I have not been warned so much to stay in the rape capital of the country #Delhi as much as I was before my solo trip to Kenya (for official reasons). The general tone of these conversations hinted on dangers of theft, mugging, and harassment. It doesn’t take too long to guess where these warnings origins from – the Racist sitting deep in every Indian heart. Here are few of the epic saves from the Indians I met on my way; only to corroborate what I guessed:
- On my way from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (had a short layover here) to Nairobi, Kenya; I had an old Kenyan couple sitting beside in the flight. Being what I am; and being what I guess old couples universally are; it didn’t take time to strike a general conversation. The couple suggested some of the “must-visits” in Nairobi; and I was religiously taking notes. The conversation stretched to more about our families, our work and our travel plans; and I am not sure what exactly were we talking when an Indian middle-aged guy just gets up from the first row asks me if I am an Indian, in Hindi. Here is a snippet of the conversation we had, all in Hindi.
The Guy asks me, “Is this your first time here? Why are you visiting Nairobi?” I responded with a Yes and after a couple of more back and forth questions; I referred UN Head quarters as the venue of the conference. The typical Indian Guy, started exploring for some hook where he could extend a possible relation that we have had in past (generations). He started rambling his associations with UN; in a tone that more sounded like you-can-trust-me, I-am-your-next-of-kin!
After a good 10 minutes of this conversation; which by the way – was causing obstruction to the flight attendants – as he was standing in the middle of the walkway; He started with this primary agenda – warn me against the dangerous Kenyans! (You will soon know how right he was!) I will perhaps not be able to do complete justice to his very “respectful” speech but one of the lines that got stuck with me was “Don’t trust any Kenyan at all, whether in a suit or in rags. They will all perhaps pick-pocketers.” I was only wondering how he will explain the lovely pick pocketing phenomenon of purani dilli; I just wanted the conversation to get over as, “you need to choose your battles”, and this one seems to be a long, tiring and I-agree-to-disagree kinds. He shared his contact with me and insisted to stay in touch during my stay in Nairobi.
- What happened at the flight, doesn’t stay at the flight. Another Kenyan Guy offered me help; as I was slightly lost at the airport. It didn’t take too long for another “concerned” Indian middle-aged guy to spot this and interrupt the conversation; which not-surprisingly went almost on the same lines as the airplane-Indian-gentleman. The lesson I learn was – Next time, don’t tell an Indian that, this is your first time in Kenya.
- While this sum up the Indians I met on trip to Nairobi and mostly all I met during the trip; James, the guy who was driving me in Nairobi; told me how he recognized Indians. This conversation started where I saw cars driving only in two lanes even on a heavy traffic route; which to my surprise was odd given how in Delhi, one would find cars trying to overtake creating a third/fourth/fifth lane on the two-way lane. James responded that it happens sometimes here as well; and well that’s how we recognize an Indian! He adds that honking is the other common indication of an Indian around. Of course, stereotypes exist on both ends but the Indian stereotype is so typical to relate to!
The dangerous day begins…
After a three-day packed with PEP 23 (the conference I was here for) agenda, I got a day out for myself- to do a solo travel to the main city attractions. I started with the Giraffe Centre. Have never been very fond of animals but people like me cannot say that in complete truthfulness after having an experience so close to the wildlife, where they come right close to your face and asks you; “Are you sure you are not fond of us?” One of the best things about the Giraffe centre was how the Giraffes were all in open in the forests and people were caged at one spot from where they could see them, feed them. The best part is where you sit in a rooftop restaurant and the giraffe will extend his/her neck to request you to give him some food. It is more than just a sight. It is a beautiful expression of being fellow species on this earth.
We moved to the Ostrich, Turtle and Crocodile Centre after this. I wasn’t totally up for it; but James (the one who was driving me) said, we must. And that’s perhaps the decision that invited all the dangers I faced in Nairobi.
A young, physically strong looking guy, Peter approached me and offered him as our Guide. The Indian in me reacted with a No; thinking they are going to over-charge and I am anyway struggling to keep within the budgets. He insisted and said that he will take us around for free. The Indian in me just could not believe it. (I later realized, after another such instance that Kenyan Guide tradition is that they will take you around everywhere but never charge; you pay them according to what you think they deserve. Their humbleness will perhaps make you pay your gratitude in more money that they would ask otherwise, just saying.) And what happened next cannot be done complete justice in writing but I will put up this video that can help you get a glimpse of the horror. I was almost freaking out.
This is totally worth it, believe me.
I must admit the Indians warning me at the flight and the airport was totally true about how dangerous Nairobi is. Dangerous in the way that spirits of some people are so loose and connected with wildlife that it is totally scary for an urban dweller like me.
While Peter and James were insisting that I hold the baby crocodile; I still wasn’t totally converted. I went with the tortoise instead and James got a good click with the baby crocodile. Not to mention, watching four lovely ostriches was no less than magnificence; and yes I could feed them after 15 minutes of dramatic hesitation.
Insights into Kenyans – You are gonna love these, it might cure some Indian-racist in you!
