We all know that I live in Nairobi, Kenya. But let’s be honest: I don’t live in Africa. Like many expats here, I live in my delightfully modern apartment behind 10-foot brick walls, topped with electric fencing and barbed wire. I have a driver and a maid and a lovely guard whose name I don’t know opens the front gate of my apartment complex. I shop in a relatively modern supermarket where I can buy everything from Skippy peanut butter to Betty Crocker brownie mix. No, I don’t live in Africa, that’s just my address.
In India, it was much harder to escape the fact that you were in India - at least it was for us. The reality of Delhi was everywhere from sweltering heat and beggars, to the Soup Nazi’s 7-11 and the rats running along the ground at INA market. In New Delhi, the reality that was India was omnipresent even when you tried to hide out in five-star hotels and lock your door against it.
Here, shutting out the reality of Kenya is common and depressingly easy. One of our more popular malls, Village Market, could easily be moved to California and fit right in. In fact, for the embassy and UN folks who live in that area there is little evidence true poverty to confront them. The popular Muthiaga area where several embassies have their residences could easily double for Bethesda, Maryland, with the exception of the razor wire and high walls that grace these homes.
The two large “slum” areas, Kangemi and Kibera, home to well over half of Nairobi’s population, are both slightly out of town and well off the route that most expats or tourists would take to the common shopping or dining areas. (I should note that Hubby passes through Kangemi everyday on his way to and from work.) While people certainly don’t deny that Africa’s second largest slum-area is only fifteen minutes from the airport, it and the real Africa are worlds away from their comfortable cloistered existences.
So tonight, as I sit down to my dinner of soy fajitas and sip on my glass of South African wine while watching American Idol and chatting on the Internet, I won’t really be in Kenya. It’s just a really good facsimile.
And that’s kinda sad.