I Ugly Cried in Nairobi

Painting of Maasai Warriors, as seen on the wall in my hotel room in Diani. I had a breakdown in Nairobi. Like full-on heaving sobs, snotty tears and all.

Don't be alarmed. I do this at least once every time I travel overseas. I love traveling. I love seeing new parts of the world and meeting new people and learning and appreciating new cultures. As long as I am able, I will get on a plane regularly and go see some world. But there’s stress that comes with being far out of your comfort zone, especially when you're solo, as I was my final day in Kenya.

Solo at home, you can operate on auto-pilot. You know the rhythm of “your” world. Abroad, you don’t. And as a result, you're hyper-aware, operating with all senses (if you're smart). There's the realization that there are thousands of miles between you and the next person who personally gives a damn if something goes wrong. You are all you've got. That means you've got to be over sensitive about looking right to cross the street, your surroundings, your purse, your cash flow (because credit cards are iffy, as are ATMs) and the battery life on your phone, a savior for its GPS and list of places to go, as much as it is an emergency lifeline to you and home.

Taking off the blinders and living completely is the thrill-- and occasional trigger-- of traveling. This caused my flip out. Allow me to explain.

I had a lot on my plate that day. Getting back to Brooklyn, required a plane ride back to Nairobi, a 9 hour layover in the city, then a 8 hour plane to Heathrow, a 3 hour layover there, then another 8 hour flight to JFK. It's all minor when it's broken down. But combined it's an (lengthy) ordeal.

The plane back to Nairobi was one of those 8 seaters where you feel every bump in the air. I hate little planes (mostly because of Aaliyah). I sang gospel songs softly the entire ride. The driver who was arranged to meet me at the airport didn't make it. The cab driver who took me to the hotel couldn't find it. The hotel-- though safe and secure-- wasn't at all like it was advertised.

I navigated the city just fine. I walked around sucking up the energy and people watching. Nairobi's Central Business District is more vibrant and alive than even Times Square. I had lunch by the rooftop pool of a swanky hotel, then headed to the city market to pick up last minute souvenirs for friends and family. I haggled for bracelets and stuffed animals and a belt for my husband just fine. "We are not arguing, my Sister," the vendor, a woman, said. "Just discussing what's fair for us." It's a great line. I was overcharged, of course, but I didn’t feel ripped off.

I left her stall with my gifts in tow, and wandered toward the exit. On a wall, I spotted a print of Maasai warriors similar to one I'd admired in the hotel room I’d just left. The woman, older and who reminded me of my deceased maternal grandmother, saw me looking and quoted a price. Too much. "I have more for you," she said. "Come..." So I followed her into the stall.

She's got a pile of 200 paintings and she's flipping. And I want to take home half of them. Two, I just couldn't leave behind.

The walls of my apartment are like an art gallery (they’re blank on The Show because the network won't pay for clearance, and blurring the art out looks weird on camera). I’ve made a habit to pick up a painting (and/or jewelry) in every country I visit.

Years ago, I went to the summer home of [name redacted so as not to name drop] a well-known magazine editor who I (and my mother) admire. Her house was like an art gallery too, with sculptures and paintings collected during her travels. I complimented a piece of jewelry she wore that day. She told me she'd picked it up in another country and it was years was before I was born. I admired her lifestyle too. I committed to creating an art gallery and jewelry box reflecting my travels.

So, at the stall in Nairobi, I got a painting for me, and one for my mama/parents house. My mom is no fan of my travels to anywhere in Africa and will likely not see the continent herself. But she will have a piece of the continent in her dressing room.

I didn't have enough money for the purchase, so I offered to go to an ATM, and return. Or, I had American dollars at my hotel close by. I could go and come back. The woman suggested I take the paintings and her husband would walk with me to my hotel to collect the money.

Her husband, the splitting image of my (also deceased) maternal grandfather, walks up. He's an older man, in his 70s, he'll tell me later, on our walk. I ask how long they've been married. He smiles. His upper row is perfectly straight on the left side, entirely missing on the right. If he had his full teeth, he would have had my grandfather's smile too. He says, “oh, a long time.”

