Nairobi didn’t so much open my eyes as kick my arse, but it did a superb job of it. And one day, when I have a fatter wallet and perhaps a bulky friend or two, I’ll go back for more. Back for an even stronger dose of whatthefuckamIdoinghere.
I wanted to see animals, because, well, when in Africa. Seeing animals is expensive, folks. They may be Africa’s thing and Kenya may be ‘technically’ a developing country, but seeing animals in Africa isn’t like buying tea in China. Elephants and giraffes are a tourist thing, and a luxury one at that. So, fair enough that Kenya – and the rest of Africa – can capitalize on it.
Seeing animals is also not a particularly active activity. You are not Steve Urwin, or even David Attenborough. You are not creeping through the savannah with binoculars in hand, clambering over rocks and scaling trees to spot elusive leopards and moody lions. You are, rather, hunkered in a jeep with your camera, and you will NOT leave the vehicle unless permitted. You will take photos when told, and you will eat large quantities of rice and beans. You will do this for six days, fourteen, however many you’ve signed up for (some people actually do this shit for weeks. How, I don’t know). You will also pay thousands to do this.
And when your guide (or one of his buddies) happens to spot the coveted lion/ostrich/giraffe/pigeon, he’ll chase it down and slam on the brakes somewhere within its immediate path, which is a signal for forty-seven other tourist-carrying jeeps to follow suit, and within minutes there’s a cluster of panting vehicles closing in on the bemused animal, who’s been photographed so often anyway he/she is practically putting on airs. That, or incredibly pissed off. I don’t blame the hippo that munched on the Taiwanese tourist a couple of months ago.
It was for these reasons that I gave the safari idea a miss and instead opted for a ‘park drive’. This meant paying an exorbitant price to bounce around Nairobi National Park in a jeep for three hours with an overweight guide who shared his thoughts on life with me, including many crass jokes about young men who just want to get ‘jiggy-jiggy’ with ladies for only one night, when they should leave their jiggy-jiggy to marriage. I nodded at him and looked for lions, which we did not see. We didn’t see any cats at all. But we did see zebras rolling in the dust, and a family of rhinos, which was good enough.
I liked Kenya, despite ‘that’ incident with my mobile phone, and despite the men who hooted at my foreign white legs while shouting hello, hello baby, how are youuuu…
No, actually, I fucking hated those men. It was relentless and it was rude, and it made every moment outside the safety of my Airbnb room an ordeal. An uncomfortable one.
But there were people besides the leerers and phone-snatchers. Nairobi is home to the most wonderful, kind, fascinating people who want only for outsiders to see that they’re not a desperate, poverty-stricken nation.
I made friends with the guy sitting next to me on the hour-long flight from Kigali to Nairobi. He invited me to his (ah-MAZ-ing) home for dinner, where his lovely wife made the most divine chicken curry (EVER) and his going-to-be-a-lawyer son was the most beautiful and charming man I’ve seen, ever. We drank a lot of wine and talked nicely and it was fabulous.
My second day in Nairobi, I wandered into the city centre with some vague idea of getting a sim card. I had no idea where, or how, or even if this was possible. Trying to stay upright in the midst of Nairobi’s bodies/cars/dogs/buses/fumes was effort enough. But a woman who’d seen me get off the bus saw me wandering (a daft white woman walking in circles probably stands out somewhat) and asked if I needed help with anything. She ended up taking me to the Safaricom store, telling the staff what I needed, finding the right ticket for me and basically doing anything I didn’t understand, which was everything. I took up at least 40 minutes of her time before she politely pointed me the right queue and left me to it. And I got my sim card. The next weekend, I took Victoria out for lunch and didn’t complain when she ordered the most expensive meal on the menu.
Another day, I met with a fellow writer/copywriter who gave me a rather brusque (and valid) insight into her antagonism towards white tourists who go bounding through her country snapping pictures of slums and ragged children and then posting said footage, along with their sage observations, on Facebook. I nodded and agreed, and felt kinda shitty, because she was right.
I need to write a lot more about Kenya, but I won’t do it here. I’ll make my own sage (vague) observation. The place has its share of social issues, yep, and certainly some rough bits, but there’s more to it than that, and even more than its pretty animals and orange sunsets, and its Chinese roads and violent bus fumes and sprawling slums and camel rides in the park on Sundays (this is actually a thing). Kenya gave me a right kick up the arse, and one day I’ll go back and let it finish me off.