Your Nairobi

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It’s easy to moan about Nairobi. Moan about floods. Moan about traffic-jam and “matafakas” cutting you off in traffic. Moan about the drainage system and about Sonko. (Those two are not related.) It’s easy, in moments of cynicism to think the worst of Nairobi, how hopeless and desperate it has all become. It’s easy to stare at KICC and get angry at the Koreans for putting their logo up there. (Yeah, like Ketepa will put a banner up there?). And don’t you just hate this new army of obnoxious motorbike guys with their stinky leather jackets in 32 degree heat, choking life on the roads and literally begging you to run them over? It’s so easy to sit and think this city has totally gone to the hounds. Well, until you leave the country and you realise that, with all its dysfunctions, this is heaven. That there is a reason expats cling to the trousers of the immigration ladies when it’s time for them to go back home.

The other day I thought, “What is my Nairobi?” Then I asked the same question to a few chaps. Here is Nairobi as seen by myself and a few different folk.

Best Western Hotel

You are sitting in the house on a Saturday night, no plan, feeling depressed because you are broke and someone said, Acha I will call you later for drinks and they didn’t call. And the mama you were hoping to hook up with hasn’t said a word even though the two ticks have turned blue. You feel like you aren’t loved. That your life is over. You have a loose 1K? (Surely you must). Wait until 10pm and drive to Best Western Hotel, take the elevator to 7th floor, use the stairs to 8th, there is a bar there called Level 8. It’s overpriced and it’s blue, so don’t go in. (Not yet). Stand at the edge of the rooftop, turn the collar of your jacket, thrust your hands in your pocket and look out at the arresting vista of Nairobi. There is nowhere in Nairobi with a more spectacular view of Nairobi than that rooftop. It’s gobsmackingly gorgeous. Don’t take a picture, because this is an image you store in your heart. Later, jump into Level 8 and order a hot toddy.

Old, meet new.

The bank sits in a building on the corner of Kenyatta Avenue and Muindu Mbingu Street (I think). It’s an old building, probably built at the start of the century. Pre-colonial architecture: Arched windows. Heavy wooden doors in deep brown. White and gray concrete that refuses to age. The pillars at the entrance, they stand so tall you HAVE to tilt your head back to see how far up they run.

Working my way up the stairs past those pillars reels me back to a time where nothing surrounded this building but open opportunity. And time momentarily stands still when I am stepping into the bank. When I have one foot in and one foot out, I feel as if I am crossing over the line that separates one century from another. I overhear conversations. Men on the outside speak of building a great city, men on the inside are writing cheques and counting bills to conquer that city. They don’t speak, their money speaks for them.

The men on the outside built us a city – our city – and we took it from them.

The energy this building exudes defines Nairobi for me; an energy that drives men who dream of building and conquering cities. My words shiver with that energy.

Florence Bett

The sun.

They once called it the “The Green City in The Sun.” The only green left, perhaps, are in the golf courses. But the sun stayed on. I asked Ayisi Makatiani – Venture Capitalist, CEO Fanisi Capital – what his Nairobi is and he said, “Nairobi for me is a perfect sunny day, and they are more of them in Nairobi than any other city I have visited or lived in. Despite the cloudy or dry days that you might occasionally get, the perfect sunny days in Nairobi more than makes up.”

Uhuru Highway Traffic

There is a scene in Training Day where Denzel tells Hawke to roll down his window and “listen” to the sound of the street. We spend time in traffic in our air conditioned cars, locking out Nairobi. Crack it open next time as you sit there immobile. Let the spirit of Nairobi fill your car. That sound you hear, that restless sound? That is the sound of Nairobi’s inertia.

Sharwama; Diamond Plaza

Go at 9pm. Ask for this kao guy called Jackson. His number is 0725 616687. Get that chicken in coconut sauce and two garlic naans. Eat with your hands. Then later sit there and have a fresh pineapple-mint juice and watch the smorgasbord of Asian families on a night-out. It’s a carnival, this place. There is a family on the next table; they have this amazingly handsome little boy whose chin is at the edge of the table, as he struggles to see the rest of the table, and his sandaled feet swing gaily from the edge of the bench. That boy’s innocence has not been scratched by the city and it drowns all the hubbub around you. Finish your juice and go home.

Kaldis in the rain.

Her name is Joy and she has a face so beautiful it hurts my eyes. I meet those eyes the moment I walk into Kaldis Coffee, wet from the rain. Joy finds me a place to sit. Kaldis was once this quiet spot where I slid into to get away from the heavy breathing streets of Nairobi. These days it is always full and noisy. Murmurs gather in the air and hold a raucous kamkunji. I have been meaning to find another spot which chaps from Nation Media Group have not turned into a spot for informal meetings. But I still do not know any other place that serves better milkshakes. And then there is Joy. She is the kind of waitress that makes it hard to leave. She has a heart I would like to kiss.

I sit facing the door. Outside, the sky is leaking. Joy comes back with a menu. I look up at her, at those African poetry eyes and say,

“Jaber, get me a vanilla shake and…”

“…sirloin steak, well done with chips. I know.”

Meanwhile outside, water rolls down the glass door like tears from a tired heart. Nairobi is weeping, but I know she is not one bit sad.

Magunga Williams

A city stirs.

Chris Bitti – CEO, the TheDBagency – lives on the penthouse suite of International House. Sometimes at 5am he steps off his balcony with a cup of tea in hand he looks over the city slowly stirring awake. “It’s still at that time, there are a few people up and about but mostly it’s still. But you can feel the city slowly awaken, like a hungry giant. You can feel something major coming, like this massive wave that is building somewhere and is headed right to the heart of the city and you know something serious will happen in the day, you know someone out there is about to take your place. Nairobi is a beautiful hell.”

