Maybe you know him. I hope you know him. He’s from such excellent shows like United Shades of America. He’s W. Kamau Bell: host, writer, and comedian. I bumped into him in the CNN steam room recently, fondling his Emmy, and I asked him, “Kamau, if you could go anywhere on earth for a mashup episode of my show and yours, where would that be?”
He said, “Kenya.”
I will admit to a weird, frankly unlovely sense of been here, done that. It’s not a good look for me, I know, but there’s a mischievous curiosity tucked away in some poisonous part of my brain that’s dying to see how Kamau handles the heat, the spice, the crowds, the overwhelming rush of a whole new world, because that’s what [Kenya] is the first time. This ain’t Berkeley.
S*** runs deep here—meaning, best scientists can tell, it all started for us in this neighborhood. Tribes of hunter-gatherers, Arab and Persian traders, the Omani all left their mark. But the British Empire’s hold from 1895 to 1964 is perhaps most deeply felt. The British system of education, governance, justice—along with, to a certain extent, its values—were imposed on a native people and laid, for better and worse, much of the foundation for modern Kenya.
Things are, by most accounts, going well. There is a growing middle class, a highly rated educational system, and an enthusiastic and multilingual professional sector—which is to say, this is decidedly not a s***hole. It’s dynamic, it’s changing, and it’s incredible.
Kenya: by Kenyans, for Kenyans.
This note is excerpted from Bourdain’s narration of the episode.
Highlights from Kenya on Explore Parts Unknown:
- How to spend a perfect day in Nairobi
- An interview with W. Kamau Bell
- A day in the life of a Kenyan matatu conductor
- A profile of Kibera’s fashion ambassador
- A guide to Nairobi slang