So we walk to the hotel, 3 blocks away. He, Mr. Geoffrey, tells me he was born near Mount Kenya. He had 2 sisters and 6 brothers. One sister is gone, 2 brothers died. They were all over 100 when they passed. He, in his 70s, is the baby of the family. He doesn't go back to his birthplace because he doesn't like it there. He and his wife have a house in the Nairobi suburbs. They've had their current business for 10 years. He asks where I'm from, if I have family, if I like Kenya. He tells me he's worked in the stall for 10 years and never walks this way.

At the hotel, he waits while I run up to grab the money. We exchange money for posters in the lobby, and I offer to walk with him back to the market. He smiles and looks at me incredulously. "I am fine. You don't need to walk with me," he says. I tell him I have to go back out, and that way, as I need an ATM. I don't have money for the cab to the airport.

He says he'll walk with me to find one. I insist I'll be fine. He tells me that the area is fine during the day, but can be seedy at night. They call Nairobi, "Nai-robbery" sometimes and it's not always safe after dark, he says. Dusk is coming. I don't see any harm in accepting his chivalry. I relent.

So we walk, and he asks me if it's my first trip to Kenya. And he asks if I'm married and have family. And if I like Kenya. And he says he's worked in the stall for 10 years and he's never walked this way before. And I assume he wasn't paying attention earlier because he was making small talk with a stranger. And then we find an ATM and it doesn't accept my card.

So we start walking again and he asks if it's my first trip to Kenya and if I enjoyed it, and if I'm married and have a family. And I answer the third time just like it's the first as I realize something is wrong.

He stops to ask a security guard in Swahili where there's an ATM, and the man points inside a building and it turns out it's a money exchange, but no ATM. As we walk out, he cautions me to slow down. I apologize. I walk fast even when I'm trying to walk slow, and I've inconvenienced my elder. He says, no, he's worried about me. The sidewalks aren't always smooth and he doesn't want me to fall. He's fine*.

So we walk again, slowly for my own good, searching. And Mr. Geoffrey tells me that he hasn't walked these streets in awhile and he and his wife have worked at the market for 10 years. And then he asks if it's my first trip to Kenya and if I have a husband and family. And then I realize he has Alzheimer's.

My grandmother had it. And she did the same thing. She would get stuck in a train of thought and just loop the same conversation over and over and over. And I feel... sad. And vulnerable. Like, this old man who looks lke my grandfather saw me, and saw my vulnerability as a "stranger in a strange land" and he wanted to look after me, and he may or may not know that he's the one that needs looking after.

We find a Barclays ATM. My card works. I can get to the airport just fine, assuming I can find a cab, but the hotel should be able to call me one.

On the walk back to the hotel, he asks if it's my first time in Kenya, and if I liked it, and if I have a husband and family, and this time he asks if I'll come back to Kenya. I say that I will and I will come with my husband. He invites me to stay with him and his wife as they have a house outside of the city. We could come and stay for one or two days. I tell him I will take his information and I would love that. He tells me that he's worked in the stall for 10 years, he and his wife, and he hasn't walked this way before. My eyes begin to well up with tears.

He is a very kind man, who looks like my grandfather (except shorter) and reminds me of my grandmother. And for whatever reason he has taken a liking to me and wanted to keep me safe, though it's debate-able whether I needed it or not, and what could a 70 year old man do if harm came anyway? But it was a kind gesture and it eased my anxiety. And it also made me feel extra vulnerable as this very vulnerable person sees me as the one in need of help. And now I'm emotionally rattled, even more vulnerable. And trying to hide it from Mr. Geoffrey.

I also wonder if his wife knows he has Alzheimer's. She has to know he's forgetting things. But does she know how bad this gets? We (my family) knew my grandmother couldn't remember things the same and would get stuck in a loop. But she was otherwise fine and doctors said there wasn't anything we could do. The loops weren't so bad and were pretty harmless. So we paid a bit more attention and more or less let her be.

But then one day she told her husband she was going to the grocery store and didn't come back. Hours later, someone called my mom and described my grandmother to her and asked if she knew her. Grandma had gone to the grocery store, come out to the parking lot after shopping and couldn't find her car. She was looking for a vehicle she had when I was growing up, not the current one. She's been walking around the parking lot aimlessly until the woman spotted her, stopped her, and found my Mom’s number in my grandmother’s purse.

At the hotel, Mr. Geoffrey scribbles his name and mobile number on a piece of paper and I sniff back tears. The desk attendant notices something is wrong and offers me a bottle of water. I take the water and the paper and thank Mr. Geoffery again and ask him to thank his wife and say goodbye to her. And I ask if he remembers how to get back to the market, and he looks at me like I'm stupid. Then he offers to give me his number so I can come visit him and his wife when I come back to Kenya.

