Getting to Know Nairobi

Hi friends,

Tomorrow marks two weeks that I’ve been in Kenya. I’m having a wonderful time so far and feel like I have learned a great deal already. Nairobi is a diverse, bustling, rapidly growing city with various opportunities for economic and social activity and a strikingly wide wealth gap. The city is headquarters for many East African industries and is a hub for regional and international governance, while also being home to huge informal settlements and poverty. From what I’ve gathered so far, the city is made up of a small downtown core known as the CBD (Central Business District) surrounded by neighbourhoods of varying character, some of which have quiet residential areas tucked away from the major streets. I live in such a neighbourhood. It’s called Kileleshwa and I’m pleased to call one of its apartment buildings my new home.

My apartment building  is visible just behind the vendors and trees.

My apartment building is visible just behind the vendors and trees.

A notable first impression I’ve had is the level of security in this city. Before arriving, I knew Nairobi would be highly securitized given its history of crime and recent acts of terrorism. But it’s been more of an adjustment than I had expected. Guards with metal detectors stand at the entrances of various public spaces, like the mall, restaurants and bars, and even a KFC I went to in the CBD. They open your bags and sometimes pat you down. If you’re driving into the parking lot of a mall, a guard may check your back seat and trunk, and possibly check under your car using an extendable mirror. My apartment is in a gated compound with a friendly guard, and the entrance to our flat has a heavy wooden door with two locks behind a barred metal gate with a padlock. I’m really bad with keys and so getting into the apartment is its own event. I’m sure I’ll get better at it. Anyway, despite the nuisance it can be, I’m privileged to be able to keep myself safe the way I can.

One of my favourite aspects of Nairobi it its public transport. I take a minibus, or matatu, to work. A matatu is a 15-seater van (although they can hold many more than that!) that races through the city streets at incredible speeds. The conductor hangs out the side door waving to passengers and yelling out the final destination. Once inside, you might enjoy some East African hip hop or reggae, sometimes blasting so loud that you wonder if your ear drums are still in working order when you hop off. You’ll see Kenyans in suit and tie on their way to work, parents with their kids, and maybe the occasional nerdy mzungu trying to fit in (me). At most of the loading stages, a matatu can arrive as frequently as every two minutes. Depending on where you’re going the cost is between 10 and 50 shillings ($0.12-$0.60 CAD).

Last week I went to the CBD for some exploring on my own. I walked around, had KFC (chicken tastes the same but I had ugali instead of fries), and visited the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC). The KICC has a rooftop observation deck that offers a great view of Nairobi. I was able to see various hotels and commercial buildings in the CBD as well as the Parliament building and Nairobi’s city hall.

The KICC.

The KICC.

The view from the top of the KICC.

The view from the top of the KICC.

This past week, I went on a staff retreat with the Kenya Equity in Education Project (KEEP) team. We stayed in a lodge outside Machakos, only 60km away from Nairobi. KEEP hosted a weeklong planning session and had some critical discussions about the project’s progress and areas for improvement. It was wonderful to meet the rest of the KEEP team and learn about the roles of education officers, counsellors, finance/procurement officers, scholarship program coordinators, and so on. We are 31 in total, which includes the Nairobi team and staff in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps. I’m thrilled to be part of this team and will certainly tell you more about the project and my role in future blog posts. For now, check out these photos of giraffes, wildebeest, gazelles, and zebra that I captured only a short distance away from our lodge!

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The views expressed in this blog are entirely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of the World University Service of Canada, the Kenya Equity in Education Project, or Windle Trust Kenya.

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