March 24, 2012

Nairobi, Kenya

Dear Friends

It’s not what I thought.  I’m sitting just a few kilometers south of the equator.  It is the time of the equinox with the sun directly overhead, and it is pleasant 78 degrees midday.  Sundown comes like switching off a light switch.  No twilight at all.  Evening breezes mean I sleep with the windows open with no need for air conditioning.  The birds and the sun wake me after sleeping well.  Welcome to Nairobi.

Nairobi is over a mile high.  The combination of proximity to the equator and the altitude makes sunburn a constant worry so my one of my first purchases was sunscreen.  The weather is beautiful but to some it is still too hot.  Three different people today told me they were looking forward to the April’s rain.  At dinner tonight the wind kicked up and I went to my room to get a jacket.  When I came a pot hanging from a tripod contained warm coals.  The waiter said “only two or three weeks now and the rains will come.  The wind tells me that.”

I am here on my way to Juba, South Sudan, the world’s newest, and somewhat troubled, nation, where I will be working with a community radio station there for about a month.  I’m staying in a hotel that in the 1940s was out of town, a stone building English country estate with courtyards and gardens, five acres– now almost in the heart of Nairobi.   Birders, wander the hotel grounds with binoculars and checklists.  There’s a nice pool in which I swam some laps this afternoon.  I’ve already mentioned dinner in the garden with a fresh breeze.  The hotel is on the “safest street” in Nairobi.  The Israeli Embassy is across the street and there are armed checkpoints at either end of the block with a sign that says “Proceed Through Friendly Checkpoint” with two smiley faces.  I took a picture of the sign and a friendly guy with a machine gun very politely made me delete the picture.  I snuck a picture the next day.

Today I took a cab to the Kenyan Railway museum.  Anyone who has read “Lunatic Express” knows what an insane job building the railroad from the coast to Uganda was (Nairobi, like Anchorage, started as a railroad construction camp, It was midway on the line, but because of its altitude and a lot of good water, it became the major city.)  The museum is about a kilometer out of the central business district on a very dusty road and not in the best neighborhood (The Rough Guide warns of muggings.)  I took a cab.  One of the main exhibits is the railway car from which the police superintendent was dragged by a lion and eaten.  A lion had been attacking crews so the superintendent, who was a big game hunger, decided to take care of the lion.  He had a rail car parked on a siding, told everyone else to get away.  Left the door open and windows cracked so the lion could smell him.  He became the bait, waiting with a high powered rifle.  The problem was he fell asleep.

I also wandered through the main market downtown with its normal touts.  One got to me.  She wore an Alaska “t” shirt.  “My friend moved there and sent me this.”  I took a picture and bought an appropriate trinket from her, although not the “genuine” Maasai garment (made of washable acrylic) that she wanted to sell me.  A cotton one was twice the price (I didn’t buy that either) but I just can’t imagine acrylic will breathe very well.

I spent a couple of hours at the national museum.  The place would drive Rick Santorum nuts because one of the best exhibits (it is an omnibus museum, art, science, history, an excellent section on the Mau Mau uprising all under one roof) is about evolution.  If you are going to talk about human evolution what better place than in Kenya.  I wonder if a state run museum in the US could get away with this nowadays without having to present evolution as “only a theory” alongside “creation science” and “intelligent design.” The development of skeletons, especially the skull, was fascinating, as was the exhibit comparing difference between humans and chimps as we took our similar DNA our separate ways.

Tomorrow (Sunday) Jon and I will go to a local Maasi market and Monday we both head for Juba.

Take Care,

Rich McClear


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