June 8, 1987

6/8/87 Nairobi

Jacaranda Hotel

You can tell I’m a pretty green tourist because I declared every American dollar I had. After meeting some of the other NOLS students, most were prepared to make a little money on the black market. They have very strict currency laws here. As you enter the country, you are given a currency declaration form. And every time you change money, it must be noted on the form. Because I didn’t want any trouble at the airport when I was leaving Kenya at the end of the summer, I worried about the $30 US dollars I had declared when I arrived. I called the American Embassy and they told me a police report was all I needed. I only went to the police station because I thought I had to.

The police station near the Jacaranda told me that I’d have to go to the Central Police Station in downtown because that is where the crime occurred. It was not a very impressive building, one story with a parking lot only big enough for a few cars. Being a tourist, I was very out of place. All I could think of were images form the movie "Midnight Express" about an American jailed in Turkey for smuggling hereon. I was grateful that people speak English here. The inspector I talked to was well dressed. Actually, he was dressed a lot better than some of the Kansas City detectives I’ve seen. While he asked me questions for the report, what struck me as different was his fingernails. The nails on his index fingers were at least two inches long. The police report was written in English. Maybe I’ll get to keep it as a souvenir.

My police report

Sitting out by the hotel pool with five or six waiters standing around the bar, a grade school class is getting swimming lessons while a woman is sweeping the walkways with a crude broom. Yesterday afternoon you could hear drums and singing off in the distance. It rained hard in the early evening and it’s still cloudy today. I heard what I thought were geese flying overhead, but as they got nearer I saw that they had long bills that curved downward.

I just wish I could describe the city to you. I don’t know if I could take any pictures without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. I met a few of the other NOLS students today, Seth and Frank. They were just on their way to Karen Blixen’s farm. I should have gone with them. I imagine the story of my being robbed will get around the group.

You probably get the impression that their couldn’t be a poorer place on earth. That’s not really right. I see a lot of brand new Izuzu vans on the roads, and very clean considering all the mud seen on the streets and roads. I guess it might be amusing that the first building you see on the drive from the airport is a GM factory. But a pedestrian has to be quite careful here. There are no street lights or stop signs. And on several occasions I looked the wrong direction and almost got run over (they drive on the left, like the Europeans). Just as my reading suggested, most shops are run by Indians. I saw a lot of Kenyan street vendors selling whatever they could carry, like several bags of some type of fruit. One surprise though was the prolific business several flower vendors had. Not just the flowers themselves, but flower arrangements bought by Kenyans. I guess in most ways, Kenya, at least Nairobi, is very British-European. You buy drugs at a chemist shop and bread is bought at a bakery.

I met about half of the group today. I think I’m the oldest by at least six or seven years. One girl just graduated from high school. For dinner, about fifteen of us had Kenyan pizza, similar but different. Back at the hotel, we met one of the instructors named Jim. He’d only been here a month and most of that was in Naro Moru. On the whole, the group are between eighteen and twenty, and equally divided among the sexes. A few of us stayed to talk to Jim but the rest went to the casino. But they could blow the money. Just from the way everyone talked, I imagined that their parents paid for part or all of the trip to Kenya. My robbery was a good topic for awhile. At the Pizza Palace, the hot topic was AIDS. A bunch went out drinking and dancing the night before. They saw plenty of prostitutes.

I’m getting a good feeling finally. Even though the others in the group are all younger, it kind of makes me feel younger. The coarse will be hard but with some of these people, it won’t be boring.