I’ve never seen Nairobi like this. I’m up thirty-two floors, looking down on the city from a helipad atop the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC). I’ve known this building to be one of our most distinct landmarks, but I’m now on it, so it’s pretty much out of the picture (pun unintended). I’ve never seen Nairobi like this.
But that’s just the thing, isn’t it? I’ve spent eighteen years of my life in this city and have managed to do a lot of the tourist-y things that it has to offer, but none have ever been from this urban perspective. Perhaps some of this is my fault, perhaps some of it isn’t. But all the trips I’ve made around Nairobi involve nature, animals, museums, and, you guessed it – more nature. I’m definitely not complaining – these have been fun and rather unique to Nairobi – feeding (and kissing) giraffes, getting food stolen by monkeys at Nairobi National Park, learning about traditional huts and houses at the Bomas of Kenya, taking pretty walks through the Arboretum or at Karura Forest or at Uhuru Park, learning about the origins of mankind at the Nairobi National Museum, or even checking out a couple of old trains built/used during Britain’s colonisation of East Africa. But while these are exciting, they risk only reflecting the part of Nairobi that deals with its history and not so much its present nor its potential future.
Don’t get me wrong. Emphasis on conservation education through wildlife and nature tourism is extremely important as it ensures that, as the city grows, its citizens would ideally understand the value of and preserve its natural resources. For a long time, however, African countries and cities have been advertised or portrayed in a way that suggests that our natural resources are the only thing we have to offer. (I guess this is the part where you can expect Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Danger of A Single Story” TED talk to be quoted, but I can’t tell whether I’m citing it out of importance or laziness).
Nairobi is a city with around four million people and it’s the business, transport and technology hub of East Africa – yet of all the exploration guides you’ll find on the Internet have little to no recommendations involving our own human effort and achievement. This may have to do with Eurocentric expectations of what visiting “Africa” should be like (you know exactly what I’m talking about), and I must embarrassingly admit that I, as a tourist in my own country, may have fallen into this trap, too. Or maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Perhaps I already have innate understanding of Nairobi’s modern side because I’ve grown up here. Perhaps the concept of being a tourist in your own home is a little bit misguided.
Regardless of the reason, watching my city from 105 metres above the ground to appreciate it for its urban and natural beauty has quickly become one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had in a while.
Being up there, one thing I realised is that Nairobi is a rather colourful city. My mum agreed to this very quickly and said it’s somewhat like the many colours of Maasai Beads. This analogy seems rather fit, given that the name “Nairobi” (meaning cool water), is indeed, borrowed from a Maasai phrase, “Enkare Nyrobi“.
Nairobi also pretty much lives up to its nickname, The Green City in The Sun. We have the the late Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai and her Green Belt Movement to thank for so much of this, particularly when it comes to Uhuru Park (pictured below). But even generally speaking, the tree-cover of the city is rather impressive.
Nairobi also seems super peaceful from up there. There’s some sort of musical whirring that blankets over the city. I guess it’s because you’re divorced from the action of below, which is so often invasive and consuming. Up here, the only concern is to inhale, reflect, silently understand more than you did before.
I definitely recommend this to anyone and everyone who’s (1) a citizen/resident in Nairobi and hasn’t done it before (2) a citizen/resident here who’s done it before (I definitely plan to go again!) and (3) just anyone who comes to Nairobi. Price is dependent on whether you’re a citizen, resident or foreigner, so as a citizen I paid 200KSH (which is like $2).
(Urmmm side note, can we talk about how it costs like fifteen times this amount to go up the Empire State Building bc I’m still not over it)
Nairobi is a city of contrasts. It’s got the largest urban slum in Africa, Kibera; but also the second tallest building on the continent (Britam Tower). It’s known as the the Silicon Savannah because it’s one of Africa’s tech centres, but it’s also the only capital city in the world to have a National Park. Heck, it’s got the largest ice rink in Africa yet it’s known as The City in the Sun!
(Okay but like, the ice rink is indoors so your point doesn’t really hold, Kabi).
Of course, it’s important to recognise that there continues to be a myriad of issues that plague the city with regards to governance, equity, equality, healthcare, distribution of wealth, crime, and so on. However, it’s a place that continues to rank highly on my travel list. It’s got a skyline full of beautiful skyscrapers and it’s also got gorgeous pockets of forest and wildlife. To be honest, as I’m writing all this, I’m starting to realise that maybe it’s not such a city of contrasts after all. There’s an ecosystem that’s been created where all these opposing forces and all these juxtapositions somehow, in their own way, find a way to harmonise or, at least, find some way to co-exist.
So yep. That’s my celebrating my home.
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