Since arriving back in Nairobi in early March, I’ve been trying to get more regular exercise. My doctor said the best way to avoid diabetes is to walk for 30 minutes every day. Well, I would rather go for a walk than have diabetes, so I either do an exercise DVD or go for a walk. But of course, this is Nairobi, and after a few days, I began to tell people that I was “going to play in the traffic”, for that is what a walk entails here.
The compound where I live and work is at the bottom of a U-shaped road. The right part of the U is Masaba Road and the left part of the U is a dirt road up a hill that turns into Kiambere Road. Since October, I have been avoiding driving down Masaba Road as it has numerous potholes that are very hard on tires and near the end, there was a large lake of sewage across the road. I’ve actually seen cars stuck there, and really did NOT need to add that to my list of experiences.
So, my normal routine has been that after work, about 5:00, I change my shoes and possibly my clothes, take off all jewelry and deposit my phone in my house. (Nairobi is not a safe place, even in daylight, so best to avoid temptation.) Then, taking my keys, I head for the gate. The guard, Douglas, is very friendly and smiles a lot. He has learned I will return in about half an hour. He lets me out of the compound, and I head up the dirt road.
As with all cities, 5:00 is the time people get off work and head home. It starts to get dark here by 6:00 or 6:30, so I like to have plenty of daylight and a little sunshine after being in the office all day. So, I dodge cars.
At the top of the U is another road, Bunyala. It feeds into a roundabout on the main road through Nairobi, and from 4:00 onwards until 7:00 or later, it looks more like a parking lot. The cars try to fit in at the end of Masaba and at the end of Kiambere. So, as I’m trying to walk UP the hill, there are usually a number of cars, buses, and trucks trying to come DOWN the hill. The road is rutted and rough, but right now, it is in reasonable condition. I have been driving up the hill when a large bus was going down it, and nearly tipped over on me.
If it hasn’t rained in awhile, then the road is very dusty. I find having a hankie to put over my nose and mouth really helpful, but I still arrive back from my walk feeling that if I got into the shower, mud would pour off. If it has been raining, the mud is very slippery under foot. I am usually one of the few people walking up, but there are lots of people walking down the hill to get to the public transport on the main road. The elevation in Nairobi is over 5,000 feet, so if I make it up the hill without having to stop or am not obviously panting at the end, I feel I’m in pretty good shape. Right at the top of the dirt road is a large hole. I think it is supposed to be part of the drainage system. One has to be wary not to fall in that by mistake. Always watch the path ahead of you!
The next part of my walk is quite pleasant. I turn left onto Kiambere and walk down a gently sloping hill. There are several blocks of apartments on either side as well as a few old homes left. Most of those have been taken over by non-governmental organizations, but a few are still private homes. One large apartment complex offers a spa. The buildings look as nice as buildings can look. Most have little in the way of greenery. However, in places there are large parking areas where I can safely walk outside of the walled compounds. The road dead-ends at another compound of residences. I don’t know anyone who lives there, so haven’t been able to gain access. I used to know people there, but that was 20 years ago. So, I make a u-turn and head back up the hill. The main source of traffic on this little by-way is the school bus. Actually, several buses drop children off from about 4:30 – 5:30. It is a long day for these little ones.
Having arrived back at the top of the hill, I carefully dodge cars that are coming from the left on yet another dirt road. They are either turning left on to Kiambere, or right on to Kiambere, or heading down the dirt hill toward Masaba. All are bent on getting home as quickly as possible, so I have to time my crossing carefully. Once I make it across the traffic at that intersection (no stop sign, I can assure you), the walk is again reasonably pleasant. There are more homes and apartments and about a third of a mile of paved road. It is a bit narrow, and sometimes vehicles are parked along the side. So, I have to stay wary of traffic in either direction.
As I walk along, there are a number of interesting sights. There is a sign advertising help to get back a lost lover complete with phone number. Just past the sign is a small hole-in-the-wall shop where locals buy milk, bread, and maybe some other small items. It has also become a place to find a taxi. That could be useful information.
A bit further down the road, there is a construction site. The sign promises another high-rise building, probably apartments. At the moment, however, it is a large muddy hole, though I can see some progress with the foundations. One day on my walk, a large truck was attempting to exit the site and turn around. The truck was longer than the road is wide, so it was quite a show to watch him navigate around the brick pillar on one side and the ditch on the other. He made it without damaging anything.
At the end of the road is a small temporary food stall. A lady sells bananas and fruit, and seems to make food of some sort. There are usually a few people hanging around eating. It is probably not licensed, and so may disappear at any time. The police regularly come around destroying such places. However, I guess her few boards and bit of plastic sheeting won’t be too much of a loss, so long as she can make some money in the meantime.
I try to greet the various guards along my way as I return. They seem to have one of the world’s most boring jobs. At least they get to open and close the gate periodically. At night, it is much more dangerous, but also more boring.
I slip on down the hill with the other folks making their way down. The large mirror on the outside of the gate alerts Douglas that I’m on my way back. So, he is usually at the door waiting for me. I head back to the flat/apartment hoping that I’ve put diabetes at bay for yet another day.