In the first episode of Parts Unknown’s final season, Anthony Bourdain takes his CNN colleague W. Kamau Bell (star of United Shades of America) to Kenya, where the hosts meet with many people who embody the modern-day spirit of the country. It’s clear that Bell was not only excited to be visiting Africa for the first time, but also thrilled to be going on a bona fide Anthony Bourdain adventure like he’d seen on TV. Bourdain also looked like he enjoyed accompanying Bell on this journey. This episode was filmed three months before the Kitchen Confidential author died at hotel in France.
Bell and Bourdain begin their visit to the capitol city of Nairobi with a lunch of grilled tilapia and ugali. During their meal, the comedian mentions that he was born in East Palo Alto, California where, in the ’70s, there was a push from the local African-American community to rename the city Nairobi. Later, the duo meets up with local street-wear designer Njeri Gikera of ChilliMango, and Melissa Mbugua, the managing partner at MNM Consulting Africa, for drinks. The four of them discuss how 70 percent of Africans wear second-hand clothes, and how many of them come from America. “This low-cost clothing option has absolutely crushed the domestic clothing market,” Bourdain notes.
After a trip to the working class neighborhood of Kibera to meet with the leaders of a community group called Kibera Creative Arts, the hosts learn about the ever-evolving LGBTQ scene in Nairobi from members of the arts collective To Revolutionary Type Love. Bourdain and Bell then enjoy a Swahili feast with boxer Sarah Ndisi and trainer Analo Anjere, who are teaching local women how to fight though the non-profit group Box Girls. “I very much like the idea of all small girls, young women, women being able to kick the fuck out of men if they have to,” Bourdain remarks.
Later, over a dinner of goat’s head soup, Bourdain and Bell chat with members of the local matatu scene; they operate colorful, loud party buses that serve as one popular form of public transportation in Nairobi. Bourdain and Bell go for a ride in a Mad Max-themed matatu, and imagine what their own version of the bus might look like if they opened one in NYC (Wolf Blitzer is involved).
For the last leg of their journey, the hosts go on safari at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, where conservationists are helping protect endangered species like elephants and rhinos. The pals end their trip with a visit to a Maasai village, where they witness a blood-letting ceremony, and sample a drink of a cow’s blood mixed with its milk. It starts to rain that afternoon, and, as members of the community are dancing, Bell remarks, “I was told since I’m Kamau from America, I brought the rain.”
This is certainly one of the best “buddy comedy” episodes of the series, and also holds the distinction of being the last episode that Bourdain completed before he died. Here are some of the episode’s most quotable moments:
Bourdain on returning to Kenya with Bell as his guest: “I will admit to a weird, frankly unlovely sense of ‘been here, done that.’ It’s not a good look for me, I know, but there’s a mischievous curiosity tucked away in some poisonous part of my brain that’s dying to see how Kamau handles the heat, the spice, the crowds, the overwhelming rush of a whole new world, because that’s what it is the first time. This ain’t Berkeley.”
Bell, explaining why he waited so long to visit Africa: “I think as a black American, I’m still wrestling with my African-American identity sometimes, and I’m still wondering, ‘Am I doing right by this culture, and does this culture think I’m doing right by them?’ That’s why I don’t want to walk in like, ‘I’m home.’ I also think that a lot of times black people in America have really struggled with that facet of identity, like, ‘What does it mean to be a black American?’ And I’m like, ‘I fought hard to claim this identity. It’s exhausting.’ Am I ready to start with a new one? I don’t know yet.”
Bourdain, dropping a great Clue reference while eating goat’s head soup: “I don’t want to sound all Colonel Mustard, but I eat this shit for breakfast by now.”
Bell, on his vision for a matatu: “See I’m all about counter-programming. I would do like, the Reese Witherspoon matatu — a tribute to all the movies of Reese Witherspoon.”
Bourdain, on riding an elephant: “When you’re sitting on top of an elephant, the sensation, the tactile quality, it’s like sitting on top of a giant scrotum.”
Bell, on hanging out with Bourdain on safari: “The idea that I’m sitting here with you doing this now, knowing where my life and career have come, it’s pretty cool.”
Bourdain on hanging out with Bell on safari, and doing TV like this for 17 years: “Actually, as soon as the cameras turn off, and like the crew will be sitting around having a cocktail, I fucking pinch myself. I cannot fucking believe that I get to do this, or see this, ever, or that I ever would. Because 44 years old, dunking fries, I knew with absolute certainty that I would never, ever, ever see home, much less this.”
And Bourdain’s final, post-credits note on the Kenya episode: “Who gets to tell the stories? This is a question asked often. The answer in this case, for better or for worse, is: I do... at least this time out. I do my best. I look. I listen. But in the end I know it’s my story — not Kamau’s, not Kenya’s, or Kenyans’. Those stories are yet to be heard.”
For more details on Bourdain and Bell’s Nairobi trip, plus essays and dining guides, head over to Explore Parts Unknown.