Dolla Dolla Bills Ya'll!

July 3, 2015

I woke up to Irene’s maid opening my door at 10:00 AM.  I scared the poor thing for still being in the house and she apologized profusely.  She thought everyone had left.  I told her it was no worries and tried to calm her down.  My head was pounding from wine, whiskey, and the R&B music from the night before.  Or… should I say the morning before.  I had entered the condo at 5:30 AM and was working on 4.5 hours of sleep.

 

Irene and the rest of the household had left at 9:00 AM to go to Nairobi’s National Park.  I was gracefully not invited as they said it was not worth it for me to go as I would have to pay a very large foreign fee and was heading to a Safari the following day anyway.  I took it as a polite way to say they just wanted to be with each other for the day.  And that was completely fine. I had other plans up my sleeve:  The Maasai Market.  Which when I told Irene and Cho their lack of enthusiasm once again gave me a hint to their dissatisfaction with Kenya.

 

The Maasai Market is a traveling market where people can buy a variety of items that commemorate the Maasai people and Kenya’s culture.  These items include jewelry, clothes, paintings, bags, chess sets, and more.  It travels to a different location each day where they have a space large enough for all of the vendors.  Saturdays had the largest location and crowd.  Go figure.  It was placed in the heart of downtown.

 

I was told over and over again not to go alone because it is a system of bartering.  Once the store owners hear my voice, they would hike the prices up by about five times.  Once again, my Nomadness travel tribe came to the rescue.  A woman named Cecilia offered for her daughter to go shopping with me.  Cecilia lives in Nairobi and is known throughout Nomadness as a great go-to person for information, help, and lodging.  I learned on this day she was a great go to person for bartering as well.  Cecilia was away on travel related work but her teenage daughter, Daisy, was in town and was willing to help.  We agreed to meet at The Hilton Hotel at 12pm. As my fingers typed “see you then”, my entire body was like, “what are you doing?” I was still exhausted from partying till the sun came up.  But I followed my family’s moto. 

 

“I can sleep when I am dead.”

 

I showered, changed, ate a quick breakfast of fruit, cheese, and nuts, and ran out the door. Fortunately, all the time I spent hanging out with my museum friends made me quite familiar with being downtown.  I also confirmed directions from Irene’s maid before leaving. Helping her understand my accent was quite entertaining.  She spoke English, like the majority of those in Nairobi do, but she could not understand a thing I was saying.  I ended up writing down key words to help hurry along the process.  She then understood what I was asking and directed me to the proper bus.

Out the door I went.

 

At the bus stop, I asked a friendly looking woman which bus I could take to the Hilton and she informed me she was going the same way and would show me. She hailed down the appropriate bus - how she knew which one it was is a wonder to me - and we hopped on.  I informed the woman collecting the money where I wanted to go and she said she would tell me when we arrived.  As we approached the bus terminal, she pointed out where I was to go.  A narrow street located beyond a sea of buses and Nairobians bustling by.  Ok, hold my purse tight!  As I stepped out of the bus, the money collector decided to join me and walked me to the correct street and pointed me in the direction of the hotel.

 

These small bits of kindness leave imprints.

 

I followed the other Nairobians across the busy intersection and finally came upon The Hilton Hotel. Daisy had not arrived as of yet, so I sat in the lobby and patiently waited.  A fortunate thing about being a foreigner is that as soon I spoke, they assumed I was a guest at the hotel.  So there was no issue in my sitting around in the lobby waiting for Daisy. 

 

After about thirty minutes, I had not seen her.  I thought to myself, “This must be the origin of CPT (colored people’s time).” Hence, I had a reason to sit for thirty minutes before calling.  I also did not want to come off pushy to someone who was giving up their Saturday to hang out with me while I shopped.  Daisy answered the phone and said she would be there in fourty minutes.    I told her it was not an issue, I was just glad for the assistance in shopping.  I hung up the phone and also thanked God that her tardiness was not me being abandoned. 

 

I was still exhausted from the night before, so I took a twenty minute nap in the lobby and then walked outside to be sure she could see me.  I started chatting with the security guard who gave me tips on the best things to see in Nairobi and affirmed the way I had planned out my trip.  The only thing he asked was for me to come again and to stay longer.  I told him that was something I would be doing for sure.

 

A young smiling face began to walk my way.  She definitely had a Western feel to her and she was heading to the Hilton.  It had to be Daisy.

 

She apologized profusely for her tardiness and explained that her phone was dying. Hence the difficulty in reaching me earlier.  I assured her it was absolutely fine.  Apologies accepted with hugs and smiles.

 

Daisy is the girlfriend I want for my brother.  The girl is suuuuuper cute.  She has beautiful skin and hair.  Her style is fantastic.  Her organization skills are on point.

