It has been almost a week since I arrived in Nairobi and I am just now feeling adjusted to the new time zone. I arrived at 2:30 am Nairobi time on the 9th of August. The flights were very long, and by the time the plane touched down in Nairobi, I was a firm believer that restless leg syndrome is in fact a real condition. Remaining in my seat by that time was physically painful.
Due to concern that I would not be allowed into the country without a return flight, I had made changes to my flight itinerary and flew from Seattle to Chicago to Istanbul and then finally to Nairobi. The airport in Istanbul was swelteringly hot, with no air conditioning to speak of and no drinking fountains. By the time I got on the flight to Nairobi I was extremely thirsty. I had also stripped off my compression socks due to the sense of hyperthermia i was experiencing. I spent the rest of the flight to Nairobi with feet and legs appropriate to the state puff marshmallow man, and endlessly parched. Water was very minimally accommodated on the last flight due to a medical emergency perfectly timed with when the first round of refreshments might have been served, and then taking up 5 of the 6 and a half hours of the flight. I was the nagging woman on the flight who kept getting up while the seat belt sign was in place to feign bathroom and then beg "please, please may I have another thimble of water please?"
I arrived in Nairobi and stepping out of the plane, I was pleased to find the temperature to be comfortably cool. The airport in Nairobi has very low ceilings and none of the glamour or glitz of the Istanbul airport. There were no duty free shops, no designer clothes or perfume shops. It was dirty, narrow-halled, and absolutely wonderful. I couldn't stop smiling. Like all airports, it was easy to find my way to the visa counter, where a friendly lady promptly took my $50 and stuck a 90 day visa sticker into my passport. I then waited for my baggage to arrive, and to my pleasant surprise, it did!
I cannot begin to describe how wonderful it was to exit the baggage claim area and find Jason waiting for me. His amazing friend and colleague Mburu was there with him to transport us back to our new home at the Savannah Sands Apartments.
The apartment is very nice! I will do a post at some future time with pictures of the apartment here. For purpose of brief description, it is a two bedrooms, a bathroom, a large living room with huge daybeds for couches, and a kitchen. It has a small balcony with a faucet, and clotheslines for drying clothes.
This first week has promoted many adjustments in expectations. I feel completely safe during the day to be out and about walking around and carrying out my shopping for groceries. Jeffery, our daytime security guard has expressed also that it is quite fine to walk about during the day, however everyone tucks in after dark unless they are driving from one point to another. Our apartment compound is right on the border of the Upper Hills Estate and Kilimani neighborhoods. Both of these are very areas of Nairobi. Everyone's homes/apartments here are within compounds that are walled, with electric fence and/or razor wire along the top, and full time security personnel.
Oe of the things that struck me in the first day was how dirty the city is. There is trash debris littered everywhere, along with huge amounts of dust and diesel exhaust. Due to the congested roads (and Ngong Rd where we live is one of the most congested) most people do not walk directly next to the road on the side walks, and rather walk along dirt paths several yards from the road. We follow the dirt paths as well. A note about the trash, while there appears to be a trash service that picks up the trash from compounds and businesses, there are no trash cans that I have see for the public. There are, however, dug out holes in the ground where people stuff trash, and then eventually someone will light the hole on fire to dispose of the rubbish. For this reason, there are also small burned out fire piles all over the place with charred remains of garbage. Another thing that was different for me, was that the refrigerated items (such as milk, yogurt, cheese, butter) at the grocery store are kept barely cool. They are all in a refrigerated section, but they are minimally cooler that room temperature. Milk is available in a plastic jug or in sealed plastic bags. Like most places around the world, the eggs are not refrigerated at all. All the food from the grocery stores is fine to eat, and we have not had any problems with buying the warm milk, refrigerating it at home and consuming it. Perhaps we can be a bit uptight about our food in the U.S.?
While there is not much of a restaurant culture (so far that I have seem), the restaurants that are available are incredibly inexpensive. Jason and I ate at an Indian restaurant at Prestige Plaza (home of the Nakumatt grocery store), where we received naan and chicken palak for about $8. This was more than enough food for both of us, and perhaps some of the best Indian food I have ever eaten. We also went to a place called "Steak and Ale" which is butcher, BBQ, bar, restaurant, and perhaps dance club (if we stayed late enough) all in one. Jason and I ordered a mixed grill with lamb, chicken, and beef with marsala fries. This plus a Tusker beer for Jason and a bottled water for me cost us about $12.
I have seen only a few dogs since we arrived, and all strays which have made packs with homeless people. The dogs all look the same: long legged, lean, pointed ears, dark masking on their face and otherwise golden short fur. They look like at some point they were mixed with a shepherd. I have not seen any dogs that would fall into the pet category, though every grocery story has a small freezer with chubs of frozen meat specifically for dog consumption. I'd guess this meat is purchased by those who have estate protection canines.
There are a fair number of stray cats, which are social enough to approach strangers for food, and often hang out around our apartment building. Hearing them fight in the night is common sound.
After one week in Nairobi, I am thankful to be here and very excited for the next 9 months. There is so much to learn and experience, and I love all the new sights and perspectives on life.
I know that blog posts are most enjoyed when pictures are present to punctuate the narrative. I will make an effort to take more pictures and get them into my blog.