Culture and Language
Nairobi is a cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures. All of Kenya’s forty-two tribes are represented here, as well as people from around the world. It’s home to the third-largest UN center after New York and Geneva, and to many multinationals and NGOs. The result is that many foreign nationals call Nairobi home, and the culture reflects this. Spend the morning at the elephant orphanage, then have sushi for lunch before heading to the Maasai Market. Kenyans are extremely entrepreneurial – you’ll find everything from furniture to flowers for sale at roadside stalls. Prices in shops are fixed, but rates in the jua kal (meaning “out in the hot sun”) are open to negotiation. Harambee is an important Kenyan concept; meaning “to pull together,” the word is on the Kenyan coat of arms and the national football team is the Harambee Stars. It’s common for the elderly to live in the rural area of their birth and look after grandchildren while their children work in Nairobi and send money home.
Learning the Language
Kenya’s official languages are English and Swahili (also known as Kiswahili), and most Kenyans also speak their tribal language. Business is conducted in both English and Swahili, but you’ll be able to get by with just English when dealing with government agencies or other official offices. Swahili was originally a trading language that grew up along the coast of Africa and is now spoken in a number of countries, particularly in East Africa. A fusion of Bantu and Arabic, it also contains a smattering of words from Persian, Portuguese, Hindi and English. There are lots of language schools in Nairobi where you can learn Swahili. Check out the Language School in Kenya (languageschoolofnairobi.com), the Anglican Church of Kenya Language School (ackenya.org/ack-language-school) and the Language Center (language-cntr.com). There are also many Swahili teachers who will come to your house to teach you privately or in groups with friends or family, so ask around for a contact.
Main photo by Murad Swaleh