Notes on Nairobi (2): the city

Today Vee and I fly out to Nairobi to see our son and his family for a week.

Some facts and figures on Nairobi:

  • The city was founded as a rail depot by the British colonists in 1899 and made the capital in 1907. The name comes from the Maasai words ‘uaso nairobi’ meaning ‘cold water’.
  • The elevation of the Nairobi is 5,889 feet (1,795 km) which gives the city a pleasant climate in spite of it being only 90 miles (145 km) south of the equator.
  • The population of Nairobi is over 3 million.
  • Nairobi has the world’s second largest shanty town (after Soweto in Johannesburg in South Africa) called Kibera (the name is derived from a Nubian word meaning forest). This is home to as many as one million people and sprawls over 2.5 square kilometres on the south-west of the city.
  • In August 1998, al-Qaeda bombed the US Embassy, killing more than 200 people.
  • On 21 September 2013, the Islamist terrorist group al-Shabaab attacked the Westgate Shopping Mall and 67 people were killed in the assault.

The best story I heard about Nairobi before travelling there for the first time was from a professional colleague of mine who was visiting the city to do some telecommunications consultancy.

She hired a taxi to take her to her meeting and, as so often happens in Nairobi, the heavy traffic came to a standstill. The taxi driver had his window open and was using the time to make a call on his mobile when suddenly a man leaned into the window, snatched his phone, and ran off.

The taxi driver immediately jumped out of his vehicle and pursued the thief, leaving my friend in the middle of the traffic jam. Ten or 15 minutes went by as hooting from other vehicles became louder and more insistent. Eventually the driver returned – with his mobile and with the thief. He locked the young man in his boot, abandoned any attempt to reach my friend’s meeting, and promptly drove them all off to the nearest police station.


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