Approximately 10% of Kenya’s population lives in Nairobi, population 4 million–about 4 times the total population of Swaziland. It sprawls over many miles with the characteristics of any major city in the world, consisting of the same contrasts of poverty, traffic, and crime vs. modern buildings, civilized neighborhoods, and cosmopolitan choices in food. Rick and Wendy had visited Nairobi in 1997 during their first safari adventure. When the Walleighs settled down to live there for TechnoServe in 2007, initially Nairobi didn’t look and feel much different from their first, brief visit. However, during their year-long stay, it became clear how much had changed. Of course touring vs. living in a city or country is very different. But though it is still deservedly nicknamed “Nai-Robbery” for its crime, many parts of Nairobi had entered the Internet/Mobile Phone age, and had become entrepreneurial, more Westernized, and generally more sophisticated.
Nairobi had become notorious also for traffic jams, though during rush hour police did try to control the chaos. However, there are unique African flavors to Nairobi’s traffic, e.g., people dart unexpectedly across very busy roads, cars create new
lanes of traffic whenever they chose, etc. Westlands is where the TechnoServe office is located and where the Walleighs lived in one of the many apartment buildings. Westlands’ Sarit Centre is a huge shopping mall–one of many high-end facilities in Nairobi–that on first appearance could be in any U.S. city, with similar stores and facilities. However, carved giraffes supervise the crazy chaos of people trying to buy food, clothes, shoes, rugs, linens, etc.
Civilized Living Quarters
In January, 2007, the Walleighs moved into Prime Apartments, a complex on Rapta Road in Westlands, lined with many similar apartment complexes. It was nicer than most with a pool, gym, courtyards, small convenience store, and restaurant. They lived in a large three bedroom apartment with a spacious living/dining area. Typical of all Nairobi’s one to four-story residential and commercial buildings, it was built with concrete blocks. They did observe next door’s construction site with scaffolding that looked like skinny tree branches….Rick and Wendy hoped some reinforcement was included in their building, especially after they experienced a few of Nairobi’s occasional earthquakes.
During the first rainy season in April, the apartment’s interior walls became and stayed damp, despite supposed efforts by the Prime Apartment management. So in June, 2007, they moved into a brand new building in the newer Cates Apartment complex on School Road adjacent to the modern Sarit Centre shopping mall. No one had ever lived in this two-bedroom, two-bath apartment prior to the Walleighs, who greatly appreciated that all the furnishings were fresh and clean as well.
Crazy Kitengela Glass Factory
Near the Kenyatta Airport, down a very rutted dirt road lies Kitengela glass factory, established by a white woman named Nani Croze and her son, both artists. All of their glass is recycled, re-blown or re-formed into many whimsical products including mosaic tiles for floors or walls, sculptures, stained glass windows, drinking and eating utensils and plates as well as many other decorative pieces. There are several Kitengela retail stores in Nairobi, but a visit to the factory is amazing. Not only is the inventory much more extensive than any of the stores, but when they went with their friends Anna and Greg, the Walleighs got to meet the owner.
Behind the factory showroom is a small B & B covered in whimsical objects either painted on or in mosaic glass. There were amazing sculptures of glass or metal, including a multi-humped dragon in the outdoor pool. Also on the property were slightly domesticated, rescued, wild animals in pens near the house in which Mrs. Croze lived, which was also decorated with mosaic and painted figures.
Office Colleagues at TechnoServe Kenya
During their 2007 year-long residence in Nairobi, Rick and Wendy established many friendships with the TechnoServe colleagues there. As in any intensive experience, people become part of one’s life for that period, but can often fade away over time. However, the Walleighs have stayed in touch with several colleagues-now-friends since their move back to California. Rick meets with the TechnoServe Country Directors each year in Washington D.C. Three female Kenyan friends from Nairobi also stayed with the Walleighs at their home before and after they attended a women’s leadership conference nearby. And Wendy is in contact with Cecilia from the Young Women in Enterprise Program via Facebook and email. Each time Wendy has been in Nairobi–most recently April 2012 (see Cecilia’s Success Story on a separate webpage), she and Cecilia get together. No matter what, Wendy and Rick will always have the memories of how these wonderful colleagues and friends impacted their lives. Their second career really changed them as much as they hoped they changed a few Kenyan lives!