This was just one of the many traveller robbery stories I’d heard about Kenya’s capital city, a fast-growing crime-infused locale in East Africa. I didn’t really want to go to Nairobi – or Nairobbery as the locals coin it. My only reason for hitting this place was to sort out some visa queries at a few embassies for the countries I’d be going to further along the way.
I’ve been here for two weeks now, walking everywhere and going out on the weekends with friends. Sure, one of them is a professional kickboxer which adds to personal safety feelings but in general? People are nice, the police – those who know directions – assist when I ask how to get to where I’m going, it’s easily navigable and, like most Western cities, traffic is a confusion of standstills, inching along at snail pace.
In fact, I’m surprised by it’s modern, Westernised look. Large billboards (one advertising a reward for the head of Al Shabab), tall skyscrapers, more shopping malls than a shopaholic’s sale dream, timed traffic lights – and in true African style, no one that heeds to them – and large city parks to take a break from the urban jungle.
Security is tighter than a US embassy in an Islamic state. I get searched three times before I can even enter a shopping mall (for no other reason than to use the fast internet connection to supply you with my adventures). There are female and male guards – each for conducting searches on their genders, then there’s security guards on every floor of the shopping centre, in the car park, in front of most shops, banks and a few soldiers that patrol around.
But like in most African cities, bus and matatu (mini-van bus) drivers are suicidal maniacs, auditioning to become the next James Bond stunt driver. Rarely I have been close to meeting my end due to the incompetent hands of a reckless driver as I have been in African cities.
This after being pinned down by six 9-foot waves on sharp, shallow reef in Lombok, Indonesia, crossing the Indian Ocean for five months – off-season – surfing next to the highest population of Great White sharks in South Africa and being stung by a Portuguese Man O’War during said ocean crossing.
It’s not because the drivers are more focused on the text message they’ve just received and feel inclined to respond to whilst doing 80 K’s an hour within city limits with 23 people in their 9-seater mode of transport. Or playing with their ear-rupturing foghorn, flattening trees and villages due to the volume. They seem to have a blatant disregard for pedestrians which I find ironic since pedestrians are their bread and butter.
I was walking down Ngong Road, a main artery of western Nairobi, going with the jammed traffic on the footpath. So called because its sole purpose is to allow people a safe place to put one foot in front of the other as they amble pass the standstill cars and trucks. Next thing I know, something’s brushed past my right shoulder and as I dive out of the way a matatu speeds by to overtake the slow line of cars – on the footpath.
“Oi!” I yelled out. “At least honk your fuckin’ horn!” And perhaps use the road designated for your vehicle since I’m on the fuckin’ footpath!
Oblivious to the danger the driver had put me in he sped on, weaving into traffic. An image of myself running down between the line of cars like Jason Bourne, grabbing the reckless driver by his Adam’s apple and pulling him through his window to encounter a severe beating played momentarily in my mind as I calmed my racing heart.
The main problem I’ve found with Nairobi is the city’s polluted and dusty air. The main cause, as far as my investigative abilities have concluded, is due to the diesel-powered vehicles – mainly trucks, buses and matatus.
They spew out black, toxic fumes with all the tailpipes angled so that the fumes are directed at pedestrians – those that survive near-runovers. I’ve almost passed out having to hold my breath as a buses rumble behind me, coughs and splutters, dowsing me with a black cloud of lung-collapsing CO2.
So even though I haven’t encountered anything to justify the city to be called Nairobbery, it’s not somewhere I’d suggest to linger for too long in general.
Only when needed.