The Tunnel

The only place Tamms loves more than a swimming pool is that tunnel that gets you off Thika Road and into Forest Road. That tunnel that looks like you are in Nairobi’s large intestine. She could be asleep at the back of the car but you have to wake her up to experience that tunnel or she sulk for hours. “It’s because of the darkness, and the lights,” she explains. Whenever I drive through there I tilt the rear view mirror and watch her at the back, the lights slashing her face in rapid succession and when we finally emerge into the sunlight she always says, “let’s do it again!”

I am from Nairobi.

I am from Nai. Tried. Tested. Contented. Being there, done that and did not even want the T-shirt. My Nairobi is all about contrasts. The anguish of bumper to bumper traffic on Langata Road versus the open savannah of the Nairobi National park. Totally English. Karen Blixen, afternoon tea on greens at Muthaiga. Little India. Maru Bhajias at DP in Parklands. Or standard Central cuisine with Kienyeji boilo, mukimo at Njuguna’s. Best of Kisumu flavours at Mama Oliech’s in Dago for fresh fish and osuga. Bonding with the boys. Kuku choma, beer baridi and a car wash at Nairobi West. Back uptown for a little bohemian experience. Cappuccino at Java House. Chilled Mojitos at Mercury but still keep it real with a White Cup and Rhumba at Carnivore. Bourgeois Picnic for the expat friends at Blankets n Wine. Shake a leg at Choices Baricho Road with the clande before the Midnight ratchet special at F1 with the usual perverts. Mdundo, Old school with E-Sir and Ogopa DJs. Doing the Lipala with Sauti Sol or the sophisticated air guitar with Jonathan Butler at Safaricom Jazz. This is my Nai.

OYUNGA PALA

The Post Office.

I recently went to the registered mail section of the post office to get my mail from abroad. It’s down a steep staircase that drops you into the soulless pit of GPO. There I found a sluggish and uninspired old man who shuffled around in sandals. (It was a Saturday). He barely looked at me (or my ID) as he pointed with dark nails at the place I should sign. It was this old massive book. Then he went and sat on this wooden chair with a sigh (or was it the chair that sighed?) and got back to his newspaper and mug of steaming tea and I wondered if he had an email address.

Three wise men?

“There are three men on Kenyatta Avenue. They have been standing there for nearly eight decades, watching as the swampy town became a city right in front of them. The man on the left is wearing a shuka and carrying a staff in one hand, as if he is going to herd goats and not to kill other men. He has his gun slung, almost like an afterthought, to his left arm. You can tell he wants the one in the middle to think he is staring at him, but his gaze goes far higher. The one in the middle is a conformer, in his ironed shorts and military pose. He is a man of war, the kind you don’t want to mess with. He stares at the obelisk on the other side, the story of another war. The third man has a rifle strung to his left shoulder. There isn’t much to him, not enough character even other than a seeming discomfort with his new role.

There are three men on Kenyatta Avenue. They share the same rock, a symbol of a shared destiny lost in the sands of time, in the stories of other thousands of men forced to be the ‘feet and hands of the army.’ Under their feet, Rudyard Kipling promises “Even if you die, your sons will remember your name.” But their sons didn’t, and their stories got lost in the struggles that followed. Their story is Nairobi’s story, untold.”

Owaahh

Mama Ngina

Stand at the edge of Hilton, facing Mama Ngina Street at 8pm, when a large throng of people are heading home. Its thick mass of humanity, worn faces who are always hopeful about tomorrow. One entrepreneur told me, “When you see this mass going home you can’t help asking yourself, ‘what product do I have to come up with so that all these people can buy it?’”

The streets!

It is an early Monday morning, the chill is at its harshest and the roads are flooded. Flooded by hordes of people and vehicles wading through the water.

Like always, everybody is in a rush. Navigating through the pavements, I catch whiffs of the weekend on people’s’ breaths. Cars pass by, splashing water on us because, well, that’s what floats their boat (read vitz). Archives looms large, indifferent to everything happening around it. It has had to endure Gor Mahia fans for eons, nothing much can surprise it now. It does not give a shit that for all the lessons they could learn from their past, Nairobians prefer to use it in giving directions because it knows that’s how Nai peeps are. They do not conform. For every person complaining of floods, there’s three blighters, not necessarily kyuk, thinking of the dough they could make if rice grew on flooded tarmac. It is all so fascinating. As I trot down Tom Mboya street, I walk past the same people daily; the balding newspaper vendor with playboy magazines hidden beneath Parents, the conductors who double up as peddlers and the capped dude who walks around selling dummies to dummies.

The only thing you can be sure of, and that I have learned about Nai, is that it don’t belong to your mother.

Joe Black -Insyder Magazine. (Look at that, Joe Black got a job!)

The great divide

If you stand on the balcony of any of the residences of the new National Housing corporation houses in Langata, something powerful is clear. Immediately below you, the rooftop of your little 2.0cc car is clear. After that, another block, then the wall, the big one. The slum starts immediately after it, and that wall makes all the difference. You are standing on the middle class side, where the gates create the big difference between you and everyone else. Rusty tin roofs litter the horizon, with the slum’s streets invisible to your bird’s eye view. Yet your host’s househelp comes from the other side, because it is the only way the system works. The wall separates the lower working class from the lower middle class. Nairobi is defined by its walls. Gray and unforgiving, at least on the side you can see from the balcony, that wall makes all the difference. Nairobi’s walls are its stories.

Owaah

Best Band in Town

Calabash Band. Tuesdays and Thursdays, Explorer Tavern, Kilimani. Izzo on keyboard. Mayor on drums. Johnny Bass on guitar. Then, standing before the microphone, is Linda Muthama, breaking this musical testosterone with a voice that anchors the night (and you) in one spot.