 

I asked her if she could show me where to exchange money.  She looked up about ten different currency exchanges and banks, prior to us meeting, to find the best rate for me near the market.  Our humors and energies were similar.  She was a ray of sunshine and possessed a beautiful sense of loving life and living each moment to the fullest. 

 

I was also once again struck by her accent.  Her English speaking accent and her demeanor was very Western.  She informed me that she was Kenyan but had lived in New Zealand, hence how she learned English and had this accent.  Daisy was also a fellow artist.  She was putting together a concert featuring herself.  She also enjoys photography, fashion, and wants to be a pilot one day.  Ladies and Gentleman if I don’t find a way to marry her to my brother! Lawd this little girl is perfection.  She is 19years old and holds herself like a grown woman.  I have a girl crush to the fullest.

 

We chatted away as we headed to our first stop, the currency exchange.  Then we chatted on our way to the Maasai Market.  Daisy prepped me by stating that I would be hounded and to not speak.  If I wanted something, I could just point to it.  If I needed to speak, it was best for me to whisper to her. I agreed to all the terms and we entered the market.

 

I was met with a sea of colors amongst beautiful dark skinned people ready to make a dollar.  It was my first time seeing people of the Maasai tribe.  They were dressed in their traditional clothing.  Wrapped in red blankets and held long staffs.  Their bodies were lean and lengthy.  Their eyes held something different and deep.  They were observers and quite still.  The Maasai vendors only made up a portion of the people there.  The other three quarters of the vendors were Kenyans dressed in regular clothing selling some Maasai materials or items that would be intriguing to foreigners.  Initially a man at the entrance attempted to follow us and take us to specific sellers.  We ignored him and eventually he got the picture to go away. 

 

 

 

The first few places I followed Daisy’s directions; point, whisper, and then walk away.  It was killing me to not speak so I decided… well… why don’t I just speak Spanish instead?

 

Let the fun begin.

 

When it comes down to it, bartering is a game.  Everyone wants to win.  The seller wins by you buying their item at the elevated price.  On the other side, the buyer wants a bargain.  They want to feel as if they did not get cheated. They want the best price offered in the area.  Whoever is able to navigate this maze of numbers and products the best wins.  I can definitely say I turned into a winner that day.  Speaking Spanish threw everyone off.  I did not look like a Spaniard or a Latina by any means, yet I pretended to not understand English fully nor Swahili.  So what were they to do? They had to give me the price I quoted. I discovered how this worked when I entered a woman’s area who was selling African skirts for the price of 2400ksh.  This is about $27. I knew this was not right. 

 

Tiffany: No. Yo quiero esto por 700ksh (I want this for 700ksh)

Seller: No that is way too low.  (She shook her finger at me and shook her head no)

Tiffany:  “Ciao.” ( I began to walk away.)

Seller:  “Ok, ok 2100.”  (I continued to walk.)

Seller: “Ok, ok, 1500.” (I still walked.)

Seller: (Grabs my arm) “700ksh, Ill give it to you for 700ksh.” ( I stopped walking)

Tiffany: “Gracias.”

 

700ksh is the equivalent of $7US. I whispered to Daisy that we would leave and come back. I told Daisy to tell the woman to keep the skirt for me. I would be back.

 

Ladies and gentleman that is how you barter.

 

 

I continued my Spanish trickery to get 5 bracelets for 45ksh ($5US), earrings for 20ksh ($2), two paintings for 2000ksh($20), and a woven map for 700ksh($7US).  I think I made out pretty good.  If I had been smart, and had more funds and space in my bag I would have bought two of everything.  I have come to appreciate and prefer to purchase items for birthdays, Christmas, and more overseas instead of at major chains.  The items are unique, specific and the money is funneled to countries who have less than me.

 

Daisy was absolutely impressed with my bartering skills.  She said I should shop with her more often!  We decided to cool off from our shopping by stopping at Java House (a local coffee shop) and enjoying milkshakes.  Talk about divine.  We continue to learn about each other and solidify our friendship.  I can not wait till she visits me and I can share the same hospitality she gave me that day.  After the milkshakes I needed to buy a bus ticket for my trip the following day to the coast of Kenya, in Mombasa.  After several failed attempts of buying online and attempting to transfer money, we decided to walk to the bus terminal.

 

This area of town is very different than the Hilton, the museums, and Nairobi’s tall buildings.  It is a little sketchy.  We held our purses tight and sifted through the throngs of people yelling for us to get in their bus or matatu.  Daisy was impressed with my walking ability just as my museum friends were.  I told her I am Trinidadian.  This is like being home.  Walk with a purpose.

 

We finally made it to the bus terminal.  We retrieved my first class ticket for the Oxygen bus and headed back to the city center. 

 

Daisy walked me to a matatu that would take me back to the Westlands.  We shared hugs, pictures, and loving goodbyes.  I look forward to meeting Daisy again in the future.

 

Now, onto my last night in Nairobi, Kenya…

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© 2019 by Tiffany Yvonne Cox