10 Random Observations I Made in Nairobi (in the first 24 hours) 

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I’ll tell my random how I got here  (as in Nairobi) story another day. It involves a mother being unimpressed by flamingos and over-concerned (I think) about terrorism, me missing a connecting flight in London (thus delaying my arrival by 9 hours) and being temporarily separated from my travel buddies (while chill-laxing at the Hilton Nairobi, which was a great hotel…. 40 years ago). It’s a ‘lemons into lemonade’ tale, that CBW pointed out is comprised of first world problems in a third world country. I, however, think it’s worth telling.

Anyway. My top 10 observations about Nairobi within the first 24 hours. These observations are subject to change, be debunked, or be the gospel truth, depending on what happens over the next 16 days. I apologize in advance for any offended Kenyans. Whenever a newbie writes about a city—a home city to many someones—there’s no way not to offend unless the reviews are glowing. This isn’t that.

So without further delay:

1. The traffic here, at least in rush hour, is sh—. I read that in multiple places and in this travel group I’m in where several people recently visited Nairobi. I thought they were exaggerating. Nothing could be worse than Atlanta or LA at rush hour. Nairobi is worse than both combined. It took an hour-plus, to get from the airport to the city, a distance that should have taken about 15 minutes, tops. To credit, the driver said traffic is better in the city, but still unpredictable. He suggested I give myself a few extra HOURS to get to the airport from the city when I leave in two weeks.

2. There are people walking everywhere— at least in the city. Like everywhere. It’s not like Times Square walking where everyone sticks to sidewalks. It’s people EVERYWHERE. I’m not explaining this properly. Ok. You know how people pour onto the sidewalk and into the street when there’s a let out from the club? The let out. That’s what the city centre of Nairobi is like, all dang day. It’s super busy. You need a break just from walking around.

3.  I don’t see white people— at least not in the part of downtown I was in. Why does this matter? So… when I was in college at a PWI, I used to play this game I made up where at any given moment, I would stop and give myself 5 seconds to spot another Black person on campus. I lost a surprising amount of the time even though Black students made up 10 percent of the campus population at the time. I tell you this to say, I played, “spot a white person” after I left the airport. Until I went to dinner by the UN, I spotted three. If you wonder why this is so fascinating? Because I’m American and white people are the majority everywhere you look, and the parts of Brooklyn I most frequent are hella gentrified now. So just generally walking around and there are no white people is… different. Not good, not bad, just different.

4. I haven’t heard hip-hop yet. Like NOTHING. Maybe the cab drivers I’ve had don’t like rap. Who knows?  The first song played when I got in the cab from the airport? Adina Howard’s “Freak Like Me.” I’ve heard Nairobi is a party city. Google “what to do in Nairobi” then click “Images.” LOL.

5. You know how people are always saying Americans are slobs? It’s because in a lot of other countries, especially predominately Black countries, men put on a collared shirt and pants to go out, even if it’s to do dirty business. Just walking around in a t-shirt and shorts or sweats is unheard of. I was riding thru the city people-watching. I didn’t see one person in a t-shirt. ). A surprising number of men had on dark blue suits. It seems  dark blue suits are “a thing”. And the women had heels, and often, stockings. Didn’t see one mini-skirt. (And it’s 80+ degrees).

6. I’m staying with friends at a cottage on an “estate”. There is a rooster on the grounds. Somehow I was unaware that roosters “go off” for like an hour each morning BEFORE actual sunrise. I thought it was one and done big moment and that’s the song for the day. Yeah, no. So I’ve been up since 6:32 AM my time.

7. About the cottage. It is small and clean, and beyond suitable size for 3 people. It has just the basics. Enough comfort to be comfortable, nothing that would be considered fancy or excessive, at least by US standards. I’m struck already by how much I can do with “simple” and “less” here, and better, how unnecessary “more” is. I’ve been thinking a lot about necessities and space post- marriage as CBW and I  now live in what was formally “my” one bedroom apartment. It was big for one, seems small for two. (And moving doesn’t make sense at this point). But actually, there’s quite enough space and too much stuff. I gave away half my closet before I got married. I’m inclined to give away half of what’s left too. I would rather have the space than the stuff.

8. One of my travel mates read that Nairobi has amazing Thai food for some reason.  Whatever she read didn’t lie. I had the best Thai food ever in life for like $5 last night. It was a green fish curry and at least 4 servings. I ate two. Either “take home” isn’t a thing here or the guy didn’t understand me, so that’s that.

9. Kenyans speak English fluently. My ears haven’t adjusted to the dialect yet. So I’m all, “sorry?”, “huh?”, “sorry?” like I’m basic. We have a driver who’s been teaching us well, basic words in Swahili: “Jambo” (which oddly enough, I know from watching “Mean Girls”). “Asante” (thank you). That’s all I learned so far. It’s been a day. American cultural currency, even for Black people, is an underrated American privilege.  American films/ TV have been exported worldwide. Our dialect is not foreign to the ear.

