When did you live in Nairobi and for how long?
I first lived in Nairobi from 1984 to 1989, about five years.
Had you been back to visit between then and now?
Not really, just once back in in 90s for a conference in Central Business District – It was only a day so I didn’t even have a chance to leave the hotel. So, no, I really haven’t been back to visit.
What were your initial thoughts when moving here became a real option?
It was very mixed. At first, I thought,”Do we really want to do this? Do we really want to move away from home?” New York has been my home for over 20 years and it has been the place I have lived in the longest. It’s the place I identify with. Did I want to leave this?
Then later, I thought, “This could be a real adventure, but in somewhat familiar territory.” I was ready for a change and this became a great opportunity. Not only career-wise, but for personal reasons too. It was a way to shake things up a bit. I was comfortable but complacent and moving to Nairobi was a way to move on from that complacency.
How did you feel when you first arrived back in Nairobi?
I cried when I took the taxi from Jomo Kenyatta Airport to the hotel. Somehow I felt home again. Immediately, I noticed the weather, and recognized the music on the radio and the sights and sounds of driving on Uhuru highway. I was overwhelmed.
The very first thing I did was get a Tusker Lager when I got to the hotel.
What are the top three changes that you notice?
1. The development! There are so many new buildings, highways, restaurants, clubs, shopping malls and residences. There are apartment complexes too. These weren’t around when I was first here.
2. The choice of cuisine. When I was first here, it was really only traditional Kenyan and Indian food available. Now, you can get just about anything. I have had some of the best sushi and seafood I have ever had anywhere. There is very good Italian food, Ethiopian food, and Korean food. Variety was a problem when I was first here, but not now.
3. The traffic. Although there are lots of new highways, the main roads are all the same as 30 years ago and the amount of vehicles on the road has exploded 100 times over. Now everyone has a car and it is the only way to really get around. The traffic has become a major factor in everything. It affects everything from deciding where to live to even deciding if you want to venture out to see an event on a given day.
What are a few things that are the same?
1. The people – They have always been warm and welcoming, yet you can see the ambition of trying to get ahead, or to of taking advantage of a situation or a person.
2. The Matatus – They have always been a menace on the roads, but now there are a lot more of them!
3. The weather – Kenya, and especially Nairobi, has some of the best, consistent, weather around.
Is there anything that has surprised or even shocked you since coming back?
The traffic – It was nowhere near as bad as it is now.
What do you miss most about New York?
The ability to go anywhere and do anything, at any time, without driving.
What is your favorite thing about Nairobi?
It’s hard to say. I still think the Kenyan weather, landscape and all the varieties animals is hard to beat, even in Nairobi.
Any advice for people thinking about moving here?
1. Stay on top of everything – If you don’t push (be it a person, a government institution or a company) you will not get far. Push them to do their jobs and not end up doing their jobs for them!
2. Make sure you buy personal items before you get here. Although you can pretty much have everything here, it my not be the brand or type you want and the selection can be limited. For example, if you like a particular type of shaving razor or deodorant, mach sure you buy it before you move.
3. Anticipate that the quality of things are not at the same caliber as you may be used to. You can see the lack of quality in the manufacturing in everything from the construction of the houses to coffeemakers.
4. Have patience. Things happen slowly over here and you have to push, but it will eventually it will be done.