Arrival in Nairobi

April 9, 2012

Jomo Kenyata airport looks like it’s been untouched since the declaration of Independence in 1963. However, it’s tranquil and refreshingly absent of the commercial buzz of modern airports. I stand in line for my Visa and I’m not entirely surprised when one hour later I’m filling out my lost luggage documentation. Leaving the airport I can’t help but wonder will I ever see my bags again. First impressions of Nairobi are largely as expected. It’s vaguely modern in places but very much a work in progress. It’s pleasantly hot and the traffic is not as bad as advertised although the fumes remind me of the real progress we’ve made back home and the value of a catalytic convertor.

Home for the next ten weeks is the Hamptons, a gated block of apartments not unlike those in Benidorm circa 1980…..without the sombrero’s and stuffed donkeys though! As I had nothing to unpack, Paolo and I headed for lunch and my Renewable World East Africa induction. I have to admit I was surprised at the venue, a totally modern shopping centre with the only nod to our location being the military check point as we entered. It wasn’t long before we were acquainted, had the obligatory discussion about the pro’s and con’s of development aid and had set the scene for the coming weeks. The plan is to travel to Kisumu on the banks of Lake Victoria on Monday where RW is involved in a project to provide renewable energy for the fishing communities around the lake.

It’s my first Saturday night in Nairobi and Paolo has organised a party at his apartment. He’s been here since November and says it’s about time he returned the favour as he has been invited to so many events since he arrived. The ex pat community is pretty vibrant it would appear, as Nairobi is home to all of the major development agencies, the UN and many large multi nationals. As it’s not safe to walk on the streets after dark everyone has a list of numbers for trusted drivers so I call Stephen to take me the short distance to the party. At this point I’m almost bored at relating my story of how I have ended up in Kenya on scholarship but such is life when you’re meeting all new people. There’s an eclectic mix of personalities from across the globe all buzzing round the party and it’s not long before I feel like I’ve been here for months.

Kenyans for Kenyans is a new concept I’m told about and I’m really delighted to hear that almost 1 billion Kenyan Shillings has been raised through this initiative. Before I left Dublin I was asked by a concerned taxi driver, who had been contributing to fundraisers for Africa all of his life, ‘has anything changed out there, is our money making any difference and what are they doing to help themselves?’ I understood his worries particularly when we hear of so many cases of corruption so I will be glad to report this positive development on my return.

The party moves to a night club…..must say I wasn’t expecting an all swinging all dancing club scene in Nairobi so there’s another preconceived notion put to bed! Somehow with my exuberance to talk to everyone in the club I was separated from ‘the gang’. First night on the town and I was about to break the rule – never get a taxi alone unless you know the driver! An English girl negotiated the price and assured me the driver was fine. As we headed off in what I would generously describe as a car, all those stories of being driven to the ATM and forced to empty my account or being kidnapped and never seen again, passed through my mind. The car stalled on a dark tree lined road en route and I was sure my time had come but thankfully the driver and I shared a laugh when I eventually arrived at the Hamptons unscathed. He assured me that Nairobi was not at all as bad as it was reported.