From a panoramic hilltop in Kenya’s northern frontier, Anthony Bourdain reflected one last time at the unlikeliness of his own success.
Sitting next to comedian W. Kamau Bell, the legendary chef and television personality said that every time “the cameras turn off” and he’s sitting around with his crew, “I pinch myself.” He continued, “I cannot believe that I get to do this. Or see this, ever. Or that I ever would, because 44 years ago, dunking fries, I knew, with absolute certainty, that I would never, ever see Rome, much less this.”
Those words were captured in the inaugural episode of the final season of his show Parts Unknown. The episode, which aired on Sunday (Sept. 23) on CNN, is one of five Bourdain filmed before his death in June and will feature his travels in Texas and New York in the US, besides Spain and Indonesia. These will also be followed by two special episodes documenting his life and how he impacted the world through his writings and travels.
The premiere episode, set in Kenya, is the last time Bourdain’s trademark voiceover will be heard on the show. Shot in collaboration with Bell—who has his own documentary series on CNN United Shades of America—the duo captures the diversity and complexity of life in the East African nation. Starting with its colonial history, through the modern vibrancy of its capital Nairobi, and ending with its picturesque game reserves, the show evokes a deep sense of place—especially for Bell, whose middle name Kamau is uniquely Kenyan and was visiting the country and the continent for the first time.
The show decidedly got personal, political, and covered economics too. Bourdain and Bell visit the famous Toi market in Nairobi, where second-hand clothes and shoes are sold. There, they have a candid conversation about the “dignity” of wearing someone else’s used underwear and the Trump administration’s threat to suspend duty-free privileges if African nations refused to take these clothes.
The two also tour the sprawling Kibera slum, and speak about the manifestations of the so-called “White Savior Complex.” They also meet with members of Kenya’s gay community, who are pushing for more recognition and space. And what’s a trip to Kenya without getting on its “seizure-inducing” colorful and loud matatu minibuses?
Bourdain and Bell dine and drink their way around too. They sample goat head’s soup, eat mahamri (Swahili donuts) and chicken biryani, have ugali (cornmeal starch) with tilapia and cold Tusker beer—and end it all by drinking fresh cow blood mixed with milk.
The inclusive and adventurous streak sees the show making a tribute to Kenya’s diversity. And it also makes the episode the perfect coda to Bourdain’s exploration of African foods over the last few decades.
“Today’s Kenya is phenomenally beautiful,” Bourdain declares. And taking a jab at president Trump for his reported comment on African countries, adds, “This is to say, it’s decidedly not a shithole.”
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