Monday, November 16

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Cafe Guava

There is a restaurant in Nakuru named Cafe Guava. In a city where a good half of the restaurants would be considered dives even by Baudette standards, Cafe Guava is something special in that would not be out of place in America. The dominant colors of the interior are warm earth tones. There is original framed art on the walls instead of sun-bleached Coke ads, and padded leather easy chairs instead of those of the plastic lawn variety. In one of those ironic little twists of capitalism, while the coffee-addled Pacific Northwest is all over those blends and roasts from our little part of East Africa, Cafe Guava is the only place I know in Nakuru that serves the entire line of coffee- and espresso-based drinks. For the tourists desperate for anything cool in equatorial Africa, at least fifteen different fruit smoothies are on the menu. Cafe Guava even has its own logo and branded hats and polo shirts.

I hear the food is good. When a sponsor came to visit last month, he went every Wednesday for the special, chicken stir-fry with rice. Demetra appreciates the french fries because they are accompanied by real Heinz ketchup rather than the semi-transparent tomato sauce the other places offer. I wouldn't know. I just order the drinks and rare pastry because the prices are as American as the rest of Cafe Guava.

I abhor the place. I feel anxious just being there. It's a tourist haven. At any given moment on any given day, you can reliably count more white heads than black ones in there, including the entirely local staff. Fittingly, Cafe Guava is on the intersection of Watalii Street, Kiswahili for tourist/visitor/stranger according to Teach Yourself Swahili. It's silly of me to feel this way. After all, in most senses, I am just a visitor. I certainly don't belong here and can't even pretend to do so until I achieve some fluency in Kiswahili, though it's doubtful I'd feel any measure of acceptance even then, but I am something more than some tourist on a one-week tour of the highlights of Kenya.

Yet when I am there, I am just one of them. The place is designed solely for the tourists. The prices are suitably out of reach of the bulk of Nakuru's population, and Kenyan dishes are conspicuously missing from the menu. Ugali and nyama choma are replaced by wraps and pizza. It's a little piece of the West just for us, where we can forget for a little while that we actually aren't in Kenya. It feels false, like a game to see if it can fool the visitors and keep them from knowing anything about Nakuru. They win if the tourists get home and someone asks about Nakuru and they reply, “Well, it had a nice coffee place.”

And still I visit regularly once a week because it’s the only place I know in all of Nakuru with free wireless Internet. Funny that.


nakuru resident said...

aha. thanks for the wireless internet tip. I might drop by for an expensive coffee. Do they have mandazis to go down with that?

Chris said...

Mandazi is also on that list of conspicuously missing African dishes, but I can get my fill of the fresh stuff in Githima.

Anonymous said...

Am a regular visitor there because of the free internet and that their coffee is unlike anything i have tasted in Kenya, and at 60 shillings, its a bargain.
they are now building a bar at the back.