What makes a city different and yet so similar to what I know at the same time? How to describe it?
When I was leaving to go back to Canada after a year in Nairobi and should have been focusing on tasks at hand – packing, cleaning, tying up loose ends – my mind traveled to Nairobi the city, Nairobi my bubble. Nairobi my interpreter as I could easily communicate in English and check my Swahili at the door when I didn’t want to struggle any more. And this is what I thought:
Nairobi, you and your City Park and my local produce.
You and your elephant orphanage and my Chemi Chemi.
You and your Kibera and my work with the Kibera News Network (KNN).
You and your dress makers and my new favourite skirt from Esther.
You and your Sheng and my proper Swahili classes with Oloo.
You and your Art Caffe and my laughter with friends on the patio sipping red wine. (Did you change me from white to red forever? Or did I adapt to you while in the moment?)
You and your matatus and my feet tapping on the metal floor to the music, feet warmed from the engine breathing underneath.
You and your art and culture and my work with Gallery Watatu.
You and your swag and my bling ring that I bartered for.
You and your traffic and my curses in a taxi when I didn’t think the driver was aggressive enough.
You and your night life and Tusker Malts at Gypsy’s.
You and your flyover highway and my fist pumping when I drove over it for the first time.
You and your City Market and my earring maker Ben.
You and your malls and my 5-minute walk, to the left or the right, to get to one.
You and your restaurants and my birthday sushi dinner.
You and your cool evenings during Canadian summer months and my complaints that I’m getting hypothermia and will never survive another Canadian winter.
You and your Nairobi National Park and my first sighting of a hippo out of water.
You and your gated apartments and my conflicted feelings of caged confinement and safety.
You and your fancy hotels and my dirty martini with extra olives at the rooftop of Sankara.
You and your street children and my encounters with Margaret.
You and your disabled street beggars and my half smile of acknowledgment as I walk past.
You and your technology and my fumbles with mpesa.
You and your Mt. Kenya and my falling on 12 different times while descending from Pt. Lenana.
You and your food vendors selling corn and cassava with chilis and my lunch.
You and your runners who dart traffic and my Nairobi Hash House Harriers.
You and your bustle of the working world and my own office life.
You and your people and some of my new best friends.
You and your beauty and your movement and your realness and your adaptability and your busy streets and busy minds and elegance and sorrow and laughter and j-walking and the grass beneath my toes at Uhuru Park and the view of the city from the KICC and the DVDs sold on the street (bought when I was home sick) and early evening darkness that limits my personal mobility and public transit system that gives change (TTC take note) and bright purple jacaranda trees that line the sidewalks and a year of memories meshed together in my mind’s eye as I dart from a matatu to flag a taxi to get to the Hash on time.
Nairobi and your independence that has made me see mine.
You independent city and a place that became my home.