Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The morning I arrived in Cairo, I was already making my round at the duty free shop at the airport using my passport to buy 4 bottles of alcohol as a favour for my friend, Peter and his mates. Then I was randomly hanging out with them on a chilly rooftop in the city’s wealthiest neighbourhood until dawn, listening to reggae tunes, in between humming to Fly Me To The Moon, and weaving in and out of Dreamland, my eyes wide open.


Dawn in Cairo

The sun is up at 4.30 in the morning in Cairo.


By the time Hassan finally arrived to pick us up, I hadn’t slept for 24 hours.


Just coming out of Nairobi’s winter, perhaps I wasn’t quite ready for Cairo’s searing heat, even if I lived in Malaysia my whole life.


I totally wasn’t ready for the Egyptian diet.


In Kenya, it’s all about the meat (accompanied by ugali, chapati, mukimo or githeri). In Egypt, rule No. 1: Dinner is ‘breakfast’ – ‘Breakfast’, at 7 p.m. (because that’s when you’re just waking up), consists of aish (bread), ful (fava bean paste) – nicknamed ‘cement’ for good reasons, cheese dip and falafel. I didn’t dare ask what would await us for dinner. Then I was told that aish and ful are also common for dinner, but they’re just part of a bigger meal. Right.


Other than that, the weekend has been quite a blur, I was in bed most of it, trying to recover from the long journey and adjusting myself to the heartbeat of Cairo city; at all times being muffled by the sounds of the honking and shouting on the streets. Sitting on the balcony watching Cairo alive amidst a dull dusty tangerine-tinged of a backdrop, my heart felt heavy as I realized I was nearing the end of my journey, and yet, I was looking forward to being home again. Days when I don’t have to worry about comparing flight costs, cramped buses, lugging my gear around, constant new names I try so hard to remember, random diets, navigating ways in new locations and making sure my bag is never missing the toilet paper.


The simple fact is, my African days are numbered.


So if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with Mr. Sphinx.


Hassan's kitchen. Hassan put us up the first few days we were in Cairo.

Looking out the kitchen window.

Friday, July 8, 2011


We just had to experience the much hyped 15-hour train ride to Mombasa – the dreamy images right out of the movie Out Of Africa lingering in my head.


I became more excited when we finally checked in on a Monday evening. The dark, old musky station packed with commuters eagerly returning home from a whole day’s work. They precariously perched themselves on platform edges, sat on the tracks, oblivious to any oncoming danger – but little surprises me nowadays. It’s part of everyday life.


Close to 7 p.m., after a bit of anticipation, the train slowly rolled in. We didn’t walk far to find our cabin - 1215E. Upon inspection, my dreams of being welcomed by silky soft linen and polished china displayed exquisitely on pristine countertops were shattered. Well, perhaps I didn’t actually expect THAT much, but I did at least expect the lights to be working! We had nothing but one yellow light flickering hard to illuminate our little space. Maintenance came over to assure us that the lights would come on properly when the train started moving – but 2 hours later, that one flickering bulb was our only source of light. Neither of us had any plans of staying up so we brushed if off. That’s when we discovered the toilet. Let me just say, I refused to fill up on fluid that night, and when I couldn’t hold it in, I opted for the squat – a brave effort on my part. Remember, the train was MOVING. But not everything was dim (pun intended). The bunk beds were solid for a good night sleep and the food was palatable (Oh, we had plastic plates and cups that mimicked china by the way). We made friends with newlyweds Haiko and Melanie from Germany.  


Night train 1st class cabin

The train ride from Nairobi to Mombasa. Rizwan removing the bed linen from the military inspired bag they gave us. Turned out there were people coming to the cabins to sort that out for us. We were too ambitious!

At 7 a.m. the next morning, we rose to the loud ringing of a handbell - an early breakfast call. It took the attendant a few rounds before everybody actually decided to make a bee-line for the cafeteria (and make him stop the racket). Half an hour later we tucked into a hearty full English breakfast.


We arrived in Mombasa at quarter to 10.


For the next week, we had an amazing time in Mombasa’s northern coast, staying with Adam and Lynne Tuller, in a very nice flat by the creek. They’re simply the sweetest couple. When we were home in the evening Lynne and I would each have a glass of white wine while the boys enjoyed their rum and coke, and we'd sit on the balcony, chatting away. Every day as the sun came up and again as night fell, without fail, we'd listen to the nuns at the convent next door sing soft choral hymns to mark the beginning and the end of the day.


Tuller home

Home of the Tullers in Mtwapa in the northern coast of Mombasa with the creek in the background. This balcony is where we spent many evenings.



Lynne and Adam Tuller, our beautiful hosts in Mombasa.



Adam and Rizwan working on a reforestation project at home.  



A Maasai warrior singing while the dhow sails home in the creek. It was magical.


We also had a chance to go for a short trip to the southern coast of Mombasa where we all stayed with the Popes – in a stunningly majestic villa by the beach. Louis and his wife Chriss have opened their homes to many others.


    South coast Mombasa

The beach where the Popes live. The dogs love the water.

And that was it. Our week in Mombasa ended just like that. It’s also been a week now since we flew back to Nairobi; again, time went by in a blink. Rizwan has been working hard in a workshop in Lenana House. While in Kenya, Rizwan has developed a liking for 'nyama choma.' Local grilled meat. It could be game, goat or beef. The meat is cut into small pieces or on the bone and normally served with fresh chilli and salt with a selection of kachumbari, ugali (mashed maize), mukimo (version of ugali but with potatoes, beans and greens), chapati and a few types of local vegetables. The meat can be really sweet and tender but it can fill you up until the next day! Another favourite is the samosa - also with meat filling. As we were sitting at another nyama choma joint the other day, to my utmost delight I discovered that they were showing a Filipino TV soap. Out here in Nairobi!

Lenana House

Rizwan at an outdoor workshop in Lenana House in Milimani.


As for me, I think I found my favourite Kenyan snack.




Mombasa is far from sight right now, where wine nights were aplenty, and sadly so is Cambridge, but tonight, we’ll drink to our dear Chotu, on his birthday. Happy birthday, with love.


A nyama choma toast for Chotu

A Nyama Choma toast for Chotu

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Art Caffe

Art Caffe

(image taken from trcwest.com)


Art Caffe, Westgate Mall, Westlands, Nairobi. Listening to Secret Garden, it dawned on me: -


I could be anywhere right now.


Anywhere around the world.


This would’ve easily been Kuala Lumpur. Twirls of pasta on oversized clean white plates, the lingering smell of fresh pastries from the oven, the ubiquitous timber flooring and yellow lights accentuating the rather lazy atmosphere. As the crowd grows, the music drowns.


Yesterday afternoon, Rizwan and I took a walk in the small, quaint garden in the Lenana compound, a carpet of bougainvilleas cushioning our tired soles, sunlight taking a peep through the treetops.


“You’d never imagine Nairobi to be like this.” I said.


As I turned around, what I had was the memory of old colonial houses on the cliffs of Tanjong Lobang in Miri, where we used to live, when Dad was serving in the government.


Always when you set foot on foreign soil, it’s what’s deemed as foreign that you seek. But a lot of times, you find a strong association with things you already know all along. The comfort of familiarity.


Because more often than not, they are the same.


More often than not, We are the same.


Lenana House 



You've gone a million miles
How far'd you get
To that place where you can't remember
And you can't forget

- Bruce Springsteen

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