Nairobi continues to be unrecognizable from the Nairobi of my time as a student in the late 70’s and especially from the tumultuous 90’s. I love walking the streets of the city but in the 90’s when I would be here to lead safaris it became impossible. The street children were all over you, grabbing at your clothes and blocking your way. Tourists were discouraged from walking the streets and the Europeans had abandoned the city for the suburbs, farms and ranches. In a walk from my hotel (at that time the upscale but still full of character Norfolk Hotel) to the Barclays Bank on Kenyatta Street I would be the only white person on the streets, fair game for onslaughts. Despite my protests, one of my safari drivers would insist that he drive slowly alongside me as I walked. Eventually I would give in and jump into the vehicle to escape the abuse. Now the street children are gone, and the vibrant streets are full of well-dressed professionals.
My day of meetings on Friday took me from the suburbs of Karen for a visit with the staff at the St. Lawrence University Kenya Semester Program back to the Fairview Hotel for a meeting with one of BOMA’s invaluable advisors and then out to Westlands to meet with a well-connected but not too expensive lawyer. Kura was busy securing one of the last satellite phones (used) in Nairobi, as all of the existing stock had been bought out by organizations covering the Southern Sudanese referendum. When asked about the situation in Sudan, Dr. Abdelwahab Sinnary, the Darfurian professor in charge of academics at the Kenya Semester Program’s response was, “I’m afraid there will be war”.
Patience is required as you travel around the city. Every major thoroughfare is under construction with new flyovers to relieve the growing congestion. New buildings and skyscrapers continue to climb despite the economic downturn. Boulevards are full of flowers and shrubs. The traffic police whack your vehicle for any infringement into the flow of traffic and their power is respected. It is a new Nairobi.
With the satellite phone finally secured, Kura and I agree to meet at the Chomazone on the Thika Road following my meeting with the lawyer. My taxi driver and I shared a coke while we waited for Kura, discussing the most popular topic in Kenya, politics. Soon Kura arrives with Omar and Sarah Ellis, BOMA’s Fellow, and we make the drive north to Nanyuki. In the fading light of the day, we are treated to the snowcapped sight of Mt. Kenya. A good omen as we make our way to BOMA’s new home.