When birds mate

Nairobi is a place of extremes, the litmus of limits and testing point of resilience. It shuffles your cards, topples your dominos and rearranges your normal nervous balance. Take traffic jams. The melting pot of all pseudo-classes. We meet here every day from 6am to 9pm. The poor and the rich: the pragmatic and the romantic. Traffic equalizes us all then neatly encapsulates Nairobi’s two great exports: radio and patience. We sit and listen to radio hosts talk about traffic with the same enthusiasm teenage boys talks about veet. You try to be patient as you watch two grand Marabou stocks recklessly mate on top of a tree branch above your car. We pray that at least the Mbukinya bus in front of us will have moved before the birds break the branch. We pray the guy hawking life saver vests gets to you before the flash floods hit town. We watch as the sun sits on the horizon like an old sultan as it eats the skyline like yams. Then, the city will turn to a smorgasbord of grace, soft crime, jazzy tranquility and Sabina Joy. And for the rest of us in traffic, radio and patience. But let me tell you what Nairobians have managed to do that other cities have not – they have anaesthetized themselves against Nairobi. You’ll know because the next morning, in their true métier, Nairobians will all meet up again in traffic.

Wambui Gichobi

What is YOUR Nairobi?​ Tell us.

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121 Comments
  1. My Nairobi is definitely having roast maize while going home, that guy near Total petrol station opposite Daystar University as you go towards KNH really outdoes himself when it comes to fresh maize. My Nairobi is my mama mboga who senses that I’m a bachelor and goes ahead to peel onions and wash tomatoes for me before she packages them. My Nairobi is that neighbor who barely knows me but gives me a lift every so often and utters only four words throughout the journey. ‘Nikikuweka hapa ni sawa?’

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    1. Ha ha ha, I want someone who can peel onions and cuts the spinach, then the roast maize, crazy how I stop abruptly when I see the kind I like!

      1. Haha first of all peeling onions is a chore and a sad one at that. You have to balance between chopping the suckers while at the same time trying not to flood your entire kitchen with tears. But my mama mboga is the realest ninja I think she’s done it for so long she’s become immune to the onions. Days I think she’s the one who makes the onions tear down. But that roast maize maneno be advised that it is not an ad on in this blog and I’m not getting any commission whatsoever from the exposure the ninja gets. Hehe

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  2. Hi Biko,I think the view Nairobi residents have of Nairobi
    depends on where they live and how much they earn.Next
    time be sure to go down and ask the same of people
    in different income bracket even those as low as
    15k which is what I used to earn many years ago while
    I was living and working in Nairobi and living in mlango kubwa.I do not live
    there anymore .I live in the beautiful town called
    Nakuru.Good piece though

    1. I think what makes Nairobi is not the hoity-toity locations, but the spirit of the people, expesially those who are enmeshed in the very grassroot of the foodchain.

  3. i also love the tunnel like a little girl…especially when radio network goes kiasi…also,i love nganya mats….i can never get enough!

  4. I love this post. I down at the coast last week and was telling a friend how each time I come back to Nairobi , be it via air or road, my eyes always tear with the sheer joy of being back in this city that I love so much. Make no mistake like a typical Nairobian moaning is embedded in my dna but I love this city. I do agree that it is a bundle of contradictions but therein lies its charm. I love reading and walking; those book vendors on almost every street on Nairobi are my suppliers. I am utterly convinced that no other city can provide me with the variety of books and book vendors who are so well read that they occasionally give such good recommendations. Nairobi sunny days are a dream come true, even to a girl born and bred here, walking the streets on a such a day and seeing Nairobi women all decked in their different styles is food for the soul.

  5. My Nairobi is where you meet a stranger at Kencom who asks you whether you are going to Kenyatta Market to be braided, you board the bus with her,
    Question is do you know whether she will braid you or shave you? or your hear of one on TV narrating how strangers at Uhuru Park talked them into ‘praying’ for their money so it can double… My Nairobi is where people take uncalculated risks and life goes on…

  6. My Nairobi is a street, that river from Hercules where dead souls swim. A street where you cannot stop, not even to catch a breath nor a glimpse, a street where if you stop you get knocked over by people moving so fast New York dreams of such, a city where you stop for two seconds and they stole your first. A street again, so crowded Beijing looks like a rough sketch. A street so filled with poetic soul and Muses Pythagoras, no must be Socrates dreams of such. A city again, a city a city a city. I do not live in Nai. Nakuru is my home… Good piece man

  7. Just read this seated in jam getting into Nai.And yes,my Nairobi is huking up with my team at the sunken car park at Agakhan walk,shoping for hair food at Perida center and meeting up with pals at highlands Mr.Price ,yes thts what we call it for Masala tea and samosas.

  8. A tad too elitist, these views of Nairobi.’Chilled Mojitos’ and ‘Bourgeois Picnics’? For a moment I had a feeling they were the views of that mzungu who earns a living from a column in ‘The Nairobian’. Something Blues…

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  9. My Nairobi is the city that never sleeps. Some chips places (read Altona & Sonford) have never been closed and after having a good drink you can still go and eat before you head home and pass out on your bed. My Nairobi is the city that has lots of opportunities but only if you know where to look. My Nairobi is that awesome city that needs rescuing to restore it to its former glory.

  10. Beautiful Piece….. 🙂

    My Nairobi is reaching your stage to catch a bus or matatu home and finding a queue so long You’d think the general elections were ongoing.. Makes you realize that the struggle is real and that we are all in this together.. Its like a bond of sorts… Just like that you make new friends on that very queue as you await your ride home..

  11. Joe Black got a job..Yes!Now that’s my Nairobi.Stranger meets stranger,stranger believes in stranger,more strangers believe in the stranger and even more strangers come to each others’ aid,strangers become family,everyone is happy…well not always but fascinating whenever it happens.

  12. Nairobi is the long lines at Co – op ATM’S along Haile Sellasie on the 30th and 31st when most of us in the middle income bracket have earned their pay.

    When a Friday night is ripe with debauchery and voices whisper of a new club somewhere along Moi Avenue (which always has a new club or refurbished one). The excitement in the air when you dress up in a bid to look older touching your goatee when you approach the bouncer whispering a silent prayer that you pass for 25. The caressing of his ego to get in because you do not look of age putting in effort you would’ve rather wasted on a chips funga. Parting with a ‘ka soda’ because it’s end month and he must earn his keep as well. Then the dance floor where you have your groins assaulted by some derrière that substituted squats for fast food at sonford and the occasional chicken house.

    Nairobi is the long lines at the matatu stage waiting patiently to get home. The loud ma threes belting out urban hip hop with their pioneer woofers almost set on full blast. Watching obscene videos in a vehicle that has a bigger t.v than the one you have at home. The outcry then the kange decides fare has upped twenty baab just because it’s raining. If you don’t like it you can shuka, he will tell you. It’s raining so you figure that ka blue isn’t too much.You get to your stage and the guy for squad goteas you like he usually does and asks you for that ka ashu because it’s end month and he wants to shikisha.

    Nairobi is Nairobi what more can I say?

  13. You literally hit the head on the coffin..All what has been said is so true. Nairobi is full of stories for sure.

    Happy to see Joe black got a job…Good stuff!

  14. nostalgic that pumwani majengo got no mention and the ground that became a symbol of solidarity protest kamukunji nearby

  15. woii i amlost teared reading”your Nairobi”.I miss Nairobi with all its hustles and imperfections.Being away i am yet to have a day i don’t miss being home.choma sausages with kachumbari,ugali,mukimo,noisy PSV’s,mama Mboga the list is endless.But sometimes its only when you leave this Kenya that you start to appreciate the small things!!Nairobi soon your child is coming back,the countdown is real 🙂

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  16. My Nairobi is me waking up in mukuru slums ,the caretaker,a short paunchy character with deep green teeth,bangs on the door of my opposite neighbor demanding for rent 1200 ksh a month.That door is not going to be opened the man inside has zero intention to pay rent this month even next month,the caretaker is demanding for his due.Conversations seeps through the rusty mabati walls.The neighbour on the left , a Kenya railways retiree,is busy having morning glory the last kicks of a dying horse.The one on the right,shuffles his feet and with shame carries a plastic bag full of steaming human feaces to go and dump at the railway line.He has to do this very early in the morning before most souls wake up and troop to industrial area to be insulted by Indians with spiked hairs and tiny pimped vitz.He wants nobody to see him carryying his bag of shame,his reputation should remain intact.He doesn’t want to be remembered as that man who shits in a plastic bag.The plastic bag is bursting at the seams.I peruse through a pile of brown envelopes containing neatly typed letters ,prayers about internships at various media firms….Media max,star newspaper,Nation media Group,standard group,Gina din Pr…..I must make something out of this journalism degree because I don’t want to dissapoint my mum and most importantly to dissapoint myself.I slip on my brown leather Ted Barker shoes(thanks to Gikomba market) the shoes have peeled soles and full of wrinkles.Carry my pile of envelopes and step out ready to go and meet with gorgeous receptionist wearing nothing but rotten attitude.Receptionists who hold my brown envelope with the tip of their varnished finger nails as if the envelopes contain a pile of dog poo poo.This is my Nairobi.

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  17. I haven’t been to Nairobi for a while and this piece made me nostalgic. My Nairobi is still the Nairobi of the teenage girl I was back then and the glimpses of it I have when I visit it now. It’s the dusty streets of Kawangware filled with noisy Matatu’s. It’s Elisabeth doing hair at the corner, sharing the shoe maker’s rusty shack. No one seems to know the shoemaker’s name; he never strings two words together. You give him your shoe, point to where repair is needed and he nods and says Kesho, or Jioni. It’s the group of young (jobless) men that hang around barber shops playing blaring Reggea or Bongo. Their eyes following everything that passes in a dress, or anything with a half decent ass hehehe. Ah, its walking from hot dusty Kawangware to neighbouring Lavington and seeing how the other half lives. The sun doesn’t shine so blindingly bright in Lavington, it is not so chokingly hot. The sun here is just the right light sifting through green foliage untouched by the chaotic noise and red dust beyond. It’s quiet in these other worldly streets. There is the occasional car; it does feel like the ‘occassional’ car after the conundrum you just left behind, passing your way. High walls hiding perfectly manicured lawns. This place makes a girl dream. The ‘security’ guys guarding the gates remind you Kawangware is not as far as it feels. You know that guy at the red gate, he lives in the ‘plot’ that neighbours yours, and the nice Luo lady selling roasted Maize and Mangos with red salted Chilli at the corner is your friend’s mom.

    Nairobi is going to town and dreaming even more. Downtown Nairobi makes a young girl think she can do it, she can be part of it. Go to college carrying one of those black college bags, hair permed or perfectly braided…, get a job and walk through these streets with a purpose just like all these seemingly successful people. No one will know where you come from. Meet a nice guy and have a whirling romance not very much unlike the romances you read in those 100 bob books that you buy at a street corner in downtown… Nairobi makes things seem to be within grasp.

  18. Joe Black is crazy creative…he writes with heart, he mixes his soul with his words. I am happy he got that job!

  19. Nairobi for me is a Sunday afternoon at Kayole Catholic Church with a bunch of teenagers aged 13 – 18 years talking about life. Having an argument once in a while about their behaviour. Them giggling at my outburst in part sheng, english and kikuyu. They do not see why i am flipping because i sported them sleeping during Mass embarrassing me, their teacher. We dance to several Catholic Choir music in preparation for the next Mass. A word of prayer and then at 6pm sharp, i chase them all over the compound determined to send them home before dusk. Kayole is not a safe place for teenagers to be walking around at night. I unlock my bike a cycle back home to the jeers of all the idle men who think i have no business being on my bike. Assholes!
    From far East Nairobi!

