No-Roberry in Nairobi

Our expectations about Nairobi were somewhat low. We had heard many accounts about “Nai-roberry” and its theft, dirtiness and traffic. And despite our three happy years in the reputedly horrible crime-ridden Johannesburg, we were not immune against developing preconceived prejudices about a big African city.

So, we are surprised when we arrived in Nairobi. The city centre is clean, active, and rather welcoming. It has clean sidewalks; people are busy going about their own business; there are coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores, and cinemas (even an IMAX!). We feel safe walking around downtown, which feels like a true central business district. Even in the vicinity of our local guesthouse, which is located near the bus companies in a reputedly rougher area of downtown, we feel comfortable walking around in the daytime and venturing out for a meal nearby at night. We find Nairobi to be a cosmopolitan and contemporary city, in the vein of other world cities such as Johannesburg, Dar es Salaam, or even some parts of New York and Kuala Lumpur.

However, the calm of central Nairobi also puzzles us, to a certain extent. Despite the busy activity all around, we find the streets to be strangely quiet, almost hushed. There is no shouting from the street hawkers, no hooting from the cars, no persons sitting on the sidewalks. A few cars even stop for us at crosswalks! On the one hand, we are almost disappointed to find such a docile, “normal” Nairobi. On the other hand, we wonder whether these elements have somehow been banished from the inner city – and if so, where they have gone. It is more than we can understand during our three short days in central Nairobi.