 5-7pm, during which time you get two-for-one brews. You don’t even need to ask… they automatically bring you two beers of whatever you order. Not a bad end to the day.

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[photo by Jack]

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Kenyan Recipes: Pilau + Kachumbari

Pilau is a spiced rice dish that is found all along the Swahili coast of Africa. Often it is made with shredded chicken or bits of beef, but this version is vegetarian. It is a dish that is heavily influenced by Indian cuisine, and it tastes great alongside another Kenyan specialty: kachumbari. Kachumbari is basically the African version of pico de gallo, except you make it a bit spicier and the chiles are of a different variety (unknown to me) that is not jalapeño.

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Here in Nairobi, you can find the pilau spice mixture at practically any grocery store or market, but you can make it at home as well. A standard recipe is here.

Also, here are a few pictures from our little trip to the suburb of Karen to visit the elephant orphanage and giraffe sanctuary last weekend.

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check out those eyelashes!

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this guy is such a douche
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that tongue – wow!

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Pilau 

1 cups basmati or jasmine rice (I used brown basmati rice)
1 medium red onion, diced

1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter or cooking oil
1 1/2 tablespoon pilau masala

salt and pepper

Cook the rice per package directions.

In a large pan, sauté the onions, garlic, and ginger in oil. Once the onions are transparent, add the pilau masala and stir around until fragrant. Add the cooked rice and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for an additional two minutes or so, until the rice is warmed and the ingredients are mixed well.

Serve with kachumbari on the side (recipe below).

Kachumbari

3 large tomatoes (the variety I find in Nairobi is similar to a roma tomato, so that is what I use), diced
1/2 medium red onion
2 small hot chiles (serrano would work well), minced
1 clove raw garlic, minced

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
drizzle of olive oil
drizzle of lemon juice, lime juice, or red wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together well and refrigerate.

Tofu and Cucumber Salad + Africa Pictures

So this recipe is not at all African. It just so happens that I’ve made it twice since I have been here. I have not (and will not) stock a full pantry here for a mere two months, so I am trying to create some recipes with just a few basics. I have soy sauce, and oil and vinegar, and I bought a nice spice mixture called Pilau Masala, which is used for making a rice dish called – you guessed it – Pilau. So with just a few items, I have been throwing together this nice little salad.

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I never really wrote much about our 2-week pre-internship trip through Tanzania and Rwanda. It was yet another wildlife-centric trip for us, with just a bit of beach and city time on each end. I only have photos from Zanzibar and Rwanda uploaded to flickr right now, so safari photos will have to wait until next time, but here is a little preview of my favorite photos from those two places.

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Sunset at Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar

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The evening sun illuminates a building in Stone Town, Zanzibar

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Eric eating chapati while watching a local soccer match

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The red colobus monkey of Zanzibar

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A mass grave at Kigali’s genocide memorial, Rwanda

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Eric paying his respects to the victims buried in the mass graves

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Locals participate in gorilla conservation by entertaining hikers each morning

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Manicured streets of Kigali, Rwanda

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Rwandan countryside

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Silverback gorilla posing for the camera

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Female gorilla, contemplating

In other news, I have settled into a work routine here in Nairobi. Many days I will wake up and head to Kibera to meet up with the KDI Kenya team. Others I will work from home if I have to use internet or the computer. We have not had many days off yet – public meetings need to happen on weekends when people are home from work, so that means Saturdays and Sundays have so far been off limits for traveling.

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Soccer field in Kibera

It is striking to me what a different world Kibera is – especially compared to the wealth you see in other parts of Nairobi. You enter Kibera on foot because there are not really roads – just dirt paths that are steep and uneven. When you walk in, you see row after row of small businesses – a clothing shop or a butcher, a vegetable stand or a hair braiding salon, a tailor or a knife sharpener – each set up in its own little tin-roofed shack. Further in, you can start to smell the fragrance of Kibera. If it’s a warm or sunny day, the smell can be especially strong. Sewage, sweat, and animals (including farm animals such as goats and pigs) are the main scents I can identify. Trash collects at dumping grounds along the river and is scattered along the paths. The rivers are essentially open sewers, and in many places in Kibera, the stream runs black.

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Trash builds up along the river; there is no formal garbage collection system in Kibera

The extravagant wealth that you can find in other parts of Nairobi may not exist in Kibera, but you will still find well-dressed men and women, children attending school, eager entrepreneurs, and happy, friendly people. As I walk through – with my pale skin and blonde hair – children break into a sort-of song and dance, chanting “how are you” as they stomp their feet and run to shake my hand. High fives and fist pumps are huge with the kids. And if you respond to their “how are you” – if you say “I am fine, how are you?” back to them – they will often giggle and turn their head shyly. The younger children know few English words beyond that.

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School children love posing for the camera

Tofu and Cucumber Salad

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1 english cucumber, halved and sliced
1/2 medium sized daikon radish, peeled and julienned
1 small red onion, finely sliced
1 package tofu, cubed
5 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon cold water
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon vinegar (preferably rice vinegar, but I used red wine as I had none on hand)
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

Combined tofu, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, and a sprinkling of vinegar in a container and marinate tofu for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, chop the vegetables and combined. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining soy sauce, water, vinegar, and honey. Pour the dressing over the vegetables and refrigerate.

When the tofu is done marinating, pour some oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the tofu, making sure it is in a single layer. Let sit for a couple minutes until 1 side of the tofu has a crispy, golden edge. Stir around or flip the pieces and continue until most or all sides of each piece are crispy. Combine the warm tofu with the cold salad and mix well. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.