East Africa Day 26 – Kenya (Nairobi)

Had a wash – a cold one.  The shower wasn’t working, so I had to pour cold water over myself with a small jug.  Still, it sure woke me up.  Had a simple breakfast of bread, margarine, and tea.  At around 1pm we left her secure compound and out onto the busy highway.  We strolled down to a place where we could easily catch a dalla-dalla to Nairobi town centre.  The local area was a mess of crowded streets, run-down shops, and rocks strewn around randomly.  The traffic hurtled past at a frightening speed.  We caught a dalla-dalla (minivan taxi) to town.  On the mad dodgem car-like ride down the road I saw all kinds of things, cars had crashed, dalla-dallas overturned….the road was being widened, and a large dirt area was in the middle, separating the streams of traffic.  The dirt area was strewn with giant rocks, and cars from both sides of traffic were using the area to overtake.  Not all the cars had made it, and the road looked like a battlefield.

We hit a traffic jam, but something was wrong.  Everybody got out of their cars and buses and went to have a look at what was happening.  A large crowd were trying to block the road, youths were running up and down the street, police and soldiers were everywhere.  Shadia told me the people were part of a sect who are crazy and kill people for no reason, and they were out celebrating as their leader had just been freed from prison.  It was a bad day to be going into town.  A gun shot was heard.  People sprinted away.  There was genuine fear all around.  People were dashing around all over the place.  The crowd dispersed and we continued for a while, but we soon began noticing a strange pattern in the traffic.  Cars and dalla-dallas were trying to drive over the dirt divide and go back, fearful of continuing forward to town.  We saw smoke ahead on the road, and fire.  A few cars were hurtling through the flames, trying to get to safetly.  Tear gas was being fired, youths were running menacingly up and down holding sticks and other makeshift weapons.  Everyone became scared.  Shadia told me to hide my face.  “If they see a muzungu (white person), they’re going to make an example of you” she warned.  The other passengers were yelling at the driver to go back.  We turned and almost set off back….the scenes behind were of chaos.  Cars were all trying to go over the dirt divide, to escape. Then the driver noticed a gap behind, and we turned back towards town again.  He put his foot down, and we raced through the teargas, driving at breakneck speed in the hope of beating the crowds.  Laughter, of relief more than anything, filled the matatu.  I noticed the youths in the road laughing too back there.  The excitement, fear and danger of a situation causes laughter.   We made it to town.  Soldiers and police everywhere.  They expected some trouble today.  Welcome to Nairobi.

We walked to Chicken Inn and Pizza Inn, adjoining fast-food places, and had lunch upstairs overlooking the towering circular structure of the Hilton Hotel.  After lunch, we walked down the busy streets and to the KCC, Kenya Conference Centre.  Here, my guidebook told me, you could go to the top for a great vista of Nairobi.  Shadia had never been, nor knew it was possible to. A conference was underway, journalists and TV crews from all over the world were in attendance.  We strolled in and got a ticket to the top, on the 29th and 30th floor.  The KCC is the second tallest building in Nairobi.  The views were incredible.

Nairobi certainly isn’t a beautiful city from above, there are many better city vistas, but here were signs of a modern metropolis, an orderly planned CBD, a park, a stadium, mountains encircling the city.  It lacked the visual impact of other vistas, but it was good to get a birds-eye perspective nevertheless.  Back down, I thought central Nairobi seemed quite an orderly and pleasant place.  We went to Java coffee for a couple of cappuccinos, and had a really good chat with each other, a great way to learn about her culture.

Evening came, and we went straight from the coffee house into a Nairobi bar, the Jacaranda, a large pub with thumping rnb/hip-hop music.  I was the only ‘white’ there.  I ordered drinks – a Tusker beer, a Tusker malt and a can of Redds for me, Cynthia (Shadia’s friend) and Shadia respectively.  I, of course, was the source of all drinks from the night, as is the way.  The other 2 hadn’t even brought money out.  I resented it in a way, understood it in another.  They are poor, I’m not.  On the occasion they meet a white, why shouldn’t he pay?  We sat and drank, listening to the music.  Shadia had gone quiet, so conversation was stagnant too.  I was a bit bored, but tried my best to make conversation.  After 3 rounds of drinks, we left to another club.  Again, I was the only white.  These were places not in Lonely Planet, then.  This club was rocking, 2 floors and thumping African music.  Shadia was dancing like I’ve never seen a girl dance before.  That girl can move.  I hadn’t eaten dinner, so had to make do with a greasy fried ‘kebab’ and a wrinkled old sausage.  Kenyan clubs all serve such delicacies.  Disgusting.  I switched to non-alcoholic beverages.  I wandered upstairs at one stage, and had a bottle of water.  Cynthia came up and told me to come down after 25 minutes of me being up there.  Shadia was in a mood because I’d gone up alone.  I don’t know why.  We’re friends, not lovers.  Shadia stormed out of the club in a huff.  Usually I’d just carry on dancing, nobody spoils my night, but this time I had no choice but to follow, and try and repair whatever damage I’d caused.  She did have all my belongings at her place after all, including my passport.  We went to another bar, but she was still sulking.  She came round eventually though.  She told me her shoes were hurting her feet, so we bought some more from a street stall.  In fact, loads of pavement shops were selling shoes.  Kenyan ladies must dance hard to go through so many pairs.  Nairobi centre was still buzzing, and by now it was 2am.  Takeaways were open, tablecloths were laid out displaying wares, and it seemed you could buy almost everything.  Shadia’s shoes were Ksh500, and fitted perfectly.  Happy now, we went to another club, small, underground, with a bit of attitude but no danger.  Though the crowd all look like gangsters, they act like gentlemen.

Shadia was dancing a lot now, and was the focus of everyone in the club.  I didn’t know hips could move like that.  After a good dance, we got in a taxi and went to the last club of the night – Psyche bar, about 20 minutes out of town.  It was full, and by now it was 5am.  I ordered a large Tusker, and met 2 of Shadia’s friends, from Somalia.  By 6am, we were all worn out.  We got a taxi to town, ordered chips and chicken, which was just the ticket.  Desperate for the toilet, I popped into a bar that was still open.  It was now 6:30am.  The place was full.  Nairobi never stops.  Got a matatu back to Shadias.  On the way were typical scenes of urban chaos Africa style.  A matatu had collided with a bus, and both had rolled down the central embankment of the highway.  People were being pulled out through the broken windows, others were sat down in shock.  What a start to their day.  This scene, I’m sure, is all too common on the deathtrap highways of Nairobi.  I was glad to make it back in one piece.

Author: Neil

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