I show him the number he just gave me. He smiles and shakes my hand and I thank him as he waves goodbye and walks out. I follow him to the sidewalk and watch him walk to the corner. He turns left in the direction of the market three blocks down.

I go back in the hotel, round the corner for the stairs to my room and COMPLETELY LOSE IT, like fat tears, and spit and bent over heaving sobs. I’ve done this twice before in my life. One, I don’t really talk about (I was barefoot in the middle of the street, but it’s the reason I left the Hamptons in Season One of “The Show” and I won't talk about it publicly as along as my father is alive out of respect.) The other time was when my grandfather died.

I'd gone to the nursing home where he lived with my grandmother. Their room had twin beds, and his was made up and empty like he had never been there. My grandmother and parents were in the room, and my grandmother kept asking, "where's my Honey?", her name for my grandfather.

She had Alzheimer's so she couldn't remember he was dead. The fist two times she asked, we told her he'd died. And we watched twice as she absorbed that traumatic shock of finding out her husband of 60+ years was never coming back, then promptly forgot. After that when she asked, we lied and said he was on his way back to the room. I held it together until my parents and I had to leave her to go to the funeral home and see the body. I walked out the room, turned the corner, leaned against the wall and lost my entire sh-- (just like I did in that Nairobi stairwell) as my parents stared at me wide-eyed.

So I go up to my shabby room and sit on the edge of the bed and sob and snot, and tears and spit get on my dress, and then I call CBW, one of only four people in the world (other than my parents) who can calm me down when I'm like this. I tell him the whole story and then apologize for scaring him because, you know, your wife calls you from the other side of the world crying uncontrollably, the first thing you think is that she’s been raped or robbed. And really she's just upset because she misses her grandparents and feels helpless. He talks me off my ledge and tells me it’s okay and because he said it is, it is.

After I get off the phone, I wash my face, gather my sh--, and hop in a cab to go meet a reader (and new friend) who lives in Kenya. It's my last night in Nairobi and I want to make the most of it and keep building memories, even if the man who just triggered so many probably already doesn’t remember me.


*Kenyans be walking. Like I walk fast, just because. But when I was out for my morning walk in Diani, I was hoofing, and this guy pushing a wheel barrow of old electronics came up from behind me out of nowhere and outpaced me... barefoot. And did not break a sweat.

Nairobi Day 4: Baby Elephants x 100 Shilling Tequila Shots

  We went to visit orphaned elephants, under that age of 3 years old. Cute as hell.

I planned to write an actual Day 4 post, but….

Cousin G and I went to see the elephants in the morning.

And on the way back to the cottage, we stopped at the grocery store.

And at the grocery store, I bought two big bottles of water, a bug bottle of juice, and a bottle of rose for under $6.

I drank half the rose for brunch, sorta. It would have been actual brunch, but there was no food because we only bought enough for 4 days, but we've been here for 5. And I would have bought food at the store, execpt our third party was supposed to be ready when we got back*, so we could go eat, but she wasn't, so....

So then we (finally) all went to the market to eat. And then we went to the Maasai market to shop (which I have to go back to before I leave because everyone and there mother wants me to bring them bangles home… which I’m complaining about like I mind, but I don’t.)

Bracelets from the market. Everyone wants some. I'm happy to share.

And then we left the market and went to the Tribe hotel for a sundowner, ie, drinks at a location that has a great view of the setting sun. I drank virgin juice because, you know, I drank half a bottle of wine for “brunch” while I waited (and waited) for the third party of our crew to get ready to go to the mall. I’m 35, I think about the state of my liver, and I fear hangovers.

View from the roof or The Tribe hotel :-)

And then… and now we get to the real issue.

So remember the guy Cousin G and I met last night? The party promoter? Him. Well, him told us that Juniper Social was the move for Friday night. And we took him’s advice.

A sign at Juniper Social.

The spot is a mini-mansion run by an ex-pat who moved to Kenya to do serious work, but then quit her job to host parties in her backyard. Her house is huge, the grounds are too, and she just does these random parties on the weekends. It’s like Chef Roble’s “Everyday People”, but like not with a retractable roof, and to be fair, less people. The DJ here is sick, although I couldn't identify any of the songs. There was a groove going. The people were very fly.

