I entered Nairobi by night.
The layout of the airport is immediately familiar and I sway as I walk towards customs with the throng of passengers travelling from Amsterdam to Nairobi, trying to get the circulation moving in my legs after the eight hour flight. Standing in the customs line-up, I smile at the Kenyan woman I sat beside on the plane. We chatted before takeoff in Amsterdam, as her four-year-old grandson peered out the window and pointed to other planes he saw on the runway. I tried introducing myself in Swahili, “Jina langu ni Wanda” (my name is Wanda) and she smiled and then we both laughed.
I pass through customs without incident and gather my bags. There are six Canadians travelling together with fellowship placements in Kenya. We each have two bags of luggage. Within fifteen minutes all twelve bags have been pulled from the conveyor belt. Relieved, and excited, we push our trolleys out of the luggage area and into the hub of waiting family, friends, drivers, and tour companies. The anticipation is building and we are anxious to set our eyes on the city that will be home for the next eight months. The enclosed airport opens into a pick-up/ drop-off roadway and without ceremony I am outside breathing in Nairobi air, feeling the cool breeze of a Nairobi evening. But it is difficult to really see what anything looks like from lamppost lighting.
The cargo and the fellows pack the tour bus (a ten seater van) hired to pick us up, and we join the horde of vehicles all carrying fellow flyers. Together we migrate towards the exit and onto the highway. A series of hotels, industrial and commercial buildings line the roadway, similar to Toronto’s airport district. I stare out the window, desperate to soak in any elements to identify where I am and begin my journey. But from my window vantage, I could be in any city. Passing by a large field with apartment buildings dotting the nightime skyline it reminds me of travelling by train in London from the airport to the city centre. The only difference I notice between the highway here and at home is the type of strategically planted trees that line the roadway – acacia instead of evergreen. We pull into a rest stop to get a bite of fast food before being dropped at our apartments. There is no Wendy’s or Tim Hortons, but the Pizza Inn makes a fresh veggie pie. While others order take-out chicken and fries, I pick up some water and sprite from the convenience store. With brown bags and pizza box, we pile back into our vehicle and are soon pulling into the driveway of my home-to-be. My roommate and I are helped with our luggage by the night watchmen. We follow our landlord towards our apartment door. As we pass through the courtyard I take a moment and a deep breath.
It smells like a neighbourhood in a city. But not like one in Toronto, or London, or Dublin, or Kigali.
Like my neighbourhood in Nairobi.