  20. Hawkers running up n down at the sight of kanjo, on the backs their wares. This post makes me miss Nairobi

  21. Nothing exemplifies the People and life in Nairobi for me like the aisles and shelves of Nakumatt;-Junction, Galleria and Westgate (before the terrorists forced its closure). You walk around and see items (furniture and electronics) with prices that it will take you a SACCO loan repayable within 3 years to buy, items especially foodstuffs you have no idea whether there are supposed to be eaten raw, boiled or roasted. Imported fruits which you only ‘kula na macho’ but you know there are because there are people in this Nairobi who buy them and you actually see them buying. You then saunters into other aisles rather lanes where you belong milk; bread, Unga, Ariel and other kawaida things in small packs and prizes are found. You hope that one day you too will send your teenage daughters to do shopping for the house with 200k like that Sudanese minister a kin who works at Junction told me about.

    1. Moth, you just took me back to childhood days…The basket on the other till always “greener” lolest kula na macho

    2. The part about foodstuffs is too accurate..haha…walking down the shelves of TRM and wondering what some things clalled food are used for then going back and picking your unga and ariel then heading home

  22. I love that tunnel too,there’s something about it…the darkness and the light!!!
    My Nairobi is this restaurant on the third floor of Yala towers,called VALLEY SHAKE!!! Quite serene and lovely,especially in the evenings. Plus their milkshakes are divine. You can enjoy a lazy Saturday afternoon reading a book.
    This place used to and is still a gem only that Nairobians can break your heart once they turn such places to meeting zones. Try it though…the view of Nairobi up there is lovely

  23. This is such a beautiful piece and the comments are adding to it… This is Nairobi, a city that will never cease in its quest of self discovery.

  24. Hmmmmm….. Nairobi, lots to say but words fail me. I am now a village girl in Siaya.Very glad that Joe Black got a job. Thanks Biko for being a great mentor, you gave Joe a hand.

  25. Nairobi to me was that city that you just had to live in and if you were not from Nairobi, I considered you ‘shady’ (backward). That was until I moved to another country and lived in the countryside and came to the shocking realization that there is indeed life outside Nairobi. So, do not be afraid to venture out.

  26. My Nairobi is an intricately woven mass of human connections. One where everyone knows everyone. And you are always a friend of friend. We all know someone who knows someone’s uncle who happens to be someone’s boss, who is the neighbour’s side dish and that they met at a mutual friend’s wedding where the bride is her cousin’s gynaecologist who happens to be in a chama with her son’s teacher.

  27. Ladies bending over shoes and clothes along the streets , esp from Koja bus terminus towards Ngara. Not the frequent tear gas , or sometimes live bullets have dampened the spirit of a nairobi lady looking for a chiffon top (when am i owning one though!)

  28. I travel alot with in east africa but every time i get back to nairobi… i always get this tingly feeling of being back in the city ya wajanja

  29. Am still on the part where Joe Black got a job…awesome! I have spent most of my life in Nairobi but yeneyewe since i moved to coast-oh most memories have been obliterated…..very few remain, like that time a chokosh bullied me at the globe roundabout way before the Chinese came and modernized it!

  30. nice piece, I love Nairobi was raised there now living in Eldoret from the talks I miss to just living just for that day ata unaspend ur last money on mtura

  31. Joe Black got a job! Yipee!
    My Nairobi is walking with my boys from school to go buy roast maize. For me it is food, for them it is a snack-a healthy snack though.

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  32. I love to have a right matatu’s window seat every time I go to town because of among many other things, that tunnel you mentiones Tamms loves. Most of the times, almost all, I find myself in the road that goes to town, for my business in Forest road is none. But I love staring out of that window, into the rims of any vehicle moving at the same speed, but away into Forest road. The light does tricks to them rims, and they start revolving backwards just like in the movies.

  33. How i like to see these makangas while in a traffic gridlock alight their mats and start acting traffic cops!!!

  34. Happy for Joe! Kudos and all the best. My Nairobi is the cold breeze on the drive home after a night out, after having some greasy chips and chicken at Chicken Inn/ Sanford. All mundane things but they make me feel like all will be well. Nice piece Biko

  35. Biko i disagree, i don’t think rolling down ones window to “listen” to the sound of the streets is a good idea -especially when you are immobilised by traffic ata kama ni uhuru highway- because the only sound you will get to hear and feel is that of a chokosh slap you senselessly because he/ she (well mostly a he ) was trying to get to your phone but you acted quickly and moved it away from harms way.
    I guess that a part of nairobi we love to hate.

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  36. My Nairobi is kuku and chips from Kenchic opposite Jeevanji Gardens, and them preachers ( and their translators) therein; the groups of people heading to work in the morning and congregating to read the morning newspapers arranged neatly on the pavement. Love it!!

    Biko, liked your May Msafiri article, still figuring out what my bag says about me:-)

  37. My Nairobi is the shopkeeper who keeps you on your toes by stocking all the stuff that you are selling which means that getting creative is not an option otherwise you will remain behind while he goes on to claim your clients. My Nairobi is when your neighbor buys a new sofa and does not close the door then mama watoto comes and asks you “sweetie when are we getting new seats?” I miss Nairobi; cannot wait for my leave…

  38. My Nairobi is the people and the quest to survive in this our african metropolitan. Nairobi is arriving at JKIA and the first chap you see has a grin on his black beautiful shiny face, because of that ever shining sun that hits the forehead like its being paid! and he greets you ” Auntie karibu nyumbani!, and in that greeting you know you are one with your peoples. My Nairobi is the ability of the residents grasping each others language, even if its just one word.

