Next Place: Nairobi (November 2001)

Well this time I’m just back from Nairobi, Kenya, where I participated in yet another marathon regional meeting of the Landmine Monitor researchers, this time from Africa. We stayed and met at the same place – Holiday Inn Nairobi – and barely left it. Nairobi or “Nairobbery” is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, on par with Johannesburg and Bogota in terms of violent crime. Fortunately the hotel was a nice one, with an overpriced restaurant we tired of immediately, a gym playing music direct from Washington DC for some reason and a pool that I only used once since it was cold and raining most of the time. Nairobi is the expatriate destination in the region – I bumped into three people I know, one friend from DC and two work colleagues from New York who were all staying in the same hotel.

So it wasn’t really possible to wander around but I did get out a bit. Went downtown one day to buy my friend some local music and used an ATM machine that had an armed guard standing beside it. The economy is getting worse and kids were tugging at my clothes asking for money. I was told not to carry a purse or wear a watch or anything flashy. Another day we went to the City Market to pick-up some presents, bargaining with the small-time shopkeepers who were very persistent. Nairobi is not a cheap. I spent much more than anticipated.

Kenya is one of the only places I been to which features the president on its currency. Daniel Arap Moi appears on the notes and coins, as he has done since coming to power in 1978. He is due to leave office next year, some twenty-four years later. Widespread corruption and poverty, increased violent crime, ethnic fighting and outbreaks of cholera and malari have characterized his period of rule. In the lead-up to the 2002 election, political meetings, demonstrations, and strikes are likely. Indeed while I was there, some government ministers were stoned (with rocks, right not the other stuff), and inhabitants of a slum were beaten to death during intertribal fighting over rent payments. Also last week, Moi rejected a prior commitment by the government to send a delegation including 1/3rd women representatives to a regional assembly, promoting protests from the women’s movement, which has been quite strong in the past.

As if the country doesn’t have enough problems, on 7 August 1998, 213 people were killed and many more injured when the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi was bombed, allegedly by Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. September 11th was a big deal there and it came up a lot, including at a game park on our last day. Three Masai warriors in full costume asked to take a photo with us in return for some money. I asked how them how business was going and they answered “rather slow since September 11th.” It’s amazing how this thing seems to have reached every corner of the earth.

We didn’t see that much in the park, which has a cool view of the city skyline, despite driving around for hours. Spotted some giraffes, lots of gazelles (impala), some rhinos mating, a tree filled with a family of scary-looking baboons and another tree which was home to some very sweet looking velvet monkeys who were tame enough to let us come within a meter of them. Some of them held tiny baby monkeys, which we saw them swap with each other. Like one big happy family. Made me think of Christmas-time. Hope you enjoy it. I’ll be on the beach in yet another country with my sister. See you in 2002!