Story: Narration of Nairobi

Photos & Words by Joost Bastmeijer

“Hell no.” That was my reaction when my girlfriend Saskia first asked me if I wanted to move to Dakar, the capital of Senegal. “You have been there two weeks, and now you want to move there?” I was acting like I was shocked when she returned from her work trip, but I always knew this was going to happen. Saskia had been working in foreign news journalism for a long time and never made a secret of her ambition to once be a foreign news correspondent. But Senegal? I had never been to sub-Saharan Africa in my life!

As these things probably go, and as my girlfriend persisted, the idea of moving to Senegal didn’t look so bad after all. I could work as a freelance photojournalist, taking (Instagram) pictures while travelling around the continent I have seen so little of. So she became a correspondent, and I said yes to moving with her to Africa. Dakar became Nairobi — as Kenya’s capital is a hub with better flight connections, compared to Dakar — and here we are — my first months in Nairobi become a fact. 

When I told people in Amsterdam I would be moving here, the “Nairobbery” stories seemed to be persistent. And though using your common sense is advisable when you navigate through Nairobi, it doesn’t actually deserve the negative nickname. Like in a lot of (African) cities, it’s not a very good idea to go for a walk when it’s dark, and because of the huge difference between the poor and the rich, a lot of people are always trying to get the best opportunity out of any situation. As the Kenyans call it, everybody here is hustling. 

The effect of that “hustling” is tangible in Nairobi. The city, boasting some impressive skyscrapers, office complexes and malls, is growing on a daily basis. New apartment buildings keep on popping up across town; the once green neighbourhood I live in is getting more and more concrete. These buildings are being built for the (upper) Kenyan middle class, which is growing faster than the city can handle. The 2011 report numbers of the African Development Bank (ADB) showed Africa was counting over 350 million middle-class people.

 –– This story appears in Chemistry Issue. To continue reading, buy here.