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Published:March 9th, 2006 02:27 EST
Nairobi - Once was, Now is.

Nairobi - Once was, Now is.

By Juliet Maruru

A little more than a century ago, lions, rhino, leopards, giraffes, deadly snakes and myriads other animals roamed free here. The brave Maasai brought their beloved cattle to the fresh waters of the river they called Uaso Nairobi meaning ‘Cold water’. In fact, they named the area Enkarre Nairobi meaning ‘Place of Cold Waters’. Since then, Nairobi has undergone a complete metamorphosis. Its growth is evident in its ever-changing skyline. Today’s tall and imposing buildings of glass and steel sparkling in the light of the setting tropical sun are a sight to behold. It is almost impossible to believe that just a hundred years ago, Nairobi was a lurking place for wild beasts-a dangerous area for humans. 

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, ‘industrialized cities frequently suffer from lack of adequate housing…factories tend to pollute air and water resources’. Nairobi is no exception. And since people are migrating to the city everyday, these problems may only increase. It is no wonder then that the luster of the gem that Nairobi once was has faded.

To counter that, exotic flora that included bougainvillea, blossoming jacaranda, fast-growing eucalyptus, and wattle was introduced. Formerly dusty trails turned into tree-lined avenues. An arboretum near the city center contains at least 270 species of trees. One writer stated that Nairobi ‘looks as if it might have been built in the middle of natural forest’

Nairobi is the base from which many tour excursions into Kenya’s many national parks and game reserves are organized. Nairobi is itself a tourist destination. The Nairobi National Park located less than six miles from the city center is a visitor’s haven. A few minutes walk from the city center is the Nairobi Museum, home to artifacts that tell of Kenya’s rich history as well as some cold-blooded residents, crocodiles, tortoises and the slithering type- cobras, vipers and pythons. A sign in the snake park reads: ‘Trespassers will be poisoned’. 

It would be very unfair to talk about Nairobi and fail to mention that it is a melting pot of beautiful cultures. The population of the city totals over two million, comprising of native Kenyans [mostly working migrants from all over Kenya], Indian-Kenyans [descendants of the Indians who came to Kenya to help in constructing the Kenya Railway once known as the Lunatic express], Australian, Canadian, American, Asian and European settlers and their descendants as well as temporary and permanent residents from the same countries. All together, they form a truly cosmopolitan culture.

It is no wonder then that the city is host to world and regional bodies. The United Nations Environment Programme has its world headquarters in Nairobi. 

Nairobi is a city, large by African standards. Therefore, it would be stupid to ignore the fact that it suffers from the ills that afflict most large cities. However, that should not stop anyone from enjoying the beauty of the ‘place of cool waters’.