A Joyride

My first impressions are usually wrong, which is why I’ve made it a habit to try to not let them affect me. Fortunately, this was also the case for my first impression of Nairobi. It is not brown and dusty at all, like I thought when I as first arriving on an airplane. Well, maybe a little dusty from time to time. But definitely not brown, more like incredibly green!

The city was founded in 1899 by British colonialists as a conveniently located railway depot for the construction of the Lunatic Express between Mombasa and Kasese. One can see why they would choose this location: It is one of the rare spots in tropical Africa where the climate is so temperate even an Englishman could handle it.

Nairobi lies one degree below the equator, east of the Ngong Hills at almost 2,000 meters altitude. The wind is usually blowing from east to west, carrying the clouds towards the hills, where they shed their rain. The frequent rainfalls turn Nairobi into a huge lake of green. This year, I am told, the showers and storms gusts are heavier than usual. El Niño is hitting the city hard, almost certainly an effect of climate change.

Last sunday, I got to experience those rains from the safety of the car as Stefan took me for a joyride through Nairobi’s outskirts. When we head east to Wangige, the weather is still alright. Jacaranda trees are showing off their beautiful purple blossoms, a sign that it’s spring in Kenya.

It’s a busy sunday, with many people walking along the side of the road. Many are dressed nicely for church. I find that the people here are generally dressed quite well. “Most of them are wearing used clothes from Europe”,  Stefan explains. He points to four young women. “All of them are wearing second hand clothes for sure. Apart from the girl on the right, maybe. That parka looks like it’s new.”

From an environmentalist view, that saves a lot of ressources. I rarely buy new clothes, happily wearing other people’s hand-me-downs. People in Germany are often hesitant about giving their clothes to the used clothes collection, afraid that this practice may destroy local textile trade. From what I’ve learned here, that should not concern us. Under the current cirumstances, I am told, the markets are run like feudalistic structures. They don’t really serve the people.

A lot of people have set up shops by the side of the road. Everything seems to be happening outside. We are driving by open air plant vendors, markets, carpet cleaners, car washes, even building supplies stores.

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We turn west, driving past the slums. There are children playing hide and seek around market stands, playing tag on arrow-root fields, climbing up landfills. People are carrying all sorts of things on their heads like bags or umbrellas, one guy is carrying a bundle of shovels.

The rain starts to pour as we enter Ruaka town. We pass by a huge temple with a lot of big, fancy cars parked in front of it. “They are having a service inside. Mass can last five or six hours here.”

To get home, we drive through an area called Runda. The houses here are gorgeous and gigantic, the roads very well maintained. There are several ambassador’s residencies here, as well as a Golf club where the annual membership fee is 10,000 Dollars.

Within one hour, this tour has taken me through slums and flashy residential areas, on dirt roads and modern concrete streets, past Porsche Cayennes and children playing in mud puddles. I get the feeling that Nairobi is a fascinating city full of contradictions where everything is happening all at once.


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