10. Um. It’s  85 during the day and cold at night. I slept in a sweatshirt. You know how Black Americans will say, “it’s Africa hot!”. Yeah, we gotta be more specific. Maybe West Africa hot? I dunno. I haven’t made it to West Africa yet. I’ve not been able to make two offers to go to Nigeria, and had to decline another for reasons I will probably explain in “A Bride in Brooklyn” (the sequel to ABIB.) Anyway, the point remains, everywhere in Africa isn’t hot all the time.

BONUS: I’m trying to judge the extent of the terrorism issue here. So I ride up to the Hilton yesterday. The car is stopped and surrounded by armed security, and the driver must pop the hood and the trunk for double inspection. Same happens when the second driver comes to pick me up and take me to my friends at the cottage. So, terrorism is an issue everywhere, as I tried to explain to my very anxious mother. Yes, there was a mall attack in Nairobi, but there were recent threats to the Mall of America too. September 11, Boston Marathon. And America is supposed to be “safe.” So I guess what I’m trying to figure out is Kenya hyper-sensitive/smart in taking the precaution to search cars, or is America being naive? Or is it that Kenya has greater threats? Hmmm.

That’s it for now.  Today is my first “city day” with the group, so hopefully, I’ll have plenty of observations to make tomorrow.


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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Olisa says:

    Thanks for sharing this update, B! My sister and I took advantage of a glitch fare to Nairobi for April (H/T to the Tribe) so first-hand tales are much appreciated. And you’re right-your Black American friends MUST be talking about “West Africa Hot”. I’m Nigerian and go back often. Also studied abroad in Ghana. Hot (90+) all day and all night. Looking forward to more updates :-)

  2. chi says:

    I was just in Kenya 3 weeks ago. I must say it was fantastic…if you have chance visit mombassa…and yes the traffic is horrible in Nairobi…on must do..get the sugar cane on one of your drives..that reminded me of my childhood days in the Caribbean…do enjoy your trip

  3. teachmb says:

    “A Bride in Brooklyn”?!?! I can’t wait!!! Looking forward to hearing more about Nairobi!

  4. Quaysa B says:

    Cool update! I always look forward to you chronicling your travels ! :D

  5. Janira says:

    Great seeing Nairobi from an outsiders perspective :)
    Little tip, when you want to buy little knick knacks buy them from the shops at the Hilton you’ll be overcharged at the Maasai Market because of your accent But do visit the market its absolutely visually stimulating.
    Enjoy the rest of your trip :)

  6. kinky hippie says:


    i love your blog and was excited that you were coming to Nairobi!! its always refreshing to hear someone else’s perspective about Kenya ……. hope you get to see more of it:)i hope i can get to meet you before you leave lol


  7. Billiebadd says:

    This is so funny! I literally was smiling the whole Tim dreading your ten observations. I’m originally from Kenya. Born but raised in the states. I went back for the first time in 2007 and I was 15 years old. Frantic and ready to go. The pollution was horrible, and I wasn’t used to all this people everywhere. ( the club let out) hahah but I grew to love it. In 2014 I went back. The best time to go anywhere in Africa is in The winter time. Winter Tim in the states is summer in Africa. So that’s when you will experience the Teal temperatures of Kenya. Kenya is on the equator so summer Kenyan time. Is Verrryyyyyyy Hot. Feels like you’re nearing the center of the earth lol. The traffic!! The traffic gets hectic but it all depends on the time that you’re man the road. As you could probably tell. No one follows road rules unless the police are around. Other than that when the stop light is on. People still go! But honestly that’s almost everywhere in Africa. I won’t speak for South Africa but 98% of the countries on Africa resemble the traffic scene you just witnessed. It’s funny and it can get annoying if you are in a rush to get somewhere. people walk everywhere there. In the street in the bushes LOL no but seriously there isn’t a safety hazard implemented and folks just feel like they can do whatever they want and it won’t be dangerous. I’m pretty sure you have expierenced the street vendors? When you’re in traffic and they walk to your car trying to sell you something? Just be careful they don’t stick their hands in the car and steal your valuable goods. White people. Remarkably, there are a lot of whites and Chinese in Kenya. It depends on your location and you will encounter them. The music. Well I can say this. They probably were playing the music assuming this is what you would like to hear. Kenyans tend to fake a lot. Especially when it’s an American. They will do something assuming this is what American do. When speaking English hey might try and sound like you when. Listening to music they will pay American misic knowing they listen to African misic when they club. A lot of African are very modest. They are not as free as Americans. Il give you an example. I went to Mombasa beach, had on a my swim suit and I had on shorts and a sheer top. My cousins kept telling me we should stop and buy a long cover up because I’m showing to much skin and I’m like no it’s okay I’ll be by the water. Well we were walking these lady’s appraoched me and in Swahili were yelling at me and calling me names and saying they will beat me if I do not put on appropriate clothes. Women usually wear long skirts not “mini skirts” my ain’t calls any skirt that eithe retouched Her her or is slightly above Her knee mini. The food is amazing. Took me a long time to like the burgers. The cheese isn’t processed like American cheese so it taste very natural! But other than that it’s great food! 85 degrees is spring in Kenya. Nobember December January is the hottest time of the year out there. You should come and visit again! I hope you enjoyed your stay! And o hope they welcomed you!!! Have fun!!!

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