Kenya

Being White In Nairobi

Funny things happen when you’re white and you walk around Nairobi. Here’s a few things I’ve noticed:

  • Every cab driver thinks you want a cab
  • Every tour guide thinks you want to go for a safari
  • Every begger gets excited when they see you, then they give their best “Jambo! Hello!”
  • People selling trinkets get excited when they see you (like, “Yeah! Now that you mention it, I DID want a box of matches!”)
  • Shoes shiners want to polish your shoes

Sometimes I tell them funny things, like I’ll tell the cab drivers ndio hizi (like, “yeah, these”) and point to my feet, or nataka kuenda kwa miguu (“I want to go on foot”). It’s harder to be nice to the safari dudes; if I’m annoyed I’ll just tell them mimi si mtalii (“I’m not a tourist”). I know that’s a bit rude so I always feel bad after. I guess you can’t blame them for assuming you’re a tourist. The hilarious thing about the shoe shiners is that I am usually wearing sandals when they ask me… they laugh when I point to my feet and say, “No thanks!”

Realistically, any person who isn’t black probably experiences these things (Japanese, Swedish, etc). There are plenty of non-black Kenyans, but I don’t know any so I’m not sure if they have similar experiences. I guess the locals can tell if you’re a foreigner.

Karibu Kenya (“you’re welcome in Kenya”!)

4 Comments

  1. Jon0

    Big Al, it’s been absolute for-ev-er since I checked your site (most of my computer time is limited to the confines of google reader on my lunch breaks) but great to get caught up on the last few months. It’s been over a year now since I got back from Mongolia and I’m still thinking about and learning from it everyday. I have to echo all the above points from my experience and possibly add every student yells English phrases at you and every car speeds up when they see you crossing the street. Ah, great times, enjoy it while you can!

    1. Alan Author

      Jon, glad you stopped by. It is hard to imagine you’ve been home for over a year! I am now wondering how bad the reverse culture shock is going to be when I go back to California! Keep on keepin’ on, and don’t stay away from my blog for so long next time :)

  2. mazzdark

    Every cab driver thinks you want a cab
    Every tour guide thinks you want to go for a safari
    Every begger gets excited when they see you, then they give their best “Jambo! Hello!”
    People selling trinkets get excited when they see you (like, “Yeah! Now that you mention it, I DID want a box of matches!”)
    Shoes shiners want to polish your shoes

    THESE THINGS HAPPEN TO ORDINARY KENYANS EVERYDAY

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