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Traditional beads. Mobile phones. Men in business suits. Women in brightly patterned dresses and headscarves. Large shopping malls. Small, rundown kiosks.

Kenya is a fascinating blend of the old and the new. Nairobi, in particular, falls into this category. I was shocked by how much the largest supermarket chain in the city resembles Walmart. English is spoken even between Africans. The streets are all labeled. There is a strong international vibe, that manifests itself in my ability to blend in significantly more than I could in Ethiopia. I’m rarely shouted at on the streets, and I haven’t been asked for money by a beggar or child since I’ve arrived. I’m staying in a muzungu-free (= white person-free) community, but no one seems to notice. And even when they do notice, they don’t act any differently.

Yet, in light of this international awareness, there is still a distinct “African” feeling to the place. Many people in Nairobi have Western clothing and Western material possessions, but their attitude is miles away from that found on the streets of New York City. And it’s this attitude that I love. Easy-going. Quick to laugh. Willing to give up time for other people. Proud of their heritage and tribal affiliations. There is always an upbeat feeling on all the matatus (= taxis), complemented by loud Kiswahili music.

Onlookers cannot deny the Western influence, but there is much more to this city and these people than meets the eye.

Karibu Kenya!

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