Nairobi vs. New York

I’m a city boy.

When Kenyans ask me where I’m from, I say Nairobi. When they say “You know what I mean…” as if to allude to what my tribe is, I say “South B”. Truth is, much as I frequent the village and know my family pretty well, my roots run deep under the pothole ridden concrete that is foundation of this city. I’m a city boy; a metropolitan man; a Nairobian native.

And if Nairobi were my wife, New York would undoubtedly be my mistress.

People can’t stand NY because it’s constantly cramped and clustered with collosuses, chaos and construction, and dense with people dashing in 10 million directions every second. And I can appreciate that. But at the same time, I breathe in the run-on sentence that is the essence of that city and breathe out poetic relief.

It’s the only place I’ve lived in and not missed Nairobi….immediately.

Because Nairobi is on a level of its own. Try as you may to find a city in the world that can match the crass candor and raw beauty of this city and you will fail. Epicly.

There are so many clichés that have been thrown into the “Only in Nairobi” hat and yet the only one that stays engrained in my head is “Only in Nairobi can one become Kenyan.” Much as I love this country with every cell in my body, I hate that it’s so divided.

Tribes, towns, cities, provinces. Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers, Permanent Secretaries. Family, friends, schoolmates, workmates. Neighborhoods, salaries, parents, spouses. Religion. Race.

There are 10 million types of Kenyans and they all the think the other 9,999,999 are f**king crazy. Everybody is right, everybody else is wrong and everybody is different….when everyone is separated. Nairobi forces Kenyans into a bottleneck. You to have to accept everyone else if you ever want to progress. No, you cannot run away from that Kalenjin because you have to sit next to him on that bus driven by that Kikuyu with that Kamba conductor. The Church is around the corner, the Mosque is down the street, the temple is a few blocks away, and the city skyline is in the horizon.

We’re breaking the walls that have been built inside this country, keeping us apart in the city.
And slowly but surely, we’re breaking boundaries outside the country. I can’t decide if there are more Somalis than Chinese lately. It almost seems that Caucasians are trying to outnumber Indians. And what’s with all the South Americans and West Africans? There’s a French school, a Dutch school, a German school, a Spanish school, an American school, a British one, and a bunch of International ones. Nairobi is turning into the Metropolitan melting pot that is New York. The city where borders, races, social classes are a blurred backdrop of the real theater of life. Which is probably the real reason I love that city so much. 20 million very different people in one state that are too busy living to differentiate between each other. Yes there’s discrimination and all that, but if you have to keep up with the pace there, you can’t waste your time on that.

I love to have dinner at Italian pizzerias in Brooklyn, dessert at the French café round the corner. The Puerto Rican Day Parade is wild, but the West Indian Parade is much more bananas. Chinatown is where I got my gadgets, and that Senegalese store in Harlem is where I get my hair cut. I blended into the background with a hoodie and old jeans at summer barbecues in the Bronx, and buttoned down my shirt for a penthouse party in Manhattan, before navigating the subways to my second home in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. Then I’d stand on my balcony with a Red Bull and and Embassy Light and feel perfectly at home and homesick at the same time.

Because at the end of the day, there’s no place like home.

10 thoughts on “Nairobi vs. New York

  1. “…my roots run deep under the pothole ridden concrete that is foundation of this city. I’m a city boy; a metropolitan man; a Nairobian native.”

    ^^^ Couldnt have put it better myself!

  2. Great written piece. The kind that leaves you with an “mmmhh..,I-know-40million-Kenyans-who-should-read-this” kinda feeling, especially after the post election violence. What’s all the tribal clashing about if the Somalis seem to have taken over almost every domestic and business high rise building in the country.., and they don’t even vote?

  3. How lovely!! u kno wat, i think the only reason for that matter that we have gone so far in life in Nairobery is mearly becasue we are so multi cultural and multi racial and multi religious; in the same way New york or even the United states is, all this multi divisions are what have made the U.S the best and the greatest in the world and I so do believe that is the same that is making Nairobi stand up! Now depending on how we approach our multi groupings we can fall or stand up but i believe that our biggest strength is in the multi ethnic and multi races we do have!! Take it for instance we only had two tribes in Kenya during the post election violence! it would have been the next rwanda!!! But because we have very many voices from different areas the impact was reduced! Just like I said, The multi ethnicity in Nairobi or Kenya; I believe it can make us or Break us. Nairobery one love!!

  4. Super post! I was at dinner the other night at a Brazilian place and as I looked around there were all sorts of colours and accents and languages! It was brilliant! This middle class of ours in Nairobi thats growing so fast is the same that has the most ethnic, racial, religious vitriol spewing out of them…it’s ironic and it’s sad. But yes, totally with you on the fact that Nairobi truly rocks!!!

  5. “It’s the only place I’ve lived in and not missed Nairobi….immediately.”

    Couldn’t have put it any better.

    Both are like everywhere else but nowhere else is like them.

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