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The “Real” Nairobi

August 8th, 2011 · Add a comment · Africa, Blog posts by Lia, Novelty, Recommended sights

In Nairobi

I recently started reading and enjoying the blog called “Sociological Images,” which I find to be provocative and insightful. But a recent post by Lisa Wade gave me pause. From the post:

Sadie M. sent in an example of the reproduction of the idea that “Africa” is an arid, desolate place where nature still dominates civilization…Despite all of this, Sadie’s snapshot shows that an in flight magazine depicted Nairobi as a savanna full of elephants and bereft of people. The other two destinations featured – New York and Sydney — are pictured as they are.”

Basically, the argument is that in the promotional material covering Nairobi–a huge metropolis–the PR people are falling for an “Out of Africa” style fantasia. This seems like a good concept to be vigilant about, but misguided in this specific case.

To be clear, I agree with Lisa’s impulse–Betty has also blogged in a similar vein, about the concerns that a poverty tour in South Africa veers too close to the concept of a tour of the “human zoo.” Defining South Africa, or Kenya, for Western eyes is a fraught business. But in this particular case, a national park located inside the city of Nairobi makes this particular criticism incorrect.

Photos and video from the park after the jump.

I was in Nairobi for the first time in June, and it confounded my expectations. It was a work trip, and I spent a great deal of the time in meeting rooms, or in cars taking me to meeting rooms, watching the vast swath of humanity walking through the streets at all hours.

But because of a fluke, my colleagues and I missed our scheduled flight to Dar Es Salaam, and wound up with an unscheduled afternoon. We were behind a huge pile of tourists checking out of the hotel and heading on safari–and not the cool, low-to-the-ground style safari Betty does, but the all-expenses-paid extravaganza. When in Nairobi, we thought, we had nothing else to do until our meetings could be rescheduled. We took a couple of hours, packed up some snacks, and headed out to the nearby national park.

As the Wikipedia entry on the park explains:

Nairobi National Park is a national park in Kenya. Established in 1946, the national park was Kenya’s first. It is located approximately 7 kilometres (4 mi) south of the centre of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, with only a fence separating the park’s wildlife from the metropolis. Nairobi’s skyscrapers can be seen from the park.

In other words, photos of wildlife pictured aren’t necessarily erasing the city of Nairobi, but potentially accurately capturing it. The one caveat of the particular picture in the in flight magazine is that there aren’t elephants in the park, so that’s likely a nearby nature preserve. But there are the rest of the “big five,” most of which we were lucky to see. Including a lion:

We were touring the park in these funny pop-up-top vans, and with a lion so close to the road, it caused the drivers to speak semi-frantically on their walkie-talkies, causing a three-van pileup nearby. I was as interested in the other sightseers as the lions themselves:

3 Van Pile Up

We saw an adorable little black rhino, as well as a fleet of impalas. But my favorite, by far, were the giraffes:

I find their motion mesmerizing:

The urban humanity is an undeniable part of Nairobi, of course–but so is everything pictured above.

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