Friday, July 2, 2010

First Impressions of Nairobi

Arrived in Nairobi early-early on June 30th, landing around 1:20am and clearing customs by 2:30. Julie and I are scared: Nairobi is rumored to be the most dangerous city in Africa. We'd talked about crashing at the airport til dawn, but now we're dead on our feet and will pay almost anything for a clean bed. We don't have a hotel reservation or taxi waiting, but by the luggage carousel we force a conversation with Dirk, a German high school student doing volunteer work outside the capital, and he agrees to share his cab to his hotel, where we hope they have an extra room for us. We're somewhat amazed that this ride has worked out, without any prior planning, and is cheaper and less scary than arranging our own transportation at 3am. We knock on the glass door of the Embassy Hotel, and a fuzzy shape moves in the darkness: the manager, rising from his sleep on the couch. He turns on a light, unlocks the door for us. He's unfazed by our arrival, and hands us a registration form. We copy our passport numbers, dates of issue and expiry, visa numbers and port of arrival. A young prostitute in a banana and khaki-colored dress comes inside and interrupts to ask if there is a room available. Does it have a bathroom? Is there tissue inside? She hands the manager 2000 Kenyan shillings, about $25, and takes a room key. Her john is waiting outside, and comes in when she gives him the A-OK sign.

At 3am, inside the cab, the city is deserted and sort of menacing-looking to first time visitors, but by noon, when we've woken, we notice that the streets are clean, people are extraordinarily well-dressed, relaxed, and polite. The downtown district abounds with coffeeshops and Indian restaurants. There is construction happening behind our hotel, and the workers wear helmets and climb metal scaffolding. These are the things we're noticing after our 8 weeks in the Middle East.

I've got feeling of whiplash from flying from Egypt to Kenya. In Luxor, the temperature was 120 degrees Fahrenheit, forcing these skinflint travelers to splurge for rooms with A/C. In Nairobi, it's shot down to about 70, cool and overcast through most of the day. Security guards give you directions without expecting to be tipped. People ask you where you're from as a simple conversation starter, not as a means of suckering you into their shop--but we still have our guards up.

Mark and Juliah

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