I thought I’d write an outline of a week in Nairobi. A day wouldn’t really capture it I don’t think. It would be more like “go to the office, go home, cook, sleep”. But a week gives a little insight into the highs and lows… get ready for a long one!
8am on a Monday morning is Devotion time at work. All staff congregate in the chapel and there is a rota for people to lead the hymns, prayers and bible readings. We always start at least 30minutes late but being on time is so ingrained in me I always arrive promptly and get stressed if I’m running behind time. This is the same for everything in my office life despite the fact I know I will be sitting waiting for anywhere up to an hour.
Devotion usually lasts an hour or two. Most of the hymns are in Swahili which is great because lyrics tend to be so repetitive that by the end of a stirring rendition I’ve usually expanded my vocabulary. I’m not sure how useful lamb, blood, and soul will be in daily life but I know them!
Last week (cheating I know) we had a guest preacher come in. Normally Devotion is a very happy affair with clapping, dancing and a bit of messing around. But this preacher was angry. He could feel witch craft in the room. Coming from someone in either the Housekeeping or Restaurant team. The room really was abuzz like I have never seen it before and I have to admit I worried briefly whether it was my scepticism he was catching whiff of…
At the end, as we filed out, my favourite colleague snuck up to me and whispered that she had wanted to turn and look at my face during “all of that”. It was a nice return to normality…Turns out this preacher once died and came back to life and so he is taken very seriously.
The rest of my day involved sitting in front of my computer typing Word documents. Just like the UK that bit.
Tuesday morning is first running club of the week. Up at 5.30am. 7mile run to work and round the park with the gang.
Meetings, meetings, meetings. Again, rather like a working day back home.
Favourite part of the day as always is 10AM TEA BREAK! Today’s topic of conversation was a good one. We got onto the topic of evolution…because of a monkey sat near our table eating a banana like a human (honestly!). One of the girls said watching that almost made her believe in evolution. So I asked everyone else if they believed in evolution to which the answer was a resounding NO!
I tried to dredge up my GCSE biology to counter the arguments which essentially revolved around if it is real a) why aren’t we still evolving and b) why aren’t the species in-between humans and monkeys still around if they once existed? Apparently I did such a bad job of arguing my side my colleagues didn’t even believe I convinced myself! I think it is more that I’ve never had to try convince anyone evolution is an actual thing before. What I love though is that we can discuss these pretty contentious topics and no one gets offended. My colleagues are great and the best bit about work.
Worth noting my office is very close to Nairobi National Museum which houses all the fossils of the various steps on the way from monkey to human (please see ‘Saturday’ below).
Work from home Wednesday! As I work in a private office and have very few direct working relationships with colleagues in the national office it can seem a bit of an effort to go into the office when I can recreate the experience – minus the 3 hour roundtrip commute – from the comfort of my sofa. Whistle through my work and feel very productive. But I miss chatting and laughing with my colleagues at 10am tea break…
Thursday means second running club of the week. See above for details. Work was terrible for a number of reasons. One of those days where I wonder what I’m doing and miss home a lot, a lot. No point lingering on this…but things are not always fun and exciting living overseas.
Stop off at the new sugarcane juice bar near my house in an attempt to end the day with something good. It is yummy! 50 bob (30p) gets you a glass of sweet, freshly pressed sugarcane with a dash of lemon and ginger and maybe a wasp if you’re lucky. No take aways though so spend a few minutes perched on the bar stool chatting to the other customers about our days.
What a day! I’m developing a funding proposal around creating youth-friendly sports centres at the moment and have struck gold by meeting an ex-pro basketball player who is passionate about getting first class facilities into the communities around the country. Today we are going on a tour of centres around Nairobi to glean inspiration. We go to Nyayo Stadium first where all the international events are held and admire the rubber basketball court (I now understand the different surfaces used in basketball and know what I need to do to attract the pro-teams to our facilities!).
Next up is a community centre in Eastleigh. Now Eastleigh is the only “no-go” area in Nairobi according to the FCO website. It’s where the large Somali population lives and, due to the on-going tension between Al Shabab, the militant Islamic movement from Somalia, and Kenya over Kenya sending troops into Somalia, it is the site of frequent terrorist attacks and bombings. Last week a prominent Muslim cleric was shot dead in Mombasa and tension levels are higher than normal. In fact this trip was scheduled for last week but was put off over security concerns.
