I was so excited to finally be in Africa, to be in Kenya and to meet Nduku’s parents that I couldn’t sleep. Well, maybe if I put my head down, but I was afraid I’d wake up when the city was shutting down. Not wanting to miss a moment, I rolled out as soon as we got in with Nduku’s dad.
Our first stop was in town. Now, my vision of town is a bit different from what town means in Kenya. We went to the business center of Mlolongo just outside of Nairobi and I was shocked to see how un-modern the area is compared to what I’m used to. Dirt and extremely bumpy roads, piles and piles of trash, buildings that look half-built or half-falling-apart, just a level of un-development I wasn’t expecting to see.
But, amid all the crumble, there’s a spirit that I was even less expecting to see. Entrepreneurship. There were market stalls and storefronts and street hawkers and just people everywhere minding their business, literally. There’s a spirit in Kenya that inspires you. People don’t sit around waiting for the government to support them [in Kenya that support might not find you]; instead, they find ways to make it happen. There are so many small businesses selling everything from produce, airtime for mobile phones, barbers and hairstylists, small [and I mean small!] kiosks with everything you need on a daily basis from food and drinks, household supplies and everything else.
It’s really impossible to explain the level of small business owners and how they just make it happen in such an environment. To them, everything is normal. For me, coming from America, it was a shock. I was overwhelmed with how poor the area is, how much commercial and retail activity there was despite the conditions, and how everything seemed so normal to everyone — except me.
A common sight along Mombasa Road — the major highway between Kenya’s two largest cities, Nairobi and Mombasa — are cows. Herders herd dthere cows wherever there’s grass and if there’s grass across the highway or along the highway, that’s where the cattle herds.
While heading towards Nairobi, we stopped by one of Kenya’s large supermarket chains, Tusky’s. Before entering a guard wanted to scan me with the wand. I thought it was odd, since we were just going into a grocery store, but with the violence sparked as a result of Kenya fighting Al-Shabaab in Somalia, no one was taking any chances. Throughout our entire visit we were scanned over and over and over and over. Whenever the wand beeped, there wasn’t much of an effort to find out what set it off, but since it was obvious I wasn’t wearing a suicide vest, I guess it wasn’t that big of a deal.
In Tusky’s, I saw something I’ve never seen in America, and probably won’t. I’ve seen vending machines for sodas and snacks of course, Romania has outdoor vending machines for coffee and you can get vended pain relievers and condoms in bathrooms across America, but fresh milk?
But just as backwards as it appears on the outskirts of Nairobi, there’s signs of modernity. There’s a brand new rail station in the area, not far from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, that takes you directly downtown to avoid the traffic jams, which I’ll get into later [that might be a post on its own].
Syokimau Railway Station, the first railway station built in Kenya in 80 years, literally opened last month [Nov. 13, 2012] marking the beginning of Kenya’s attempt to reduce the number of cars clogging the streets of downtown Nairobi. The plan is to open 28 stations total.