Moving to a new city is exciting, but terrifying. As a 19-year-old girl from a small village, I thought that my acceptance to a prestigious university in Nairobi was my ticket to prosperity, and like many others in Kenya, I believed that the city was the place for my ideas and ventures to come to fruition. I came with a heart full of expectations and I had all my plans laid out. But my excitement was laced with a hint of fear of the unknown. I knew the pace of life in Nairobi would be dramatically different from that in my small town, and I was not sure how I’d adapt.
Well, I got sucked into a vortex and it was hard to catch my breath. Everyone in Nairobi was in a rush, and I had to run to keep up. Like ants scampering haphazardly, everyone is on the move. The speed at which the city moved during the morning commute was shocking — cars and buses honked at each other on gridlocked highways, trying futilely to convey people to work. With rural-to-urban migration swelling the city, I found every one of Kenya’s 42 tribes represented here, in a melting pot of cultures constantly hustling to get ahead and stay afloat — one day you have money, the next day you don’t.
A few years later, standing with my economics and finance degree in hand, I had learned to swim in these treacherous waters. But I continued to innovate and refashion — most people have to adjust their goals after moving to the big city, and I was no exception. My original plan was to get a corporate job in the finance sector, but now I am a food, drink and travel writer and digital marketing consultant. I am glad I adjusted my sails, and I love how this environment forced me to get out of my comfort zone. If everything came on a silver platter, I would never have learned to think outside the box.
Like me, Nairobi is refining and reshaping itself constantly. Every other day, a building, apartment tower or skyscraper rises up to house the growing population and burgeoning economy. Expats and countless multinationals have set up shop here, and a tech wave is sweeping over the city. Young people are creating their own jobs and entrepreneurship is embraced. Online startup businesses like Jumia, Rupu and Hellofood are taking root in incubation centres like Ihub, Nairobi Garage and Nailab, all with willing investors and venture capitalists exchanging money at lightning speed. They seek out the thousands of graduates like me who have drifted away from conventional methods of making a living. That is something to celebrate. I love Nairobi because of the innumerable opportunities it holds for those who are resilient enough.
Nairobi is not only a business hub, but also a holiday and tourist destination, and as a food and travel writer, I get to step into the fun side of the city. I have witnessed the influx of new restaurants, bars and lounges that are thronged with young people every Friday and Saturday night. I love hearing their Swahili conversions pierce the sultry air, and I love tearing into nyama choma (barbecue) and beer at my favorite spot. I rarely find time to go to Nairobi’s fantastic museums, but it’s nice to know that they exist.
I am dazzled by the outdoor markets, where boisterous vendors display a vast array of the freshest and juiciest fruits and vegetables that glisten in the summer sun. In the evening I prowl the pop-up flea markets in search of clothes, shoes and bags; there is always a sale somewhere, and there are great deals on fashion items. When someone tells you the price of something, you can always negotiate: I once bought a shoe for half the quoted price, after negotiating for about 20 minutes!
When the city gets too hectic, I love that I can head to Nairobi National Park, which is just a few minutes’ drive from the CBD. Nothing compares to a game drive where you can watch unperturbed wildlife with skyscrapers in the background. I often visit the elephant orphanage at the edge of the park, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which makes commendable efforts to protect the animal that is the symbol and pride of my country.
I love how cordial the people of Nairobi are, and how I can be sure to make a couple of friends every time I go out. Someone might offer to share an umbrella with me while it rains, and we will speak like we have known each other for years.
Though it’s got insane traffic gridlocks, unpredictable weather and a high cost of living, I love the city that has shaped me into who I am. When I get tired from the daily hustle of making money and staying afloat, I escape to one of my favorite oases, pause to think how lucky am I to be living in such a dynamic, remarkable city, and recall what a friend once said to me: “LIFE is the only thing that you can’t buy in Nairobi.”
More reasons why we love Nairobi: