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Thursday, September 1, 2011

My Nairobi




Read about this competition about describing Nairobi for the storymoja hay festival and decided to give it a whirl.

There was a troubled sky tonight. It was dark blue, the kind of dark that nearly always spells danger, the kind of dark that stars don't pierce and the moon can't illuminate. But instead of having just this darkness, instead of being only ominous there was a tinge of red, a crimson surprise that flecked the whole sky changing it without really changing it, leaving it as it was but beautiful too, breathtaking. This was a Nairobi sky and this is my Nairobi

From the centre of Nairobi you can catch a view of the whole city if you get on top of one of the really tall buildings, there you can see the city centre in its near entirety you can see buildings of all sizes reaching up for the clouds, in between them are roads leading everywhere crissing and crossing, meeting and departing, meeting again and then going to a completely different place. On the days when the sun decides to give a show as it leaves there is a surreal glow over the whole city, the buildings are all cast in orange, orange hues on their walls and orange reflecting off the windows, a thousand little sunsets each in the image of their creator. And a mist settles over the city as this happens the further you look the more pronounced it is till at the furthest reach of your eyes the fog has settled over the city so completely it's as if the town was built in the heavens themselves and the clouds have just come to claim their rightful place.

Then you go closer and you see the little things that actually make the city what it is, a living breathing organism, changing, evolving, moving forever just like and because of the never ending stream of people going about their city business. The crowds are like a snake ever rippling and moving a beautiful cacophony of colours and sounds, you can hear music blaring from the numerous shops lining the city centre, shops playing indigenous Kenyan music and matatus playing the latest foreign jams. This is all mixed together with the hooting of irate motorists, the chatter of friends and the pleas of hawkers. Like a strand of DNA the voice of every city is different and the voice of Nairobi is unique, at any one place you can hear banter being bandied back and forth in English, Swahili and two, three, four indigenous and foreign languages, an assault of sounds that points towards the cosmopolitan nature of the city.

Whenever I get asked where the best place for a tourist to visit on a short stay in Nairobi I get stumped, you see I don't think of Nairobi as a city so much as a home. A home whose rooms I have visited all my life, a home whose every room holds a treasured memory a thousand of them involving getting lost. I have had to learn to trust people in Nairobi, to ask for directions and receive them but that is only the crimson cover of the city. The truth about Nairobi is there are a lot of wolves hissing in the darkness ready to pounce, ready to devour and leave not a scrap. In this my home I have had a fair number of mishaps, thefts and robberies. But what is a home without some accidents? what memory is complete without a blight,?A lot of times I see the dark side of Nairobi the side that could leave you cowering behind sheets in bed every night. The dark skies of the city can be overwhelming and when staring into the abyss I have felt lost and hopeless, betrayed by my home, lost with nowhere to go.

But then I see the red of the sky and I realise Nairobi is nothing like that sky, or maybe it is but a polar opposite, the colours on the banner reversed, this city has a lot of darkness but that's just the overlay, the distraction that keeps you from seeing the real beauty behind it, the heart of Nairobi is red, that crimson sky, not flecks but whole swathes of magnificence, waiting at every corner you turn, seen in a friendly smile from a stranger or a breathtaking view that knocks you out of complacence as you hear the music of the voice of Nairobi, a sound as strangely soothing as putting a seashell to an ear. In one word my Nairobi is home.