It’s no secret that I am languishing in the little-paying cesspool of entry level jobs. Well, that covers my melodramatic quota of the week. But as I have a suspicious affinity for junk food and fast food, contributing at least 80% of their income, then it is safe to deduce that I am rubbish at savings.
As a solution to this, a close friend, suggested I go stay with her in her hometown. Apparently she could get me a high paying job there. I was grateful for the suggestion but I had one question which determined whether I would be hiring a moving truck.
“Do you have Steers?”
They didn’t. And that was enough to get me to stubbornly tuck my considerable derriere firmly within Nairobi. Which begs the question, why is it so hard for me to leave Nairobi?
My attitude towards it confuses people. One moment, I am comparing her to Cruella de Ville’s evil step mother and in the next breath she becomes Nairobae and I wouldn’t leave her for all the burgers in Las Vegas (I definitely would but I am trying to make a point). People who have lived here tend to develop an attachment to it to the point of hysteria. Every time I travel to Uganda I always experience a bout of homesickness whenever the twinkling lights of twilight Nairobi fade like a candle blown out in the wind the moment you join the Nairobi-Nakuru highway.
So what is it about Nairobi that makes her Nairobae? Why don’t I want to leave her? Why am I so stuck on her? What makes me forgive that sickening smell of sophisticated sewage spewing out of the earth like a bubbling volcano fed up with the weight of the world? Why do I not blow my affection to smithereens when I walk in downtown having to gird my bag with armour from Iron Man’s prototypes lab? Why do I insist on living in a place that would gawk at an injured man and then take photos for twitter going, “Guys, guess what? Aki Kenyans are mean…”? Why?
Is there some kind of sick psychological dependency I have developed for this place? Do I have Nairobi’s version of Stockholm syndrome? So blinded by the fact that I am being bled dry but I am stuck, chained to the rhythm of hustling, spending, hustling, complaining, rinse, repeat?
No, it’s nothing so lugubrious. Or ridiculous. Underneath the glaring sun, the mercurial weather, the angry, jaded people and the multitude of ways we pay for services we never fully get, my city is actually pretty damn fabulous.
Did you know that it is the only city in the world with a national park in its midst? Moscow has the Kremlin. London has Big Ben. New York has Sarah Jessica Parker. And Los Angeles has that Hollywood sign. But Nairobi has a freaking national park. Which, for only, about 50 bob from town, then an entry charge of Kes. 430 (for adult citizens only), you can go on a tour of the 118 square kilometre park. So this is a place where for the measly price of a burger, you can actually go see Simba and still have access to Wi-Fi.
As if that isn’t enough for people who goo-goo and gah-gah over black and white donkeys grazing, there is something for everyone under the sun. Socially awkward misfits, like yours truly, have all kinds of options where they can enjoy a cocktail while catching up on the latest favoured publication. In this digital age, Wi-Fi is almost as mandatory as a Kenya Bureau of Standards certificate. But this being Kenya, some restaurants obviously didn’t get the memo but there are loads of options. So many in fact that I once stranded myself in town trying to figure out which coffee shop to go read my book in. There’s Kaldi’s, Gibson’s, Java, Petma, Baker’s Inn etc. Not forgetting my life’s blood, Art Caffe (and these guys serve alcohol!).
There are a lot of things we take for granted in Nairobi. On my last trip to Kampala, I got a bit lost looking for the proper matatu home. When in Nairobi, this is dealt with very simply. Every route has a number and every direction has a stage. For instance, all matatus that operate towards the South, i.e. Lang’ata road, Mombasa road and Ngong’ road, can be found in Railways. Going towards the west and the north, i.e. Westlands, Uthiru and Kiambu can be found along Tom Mboya Street, if not along the whole damn road. There is some organization to the madness. I call it chaos by design. Don’t judge me.
And it doesn’t stop there. You can board matatus according to preference. If you want a cheap rust bucket with falling seats and an undercarriage that is held together by gum and prayer- it’s yours. If you want a nganya[i] as loud as your mother when you broke the visitor’s china- it’s yours. When you want a calm, civilized bus which provides some sort of order and serenity- it’s yours. And when you feel like taking a cab, they are as plentiful as flies over a rotting carcass. And if you don’t feel like a taxi, you have Uber, Little Cab and other ride share services I wasn’t bothered to look up.
Convenience is a currency in Nairobi. The easier you can make it for us Nairobians who bathe in the fountain of laziness, the more money you make. We even have roadside cuisine to rival the finest gourmet restaurants. And while you couldn’t get a Kempinski-worthy oriental gourmet meal, you will get goodies you can’t get anywhere else.
Nairobae’s roadsides are a bountiful buffet. A cornucopia of decadent snacks that you can find nowhere else. The most popular are mahindi choma[ii], mutungo[iii], mutura[iv], pasua[v] (eggs or sausages) and smokie. There are loads more options. There are also kebabs, samosas (vegetable and meat), ndunderu[vi], flame grilled offal, fruit salads, fruit juice or rolex. You don’t just go eating any though. This being the age where apparently accidentally having sweaty body contact can give you cancer of the body hairs, you need to be careful when selecting your supplier. The locations account for about 80% of the quality. Proximity to restaurants, butcheries, markets and stages guarantee movement of the product. You wouldn’t be eating last week’s meat today in your spicy samosa.
You should also sample before you purchase. With fruit vendors, they cut small pieces of their fruits to lay bare so that you can judge the entire stock. Mutura vendors usually have pieces lying around where you can try a piece for free. Ish. With my guy, you try it, you buy it. Come to think of it, it’s how I got stuck with him. Folks who roast or boil maize are supposed to have a small burlap sack of maize at their feet and loads more charcoal. That tells you that his/her maize is popular and so it’s at least soft enough not to grind your molars into dust.
All this and more would be taken away from me if I left my city. So for now, I’m with Nairobae. I am not trading my mutura supply for a “better pay check” in a town whose buildings don’t appear on google maps and cows have right of way and they don’t even have Steers.
[ii] Roast maize
[iii] Boiled maize
[iv] African sausage
[v] Pastry (flatbreads or buns) which have been stuffed
[vi] Black pudding