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Grey Nairobi Sketches of Urban Socialities Danielle DE LAME That Nairobi feels grey does not make it dull.1   your eye not as colourful sprigs, but as mauve mists passing away like shadows. @     Q           @       ‚  ?       Q      Q  stop. Some are seated as they have nothing to lose. Others, sharp eyed, have something to gain. The person who cannot afford the clean, cool and safe bubble of a 4-wheel drive connects his familiar landmarks with a necessarily determined step, secluding himself under a space craft of extended aerials, while remaining alert and ready, yet seemingly detached. Ears are the discreet assistants of a choice between sounds that one should ignore and those that should be recognised. Warmly wrapped up in greyness, each person, concealed under clothes that are ostensibly casual, blends in with the crowd. In the heart of “Nai-robbery”,2 all senses are awake and the body is adorned in neither leather nor jewels. Yet you might enjoy the pleasant surprise of a banal exchange with a stranger waiting, like         the ethics of ‘being smooth’, which Kenyans themselves are ready to teach  ! =% Q      react quickly—leave, or let loose—with cheek, humour or kindness, but in any case without weakness or qualms. The pavements, more grey than the cotton soil that oozes from the lawns of Uhuru Park, serve as stalls for newspapers. On the pavements you have all the colours of the town, those of luxury and power, colours of violence,        Q  the world. The newspapers show the underlying feelings of insecurity, the edginess that makes you ready to parry. They report the activities and speeches Z %˜       †     Q  Grignon, F., “Les pierrots du bidonville. Peintres de matatu à Nairobi”, Autrepart, n°1, 1997, pp. 151–160. 2 This is what people from everywhere in Kenya call the capital. 152 NAIROBI TODAY of the people in power whose voices and sometimes arrogance are forcefully heard, similar to exchanges BBC listeners have already heard in the broadcasts of Parliament. Here you have the British style Made in Kenya. The mix is less ironic, overdone with political scandal. The bitter post-colonial composition can be appreciated—depending on the residential area and the time of day— with the aromas of coffee and tea, the whiff of khat, of glue or of alcohol, but without pleasure. I touched down in Nairobi loaded with advice. Be sparingly dressed: better safe than sorry. Avoid, at all costs, the slum areas and in particular all areas of Mathare Valley, Uhuru Park, Eastleigh, some areas in Eastlands, especially Majengo … and no matter what, do not go out at night alone and be wary at all times. Therefore, before exploring in depth my adaptability, I drove around, guided by a die-hard Nairobi-born, who was proud of his status. We went between and across most neighbourhoods, by way of getting to know the lay ±# "    get a feel of the slogan of the ‘Green city in the sun’.3 To the explorer who roams among the neighbourhoods, Nairobi sends out the vibe of age-old bric-a-brac which neither the ‘Bangkok style’ skyscrapers,        #    can delete. The geological chaos of the site4 swallowed the foundations of a heterogeneous society, a society, right from its beginning, tuned to the interests of a class imbued with its own innate superiority. The new elite was to take up these privileges and adjust them to international codes of consumption and propriety in the post-colonial context. This ‘Far West’ style of urbanism bristles with all sorts of savage associations and bears the scars of a brutal segregation according to race, gender and wealth. It is estimated that between 1.5 to 2 million Nairobi dwellers squat in winding quagmires that were left them when the town was formed. These, currently crowded “no man’s lands” were meant to create health cordons between segregated white and Indian areas. On the pavements of the administrative and business centre, the most impoverished of the dropouts add their lingering odour to that of the sludge emitted by the cracks in the tarmac. In moving about, sometimes on foot, sometimes in taxis rattling around their disembowelled seats, sometimes even squashed in the deafening matatu5 , occasionally accompanied by a ‘bodyguard’ initiated to my wanderings, I slowly constructed an image of a mosaic of social ties whose synthesis gives   /     &        I was moving around for the sake of knowledge alone. It was also, in a way, 3 This was, until recently, the cliché attached to Nairobi. 4 See ‘Geology for...


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