Friday, June 14, 2013

Big Five and the Burj Khalifa - 1 - Nairobi Diary

Last month I visited Kenya and Dubai on an official trip. This is a 3-part diary, containing some experiences and observations.

Zero Degree
As we get off the plane at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, I realize with a surprise how green it is - green and pleasant. 

For some inexplicable reason, I have been imagining the whole of Africa to be hot and harsh. After all, it lies bang on the equator. Nairobi is just 1 degree south of equator. But the temperature in Nairobi is a wonderful 25 to 30 degree Celsius almost all the year round. It is at a slightly high altitude but as we are told, rest of Kenya is also equally pleasant.    

The British Connection
Kenya was liberated from the British in 1963. I am not a sociologist but seems the British effect has not entirely worn off.
Downtown Nairobi & the buildings are beautifully styled in European manner, people on the streets from all walks of life wear suits regularly and I suspect English is spoken and understood more than Swahili -the official language. Of course, that might also be because there are 43 different tribes in Kenya, all having their different languages and English makes a useful bridge. 

Downtown Nairobi
The soccer craze  also seems an important remnant. The day we check in to the hotel,  fans of two rival teams are out on the roads. Groups of blue and green clad young men and women are singing and dancing, chanting their team cries and stamping their feet. They are  cheering their home teams and mocking the opposite team - one young man holds a clucking and flapping hen, presumably a revered bird to the rivals. The revelry ends with the police being called and the fans dispersing. 

Soccer Banter
We are like that only
I am pleasantly surprised to see very orderly traffic on Nairobi roads, even on the highway. My "pucca" Indian (read feudal) instinct always told me that good manners were the prerogatives of rich countries, which Kenya is not.
But people are well-behaved on the roads, far better than what we see here in India. We traveled 700 kms on the road and I do not find a single instance where the pedestrian and cycling lane (yes they have them on the highways too, adjoining the villages and towns) being  intruded upon, not even when a long line of cars is waiting to approach the airport. All through the journey, our driver keeps to his speed-limit, so obviously frustrating to us 'Dilliwalas'. Our growing economy and development notwithstanding, I wonder when we will be able to sort out our horrible traffic mess.
While on the traffic, I do not find many new cars - either in downtown or on the highway. There are lots of motorcycle taxis though lined up at the village squares. The drivers all wear fluorescent jackets, and lounge around on their vehicles waiting for the customers, which could be some old lady carrying a pail of potatoes or a young man fiddling with a mobile phone.

Indians in Nairobi
There are a lot of Indians in Nairobi, some of them here for three generations, their ancestors brought here in the British Raj to work for the Railways and the plantations two centuries ago.  Today, Indians seem to be well settled and respected in Kenya as shrewd businessmen, who provide employment and pay reasonably well. 
Moving in to the city from the airport, we are greeted with large signboards of Indian companies – Tata, Ashok Leyland, software companies. Later in the day, when we shop in the largest Kenyan superstore, Nakumatt, I find the owner’s photograph displayed there and am told he is originally an Indian. So is another famous resort chain - Sopa Lodges. Nakumatt and other stores stock many Indian products. Airtel is omnipresent with their phone services and their mobile microfinance service called m-Pesa.
People are aware about India and ask about various things. I did not know Air India was earlier operating to Nairobi till the time various people, including an airport official, asked me why has Air India stopped Kenya flights and when would it restart?
As an aside, there is some scorn reserved for our Chinese bretheren, who are there working on different infrastructure projects. People complain they are stingy, do not mix with people and do not give work opportunity to the locals in their projects.  A telling comment came from our electrician friend Tony who states matter-of-factly that the Chinese “impregnate our daughters and then do not care.”

Indian Food and Kenyan Coffee
And where there are so many Indians, can Daal and Dosa and mukhwaas be far behind? Nairobi boasts of not only some very good authentic Indian restaurants but a true-blue Paan shop too! I was treated to a tasty paan by a Kenyan behind the counter, who insisted on putting it in my mouth, all the while singing “Khaike Paan Banaras Waala”. 

Khaike Pan Banaraswala, 

We also partake the famous Kenyan coffee, which some say is the best Arabic coffee in the world. 
Coffee House

Greedy Pigs, Hustlers and 80km walks  
On the second day of our stay, the newspapers splash pictures of pigs eating & wallowing in gore in front of the national assembly of Kenya, not very far from our hotel. It turns out that this is a part of a people's protest against the "greedy" Kenyan MPs demanding a wage hike. Sounds familiar?
Tony, about whom I talked earlier too, is a young man with a genial smile and honest eyes. He has come to fix the electrical connection at the convention we are participating in. When we ask him about the greedy pigs story, he smiles sadly and tells us about the poverty in Kenya and about lost opportunities. He is a hustler, he says, which means that he does not have a regular job like many more people. He is out on the streets in the morning, seeking work - any work - for the day, hoping that in a month he would be able to save enough to visit his family in the village. He tells us there are a lot of people like him.
Paul is our regular taxi driver for the four days we are there. He is a talkative and jovial man, who complains that people have become much too accustomed to a cozy modern life. His father  thought nothing of walking down to his village home-town, a distance of 80kms. Eighty kilometers??, I ask in amazement. Yes, he says, we lazy people seldom walk more than fifteen in a day! Huh?      

The story of the missing luggage  
Before we leave for Masai Mara, the world famous wildlife reserve, I finally receive my missing suitcase from Delhi via Mumbai. When we took off from Delhi, the pretty girl at the airline counter forgot to tag the case and I landed at Nairobi without any clothes, except the ones I was wearing. 

While I shop for the essentials and make the airport rounds to enquire about its arrival, my family in India is coaxing the airlines people to get it to me pronto. In this case, pronto turns out to be 4 days, during which time I lose much sleep and poise. The twin airline response to my justifiable claim is still awaited, as I post this. 

Next - The Wildlife in Nairobi


Keshav said...

I can't wait for the remaining parts.

Anonymous said...

I too thought Kenya to be very hot.We have so many Kenyan students in Delhi Univ.They must be very friendly with Indians. Paan wale ne to deekha bhi diya.Photos are nice.Luggage milne ki badhai.
waiting to read more.

Sunil Bhardwaj said...

Agreed With Keshav Bhaiya...

ashish gaur said...

Read it paints a picturesque .can't wait for masaimara..mecca of wildlife.

ashish gaur said...

Aur haan is bar pictures bahut jyada chahiyee

rahul gupta said...

good interesting experience...well written..

Anonymous said...

Read it once....look it twice n thrice find some good things for collection.
1. your efforts for artical...I mean how do you manage with your job.its really difficult.
3. missing luggage in air.
Kaafe Umda Lekh Likha hai bhaiji.

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