Today was mega-Nairobi tourism, though interestingly enough, nothing I saw was actually in Nairobi. It was all on the fringes of the city of nearly four million, which includes the famed Kibera slum, home to up to a quarter of the city’s population.
We drove straight from the airport to the district of Karen, named for Karen Blixen, the author of ‘Out of Africa’, a tale of 1930s life in Kenya, later made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and the delicious Robert Redford. Think Karen Country Club, Karen Shopping Mall, Karen Holiday Homes, and you’re on the right track to how valuable this Danish woman has been to Nairobi.
Of course, I visited the Karen Blixen House, who, my driver deliciously informed me was a member of a wife-swapping club, lit a candle when she requested her disdained husband’s presence in her bed (instead, she opted for Robert Redford in the movie, smart girland died of syphilis. She was also a pioneer farmer of the Kenyan coffee industry, defender of African women and a crack shot, but these stirling traits are becoming overshadowed by her sexual proclivities.
Also on the list today was the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust where orphaned baby elephants are sent in from across the country to be healed from spear, gun and even arrow wounds, and the Kazuri ceramic bead factory, which gives single mothers a job and medical care while they hand make beads that are imported across the world.
The crème of the day was the Giraffe Manor for breakfast. A 1930s manor reminiscent of the Glasgow designer Rennie McIntosh, the breakfast parlour opens up so the 10 or so giraffes can stick their heads in and say hi for breakfast. It’s an awesome sight, these topsy-turvy Daliesque animals cantering across the lawns. There have been a couple of leopard attacks (“We all check our little dogs every morning,” confided manager Helle) with one of the young giraffes being severely bitten, a travesty in not only humanitarian but also financial terms. These are valuable animals, she adds, and with only 400 giraffes in Kenya, they are on the critical endangered list until their population reaches 1000. At this sanctuary, four babies were born this year, but two have already died and leopards bit the third.
The big question about Nairobi is: is it safe? The UN worker and the Egyptian businessman in the queue with me at Cairo airport both said no. Use only a hard bag for luggage or the luggage handlers will slit your bag and steal everything. Don’t walk alone at day or night. Give up your bag or car if asked – they shoot first and ask questions later. Trust no-one in Africa.
Of course they have me worried. But my guide Benson said this morning that say it used to be much worse, 10 years go. Now it’s much more relaxed, though like in any big city, there are certain no-go areas. “You can’t compare Nairobi with Jo’berg,” he said. “You just have to be careful.”