Leave her, Johnny, leave her: Top 10 things I’ll miss about Kenya & Tanzania

"Oh I thought I heard the old man say, leave her, Johnny, leave her..."

It’s time to sing sea shanties and lift the parting glass: I’m leaving East Africa. For now, at least.

I head to New York City this evening. I have plenty of thoughts about freelancing, opportunities and career decisions, but I’m going to save those for another post. I also have a bunch of undigested material from East Africa, so readers of this blog may feel like I am still here for a few weeks (I haven’t even put up the Uganda and Kenya sections to my Ridiculous Roadtrip (TM) account. I’ve actually been without consistent Internet for about the last 10 days, which has kept me from writing and engaging more.)

But now, here’s something in the way of goodbye to this beautiful region, which now firmly occupies a large place in my heart. (When you’re about to leave a place, you somehow begin to remember only the good things about it; and those things loom larger and larger as the hour of departure draws near.)

In a nod to the conventions of blogging, here are the top 10 things I’m going to miss, each, about Tanzania and Kenya, the countries where I spent the most time during the last six months. (This reflects my personal experience, so if you think something’s missing – make your own list!)

Top 10 Tanzania

10.  Stone Town, Zanzibar. ‘Nuff said.

9. Hilarious signs and menus, sometimes due to errors and sometimes due to plain old T-Zediness.

Do you require mates or adult channels? We apologize for any inconvenience!


8. Dhows.

7. Seeing entire clubs spontaneously break into an electric slide at about 2 a.m. on a Friday night, generally to a South African tune. In addition to the fact that I’ve never seen this anywhere else, I think it says a lot about Tanzania, in terms of doing things differently, being a bit more communal, and being cool – but not too cool for school.

6. The filling, complete meal for $1.50. Oh yes, I am going to miss that in New York City.

5. Serengeti beer.

4. The Dar swimming club. If you haven’t swum out at sunrise to pay your respects to the God of Vegetables with some of Dar es Salaam’s old-timers, well, you haven’t really visited Dar! (Or maybe you have, but you missed something special.)

3. The live music scene – best I ever had. I will gladly drench myself in sweat to hear a single band do perfect impressions of Awilo Longomba, Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley, one after the other. Drop an Ivorian beat and some high-register guitar, and I might treat you to some West African coupe decale. Yeah.

2. Baobab country

To be honest, this photo was taken in Kenya. But you get the point.

1. The feeling of community and the pace of life. At times it felt like I and everyone around me had been shot with tranquilizer darts, but if I can keep that in my head just a little I’ll remember: there’s absolutely no reason to be rushing around, tuned in, logged on, wired up, ultra-caffeinated and paper-chasing like the way we are in the States – especially NYC. I have best experienced this at the sambusa/drinking spot on Ally Khan road around the corner from Maliki Street in Upanga (which is where I’ll be from about 5:30 – 7:00 tonight). Sipping a Serengeti while the taste of homemade pilli-pilli lingers on my tongue, I watch a multiethnic array of families, fresh from maghreb prayer, dip into dhal, then leave into the warm evening with six laughing kids packed into a station wagon. Mzee, I’m gonna miss that.

Top 10 Kenya

10. Great Rift Valley views

9. Fort Jesus, Mombasa. I mean, dude, it’s got a skeleton of a 17th-century Portuguese sailor in it. After the Omanis laid siege to the fort for about two years, a handful of the Europeans surrendered. The Omanis killed them anyway.

(I was quite disappointed to discover on my second visit to the fort that this was, in fact, merely an in situ replica. Still.)

8. Pimped out mats blasting crunk.

7. Randomly seeing wildlife even though I never went on “safari.”

6. Tusker malt – I don’t touch that lager stuff, man.

5. Jacaranda blossoms

4. Bacchus, Carnivore, Gipsy’s. I once saw a girl in a miniskirt pushing a car through a flooded Westlands street – toward the club. Kenyans know how to party.

3. Capoeira Balanco Negro

2. Kenyan slang: “As in, guys were pinting. Me, I can’t drink like that. But they can afford it, ati, have you seen that hou-o? Eh, yesterday, we went to buy cred-o at Uchumi, and that’s when I saw one of my relas that lives in tow-o, he had just fikad from shagz. What was he doing? Bumming! Eh, guys just want to swatch. These Kenyans!”

1. Kenyan cosmopolitanism. You never know when you’ll meet a Kenyan punk rocker, a rapper, a capoeirista, a playwright, a football maniac, a poet. The world may not really know about Kenya, but Kenya definitely knows about the world. I am very impressed.

OK, what’re your Top 10?

9 thoughts on “Leave her, Johnny, leave her: Top 10 things I’ll miss about Kenya & Tanzania

  1. I am kenyan and so I will comment in Kenyanese,

    Haki you have really made me cheka! Me I agree on everything you said. Yaani you should expand this into an anecdotes book. Hilarious especially the clubbing part.

  2. Im not going to try to put these in top 10 order, but you clearly were kicking it in a certain part of Nairobi…no mention of unreal Ethopian food (Habesha for example), the completely out of control Casablanca, with hookah and fire pits, the Nairobi arboreteum- a free island of sanity in the city, just an incredible place to sit and people watch…there was some jazz club on Ngong, Im forgetting the name, but it was supposedly “members only”, how bout weekend football watching pub culture, African-style (ah but you were kicking it as Gypsy’s, where they were kind enough to show American football playoff games upstairs for me)…no mention of F2, how gritty are you son?

    • Hey, what you need to do is organize those suggestions and put em on SFNYNOLA… along with your similar comments on my San Francisco recs. F2, not so much — guess I was with too bougie of a crowd. Tried to go to Casablanca with Sach one of my last nights in Nairobi, but they wanted 300 shillings and there was no one in there… so it was Kengeles Lavington instead. Arboretum is a good suggestion, though I never ended up sitting there… Uhuru Park is amazing, too, especially when public goods are at times, ahem, neglected in Kenya… Ethiopian food definitely, as well as Olepolo for Nyam Chom… and one of those proabbly should have taken the place of Fort Jesus, but, well, I wanted to post a pic of a skeleton. Really, wish we could have checked out NBO together. Next time. Little Chills 4 Life!

  3. how could I forget…no Lamu? An interesting contrast to Mombasa Old Town and Stone Town, harder to access for sure, but certainly a must see

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