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Destination Kenya

KENYA | Monday, 6 January 2014 | Views [1006]

Roadside negotiations

Roadside negotiations

After months of hot, humid weather, the evening and early morning chill of Nairobi is quite a surprise. Sitting on the terrace of my friend's home in the suburb of Langata, I have had to find an extra top to keep warm. The morning sun is steadily climbing up behind the trees that are home to birds and rock hyrax (an injured one of which has become a casual family pet). It occurs to me that I am going to need some seriously warm clothing for when I return to the UK next week.

Driving through Nairobi I barely recognise a thing - the odd landmark dwarfed by bigger, newer ones. The Kenyatta Conference Centre, which has always been a defining feature of the Nairobi skyline, has recently had Samsung banners wrapped around its top. Quite frankly it looks dreadful and it's not hard to see why it caused an uproar. Come on Samsung you have the funds to at least make it look aesthetically pleasing! Our old murram road has been tarmacked and our little house with its guest cottage replaced by a huge house. The roads, while generally in much better condition, are crammed creating the notorious traffic jams. An affluent middle class is emerging, changing consumerism with its ever higher demands. Prices have notably rocketed and residents find their weekly grocery bills comparable to prices in the UK.

Sadly, insecurity is a major issue and most people opt not to go out at night. Barbecues and parties are generally held early in the day and guests, if they do not live close by, will either stay over or leave before dark. Car jacking has become too much of a threat to take risks and some overseas employers insist that their expatriate staff live in the gated communities which are beginning to spring up. I fondly think back to my years here when it was still safe to take local transport into town and wander around on your own. Night life was quite prolific and indeed on more than one occasion when the beer ran out at a party, we drove to the local police station to buy more from the shop there! Drink driving was not an issue then, and pretty much anything can be settled with the passing over of a few notes.

The recent events of the terrorist attack on the Westgate shopping centre are spoken about with great sadness and shame. That a terrorist attack should take place at all is horrific, but that certain local authorities deliberately prolonged the whole affair in order to completely ransack every outlet is shameful beyond words. Even the most weathered residents can barely fathom the audacity of such blatant thievery! Needless to say, corruption is rife and the chances of justice are negligible. My sister remarked that the event showed the best (compassion and bravery) and the worst (greed and corruption) sides of Kenya. It reminds me somewhat of many years ago when there was an attempted coup where mass looting also took place and for weeks afterwards blue collar workers could be seen sporting new Gucci shoes or a Rolex watch, totally at odds with their overalls! One of my favourite accounts from an eye witness was of two guys running down the street either side of a sofa held aloft.

The population explosion is beginning to encroach into the wildlife parks steadily destroying the natural habitat of many animals which are a huge part of Kenya's appeal. Coupled with poaching, which has become so out of hand with the growing wealth of China and their much misplaced perception that rhino horns and elephant tusks are a limitless commodity for their personal use, that even Prince William is working to prevent the decimation of these wonderful animals. With the loss of its wildlife and increasing security issues, Kenya stands to lose its popularity as an international tourist destination to more morally deserving countries such as Botswana where hunting was recently outlawed.

It is hard to witness the country I loved as my teenage home slowly decimating its natural beauty. As fond as my memories are, I cannot see myself wanting to live here again, short of some miraculous changes. It has been wonderful to be back and to see old friends again and I have now fully accepted that goodbyes will never get any easier. All that said, the coastline and many gameparks still make for a fabulous holiday (although I might suggest limiting time in the capital city) and the warmth of the Kenyan welcome remains as captivating as ever. 

Tags: conservation, gameparks, holiday, insecurity, kenya, nairobi, safari, stunning beaches, westgate, wildlife

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