First Impressions: Nairobi

I'm in Kenya, a world away from life as I know it.

Dust and smog inch their clawing grasp around the cityscape. Traffic is a snarling sprawl, hectic and lawless. I can count the number of traffic lights and stops signs on a single hand. Here, sidewalks are more of an idea than an actual space. The city seems to dance between being a pinch too cool or too warm, tip-toeing the fine line of life on the equator. Once a week it rains, brief and torrential. The streets flood and life, if only for a moment, slows.

In Hurlingham, they burn the garbage on Thursdays. Piles of paper and plastic line the streets in burnt-out holes. Smoke rises to mingle with the dust and the ashes, twirling in the wind. The district smells like fire, so much so that it's hard on the lungs. No one seems to notice.

I've become a regular at a bustling cafe where the wifi crests at 2003 speeds.

"The usual?"

I smile and nod, and a few minutes later am presented with an iced Arnold Palmer. I draw it out until the ice melts, betraying my budget backpacker roots.

Most days, I am one of only two white people in the cafe.

The other is my sister.

To the well dressed populace, I look disheveled and foreign. To the shoeless men leaning against half-hearted walls of fallen brick and chipped concrete, I look rich and foreign.

In a new land, one I'll never truly understand, I simply witness. Watch. Listen. And return the countless smiles that are handed out generously.

It's the least that I can do.


a green city in the sun
gutters full of piss
and hope
and faded garbage

a man sells grapes on a highway that never moves
he prays for cool water
wishing it was midnight in dust city



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