Monthly Archives: May 2015

Dinner in the dark

What would you do if you lost your sight from one day to the next? What would you do if you lost your sight after an accident, or because of untreated type I diabetes? Or if you lost it gradually over a period of a few years?

These were some of the stories of the guys and girls we met on a Saturday night. Not very happy stories to start with, but you should have seen their smiles as the evening went on! After losing their sight, through various reasons, they all lost their independence. They also lost jobs (there is no social security in Kenya), some even lost partners. But on this particular Saturday night they were the experts once again in what they were doing, they have a job again, they have some of their independence back, their dignity and they were smiling.

It was Nairobi’s first night of ‘Dinner in the Dark’ or ‘Gizani’ which means ‘in the dark’ in Swahili and we went their with Kate and Neil. We weren’t really sure what to expect, but it sounded very interesting. We bought tickets and on the opening night we found ourselves surrounded by cameramen and photographers and a bunch of other people without phones and watches. The phones and watches had to be handed in at the door as no source of light is allowed into the dining room.

When it was time for dinner we were all lead into the room by our (blind!) waiters, we were going to be served by Evans and Ignatius. We were the first table to be lead into the room, very exciting. The 3 vegetarians on our table were placed at the front of the row (Kate, Jude and William) followed by the other 6 people at our table.

Placing our left hand on top of the left shoulder of the person in front, we were lead into the room through a series of 5 curtains. Ignatius lead us in and Evans closed the line behind Jon. The curtains made sure no light entered the room and soon we were walking in complete darkness having to trust our competent waiters completely for guidance and direction! There was no waiting for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, there was simply no light whatsoever…

Once seated at our table we were told what was on it: a napkin, cutlery, a water glass and a wine glass in front of each person plus a basket of bread (round was brown, flat was white) and some water jugs.

our dinner and lovely table...

the restaurant, our dinner and lovely table…

And then dinner was served. We weren’t told what the dishes were, all we knew is that the vegetarians had something vegetarian and the rest didn’t… It was a delicious 3-course meal with accompanying wines served expertly by our waiters. We have no idea how they did it, but they always managed to find you, serve and remove plates, bring you drinks, ask if anything was missing, if the food was good, if we were enjoying ourselves. They were extremely attentive and somehow were always on hand when needed.

menu for vegetarians - Kate, Neil and Jon in the background

menu for vegetarians – Kate, Neil and Jon in the background

menu for non-vegetarians, you didn't know the menu before hand so you could guess what you were getting served...

menu for non-vegetarians, you didn’t know the menu before hand so you could guess what you were getting served…

Eating with knife and fork can be a bit of a challenge when you cannot see your food (or your plate or your cutlery….), so fingers were regularly used to assist in the eating, but especially in the exploring phase. Just by feeling a shape we could guess some of the things on our plate, but a lot of it was left to our taste buds for final confirmation. They were working overtime that night and were in for a treat!

Conversation can be interesting too, particularly when you don’t know the people at your table well. Without the visual cues, you can’t tell when it is appropriate to speak, if someone is agreeing with your views or even whether someone is even remotely interested in what you are talking about. It takes some getting used to.

Spoiler alert…! If you want to go to Gizani and want to be surprised by everything, don’t read the next 2 paragraphs…!

Somehow we managed not to knock over any glasses, get the food into our mouths and have some conversations with our neighbours. And when we were just enjoying the final spoonfuls of our delicious dessert, our waiters all of a sudden broke out into song! They were all standing near the tables they served and we enjoyed a few beautiful and uplifting songs sung in a capella with different voices coming from all around us.

a local singer provides entertainment for the night

a local singer provides entertainment for the night

some of the waiters singing after the dinner was finished

some of the waiters joining in after dinner was finished

The food and the songs were both an amazing experience. It seems true what they say that when you can’t see anything your other senses are heightened, perhaps making the food taste even better and the songs sound even more beautiful…

These ‘eat in the dark’ restaurants exist in a lot of places all over the world. We have heard they are in London (a favourite of Prince William and Kate), Paris, Stockholm and even in Sydney. So if you find yourself in one of these cities and fancy a different dining experience for a change we can highly recommend it. Let us know what you thought of it and if it was similar or different to the one in Nairobi!

Gizani will be on every Saturday night at the Tribe Hotel, check it out if you are in Nairobi!

interestingly to get to this dinner in the dark you have to walk across about a dozen stepping stones in water - can't be fun doing that as a blind person?!

interestingly, to get to this dinner in the dark you have to walk across about a dozen stepping stones in water – can’t be fun doing that as a blind person?!

Update 19 June 2015 – Dinner in the Dark in Nairobi is doing well and now available at 4 restaurants and they are looking into drinks in the dark… there will also be one night organised in Mombasa where they will have a one-off dinner in the dark option. Keep spreading the love!

Tanzania and Zanzibar

Poor Jon needs to go to Tanzania for work every 2 months, and after a few trips on his own we decided to go together this time and add on a weekend trip to Zanzibar. He normally only spends Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday’s there, but this time for some reason we already left on Monday morning, so we had a full week in Tanzania.

Travelling in Africa is typically not quite as smooth as Europe or Australia. You have to leave lots of extra time in case of traffic getting to the airport. The airports themselves must have hired consultants to develop such inefficient check-in processes and they have the most sensitive metal detectors in the world. That said, they have not lost our luggage (yet) and we had stunning views of Mt Kilimanjaro on our way down, which kind of compensated.