  39. Great piece Biko…My Nairobi is enjoying the delicious finger licking pizzas at gallitos or enjoying sunny days at Safari Walk.My Nairobi is forcing a smile to a stranger who is sitting next to me and he really gets talking…My Nairobi is watching those preachers at Kencom or Agha Khan walk with no audience….It is that place I’ll take a walk or hang out with my friends and laugh at all the funny things happening…Nairobi is really a place to be.

  40. Nairobi for me is the Makanga in an FT heading to Kayole, cracking up the tired travellers with jokes. Crazy drivers but funny touts. Nairobi is a language, how one minute you can be bourgie with your English but need your mother tongue to survive on River Road. Nairobi is the Somali neighbour who despite our language barrier, speaks words of wisdom to my heart. NAirobi is Living in Eastlands while dreaming of Kileleshwa but never quite wanting to leave. Nairobi is the world in between the East Side and West side of Moi Avenue

  41. My Nairobi is all the creative energy in this city; the matatu graffiti, the fluidity of sheng and all its variations; every time you think you have mastered the language it evolves. Again. My Nairobi is its people and their work ethic – the chain of people walking from Kibish to `inda, Kawangware to Town every day to earn their daily bread. The people who live in the diaspora (Kitengela) and wake up at 4 am to make the daily commute into the city. My Nairobi is the poeple ho are so scared of rain – it always amazes me how we scurry and run at the slightest hint of a downpour. My Nairobi is the city that refuses to die, the green spaces that many have tried to get their hands to with no luck: Uhuru Park, Central Park, Jeevanjee Gardens, City Park, Ngong Forest, Arboretum, Karura Forest. My Nairobi is the only city in the world with a game park on its doorstep. My Nairobi is the home I love.

  42. I find that people who live and work in Nairobi to be a stressed aggressive and cynical lot. What with the conmen, traffic and noise. I was born and raised in Nairobi but I now live in Thika. However, I always come back to Nairobi…for school, work, friends, family; it may not be perfect, but it keep pulling you in.

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  43. Well put!
    My Nairobi is the endless stream of beautiful mamaz walking down the streets.They leave their cocoons each morning ready to impress…they dress in all sorts of clothes…but my Nairobi is mostly there well formed legs,especially the yellow ones!

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  44. When you leave your house in Nairobi, you must strategically pick your route to get there in the shortest time possible. I’m sitting in the back of the car, at the mercy of this driver who clearly did not think this through. I’m grateful that this Biko Zulu post in long enough, brilliant as usual, and the comments from his fans have me smiling at my phone.

    My Nairobi is that city that used to be a privilege to come to from the land of “veve” where I grew up. Jealous that some of our cousins lived here and we didn’t. Now that we do, it still has that thing about it that makes you proud to call it your city. Especially when you’ve seen what other cities are not. The place that many random taxi drivers in neighboring cities dream if visiting.

  45. Still reeling from ‘Joe Blak got a job’!!! cool stuff! 🙂 My Nairobi? Are guys from the diaspora aka Rongai allowed on board?

  46. “We sit and listen to radio hosts talk about traffic with the same enthusiasm teenage boys talks about veet.” This blog is the only reason I open my gmail these days!

  47. My Nairobi will always be the night – 10pm to 4am. The Nairobi night is unpretentious, and so long as you are not planning or taking part in a violent crime, you can pretty much get away with just about anything else. Wanna have a pee in the middle of Moi Avenue? Please go ahead. Want a woman? Well, how much ‘ave you got on you? The unrestrained freedom of the Nairobi night is one that every human being should savour at least once a month until the day they will die.

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  48. My Nairobi is growing up in Dandora where the drama each day could fill a novella. Baba Njoki and his clan fighting every Sunday without fail because the old man had spent all the chums on cheap booze. The fights would go on for a while involving the sukuma and warus in their kibanda. Which they later cleaned and sold to us because Mama Njoki’s kiosk was kinda Safaricom- a huge monopoly. Going to Wamwaris Bar for a plate of chips and sausage was pure heaven. Oduori fundi wa viatu was spot on whenever your shoes had a problem. Or if you needed a new one he would get a piece of carton, ask you to step on it then draws an outline of your foot with a biro. Two days later you had new pair of shoes sans the tag ‘another one from Oduori Motors’.Then going to school all the boys would stand in one line in the KBS. The first guy pays, the one shilling fare and using the rail he pushes the ticket to the next guy and so on and so forth till the ten of us end up paying just the one bob. If ever found by the mean inspectors of course there was ‘kudondoka’- you jump out of the moving bus left foot first and break into a run- running away with the one bob.Later we got introduced to the fruit punch called toivo- while in high school- and then the Amunga brothers Papa Lefty and Papa Charly brought reggae from the dark alleys to upmarket. With time been to many cities and places but coming back to Nairobi is like going back to heaven. For the second time.

  49. My Nairobi. It’s Saturday morning and you know there is a hole in your afternoon diary. Your mates are nowhere to be found till 6 p.m. You want to see some action, a tug of war of sorts, an entertainment that is both exciting and lazy at the same time. Head to the Kenya Rugby Union Facebook page and check what games are available… total budget for this will be 1k inclusive of transport, I promise. Got a match you want to see? Head on out for what will be your experience of great rugby, after all we are ranked 29 world wide. How about that?

