About a couple of hours of flying brought us to Nairobi from Addis Ababa. The Nairobi airport was bigger, more business-like and free of clutter. This was the second time I was using the airport. Earlier, about three years ago, I had passed through Nairobi on my way up to Manzini in Swaziland as also on my way back from there to India. Here the first thing that strikes you is that everybody is very smartly dressed – men in suits, generally, in shades of grey and women, too, in skirts and top of more or less the same colour.
A representative of the Kenyan Administration was there to receive me. He whisked me out in a jiffy and took me straight to the Panafric Hotel. It was a biggish hotel which I later found very comfortable. The Kenyan Administration man deposited me in the hotel and before disappearing said somebody would come in the morning and take me to the Office of the Director General.
So I cooled my heels till the next morning. In the meantime I availed of the hospitality of the hotel and had tilapia fish for dinner. The fish is also available In India but apparently not in such copious quantities. Panafric’s fried tilapias were very good. Next morning a young man made his appearance; he was one Mr. Oyyo from the Administration. He took me to his Deputy Director General who welcomed me over a cup of Kenyan Coffee – not the same as in Addis Ababa with a herb. It was plain and simple coffee – much like what one gets in India.
We went to the level below the Deputy Director General and commenced work immediately. The work was similar to what we had done in Ethiopia. The only difference was that Nairobi had more intense relations with Europe, especially Eastern Europe, and the postal traffic had gone haywire because at that point in time the former Yugoslav Republic was breaking up. Many countries came up on the scene whose names even the officers were unfamiliar with. Like for example, they did not know where Ljubljiana was. They were impressed when, on being asked, I told them it was in Slovenia. Every day we would work through the emerging requirements of the people and the business community to ensure that the Postal System gives them satisfaction. I was there with them all the time and many of the boys were very intelligent and hard working.
Towards the end of the week Mr. Oyyo informed me that we were to go to a small town, Mechakos. It was off the Mombasa road and used to be the capital of Kenya before it lost the status to Nairobi. Nairobi thus is a young town, established only in 1890s A biggish village now, Mechakos had a number of people working on wood. Perhaps, wood was easily available nearby and the people were making good use of it by shaping out lovely curios. Wood craft was very popular and as there was a market for the finished product in Europe and the US the craftsmen seemed to be quite affluent. I found many of them working wearing suits instead of dungarees or overalls. I too bought a good looking figure of a man about 10 inches tall.
On our way back there was a scare. The engine of the vehicle – a kind of SUV much like our Mahindra’s Bolero – caught fire mid way to Nairobi. The driver tried to put out the fire but couldn’t do so. The officials who accompanied me scrambled away from the vehicle. I came out last as the official sitting next to me was a lady and she was in a hurry to get out. The fire was eventually extinguished but the vehicle wouldn’t start. The driver left in a bus that mercifully came that way to bring another vehicle. Nairobi was still good 40 to 50 kms away. All told, he had to travel around 100 kms that could take around two and a half hours. But as dusk fell over the highway the lady got worried. She was worried about looters who ply the roads at night. True enough; Nairobi was not quite safe in the evenings how could its outskirts be safe at night? Thankfully, the driver arrived with another vehicle and I hit the hotel at 9.30 in the night.
In African countries the incoming mail was not being delivered door to door. They had no postmen and had the post box system; everyone who received mails had to have a post box in his name. One day I was taken to the City Square post office. There I came across hundreds of post boxes of aluminium in many tiers. Checking them I found lots of the letters that were put in the boxes were pretty old. But the blame would not come to the post office; it was the business of the holder of the post box to have his mail collected in time.
The City Square is a typical colonial place with shops all around. This is where the post office eponymously named is situated. And this is where I had the first Indian samosa. The man who brought it said he had done so since I was an Indian and it is from India that it came to Kenya. Our samosas are, however, bigger and very, very seldom would have fillings of meat. These were far smaller and had meat inside and were very delicious.
While winding up we found that there was appreciable traffic of parcels to Eastern Europe. Kenya is known for its coffee and tea and these products go all over Europe, especially Eastern Europe but there were obviously bottlenecks as the dispatches were being unduly delayed – a case of defective routing. All these were revised with the hope that consignments from Nairobi would be moving faster to Europe.
Had the Administration informed me in time that it would not be able to organize a trip for me to Masai Mara I would have arranged one for it myself as many batches left from Panafric for the National Parks. One Sunday, however, Oyyo came and took me to the Nairobi National Park. It was quite strange to see tall giraffes against the backdrop of tall buildings. Nairobi also has an orphanage for wild animals.
Nairobi offers some finest shopping in Africa after South Africa. I came across a shop that offered gear for safaris. These included from hats to jackets to boots to cameras. However, I found an Egyptian cotton shirt in khaki with posterior of a zebra printed on it in black. I found it very attractive and it was with me for years. Next to this shop was the famous restaurant by the name “The Carnivore” where Sunil Gavaskar was reported to have had crocodile meat. The restaurant offers meat of almost all wild animals. In an Indian shop I came across incredible cheating. I bought a few braces for my trousers and the price quoted was unbelievable – each one almost of Rs. 1000/-. During the bargaining I happened to tell them even in India they wouldn’t cost so much the shopkeeper immediately asked me whether I was an Indian. When I answered in the affirmative the price immediately dropped by 50%. All this happened in the presence of Oyyo. I felt very ashamed.
Central Business District of the town is a massive affair and in it is located the tallest building of the town – the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, KICC for short. The building is of thirty storeys and has a helipad. It occupies an enormous area. There are other interesting buildings but the district was still, kind of, work in progress.
The regional UPU consultant for Africa, a former officer of Nigerian Postal System was to come to Nairobi. He wanted to visit Mombasa. I met him after arrival and found him familiar with many Indian consultants. A very amiable elderly person he asked me to accompany him to Mombasa. I had to go there in any case as it had exchanges of postal items with foreign countries.