I must admit I had many concerns about coming to Africa. Particularly considering my girlfriend, little packhorse that she is, had decided to bring her big, fat, expensive camera – and all the specialist equipment (lenses, filters, adaptors, cables) that goes with it – as well as her meaty Macbook Pro. On our way to Heathrow, with two enormous rucksacks, plus two smaller yet seemingly heavier ones containing said items, I thought, “This is never going to work.”
Add to that the many scary things I had heard and read about robbery and violence in Nairobi, Johannesburg and Zimbabwe particularly, I can safely say that the organic bricks were making their presence felt. However, there was solace in the fact that we were being met at the airport and that, on paper (or electronic mail to be more accurate) at least, people would be looking out for us during our stay in Nairobi.
And look out for us they have. We have been staying at someone’s private residence - Naomi donates the use of one room to her friend Jane who runs what appears to be a well-to-do ladies’ co-operative guesthouse - in a really quite posh suburb north east of the city centre, near where all the United Nations buildings are located. It’s very green and hilly and pretty, and the houses are security doored up to the teeth. A bit out of our price range, but very safe - we thought we would spend the first few days getting ourselves settled here. Lilly-livered westerners that we are.
Jane also happens to run another co-operative effort, the Open Hand orphanage based in the semi-slum of Githurai. More on that later.
Our occasional driver is Francis, whom Tan has already described delightfully. Although not particularly cheap, even with some well appreciated discounts (he’s usually ferrying UN bigwigs around, you see), the guy is an absolute diamond. He reckons Kenya has really improved in safety over the last two years, due to the communities recognising the value of tourism and the associated “mzungus” (white folk) and simply not standing for criminals living in their midst. Although I want to believe him fully, I suspect that his comments are somewhat coloured by his formidable marketing instincts.
However, mzungus still have to be careful. There are (apparently) places you do not want to be after dark and taxis are strongly recommended for moving about the city at night. Some parts of Accra Road, River Road and Latema Road, the locations of budget accommodation and many bus transport services, can be a little daunting even during the day.
Mind you, Lonely Planet says to avoid the slums pretty much like the plague and yet we found Kibera (the biggest slum in Africa) extremely friendly. But again, we had locals showing us around - and it was during the day, before many of the working guys hit the homebrew special sauce. Thanks to Bill, Milly, Patrick and the gentle, soft-spoken, massive Ugandan whose name I could never catch, for taking us around Kibera, which was a humbling and educational experience.
On Monday (edit: actually today, I wrote most of this a few days ago) we start our internship with Pamoja Trust, which works to improve living conditions in the slums of Nairobi. As yet we have absolutely no idea what we will be doing. It will mean living closer to the city centre, but we should be able to walk to and from the office and during the evenings we will take the afore-mentioned precautions.
So, a little more trepidation to contend with, but by the end of a month we will hopefully be a little more at ease with living and working in Nairobi. And after all, we do come from not-so-safe London, even if only the girly girly Westside.