Gliding into Nairobi’s airport early on Monday morning, the first thing I noticed was the light. Even over the terminal buildings, it was just gorgeous. I was back in Africa.
Almost immediately, my reasons for coming were further reinforced.
Yes, there were queues at immigration, but no more than one might find during a busy period at JFK or Heathrow. Perhaps it felt a little chaotic, with some confusion in arrivals about where exactly passengers should go and what was required of them. But overall it worked. The staff was excellent and determined to help. The building was modern, clean, attractive and made sense. The lines outside for taxis and Ubers were neat and orderly.
Of course, once I began my journey into the city by road, the cliche of traffic-clogged streets revealed itself to be true. At one point I was able to hop out of the car to stretch and remove my jacket, with no fear whatsoever that my driver would gain more than a few inches of ground on me.
As we reached the city centre, that cliche was overtaken by something else though: a sense that Nairobi’s citizens take pride in their home. The flowerbeds and neatly trimmed trees, the new roads, the signs, the general respect for other road users. There is something both gentle and genteel about it.
We spent the afternoon in Karura Forest. If you wanted something to underscore this sense of pride you would be hard pushed to find a more pristine example. Here is a park that rivals New York’s Central Park, London’s Hyde Park, or Sydney’s botanic gardens.
Of course I discovered Karura’s remarkable history, learned about its sometimes checkered, shady past, the land grabbers, and the ultimately successful campaign to save it for the people. But more than that, I saw a place that Kenyans have taken to their hearts. This is a place that is ring-fenced, literally and figuratively, for ordinary Nairobians to enjoy. We saw couples hand in hand, joggers, women walking alone. We also saw wildlife, different species of monkey, all kinds of birds, all around us. It was safe, spotlessly clean, peaceful and completely beautiful. All this, just minutes away from the city centre.
I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting this. Our guide told us that 37,000 people visited Karura last month. I can see why. I’m more than impressed.
This is the diary of CNN Anchor Richard Quest’s visit in Kenya. You can read it exclusively on Nation.co.ke