Craziness in Nairobi

Trip Start Nov 01, 2007
Trip End Mar 01, 2008

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

So at this point, I'm sure most of you have heard through the news about all that happened in Kenya after the election at the end of December. Before I was on the plane to Nairobi, I had no idea that an election had even was the Kenyan sitting next to me who said that turnout had been the highest ever, and that the country was optimistic about the results of its first contested, legitimate elections. Needless to say, that optimism was unfounded, and I wonder how that guy is doing...he was traveling home to visit his tribe after living in Britain.

Upon arriving in Nairobi, things seemed pretty normal. The airport was bustling, and the taxi drivers were as persistent and pushy as ever.  After getting my weighty bags (I had bought wine at the Duty Free in Dubai to give as a gift to the manager of the Goldsmith farm in Kenya, who was going to host me after my safari), I got in a taxi and headed into central Nairobi. I was exhilarated! The air was warm, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the puffy distant clouds were white. Getting into the city, I sensed that something was amiss. The center area, which Lonely Planet warns is a bustling center for robbing tourists and expats, was empty. There were a few young people walking hurriedly along the road ringing the park, but other than that, I didn't see anybody! The taxi driver was happy for the lack of traffic, but it seemed pretty dead. I thought, perhaps because of the holiday or the weekend, people were avoiding the city center.

My hotel was in a compound next to the state television offices.  Guards opened the gates to let the taxi in, a precaution I presumed was normal in such a notorious city. I checked into the hotel, was delighted to find that I had a room to myself, and promptly took a shower. After my shower, I wanted to wander into the city to use the Internet...and went to the front desk to ask for the best place. The guy there looked at me worriedly, and said "you should not go into the city today...there is too much tension from the elections". This was the first inclination I had of the problem...and instead of going into the city, I wandered around the hotel compound, sitting by the pool, walking across the lawn, and paying $5 (an exorbitant amount) to use the Internet for an hour. The restaurant was good, and it was there during dinner that I met Mary Jane (or MJ), on of my fellow tour mates. She is from Vancouver, and left her sons and husband at home to go on a safari en-route to visit her daughter in South Africa. I thought that was pretty cool...and she proved to be a fun, energetic addition to the group.

After dinner was when I really started to realize how bad things were...I turned on the television and saw videos of riots in Mombasa and reports of tribal violence in cities around the country. Nairobi had been cleared, which is why it was so quiet...and the entire downtown area was off limits. The election results hadn't even been announced, and were due at any minute. I started to get concerned...alone in some hotel, with most of the tour group not even here yet, in a country that seemed to be poised to explode. I got the phone number for the embassy, amassed enough cash to buy myself out of most situations, and set up a plan for getting to the airport if things deteriorated during the night.

The night was quiet (except for the fact that this was likely the 8 hours in which I got bitten by the malarial mosquito, and was unprotected because of the delay in taking my first pill), and I awoke in the morning to find that the election results were still unannounced and that, despite the growing violence and unrest around the country, Nairobi was still quiet.

The Kenyan contact for GAP (my tour company) showed up in the morning, and after frantic phone calls, told us that we were not allowed to leave the hotel, and that the morning visit to the giraffe nursery and Nairobi national park were canceled. Instead, we would wait for the rest of the group to arrive by van, immediately board the bus, and leave Nairobi as quickly as possible, if even an option. Otherwise, we would stay at the hotel...and our rooms were booked for another night.

At that point, I met the rest of the partial group (the rest had taken another safari the week prior, and were coming from the Kenyan game parks). Tom and Nancy, retirees from Arizona, were delightful, and Collette, a retired teacher/administrator from Canada (currently a principal at an international school in Cairo) was a sharp voice of reason coming from somebody who lived every day in the chaos of Egypt.  We spent the morning tensely waiting for the group, sitting in the bizarrely serene garden of the hotel, and trying to avoid thinking of what would happen if the election results were announced before we were able to leave the city.

The group did show up, and we promptly left Nairobi for the Tanzania border. We made the three hour drive with no problem, and crossed the border with only minor incident (they had raised the visa fee...just for US citizens...from $50 to $100, apparently in retribution for some offense of US immigration policy...jerks). The drive was spectacular, and we arrived in Arusha just in the late afternoon. We were staying outside of Arusha, but some other members of our group and I had to go into the city to replenish our depleted cash supply. We also had the chance to use the Internet, and because there weren't enough computers for me, I watched TV. Kenyan President Kibaki (who is now fairly certain to have stolen the election in an especially botched and stupid vote stuffing scheme) was giving his inauguration speech along side the bizarrely white wigged elderly African judge (I'm still trying to find a picture of was hilarious)...the results had just been released. Here's a link to the video on YouTube:

The next day, the country descended into violence. I had left just in time.

Visiting the Goldsmith farm became impossible, as I gathered pieces of reports throughout the week on safari. Things were (and still are) getting worse. I drank the wine for Grant in Uganda, in a final surrender to the instability created by the political nonsense of East Africa. Kenya was one of the jewels and success stories of all of is tragic that one selfish, power-hungry leader can ruin a country, and arguably, an entire region.
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