Kamuti Kiteme, 73
86th Street and Park Avenue
Thu Dec 7 2006
Photograph by Jay Muhlin
"I never wear suits. This outfit is traditionally West African. If you go to any East or Southern African countries, you'll find men dressed in three-piece suits. So if you go to Kenya, don't be surprised if you don't see people dressed like me."
Wow, great outfit. Thank you. It's called an embanda. It was handmade in Kenya.
Is that where you're from? Yes, but I've lived here for 32 years. I have homes in both places.
And where do you live now? Nairobi, but I come to New York at least twice a year. I just got in last night, actually.
What's the occasion? I came for both work and pleasure. I have a grown-up son, some grandchildren and my wife here.
What do you do? I retired ten years ago. I was a professor of African studies at City University.
Where do you prefer to be, Nairobi or New York? Well, home is home.
[A child walking by asks to shake his hand.]
Does that happen to you a lot? [Laughs] Yes. But remember, I know America quite well. Nothing really shocks me.
Now you're sounding like a real New Yorker. New York is my second home. My youth was in Kenya, but I did come to this country way back in 1960.
What do you do now that you're retired? I participate in a lot of lecture panels as a guest. I'm in New York now to give a couple of talks, actually. And at home I'm on three boards—the National Library Service, the Kenyan Human Rights Board and a local government board. Those keep me busy.
If Kenya is as beautiful as people say it is, it must make this city look awfully gray. New York has a lot of exciting and exotic things too. That's why I was here for so many years.
What appeals to you about it? New Yorkers have an incredibly universal outlook. They are easy to reach—-easy to talk to and friendly—though a little aggressive. The British are far more reserved. But why not be aggressive? I don't regret having been here at all. It has made me what I am.—Kate Lowenstein