Boda Bodas, Matatus, and Pedestrians

Getting around in Nairobi is a constant adventure. It is anything but boring. For the first few days we were overwhelmed by the constant swirl of activity surrounding us as we toured through the city. Traffic laws are less rules and more of (un-followed) suggestions. Cars, pedestrians, boda-bodas (motorcycles), matatus (buses) and even sometimes cows, goats, and pigs all inhabit a single road. Each one weaves in and out around each other, striving to get to their destinations quickly. Dust prevails, as most of the roads are unpaved. The sometimes-uneven road makes the bus bounce up and down and the sounds of car horns dominate the soundscape as each driver struggle to get ahead.

Our journeys generally begin with a walk, either to our destination or to the next matatu stop. We walk along the dirt pathway next to the road, walking past scores of stands selling tons of different items, including fruits and vegetables, roasting meat, clothes and shoes.

Besides walking, our main form of transportation is a matatu. (Uber also exists here, but in the word’s of our dear friend Hank, “that’s mzungu shit”.)  Matatus are buses that are the most common form of travel for most people in Nairobi. They range from seating 15 to 40 people (although the number of people in the matatu almost always significantly outnumbers the number of seats). The prices can range from the equivalent to 0.20 to 0.70 dollars depending on the distance and the time of day. The smaller matatus, the ones we usually take to work and around Eastland, are usually fairly plain besides the crazy driving. However, the bigger matatus are incredibly lively both in décor and ambiance. Each one has a different theme and is decorated accordingly. Every available space inside and outside the bus is covered in pictures depicting the theme. So far we have road in matatus with basketball players and teams, rappers, The Dallas Mavericks, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Tupac themes. In addition to the décor, they constantly blast loud music that usually consists of rap with English and Swahili words intermingled. Some of them even have large screens in the front of the bus that show music videos.

Riding in a matatu fluctuates from driving around like crazy, swerving to avoid pedestrians and fellow road goers, to sitting in a complete standstill in traffic for minutes at a time. When we are moving, every matatu tries to get ahead using any method possible, no matter if it is driving up on the curb or driving on the wrong side of the street. Yesterday, a different matatu even hit the one we were in! (But on the plus side, since the traffic is so slow, we generally don’t get up to a speed where they can be really dangerous).

However, during those times when traffic is at a standstill, our Kenyan friends like Cha Cha, Mokaya, and Jonathan tell us about the history and future of infrastructure in Nairobi. A few years ago, there were very few cars on the road because only the affluent could afford them. However, now that more people own cars, there’s a huge traffic problem in the city. (Although it’s amazing that anyone owns cars here as they can cost anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 US dollars because there are no manufacturers in Kenya and there is a hefty tax on them that virtually doubles the price. But our friends also told us that there are many roads currently being built and that when we visit Kenya again in a few years, that we wouldn’t even recognize the place because there would be so many more roads. What they told me was apparent in the numerous construction sites all around the city.

Yet despite all the craziness of travelling in Nairobi, we’re starting to get the hang of it. We are finally getting in the habit of looking the correct way before crossing the street (they drive on the opposite side of the road here) and today we for the first time we road the matatu to the gym all by ourselves. We even made sure they didn’t over charge us because we’re tourists; we tell them “bao!” which means twenty Kenyan shillings to let them know that we know the going rate for a short ride in the matatu. Every day of traveling through this city is a new adventure, and every day we’re learning how to navigate our way around more and more.

–Sierra Fisher


Chakula – Food

From the second we arrived we were thrown into the experience of African food. Our first meal consisted of pasta with a fish stew and a dish called umboga.

Umboga – is essentially a varied vegetable dish. The base is steamed cabbage but we have had it with green bell peppers, tomatoes and onions mixed in as well. Many of the stews are tomato based and include fish or beef, the two most common meats.

Vegetables can be purchased at a grocery store or more commonly any number of stands along the street. The stands are made of sheet metal and can be seen every five feet in some places but often are no more than 100 feet apart. We purchased a bag of cabbage for 30 Kenyan shillings (close to 30 cents) and avocados (the big ones) are 20KSh.