  50. I think to me Nairobi is this city where we perfect pretension and the art of hiding our shame. A place you keep mastering the art of creating and putting on masks for you to survive. The Kile guy tries to look like Kariobangi. The Mukuru gal poses as a Westlands socialite. Mama mboga knows you work at the airport while your mjengo foreman thinks you never stepped into a lecture hall. Oh, passing those restaurants and pretending you are not affected by the aroma that hits the floor or your empty stomach. Saying “good for Joe Black” when you don’t know whether Joe Black is a nurse or a Ugandan analyst. Or entering Nakumat Lifestyle and pretending you are fine with the elevators (well, how do they call those stairs that climb with you?). Where you make it a slip of the tongue when you don’t know that Uhuru Park and Uhuru Gardens are two different entities. In one way or the other, all these combine to for a scary beautiful city.

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  51. My Nairobi is the diversity of people. You can be sure you will meet someone from anywhere in the world. It is a beautiful place to live and work.

  52. Nairobi.
    My Nairobi is an unrivaled experience. the shopping and spending in the malls of the city. The buzz that is TRM, the stocks at mega, the hot dogs at mountain mall, the story told of westgate, the calm of Ukay, the distance of taj mall,the vast of Gallaria, the layout of junction, proximity of tmall, yaya, capital sarit and the new and refreshing of Garden city.

    my nairobi is the kuku choma of Cianda market, the cheap of toi market and the busy of gikomba market.

    my Nairobi is crazy

  53. Interesting piece and comments.

    Reminds me of growing up in Maringo estate in Eastlands. My father worked with a company that provided housing and hence all of us were ‘equally’ housed within the estate. Growing up and learning to be a ‘girl’ meant waking up and scrubbing the concrete veranda to a sparkling white. The sound of rain as it hit hard on our mabati roof is simply unforgettable. Few neighbours had cars and you could see the struggle and effort our fathers put not to be left behind by baba Jimmy as that would mean going round CBD to get to industrial area. I would walk to and from buruburu to school everyday eating fallen ‘zambarau’ fruits on my way. Nairobi to me was the sound of ‘jeshi la wokovu’ band making way through the estate in white clothing, the occasional ‘mari kwa mari’ guy calling to exchange his plastic buckets with old clothes and shoes, then there was this muhindi guy who came around selling bed-sheets in a motorbike…and the kamero’s…those ugly trucks that would come over to fetch waste once in while…

    By the way who is Joe Black (haha)!

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  54. My Nairobi is waking up early Saturday morning to make it to Gikomba and select ‘nguo za camera’. Back home just in time for a late breakfast.My Nairobi is my mum taking me to Mathare North to get my retouch done because Rose the hairdresser is affordable and does it just right.My Nairobi is said mother making me sit on her lap at 16 years of age, in a matatu and goes ahead to convince the makanga how I dont need to pay as I actually have not occupied a seat. My Nairobi is me waiting in line at Bus Station after holiday tuition waiting for the bus.Listening to hawkers sell everything from chewing gum to Roach Killers all for the price of Kshs 10.00. My Nairobi is me waiting for my then boyfriend outside Kenya Cinema to go watch Batman and Poison Ivy. My Nairobi is being running after a hawker who left me with one shoe after he gathered his wares and proceeded to run away from city council askaris.I had no choice but to hobble home with one shoe

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    1. That one of hawker just cracked me up. Reminds me of a pal who set a date with a chick all in the hope that the dude who owed him money would pay up. The man never paid and my pal went ahead and stood right across the road from the restaurant they were supposed to meet. The girl came, went inside but since the guy was not there she went out. Started admiring some clothes a hawker was selling. Ghafla bin vuu, kanju came and collected them all- the buyer and seller. My pal went home and the next day the girl was gushing how the kanju guys are bad. This was long before cell phones

  55. Today I’m driving and Cursing out Javs;wanting to shoot their drivers.Kesho asubuhi,I’m running late.In a Jav,cursing out some idiotic & backward morning radio show….but silently singing praises about the clever & skilled mathree pilot for overlapping and sneaking us through traffic;I make it to my place in the cotton fields on time#MyNairobi#RatRace#WhatIsYourNairobi?

  56. My Nairobi is a place filled with life and bubbly souls irrespective of the current happenings of social status. Lots of chit chat from perfect strangers, impromptu meet ups with friends and family. Not a lonely moment.
    A place where people all around are filled with hope and optimism . one never hears the constant moans of the western world where people are constantly complaining of being depressed.

    I’m glad to be back and its these small things that really make it worth my while.

  57. There is always a dude under that forest road tunnel. Sometimes he is seated, sometimes he sleeps. I wonder about him. What faith must he have to sleep soundly with all those cars zipping past him. What if a drunk guy decides the pavement is part of the road. So I always look out for him when I drive through and breath a sigh of relief that he is there… Strange. I know!

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  58. My Nairobi is like a pot of uji in a black pot over a three-stone fire, which uji is just about to boil. Every once in a while some mighty unseen struggle heaves a bubble to the surface and it bursts… just about audibly. That is my Nairobi. She has a skin, and underneath that skin is life in all its forms – joyous, cunning, dangerous, vigorous, calm – but that life is invisible. She is inscrutable, but she has a character. She is mightily alive but you just don’t see it.

    I learnt yesterday that my Nairobi has like 6 rivers flowing through her, together with their tributaries, like queens and their long-tressed entourages. http://panoramicdon.com/a-guide-to-nairobi-rivers-and-streams/ But nobody knows, and the river valleys are too often blighted by slums instead of being adorned by soft green grass and a necklace of trees. Our Nairobi is like a discarded gem, waiting for a master jeweller’s polishing touch.

