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October 22nd 2007 by Tina

Posted under Africa & Kenya

After a wonderfully uneventful (not counting the person who smoked a cigarette on the plane!) flight from Amman, we arrived in Nairobi around 4:00am. We had prearranged a ride from the airport to our hostel, the Bush House and Camp, so we collected our bags and headed toward the exit, where the usual pack of taxi touts anxiously stalked their prey. We looked for the sign with our name on it…nothing. The touts were all simultaneously vying for our attention but we managed to fend them off for about fifteen minutes until we finally came to grips with the fact that our ride was not there. The touts were asking all kinds of questions about where we were staying but we were hesitant to provide any information out of fear that we would somehow be scammed. When you arrive in a new country, you don’t know exactly how things work so it’s best to be on guard, especially at 4:00am. We did eventually give up the name of our hostel and one of the drivers immediately dialed it on his cell phone and handed the phone to Aaron. The groggy proprietor, having been awakened from her peaceful slumber, said that our driver should be there and that we should wait a bit longer. Sure enough, a sign soon appeared bearing the name of our hostel in permanent letters – I think the driver had fallen asleep waiting for us. The car was compact, beaten up and rank with body odor, to which I was particularly sensitive in the wee hours of the morning. My other four senses may have been half asleep but my nose was sharply offended by the pungent, sour stench coming from the front seat. Strangely, I considered this an improvement over the stench of cigarette smoke in the Middle East – excessive inhalation of body odor won’t kill you (or at least it hasn’t been proven). About twenty minutes later, we reached the Bush House and Camp, which was surrounded by a tall security gate – a good sign. We were shown to a clean, spacious room with twin beds and a large bathroom and, just as the sun was beginning to rise, we nodded off for a few hours of good sleep.

The next morning, we were treated to a scrumptious complimentary breakfast of a fried egg, two slices of Texas toast, a mysterious-looking but tasty sausage and crepe-style pancakes. Eager to check out the town, commonly referred to as “Nairobbery” by locals for its high instance of tourist crime, we took a “matatu”, or minibus, into the Nairobi city-center with a group of travelers whom we had met at breakfast. The matatu is similar to the Israeli sherut in every way except that the matatu has a separate conductor who collects the money. A ride costs 20 Kenyan shillings (about 30 cents) per person. The ride into town was fascinatingly scenic. Straddling the equator, Nairobi is beautifully landscaped with a diverse and colorful combination of tropical plants and trees. The dirt side streets are lined with lush grasses. The most striking of the trees is tall, full and covered with lavender blooms. The bright blooms wash the city center in light purple radiance.

The most obvious difference that we noticed upon our arrival in Nairobi was the change in skin-tone. We had arrived in a sea of black faces. The Kenyans have been a most refreshing reprieve from the Middle Eastern Arabs who seemed to look upon us with suspicious disdain. The Kenyans definitely look at us – we are pretty close to the only white faces on the streets – but with a pleasant curiosity. We are greeted with “Jambo!” (which means hello in Swahili), a smile and a handshake. Everyone seems happy and easy-going. As a Caucasian American, I think that it is a healthy and mind-opening experience to be a minority. I am already amazed at my heightened sense of self-awareness as I walk down the streets.

In downtown Nairobi, the attire is modest and formal. In the heat of midday, the men wear suits, blazers, cardigans, collared dress shirts and slacks. There is hardly a t-shirt or blue jean in sight. The women wear colorful African-style dresses with matching headscarves; some wear suits or modest American-style dresses. There is also a Muslim presence so you see the berkas and fully-covered faces. Babies are tied to their mothers’ backs with long scarves – strollers and baby carriages are non-existent. The streets are full of activity; everyone seems to be on his way to somewhere, dressed to the nines. Most Kenyans in Nairobi speak fluent English as well as their native Swahili, which is a tribal language as exotic and colorful as the people. As I watch the men and women walk the streets, I observe a sense of dignity and pride in their gait, in the way they hold their heads high. It is not vain but endearing. At the same time, the despair on many of the faces is inescapable. Kenya is one of the more civilized and affluent African countries but still unemployment rates are high while quality of life for many is low. There are many people and seemingly too few opportunities so you see people sitting around, without anything to do. People seem to want to work, though. You see a lot of shoe shiners, car washers, people selling things like candy, fruit or magazines on the sidewalk, way too many safari touts, and many construction and road workers. There is little use of heavy machinery so manpower is essential.

We wandered around town for a few hours, checking out some safari companies. As soon as we walked into the first safari company, touts from the other agencies in town swarmed around us, shoving their business cards in our faces and all trying at once to get us into their offices which were conveniently close by. After listening to three salespeople deliver identical safari pitches, we decided to think about it over lunch. The salesperson inside the third office recommended Simmers, which boasted traditional African food. We weren’t yet feeling adventurous enough to sample the liver or intestines on the buffet so we ordered burgers and pasta off the menu instead. The remaining safari touts – about eight of them – had led us to Simmers and proceeded to stalk the exit while we ate, waiting to advance on us again. We spotted a back door exit but their eyes were fixed on our table from outside; there was no way to get out unnoticed. As we walked out, they were all over us but, surprisingly, when we told them that we had already decided on a company, they faded into the distance. On the streets of “Nairobbery”, we felt perfectly safe, though we have heard that it is a different place after dark. We have no desire to find out for ourselves. Back at the Bush House, we enjoyed a communal, home-cooked meal and made final safari arrangements for departure the following morning.

1 Comment »

One Response to ““Nairobbery””

  1. Janice Vardakis on 31 Oct 2007 at 3:25 pm #

    Miss you lots!! Keep safe.
    LOL, Janice V.