“The place of cool waters”

The name for Kenya’s capital comes from the phrase Enkare Nyirobi,  which means “the place of cool waters” in Maa (the language of the Maasai). I’m not sure that we found those lovely waters while we were there, but I will say that the weather in Nairobi was a welcome reprieve from the muggy humidity of Zanzibar and the dry baking heat of the Masai Mara.  Its cool in the morning and at night, to the point of needing a blanket to sleep. Yet the days are marked by sunshine that intermingles with cool breezes when that equatorial sun hides behind the voluminous clouds. Its pretty freaking nice.

So Ray and I have been coming and going from Nairobi between our trips to Tanzania and our safari, staying at this awesome campground/hostel (Upper Hill Campsites if you are interested). It’s located in the Kileleshwa district which is beautiful and leafy green suburb that houses among other things the Cuban Embassy and the ODM headquarters (remember that election violence in 2007/8? These guys were the opposition party).  In short its nice, really nice,  and nothing like the dangerous “Nairobbery” we were expecting. We were able to walk around the area, though I will say that being a pedestrian in Nairobi, I have found,  is potentially a contact sport.

I’m not going to bore you with the details of what we did in Nairobi, mostly because it wasn’t all that interesting. We got a cellphone and dongle (portable modem), checked out a Maasai market, did some shopping and bargaining, and generally got ready for our month in Kisumu and tried not to get mugged. After being on safari none of the giraffe sanctuaries or petting zoos seemed all that interesting. Most of all I wanted to get a bit of a feel for how this cosmopolitan African city runs.

They say that Kenya has one of the worst divides between the rich and the poor, third only to Brazil and India. That certainly is on display in Nairobi. We walked through a mall that looked fairly indistinguishable from a mall in the US, complete with air conditioning, fancy cafes, and high end local stores. The neighborhood we stayed is a lovely place to watch the various incarnations of Mercedes and BMWs roll by into their homes, first passing through a secure gate with personal guard. And I am not talking about the embassies, these are personal homes.  The amount of private schools I saw rivaled San Francisco.  Then there is the other side. Now Ray and I didn’t take the opportunity to do a tour of Kibera, the largest shantytown in Kenya, and the second largest in Africa. There hundreds of thousands of people live without basics like electricity and running water.  Though intrigued by seeing the other side to Nairobi and there are many many tours advertising a trip to Kibera with trusted residents,  I couldn’t get over the zoo-like quality of visiting an area to see how horrible these people’s lives are.  But perhaps we should have.

One thing I will say is that the people in Nairobi have been extremely nice to us during our stay. There was the  security guard who helped me call a cab the night I dragged Ray out to an Ethiopian meal in the middle of nowhere (we were the only tourists and it was damn good). There was Ben our Luhya cab driver who was so tickled when we told  him that we were going to Kisumu, his hometown, that he said “what are you going to do in Kisumu for a month? Eat fish?” and then proceeded to tell us his life story and where to go etc in town.  Its been really fun to meet the characters that populate parts of this city, but looking forward to moving on to Kisumu and setting down some roots.

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Published in: on May 1, 2011 at 9:34 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. Great descriptions. How is the tax system and general health care. Also what do seniors do as they age or don’t they get old? California popuilation of minors is lowering as the aged population is growing. Papa Norman

  2. […] beaches, Maasai Mara park, Lions, baby lions (and more baby lions), elephants and baby elephants, Nairobi, Kisumu’s ambassadors, and reflections on religion in Kenya are just a few of the posts we […]


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