Talk about culture shock. Motorcycle taxis weaving through traffic, getting lost in a slum, and seeing a Black Mamba are just a few of the things Paul and Sally from JusTea have experienced in their first weeks in Kenya. As Sally put it, there’s no gradual re-entry into Kenyan culture and their first day there is proof of that.
“We met with the people we hope will make our packaging here in Nairobi to arrange some samples,” said Sally. “We took a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) to get there. The boda drivers assured us they knew where to go but we were suspicious because it’s really far and their quote didn’t reflect that. So we set off to the other end of Nairobi, which has maybe four main highways that are always clogged. The advantage of a boda is that they weave through the traffic, into oncoming lanes, in between the lanes and on the “sidewalk”. It’s terrifying but efficient.”
Of course they got lost and had to stop halfway to renegotiate the price. Then Paul and Sally got lost a second time and ended up backtracking through a slum with streets paved in trash, laundry blocking out the sky and a million people everywhere. They saw a guy riding a camel and a guy wearing a Vancouver Canucks jersey while they were parting seas of people driving the wrong way and nearly missing pedestrians.
“There was no gradual re-entry, Nairobi is very intense in every way.”
“By some miracle we remembered where to go and after about 45 minutes, we finally made it there,” said Sally. “We had about an hour-long meeting and then had to find our way back. That was our first day in Kenya. There was no gradual gentle re-entry, Nairobi is just intense in every way. We got on a bus that was plastered inside with pictures of Rick Ross and Lil Wayne. Aggressive hip hop was blasting with tons of swearing and harsh language and that is not uncommon. People here are very Christian and conservative. There are a lot of little dichotomies like that here.”
Since that incredible first day, Paul and Sally said things have been going much smoother. The couple has been busy attending meetings, Kenya-style, for fabric, spoons, sea shipments and herbal teas.
They managed to find the store they like to buy their fabric from, the beautiful fabric we see on JusTea’s tins. Sally described it as a small corridor with vendors on platforms on either side with fabric stacked up to the ceiling. There was about 10 women working there thrusting bolts of fabric into Sally’s hands until they were piled over her head.
The next thing on Paul andSally’s list of things to do was find their spoon supplier. They met with Penina, the woman who supplies them with the beautifully handcrafted tools. Their meeting consisted of Penina trying to understand who Paul and Sally were, what they wanted and how they got her number. Once everything was understood and they haggled the price, a little small talk ensued.
“Paul confessed he had programmed her into his phone as “Penina-spoons” and she laughed because she had him in her phone as “Mzungu-spoons”,” said Sally. “Again, mzungu means “foreigner” or “white person”. It’s hard to tell sometimes whether it’s meant to be endearing, insulting or neutral. I guess it depends on the situation.”
From there, Paul and Sally have had a few important meetings regarding procuring herbal teas. One of the places they visited was Meru Herbs and Sally said they are doing something similar to what JusTea is aspiring to do.
“They work with several hundred small scale farmers, buying herbs, chilies and fruit from them,” said Sally. “They employ local people and work with women’s organizations in the area. The founder is an Italian man named Andrew and many of his Kenyan colleagues and employees have been at Meru for over 20 years.”
The first night they were at Meru Herbs, the night watchmen found and killed a two-foot long Black Mamba…just another day in Kenya.
Finally, about a week ago, Paul and Sally met with another tea producer and they gleaned a lot of info that will help JusTea on their mission to make consistent great tasting hand crafted tea. In the coming weeks, Paul will be working with Boaz, one of the tea farmers they work closely with, to devise a strategy. Then Buddha, their tea processing expert, will join them and contribute his knowledge to help JusTea on their journey.