Nairobi, Kenya | The old curiosity town
Shops and flea markets selling all things weird and wonderful make Nairobi an unusual shopping destination
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My earliest childhood memories of Kenya involve being checked out by a lion as potential hors d’oeuvre.
My family’s jeep had gotten stuck in a slush pile at the Maasai Mara game reserve.
Within a few minutes, we noticed the king of the jungle emerging casually from a bush nearby and sauntering purposefully towards us, almost as if it had orchestrated the whole spectacle. After a staring contest with my father, the lion inexplicably moved away from us. He stretched his forelimbs, and walked back to the bush to accompany a lioness.
Yikes, I hadn’t even realized there was a lioness nearby.
We managed to get into our jeep and wait till we were rescued. To this day, I have no idea why this lion chose not to attack us. Ever since then, I prefer beasts that are taxidermied.
When my parents moved to Kenya last July, I visited them with my three-month-old son. I was determined not to set foot in the savannah.
Instead, I wanted to vegetate, try new restaurants, drink copious amounts of wine, live on a wholesome diet of Kenyan cheese (this is dairy country!) and space out a little bit. I wanted to see the urban sprawl of this country that is so synonymous with wilderness.
While driving under the movie-screen sky to Blixen’s former estate, I noticed a rather strange sight. It was a silhouette of a giraffe on top of a moving car. This piqued my interest and I urged our driver to catch up with that vehicle. It was an 8ft giraffe made of—wait for it—scrap metal.
Soon I found myself on Ngong Road, in the midst of a scene that seemed straight out of Spirited Away. I abandoned all plans of heading to the museum that day (I went back later that week, though). Around me, there were sculptures of all the wild animals found in Kenya, all being sold on the long pavements of Ngong Road. Imagine a 15ft giraffe jostling for space with a 3ft frog playing a guitar; or a 4ft stork nuzzling the reptilian 7ft tail of a crocodile. Owls were perched over lions while wildebeests locked horns with horses.
My loot at Ngong Road included a 3ft metal giraffe, a spider, and, well, okay, also a small bird, a frog, and an owl. When I asked the vendor for recommendations for places to see in the city, he suggested the Maasai flea market. I made that my destination for the next day.
Panic ate at my insides. It wasn’t because of the money—I had put all my cash in my pocket—but because my passport was in my bag. Ten agonizing minutes later, a young man in a baseball cap coolly walked up to me and returned my bag, saying it was no use stealing a bag that had no cash.
I needed a drink to get over my panic attack, so I walked towards the Village Market, a mall on Limuru Road (right next to the flea market). But when I saw accessories glimmering in designer Adèle Dejak’s eponymous store nearby, I knew I had to visit it.
I made an appointment for the next day, and I would recommend the store to anyone who loves jewellery that suggests a good dose of spunk, sass and some sadomasochism.
What sets Dejak apart is that her entire brand is built around the idea of using locally sourced products (including cement bags, sugar and rice sacks) and artisans. Little wonder then that Salvatore Ferragamo got her to create a special limited edition of the iconic Sofia bag.
I ended my shopping adventures at Utamaduni Craft Centre that day, but I couldn’t help wonder about the other joys and treasures the city held.
As I think back to my memories of Nairobi, I think of it like a little oyster. When it opens up, it unravels like a beautiful, addictive secret I can’t get enough of. I know I’ll be going back with an empty suitcase and a credit card that demands a solid workout.
Supriya Dravid, a New Delhi-based writer, is the author of A Cool, Dark Place.
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