On Valentine’s Day 2015 my friend Kirstin and I met George out the front of the Hilton Hotel in downtown Nairobi. It wasn’t some kinky Valentines arrangement, but rather a very informative and entertaining walking tour of Nairobi’s CBD.
From the Hilton, we walked to Kimathi Street where a statue of the war hero General Kimathi stands. When this statue was being erected, there was significant controversy about whether Kimathi was worthy of a statue or not. After one year of deliberation he got his place. Kimathi was a leader of the Mau Mau rebellion which has been viewed by some Kenyans as the great rebellion that gave Kenya its independence and by other Kenyans as a group of rogues who caused needless trouble while more formal efforts were taking place.
Next we headed up to Kenyatta Avenue where the impressive Sarova Stanley Hotel dominates. Inside the hotel is the Thorn Tree Cafe where an acacia tree used to stand. The acacia tree held a message board where colonial settlers left messages for one another. Nowadays, you may have heard of Lonely Planet’s online travel forum dubbed “Thorn Tree” – that’s where the name comes from!
Also at this intersection, a statue of Lord Delamere used to stand. It marked the division of Nairobi – to the west of Delamere was the side of the city for the white colonialists and to the east was the rough and tumble of Indian merchants and Kenyan vendors. Still today you can see the difference between the east and west sides of the city.
Along Kenyatta Avenue, we stopped to admire Cameo. Not because it’s a popular night spot, but because it is the oldest building in Nairobi at over 100 years old. Ironically Nairobi’s newest store is located inside – Subway, the sandwich chain has made a foray into the Kenyan market. Next door is the Bank of India which has had quite a history. It has been the Parliament House, before the current Parliament was built, and also the National Archives before those too were relocated to their current home on Moi Avenue.
Turning off Kenyatta onto Wabera Street we found the McMillan National Library. It’s not hard to find anything if it’s address is Wabera Street, as the street is only 100 metres long! Next to the library is Jamia Mosque and continuing alongside the mosque to the end we arrived at Chai House and the City Market. The market sells everything from meat and fish to vegetables and souvenirs. Despite all the shops though, the market was empty of customers. Outside however, the rose sellers were doing a booming Valentines trade!
Our last stop was the Kenya International Conference Centre (KICC), the tallest building in Nairobi at 28 floors. The second floor from the top was a revolving restaurant, but the large empty space was today a place for young couples to hang out. On the roof is a helicopter landing pad and for a fee you can walk around for 360 degree views of Nairobi.
On weekends there is an open air market that George offered to take us to for some souvenir shopping. But it had started to rain and Kirstin and I figured this wouldn’t be our one and only chance to buy souvenirs, so we skipped it and went to a cafe instead. Over a cup of tea we learnt more about George who had been taken in by Mathare Children’s Fund (MCF) when he was a child and received support from the community organisation to complete school. MCF also provided him with the training to become a city tour guide, facilitated by the National Museums of Kenya. George is also attending university, studying economics, and the guiding allows him to earn some money to help him through school.
MCF have trained several young people to be guides on city walking tours. Even though I have lived in Kenya for over four years, there was a lot we saw on the tour that I had never noticed before (even if I had walked past it a dozen times!). And things I had noticed, I hadn’t known about. The tour lasts two hours (not including the cup of tea at the end!) and costs 1000 Kenyan shillings (approximately US$10) per person plus 400KES to go to the top of KICC.