Driving along Waiyaki Way, towards Westland, in the early afternoon, Nairobi’s infernal traffic tends to diminish.
After the crossroad where two new skyscrapers – called Delta Corner – tower above all, and after a difficult inversion, you can go up towards Limuru Road, passing along Karura Forest – 1,200 hectares of a wonderful forest, some steps away from the centre of the city. By going ahead, you reach Muthaiga, the old Nairobi, the colonial one, where roads are paved and full of big gates, hiding wonderful villas and embassies surrounded by a lush green land and by trees which only in Africa can grow at an altitude of 1,700 metres.
Nairobi was born on those African highlands running from Addis Ababa down to Johannesburg, crossing the east and the central African ridge. Even if it is close to the equator, it has a mild temperature, thanks to the altitude, and even cold during the short winter season.
Going along Muthaiga’s still and silent streets, breathing that fresh perfumed air, you feel like you were in a heaven on earth: few cars, few pedestrians, where silence and serenity reign. You can find these privileged conditions even in the north, in Spring Valley’s, Runda’s and Gigiri’s areas, where it is easier to find expatriate white people and diplomats.
But if you hadn’t turned towards the fresh tree-lined streets of Limuru Road, but instead you had taken Thika Road, the wide road running along Muthaiga Golf Club – one of the most exclusive golf clubs in Africa, built by English people at the end of 19th century -, you would have reached All Soap roundabout. If you had taken, then, the southward road, you would have arrived at the slums of Mathare, Korogocho, Kariobangi and Dandora.
Lots of years ago, driving and entering these areas, me and my wife decided to start a project aimed to improve slums’ children’s future. This idea resulted in Alice for Children.
In almost 7 kilometres, you move from heaven to hell. Streets become dirt roads and population density is almost suffocating. Our driver Robert, who is one of our friends, knows every shortcut as well as every last news about politics. He is one of the few people who can reach the heart of Korogocho avoiding any kind of trouble: for those who weren’t born here, these areas are off-limits.
Pollution, chaos, poverty, dirt and people, everywhere. In every single moment of the day, if you watch outside your car window, you see an impressive quantity of people walking. They are those who can’t even pay for a ticket to get on a matatu, the equivalent of our urban bus.
You are in Nairobi, but there is no trace of previous serenity. 7 kilometres and the city turns into another entity, where true Kenya and true Nairobi live, almost 3.5 in 5 million inhabitants.