Kenya Post 2: Arrival
Even from the sky, Nairobi is doing well. Lights are to be seen everywhere, paved roads are obvious and even from the sky, the condition of the vehicles is vastly superior to anything found in Blantyre, for example. The airport is filled with Kenyan Air planes, newer air terminals and even newer vehicles. Even the terminal bridge features large ads for EPSON printers and not Zain telephone cards. Stepping out of the terminal bridge however, I notice that the tiles on the ground are mismatched and haphazardly linked.
I nearly twist my ankle stepping in. Now this is the Africa I know.
Immediately, I go into travel mode, go through passport control, get bag, exchange money, clear customs, all as quickly as possible to beat the mad rush of people entering who probably don’t know what they’re doing. I secure a taxi driver named Sam. That’s really the first thing you have to do: secure a trustworthy driver. Treat them well and they will treat you well.
He compliments me on my English, though I remark that his English is better than mine. He says “No, no, I used to work in Mombasa.” The US has a base in Mombasa and Sam used to work driving military men around. “The talk so fast, I can’t understand anything they say. And they use foul language.” I inform him that US military recruits often come from the countryside and that they don’t use foul language when their mothers are around. “They should know that they disrespect me. Please tell them.” I agree to.
The talk of the military leads him to give me a run down on the war with Al Shabaab from Somalia. He instructs me not to go to the North. In the States, we fight wars elsewhere. It’s hard to fathom an active conflict just miles away from relative prosperity.
The times have been good to Nairobi. The lights are on. The roads are paved. Cars are in very good condition. The normal burners seen hobbling through Blantyre are not to be seen here. I make note of multitudes of hotels and at least ten neon lit casinos on the way. “The Chinese are here now, ” Sam says.
Indeed he is right. Even billboards are written in Chinese now. It’s clear that Chinese investors are creating a parallel economy, one for the Kenyans, one for western tourists, and yet another for the ever increasing numbers of Chinese investors and laborers that, by appearances, are flooding the country.
He points to a brightly lit hotel and remarks that it used to be the US embassy, you know, the one that was bombed by Al Qaeda in the late 1990’s in the lead up to 9.11. It is now one of the best places to stay in Nairobi.
He mentions witchcraft. One can’t go very long in a conversation in Africa without having the subject brought up at least once. His tells me that even the educated are doing it now. Wives, seeking to reign in sexually wandering husbands, place spells on them to control their activities. I ask him if his wife has placed a spell on him as well. He tells me no, that he treats his wife well, though mentions that one never knows whether one is under the influence of one of these spells. If his wife had bewitched him, he would never know. Any of us could be bewitched, even right now.
I make it to the guest house. One of the gate keepers runs a bomb checking device under the car, with an air of formality. The driver laughs and says exactly what I’m thinking, “this kid probably doesn’t even know what he’s looking for.”
The guest house is run by Seventh Day Adventists. They only serve vegetarian food, which is fine with me, though I note to my horror that caffeinated beverages are not allowed.
It is too late to get food at the guest house so I have Sam drive me to get something to eat. He drops me off at an Italian restaurant in the city center. I am convinced that the best Italian food outside of Italy is in Africa.
Leaving the restaurant, I bolt for the cab. Around 20 street women carrying babies surround me demanding money. I guess this is probably their best way of making a living. The wait outside the Italian restaurant for whiteys to leave, then gang up on them hoping that some money might get thrown their way. Interestingly, they are all dressed exactly the same, as if there is a street mother uniform. I barely make it to the car as the driver panics, “Get in the car!” As the door closes, the mothers’ demeanor changes to the familiar laughing and smiling that Africans are known for. They wave us out. I notice the zipper to my bag is open, though nothing is missing.
We drive through the city center. At this time of night, the only places open are nightclubs and a few casinos. We proceed through a gauntlet of prostitutes on the left and drug dealers on the right. I assume the prostitutes are on the left to facilitate entry into vehicles. The drug dealers can sell directly to drivers on the right.
I wonder to myself if the army of baby carrying women over by the Italian restaurant were originally stationed over here with the prostitutes.
The driver reminds me that this is nothing. He says he’ll bring me through on a Friday night. The streets are packed, he says. On morality and consumerism, Kenya is a far different ballgame from peaceful and content Malawi.