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.