letters from nairobi

on being a hermit
November 16, 2011, 21:26
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

One conclusion that you, loyal reader(s), might be able to draw from previous posts regarding the trials and tribulations of dog walking and various “views from…” snapshots that happen to be taken from inside my apartment is that I have been spending quite a bit of time holed up inside.

And you would be correct.

Although the subject matter is undeniably riveting, it should be mentioned that my intent in moving halfway across the world was not, in fact, to spend more time chasing feral cats with sticks and running on treadmills.

Unfortunately, as I have come to find out, living in Nairobi is not quite as simple as one might imagine.

For the past few days, I have been able to venture outside the apartment complex only a couple of times a day: when I take Franklin on long walks down Rhapta Road, which is a straight path lined by luxury apartment compounds, each with its own handful of guards peering out from behind iron gates, and for dinner, after N. gets off of work and has use of the shared company car.

The rest of the time, I am pretty much relegated to the apartment complex — which, although lovely, isn’t exactly thrilling.

Adjusting to this circumscribed geography has been frustrating. My first course of action when moving to a new city — not to mention continent — is to wander, aimlessly, for hours. I set out with a vague approximation of what direction I am facing, get lost, find my bearings, and head back, venturing out in ever-widening circles until I feel confident that I have an understanding of the city’s landmarks, intersections, and general layout. It is one of my favorite ways to pass time — an invaluable introduction to the place I am choosing to call home.

However, much to my chagrin, I haven’t been able to spend my first few days wandering. The fact is, as much as I would like to ignore it, Nairobi is not a safe place to explore alone, especially as an obvious foreigner.

It’s possible, of course, for me to leave the apartment complex, provided I have a specific destination in mind. I have been admonished not to use the public transport system of mutatus — sardine-packed vans that careen wildly down unmarked roads, their frequent fatal accidents earning them named wards at the hospital and morgue. But I can call a “Jim Cab” (“Jim” standing for “just in a minute”) to pick me up.

The problem is: where to go?

I’ve asked several people for recommendations, Kenyan and non-Kenyan both. Museums? Parks? Cafes? Downtown?

The answer I always get is the same:

Go to the mall.

Apparently, the shopping mall is a defining point of life in Nairobi. There are far more malls than one would think necessary, with each large district boasting its own collection of the same chain stores, fast food stalls, and groceries. Even when giving directions, the points of reference are always malls.

“Go to Village Market and turn left…”

“It’s near Westlands Centre. On the other side of the roundabout.”

“Which green grocer — ABC Place or Yaya?”


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