Two days before joining an overland safari tour, I arrived in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. I wasn’t sure of what to expect, certainly not for a city often times referred to as Nairobbery. The people in my life, various blog posts, and travel sites warned tourists like me about crime in and around Nairobi. But the moment I landed and met Wilson my Airbnb host’s taxi driver, those anxious feelings subsided. “You are welcome” was the first thing he said, and those words settled in my heart. It gave me a sense of not only security but acceptance, and those feelings would last throughout my time traveling in Kenya.
The next day Wilson showed me the sights of Nairobi, and even took me to one of his favorite restaurants in the city. He ordered an array of Kenyan dishes because in his words “You need to taste almost everything”. We got plates of Mukimo (mash potatoes and vegetables), Kunde (greens) Kachumbari (tomato & onion salad) and a tasty chicken dish. During our meal Wilson shared stories about his life, ambitions, and the great love he has for his two children. I in return shared stories about my family and the different passions I recently started to pursue, traveling being one. In the end , this meal wasn’t just a meal but an opportunity. A chance for me to get out of my comfort zone and try something new and in return learned three unanticipated lessons.
1. Food is a conversation starter
There is an unfamiliar but pleasant smell in the air, the nervousness grows as you see the waiter coming to your table with a plate of food. Next thing you know you are taking your first bite. How can food be a conversation starter you ask ? I don’t know about you but what excites me the most about traveling is trying new foods. It’s even better when you can share it with someone who knows how it’s made and what it’s made of. Food is just one part of any culture, but you can use it as a way to start a conversation. This is when learning begins, connections start to be made, while doing it over an enjoyable meal.
2. Eating with your hands can make food taste better
As soon as the waiter placed Wilson’s food in front of him. He took his fingers and picked up some of the Kundu. “Eating with your hands makes food taste better” he said. In western society eating with your hands isn’t common “use your fork” my mom would yell at me during dinner time. But in Kenya and many other countries eating with your hands is a normal practice. So I looked at my plate, picked up some Kundu with my fingers, and ate it. It was a unique but fun way of dining so you should try it one day. So does eating with your hands make food taste better ? The verdict is still out on that one.
3. Spending time with locals is the best part of travel
24 hours before meeting Wilson , I would have never imagined that I would know so much about him and his story. He was willing to share who he was which encouraged me to open up as well. Kenya has a lot to offer you can see the incredible work of Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, to game drives in Masai Mara and Lake Navisha. But what really stood out was the kindness of a fellow Kenyan man.
The first goal I made when I decided to travel throughout Africa was to connect with people. Seeing the sights of a country is exciting and new but building relationships is just as important. I am only two months into this journey and already meet not only locals but people from so many corners of the world. So I challenge you to see the things you could learn after sharing a meal with a Kenyan.
My name is Ayodele Campbell, I am 24 years old from New York City. This year I decided to make traveling a priority after being in school for several years. Eleven short weeks ago, I quit my job to travel solo through Africa for 6 months and it’s been a crazy adventure. Africa has always been top of my list of places to visit and have already explored 6 countries thus far. My goal is to find ways to travel better , and to connect with organizations abroad who are doing important work in their communities.