Africa: the upper middle class experience

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.

Java House, Sarit Center

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.

4 thoughts on “Africa: the upper middle class experience

  1. Of interest and possible relevance: where were the coffee beans used to make your latte grown? Perhaps this is of relevance to the phenomenon of the growing middle class in Nairobi and their economic future.

    BTW, I just bought a pound of Kenyan coffee beans today on Oahu. Six degrees of separation?

  2. They must be grown in Kenya. I’d be surprised to find out otherwise, because it’s such a major crop here. However, it’s worth pointing out that only a tiny fraction of Kenya’s coffee production is consumed in country, in part because of a holdover colonial law. I’ve written about that previously in this blog…

    Re: Hawaii, now that is really crazy — especially because they must produce all kinds of coffee on the Big Island?? Seems like the climate would be perfect at about 6,000 feet.

  3. Got it 🙂

    As I wrote in my blog post on the female wazungu in flock: I am also one of them – who enjoy the occasional cafe latte in a classic wazungu place.

    And I have been sitting there in the Sarit Centre more than once….


  4. Next time I’m staying at MS, we’ll have to chat in person. If you’re based at the Dar MS, I may have been blogging 100 meters form your office for ~3 months without meeting. I liked that post. I feel a constant discomfort with the more suffocating aspects of expat life and at the same time I look around and go, Crap, I’m part of it!

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