We arrive Nairobi late, too late for all the plans I had. But I am Nigerian right? Making lemonades out of lemons is what we do round the clock; the only thing was nobody told me I was going to be making this one out of rancid lemons and soured grapes.
We make our way to check in and that was when late became bearable. It had to be a routine check, I thought. I mean, we were just at Rwanda and everything went fine, so this can’t mean much. But then, two minutes spanned into twenty minutes, and soon we were topping two hours. I was distraught, and all these over a yellow card? I could already hear them discussing how they would get blood samples for test, hold us in quarantine, and what not. That was enough to set me off and steer up my anxiety level, seeing as the sight of blood makes me fuzzy.
By sheer luck or something, the team members making clear our situation finally got through to the persons in charge, and we were made to fill some forms and free to experience Nairobi. We meet this guy just out the airport; he is Chinese and trying too hard to make us laugh. I don’t blame him, he probably heard that thing they say about Nigerians being one of the happiest people on earth. But between the long flight and the extraneous delay, it was a miracle we could even see him. He calls me another’s name, I stare at him blankly until our traveling guide tells me that was the name he registered me with. I couldn’t muster enough strength to register my surprise, and so I edged along toward the bus; I needed something to anchor my weight.
Our hotel is a dream, the kind where you relax immediately because you know this is going to be sheer nirvana. In less than an hour, we got checked in, and I was grateful for a personal space. My flight mate was a talkative from The Gambia who kept directing questions at me despite the use of headphones, and I was too much of a nice fella to act deaf all the time, but I did give her the silent treatment when it got too much. By the way, it is 2 am Nairobi time.
Getting into my room, I browsed the internet a little, reached out to folks at home, did a mental preparation of my day, and drifted off to sleep.
When I woke up later that morning, it didn’t quite register at once that I wasn’t home. A little thought acculturation and I became fully aware of my location; it was 6 am and I had woken up in my hotel room. Of course now I remember checking in with the other folks at about 1:30 am that same morning. I had barely gotten 4 hours of sleep but I psyched myself to get up and grind despite being so cranky, I quickly buried the thought of sleeping in as there was a lot that needed to be done.
We grab a quick breakfast of Croissant, bacon, eggs and sausages, then we set out for our destination. The locals are well spoken and behaved; from the security person to the Uber drivers, everyone dazzled.
It was late afternoon when I finished with work. Oh! Yes, I was in Nairobi to work. Well after the unabridged hassle of the day, it was finally time for lunch. But I couldn’t resist wandering around for a while. Work was at Safari Park Hotel and Casino; another dreamland.
Lunch is rice, cheese salad and chicken sauce; I also had vegan appetizers and cakes — for dessert. There’s so much to munch on and I am soon full. After lunch, we head back to the hotel and I experienced firsthand Nairobi’s definition of traffic; nothing like the stretchy ones we have in Lagos. However, the scene is pretty much the same; street hawkers offering their different wares, too many moving bodies, and school children heading home.
Back at the hotel, I and a travel buddy — who had heard about the gigantic swimming pool the hotel prided itself of having — made for the pool area, his reason to get in the water, mine to see if there was a good-looking Kenyan man around(Okay! I’m just kidding). I sat down and observed as people came in and left, took random photos of birds having fun in the late afternoon climate. The activity soon became monotonous for me — sitting on a stretched chair, gawking at people who can actually swim show off their prowess in the pool wasn’t my first idea of relaxation; I knew I had to change up.
The next thing that comes to mind of course is a mini tour of Nairobi. What’s a trip without some sight-seeing right? Plus I was in dire need of the fresh air. I took off with my camera, started out on this lead-footed walk, the late noon sunshine on my face, I was prepared to capture everything that caught my fancy. But Nairobi had other plans for me.
As I edged along the path that connected with the major road, I noticed a massive influx of formally dressed individuals making their way into the vicinity I was about exiting. I looked back briefly, trying to decipher where they were all headed, and I realized that they were approaching the bus stop with the aim to get on a bus headed to their various resting place after a long day at work. Like in every group of people, there were those in twos, threes and more, and of course there were those walking alone. I was particularly awed by the orderliness, the ease with which everyone moved without toggling or haggling. It was refreshing and in a way alien. I soon walked past them and forgot all about the beauty of such order.
I had other things in mind that could not wait. I wasn’t oblivious to the fact that I drew unwanted stares and questioning glances, what with my camera hung around my neck and my play slacks worn over a pair of slippers, add that to my morose look, I was pretty sure I stood out. But I could hardly care, I knew I was leaving the next day (Yes, this was more like a “come see what Nairobi looks like, now get out” kind of trip), I also knew that the lot of folks who gave me the stare would not remember what I looked like by the time the traffic jam cleared. So I went on still – my purpose to capture the essence of Nairobi; something to fawn over, share with a few friends, and maybe attach to this article when I got down to writing it.
I didn’t want to get too far so I brought out my camera at some point and started shooting images that appealed to me. Unbeknownst to me, the vicinity I had walked into was the wrong one to do that, and the teensy-weensy shots I had taken could have cost me my head, and the camera. Oh my heart! But guess what? I quickly played the foreigner card when I was accosted. I pled ignorance and the security persons that came to stop me finally let me go after listening to my tale of “I’m new in town, I came in from Nigeria last night and I decided to see some of Nairobi while I take a walk, plus my eyes are not really in the best shape, so I couldn’t read the caution.”
Apparently, there were directives that read “photographs not allowed” strewn across various buildings on the street that I had missed. But it was all worth it in the end. At least, I got some shots to look back to. Which reminds me — what is the most bitter experience you’ve had while documenting(with a camera or a phone) in a new environment? Share with me later in the comments.
Without further ado, I found my way back to the hotel and got myself some safer distraction to pass time. I settled down to the book I had been reading on the flight here, until I got the call for dinner. Dinner is yummy, I had rice(again) and black beans, accompanied with some good old ribs and lambs.
It was a long night and I was up for trying different things, from cakes to ice-cream, and then a waiter recommended a special dish(I should have said NO) — the dish was hand-made spaghetti which ended up being a disaster, it tasted like what rubber bands would taste like when marinated in honey and vinegar.
I soon retired for the night, and couldn’t help but mourn my inability to stretch the trip. I was due for another road trip two days after my return to Lagos.
Generally, Nairobi has an artsy and tidy feel. There is art on every bus and everyone we met had this relaxed and courteous aura. I am definitely planning another trip as soon as I can afford it.