Mt Kilimanjaro in the foreground, Mt Meru in the background - stunning views from our flight over to Dar

Mt Kilimanjaro in the foreground, Mt Meru in the background – stunning views from our flight over to Dar

Jon’s office is in Dar es Salaam on the coast (Dar is not the capital, which is Dodoma, in the centre of the country), in the part of Dar known as ‘The Peninsula’. This is very much the expat area, containing most of the embassies, NGOs, big houses and the yacht club. Compared to the city it’s pretty free of traffic, but as soon as you want to leave the peninsula you hit the traffic jams so most people stay on the peninsula.

We enjoyed going for runs straight out of the hotel in the mornings, swims in the pool and fresh seafood dinners every night. But despite the slightly increased sense of freedom because of the option to run straight out the door, we quickly realised we prefer Nairobi (a lot more) which feels more cosmopolitan, has a better climate, no malaria and lots more things to do. That said, it was a very nice change for a week.

enjoying the pool at the hotel

enjoying the pool at the hotel

On Friday afternoon one of the company drivers took us to the ferry terminal in town and in the pouring rain we boarded the VIP top section of the ultra-modern catamaran to Zanzibar  (we’re certainly living it up here!). The VIP decision was a good choice as it turned out most of the other seats were in the open. Probably quite nice on a sunny day, not so much in the rain…

Only a few hours later we arrived and were surprised to get a second entry stamp without having left the country. We were met by a guy with a tiny Suzuki Vitara that we had rented for the weekend to give us some freedom on the island. The tiny car came with some interesting instructions: when you park it somewhere and leave it, can you please remove the mechanisms in the door for the electric windows and take them with you….

And where you are normally given a full tank of petrol when you pick up a rental, this one was empty. And when we say empty, we mean empty. There was not a single drop left in it so before we could even head out to the petrol station the guy had to send a mate over with a petrol can to add a couple of litres so we could start the car!

filling her up as she was given to us with not a drop of petrol in the tank!

filling her up as she was given to us with not a drop of petrol in the tank!

We spent a few very pleasant hours in Stonetown, exploring the narrow and windy roads, trying to recognise places from our previous visits and finding a lovely place for yet another fresh seafood dinner before heading straight to the night markets for a crepe with banana and nutella…. yummm!

arrival at Stonetown, Zanzibar

arrival at Stonetown, Zanzibar

Stonetown

Stonetown

nutella and banana pancake in Stonetown, check out the size of the banana!

nutella and banana pancake in Stonetown, check out the size of the bananas from neighbouring Pemba island!

Then it was time to hit the road as our hotel was on the other (eastern) side of the island. And it just started to rain again as we headed out of town. Trying to find the right road in the dark and in the rain with non-cleaning windscreen wipers was a bit of a challenge. But after stopping to clean the windscreen wipers with a bit of newspaper it got a lot better.

The Rock, a little restaurant perfect for lunch

The Rock, a little restaurant perfect for lunch

We wouldn’t recommend visiting Zanzibar in the wet season if you’re coming specifically for a beach holiday (as some people had). It rains a lot. Whilst we were determined to make the most of our short break, clearly it had got the better of some of the holiday makers staying at our hotel. The impressive acrobatic display did at least cheer a few of them up. And whilst you are there, you must visit ‘The Rock’. It is perched just offshore so you can walk to it at low tide, but need a boat taxi when returning at high-tide after a lovely lunch.

these guys were seriously impressive!

these guys were seriously impressive!

We had booked a couple of dives for the next day, and despite the threat of rain we weren’t going to back out (like some people did). The dives were very enjoyable, but the biggest surprise came when we exited the water after the second dive. The crew had spotted dolphins that had just cruised past.  We were hurried back into the boat and were told to get ready as they moved the boat right into the path of the playful dolphins. Just before they reached us, we jumped in and had a fantastic time swimming and playing with the dolphins. Amazing!

going diving!!

going diving!!

local fishermen

local fishermen

getting ready to go in

our dive boat on Zanzibar, getting ready to go in

the dolphins enjoying the surf

the dolphins enjoying the surf

unexpectedly swimming with dolphins, that's Jude in the foreground

unexpectedly swimming with dolphins, that’s Jude in the foreground

playful dolphins

playful dolphins

Zanzibar only has one national park and we had to check out the endemic red colobus monkeys that hang out there. They are quite used to humans around them so they continue eating and relaxing even when you get close. They look very cute and we watched them for at least an hour before heading towards the boardwalk through the mangrove forest that is part of the national park. On our way there we were incredibly lucky as 2 elephant shrews crossed the path in front of us!!

our little car on Zanzibar

our little car on Zanzibar at the entrance to the Jozani Chwaka Bay NP

you can clearly see the red back ad tail of the red monkeys

you can clearly see the red back and tail of the red monkeys

a rather damp red monkey

a rather damp red monkey

Elephant shrews are diurnal, but very rarely seen as they are extremely shy. There are many different species and they live almost all over Africa, getting their names from their long noses which they use to find insects, spiders, centipedes and earthworms. They also have very long thin legs for the size of their body and hop around like rabbits. We didn’t get a picture of the 2 we saw, but here’s a picture of some black and rufous elephant shrews so you have an idea what we saw.

elephant shrews (not our photo)

elephant shrews (not our photo)

A very early start on Monday morning to catch the early flight back home meant Jon was back on time to go straight to the office after a quick shower, shave and breakfast as the direct flight from Zanzibar to Nairobi is only just over an hour.