Tag Archives: strangers

Random Access Memories

This post has nothing to do with Daft Punk. It’s just because I suddenly remembered Paul…a guy I met while travelling.

Paul’s a superfit dude. He has a white crew cut, and that old muscle, old stretched muscle, like those weather-beaten boats or like a guy of mjengo. The muscle that sits on the fence between lean and intimidating, it shouts power and discipline more than aesthetics, you know that kind of muscle?

His a smoker. He is a drifter which means he has no permanent home. He just came from volunteering at some youth hostel, in return they gave him food and shelter.  He lights up a cigarette and tells me he quit smoking years ago, we share a laugh, because I’ve had a couple of beers (a Guinness and a lager) so everything is grrrrreat. I wish I could have beers with Paul, I want to hear more about his ex-girlfriend. He’s going to live with her, and he says she will give him hell if he doesn’t get his shape back – what shape I wonder, cause the only thing that is loose about Paul is his wrinkled face, and that’s only ’cause he’s over 40. It’s like Collins Injera saying he’s out of shape…Paul used to climb mountains in Nepal every year, and they are not the size of Longonot. His ex-girlfriend (the one he’s moving back in with) is a gym instructor he explains. We laugh a little more, because Paul is always laughing and I head out into the rain.

I walk into a bar (no that’s not a joke). And the first person I meet is Chung.  I call him Chung because I don’t remember his name, plus he’s Korean, so I can’t be far off. Chung is here with Ali, the Saudi with the beer…don’t judge, who said he’s muslim? ( He is). Chung seems majorly impressed to meet a black guy, he acts it out in a way I’d describe as ‘G’. Either he really is a ‘G’ or he thinks he should act ‘G’ cause I’m black, both possibilities are hilarious. I like Chung and his spiky hair.

Chung or something close

Chung or something close

Him, the Saudi and the french dude are in english class together, that’s what they are doing here. Then there’s a guy from Colombia. All of us have have met someone that is really good with girls, effortless even, Colombia is one of those…except he doesn’t do it for fun, it’s not about the thrill of conquest, he does it because he needs to. He tells me how long he saved for the flight here (don’t know why he felt the need to share), he also tells me that he’s here to make a life for himself, not holiday. He’s in this bar primarily to meet people, not have a good time. A girl walks up to us and I watch him do his groundwork. The girl is visibly excited to be in his presence, I can see it through her glasses which she keeps adjusting.  She says ‘Yeah, so I just need to confirm it with my housemates, but you can come stay with us from Wednesday,’ and just like that, Colombia has a free place to stay as he looks for a job (one day after jetting into the country). As he leaves the bar later on, the girl I’m talking to nods enthusiastically to my story, but after he hugs her goodbye her eyes follow him out of the room. She is looking at him ki-unyama like manyake. Guinness is my distraction.

Later, I walk into another bar- I feel the need to let you know that I was on holiday. I ask what’s on tap, and they give me a beer with a green logo, I forget its name. It’s amazing this beer. I chat up some lone travellers, but they’re only here for a beer before they have to catch their bus. We have  a short conversation, and they have to leave. I sit next to the table that’s obviously celebrating a birthday. The birthday boy is a dreadlocked black guy, he’s flabby, and he is wearing bell-bottoms. He would fail alco-blow in an instant, one of those guys that would claim he’s Engineer Maina (2.10) (so what?) or worse, try to escape from the police in reverse. Soon, one of the party-goers asks me if I’m with them, I say no, she says join us, I feel awkward so I don’t. She doesn’t give up, she starts sending people my way to say hello to the lonely guy at the bar. There’s a girl with a tattoo of a tree across her whole back. Later on she invites me to a concert with white people playing African drums that I have never played….it was actually great. In that dark sweaty room, packed with jumping bodies and cheap beer, I find her by looking for that tattoo.

It’s my birthday, and I am hanging out outside, yes, another bar. I am feeling a little sorry for myself, because I am alone, and because I don’t actually know anybody in this city. There’s a girl outside the bar as well, and she starts a conversation after some drunk guy staggers into us. We sit and listen to the music together in the dim red-lit bar. AMAZING music. This girl has a really soft voice, freakily soft, a little psycho even. She tells me some stuff about her sister, I tell her it’s my birthday, she gives me a muffin from her bag. It’s quite good, it has pieces of orange peel in it. She baked it.  Come to think of it, I guess ideally you shouldn’t eat queencakes from strangers, but it’s allowed on your birthday.

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The High, So Called Wanderlust

A couple of weeks back, I met a girl on the Internet. She said she was American, and was coming to visit Nairobi. We met up, had dinner and she spent the night. She left early the next morning, and I have never seen her again. I met her on Couchsurfing.

From the outside, Couchsurfing is a social website. A website designed to connect travelers with people willing to host for free and vice versa. As a host, you put up your ‘couch’ on the website, couch here loosely meaning wherever the guest will sleep, be it an actual couch, mattress, your floor, guestroom etc. You also put up a description of yourself and your preferences/rules eg no smoking in the house, your preferred gender, how many days guests can crash etc, it’s pretty detailed. As a traveller, you search for couches in your destination town, look for a profile that matches your requirements (both couch and host) and you send a message introducing yourself and asking to crash the couch in question. It’s all free.

From the inside, Couchsurfing allows you to experience the difference between tourism and travel. Couchsurfing gives you the opportunity to interact with real people in your destination. Not to sound lofty, but Couchsurfing is one way to make travel, however simple, a spiritual exercise. Granted, sometimes meeting someone on the Internet sets expectations that aren’t met, but it’s part of the fun. Hotels and hostels are the same everywhere, only differing in standards, but people everywhere are not the same, and that’s exciting.

These past 3 months back home in Nairobi, I travelled via Couchsurfing. From my guests (I didn’t at first make it completely clear to my parents that these were strangers from the Internet) I got to see Ethiopia and the Oromo from a girl that spent weeks with them in a tent in the middle of nowhere. I got to see how you can get robbed in Berlin yet sleep at the Kenya Railways Museum completely untouched or bothered. I heard about hilarious ‘NGO’ workers in Israel who spend their time growing and smoking marijuana. I also heard how easily you can fake flight documents in order to get a much needed VISA. I travelled yet I was always home.

As a kind of safety feature, it’s custom on Couchsurfing to leave a reference after your experience with a guest/host. This reference can be seen by everyone, since no profile is closed within the website (unless you choose to which then makes it hard for you to find a host/guest). Very rarely, you will find some negative references. Usually they are extremely funny, you’ll see things like ‘he brought a stranger to my house and had sex on the kitchen floor’. Most though are mild, like ‘this person is dirty’. There are strict rules against unwanted hitting on members, but you know guys, it sometimes happens. Among the few complaints, I am yet to see a guy complaining that a girl host/guest hit on him 🙂

Anyway, a few hours back, I got a call that I might be traveling on Sunday. I look forward to the adventure of meeting kind strangers and trusting humanity the way you do in new environs.

If I don’t travel on Sunday for whatever reason, well at least I have this to remind me of my high right now.

Ps, my travel philosophy is currently heavily influenced by tomsbiketrip.com

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