Your family – dear reader – learned to walk in Kenya. We have to go back in history though, two and a half million years to be correct. That’s when it all started with the walking and the talking (Imagine our forefathers sitting there on the savanna: “Okay guys, we have two options: We can either talk the walk or walk the talk – which will it be?” Yup, that’s how early management mumbo jumbo invaded our lives! ). So why not begin your weekend tour of Nairobi where it all began. At the National Museum you have the unique opportunity to study the origin of man in the form of skulls from that period. New to Nairobi that’s how I began my few months in Africa’s fourth largest city. It gave me a kind of perspective standing there in their dark silent presence, before I took in the rest of Nairobi.
The museum is practically the only place in town where silent presence is …well, present. Bring your ear plugs! Particularly if you go around by matatu, a minibus, there are hordes of them. Their popularity seem to grow with the noise level inside. Loud distorted music is a part of the experience, at bus depots preachers will offer you eternal life for a few bob (he apparently knows that the driver drives like an idiot), and vendors stick their heads inside in the hope of selling you everything from peanuts to underpants, made in China. But the matatus are cheap, and you can count on them. They are as faithful as the daily power cuts, so bring your torch light as well.
But where to go in the matatu? Don’t worry, you’ll have loads of time to contemplate as you’re stuck in traffic, and even though matatu-drivers are known for their skills to squeeze, honk and yell their way through the hardest traffic jam, they also have to give in to the fact that urban planning in Nairobi leaves a lot to be desired. Sometimes you wonder if there’s any planning at all, and then you get to Thika Road and realize that something is being done. Thika Road is one of the busiest roads leading into town but had to give up to the growing number of cars, trucks and buses. Now the Chinese are expanding the road in one of the biggest road projects in East Africa to the sad tune of Kenyan engineers who ask: Why aren’t we good enough? The rest of the Nairobians ask: What happens after the exit of the China man?
But that’s not for you to worry about, because you are on your way to one of the many shopping malls. With a growing middle class shopping “western style” has become popular, so why not spend your Sunday afternoon at The Village Market with lots of shops, restaurants and live music. Not African enough for you, you say? Reminds you too much of what you’re used to? Well, Nairobi is a city of contrasts so proceed to the market in Kawangware, I’ll bet that’s rustic enough even for the backpacking crowd. Or – if you dare – take a walk around Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums. Kibera is a disgrace and a stain on Kenya, a stinking hellhole with people living under appalling conditions, it’s a part of Nairobi with a law of its own. Come to think of it, don’t go there unless you know somebody from inside. I was invited by Jane, who lives there with her family. I went with a friend, my wife and our son who with his 16 years is somewhat ignorant about most things. But today – a year later – he still returns to that depressing place in our conversations at the dinner table; he doesn’t understand why we let it happen.
After that you deserve a cold beer. Head for Brew Bistro and Lounge on Ngong Road, they have their own micro-brewery, excellent food, live music and dance (some nights) and a great staff. Or go to one of the many international restaurants, Italian, Japanese, Brazilian – or Swiss (nothing like a steaming fondue on a hot night). And for the night owls Nairobi has plenty of clubs which continue into the wee hours with dancing and pretty ladies who’ll do anything for you, because you look sooo good.
If you don’t have a lot of time and want to combine the city with a bit of safari, Nairobi offers a national park bordering right up to the road leading from the airport. With the impressing skyline as background you can see most of the “big five” and all the other animals that you normally would have to go far – and pay a lot – to see. Another out-of-town experience is the Karen Blixen Museum, where the world famous Danish writer had her coffee farm, which she so sadly had to leave (yes, yes, I know – I’m Danish myself). Speaking of coffee, Java Coffee House and Art Café have several branches throughout the town, where you can enjoy the best of coffee and punch happily away on your internet connected laptop at the same time.
If you can’t be bothered with the must-see-and-do department you can choose to stroll around downtown as I did many times just soaking up the atmosphere and making good bargains. You can have DVDs burned for as little as 50 Shilling (half a dollar), get cool stuff at the Masai market or clothes and shoes in one of the many shops on Moi Avenue. Nairobi has it all, so why not give it a chance? Oohh, it’s too risky, you say. You have read articles about Nairobi being one of the most dangerous towns of Africa. True, like everywhere else you have to bring your common sense. But did you notice that I managed to write this blog post without once using the nickname Nairobbery? That would be a bleeding insult to this great African city.