Beautiful Nairobi

Sunday, June 5, 2011

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I will forever remember this weekend as the giraffe kissing-crocodile holding-elephant petting-good time having-totally amazing experience of a lifetime. I think I have to classify Saturday as one of the best days I have had since arriving in Africa almost two months ago. To think I never planned to visit Kenya while I was here! I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to see some of Kenya's beautiful sights, with its skyscrapers, wildlife, and great people. Unforgettable.


We left CCS behind after placement on Friday to make our way across the border, with the Dar Express bus line, to Kenya. We drove through the Tanzanian country side for four hours, the scenery changing from the lush rainforest to the barren desert. At times, because of the absence of proper roads, I swear we were off roading. Picture a big coach bus zooming through the dirt and dust and that was us. Sleep was not much of an option as I bumped around in my seat.

We reached the border and piled off the bus. First things first, we went to the Tanzanian offices to receive our exit stamp. Simple, done, no questions. Before we knew it we were walking across the Tanzanian border, through no man's land, and in to Kenya. We walked out of one country and in to the next :). We were surrounded by trucks, it felt more like a dusty run-down truck stop than a government run border crossing. Dingy little shops lined the road while goats and chickens wandered here and there. Garbage littered the streets the farther out you looked. The whole experience would not have been complete without Maasai approaching us with jewelry to sell.

Going through Kenyan customs was fast and easy. 25 dollars US got us our Kenyan visas. Stampeded and inspected, they handed back our passports. We were officially in the country. Back on the bus we went. 2 more hours saw us in the city of Nairobi.

I would describe Nairobi as the African New York. The city lights caught my attention immediately. Moshi does not have street lights so the glow of the city caught us all by surprise. Hundreds of people lined the streets, out for a night on the town. The city was alive, it hummed with excitement.

When we stopped on the side of the street, at the Dar booking office, there was a taxi from our hostel waiting to pick us up. We piled in to the car, anticipating the end of our journey. Our taxi driver was extremely nice but as the city lights faded and we turned on to a dirt road after 15 minutes of driving, we all started to feel a little weird. It was one of those situations, as a woman traveller, where you start to think "where is he taking us and how fast can I run". haha. Completely unfounded worries, but when you are with someone you don't know in a foreign country you can not navigate your mind wanders.

Needless to say, we reached our hostel safe and sound. It was about 20 minutes outside the city down a dirt road, with many other hotels surrounding it. It was beautiful with nice gardens, great staff, and plenty of space. It was like a hotel with dorm style bedrooms. We bunked with a 16 year old from Atlanta Georgia who is in the city helping to restore and stock a library. I couldn't imagine leaving home at 16 to do something so selfless! Really nice kid.

The hostel had rooms upstairs and down stairs hosted a large foyer, a living room with cathedral ceilings and a TV, a fully stocked kitchen, free internet, a dining room and laundry services. They were so helpful and accommodating. They were even great enough to hire a car for us for Saturday.


We woke up at 8 o'clock Saturday morning to shower and eat breakfast before heading in to the city.

First thing on our list was the elephant orphanage. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was set up in Nairobi to rescue, take care of, and rehabilitate orphaned elephants and rhinos. The most common reasons for orphaned elephants are as follows:
1. Increase in population and development. Most elephants are orphaned because of humans. The development of Kenya is taking away from the elephants natural habitat and forcing them out of their homes.
2. Poaching. Still a huge problem in Kenya, poaching is the second biggest cause of orphaned elephants.
3. Accidental deaths. This includes elephants falling down water wells, where the Sheldrick Trust has found some of the orphans we were able to see on Saturday.

The best time to see the elephants is during their feeding, between 11 and 12 in the morning. The youngest elephants are feed first. They were beyond adorable! The watching area is a big dirt field, with a tiny rope separating the tourists from the wildlife. We got to pet the littlest one, who was only a few months old. He had a blanket on his back to keep warm and followed one of the workers around like a puppy dog.

