Nairobi: A City of Contrasts

Many people have asked me what Nairobi is like and I have found it very hard to explain. I have decided it is a city of contrasts. You will see a professionally dressed Kenyan woman next to a barefoot man strolling along the same path. You will see a man pushing a wheelbarrow on a dirt road with Mercedes flying by. When you enter the large shopping mall with beauty stores, a super market, and KFC, a security guard will automatically search the trunk of the car you are in before letting you through the front gate.

Additionally, the security situation has been filled with mixed messages. At our security briefing when asked if we could go jogging, the initial answer was absolutely not, followed by a yes definitely in our area. We were then told that if we are at all involved in a car accident we should probably leave go to a police station (unless the people seemed friendly) because there is a chance we could get stoned. I thought I misheard him and asked my colleagues about it later, but in fact I heard him accurately.

Last night we went to a photo exhibit of Nairobi architecture at the French Cultural Center. It was in the city center (called “Town” here) and we passed by the State House. It was very dark so all I could see was a driveway that never seemed to end with several gates and checkpoints along the way. Comparing this the proximity of The White House to the population was another somewhat fascinating contrast. The photo exhibit was beautiful, but unfortunately I felt like it showed me more of Nairobi than I have seen since being here. Afterwards I went out to Ethiopian food for the second time in my life and my second time in four days. I had Tusker, which is the popular beer here and my new favorite. Although I have not figured out why its motto is “Together Forever.”

This morning we went on a run because we were getting a little stir crazy with the limited walking we do here. It was raining (wish I had listened to my mom about bringing that umbrella instead of insisting it doesn’t rain here) and it was muddy. The lack of sidewalks really made running difficult and I inhaled quite a bit of exhaust with Nairobi traffic, but it felt good to be active. It was especially exciting that we were running to Java House aka Kenyan Starbucks. It really did feel like Starbucks with people sipping lattes and busily typing away on their computers. I didn’t feel as exhausted today so maybe the medium Kenyan coffee I ordered is more effective than the instant coffee I have been drinking a few times a day.

 I am trying to learn Swahili, but I am terrible at it. I have messed up the word thank you several times today despite having practiced it all last night and writing it down (it is asante in case you are interested, although possible I messed it up again). My roommates both speak Swahili so I feel like a total slacker (I mean who doesn’t know Swahili?). Today for two meals (apparently as soon as I try something new, whether I like it or not, I must immediately have it again) I had the famous food here called Ugali. It is milled cornmeal and has a texture like play dough. People have it as a side dish. It doesn’t have much flavor and though I tried to like it (twice), I don’t think it will be one of my favorites.

Here are some pictures from: appetizers before the photo exhibit at home, the photo exhibit, my roommate and I posing during our lunch break in our accident matching outfits, ugali (the white mound), and a view from the Kenyan restaurant we went to tonight. I am not sure if it is a bad or good sign that so far my pictures have been of my roommates, food, and drinks. I promise I am really in Africa.

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