An orange ember that catches and flares bright, then brighter across the sky. This is sunrise in Nairobi. You could video it without taking up too much data on your phone. It happens that fast.
I’m in Nairobi on business, but pleasure abounds. Is there any other city as built up and brash as this, where you can spot black rhinos, giraffes and lions a stone’s throw from the airport? Is there any other city where a vast and infamous slum is just a stone’s throw from flash restaurants serving high-end cuisine? Maybe. And I’m in one of them.
The last time I came to Nairobi, I was with Ben. He was working on a musical theatre project and I tagged along, heading out on safari for a few days while he was busy. Even then, the threat of violence was never far. We were warned not to walk out on our own at night (we did, anyway – foolish youth). This time, I am always with a work colleague and come nightfall, we take taxis everywhere.
I’m not expecting anything from Nairobi, and that’s why it gives me what it does. There are mosquitoes, but there are also superb starlings (that’s actually what they’re called), lighting up the sky with their metallic blue brilliance. There are bougainvillea spasming over hedges. There are fantastic meals, and bars where we dance between tables and chairs to banging hip-hop.
Most of all, there are the people we meet. Gracious, kind, polite, good-humoured. Yes, things move slowly: it takes an hour for the hotel to find my room key when I first arrive, and two hours to find me fresh towels. But that’s the trade-off for the rest of it. And if you take it with a sense of humour (as I and my colleagues do), then it’s really just hakuna matata – no problem at all.
I am only in Nairobi for a week, but something surprising happens. I find I love it here, could even live here. Each day takes me further from London and my new house (which I was so comfortable in over Christmas, I didn’t want to leave it, not even for a walk). Each day reminds me of my ex-pat days in another country far away, where I worked hard and played hard and lived in suspended reality for nearly a year. Yes, I miss Rosie. But I don’t miss Ben.
The sun rises faster in Nairobi. It sets faster, too. In this city that is virtually on the equator, I experience whole epochs of my life, rewinding, replaying, rebooting. Away from the hustle of London, I find something in the hustle of Nairobi. I find something still beating and yearning. And that something is me.