Oh, and shout out to the South African chickie who tapped me on the shoulder and was like, “I knew it was you! Ok, I thought it was you, and then I went to your blog and saw you were in Nairobi and then I was like, 'it’s you!'” Sweet chick. She watched The Show That Shall Not Be Named in South Africa. Go figure.

So, the guy from last night, left a few things out about this party.

  1. how dope it is.
  2. how good the food is.
  3. the 100 shilling tequila shots.

If you follow me on IG, you already know this story.

Tequila at discount prices.

Juniper is an unoffical restaurant that turns into a "scene". At 8:30, they stop serving food and table service is no more. They’ve found an ingenious way to get people up from the table ad to the bar: 100 shilling shots.

At 8:30, a bell rings, and tequila shots go on sale… for the US equivalent of around .90 cents. They’re served with orange slices instead of the traditional lime. Salt is optional. I don't partake.

Oh, and there was a tub of beer.

Le tub of beer.

How many I had is none of your business. I’m on vacation and I’m not driving. And I’m sober enough to crank out 500+ words for this post and upload the pictures. (But cannot operate heavy machinery.)

And with that said, good night.


*the third party has requested that I note she was on meds.

Day 3- Tales from Nairobi: “White, like you and me…”

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 1.18.14 AM So, I mentioned yesterday that I hadn’t seen any white people really, and that it was odd when I did. I was accused of seeming “slightly irritated” that there were none around. Um… not sure where that assumption came from, especially given the crack about gentrified Brooklyn. But for clarity, it was an observation about the things that I’ve seen, or not. I’m the same chick who wrote 3000 words on Black Jesus changing her life and quoted  Khalil Abdul Muhammad calling white Jesus, “cracker Christ”  on IG. Don’t get me twisted.

Anyway, we didn’t do much today. I didn’t get to sleep until 4AM, because: jet lag. I finally woke up around 1, then proceeded to do almost nothing, unless walking around the cottage trying to take pics of our duo of monkeys count. Oh, and I turned in my assignment for The Root.

Around 7, Cousin G and I headed out to the Westlands. Remember the girl from yesterday who my friends ran into at the airport? She said there was a string of clubs and it was worth checking out. So we did.

We decide on a restie called Havana, which I chose solely because of the name and the assumption that it had margaritas. (They did, but I actually went with Amarula since it’s hard to get in the States.) The place next door, Bacchus (?) was super cute, but empty.

It was pretty light in Havana when we walked in, but filled up quickly (and was rammed out by the time we left at 11). Oh, and there were white people. Like almost all white people dining and drinking, which is weird to see in, you know, a Black country. Oh, and hip-hop, mostly of the Mos Def, Talb Kweli, dead prez, Ghostface variety. It was, in short, heaven.

Anyway, white people gonna white. Me and Cousin G are sitting at the bar talking about nothing and watching a football game (and by football, I mean soccer) and this white guy comes and taps me on the shoulder like a kid would. I turn, he wants to know if me and the woman sitting next to me, who I am sitting with my back toward, are together. Um… no.

Well, in that case, he wants to know if I can scoot my chair two inches to the left and if she can go two inches to the right and he can squeeze a bar stool in there.


I look at him. I look at her. I look at the space, and I say, “Sir. You think it’s a good idea for you to squeeze yourself into this tiny space and you want both of us to move so you can do it?

He nods.

Like I said. White people gonna white.

I scoot over. She scoots over, and he grabs a stool and moves in so he can watch the game at the bar.

Speaking of the bar... these are included the drink selection.

So me and Cousin G kick it. A guy, whose name I wish I got, overhears us, and comes over to ask us, “Are you American?”

“How did you know?” I ask. Random observation: I’ve stopped using contractions when I speak. People do not use them often, if at all, overseas.

“I have ears,” he says.

Turns out he’s a party promoter and he’s hosting Nairobi’s First Mardi Gras next week. Yes, he knows it’s late, but no one in Nairobi knows that. And he didn’t get the sponsors until late, and nobody in Nairobi parties on a Tuesday. It’s contained from Thursday till Sunday.  Oh, and he did this event in Cape Town last year and it was a hit.

