Today was a long day, but an easier one.
We took the bus from our rendezvous point at Thika Memorial church to Nairobi. We had on board a professional tour guide called John who is a member of the diocese. He explained the colonial past of the country, both its good and not so good aspects, and referred to films and books written about Kenya. He was also very knowledge about the flora and fauna. For example, 80% of trees in the country are non-native. The eucalyptus was brought over from Australia as it was good for powering steam engines. But it matures fast in 10 years and can often present a threat by drying out marshland where it grows. The giraffes are only able to eat the indigenous trees so they cannot deal with the problem.
The name Nairobi itself means “cool water” and that was one reason why it became the capital city. It was also the head of the railroad which started to be built in 1896. In 1963 the population of the city was only 350000 because the colonial authorities controlled the movement of people through permits. Since independence the population has risen to 4.5 million.
We had plenty of opportunity to see Nairobi because the bus broke down. After 45 minutes of inactivity a minibus appeared and we all squeezed inside. But no sooner had we got going then the traffic was at a standstill – Melania Trump was on her way to the airport and everything stopped for the first lady.
We eventually arrived at the elephant sanctuary for an all too brief visit before heading onto the wildlife park. I think I have probably been spoilt by my wildlife experiences elsewhere in the world but we still had an enjoyable time getting up close and personal with tortoises, chameleons and cockatiels and watching the lions and cheetahs being fed. We also enjoyed a lovely platter of food at the floating restaurant and over a leisurely lunch caught up with folk back home.
Then onto the shopping – I think everyone else was better finding the right souvenirs and haggling but eventually it was time to get on the bus (now repaired) for the hot ride home. On the way out of Nairobi I was struck by the tremendous contrast between rich and poor. On the one hand state of the art skyscrapers graced the skyline and we passed a Porsche dealership: on the other we saw wider and more abject poverty than seen so far in Thika.
Yes, we had seen plenty of single room shacks and tumbledown businesses offering all kinds of services. We had seen people carrying heavy loads of firewood or cattle food gathered from the wild, either carried in their hands or balanced precariously on the back of cycles or motorbikes. But here was one of the largest slums in Africa: disabled adults and children begging in the dirt: plastic waste forming a sort of topsoil amid wrecks of vehicles and every range of wares laid out in the sun, from teddy bears to bras. At one point we passed the rubble of a demolition site where men worked amongst the piles of stones seeking anything of value. There were also small independent churches and chapels with some improbable names offering salvation – I can only pray the hope they offer is genuine.
As usual Ven David had a meeting after the day was over. We initially arrived in the middle of a power cut, not unusual in these parts. But at last power was restored and the committee gathered in the church to sort out the final details of the fundraising campaign being launched on Sunday at his church in Kenyatta Road. Nick and I adjourned to the office for another session with the WiFi. We were glad to finally get home for supper.
There we met Ven David’s sister, Rosemary, who works for the Anglican Development Society advising farmers in a very dry region how to farm sustainably – by diversification, by mulching, by crop rotation. In the course of the conversation I also learnt about Tearfund’s role in the diocese. In essence they are pulling out of CCMP because the churches are doing such a good work. This is how aid should work, by enabling and empowering local people to take responsibility, and helping them to move from receivers to givers, which is what CCMP is all about. Still can’t help thinking about those slums in Nairobi, though.