Next it was time for the older orphans to be feed. Out went the little ones, running to keep up with the group and in came the bigger elephants ready for some grub. They get fed out of a bottle with a formula specifically designed to help them reintegrate in to the wild later in life. I didn't catch what exactly was in this formula because the crowd was pretty excited and loud. So it was hard to here all of the explanations given by the workers.

We stayed and watched the elephants for a half hour. It was so cool to see them in their environment, interacting with each other. Next we went on to the Giraffe Center, about 10 minutes away. This was one of the best experiences I've had in the last two months!

In the center there is a balcony area so that you are face level with the giraffes and a ground floor where you can see the giraffes and really take in the height and immensity of these beautiful creatures. From the balcony, seeing them face to face, was unbelievable. If you put a pellet of food between your lips you can even get a kiss!! Let me say that it is weird but fascinating haha. Getting a kiss from a giraffe is a must in your lifetime. Fly to Nairobi and do it! :)Their tongues are rough and obviously a little slobbery but their saliva is a natural anti-septic.

You can't touch their faces, like you would pet a horse, because they don't like it and will headbutt you. Other than that they are gentle and peaceful animals. Eating out of your palm, there lips feel firm and fuzzy. When we went to ground level to feed the giraffes I was a little hesitant at first. You have these huge animals reaching down out of the sky to eat from your palm. You just see them diving towards you and you automatically want to dart out of the way. But if you stay you get to interact with a wild animal in a way that few people ever get to do :).

As we left the giraffe center our driver told us about a park not far away that housed crocodiles. We could enter the park for about 10 dollars so we were all for it. The crocodiles were scary and amazing. The guide was really knowledgeable. He kept a stick with him to point out parts of the crocodile, and poke them from time to time. He did this to show us how they attack. If you ever come across a crocodile always stand on the side that their tail is curving towards. When they attack they wipe their tails around and turn their jaw for the kill. Witnessing their fast reflexes I knew that I never ever want to encounter a croc in real life. How did the crocodile hunter do it?!? They can break your bones and sever limbs with their teeth. Their tails can knock off your head if you are unlucky enough to be in range.

The crocs make a low hissing noise in their throats when they get angry. It is like a rumble. The oldest croc they had in their facility was 40 years old. The youngest were around 2 years old. These ones we got to hold. Now I can officially say I've held a crocodile :) Although the guide was helping with holding the neck! Wasn't looking to lose a finger on this trip. Their bellies are so soft and squishy but their backs are hard as rock and scaly. A very interesting contrast.


One place that we all really wanted to be able to see on our trip was Kibera, one of the biggest slums in East Africa. It is 20 km wide and houses 800,000 people. This is about the distance from Keswick to Fredericton. Imagine the entire population of New Brunswick squeezed in to this tiny space.

As we approached the slums our driver warned us to lock our doors, just in case. With the windows rolled down slightly the stench of garbage, feces, and death filled my nostrils. My eyes weren't really connecting with my brain or my heart at that moment. I couldn't really believe what we were seeing. Most of the buildings were tin lean-tos, two walls and a roof. The tin was rusted and run down. There may have been a few feet between each house. Within the slums themselves there are no roads so we were just seeing the outskirts of Kibera. Cars are not a possession they have the luxury to own. Most residents walk to the city to work, 18 km total.

Garbage lined the streets, a permanent fixture as we drove along. Dogs roamed, eating it here and there. Children dug through it to discover what treasures it held for them.

I was numb to what I was seeing. I was astonished. I am heart broken. It was the worst poverty I have ever witnessed. There is currently a government run project in place to clean up the slums and raise the quality of life. I hope to learn more about it in the future.


We eat lunch/supper at a place called Savannah. Slouchy couches and great food. Just what we needed after a long day. The rest of the evening we walked around the heart of the city, blending in to the noise and the atmosphere. We went in to a few shoe shops and souvenir stores, but didn't buy much.