Other Kenyan staples we have eaten and learned to cook include ugali, chapatti, sukuma, matoke, mandazi, grilled maize, samosas, smoki, chai, modoro, sour milk and nyama choma. Here are some brief descriptions of them and our experiences! 100KSh is essentially $1

Ugali – This is undeniably the most common food in a Kenyan diet. It is made by adding corn meal to boiling water. It can be compared to grits but it much thicker like a dough. Usually  it is served with vegetables or a saucy stew and eaten with one’s hands. It received a lot of hype from Kenyans and we think it’s good too… a few times a week.

Chapatti – Easily the second most common food is like a flatbread. It is originally from India and made with flour, sugar, and water. The other night a woman Diane (cousin of a U-tena employee) taught us how to make Chapati. She began by eye-ing the ingredients and then mixing and folding the dough with her hands. We then rolled the dough flat, cut it into strips, rolled the strips (like a cinnamon roll) and then flattened those into a tortilla shape. We then placed those in a pan with oil and cooked them much like a pancake. I (Carly) personally love chapati; it is warm and doughy and can be eaten with anything (we love having it with avocado). They can be purchased many places along the street as well. 50KSh or less

Sukuma – Kale! It is steamed and eaten with Ugali.

Matoke – Plantain stew. Originally from Uganda is is made with onions tomatoes and garlic. 120KSh

Mandazi – Kenyan Doughnut! Thick and fluffy. 20 KSh

Grilled Maize – This is corn that can be found on every block. The chefs cook it on a grate over hot coals. It is charred and delicious and offered with lime and a mysterious chili salt that will change your life. 20 KSh

SAMOSAS – We love samosas. They are everywhere and they are delicious. They are pocket of dough full of meat and spices… originally from India. 20-50KSh

Smoki – another food that can be found around every corner. It is a small beef sausage. 20 -40KSh

Chai – We were so pleasantly surprised when we found out Kenyans drink chai tea (always with milk) like its water. We have it every morning and some times after work as well.

Modoro – Bean soup. Our third day we went to lunch with some of the U-tena staff at a small slum restaurant (a sheet metal shack about 30 x 15 ft). They served modoro with either chapatis or ugali. It was delicious and cost 280 KSh for the seven of us, about 40KSh per person.

Maziwa Mala – Sour milk… seems scary, tastes delicious. We were nervous at first but with a little sugar sour milk makes a great dessert – much like a plain keifer.

Mutura – goat intestine sausage. This is a Kenyan classic but we haven’t worked up the courage for it yet – we may never. Vigilantly trying not to confuse these sausages with the Smokis.

FINALLY NAMA CHOMA – This is literally burnt meat and its delicious. You can order a Kilo for 500 KSh. Goat and beef are the most common meets. It is served with all the fat and grizzle and dipped in salt.

While we have enjoyed all the food so far we tapped into our bougie side today and are currently sitting at the “Starbucks” of Kenya called Java – eating overpriced food and capitalizing on their amazing wifi.

There is still a mountain of Kenyan cuisine to be discovered from street side to restaurants to shacks. WE ARE SO EXCITED. and so full.

–Carly Paul


Meetings for Her

Hello from Ariel!


Though the 30 plus hours of traveling was filled with a roller coaster of excitement rooted in suspense as well as a number of encounters and conversations with interesting and inspiring people, nothing could match the excitement I felt when I walked out of the luggage pickup area and saw Carly, Cha Cha, and Jonah standing outside the doors waiting! Cha Cha and Jonah are both part of the U-tena team, and some of the most charismatic individuals I’ve ever met. Their light-hearted but caring nature immediately came across as they helped us with our bags and told us jokes, all the while welcoming us to Kenya. (P.S. We now call Cha Cha our “Mommy-Daddy” or “Momma Duckling” because of the way he looks out for us and leads us )

The drive home was beautiful, filled with green landscapes and colorful buildings. After arriving at Cha Cha’s house, in a neighborhood called Umoja Two, we walked to the local Greenspan mall to pick up a few necessities we had forgotten. When we came home, we cooked dinner together as a family of sorts (including Cha Cha’s son and nephew, Mayan and Isaiah), and Cha Cha began to ease us into the local cuisine! Exhausted as could be, we slept very well that night– we even fell asleep with the lights on. But our full nights sleep prepared us well for the exciting day ahead.

