Visiting Nairobi, Kenya & Feeling like a Foreigner

Visiting Nairobi for the first time here in Kenya there was a strange feeling that came over me.  I knew that it couldn’t be the buffet I ate because it was mostly healthy food at a restaurant I have never eaten before.

I always trust buffets.

I have been able to blend in cities all across the globe.  I am not a magician, I’ve simply been born with pseudo Gringo, Spanish, and European genes.  And with long hair it doesn’t take long for people to figure out that I pretend to be Italian all the time.  I was just stubborn enough to hold onto my Spanish since moving to the U.S which means I can piss off any women that speaks English, Spanish, and Italian.  I honestly can piss anyone off in Italian with my hands, especially men named Luigi.

Statues in Nairobi, Nairobi tourist attractions, things to do in nairobi, kenya international conference center

Chilling with the first President of Kenya!

Being fluent in Spanish allows me to understand all of Italian and a lot of Portuguese.  The only thing that throws people off is when I speak their language.  Visiting Nairobi for the first time I was completely out of my element.

The only thing that I had going for me was the fact that I was the only one wearing cargo shorts taking pictures of funny pedestrian signs and almost getting arrested for taking a picture of a government building.  Oh yes I almost forgot, they speak English in Kenya.  I would constantly get looked at by most people on the streets.

Nairobi Street Sign, Nairobi sites to see,

Pedestrians have little hats in Nairobi

I really felt like a tourist with a fanny pack and 1980’s sun glasses awing and gasping at every turn since everything was so new to me

(Disclaimer: Fanny Packs are cool).

Anytime I would accidentally lock eyes with one of the people trying not to look at me they would look away similar to how you awkwardly catch someone looking at you on the subway.  Can’t we all just be friends?

Luckily I had my very own Kenyan guide walking around the city with me to make sure I didn’t go anywhere I shouldn’t.  I was brave enough to carry my blackberry, camera, and armani boxers with me.

They don’t steal underwear anymore do they?

The fact is I am not used to being different.  All I would have to do up to this point in my travels would be to spend a day watching the locals closely and voila! Marcello the local at your service! When I traveled all throughout South America I blended in like Oprah at a donut shop. Too much?  Everyone would always think I was from another country in South America but since I spoke Spanish fluently I was less likely to be messed with. They obviously didn’t want to see my poker face.

Neighborhood of Nairobi, nairobi neighborhoods, places to live in nairobi

My neighborhood in Nairobi

When I lived in Sicily I looked Italian and moved my hands like an Italian but I just didn’t sound like an Italian when I spoke Italian.  Way too many Italian’s in that last sentence, always need some variation.  Walking through Nairobi made me feel like a tourist again and it was kubwa!  Oops.. that’s my Swahili slipping out (it means great).

So far I haven’t had any major issues with any Kenyans other than the time I got up close and personal with locals in the bathroom during my first night out.  Everyone told me about how dangerous the city was and I was seriously considering travel insurance.  I honestly think I can make any Kenyan feel better by speaking to them in Swahili.

It seems as if every time I would speak to someone and say hello and hold a brief conversation their face would light up with the biggest smile.  It always pays to learn (or try and learn) the local language and habits.  You would be surprised how far it would take you.


    1. All kinds of good stuff.. cachapi was my favorite.. think of a bread that you eat like a pita that had the texture of a hot pocket

  1. Im going here in September for a couple of weeks as part of a charity group. Excited to see the other side of life that is not glorious beaches and 5 star hotels in the Caribbean!

  2. When I visited Nairobi in 2009, the city seems to be a little dangerous to everyone so all my friend just went to a local disco..yes, it’s a disco:P. But i became very good friend with the driver of my tour and he is kenyan. he took me to meet up with his friend and visit LOCAL bar and restaurant. I still remembered everyone was looking at me as I am from another planet:). It’s so much fun and I am glad that my friend took me there since I don’t think i will go there alone as a female;). Afterall, Africa is more safe than everyone though it would be:)


    1. Africa is a lot safer now but I wouldn’t say that Nairobi is that much safer.. they having a lot of tourist attacks due to the situation with Somalia. I would recommend that people visit Ethiopia instead.. you can still have a safari and you can meet absolutely beautiful people.. both physically and personality wise

      1. *rolls eyes*
        just when i was beginning to like you! Terrorism is a global threat. I don’t get why you speak so highly of our country in the article then bash it in this section.
        Hope to bump into you on the streets of life and enlighten you
        Have a good 2016 nasty man

    1. Somebody is keen. You might get a lot of people sending you spam for putting your email out in the open like that. :S

  3. Came to this site looking for the perspective of a foreigner on our country, I need it for something am working on. You haven’t shared much but thanks for the little details. I return the favour by letting you know kubwa means big like in big car, big mountain, big issue. I can’t think of a good translation for ‘great’ to swahili other than “Mzuri sana” which is literary meaning ‘Very good’. Swali has many noun classes too so be careful how you apply it e.g Supu Nzuri Sana (Great soup), mtu mzuri sana (great guy), macho mazuri sana (great eyes), kibeti kizuri sana (great wallet) and 13 or 14 more

    1. Thanks for the language info. It’s interesting how we all rely on each other to see each others’ perspectives.

  4. I was in Nairobi in 1990 – it was during the football world cup & that subject was on everybody’s lips! The food was delicious & It was an eye opener – the slums, the wildlife, the army tanks, travelling on the trains, red earth, the friendliness of the locals – but there was an underlying feeling of wariness too….

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