When you are a stranger in Nairobi by Nina Mayers


I may have lived  in Nairobi a good part of my childhood & teenage years but every time I come “home”, there’s always something a little different and it feels less like “home”. Maybe am simply paranoid.

I have been going through an adjustment phase, trying to acclimatise. I am seeing constructions in places I never would have imagined. I guess I should be happy, because its booming, its growing and its flowing. But right now am ambivalent. Simply because, I have fond memories that to me are slowly being diluted in the hustle and bustle of what most people have come to understand as development. A concept still so foreign to me, created to explain simple advancements and rights that most humans must benefit from; but I digress.

Being “home” (and I use quotations because by definition I am not kenyan, only by adoption) is one of the most exhilarating experiences in a long, long time. I look at the opportunities, and wonder why the hell it took me so long to ‘jump’? What the hell I was doing in -28 degree weather? Albeit my return had many parameters, some often not in my control – but believe I am in no rush to run back to freezing rain, melting snow and well all things Canadian.

Some things I still can’t get used to… Imagine the scene where you walk into a store and the cashier is addressing you in a foreign language, even worse expecting you to respond. Assumption is the mother of all… In fact I sometimes ask myself if they even realise that I don’t speak the language. That I am a foreigner thrown in the jungle expected to just ride along. Sure, I can pick up a few words, but in my recollection I have never gone off in another language amidst people… At least not consciously. And to me, no matter how many times I repeat the fact that I don’t speak the language, I still get the usual, “habari gani” and “ana sema nini?”

My next goal is to learn the language. Something I should have perhaps put myself to years ago, but I was too busy boasting of my French & English as if that was enough. Challenges I tell you.

8 months later & I still don’t feel the urge to leave. In fact there is still so much I would love to do.

I have to admit that I miss the comfort, texture and mixture that is Montreal. On an odd evening I will go out with some girlfriends here and its just never the same. Am still waiting for the “real gentlemen” to stand up…. Make a girl feel like she’s beautiful and all eyes are on her (this deserves many posts of its own) and could the “feminists” please take their dagger eyes of me. Yes I like it when a man buys me a drink. Moving along… Here its all for one and one for one. My girls and I excel at it.

Don’t get me wrong, i still wouldn’t trade it for extreme heat. Bu t I do miss the flattery and gallantry I was accustomed to before.

Thing I find weird

There are still those things that are so queer to me. Like the other day I went to watch the Dark Knight Rises at a local cinema, and just before the previews started I see on the screen ” please stand up for the national anthem” I thought about it for a minute…and stood up (out of respect) and everyone else was standing. I asked myself a few times was it for real? And why the national anthem at the movie theatre? A local has got to help me with this one.

Still in the essence of all things weird, a friend of mine was visiting a few months back from Canada and was staying at the InterContinental. She asked me to come meet her up. I decided to take her out for dinner so went to pick her up at around 7pm. J got to the reception and asked for the direction to go up to her room. I was casually and simply informed that: she was not allowed guests at the current hour. Huh? Was what I was thinking. I looked at them incredulous, then the night manager came up to me and said: Yes to receive guests after 6pm you have to pay 35$ per guest. Huh??? WHAT??? Ding ding ding ding! I was in shock! I called up to my girls room and informed her. She came down, made some noise, but the verdict was still the same. She threatened to move to another hotel and was only informed that it was the rule all over Kenya. I am yet to check, and again if a local could please justify the logic behind this one.

Did I tell you about the traffic ??? And how sometimes it takes me two hours to get from point A to B. This one deserves a post of its own….

I love me some Nairobi don’t get me wrong… waiting on you to come visit and we can be naked strangers in the city.