We woke up on Wednesday with a full itinerary. But first, we were greeted with warm chai and pancakes made by Cha Cha. We were instantly swept off our feet by how DELICIOUS the chai was. It is brewed with warm milk and sugar, and is a common Kenyan staple.

As for the rest of the day, we decided to divide and conquer, so we split up with separate U-tena executives to attend their respective meetings. Carly and I attended a meeting going on at the U-tena Youth Center led by a representative named Everlyne from the Kenya Medical Research Institute. It was a meeting being led to help educate single mothers about how they can safely avoid HIV/AIDs, STIs, and unplanned pregnancies. Shiko, a Kuza mentor, helped lead the presentation. The speakers were extremely inspiring and skilled– they spoke not only factually, but also had a great air of empowerment in the way they spoke to the women. They spoke of consent and  and the value of one’s self over preserving a relationship with a pushy or disrespectful man. She introduced topics that we’ve never had to face before in the US, like the stigmas attached to birth control, or worrying that a man can’t know that a woman is using contraceptives or HIV-prevention drugs. These concepts of distrust and lack of power were foreign to us, and it was amazing to hear Everylne and Shiko speak about these topics with such strength and certainty.

At the conclusion of the meeting, all the women in attendance were offered 500 shillings (around $5, which can get you pretty far in Kenya) as a sort of incentive for attending/compensation for their time. We were told that this funding was coming from an organization in California, and was an extremely effective tool for keeping the women in high attendance and engaged in the discussions. I was shocked by how receptive the women were to the information and how willing they were to make themselves vulnerable with questions about the material. However, I can understand why, as Everlyne and Shiko handled all these inquiries with poise and grace. All in all, I was very impressed and optimistic about the entire meeting. After it was over, we walked back to the U-tena office to meet Cha Cha, Sierra, and the rest of the squad.



30 hrs

Hi all, Carly writing 🙂

We have all arrived safely in Kenya and it’s safe to say I have never been so thankful to have my feet on flat ground. However, traveling provided us with some great coffee, memories, and friends. We took two different routes both amassing to 30 hours – Sierra and Ariel together from California and Carly from Colorado. Here are some tidbits from my travel.

Colorado –> Washington DC. –> Addis Ababa, Ethiopia –> Nairobi, Kenya

I left on the 10th from Denver International Airport and took, what I would now deem, a short flight to Dulles arriving at 1am. I spent the next ten hours there snuggling my backpack underneath an airport bench, wandering and drinking chai to stay awake. At 11am I boarded my plane to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. As soon as I sat down in my bright green seat my heart started to race with excitement – and possibly adrenaline from the airplane music, which I can only describe as some sort of Ethiopian trap music. I was soon greeted by Aldo an american man with a three foot long dreaded beard with whom I shared my row. During the 13 hour flight I ate 3 meals, filled 6 pages in my journal/sketchbook, watched 3 movies, and paced the aisle 20+ times.

For the first five hours everyone is quiet yet restless, but as the time passes there is a growing feeling of community – as if everyone is thinking “we are all (stuck) in this together”. After two movies people began to chat with those around them and sleep on the shoulders of their loved ones. I saw offers of snacks, towelettes and extra pillows. The baby a row in front of me grabbed my toes and played with Aldo’s beard. The flight attendant washed her arms, put on a fresh coat of lipstick and offered me some lotion when I paced by. The sense of mutual understanding grew throughout the hours and fell over me like a thick warm blanket – or maybe that was the melatonin.

When dinner came the plane fell into a blissful silence with only the crackling of wrappers to be heard. I had not eaten on a plane since I was too young to remember and proceeded to take pictures of all my meals like a true newb.


When I arrived in Ethiopia I had to run – yes actually run – to my Nairobi flight. I was on board just a short 15 minutes later and in an hour and a half had landed in Kenya. I sat next to a young woman from Somalia who was going to school in Sweden. By the end of the flight we were laughing so hard people were staring. She and I then tackled customs together and said our goodbyes. When I left the airport I was greeted by Chacha (Utena’s Deputy Director) and Jonathan (Utena’s Director) and a sign with my name and two hours later we waited in the same place to be reunited with Ariel and Sierra!


–Carly Paul