kenya: nairobi

The initial resistant thoughts of Nairobi are one of personal safety and necessary seclusion. These thoughts aren't tempered by one night's stay, but perhaps due to the inevitable need to acclimatise in a very alien culture. We ended up at the Jacaranda Hotel, Nairobi, which was a very fresh complex with nice rooms; the fear of divebombing mosquitoes was all to fresh from Corfu, however, and the rather distraught locks on the doors were none too encouraging. This is part of being in Africa, however, and can be seen as a favourable part; there are a plentiful supply of British hotels who have their locks bashed or shot through - they can simply afford to replace them each time. Safety is relative.

Up at 6am! God forbid, but as always in this continent, you wake up feeling entirely revitalised despite the disturbed sleep and the odd surroundings, purely because this is a brave new world. And brave you must be; the ensuing 6 hour drive to Samburu National Park was an expedition worthy of well-continent travellers alone. The six-seater minibus that was to be our home for the next 7 days was quaint in its comfort, and in its handling of the road too. That is no criticism of the bus; our driver, John, was superb and took every effort, as exhausting as it was, to avoid each and every pothole as it emerged (difficult - the roads in Kenya are in an incredible state of disrepair and it is far easier to drive on the dust/sand tracks at either side). But as an introduction to our long-awaited and long-saved for holiday, it was tempting to feel a waning of ambition setting in.

Impossible. You drive through rich Nairobi, through poor Nairobi, through poorer Nairobi, and then wonder where and whether the distinction lies. Too much of civilisation rests on the boundaries between different classes, typified by money. This is only the application that an incomer would give to Africa; the citizens have a better conquest: do what you do, and do it well. And so the ramshackle 3 foot by 3 foot huts are marked as "Peter's Bar", alongside "John's Butcher" which stands side by side with "Omega Enterprises" - an incredible conception which essentially involves two shops in one, and in the same space as one would normally occupy! The credence is obvious! But the ambition is unfailing; often you get a bar and a butcher in the same job lot; heavens behold the man who gets stoned in there too.

But what is more grounding is the realisation that these are real businesses, that operate on local custom alone; the more you travel through Kenya, the more you see of them. They are the corner shops, and they survive from a myriad of customers. Tribesmen use them; businessmen use them; tourists passing through will use them. Their exterior betrays what lies beneath - a valid and worthy supplier of necessary goods. At the same time, one is tempted to say, "and here we need not worry about whether the shop is bound to an agreement with Pepsi or Coca-Cola, that they are free and independent"; and this is bullshit. Pepsi does not exist in Kenya, because Coca-Cola does. Money is money, and the influx has been quick.

That is no excuse though. Coke is not a necessary good. It is a desirable, for one reason or another. The Maasai people traditionally live off cow's blood and curdled milk. Plenty other people have lived off water and wheat. Hell, "during the war" it was spam and bitter. It is not as though Coca-Cola has been a necessary requisite for the improvement of the Kenyan people; it has simply been an external opportunity, as always, to enliven tastebuds both with flavour, and with cost-importance.

And I won't hide it; I find it distasteful. I don't blame Kenya or Africa in the slightest, I blame the West. Our imposition of "values" on other cultures with the gift of weapons or trade relations is abhorrent and destructive. A prominent Kenyan Maasai recently wrote that perhaps it was time for the Maasai tribe to come together with new ideals and embrace them to their own ends. As a generalisation, I can see this as being a productive ideal; in the current situation, where even Westerners are rebelling against the idea of globalist integration, it should be very much deterred until the country and the continent are ready to be involved. Make no mistake: Africa is ripe to be exploited, and it is eternally sad that it is.

Given that, I feel more encouraged personally to understand and taste more of what is perhaps the evolutionary spirit of mankind - the introduction, and the continuing force that gears the societal structure. I only watched Out Of Africa recently, and the most compelling and soul-destroying aspect of the film is the idea that this is not long to be; that already, thirty or forty years ago, Africa, the dream nation of Earth, had already begun to be eroded of its spiritual, cultural, and natural values. It may be selfish, but I intend to experience, invest, and immerse in this idea. Go to Benidorm if you wish, but I advise against it, for after 6 or 7 hours driving, we entered into Samburu National Park, Northern Kenya, and 5 minutes after crossing the park line, nearly crashed into an elephant.