city slicker Nairobi

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The Independent Culture
Official doors close in the Kenyan capital this weekend, as Nairobi decides how it

wants to celebrate Moi Day

Drinks: The Modern Green Day and Night Bar rather prides itself on not closing for public holidays. It's been open round the clock since 1968, give or take the odd census day. But tepid beers and fetid lowlife encounters are notoriously transient pleasures, and when they lose their allure it might be time to flee for refuge on

the terrace of the Norfolk hotel. They know their Tupperware from their Lord Delaware at the Norfolk, and they serve beers both warm and cold. A pleasant spot from which to watch out for both celebrities and shooting stars.

Parties: On a warm Nairobi night, think villa hedonism. Sequestered behind high fences, and guarded from wananchi (gatecrashers) by askaris (security police), the ex-pat community hides its revelry away in the suburbs of Ngong and Hurlingham. Forget the chilly desperation of Surrey patio gatherings: to make the barbecue thing work, you need a walk-on cast of servants encouraging you towards the boozy, irresponsible half- light of dawn.

Eats: East Africans can swear by very extraordinary foodstuffs - ugali is a maizemeal porridge bake that would challenge even the most dedicated martyr to cultural relativism. Fish and chips is currently very popular in Nairobi and, for an uncomplicated meatfest, try nyama choma (barbecued goat - ordered by the kilo). But there's no doubt that the best meals around are Indian - from South Indian vegetarian to North Indian taka- taka dishes.

Flicks: Nairobi is the movie capital of East Africa. There's a couple of fine drive-ins for ex-pats to catch up on The Usual Suspects, and you'll almost always be able to find an Indian epic or two at your local. If, on the other hand, westerns and remaindered Hollywood love stories can appeal to your sense of humour, then you'd do well to slouch downtown to the Odeon or the Embassy. The films may be scratched, but audience participation is just as it sometimes should be: enthusiastic and cheerfully uncomprehending.

Cafes: Don't make the mistake of trying Kenyan coffee. All the half-decent stuff has been swapped for dollars and shipped away on the night-boat. What about chai? Call it tea if you like, but the trick is to accept it as sui generis, and attempt no comparison with the English cuppa. It's simply a milk and sucrose pick-me-up, a breakfast helpmeet you'll grow to find as reassuring as the letters page of The Nation.

Shopping: Makonde woodcarvings are actually from Tanzania, but they're cheap and your mother need never know. For dad? Why not encourage him to camp it up in the latest White Hunter designer safari gear?

Characters meriting cautious respect: Policemen, muggers and con artists. They're often professionally short of a bob or two, and when you encounter them you need to be able to rely on the traditional civic virtues: prudence, impassive

sunglasses and last-ditch stoicism. Shouting "Mwizi!" ("Thief!") after people you don't like is quite unnecessarily drastic: Nairobi street mobs are fascinatingly akin to European football hooligans, except that rather than scrapping with each other they make rapid, self-righteous mincemeat out of scapegoat petty criminals.

Character most demanding of abject obeisance: His Excellency the President Arap T Moi. You'll know his mugshot from the portrait in every workplace, and recognise his incipience whenever a half-mile motorcycle calvacade swarms into view. Brace your shoulders, stand to attention, and don't be tempted to wolf-whistle.