It’s not all 18-hour bus rides.
The picture of Africa’s growing middle class is sometimes lost among the breathless dispatches from more rustic corners of the continent. I thought it’s worth posting this photo I just took in the Java House in Sarit Center, Nairobi, an upscale mall in the Westlands neighborhood. Having just enjoyed a perfectly brewed latté and a blue cheese hamburger, I am now surfing the net for free on my laptop.
There’s a somewhat justifiable tendency for the more cynical foreigners around these parts (including me) to sneer at such experiences. I’m surrounded by a who’s-who of expats and Kenyan well-to-do. There’s a table full of white nuns, another one with what look to be development workers; the man sitting next to me just got up and accidentally left his iPod touch behind on the seat. It feels a little weird to have such an expensive experience in a land where there is plenty of want (hamburger + latté cost about $10, and many Kenyans live on less than $2 a day).
But let’s not forget that such experiences would be prosaic back home. I find a certain hypocrisy in decrying the rich-world experience while here and then going home and living surrounded by conveniences. Kibera’s have-nots are out of sight and out of mind when you’re enjoying your fiber-optic wifi and artisan tea in San Francisco. The consistent choice would be to shun the luxury completely, or admit you sometimes like it. I choose the latter.
I’m against ostentatious consumption anywhere. But I’ll take my wireless internet and latté where I can get it.