So there is slight trepidation as we edge into the area in a slow moving jam of cars. The first place we go through is called California. It literally couldn’t look less like its namesake with tin shacks, piles of rubbish and person-pulled carts flooding the streets.
But the centres we visit are gems tucked away from the chaotic streets interjected by glitzy hotels where apparently huge businesses deals are done. And all of a sudden it is prayer time. We come to a complete standstill as the road is blocked by hundreds of men grabbing whatever material they can find to use as a prayer mat and proceeding to bow down in a most extraordinarily beautiful sight.
And that was just the morning!
The afternoon brings the inevitable. Something I’ve been secretly feeling smug about avoiding until now. I have my phone and purse stolen. Nairobbery finally strikes!
I had no idea it had happened of course until I went to find my money to pay for some milk. And it wasn’t there. But it only took a split second to realise who the culprit was. I had taken a bus home and was sat on the backseat in my own world enjoying the seriously pumping sound system on this particular matatu. My neighbour tapped me on the shoulder and said he had dropped some money down the seat, could I get it for him? I spotted the coin and handed it over. “No, no, there’s more down there”. I squinted. Nothing. But he insisted. I hunted for a while until I got fed up by his insistence. Of course it had just been a distraction technique.
And so to the pub to drown my slight irritation. Piccolino’s is the name of our local and it is a slightly frumpy place with a narrow outside balcony overlooking a carpark, with flashing neon lights shaped in a heart. But we love it. A friendly waiter named John, an excellent and cheap vegetable curry and cold Tusker = heaven.
We always leave pretty early so we can still walk home before it gets too late to feel safe. But this time I’d spotted a new bar on the main Shopping Centre and feeling up to handling to the obligatory stares we walked in to the obvious bemusement of the barman. Two muzungo ladies!! Woah! The place is actually ace despite the odd vibe given off by the fact the barman serves you from behind a massive cage. Favourite bit: when he had to walk round and out of the cage to give me my glass as it wouldn’t fit through the bars…
A day trip to Nairobi National Museum with two other volunteers. I swallowed my malaria tablet far too close to bedtime the night before and was up half the night with horrible heartburn. Now it is only agony when I swallow. Not constant.
But the museum is excellent! It takes us through the culture, history and wildlife of Kenya with a good dose on the archaeological finds from the “cradle of mankind”. Things I learn include:
- There once was an elephant with such beautiful tusks the President of Kenya assigned FIVE personal bodyguards to protect him from poachers at all times. Ahmed lived until a ripe old age and he does indeed have a mighty fine set of tusks.
- I apparently weigh the same as a porcupine…hmmm!! And Fonda and Anna weigh the same as baboons.
- The oldest man to go to primary school in Kenya was 79. When primary education was made universally free he signed up and carried on attending right up until his death. Here the school system works differently to the UK so you simply stay in a year group until you are able to pass the standards for that level, rather than moving up every year regardless of attainment level.This means you can can get an incredibly diverse set of ages in a class. Maybe not normally as diverse as up to 79….
And we learn how the British, during colonial rule, divided the country up into strict territories and made people wear tags which specified which district they belonged to. Anyone found outside of their district, without the required permission, was forcibly moved back. The result? The strong divisions along tribal lines that now blights so much of Kenyan political life and lie at the root of so many of the countries problems including the post-election violence in 2007.
On the bus home I see someone riding a camel down a main route in the city centre, sky scrapers all around. Brilliant.
Long run day for marathon training! I’m planning to do 15miles. 2miles more than I have ever run in my whole life! My flatmate has advised me I need to start training in jumpers to simulate how hot it will be up at the reserve we are running the actual marathon on (she was up there last weekend). So I don my thermals…luckily Nairobi is overcast today so it’s not TOO ridiculously hot. But I’m setting off at 10am to make sure I get a dose of the midday heat.
The run is long and difficult but I get the runner’s high at a few points. I scrap caring about my time when a massive troop of baboons scamper across the road in front of me and over to the gate of Nairobi National Park. I like that they are using the gate like any other visitor when they could scale the wall no problem.
Home to sleep then sit on the roof “terrace” in the evening sun. A little boy is currently swinging from a rather fragile looking water pipe above my head. I’m almost out of Kenyan tea and the sun is also almost gone. The week has encompassed times when all I want to do is go home and times when I feel the opposite, and can’t imagine going home. It’s awfully confusing. And pretty much the same every single week.
Time to do my hand washing…