Saturday, December 24, 2016

Nairobi - home of modern day pterodactyls

I spent some 9 days in Nairobi. It sounds like plenty, but I was incredibly busy most of the time, so I didn't get much chance to explore. Fortunately, I did find some free time here and there to have a look at this, the capital of this fascinating country!

I will say, though, that I spent most of my time in the very developed and urban centre, and that I didn't make it to the outskirts or to any shanty towns. Obviously then, this is a very limited view of the city, revealing just a fraction of its reality. That being said...

Nairobi had big, square, grey, brutalist government buildings. Some had interesting native designs on them, also in concrete, but I didn't bring my camera and all I had was my iPhone...   

From my hotel, at breakfast, I could get an interesting view of the place, too. It's Cathedral Basilica of the Holy Family, the city's most important Catholic temple; leafy areas; other modern buildings in the distance; the grey skies... You see, Nairobi at this time of year was pleasantly cool, never hot, but sometimes rainy, with overcast skies most of the time. A very different Africa one might very ignorantly expect.

My event was taking place at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, or KICC. It's probably one of the most important conference centres in the whole continent, despite its age. The design of its amphitheatre (that conical structure to the right) makes it a very peculiar setting, it almost gives you the feeling of being at some sort of gladiatorial games!

Ah, and the reason for the title of this post. I had never seen birds this big and, when one flew right above me, it seemed so threatening! These were veritable feathered prehistoric monsters! Later I found out these are Marabou Storks. But believe me, your heart would sink to the ground if you saw one of these giant mean-looking "storks" carrying a baby!

I was very lucky to have the Maasai market set up near the conference centre one day, too! This market moves around, taking place at different parts of the city on different days. Also, it's called the Maasai market but it's not a purely Maasai affair, as there are items from many places. It's interesting, colourful, and you have to be ready to bargain real hard! I myself got a rungu, a sort of Maasai mace made from ebony that is used for self defence. And, from the weight of the thing, I think you could in fact knock out a lion with a good hit! Wow.

Nearby - so nice I had so many things nearby, eh? - there was another landmark: Uhuru Park. A nice, big, leafy place, with a lake and views of the city, and where people usually gather for family picnics, for giving sermons, and having group activities.

Of course, religion had to play a big part here. As atheist as I may be, I enjoy visiting houses of worship and attending ceremonies. So, I headed to Kenya's most important Muslim place, the Jamia Mosque. I actually had to go twice, as the first time I went it was closed. A simple structure, it still had some beauty, especially against the surrounding landscape.

Then, for some Christianity, I went to the Cathedral Basilica of the Holy Family, where I caught the beginning of a mass, where they were announcing marriages. It was funny, because the announcements sounded more like women marrying a family than a woman marrying a man? 

Last but not least, the Nairobi Hebrew Congregation, one of the oldest Jewish communities in East Africa, if not the oldest, which recently commemorated its centennial. I was dying to attend Shabbat here, because it advertised itself as a very open, welcoming and diverse community, with Jews from many denominations and origins. Alas, that day I had to leave for the airport and, given Nairobi's infamous traffic, I just couldn't stay for Shabbat.

The grounds were nice, it had a beautiful garden, and some very peculiar birds wandering around!

Finally - and, like I said, this is but a very biased glimpse - after leaving the synagogue I came across this shiny building by a very broad avenue. A brilliant example of the very different faces of the city.

No, I would probably not invite anyone to visit just Nairobi. But if you happen to visit Kenya, then spending a couple of days around is worth it. After all, isn't it always eye-opening to have a look at the capitals of other places? Personally, I'm grateful I could stay here and see all this.

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