Where Kenyans feel at ‘home’ abroad

News

By Omulo Okoth

Patrons laugh heartily cuddling various bottles of their favourite drinks. From Tequilla to Bud Lite, Budweiser, Heineken and even our own Tusker Export.

Safari DC restaurant

They catch up with news and events thousands of kilometres away from home and engage in serious, light and even boisterous discussion after one too many.

They munch delicious tilapia, ugali and other lip-smacking delicacies like roasted chicken and succulent chicken wings.

In the background, the soothing yet all familiar sounds of Fundi Konde, Daudi Kabaka, Virunga, Franco and Them Mushrooms ooze from miniature speakers on the walls.

Welcome to Safari DC, a restaurant owned by US-based Kenyans but designed to be a home for East Africans, albeit right in the middle of the American administrative capital, Washington DC. The patrons are always a mixture of citizens from East and Central Africa.

The restaurant is situated along Georgia Avenue where it has been for 13 years, although it moved recently to its new location, which is a little distance away from its former location down the same street. This is where nostalgic Kenyans converge every evening to network and reminisce.

Hands-on managers

The restaurant owners, William Mukabane and his wife Alice, are hands-on managers who serve their clients courteously and spend time chatting them up and getting to know them better.

William Mukabane

Not surprisingly, Safari DC has become a must-stop for politicians on foreign mission, diplomatic staff, tourists, athletes plying their trade abroad, professionals on transit and regular visitors.

Ultra-Obama supporters love to congregate here to appraise his performance and revel in his success story. His pictures and that of his family, including his Kenyan relatives, are plastered all over the walls.

Other heroes whose pictures have pride of place on the walls include Martin Luther King, Tom Mboya, Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah.

Mukabane went to the US in 1978 and did odd jobs to support himself. Later, he did a course in classical French cuisine and worked for various hotels in Washington DC as an executive chef.

"Although I cooked good food in big hotels, I always missed the kind of food my mother used to cook and I realised many East Africans felt the same way, so I convinced Alice to open this restaurant," says Mukabane.