Finding peace in the Amani garden cafe

Sunday December 25 2016

The Amani Garden Cafe in Westlands, Nairobi. PHOTO | JOHN FOX

The Amani Garden Cafe in Westlands, Nairobi. PHOTO | JOHN FOX 

By JOHN FOX
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It was Jamhuri Day and the family unanimously voted for a celebration lunch – which would be the last one in 2016 since, for once, we were going our different ways for Christmas. As for the place, the vegetarian and fellow-travelling members, outvoted me – they chose the Amani Garden Café in Westlands.

We sat at a table in the garden – in fact, the only restaurant tables at the Amani Café are in the garden. We made sure it was one with a wide enough umbrella because, although the sun was out when we arrived, it was a blustery day – and some dark clouds threatened.

When the waitress arrived and greeted us, I came out with my usual opening gambit: “What is your house wine by the glass?’ –knowing that I would be the only one taking wine.

“I’m sorry, Sir,’ the waitress said. “We don’t serve alcohol at all.”

“You knew it!’ I challenged my family. “You knew it and didn’t tell me!” There was no apology or sympathy – only laughter.

MARGINALISED WOMAN

Gabie had seen the hot toddy on offer – a long drink with ginger, lemon and honey. She ordered it, and I went for it too. Perhaps I was also thinking ahead with relish to the toddies I would soon be enjoying in the cold of Christmas time in England. There, it is a blend of whiskey, rum, or brandy, in hot water, and laced with honey, cloves, and a slice of lemon. As I write this, I have a fantasy of drinking it with friends I haven’t seen for years – standing with my back to a log fire, and watching the falling snow flakes through a mullioned window of an old country pub.

It was chilly enough for it on Jamhuri Day in the Amani garden, especially when the gusting wind lifted the table cloth – and the first drops of rain fell. And the Amani non-alcoholic toddy was excellent. As well as my stomach, my mood warmed too. So I explored the food menu with a more positive anticipation.

… But, first, let me tell you more about the place. It is along the Ring Road in Riverside and near the Prime Bank. It’s slogan is Amani ya Juu’ which means “Peace from Above”. The Amani organisation describes itself as ‘a social economic enterprise committed to peace and reconciliation for African women’.

So there is a story behind the Amani Garden Café. You will find it on the website. It tells us how, in 1996 and after fleeing the civil war in Liberia with her husband and four daughters, American missionary, Becky Chinchen, found herself in Kenya among other refugee women.

It was from her own experience as a refugee that her vision of working with marginalised women emerged. With Magdalene from Mozambique and Lucy and Veronica, both from Sudan, she established Amani Kenya.

So Amani Kenya is essentially a craft centre, where women can rebuild their lives through creative livelihoods. From Nairobi, the Amani ya Juu organisation has spread to many places and different countries – to Kakuma Refugee Camp the Mathari settlement, Eastleigh, in Kenya, and to Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Liberia, and the United States.

… And so back to the menu. As you must have assumed – if you haven’t sampled it already – the food is of the very healthy kind. Let me give you some higlights:

CARNIVORE FOX

Even I, a true carnivore fox, liked the look of the Serengeti: a mixed green salad with apples, honey, roasted macadamia nuts, with a choice of blue or feta cheese, and served with a homemade poppy seed dressing. The half size is Sh490; the full size (quite massive, my wife discovered) is only Sh640.

However, given the chill, two of us chose the Tortilla, described as ‘a hearty, flavourful soup’, filled with black beans, sweetcorn and tomatoes, served with toppings of grated cheese, homemade ugali chips, sour cream and tomato – all for Sh540.

How about, for a brunch (but not open on Sundays) or earlier, the African Sunrise Sandwich – fried egg and bacon, served on an English muffin, with a three-fruit marmalade – all for only Sh430.

There are nachos, quiches and crepes; coffees, teas and juices. And there are some solid and imaginative climbing frames and play houses to occupy the children, if you go in a family party with younger ones than mine.

So remember that the café is not open on Sundays – but from 7.30am to 4.40pm from Mondays to Saturdays. The number is 0708 594 698.

If you forgot someone’s Christmas present today, then you might well find something suitable at the Amani ya Juu craft shops in the compound. There is a good range of quality items – dresses and shirts, bags and jewellery, as well as many nick-nacks.