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.
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.
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.
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.