Kenya

A City of Opposites

Nairobi is a city of opposites:  Rich and poor, dirty and clean, expensive and cheap, beautiful and ugly, safe and unsafe.  My first two hours in the city were spent in a cab in traffic trying to get from the airport to my new home after 26+ hours of traveling.  While I don’t remember much from when I was last here in 2006, I do remember how it felt like a city of walled off areas.  Each apartment complex, neighborhood, mall, ect. is enclosed within a usually brick wall with barbed wire around the top, sometimes glass shards or electrical wire as well.  Since the Westgate Mall shooting (now the one year anniversary), the malls all have one entrance in and out where you must be scanned and have your purse checked.  Security has significantly increased in these high trafficked areas.

The I-DEV office is nicely tucked away in one of the more beautiful areas of the city.  It is in a complex of about 4 other houses with a 24 hour security guard at the front.  There is a lovely backyard with a large table with an umbrella for sitting outside and a cute little back porch for lounging.  This is where I am living for now until I find my own place just so I can get some separation between where I work and where I live.

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The first two days I was here, I went to a conference called the SEED Africa Symposium and was on a panel and participated in a workshop on co-creation for inclusive businesses (basically, how to we get corporations and social enterprises to collaborate more effectively to address the challenges faced in emerging markets). Having traveled for what was basically 2 days with the time change, I put my best foot forward and hopped in a cab to head to the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi.  Banana trees, a swimming pool, lounge chairs and beautiful little cottages met me upon my arrival.  I asked myself why I hadn’t just booked a place here for the conference? I felt like I had stepped into a little oasis just outside a storm of dust, traffic and trash that marked my journey there.  Needless to say, I came to the conference a little early on the second day to prepare for the panel and sit by the pool to review my notes as “Allisom Voos” as denoted by my name tag.

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To be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect when it came to food here.  I remember eating ugali and scumawiki (sautéed spinach and onions) back in Tenwek, but wasn’t sure what would be available here.  Not to fret, they have grocery stores which might as well be the equivalent size of a Target.  I almost took a picture of the number of peanut butter options available because I was so excited. After almost blowing up my hairdryer on day one because of the different outlets here, I also was able to find a hairdryer at the store which they kindly let me take out of the box and try at the cash register to make sure I liked it.  I also have gone out to dinner twice now both to very nice seafood restaurants.  The first restaurant was also in a mall like complex and was more of a Mediterranean type restaurant and the one I went to yesterday was a Japanese sushi restaurant where I got the most amazing grilled eggplant and a sushi boat full of sushi with co-workers.  What I couldn’t believe was that there were restaurants like this in Nairobi that you can easily spend $20-$30 per person (excluding drinks).  I understand that there are lots of expats living here as well as many tourist coming through so there would be a demand, but at the same time it feels weird eating at a place like that here when street food may cost you 50 cents.  Around the office there are some very nice Chinese restaurants which I find odd and don’t exactly love Chinese food for lunch, but have gone twice with my new co-workers here in Nairobi.  For one of my co-worker’s last day, we went to this Chinese restaurant with a lovely back patio where there were overgrown trees and birds flying around.

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Between the pollution and high-level of security in the city, there are little pockets of sunshine.  I’m looking forward to see what else I can find here in Nairobi!

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