Karibu Kenya: Traveling to This Beautiful Country

The pilot calls your attention to buckle up as the last minutes of your flight come to an end at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. Welcome to Kenya! Relax and take a breath. You are neither in heaven nor in hell. You are about to start adventure in the land of Wangari Maathai and Jomo Kenyatta.

You probably busied yourself informing your conscience about what awaits you. Congratulations! But those were just words. The addresses might be correct half the time but the perceptions mostly misguided. Yet I do not promise you that I am a dictionary about Kenya. Simple advice, be open to gather your own perception about this great nation.

Common sense will be great company for you, as has always been wherever the good name of the place you come from is.

Let me welcome you, on behalf of the peace-loving citizenry of Kenya. Permit me to share some first thoughts about Kenya. We spend most of our lives not reading maps for direction. Word of mouth is a great weapon in information gathering. On average, it will cost you more time to read your map than to ask someone for direction by the roadside.

With great fondness I remember Hideki, a friend from Japan, who recently asked me to meet him at the south-east exit of a shopping mall in Santiago de Compostella in Spain. I posed. With great sympathy, I remembered my geography classes in Kakamega High School and wondered why his request sounded like it was from Mars. Then after he re-explained the same by expressing the general sense of where it might be and actually pointing in that direction, I got the point. We are not socialised into all that south-east yaba yaba!

Attending college at the Goethe Institute 10 year ago, I oriented myself to getting there through marksmanship; locating a salient building like the green Afya Centre after alighting at Bus Station from Githurai and walking to my right until the University of Nairobi fence was visible, whose view birthed the Anniversary Towers and alas the Goethe Institute was always faithfully to its opposite. I had severally asked traffic policemen for Monrovia Street before I mastered my skills of locating it.

In case your eyes cannot spot a policeman, walk into a shop or a cafeteria and ask someone for directions. You might want to ask a pedestrian but judge them with a pinch of salt. Elderly people are generally my favourite. Apart from their friendliness they have the patience to explain the directions and smile at you if you catch them in a good mood. Of course if you are looking for a disco or a late-night joint or a new pub, they might not have the slightest clue and your choice of a decent person to ask for direction will entirely rely on your instincts.

Generally, the human species in Kenya is tremendously friendly, yet a few and indeed a very little fraction of honest-looking people, dressed up just fine and with clear eyes, driven by perennial poverty, might try to gain in whatever means possible including providing misleading information in order to take advantage of your lack of sense of direction and probably snatch this or that from you. Well even where you come from you have heard of conmen and conwomen too! There are so many businesses open during the day, that you simply would almost not miss help with information about getting around, just in case you are looking for an address!

If you are sensitive to water purchase a bottle or boil the water from our taps. You will save yourself a lot of discomfort. Otherwise your bowels might gain speed in their moving and they might start telling you little stories and interrupt your peace.

You are looking for a toilet, right? Arm yourself with tissue paper always. There are pay-public toilets in Nairobi but of course you need no telling, that the pretence of trying to enjoy a glass of juice in a restaurant will naturally excuse you to use their bathroom facilities. Fast-food cafes that sell pommes frites, commonly called ‘chips’, have no toilet facilities despite their supermarket status in size.

Tell me, what did you read about Kenya? Your visit is not a miscalculated idea. You came to accomplish something. How long are you planning on staying? You definitely have an idea. Who did you bring along with you? Family and friends. Oh you came for your honeymoon! Congratulations on your wedding. Oh, you will be attending Summer School in Kenyatta University. That’s awesome. Ah you just came back home after a long stint abroad. Well you are no more a part of the statistics on brain-drain and on behalf of nationalists I am obliged by your arrival, to ululate and celebrate, for hope has been reborn!

Arriving in Kenya is a magical feeling. It is like Christmas or better still, New Years Eve. Some receive the magic with great suspicion but those who know and feel the passion of Karen Blixen in her film and book Out of Africa (1985), Barbara Wood’s Green City in the Sun (1988), Stephanie Zweig’s Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere in Africa) (1995) and more recently Corinne Hofmann’s Die Weisse Massai (The White Massai) attest to the beauty and adventure that Kenya serves every guest at its table.

Yet this books and films are not only about the sunrises and sunsets of their lives and loves in the romantic bushes of the rift valley and their swims and jogs on the white sands of Mombassa’s Diani beach, but they are collections of their recollections about good and bad times that rubber-stamped the map of Kenya in their minds, hearts and souls so vividly, that they documented the days of their lives for you and me to attest to Kenya’s magic.

You now have started the first few hours of your adventure. Keep in mind that there have been many more before you. You already might have something to say about the immigration people or the security at the airport or did you already misplace your luggage?

I told you right from the onset to breathe and relax. You might never have the opportunity to write a novel like your predecessors did in the accounts about the ingredients that cooked their adventures, but you must do one thing for the love of Kenya.

Enjoy yourself. A cold Tusker will cool your belly and it always accompanies good conversation. If no one talks to you, start a conversation. You will be surprised at how much there is to talk about in Kenya. If no one is sitting next to you, swallow the silence and feed your eyes.

After a few Tuskers, even if your vision is blurred, one thing you can be happy about is a truth you cannot possibly challenge; you are in Kenya.

Karibu sana!

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