Are Nairobians Heartless?

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Ariel view of Nairobi, Kenya. Photo Credit: Internet Sources

I got the inspiration to do this post from Giulia’s It got me thinking whether her perception of London, the city she currently resides in, resonated well with how Nairobians behave miles away.

Nairobi has been dubbed the “city under the sun” and to foreigners, it is the most hospitable and vibrant places to live in. With it’s cosmopolitan population, great eat out places to hang out, Uber taxi services, 5 star hotels, large malls and tourist sites, tourists quickly find themselves at ease within the city.

However, for a Kenyan who is new in Nairobi, it will quickly dawn on you how Nairobians can be such cold, aloof individuals. The explanation usually given for this, is the fact that you can’t just trust anyone’s intentions in the city. And of course the all too famous explanation, that life is fast in Nairobi and so people are definitely busy.

For a newcomer who has just landed in the city for whatever reason, you will quickly discover that Nairobians just do not say hi to anyone. Probably your attempts at genuinely greeting strangers on the street will be met with a suspicious look and quickening of steps. Trying to ask for directions will prove a futile attempt, as nobody will seem to believe that you are indeed lost.

If you are unfortunate enough to ask the wrong person for directions, you will quickly end up earmarked for a possible mugging, that will leave you even more scared of being in the city. A single Nairobian will rarely help someone who is getting mugged on the street not unless many eyes have equally seen the mugging take place and are swift to “help” with mob justice.

Mob justice usually involving clobbering the thief to death or near death. You will often wonder where this mob comes from for it happens within the blinking of an eye. But for the one person who sees someone being pick pocketed and keeps quiet, it is not so much because that person is heartless, but rather due to the fear of the unknown.

You are not sure if the thief is armed and whether they will turn on you instead for speaking out. So the seasoned Nairobian will look the other way and only mention the mugging once he/she gets to the confines of his/her home.

A newcomer in the city will also have to contend with brash touts and matatu drivers and extremely loud, disco like music in matatus. Your requests for the music to be turned down a little will fall on deaf ears. You will probably board the wrong matatu one too many times, only to be met with an unsympathetic tout who will admonish you loudly for not looking at the routes being plied by the particular matatu properly, before boarding.

Then you will be forced to pay the fare and then get dropped off at a place you are not even sure of, only to begin the hurdle of asking for directions again. And did I mention that the fare in the city, is never that friendly to newcomers, used to cheaper life in other towns in Kenya? The graffiti on some of the buses will remind you of some of the demonic signs to look out for, that your village pastor warned you about in one of his fiery sermons.

The many pedestrians on the street will literally suffocate you in downtown Nairobi. So will the matatus that cut corners and reverse dangerously within the CBD make your heart nearly leap out of your chest. You will also be privy to horror stories of individuals who met their death, from dangerous driving and reversing of matatus within the city centre or on various city routes. You will begin to wonder what brought you to Nairobi in the first place.

Neighbors will not seem that willing to befriend you. You will probably have to endure many greetings going unanswered and very few pleasantries from people who live around you. The few who will seem genuinely friendly, will only want to prod where you have come from and what has brought you to the “city under the sun”.

If you are a single male, you will have to endure sophisticated city chics rebuffing your attempts to charm them countless times. Either you will seem too upcountry to them in your thinking or dressing or too poor to take them out on a proper date to Java, Artcaffe, Brew Bistro and the likes. Your village accent will also prove to be a major turn off to the women of Nairobi, who speak polished British English.

However, you will soon get used to the fast life of the city, upgrade your dressing and manners and surprisingly, acquire the very mannerisms that repulsed you when you were very new. One day you will walk down the street and someone will be lying down on the pavement and you won’t bother to look, assuming he/she is probably drunk or one of the street beggars. It will then dawn on you that the city bug of coldness and aloofness has bitten you.



  1. As someone who comes from Lagos (in Nigeria), I totally relate with the things you mentioned. I mean, our towns could literally be siblings. Nobody greets anybody for no reason. That’s just how it is. And the mob justice, oh my, so common that it’s normal.

    Liked by 1 person

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