Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Up Nairobi : The Types Of Tourists And How They Rank

(I still write a monthly column for UP Magazine. Below is an excerpt from this month's issue. If the story looks so smooth and lacks the roughness of what I write here, then its because it has passed through the hands of an editor. UP Magazine is distributed free of charge at coffee shops, shopping malls and petrol stations in Nairobi. )

Cities often acquire their identity from the physical, culture, economic activity or any other such strong attribute. Thus, Dubai could be defined by its architectural designs, while Rabat could be identified by the strong Islamic culture. What about Nairobi, could it be a city without character? What is the immediate feel one gets on arrival in the city, other than the hurly-burly of any urban center?

Nairobi is many things but seems to lack any dominant quality to label it. In the absence of a black and white clarity of what it is, city fathers, residents and notably the media have tried to come up with idioms to characterize Nairobi. These range from the feel good (but no longer in vogue) Green City In The Sun to the resigned Nairobbery.

But then there is also the tourist view of Nairobi; Nairobi as packaged in travel websites, brochures and in-flight magazines. This is the Nairobi of The Hilton and Inter Continental Hotels. The Nairobi which is “the only city with a national park” and Nairobi which is home to Kibera, “one of the largest slums in Africa”. The tourist Nairobi is thus experienced in cozy vans, and five star hotels.

Yet, there will be the visitor who will want to experience the city beyond the marketed view; knowing very well the heart of any city is not visible in the colorful brochures or marketing slogans. The most prominent of these are the backpackers who stay in Ksh.1, 500 a night lodgings like Africana and Kenya Lodge.

Here, on the Street we have passing respect for these, we call them the “black white men”. They will come to the Street in an effort to get to the city’s core. But we don’t take the back packers seriously. Over time, girls on the Street have come to know they travel cheap, every coin counts to them and some are rough men in their own countries.

You know, the kind that get involved in bar brawls or who is running from the police for a reason or another. We recognize the back packers from a mile away by their smell, dirtyside-pockets and attempt at Swahili. The backpackers don’t pay well. Many of those who have stayed in the country in excess of a month are more broke than some of us; they only have a few shillings and their return ticket. A girl will go with a back packer because it was a bad night or she thinks he is the silly student kind, and can easily rip him off.

The real gem, though, are the middle aged, or elderly men, who sneak from their five star hotels to come to the Street to see another side of the city. The most daring of them wear shorts, sneakers and come walking to the Street.

Sometimes they come upon the Street by chance as they take a walk around the city. Sometimes it’s by strategy after colluding with a taxi driver or a mischievous waiter. This kind of man will be loaded with cash, open minded and in search of adventure. There are two kinds of these men; those who want to have a session with a girl, and the others who want a girl to act as a tour guide to the other side of the city.

Sometime ago, one of these men came walking from a local hotel at around 9:00p.m. He had grey hair but walked with a bounce that made him look energetic. In such situations the girls will literally surround the man, talk all the English they know, hoping he will fall for them. And so we did. But it’s not always the case that the man will know English; some are French or German.... Read the rest here.

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