Monday, January 3, 2011

Welcome to Africa: Nairobi

After dropping my backpack off at my guest house, I stepped out into the hot and crowded streets of Nairobi with some trepidation. I tried my best to look like I knew where I was going and what I was doing. I was thankful that I hadn't shaved for a couple of weeks, because at least I looked a little bit travel hardened. But the stubble couldn't hide my pasty white skin, which hadn't seen any sun since I visited Croatia in July. So there was little chance of slipping beneath the radar.

The route to the town centre was mostly a dirty shanty-town type environment, stimulating to all of the senses. It is an exciting place to walk around. I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of attention that I received from the locals, aside from a few friendly comments along the lines of 'Mzungo' (white man) and 'Jambo' (hello).

Anyone who thinks the Irish roads are bad should check out the footpaths in Nairobi. A patchwork of dirt and concrete slabs, the potholes are more like ditches, often filled with water. Rubbish everywhere. Walking through the city streets requires some nimble footwork.

I was leaping/jogging down the path over a particularly rough section next to massive market place that looked like a slum, when a young and colourfully dressed girl decided that she'd join in the fun and began skipping along beside me. She was delightfully laughing and playfully holding onto my t-shirt with one hand, and at the same time had her other hand out asking me for money.

I found a small store that I decided might be a pharmacy, and asked whether they could sell me some malaria tablets. The women said yes, then she said: You have already been bitten by mosquitoes on your face. I said: No, that's just my normal face.

Later that day, I was joined by Tom and we had a beer at a rooftop bar looking out over the city, before heading into the city to find a cool night spot. The first bar we walked into in central Nairobi was brilliant. It was an outdoor bar with a vibrant atmosphere and a decent local crowd. A band was setting up. Reggae type music seemed to be on the cards, and the band was fronted by a group of talented singers and dancers. Interestingly, the men in the bar were most taken by the large female dancer with her belly unflatteringly hanging out over her skirt. Before we'd taken our first sip of Tusker beer, we were propositioned by a couple of over-affectionate local girls, whom according to their responses were 'good' but also 'lonely'. We sent them off on their way.

Tusker, the local beer of choice in Nairobi

People were very friendly (especially the females), but unfortunately it's sometimes difficult to decide who is genuine and who isn't. Later on, I met a Kenyan diamond and gold trader called 'Geoff' who it turned out was looking for a Mzungo contact in Europe. I saw 'Blood Diamond' last week, so thought it best to kindly decline his request to swap business cards.

Everyone we met told us that we shouldn't walk in the streets of Nairobi after dark. I asked the taxi driver on the way home what he would do if his car broke down late at night in the city. He said he would stay in his car and quickly find another taxi to pick him up. It's a sad day when a city is so fraught with danger that even the locals can't walk the streets at night.

I wanted to take lots of photos of the city streets to give a sense of the madness but I was worried that I would either get mugged, or at the least I would look like an idiot flashing an iphone around.

It's great to be back on the road.

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