by Mohammed Alsanea
What was waiting for me on my first day in Nairobi was even worse than what my pessimistic mind at the time could come up with. Arriving late at night I was taken to a small guesthouse to spend the night since it was too dangerous to travel at that time of day. On the plane, a few minutes before landing, I was chatting with a local stewardess who assured me that according to the name I’ve just given her, I was to spend my night in one of the finest hotels in Nairobi. It’s amazing how accidentally forgetting to mention three letters can cause such confusion.
Inside my room there were two stained beds (stains from scented oil; fingers crossed) with a rusted ceiling fan hanging from above and a toilet that I made sure not to revisit during my entire stay. There was a broken window that I classified as being ‘safe enough’ given that it will take a skinny Spiderman to climb two floors and get through it. It was the door that I was concerned about. The lock on it seemed to be more of a decoration statement than a functional one, so I hoped a little Feng Shui would get me through the night. I don’t remember how and when exactly I fell asleep, just that I woke up in my travel-wear sleeping over scattered shirts hoping that the view from my window will somehow change my opinion of this place. It did. I realized that I was so lucky to have arrived at night not knowing exactly what sort of neighborhood I was in.
I got up. Shower-less, I packed my backpack and left to the nearby local market to take the crowded matata (mini bus) for a three hour ride to Nakuru, my destination for the next two weeks. I met with Max, a local preacher and my host family, and after a short ride we reached his house where Patricia, his two little kids and cousin, were waiting around a table of chapatti and tea.
Their home was a modest three bedroom in a neighborhood surrounded by a cluster of homes divided by alleys of dirt roads and what appeared to serve as a cattle breeding ground as well. I did not know it at the time, but I was living in the slums of Nakuru. The smell of the waste scattered nearby, the funeral next door and the hallucinations caused by the malaria pills (which I chose to blame for the rattling noises under my bed at night) made the first few days extremely hard.
Three weeks back I was sitting inside a travel agency on Deansgate St in Manchester waiting my turn to book a ticket to New York and flipping through all the scattered brochures. I wasn’t an adventurous guy back then, but for a brief moment, an inexplicable second, the idea of Africa seemed just right and I left Deansgate St with a ticket to Kenya in my hand.
Here I was standing on a nameless dirt road in the middle of the slums where kids and cattle took over the morning shift leaving the night to a more dangerous crowd.
With Nakuru, it was very easy to focus on the negative side to this city. It does not resemble many aspects of the life I grew to know and be comfortable with. But after spending time with its people and slowly adapting to the environment around me, I began to see the other side of Kenya, the picturesque landscapes, the kindness of the locals, the innocence of its kids and the magic of its animal Kingdom. I left Kenya after two weeks not giving much but gaining a lot.
This was seven years ago, when I went to Kenya without any prior plans, spontaneously. Since my trip to Kenya, I knew that I wanted to see more of this world, the part that I don’t get to see. I wanted to face more of my fears and take myself out of my comfortable life, not because I get pleasure from torturing myself (now that’s a different article!), but because I know that there are stories to be told from locals, fears to be shed after an experience, lessons to be learned, faith to be strengthened, and a life to be lived.