“You are clearly a Kenyan,” the woman in immigration notes as she searches for my latest visa, with difficulty, in my bulging passport.
I actually heard nearly the same thing from a merchant at the Maasai Market on one of my first days in Nairobi several years ago, when I met up with a dear friend that I worked with in Afghanistan. As we passed to the next stall she said, isn’t this your first time in Kenya? Clearly he was referring to my comfort in Africa, but I certainly feel that this is the case now regarding Kenya and Nairobi.
After a year away from Kenya, I can’t go to dinner or breakfast without running into someone I know. Sometimes it feels like it might be more likely than in DC. The taxi drivers doubt that I don’t live here when I show them the shorts. I now have mastered perfect short, medium, and long running routes as I have at home.
As I traversed the through the streets of Nairobi en route to meetings all week, I realize how well I know the city. In fact, Washington, DC and Portland would be the only cities in the US that I would know better. Having been to Chicago once, NYC, SF, and LA handfuls of times, my knowledge of them couldn’t possibly compare. Now that I think of it, the only other place I felt like that was Bukavu, in eastern DRC, where I couldn’t make it to the supermarket without running into three people along the route,
In addition to my time working, I also had the good fortune to have my husband meet me from Afghanistan for a holiday two and a half years ago. We spent most of our time really exploring the city, doing the touristy things I hadn’t had a chance to do otherwise. We also took the night train to Mombasa and enjoyed a long weekend at the beach exploring the historic port city.
For Nairobi, most either love it or hate it, with others having a love/hate relationship. I personally feel grateful to have experienced the vibrant city and get to know it in a way that few who haven’t lived there permanently can say. I am often asked how often I come, or when I will be back, and the answer is almost it depends and I never know. When it may be that I am next here, I look forward to it.
Next time Nairobi,
P.S. To prove my point, the nice Kenyan British Airways staff just noticed me on my iPad and kindly offers the password. 🙂