  59. Its good to hear that there are Nairobians that appreciate that city despite the chaos within- the mass of people, heat, smoke, dust, floods (in the rainy season), noise pollution, traffic did I mention traffic?, pretense, lack of originality (can’t quite be western enough but can’t quite be traditional because we never had that), religiosity, poverty, the lack of a bar per se but only clubs (where can one go in downtown Nairobi for a beer without club music blasting their ears off?)… the list goes on and on. While I appreciate the positives of the city e.g. the fusion of cultures, architecture (and btw Biko what’s pre-colonian architecture? do you mean Asian? because pre-colonian in a Kenyan context is a thatched hut), food etc. but, I think the views presented here are those of Kenya’s middle class living in a bubble ignorant or refusing to acknowledge the poverty around and how we treat one another with no dignity (e.g. the way you treat your mboch and shamba boy is what colonial settlers treated Africans). Nothing can be done there until we rise out of poverty but just pointing it out.

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  60. “Men
    on the outside speak of building a great
    city, men on the inside are writing
    cheques and counting bills to conquer
    that city. They don’t speak, their money
    speaks for them.”

  61. Boy i love Nairobi.Even with all its shortcomings Nairobi Is still Nairobi that we all love.Wouldn’t trade it for any other city.

  62. You missed KICC helipad on a weekday and suggestion on your dilemma with Kaldis , try Noma Cafe .. the alley behind emperor plaza …Great piece .. Nairobi it is !

  63. my nairobi is the different people you get to interact with and especially when there are matatu crisis and you get to bond with the guy next to you for around two hours until you get a mat to go home.
    the hawkers at night who have nice stuff and you get to buy at cheap prices but when you are broke you are pissed that they are around and you wish the kanju guys would just show up.
    i love the fact as am leaving class in the evening on friday how people are dressed and i get to see what the new kids on the block are up to.
    i love Nairobi no matter all the crazy things that happen.
    btw i have the nai ni who tshirt 🙂

  64. Been in the UK for 9 months…longest I’ve been out of nairobi my whole life and reading that made me nostalgic

  65. Jeez this made me want to pack up and head there right away. For someone who hasn’t lived in Nairobi since I was a pre-teen, this article really makes me question my parents reason for moving away. Is the west really the land of milk and honey? Not aanymore.
    My Nai is getting to the airport alone and nervous and seeing a line for Kenyans and non-Kenyans and the security guy after seeing my beautiful Kenya passport saying “dada, kuja kwa hii line.” The shorter line for once and then standing at the top of those steps and breathing in the hot air and feeling like you finally fit in. It’s the quick wit, easy banter and fast laugh that I admire most about Nairobians.
    My Nairobi is also this blog, taking me to a place that is mostly childhood memories in the most beautiful of ways!
    @Joe Black…congrats!!

  66. My Nairobi is moving here with so much hope and big dreams and having your heart broken, all those cute guys on the street wondering if Mr. right is your colleague or your ex…confusion. The rain, the long bus queues home, the jam in the morning. Maina Kageni and his everyday mention of Jose Chameleone and his unending airplay of the Ugandan’s music.The matatu Industry, crazy beings…. upperhill…that serene place overlooking the chaos.My Nairobi is the cool air blowing at my legs as I walk toward Tuskys BebaBeba from Mojos at 3am in the morning

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  67. My Nairobi is the countless movie shops each promising to get you the clearest copy. The rush for parking lots, the cat and mouse game between the city authority and the hawker but most of all, the beautiful populace. Hard to spot an ugly person in Nairobi.

  68. My Nai is grabbing chips & sausage hapo kenchic (if its still there) near jivanjee gardens
    My Nai is getting on a KBS (do they still exist?) as a school boy and moving from front to back as conductor came by to collect fare then alighting without paying because I had kulad 1 more sausage with fare money….LOL
    My Nai is buying mangoes ya pilipili on the sidestreet or maindi ya kuchomwa!!
    My Nai is spending a sato afte with the fam riding a boat at Uhuru park ( Jeez, I’m old!!)

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  69. … from the majestic madame’s walking cautiously, almost strapping their handbags to their intestines to avoid unwillingly donating them to thugs as their are on their way to catch a Jav at B.S,to the proclaimed lady bosses riding down Upperhill in their manicured machines(most likely bought by their hubby’s or some guy who is planning to smash or which they bought themselves..|sarcasm ),with their phones on speaker phone as they are planning when they will go for Yoga…From the downtown choir of hawkers ‘Mbao,Bei ni Mia,fifty bei’ to the calm ,polite upper echelone streets which remain quite silent as if the President asked for a list of noise makers who would be punished by taxes(as if that doesn’t happen already!)…From the dipping of a fresh cut lemon into pepper and rubbing it onto a piece of streetly-roasted fresh veggie fodder..to the prawns and lamb chops marinated in red wine vinegar, cooked to royalty standards served over a countable number of french fries…From the ever busy five days of the week, where everyone acts like machines trying to gather as much roots,tubers & meat for their clans..to the club packed weekends filled with the spirit of indulgence and intoxication, a Euphoria that ends in two days…From the sunny,dusty summer period.. to the cool,cloudy winter break..or the treacherous weather(where you wear a coat in the morning and by 11am you feel like trading it in for carton of Ice cream)…From the rowdy matching of conventional social workers, political opposition goons all demanding better services than what has been offered.. to the half-flag hoisted times where ‘We Are One’ is chanted within the hearts of patriotic citizens(only during disasters)…From the leafy suburbs, only accessed by private transportation, where chirping-birds are the surest alarm clocks.. to the hustling streets, with residents waking up to drink some pot boiled Chai and Ndunya’s hanging on to the hope that the day will be more profitable than all the past years of their life….Yes!! My Nairobi is nothing but purely DIVERSITY

  70. Nairobi – Javs bullying you in traffic and you both know there’s nothing you will do, ‘The Secretary’ outside tamasha, she’s been working that corner for years, Askaris calling you ‘boss’ mzito’, former houses converted to drinking joints where you get merry with your pals, and oh yea ‘please call me back’ – this must only happen here

  71. Joe Black. Am so happy about that kid. In a way we want to be a part of his success. Watch him for us, alright?

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