I knew this was going to happen years ago, I just knew it. Growing up on an industrial island some mornings the sun was blocked out by the toxic smoke of coal fires, the mist dragging the blackness down to street level. To make this lethal cocktail complete everyone was made to wear grey uniforms while we were all slowly brainwashed about how wonderful it was that our island had conquered the world. Life was dull and my only form of escapism was to the local library where I could absorb myself in books. I bided my time until the day would come when I would be able to breakout from the island. I didn’t care about fiction or music or fashion, I just wanted pygmies and Ganesha. I wanted to know about the tribes of PNG and about the temples recently found in the forests of far off places like Mexico. That was my adventure, in those books I was free.
Somewhere on my journey through those pages particular photos stood out. One of them was the skyline of Nairobi and the Kenyatta building.
The Nairobi Skyline from Uhuru Park
Not that it was an especially beautiful skyline. It just stood out almost as if part off me knew that one day I would walk there. Why would I go to Nairobi? It’s known as a dangerous place and it’s not like it’s a historical gem either, it’s only about a hundred years old. So why do I remember that photo of Nairobi so vividly? Could it have been that I felt fate for one moment before that image was put to the back of my mind until I would remember it decades later? Think about Buenos Aires, it isn’t known for much except tango and Eva Peron but I know that one day I will go there too.
Anyway here I was the first morning in Nairobi, the city that fate was always going to bring me too. We stepped out of the hotel into the bright sunlight and for once it felt nice. Nice that it wasn’t a humid shower as Dar es Salaam is, or as an arid yellow dust bowl like the interior of Tanzania where I got sunburnt in less than ten minutes.
We wandered through the City Center, the atmosphere was amazingly relaxed. We found a designer-ish breakfast bar just off Koinange Street where the menu was so exciting that Amsterdam seemed provincial in comparison. After breakfast we wandered further. I had left the hotel with my hand firmly attached to my handbag ready for the bag snatch which was surely guaranteed to happen. As the day went on the less I worried about Nairobi’s reputation. Somewhere around midday I realised I was actually enjoying myself, the Nairobeans confident and quick to make us laugh.
The symbol of Nairobi – the Kenyatta Conference Center
Statue of the first President of Kenya
I ended up in City Market where I bought the ugliest mask I could find, it has a couple of camel teeth stuck in it. Then we were on the roof of the Kenyatta Building, this skyscraper the symbol of Nairobi. We had met Peter at the entrance who told us he has the best office in the city and we were invited. Moments later we were in his office, the helicopter landing pad on the roof where Nairobi was at our feet! He showed us the Ngong Hills, the location of the new American Embassy and told us about the history of his wonderful city. The optimism echoed in his voice as he explained to us his vision as Kenya a powerhouse in a few years time.
The next day we went to the Memorial Garden of the Embassy Bombings. It was hard to believe a building had once stood there which had collapsed in the blast. Scanning the names of the victims it was obvious most were Africans. Peter told us that he had been on the roof of the Kenyatta Building showing a group of Poles around when the explosion occured and for miles around it had rained glass injuring people who weren’t anywhere near the epicenter.
My perception of Nairobi has changed drastically. It won’t win any prizes in beauty contests or for being enviromentally friendly the traffic jams seem to go on all day. Nairobi has endless confidence and it’s not hard to see why when you think a hundred years ago all of this was nothing more than malaria infested swamp. Don’t believe the guide books horror stories about muggings and carjackings. Go to Nairobi, you’ll be glad you did!