Monday, November 1, 2010

Nairobi in Pictures, Part 2: Views from a Car Window

This is part 2 of my pictures from Nairobi. You can see part 1 here. The pictures below were all snapped while braving Nairobi traffic, so please excuse any strange angles or other less-than-ideal photographic aesthetics.

Not a good photo, but I feel like it encapsulates much of Nairobi for me. The big Land Cruisers bumper-to-bumper, small shops selling everything you could ever want or need, the fact that it's off-kilter because everything was going by so fast and was so chaotic that I just pointed, clicked, and hoped it would come out OK.

I don't think this qualifies as a matatu (also known as a poda-poda in Sierra Leone, taxi/minibus/kombi in SA or car-rapide in Senegal), but you get the idea. In the slum areas, there were speed bumps so tall that our Princess Taxi bottomed out on every single one--a necessity to keep matatus and other vehicles from tearing through the streets and running down children.

There were billboards everywhere. I didn't realize how non-commercialized South Africa was until I got to Nairobi. It's certainly the most jarring thing for me when I return to the US--how much one is just bombarded with consumer culture 24/7. It was similar in Nairobi. It was also weird how low the billboards were--maybe that's a testament to how much more pedestrian traffic there is...

At times it seemed like all of Nairobi was ripped up. The Chinese have, among other things, invested heavily in roads and other transportation infrastructure, including constructing Nairobi's first ring road. One of the people I was with characterized this as "too little, too late," but the traffic really can't be worse than it is now, so who knows? In the background is a beautiful Hindu temple that had elephants (perhaps Ganesha? We went by too fast to see) as pillars and incredibly intricate carvings.

Slightly closer view of the temple.

All of the construction (and unpaved roads) kicked up a lot of dust. In a way, it was comforting to get back to the hotel and see that the inside of my elbows (arm creases?) were caked in dirt. It felt very familiar, as did sweating my face off while having smog spewed on me from dilapidated buses crammed full of people.

Houses by the roadside--I can't remember where I took this.

An insurance ad on the roadside. I thought it spoke to the realities (or perhaps just the perceptions) of life in Kenya. I'd guess that the post-election violence of 2007-2008 is still strong in most Kenyans' minds, not surprisingly.

There were gas stations everywhere. It was weird. You might not be able to tell from the photo, but this is an OiLibya station. Not something you'd ever see in the US. Side note: funny story about Libya, actually. Back in January 2009 when I was still in Sierra Leone, I traveled to Freetown to drop off my (very brave) family and to pick up a bunch of volunteers that were coming up to Bo to work with us. I show up at the hotel next to the airport (which, by the way, is a four-hour ferry ride on a falling-apart boat or a seven-minute helicopter ride piloted by drunk Ukrainians) to make sure the rooms are ready, only to discover that Gaddafi is visiting Sierra Leone. He supported and trained the leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (among other "liberation movements" in Africa), which was responsible for forcibly recruiting child soldiers, cutting off hands, and other atrocities in the eleven year Sierra Leonean civil war. To atone for this, Gaddafi is now a big "friend" of the SL government and donated the ferries that carry passengers back and forth across the bay to the airport (as well as some other stuff, I'm sure). Anyway, his state visit meant that the entire hotel was commandeered for the evening so that he could, I'd venture, set up his tent in the back garden. This resulted in some last minute scrambling and lots of insistent talking until I was able to secure rooms for the volunteers. I'm not sure I've ever forgiven Gaddafi for this. Even if he does sort of look like Bob Dylan from some angles and is possibly one of the most fascinating, fashion-forward, and eccentric dictators around. OK, end of side note, back to Kenya.

The ubiquitous chair shop. They always look so comfortable until you plop down in one and realize it's made of creepy faux velvet, splintery (and rickety) wood, and thin mattress foam that will mold to your body over time until the chair becomes a backwards Snuggie of sorts that drains all the life out of you. I love these chairs.

You could find anything on the side of the road in Nairobi. Including throw pillows.

There were also these incredible roadside nurseries with seedlings and plants stored in black plastic bags. This was possibly my favorite thing about the city. When my org's founder visited Nairobi a while back, he asked the taxi driver what the owners did with the plants at night, since anything not nailed down (and some things that are) will get stolen if left unattended overnight in Nairobi. The taxi driver looked at him like he was crazy and said, "Kenyans don't steal plants."

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