Nairobi’s potent mix of global cultures

Somali music and dance at the Nairobi National Museum. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG
Somali music and dance at the Nairobi National Museum. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG 

If anyone is in doubt of Nairobi’s status as a global city, they needed to be out this past weekend to see the incredibly rich diversity of cultures and nationalities living and thriving in the city.

From morning to late night, dozens of global communities celebrated and shared their cultures around town. By day it was at Nairobi National Museum which hosted the 5th International Cultural Festival featuring music, dance, fashion and local foods from all over the world.

And by night at Hotel Intercontinental, it was the 20th annual gala dinner of the West African Women’s Trust which held a glamourous fund-raiser for blind and visually impaired children attending the Kilimani Integrated School.

Apparently it was sheer coincidence that both events took place the same day, especially as only one country participated in both festivities. That was Nigeria represented  by the Trust’s past president, Paulina Ifeoma Otieno.

Otherwise, the countries that took part in the Museum’s festival were mainly Asian (namely China, Indonesia and Japan) African (Somalia, Sudan, Nigerian and Kenya) and Spanish-speaking (Mexico, Spain and a slew of Latin American states). 

European nations (other than Spain) were not there this year. But no matter since the participating ones created a multi cultural food fest, featuring everything from sushi from Japan, tostadas from Mexico, pepper goat stew from Nigeria and sweets from Indonesia. Kenya’s “cuisine” included Swahili dishes while Somalis also brought traditional foods freely shared from their booth.

Practically every country performed traditional songs and dances, from the Chinese (who were taking part in the festival for the first time) and Indonesians to the Somalis, Mexicans and Kenyans.

The Museum also laid out ancient skulls and skeletons to illustrate why Kenya is the so-called “ cradle of civilization”.

In all, the global showcase at the Museum was impressive. However, when it came to global glamour, the West African Women’s Trust event was incomparable.

From the moment the ladies walked into the InterContinental’s Grand Ballroom, one witnessed a glorious fashion fest.

The men who accompanied their wives were also immaculately attired. But it is simply a fact that West African women have the continental corner on glamourous gowns with matching headpieces and elegant shawls. 

Having spent time working in West Africa, I was well aware the evening would be an event of high fashion. But I had not known that in a somewhat similar style to the museum, the ladies also organised traditional dances from the Trust’s member countries as well as popular traditional foods.

There were also performances of traditional cultural practices, specifically related to pre-wedding ceremonies.

Among the countries represented by the Trust are Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Cape Verdi, Sierra Leone and Mauritania among others.

But as the gala’s guest of honour, the Standard Chartered Bank #ticker:SCBK CEO for Kenya and East Africa Lamin Manjang observed, the Trust is commendable for its focus on service and advancing the cause of Kenyan education.

According to the Trust’s chairperson, Chinelo Ndego, the women have raised funds to build classrooms and a science lab in Nairobi slums.

They’ve given out scholarship to girls enabling them to complete secondary school and university. And currently, they’re fundraising for the Kilimani School that has a special unit serving visually impaired students.

So as glamourous as the members of the West African Women’s Trust may be, they are not just beautiful people. They also take serious interest in serving the Kenyan community.