He wants to know if we’ll come and passes G a flyer. The headlining DJ? A friend of a friend I was e-introduced to before the trip, who I’ve been trying to get up with all week. He told me he’s “a musician”. He never mentioned he’s like the MOS of Nairobi. (Though I did think something was up when he mentioned he had to leave this weekend to “work” in Nambia, and when I mentioned wanting to do an event at a local hot spot and he was like, “you want me to put you in contact with the manager?” An hour later the manager was like, “whatever you want. Have it.")

So since dude is chatty, I have questions, starting with, “Where did all these white people come from?”

Turns out there’s a bunch of ex-pats that live in Nairobi, a bunch of white folk who work for the embassies or UN, and then there are the white Kenyans with colonial family ties and old money and they been here forever.

Then he gives me an alternate spot to host my meet up and a list of places to go. Bet. Then he excuses himself to meet up with some “mates”. Good day.

So our time has come to an end. The bill comes and G and I are trying to figure out what to do about the tab. I mean we covered it, but the tip is in question. The lady from last night said if you leave anything, it’s 50 shillings or 100. There’s no percentage tip here. But that just feels wrong, you know?

So we’re picking money up and putting it back down, and picking it up and putting it down. And then the white guy next to us finally asks, “what are you doing?”

We explain: we are trying to figure out the tip.

So he explains, it’s basically what the girl said last night. Then he asks where we’re from. We actually tell the truth: America not Jamaica. We ask where he is from, Kenya, sorta and Sweden. Either he or his dad was in the Navy, he lived a bunch of places, but he’s here now, so… Then he goes on to explain further that

Kenyans in general don’t tip each other, but… wait for it… “they expect it from white people like you two and me.”

I’m sorry, what?!

I look at Cousin G, like did I just hear what I heard? I’ve been called a lot of things: light skinned, not light skinned, caramel, red,redbone, Black, African-American, Negro, colored (South Africa), Sistah, Sister, Queen, Princess, N-bomb and more, but not never-ever have I been called “white.”

White, eh?

Cousin G, who is my complexion, has no reaction. He’s just listening, so I just turn and look at the man again. He’s kinda dark for a white guy, but he is melanin deficient sitting up in the East African sun everyday. I have no idea what he’s talking about now. “White like you and me…” is looping through my head.

Now I gotta find out how Kenyans define race (as it’s a social based system, it’s subject to the whims of each country). Is there some weird hierarchy, like foreign-with-money (the assumption worldwide is that all Americans of al colors are wealthy) equals “white". Or was this like the most delusional and literally color-blind white man ever?

I need answers.

48 Hours in Nairobi: 10 New Observations 

You can't go two steps in Nairobi without seeing an ad for Tuskers. (It's still not as bad as Digicel in Port-au- Prince).  1. So yesterday, I told you that the first song I head on the radio in Nairobi was Adina Howard’s “Freak Like Me”.  It stood out to me because the station didn’t appear to be oldies. The announcer was doing a call-out for women who had given birth at 12/13 and were now raising daughters who were pregnant at 12/13. The demo had to contain a lot of women 24-26 for that call out (and my driver was no more than 25, okay maybe 30. You never know with Black people). The station was also advertising an upcoming expose about homosexuality in Nairobi. Apparently, sex tourism and "down low” behavior are an issue, and homosexuality isn’t all that tolerated. It all sounded very Springer 90s. I say all that to say this: for a station with salacious topics and a mid-20s demo, I expected to hear hip-hop or R&B, or whoever the local music artists are, not a song that was popular when I was, literally, 19. After that came some unidentifiable Michael McDonald-esque music.

2. So yesterday, our driver, Amos, takes us from the cottage to the city. We were supposed to go to this tourist heavy all-meat restaurant, literally it’s named Carnivore. (I was along for the adventure. I’m a pesca.) Anyway. Traffic was abysmal, so Amos was like, “um, no.” So he says he’ll take us to the city to a nice place. Great.  (He's also not sold on us going to a tourist spot where the waiters dress up in zebra print.) He recommends an American coffee shop that serves burgers and shakes. I get it. We’re Americans, he thinks we want American ish. We don’t. We detour to an organic spot for local food instead. What’s playing from the speakers? Usher's “Confessions", and Kelly Rowland’s one-hit, the one about “make Mama proud." Oh, and that one Kerry Hilson song  that had Kanye on the intro. On repeat. We figure someone put together their "moving on" playlist and is smitten with a new boo. I tell you all this to say, in, now 48 hours, I’ve heard no hip-hop, which I am delightfully fine with. And the radio program directors of Nairobi have great taste in music.