It is a little strange but conversations with local Kenyans will make you remember John Lennon. Because whether you say something of gratitude, surprise, astonishment, despair; many will react to such conversations with one word, “Imagine”. I don’t know if it was coincidentally with only me, but here are some instances. “Germans lost to South Koreans, what a shame.” Mogaan will respond “Imagine”. “What a lovely morning” James responds “Imagine” “There is so much traffic in Nairobi, how do people commute for office every day” Benard responds, “Imagine”. And these are just few of the dozens of such instances. Not to mention, I met some of the amazing people at the place where I stayed – Eunice, Louis, Mogaan, Margret and everyone else I met – Martin, James, Peter. Margret, after seeing me eat vegetarian food and that too, a small portion of it reacted once; that’s why we Kenyans are so fat- we just don’t eat meat – we eat a Lot of Meat. Chuckles followed.
- Happy Flirting!
This one’s a little odd at first. It started with the first guy who I drove with in Nairobi to reaching a count of 6+ in my just 4 days of stay in Nairobi. (Mostly the ones who drove me around, to the ones who cooked for me, housekeeping, coffee shop managers) A typical conversation would have the following sequence of the questions. The Guy “So, are you from India?”; “What is your age?”; “Are you married?”; “Are you single?”; “Are you interested, I am single too?”. The worst part was that I had to be as brunt as they were in offering to be friends as against “relationship”. But the Best Part was that none of it went awkward. All of them backed off, very respectfully and not really pushed to any more awkward questions. It was quite a scary at first but an amusing experience later. But just so that I don’t have to really say “No” so often; I really had to pretend of being taken; during my last days! (:
- Wizard of the Crow!
A friend I made at the Bookstore suggested me this book by a renowned Kenyan writer. From the few chapters I have read, I must say it is a beautiful political satire and I was only wondering what Rajesh Tandon, PRIA once said at the trialogue2047 I attended, “Imagine a world; where knowledge flows without borders.” I was a little disappointed that the global literature that we read across the world is almost the same- Stephen Hawking, Dan Browns; while the local literature is hardly travelling across the borders.
- How much of Kenya is Africa and Africa is Kenya #Africaisnnotacountry
It took him less than 30 seconds to tie this around me; I wasn’t really asking for it. #touristised #vicitmisedforthegood
As I was leaving from my hotel to the airport on my way back, Bernard (who drove me to the airport), played a local radio channel – not sure what number – I guess 98.3 FM. I think this was the most amazing conversation I have ever heard over a FM radio and India has a lot to learn from our fellow global citizens. The RJs were discussing about – we need to change the narrative about Africa
- one – we need to the world to understand that #Africaisnotacontinent (she was citing how people across the world refer Africa as a country; including international organizations like UN. For instance, having separate help desks for French, Spanish, English and one Helpdesk for Africans at one of the event the RJ was quoting)
- two- we need to resolve our ethnic differences and figure out how to treasure our diversity. The lady RJ was stressing on how if there is a local problem, we need to solve it locally. (this was in reference to some ethnic violence that was in the news at that time)
I was amazed at the intensity of the conversation and how an FM channel was striking conversations on real development issues in the state. I feel there is so much Indian FMs can learn from this channel.
- Bomas of Kenya – Amazingness at its Best.
I was looking for suggestions where I can connect with the culture of the city and Eunice from the hotel suggested me to go to Bomas. I think this was the best decision of the trip. The place is a cultural centre in Nairobi where local traditional dances are performed every day between 2 PM – 4 PM. I was not sure if I wanted to witness a stage performance. But the day I went, the theatre was jam-packed with kids of the age 8 years to 12 years. And the most delightful of the times followed. The kids not just enjoyed the songs but as and when they got the opportunity between the dances, the theatre played a popular patriotic song and every kid will jump to catch the beat. I haven’t felt so much energy packed in one room since my own school time – when I guess I was more a part of the energy than feeling it.
You just need to look closely into the expression of each kid around, there is hardly words need to describe how I was feeling. And this is just a smallest glimpse of it.
- Karura Forest
As a part of the last day of the conference, all participants went for a walk to the Karura Forests – a conserved forest area right in the middle of the city! History of the place tells us that there was a big people’s movement to save the forests from all the development pushes; and the leader of the movement also won Noble Peace Prize. Today, it represents a symbol of struggle and sustainability. The walk was green, muddy and beautiful – fresh forest could just be felt by all your 5 sense organs. There was a lunch place in the forests and I am not sure how locals there see it; but it was truly exotic for any urban Indian like me. (I will soon upload a snapshot of it to given an idea)
- To break or not to break some stereotypes
- No House in Nairobi has a fan – because it is always pleasant in Nairobi. You don’t need a fan, all year round. Unbelievable for many Indians for who Africa is a one-frame-hot –continent.
- Like we guess people’s ethnicities from the size of the nose, face, forehead; Kenya also has 52 tribes – all with their distinct features. It is quite intriguing; knowledge can be harmful to a lot of your generalisations and assumptions here.
- I did not visit some of the highlights in the main city centre – apparently there is a lot of snatching. James refused to take me there. So I guess, typical to any big city today – there are different flavors to where you go in the city, so take mine as just a microcosm of the whole! (:
#Kenya #Africaisnotacountry #Africaisacontinent #travel #KOT