As we walked it was impossible to watch your step because you were to busy watching the cars. They rarely stopped for you, traffic was crazy and fast. We came to one very hectic intersection and as we were crossing the road Jennica, one of my friends here at CCS, fell in to a man hole. Yes, a man hole. One second she was level with me and the next second I was looking down at her, trying to help her up. She was out of there in a flash, trying not to cry and limping across the street. Thank God nothing was broken! But I think it scared her pretty bad at the time, being in an unknown city, with hundreds of people all around you, and bleeding on the street. Not Ideal. Becca, another friend, ever resourceful, pulled out her first aid kit to attend to Jennica's leg. She didn't have everything she needed but we worked with what we had. We can now say that we taped a pad (to keep the blood contained) to Jennica's leg in the middle of Nairobi. Random! But she is doing better now, just a little bruised and scratched up.

At night we were going to go out but, after Jennica cleaned her wounds in a shopping mall (haven't seen one of these in a while, kind of felt like home) bathroom, we decided to change plans a bit. There just happened to be a movie theater by the bathrooms and the Hangover II was playing. Really funny but still like the first one better :)


Sunday morning we woke up bright and early at 4:45 in the morning. We had found out that the Dar Express left for Moshi at 6:30 in the morning so we wanted to make sure that we got tickets. Easier planned then accomplished.

We arrived at the booking office at 5:50, 10 minutes before they open. We were the first in line but they still made it beyond difficult for us. First, we had to wait for the people going to Dar es Salaam to purchase their tickets, then they told us there were only 6 tickets available to Moshi, then they told us 'sorry' those tickets have been sold. How they got sold in the few minutes we had been standing was impossible. We knew they were just trying to box us out because we were foreigners and it left an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I would like to think that if I encountered a foreigner in my home country, whether richer than me or poorer than me, I would treat them with some respect. We were not feeling welcome at all. But keep in mind that this was our first bad experience with the people in Kenya. Everyone else was so welcoming and nice!!

So after getting the run around for a few minutes they decided to show us another bus station that maybe could help us out. But no, they were sold out of Moshi tickets as well. We called our home manager, Deo, to see if he could help but there wasn't much he could do from a distance.

We decided the best thing to do was return to the Dar Express office to negotiate. There wasn't anyone currently on the bus and we figured there were still tickets available but they just wanted to scare the Muzungu's in to giving them more money. And unfortunately I think we were right. There is this misconception that all foreigners are rich but they don't understand that where I come from I am not made of money. Yes, in Africa my money is worth more but it isn't like I have unlimited funds to work with. It is a very frustrating aspect of the culture here to be classified and judged without question.

When we returned to the Dar office they were still not budging. They brought a driver to us who was offering to drive us in a minibus (aka. dala dala) back to Moshi for 200 dollars. TaChyla, an amazing incredibly funny human being I have met through CCS, laughed in his face. We were not having anything to do with that. We asked them one more time and they settled to give us the tickets for $3500 Kenyan shillings. Twice what the ticket is actually worth and twice what we had payed to get to Nairobi. But what could we do? I didn't want to be stranded in the city. So we took the offer and rushed to the bus before they could give us any more trouble.

I felt so cheated and frustrated. This was the first time in my life that I really felt signaled out for my race and nationality. I got a taste for it and I didn't like it. I am thankful that I do not have to deal with it on a daily bases and feel bad for those that do. It makes you feel yucky, for lack of a better word. You feel angry and annoyed and disappointed. I wish I didn't have to give in to them, to prove a point, but from past stories I have heard I wasn't willing to give up my seat home. A few of my friends had encountered the same problem in Dar es Salaam and had to ride a dala dala back to Moshi. 8 hours packed like sardines in to a minibus. Not for me!!


My experience in Nairobi was unforgettable and I am soooooo glad for the chance to see another side of Africa. i plan on revisiting Kenya in the future. I still have to see the rest of it!!

ps. Just found out this afternoon that there was explosion in the city of Nairobi Sunday after we left. It was around the bus area, don't think it was a bomb on a bus though. Don't really know many details but so happy we were out of the city. It is all over the news here. A lot of people were injured so we are feeling pretty grateful at the moment.

Take Care everyone! See you in a week :)


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