3. When in doubt/ lost/ in need of A/C or wi-fi, find the nearest American hotel, talk loud so everyone hears your accent and assumes you’re staying there, and use what you need at your leisure.

4. They have a Coldstone Creamery in Nairobi. So far, I’ve seen one McDonald’s and one KFC, which please me greatly, but not for the reasons you imagine. I like going to visit another country and feeling like I’m in another country. Traveling to shop in a bunch of stores with marked up American goods that were made in China isn’t a vacation. Nairobi has some imports, but they mostly have their own ish. This makes me happy.

5. Every city has its classic cup caking spot. For BK it’s DUMBO or the BK waterfront. For DC, it used to be Hains Point, but it seems to have moved to National Harbor. In Philly, it’s the top of the “Rocky” steps. For Nairobi, it seems to be the rooftop of the International Conference Center. It’s appears to be the tallest building in Nairobi and there’s a 360 view of the city. There were multiple couples just hanging out, enjoying the breeze and the view. From what I can tell, PDA isn’t a big thing here, which I only noticed because I saw a woman holding a man’s arm and it stood out because I’ve rarely seen people touch. Is that the culture? The influence of Islam? I dunno. But even on the roof, the couples sat or stood close next to each other, but never touched.

6. So. We try to go to this restaurant, only to find out its actually closed on Tuesdays. Whatever. We hear live music, so we wander over to the crowd.  It’s a outdoor music spot, Seemas (not sure of spelling.) The first thing I notice is the abundance of men, and two girls in tight dresses grinding on each other. Hmm. This strikes me as  odd because of my previous observation. So, we sit and have a drink and a meal. One of my traveling companions orders a “Tusker” because they’re advertised in Kenya the way Heineken is advertised in the US. Cool. The bottles are ginormous. I sneak a sip. It tastes exactly like Corona. I notice a few tables full of women. Most are sitting, some standing and they’re  in really tight dresses and standing wide. The service was a little slow, but we only minded because we were in a rush. That’s not the point of this, this is: a woman my friends met in the airport while waiting for me, called out of the blue to ask where we were. Turns out, she works near by. So she comes to meet us. As she walks us out, she asks what we thought of the spot. It was cool for what it was. She comments on the number of prostitutes. The girls grinding?And standing really wide? Advertising services. They call them “night girls” in Nairobi. The woman says that there are tons of them in that area and she’s surprised more weren’t out that night. She adds that while technically illegal, police mostly turn their heads about it.  We mention this to the driver, Amos, in the car on the way home. He says otherwise: “run away or you will be arrested,” he cautions. He adds that he doesn’t drink Tuskers anymore. “I drink two and I black out.” Womp.

7. The Hustle— so we pass by the City Market, and go in. It’s beyond obvious that we’re not American. People who were just chilling in  their stalls, look alive, and start calling out to us, “My Sister…”, “My Brother…” Like every. single. vendor. They call “jambo”, “karibu” (welcome), invite us to look at their wares (“looking is free!”) They are super aggressive, and I say this as a New Yorker. In fact, I was so overwhelmed at being verbally accosted, that I turned around and left. As our small group was walking along the street, two different men came up to chat with the gent in our group. They wanted to know if we were going on safari, where we were from (more on that in a second), what our plans were for our visit, blah, blah, blah. And even when we gave the brush off, the guys continued to walk with us for blocks. like at least 6 blocks each.

8. We’re Jamaican. I don’t know what about any of us reads as Jamaican, but that's the assumption. One of the girls in the group has braids, but so do half the women of Nairobi. The guy has a beard. I have my hair in a high bun. I know Jamaican. Nothing about us looks so. But constantly we’re asked, “You all are Jamaican?” I’m missing some backstory/cultural link, I think.

9. Musky Men: let me say this blunty: the vast majority of the men I have encountered in Kenya are scentless. As a whole Kenyan men smell exactly like American men. I am not in anyway implying that the men of Kenya smell bad. I am, however, saying that in the 48 hours I have been in Nairobi, I have encountered more men with with a strong underarm scent than I have encountered in other places I have travelled to. And I don’t mean homeless men or poor men. I mean men that are working jobs and funk up the whole phone store when they walk in on what appears to be their lunch hour. I mean the guy who checked my ticket to get to the roof where the couples were cup caking. I mean, just a random collar-shirted guy you pass in the street and think, “Good Lord, man!”

