The winds of change are blowing through Nairobi. I am not talking about the coalition government this time (on the verge of collapse this week it seems – slightly worrying), but in this instance; kitchens!
Many of us have inherited 1920s/30s kitchens in old Nairobi houses which are dark, badly ventilated pokey little places tucked around the back. Formerly a hive of industry where the lady of the house would rarely be spotted darkening the door. Today however, Nairobi housewives are looking for change, downsizing on staff and upping the anti on mod cons.
I met a lady before Christmas who has lived and run her own business in Nairobi for more than ten years and is mother to teenaged children. She recently moved into a city apartment as she felt bogged down by the trappings of a big house, large garden and scores of employees to help her manage it all. She has downsized and streamlined her life and says she is now much happier and in control. Friends we stayed with after Christmas up country had 18 staff in and around their house, no mains power, no freezer, no fridge, no washing machine and numerous man management issues. On one hand it is a great service to provide would be unemployed people with precious jobs (however menial), but on the other hand simplifying matters has definitely become popular recently, especially here in the big smoke.
Newly built, sizeable town house compounds all have ‘first world’ big, family room style kitchens with mod cons included. Friends of mine, whether they have built a house themselves or bought property now have kitchens with central islands, butcher’s blocks, even automatically shutting drawers. The sort of kitchens that are actually conducive to sharing a cup of coffee and a chat.
I am finally at my wits end with my washing machine being a short walk across the garden, with my lack of hot water in the kitchen (the plumbing situation has gone from bad to disastrous), squinting to see what I am stirring in my soup due to lack of natural light, cupboard doors falling off their hinges as I open them – but this is not simply a whinge – I wanted you to know that I have actually taken my first step in doing something about it. I’ve had my new super slim line (read: tiny) dishwasher plumbed in!! It’s only taken 6 months to get around to it. Hooray!
I must admit that there was a certain amount of stress when I realised that it was impossible to buy dishwasher salt or rinse aid in Kenya. There was a lot of telephoning around supermarkets on the day after our xmas visitors arrived from England. I think they thought I was crazy but I was driven by the prospect of multiple public holidays, no help and ten sitting down for every meal. After quite some investigation and hair pulling I discovered that you can use rock salt instead of dishwasher salt and white wine vinegar instead of rinse aid. Phew. Since then the dishwasher has come into its own (even though the plates do smell of vinegar). We all love it; in spite of the fact that it’s tricky shoehorn our plates into the tiny thing. I was worried that with a big machine we would constantly be running out of crockery and cutlery. I'm beginning to think that might have been a mistake.
I did hear of somebody in Africa who used to keep her dishwasher hidden under a blanket for use only at the weekends when her house staff were off duty. Its existence remained as closely guarded secret from her employees. In our household the dishwasher has become a labour saving device for all (provided I can get a regular supply of the powder to go in it) but it hasn’t yet put anyone out of a job yet (though I haven't had the electricity bill yet).
Roll on the 21st century kitchen to go with the shiny dishwasher. I can always dream can't I...