I landed in Nairobi at 4am expecting to catch a ride from an overly accommodating host. Two hours later and still at the airport, I realized that he was probably not going to show up. I sat on the front steps of the Jomo Airport for eight hours looking at more than one hundred Kenyans sitting across from me on the concrete divide of the main road. The same road that 700 kilometers later reaches Uganda.
There were local women, men, even some children waiting. But what for? Work. What kind of work? Any. They wore leather shoes and blazer jackets with tucked in shirts. Styles coming from abroad. Models more than slightly outdated but with a lot of life still left in them. I felt underdressed and modern. I stood out. But not because of my clothing. To them I was just another mzungu. It seems like in Kenya, the rules of formality don’t apply to whites.
On Friday night I went to see Sauti Sol, a popular Kenyan boy band generating buzz amongst the MTV crowd. They played at The Tree House, a hip club that nails down African-chic. I was in owe of the fitted dresses, the beaded necklaces, the leather jackets, the high heel shoes. A stunning combination of African flare, English elegance and Nairobian wealth. Night life in Nairobi is happening! Put on your best outfit and be prepared to dance all night. Also, make sure to bring a couple of $20s.
It turns out that Kenya is not cheap. When I said goodbye to Europe I was certain that my future destinations, starting with the Middle East, would stretch out my budget. I laughed at my foolish assumption in Israel. With hesitation, I took the hit in Jordan. But I was unprepared for $25 taxi rides and $50 trips to the grocery store in Africa. How can Kenyans afford it?
I went for a walk in the upper-middle class neighborhood where I stayed and I was pleased to see locals also roaming the streets. Most women wore traditional clothes with big prints and primary colors; men carried backpacks embroidered with company logos like Samsung or Intel. They wore plain tennis shoes reshod a few times. I followed the crowd for 15 minutes before the man next to me explained that the people walking were cleaners, helpers, workers in the houses around us. They come from Kibera, the biggest slum in Africa housing 2.5 million people, the third biggest slum in the world. Surely they live in a different Kenya than the one I’ve seen.
I survived Nairobi for two weeks. My plan was to spend a few days on the Kenyan coast and a couple of weeks on the coast of Tanzania. But after spending three days at the heavenly Distant Relatives Backpackers hostel in Kilifi, I knew that my plans would change:
– I lost a day in the Masaai Mara to travel with two new friends from Spain
– The three days in Kilifi turned into nearly three weeks on the coast
– Tanzania, I will have to visit some other time
I don’t know if change comes from fate, luck or intension. But I can say that there has not been a single change of plans that I regret. How could I complain about wearing flip flops everywhere? Forget about second hand clothing and ugly leather shoes. Rubber footwear is the only way to go. Ahhhhh, the coast. With the ocean breeze, the bioluminescent water and the smiling people. People that are always helpful, always willing and always late.
This trip has been without a doubt a constant exercise on letting go. Before I left Kenya, I looked at the fancy black shoes that I had been carrying for six months. Their shine never looked more ridiculous than in the middle of sand and the compostable toilets of the eco-lodge. I refused to pack them. They will look great on some other girl. One day I will go back to Nairobi and see the same shoes walking down the street, paired with a pencil skirt kept at knee’s length and a blazer jacket. On their way to work.