10. The Sixties— Nairobi is a modern city. It’s a tech hub for Hova’s sake. Everyone’s got a cell phone, there are electronic stores every five feet you walk downtown. And you can’t go in any crowded place without passing through a metal detector and getting swiped down like you’re going though airport security. At the really important places, your bag goes through a Xray machine. But the infrastructure, especially the buildings,  is very 70s. It’s like the government built everything they needed, did a good job the first round, and decided they were done. That’s not a bad thing. It does however make you feel like you’re in a time warp as you walk around the city. That said it’s a relatively clean city (sorta), especially given the number of people walking around. I walked around in flip flops, which when I do that in NYC, the bottom of my feet are black. Not even grey here, even though I walked and walked and walked today. I did see a couple open sewage streams, and the alleys weren’t the cleanest, but where, I ask, are alleys clean?

BONUS:  I’m… intrigued by the security here. In addition to noticing the metal detectors everywhere today, I also noticed that the cops walk around holding vintage AK47s... like baseball bats, if you’re just walking along at your leisure with one. So again, I’m wondering, is Nairobi that bad and America is better off in this regard? Or is it about the same and Americans are naive? I dunno. The guy and I were walking from a park back to the city centre earlier today, right? We’re talking about being bummed because we can’t do Lamu and Mombasa. There’s no plane that goes between the two cities anymore and the bus that travels is frequently robbed, or worse. Six months ago, some extremists hijacked a bus and killed all the infidels. So… yeah, no. We’re not taking the bus. My mother and husband would never forgive me. The alternative is to fly to Mombassa, fly back to Nairobi, then fly to Lamu, which again, no.  So we chose Lamu. We’re talking about this as we walk, and suddenly there’s a BOOM! We freeze immediately. And the “let out”, hundreds of people everywhere, do too. Cops go running in the direction of the sound. The guy and I stay frozen until everyone else starts moving. I can tell from the reaction that this city is shell-shocked just like NYC, post 9/11. (Literally, my VERY first observation walking out of the Nairobi airport was “hmm.. smells like post 9/11.”)  Maybe all the security is the government’s way of providing peace of mind. Maybe they actually need that ish.

BONUS 2: Before our guy of the group began going along with the Jamaican thing, he tells this one guy, a market vendor that he's American. The guy responds, "America? We call it Obama Land". LMAO.

10 Random Observations I Made in Nairobi (in the first 24 hours) 

DCIM100GOPRO Processed with VSCOcam with 4 preset I’ll tell my random how I got here  (as in Nairobi) story another day. It involves a mother being unimpressed by flamingos and over-concerned (I think) about terrorism, me missing a connecting flight in London (thus delaying my arrival by 9 hours) and being temporarily separated from my travel buddies (while chill-laxing at the Hilton Nairobi, which was a great hotel…. 40 years ago). It’s a ‘lemons into lemonade’ tale, that CBW pointed out is comprised of first world problems in a third world country. I, however, think it's worth telling.

Anyway. My top 10 observations about Nairobi within the first 24 hours. These observations are subject to change, be debunked, or be the gospel truth, depending on what happens over the next 16 days. I apologize in advance for any offended Kenyans. Whenever a newbie writes about a city—a home city to many someones—there’s no way not to offend unless the reviews are glowing. This isn’t that.

So without further delay:

1. The traffic here, at least in rush hour, is sh—. I read that in multiple places and in this travel group I’m in where several people recently visited Nairobi. I thought they were exaggerating. Nothing could be worse than Atlanta or LA at rush hour. Nairobi is worse than both combined. It took an hour-plus, to get from the airport to the city, a distance that should have taken about 15 minutes, tops. To credit, the driver said traffic is better in the city, but still unpredictable. He suggested I give myself a few extra HOURS to get to the airport from the city when I leave in two weeks.

2. There are people walking everywhere— at least in the city. Like everywhere. It’s not like Times Square walking where everyone sticks to sidewalks. It’s people EVERYWHERE. I’m not explaining this properly. Ok. You know how people pour onto the sidewalk and into the street when there's a let out from the club? The let out. That's what the city centre of Nairobi is like, all dang day. It's super busy. You need a break just from walking around.

