We landed in Nairobi on Sunday morning.
I hadn’t been to Kenya In 12 years. Somethings never change – the airport looked exactly the same. It had the same feel and smell. But that’s where it stopped! Nairobi was unrecognisable! The flyovers, the buildings – the economic growth of the country is laid out bare for all to see. Where once there used to be open spaces – and the first sight that greeted you as you left the airport was giraffe grazing in the adjacent Nairobi National Park, now all you could see was hotels and office tower blocks.
And the traffic – even early on a Sunday morning was incredible. It feels as if people are moving ahead, the economy is charging ahead – and yet the infrastructure of the country cannot keep up!
Nairobi started off as a railway camp in 1899. The Maasai who would bring their cattle to drink at the swampy patch of land had named it Ewaso Nyarobi (Place of Cold Water). “Nairobi” is a corruption of this Maasai name. The European explorers who came to Kenya in the late 1800s/early 1900s began to settle here. Nairobi was always considered a leafy, green pleasant city – the city I remember as a child. But, as I said above – things have changed!
Sunday was a day of catching up with family, sleeping, giving out presents (hair dye, chocolates, shower gel) yes – not exactly things that you would find on a Christmas list – but the price of these items in Kenya make what we think of as necessities – luxuries here!
On Monday we drove from Nairobi to Mombasa. What should have taken 5 hours took 7 hours. Even at 6am in the morning we were stuck in traffic driving through Nairobi to get onto the Mombasa road. Believe me when I say that it makes the M25 look positively OK! The road to Mombasa is actually very good – bar a few dodgy patches. I remember my father driving us to Mombasa as children and the roads were full of potholes and dust patches – but now these are not the norm they used to be. All along the roadside one once again comes face to face with the money that seems to be dominating life here. Again, where once there was wide open spaces all the way from Nairobi to Athi River – now there are large housing estates. Nairobi seems to be expanding from all sides – like a big, hungry, greedy giant who doesn’t know where – or how – to stop.
Enroute we saw many of the old haunts I remember – Hunters Lodge, Makindu – what used to be a a small Sikh temple which used to be our regular stop to eat their fabulous food – and is now a vast complex with temples, prayer rooms, guest rooms, offices, a large dining room – again the signs of economic prosperity has not escaped even the religious sectors of the community!
I was disappointed again not to see any animals – although I am assured that as I slept the family saw Zebras – and my eagle-eyed conservationist sister saw an elephant – which none of us could see! She does have amazing eyesight though!
Driving into Mombasa was also a shock. Crowded, dirty, dusty, grid-locked! Once again – the childhood illusion of a lovely, coastal city was shattered.
So, as you can see, the first impressions of being back in the land of my birth have been somewhat negative. But, there is still a familiarity, a sense of belonging and a strange charm to this country that even the traffic, ugly buildings, dust and over-development can’t seem to tarnish.
I think the reason for this is the people. Kenyans are friendly, happy, charming people – and so far their welcome has been warmer than we have had in the many countries that we have travelled to in recent years. And it is perhaps this that makes Kenya so special!