There are various thrills to travel but none but that rush of adrenalin when you "fit" into your new environment. The creeping realisation that no one is looking at you – no one is going to accost you. You can move from A to B with relative ease, there’s a buzz to fitting in to your new surroundings. You have mastered your new environment – it has not mastered you.
I felt that on my first day in Nairobi. This city, like Lagos or Johannesburg has a wicked reputation. It has a sense of edginess amongst travellers and is the recipient of many warnings in the usual guidebooks. But nothing happened to me. Every person I spoke to said that crime was exaggerated – my taxi driver to the Karen Blixen house even said it was safe at night. I wouldn’t like to test the theory out but since taxi driving is such a high risk proffession I trust his judgement more then most.
So the first morning after an overnight flight from London (no jetlag, I love Africa) I set off to run a few errands in central Nairobi. With a deep breath I joined the crowds down Moi Avenue. I was the only non-African as far as the eye could see. It was mainly Kenyans in suits walking purposely along battered pavements. I took the bull by the horns and crossed the congested traffic. Then got swallowed up by the flood of humanity in this city.
I was staying just off Moi Avenue. Opposite is Bishara Street – famous for its Asian shopkeepers. Here is also the Jiamat hotel and a number of persistent touts trying to get you interested in the Central Market. They usually comment on your shoes – and with my enormous feet they couldn’t believe their luck. But they aren’t as persistent as some countries and were easily shaken off.
Mbingu Avenue takes you south to the big Kenyatta Avenue – a wide street lined with skyscrapers. Some of the m very impressive such as the I&M tower and were as good as those in London’s Docklands or Shanghai. Can you imagine a villager up from the bush seeing skyscrapers for the first time? Kenyatta Avenue is bisected by a central reservation lined with palm trees. South of here is the government centre and Parliament. The northern side is crowded with banks. I found a chemist to buy some shaving cream but no one serving seemed to know what I wanted – one girl thought I wanted lady shave.
Mokdar Dadar Street is not far away is not far away and is tourist Nairobi. Obvious by the touts and taxi drivers who hang around Nginyo Towers (another skyscraper) waiting for custom. There are several good African restaurants around here with lunchtime buffets for about 350 shillings. There are number of mosques in this area and its pretty orthodox Islam around here with women in burkhas and men in religious dress. Watch the TV and you will see how solid religion is in Africa.
Central Nairobi does not have any obvious sights and is a busy place to wander around but you get a sense of achievement getting from A to B here. And the more time you spend here the less intimidating it becomes.
Who knows? It is almost possible to like the place. Stranger things have happened.