The moment we fly above Kenya I am reminded of why I love Kenya so much. There is just something about the atmosphere, and no, it is not only the excess of vitamin D.
Colorful, is perhaps the right word to describe it. The way the blue sky meets the green (tea) fields and the orange soil, but also the people, so full of life.
When I walk out of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, taxi drivers are standing in lines ready to help. Even though I kindly reject their offer for a ride, they give me a big smile and welcome me back in their country: “Jambo!”
I book an Uber to drop me at my Airbnb in Nairobi. The driver’s name is Ruben; a kind, intelligent man, and from then on, my new taxi friend. When I tell Ruben where to go, I see him hesitating: “are you sure you booked an Airbnb on that street? I do not often bring muzungu’s (white people) there”. When we get closer to my destination, I understand why. I am staying in the busiest district of Nairobi, with a mélange of cars, people and traffic lights that are totally ignored.
Settled into my Airbnb, I decide to explore the neighborhood, and I immediately fall in love with the fresh fruit shakes on every corner, busses driving around with the name ‘citi hoppa’, and people greeting me cheerfully and telling me that I look smart. Later my Airbnb host, Isaack, explains that smart actually means pretty. Clever would be the correct word for ‘being smart’ in Kenya. Ah well, I felt great either way.
Isaack is a young energetic man who ended his career in law to follow his passion to start his own business, something that FRANK can only support. He started a business in providing easy, safe and successful rollerblading training in Kenya, which by the way will be the new Olympic sport of 2020.
During my stay at Isaack’s place, we talk a lot about the differences between Kenya and the Netherlands. What Kenyans can learn from the Dutch, and just as important, what the Dutch can learn from the Kenyans. For example: did you know that since this summer Kenya has a ban on plastic bags? This means that anyone who is found selling, manufacturing or carrying plastic bags can face fines of up to $38,000 or prison sentences of up to four years. Within only a few months, the waste on the streets is greatly reduced and everyone is carrying fabric bags. Perhaps an extreme measure, but efficient nevertheless.
Next to the plastic ban, we talk about the election crisis. A topic that is hard to avoid after the results of the first presidential election were annulled in the beginning of September. Jubilee (the ruling political party) and NASA are the two biggest parties who compete against each other.
As a result of the annulment many protests and demonstrations take place in Nairobi, that cause rising tensions in the city. It is funny though how people find ways to deal with these kind of situations. Ruben, my taxi driver friend explains that he got stuck in a protest the other day because NASA protesters blocked the road. When the protesters approached his car to give him trouble he opens the glovebox and pulls out a little NASA support flag…. and they let him through. “I am still looking for a flag of the counterparty Jubilee, for when I get stuck in their protest”.
In Kenya, systems are not always in place and political actions can often be questioned, yet I find it very interesting and pretty impressive how people find ways to work within and around the systems. The systems, or actually the lack of systems, leaves some space for creativity that is visible and noticeable in the country. An important lesson Ruben taught me: don’t take life too seriously.
— Coming up soon: Our Humans of Kenia series