Written by Ginny Larby for aFamilySafariBlog
If I’m being really honest, the idea of a history tour through the heart of Nairobi led by an ex-street boy, filled me with a strange mixture of excitement and fear. Once a street boy always a street boy, surely. And what does ‘ex’ really mean anyway? So I opted for the safety in numbers route and invited a couple of friends – one of whom is the author of “The Girl and the Sunbird”, an excellent novel set in Nairobi in the early 1900s. But it suddenly occurred to me (after having invited her) that she probably knew a lot about Nairobi’s history already, which gave me something else to worry about, namely her boredom.
Well, I am sure you have already worked out that I was worrying about nothing and you would be right. But for those of you who share my worries about security, don’t be ashamed! Such concerns are rooted in a healthy natural instinct, but it is well worth overriding them in this case.
My friends and I were met outside the Stanley Hotel, on the corner of Kimathi St and Kenyatta Ave by Duncan Muchora. In hindsight, this was an ideal location because The Stanley is well established, and therefore easy to find. But it is also right in the heart of the CBD and the buzz is incredible. Duncan had an immediate but slightly gentler impact upon us too with his easy warmth and professionalism. He began by telling us about the history of the tours themselves – how they were designed as a source of income for the Mathare Children’s Fund (MCFP – details below). Mathare is one of Nairobi’s oldest and largest slums and the Fund was set up to give its children, of whom Duncan is one, a future through education.
We began the tour at a gentle pace, stopping for our first chat outside the Bank of India on Kenyatta Avenue. I won’t tell you why we stopped here or in fact go into any depth about the history of Nairobi because that would be stealing Duncan’s thunder. But suffice it to say the tour was very thorough, incorporating a silent shuffle around the dusty old Macmillan Library and finishing at the top of the KICC tower which was truly breathtaking.
It was thrilling to be on foot amidst the vibrant energy of the city centre but for me, the highlight was Duncan’s attitude. I think we were probably quite ready, as Europeans, to apologise for the behaviour of our Colonial forefathers, but Duncan was surprisingly challenging to those ideas. He had a true historian’s approach, providing context and various views before leaving us to make up our own minds. All of our discussions, as well as our footsteps, were guided in a very open and non-combative way, and whilst he may not have the showmanship of some, he did very gently leave us with a more informed, yet open-minded perspective on Nairobi’s history.
In short, whether you are a visitor or a resident of Kenya, and whether you wish to understand more, or simply enjoy the buzz of downtown Nairobi, I would heartily recommend the tour.
Make sure you are wearing sunblock (even if cloudy, Nairobi is at an altitude of almost 6000ft and you can get burnt easily). Carry water, a small snack, a hat, some cash, and a copy of your passport.
Room for Improvement:
There were only two things that we felt could be done better, the first is tips.
- The tour guides are technically volunteers and the money that you pay for the tour goes towards the upkeep of MCFP. Whilst there is absolutely no discernable sense of expectancy, it is definitely a good idea to tip your guide at the end of the tour. We gave 1000KES each, but anywhere between 500 and 1000KES p.p is fine.
- The second area with room for improvement is food! We think it would be a great idea for them to team up with a lovely, lively restaurant so that you can have a delicious local meal as part of the experience. We have suggested it, so they might offer it by the time you book, but either way, make sure you have a plan in place for lunch – we were ravenous by the end! NB. They DO now offer this as a part of their tour!
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