Friday, September 18, 2009

Karibu Kenya

East Africa brings a whole new way of life. Nairobi is located at 1700m, chilly temperatures at dawn and dusk with a blazing sun at noon. Everything is dry. It hasn’t rained since May, and so the dams are empty and the water company is struggling to provide water. In fact, it hardly succeeds. Water tanks on rooftops are refilled every three days (although im counting 6 at my place) . During the day, electricity is provided to the industry, and at night to residences. Red soil dusts the air. Exotic flowers and bright birds line the streets; species that are similar to those found in Australia, like the , birds of paradise.
I live in what the interns have dubbed ‘slum gardens,’ for these plastic model homes find themselves amongst UN and embassy villas. Run by a thieving Indian woman, who doesn’t declare taxes, but happily rents out rooms for 200,00ksh +. Remove two zeros and that equals Euros. The homes model Dubai’s vision of upgraded slum houses, simple plastic structures, but the beautiful well-manicured garden makes up for the discomforts of woodworms and a grave-sunk mattress.
Otherwise, these are my observations:
• Traffic in Nairobi is a nightmare. No practical xeoms to catch a ride with, bicycle riding is out of the question (although there supposedly is one fixed gear rider...). Instead, the informal system of matatus (mini vans) takes ownership of the road. Doors fly open, hip music welcomes in a road side passenger, and at the sound of whistle sung by the man hanging out the vehicle, the matatu speeds away.
• Roads throughout the city are pott-holed.
• When El Nino comes, there is going to be a lot of trouble!! (The Urban Poor living along the major rivers are in dire straits!)
• There is no real center of town, instead there are areas.
• Most expat folk live in well-secured, high-fenced estates.
• Tribal hierarchy governs life (more on this topic later)
• Internet sucks here, but avocadoes cost 15ksh a piece!
• The Sunday hike up Ol Donyo (Buffalo) Mountain revealed no buffalos, but many baboons and blue headed monkeys crossed the path.