A friend recently asked me what has surprised me the most since moving here. I thought about it for a bit and realized that the thing that surprised me the most is how similar New York and Nairobi are. They are very much sister cities.
Both are big cities. Both are buzzing with creative energy. The fashion, music, and food scenes here are thriving. The design community is strong. Commerce is strong.
Both are exciting, vibrant, and very international. There is a bit of transient feeling in that many of the expats stay for only a few years and then move away. But, there are just as many cases of, “I came for six months and now it’s been 19 years.” A lot of people stay and thus add back to the cultural mix of Nairobi.
Both cities have security concerns. Terrorism is a threat in both cities. The attack on Westgate is still raw – much like the few years after 9/11 in New York.
Street crime is an issue. In both cities, you take precautions. New York has become a lot safer, but in the last few months (especially after a certain mayor took office) crime has gone up and the homeless problem has worsened. Street harassment of women is becoming more and more of a problem, and each instance becoming more and more threatening.
I would not describe either city as dangerous, but I would not call either safe either. You need to keep on your toes and be situationally aware at all times. Truth be told, you should do that anywhere in the world.
The gap between rich and poor is big in both cities. We live a sheltered life in cars and gated communities here. But the poor are there and you do see them. In New York, it was a bit more obvious…yet just as easy to ignore. (Yes, I use the term ignore. I’ll call myself out on that. As much as I give to charity and do what I can to provide opportunity and help to the poor, I also ignore the problem just as much.)
Both cities take a certain type of spirit to really like it and neither is for everyone. I’ve met some people here who are trying but already know that this isn’t for them. I am loving it here. There is still a lot to learn and adjusting to do – and it’s not easy. But I love it.
It was painful to leave New York, my home. But, now, Nairobi feels equally like home. At some point, we’ll move back to New York. I already know that’s going to hurt an awful lot when it’s time to leave, and I don’t really want to think about it.
I have room in my heart to love two cities. When I compare them, I keep seeing similarities. Three are some differences, but crux of each feels the same to me. This spring, when we go home for a visit, it’ll be a good test to see if my feeling holds.