Nairobi on the Run

Upon arrival in Nairobi, Kenya, I was a bit disappointed in my ‘news-obsessed-yet-always-well-informed-and-unbiased’ self for buying into all of the media hype that worked to poison my opinion of Kenya. I was always told it was big and dirty and hostile and potentially dangerous. Consequently, I was skeptical about going, so I only booked for a quick few days in between Tanzania and Uganda – what a regret. And even though it has been in the media recently for tragic events, I still think the beauty and kindness and resilience of Kenya and its people trumps the senseless violence of a slim minority.

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On my visit, I was shocked at how modern and multifaceted Nairobi was, especially because most of my prior African adventures were in and around Arusha, Tanzania which is so much smaller on so many levels. I stayed at Kweza Bed & Breakfast, which was no Hilton; however, it was clean, safe and the staff was absolutely fabulous. I hired a driver/guide for my tour de force to pack in as much as I could muster. And I did.

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I visited a few museums, covered the downtown core on foot, ate at amazing Indian and Ethiopian restaurants, visited the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Kenya Giraffe Centre and the home and museum of Karen Blixen, who Meryl Streep portrayed in Out of Africa. Didn’t realize she’s quite the national treasure in Kenya, so much so that there is a whole district named after her aptly called “Karen”….along with streets, roads, lanes, schools, restaurants, even a church.

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One of the highlights was definitely the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which is a one of a kind elephant facility. I’m certainly not a fan of zoos; I loathe them actually, but this was so much more and so much less, where it counted.

DSWT houses about 20+ baby elephants at any given time, orphaned mainly due to poaching, and rehabilitates them before putting them back in the wild. There is a trainer for each one who spends all of his time with that particular elephant, acting like his/her mother – feeding, bathing, playing and even sleeping with them.

At one point I was a bit perplexed to see some of the surrogate mothers, shovelling dirt onto the baby elephants. Even stranger was how much the baby elephants seemed to enjoy it. I later found out that they’re simulating what their “real” mother would do, and the dirt actually cools off the babies and protects their sensitive skin from sunlight. Oh, a mother’s love….

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The elephants are exposed to the public for only one hour a day, the point being not to have them grow too used to people. For that mesmerizing hour I watched them be bottle-fed milk and play in the water with each other and their keepers. It was magical. Even if you’re not as elephant-obsessed as I am, you will love an afternoon at this place and feel great satisfaction knowing that the entrance fee (which was only a staggering 6$ as of a few years ago!) goes towards caring for and protecting these magnificent creatures.

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Another highlight of the trip was going to a city park to hang out with monkeys. It was your average public park in the middle of Nairobi where families picnic, couples coo, and loners brood, yet it was teeming with those little vervet monkeys who were friendly, adorable and NOT shy, let me tell ya.

My driver and I bought a few packs of peanuts, and we became the hit of the park. I had little monkeys crawling and jumping all over me; it was nuts (pun intended). More surprising was that they weren’t aggressive at all. It was like they knew that being persistent yet charming was enough to win lunch; no need for…well, monkey business (another pun intended). What surprised me the most was that this place didn’t charge money and it wasn’t even busy. And the few Kenyans that were there didn’t pay any attention to them. We were the only people snapping pictures and giggling like school girls. I think the locals got more of a kick out of me than anything else.

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I also got a tour of Kibera, one of the world’s largest slums (estimated at about 1,000,000 people) which I have always wanted to see for its size and scale based on similar communities I’ve worked in. I hope to one day to get back to Kenya to really sink my teeth into this country and know of a few NGOs and community groups that are doing great work in Kibera, with whom I’d like to work.

So, it wasn’t goodbye when I left Nairobi, it felt more like see you again (and sorry for having pre-judged you so harshly)…