I would have been very disappointed to be here and not see downtown Nairobi. But as I suspected, now that we've been there, I would have rather spent the day some other way. Sad to say the highlight of the tour was a visit to Kibera, the largest slum in Africa. It encompasses about a square mile and 750,000 people try to live there. It has been an enclave since the early 1900's, when the Nubians, loyal soldiers from the area we know as Sudan, were housed here by the British.
Today it seems to be the place to start when you first come to town from the countryside looking for work and some people never leave. There is no welfare and without money you starve, so everyone tries to figure out some way to make some cash. Each mud hut roofed with corrugated steel housed some tiny retail opportunity, eatery, car wash pharmacy, Internet cafe, vegetable purveyor, etc. In many cases you could have bought the entire inventory for $100. The air quality was poor. Everyone cooks on charcoal and the public toilets are few and far between. No one has their own facilities and people have taken to gathering up their feces in a plastic bag and throwing them wherever (the guide called them flying toilets) - in the gutter alongside the street or in the river which was once their only source of drinking water. Kibera has its own school, church and mosque and a sort of health center that teaches people about AIDS transmission, which is still a big problem here. The tour we took is quite new, because the road we drove in on was only paved four months ago and most of Kibera is inaccessible by car. One section caught on fire and there was no way to get a fire engine in to extinguish it. The current newly elected government has begun building public housing to give Kibera residents somewhere better to live, but some of them don't want to leave their friends and the familiar. They have brought in fresh water and electric lines, but residents have to pay $9 to get connected; then the power is free. But some of them can't afford even that. You might imagine visiting Kibera was depressing and in a way it was, but there was an optimism about the place. Many view it as a stepping stone to a better life. Our tour guide lived there for five months when he first came to Nairobi, but now he's moved out and up.
We took a walking tour downtown and saw many modern looking buildings. Many housed banks and government offices. Photographing public buildings is not allowed. There is a hustle and bustle to the place, but it didn't have much to offer tourists. Occasionally we came upon cows being herded next to busy traffic. Old habits die hard.
We toured the Nairobi Museum, which houses an extensive collection of archeological finds of pieces of creatures millennia ago when men and monkeys looked a lot more like one another. One large room had showcases illustrating the implements used at various times of life before colonial times. Our guide would talk about witch doctors and ask us if we have them or describe the dowries required for marriage and ask us if we do that. Clearly, he had little knowledge about the US.
We spent a lot of time refreshing our memories about the US embassy bombing here in 1998. Today the embassy site is a memorial park and a museum nearby shows what happened that awful day. Because a suspicious embassy guard did not allow the truck filled with explosives inside the compound, it blew up outside, killing hundreds of innocent Kenyans working at the building nearby. Once US personnel arrived to secure the site and investigate, they did not allow locals inside who were only trying to help. A bit paranoid on our part, but we had no inkling what bin Laden was up to in those days.
Because this is the first day of the main trip, we had a welcome dinner. We drove many miles to a restaurant deep in the woods whose power had gone out. It was raining when we arrived, and we groped our way through the darkness, stepping in mud to get to the place. We were surprised to be seated outside in the cool damp. Staff brought charcoal braziers to take the edge off the coolness. We ate by candlelight of necessity and have no idea how the staff managed to cook the meal. All in all we would have been better off eating at the hotel.