Thursday, February 17, 2011

Nairobi 101

I don't expect these updates to be nearly as frequent once we start our project, but while I have time, I figure it can't hurt to post em up.

Some initial impressions from walking around Nairobi.

Mobs of people walk, and yet pedestrians are treated like it is their fondest wish to be a hood ornament. And when I say walk, I don't just mean walk to the nearest Metro station or walk until they get a cab. They walk. Home. Kilometers. And I'm guessing they all get home before their carbon burning commuter-mates, since all I saw in every direction was snarled traffic that made the Washington Beltway look like the Autobahn. In fact sometimes the only indication that traffic is moving is the mammoth belch of black minibus exhaust that chokes the lungs and stings the eyes. Pity the African asthmatic. Adjusting to the fact that lanes are British style here is made more difficult that lane directions are considered optional based on the congestion, evidenced by the dozen or so near head-on collisions when impatient drivers just decided to commandeer the lane for oncoming traffic. I should quote "lane" since none of the roads in this neighborhood are large enough for two cars to pass comfortably but all are bidirectional. I'll be walking.

The next, while contending for the gold in the obvious Olympics, is that I am extremely white. I mean, blindingly so. Walking down Haile Selassie Boulevard to Uhuru Highway with the masses, I became conscious of the fact that everyone was staring at me. I was not wearing a kippah, I did not have tzitzit hanging out, I did not have an enormous SLR camera strung around my neck or bermuda shorts. My baseball cap was not distinguishable from the Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders or Arsenal hats being worn around me. But I sure do not blend in. That's not a feeling I have stateside or in Israel. It's humbling and discomfiting, though in a constructive way. As I got some catcalls from the passing matatus (gypsy vans), I decided to play with the tension and used my rudimentary Swahili to loudly ask the unsuspecting dude next to me to confirm what I already knew to be correct directions. He responded to me in Swahili, so I guess I nailed the accent. Lots of surrounding shoulders shrugged ("crazy mizungu...") and people went about their trek down the hill.

It's sad to see all of the federal government buildings adorned with signs of the sort "The Ministry of Water and Irrigation is a CORRUPTION FREE ZONE" ... an indicator of almost Orwellian certainty that they are not. One particularly candid one said "Help fight corruption ... Please don't offer officials bribes". Also don't feed the rhinos. Sigh.

The Israeli Embassy is next door to our hotel and has a large hand-painted side at either side of the block that says "Please Stop at our Friendly Checkpoint!" with two emoticon style happy faces underneath. I aimed to take a picture, but a pair of dour, AK-toting sentries made it clear that was not in the plan.

Nakumatt is Wal-Mart on HGH. You can bank, get groceries, outfit your electronics, housewares, clothing, change money, get a haircut, do your dry-cleaning, select fresh-cut flowers, buy school text books, order lunch, and log time in the internet cafe, all in one establishment, and I didn't make it to the second floor. It did occur to me that there's no reason that our e-government initiatives can't take locations like this into account, as they seemed well administered and smoothly run despite their sprawl.

Tomorrow the game park, welcoming the leading edge of my IBM teammates, and Shabbas in East Africa.


  1. Humor is good, enjoyed, but keep staying safe.

  2. Did you get your haircut at Nakumatt? It meets at least one of your criteria. ;-) Have fun tomorrow at the game park - take lots of pics for the kids. Please be safe, oh white one. Now get some sleep!

  3. Just noticed this on the gmail Buzz. How long will you be in Kenya? Enjoy yourself and stay safe!

  4. Really enjoyed this!!! Enjoy Dave!