I landed in Nairobi Thursday night.
The air was cool and crisp- nothing compared to the sizzling heat during the day. On the drive to the apartment from the airport (interesting fact: Kenyans drive on the left side of the road), I noticed a couple of things: 1) even though it was only 9 PM, there were few people out, 2) the scenery reminded me of the combination of Ohio and Beijing, and 3) the domination of all things American and Chinese.
My second observation was confirmed the next day when I went on a 8:30 AM run to the National Arboretum, which is about 5 kilometers from my apartment. Similar to the roads in Ohio, they are spacious and have a “country-side” feel as they are flanked by trees on both sides. And similar to the situation in Beijing, the traffic is terrifying and there is no stoplight for walking. Unlike both of these two places, Nairobi’s sidewalks, when they exist, are bumpy dirt roads. I felt like I was running on a trail, constantly watching for bumps and rocks. Nairobi also has hills… a new concept to someone used to the flatlands of the Midwest.
My post-run trip to the grocery store, Uchimi, looped back to my first observation. Being the oblivious American I was, I walked past by security without much a thought. It was not until a couple seconds later did I realize that the security guards were yelling at me to stop (Nairobi is a pretty loud city). They had to pat me down and scan me with metal () before I went into the store. The increase in security is also visible through the fact that every car that enters a major parking lot has to be scanned for bombs, including the bottom of the car. The terrorist bomb attack on Monday has the entire city on high alert.
What lies inside the store ensured me that my third observation was correct. The majority of the products found in the store are either America, Chinese, or Indian. They have Pringles, Minute Maid, Fruit Loops, and even Skippy’s Peanut Butter! In addition, Coco-Cola has a huge advertising presence, dominating billboards and TV ads. Chinese presence is omnipresent as well. On the five block walk to Uchimi, I passed by a China Center, a billboard written in Chinese with no Swahili or English translation, and numerous billboards and ads for Huawei, one of the top three cellphone providers. China Center is host to Amaica restaurant, one of the most prestigious Kenyan cuisine restaurants frequented by diplomats and politicians. The Indian influence is primarily through food. Uchimi had an entire aisle devoted to Indian food, from chutney to spices to paneer.
So end of my first full day in Nairobi and I accomplished my goals of: 1) finding wifi and getting a phone, 2) getting grocery, 3)exploring the neighborhood, 4) writing a bijillion work emails.
For this weekend: exploring the city before work officially starts on Monday. I am also meeting up with a few friends who are also in Nairobi. A St. Patrick’s day party. And Poker night with some expats. Target places: downtown Nairobi, National Arboretum, and some hiking. Restaurants to try: Ranalo Food and Maswrey.