Sunday, March 19, 2006

Nairobi (Thursday, 23 February)

Our drivers eventually arrived at the Methodist Guest House to take us to the small airport for our flight to Lui. Because we had arrived after dark the night before, this was our first chance to really see Nairobi. Here are some of the things that stuck my U.S. sensibilities.

Leaving the Guest House (as we did) during “rush hour,” the first thing that struck me when we got out on the road was all the people walking! Dozens, scores of people walking alongside the road, heading to their work or whatever. Mind you, these folks are not strolling along. They’re striding purposefully! In business suits, well dressed. Clearly heading for a destination. Most people in Nairobi cannot afford a vehicle. They walk – by the hundreds, thousands, maybe tens of thousands. It’s an amazing sight for an auto-dependent American.

I sense that the Guest House is located in a pretty affluent section of Nairobi. I was struck by the houses we passed on the way to the airport. We passed many houses that could just as well have been located in the most affluent sections of St. Louis. And every one of them was surrounded by a stucco/plaster wall. [I couldn’t tell what the construction material was; Rick could surely tell us.] And on top of virtually every wall was one of two things. Either they were topped by razor wire of the sort you would see atop walls of U.S. penitentiaries. Or they did this other thing: (apparently) in the last phase of building the walls, they set-in big shards of ugly pointy glass, so that anyone attempting to scale the wall would be lacerated by the glass.

Nairobi is an urban city. So much looks familiar. For example, nothing about the architecture said I had left the U.S. Most of the men were dressed in clothing that one would see in the U.S. – business suits, or khakis and shirts. One thing was unusual – but I didn’t even realize it until a blog-reader asked me to comment more on people’s appearance: Riding the ½ hour to the airport that morning, I don’t believe we saw another “white” person. Strangely, I didn’t notice it at the time. In fact, for some reason, I never had the sense of being “white” in a “black” world during the trip. Instead, I constantly had – to my shame – the overwhelming sense of being luckily privileged and (comparatively) “rich” in a profoundly underprivileged world. That was the real scandal!

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