3.  I don’t see white people— at least not in the part of downtown I was in. Why does this matter? So… when I was in college at a PWI, I used to play this game I made up where at any given moment, I would stop and give myself 5 seconds to spot another Black person on campus. I lost a surprising amount of the time even though Black students made up 10 percent of the campus population at the time. I tell you this to say, I played, “spot a white person” after I left the airport. Until I went to dinner by the UN, I spotted three. If you wonder why this is so fascinating? Because I’m American and white people are the majority everywhere you look, and the parts of Brooklyn I most frequent are hella gentrified now. So just generally walking around and there are no white people is… different. Not good, not bad, just different.

4. I haven’t heard hip-hop yet. Like NOTHING. Maybe the cab drivers I’ve had don’t like rap. Who knows?  The first song played when I got in the cab from the airport? Adina Howard’s “Freak Like Me.” I’ve heard Nairobi is a party city. Google “what to do in Nairobi” then click “Images.” LOL.

5. You know how people are always saying Americans are slobs? It’s because in a lot of other countries, especially predominately Black countries, men put on a collared shirt and pants to go out, even if it’s to do dirty business. Just walking around in a t-shirt and shorts or sweats is unheard of. I was riding thru the city people-watching. I didn’t see one person in a t-shirt. ). A surprising number of men had on dark blue suits. It seems  dark blue suits are “a thing”. And the women had heels, and often, stockings. Didn’t see one mini-skirt. (And it’s 80+ degrees).

6. I'm staying with friends at a cottage on an "estate". There is a rooster on the grounds. Somehow I was unaware that roosters "go off" for like an hour each morning BEFORE actual sunrise. I thought it was one and done big moment and that’s the song for the day. Yeah, no. So I’ve been up since 6:32 AM my time.

7. About the cottage. It is small and clean, and beyond suitable size for 3 people. It has just the basics. Enough comfort to be comfortable, nothing that would be considered fancy or excessive, at least by US standards. I'm struck already by how much I can do with "simple" and "less" here, and better, how unnecessary “more” is. I've been thinking a lot about necessities and space post- marriage as CBW and I  now live in what was formally "my" one bedroom apartment. It was big for one, seems small for two. (And moving doesn't make sense at this point). But actually, there's quite enough space and too much stuff. I gave away half my closet before I got married. I'm inclined to give away half of what's left too. I would rather have the space than the stuff.

8. One of my travel mates read that Nairobi has amazing Thai food for some reason.  Whatever she read didn't lie. I had the best Thai food ever in life for like $5 last night. It was a green fish curry and at least 4 servings. I ate two. Either "take home" isn't a thing here or the guy didn't understand me, so that's that.

9. Kenyans speak English fluently. My ears haven't adjusted to the dialect yet. So I'm all, "sorry?", "huh?", "sorry?" like I’m basic. We have a driver who's been teaching us well, basic words in Swahili: "Jambo" (which oddly enough, I know from watching "Mean Girls"). "Asante" (thank you). That's all I learned so far. It's been a day. American cultural currency, even for Black people, is an underrated American privilege.  American films/ TV have been exported worldwide. Our dialect is not foreign to the ear.

10. Um. It's  85 during the day and cold at night. I slept in a sweatshirt. You know how Black Americans will say, "it's Africa hot!". Yeah, we gotta be more specific. Maybe West Africa hot? I dunno. I haven’t made it to West Africa yet. I’ve not been able to make two offers to go to Nigeria, and had to decline another for reasons I will probably explain in “A Bride in Brooklyn” (the sequel to ABIB.) Anyway, the point remains, everywhere in Africa isn't hot all the time.

BONUS: I'm trying to judge the extent of the terrorism issue here. So I ride up to the Hilton yesterday. The car is stopped and surrounded by armed security, and the driver must pop the hood and the trunk for double inspection. Same happens when the second driver comes to pick me up and take me to my friends at the cottage. So, terrorism is an issue everywhere, as I tried to explain to my very anxious mother. Yes, there was a mall attack in Nairobi, but there were recent threats to the Mall of America too. September 11, Boston Marathon. And America is supposed to be "safe." So I guess what I'm trying to figure out is Kenya hyper-sensitive/smart in taking the precaution to search cars, or is America being naive? Or is it that Kenya has greater threats? Hmmm.

That's it for now.  Today is my first "city day" with the group, so hopefully, I'll have plenty of observations to make tomorrow.