Sunday, February 26, 2017

the art of nairobi




You have to learn the art of Nairobi. 
     -taxi driver, talking about driving in the city

The quick, unexpected slap of hard rains on tin roofs. And then, quiet.
Short hoots from passing cars to warn pedestrians on the side of the road.
Music blaring from passing matatus.
Bridges over ditches fashioned of strips of wood and old, torn tires.
The sultry, smokey smell of exhaust fumes, cooking fires, frying food.
The colors of flowers: canary yellow, passionfruit orange, bright magenta, deep indigo.
The colors of dirt: brown mud, red clay, sandy dust (depending on the day and the path you take).
Bright, melodic voices of children speaking English, like a song.
The fun and fast syllables that form Swahili spoken by duka owners and pedestrians on their phones.
Spreads of used books by the side of the street in Central Business District. 
The rhythm of walking through lanes of passing cars, the dance of entering and crossing to the other side.
The solemn faces of people waiting, walking, wanting.
Clothes: bright kitenge, worn t-shirts, proper gray suits.
Hanging bananas, yellow streaked with brown. Piles of mangos, avocados, oranges, pineapples, all their shades of orange and green and yellow and brown.
Chapati, flattened from a ball into a disc, fried with a hiss and a string of smoke.
Roads carved around topography, tracing the curves of earth and water, indirect directions to where people need to go.
The illumined glow of mirrored windows of new apartment buildings that hide what's inside.
Soundtrack: hammers and saws of new construction, wind through trees, birds each with their own song, people calling to one another, matatus tumbling past over potholed roads.
The pose of boda boda drivers leaning against their bikes or sitting, ready to take you with them.
The swerve of cars around potholes in the road, snaking past each other. The slow crawl of traffic. 
The rising buzz of a single mosquito, first a faint hum and then a taunting song. The red pocks on light skin, reminders in the morning that it wasn't a dream.
Karibu sana, you are most welcome, the repeated refrain that brings it all together. 

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