I’d like to see the “nice” part of Nairobi soon, I thought. Wait, I shuddered- MAYBE THERE IS NO “NICE” PART!
I’m staying in a student residence in a relatively modern, high-rise building on a dirt- and shack- lined street. Today I bought a phone charger down the road from a little stall that would later nearly electrocute me when I touched my plugged-in phone. This morning I also took my second consecutive cold shower, wondering if it was something to enquire about or just something that I needed to suck up about living in Kenya. My roommate (literally, as we share a bunk bed) later told me that I had to turn on the hot water, oh and that we have to buy tokens to use the electricity in our room. I was supposed to have my own room.
I arrived here 36 hours ago, and before I even got off the plane I already made a new acquaintance who helped me out when we landed to find the people who were picking me up. AIESEC, the organization through whom I am carrying out this internship, sent 3 vivacious guys to pick me up from the airport, and our drive (on the left side of the road) was filled with posting videos on social media of our “lamba lolo gang” (they told me it’s a popular Kiswahili song that means “lick a lollipop,” which, of course, I was later informed means to suck a dick).
Yesterday morning, I needed to exchange some money, and a staff member from the residence walked me to the bank and waited with me for the entire hour that the whole process took.
Then, I went to the university where my AIESEC “buddy” attends school and where the company of my internship is located. On the shuttle that leaves from my residence, I saw some of the streets of Nairobi- some wide and filled with buzzing traffic, some lined with dirt, many shacks and stalls and people selling things, people crossing the busy roads with no intersections.
Upon arriving to the very modern campus, I quickly learned that it is Catholic when I tried to hug my male “buddy” and was told that it is prohibited. My “buddy” is assigned to help me with everything that I need, and honestly he and the rest of the AIESEC crew have so far made coming to Nairobi feel easier than when I moved to Barcelona alone.
He and I proceeded to spend the next 10 hours together, that consisted of a tour of campus, a book club meeting, a Model UN meeting in which I represented the USA in a crisis simulation, chilling on a rooftop terrace, unsuccessfully trying to get a SIM card, visiting my new office and meeting the head of HR, an AIESEC orientation, and then another excursion to get a SIM card.
To get from the campus to the place where I could get a SIM card, it required a trip on one of Nairobi’s infamous matatu “buses.” By bus, I mean they are old and somewhat gutted vans that have been decked out in colorful paint and blast reggae music. There are no bus stops, but you know you can catch one if you see a place on the side of the road with a lot of people waiting and several of the matatus there. I think you are just supposed to ask around to figure out which one goes to your destination. We got on, paid a few cents, waited until all the seats were filled, and then took off. People who wanted to get off would bang on the walls of the matatu, and the driver would pull over. Somehow, my buddy knew where to stop.
The matatu took us to a mall that looked like it could be in the U.S. Upon buying the SIM card I also installed M-Pesa on my phone- a way of electronically sending money without needing a bank account. It just requires topping up your credit with cash at any number of places throughout the city, and it is all the rage in Kenya.
My buddy and I then had happy hour at a cafe at the mall, and I saw the first white people of the day. We were sitting outside in the upscale terrace, and in my pants and denim jacket I still shivered a bit from the cold. It is myth that all of Kenya is hot and tropical!
I finally took an Uber home, and my buddy tracked it on his phone to make sure I got home okay.
At one point during the ride home, he called me. “It shows on the map that you haven’t moved for a long time.”
“That’s because we haven’t,” I laughed, “We’ve been stuck in a traffic jam for the past 30 minutes. But don’t worry, I’m alive.”
“Okay good,” he chuckled. “That’s why I called.”