Johnny Airedale padded into our bedroom the day after we had arrived in Kenya. Having recovered from the trauma of his first experience on an aeroplane, he was ready for his first walk of the day. This presented a couple of problems – firstly I had succumbed to the dreaded “aeroplane air-conditioning bug” and was lying prostate in bed (wishing I was back in the U.K. if I’m honest, having a temperature in 30 degree heat is not pleasant). The second problem is one we had thought quite a bit about before we left the U.K, but had put it in the “we’ll sort it out when we’re there” box: where exactly one is meant to walk a dog in Nairobi? They don’t have parks…well, they do, but they tend to be full of lions and things; there are fields but not public footpaths and most importantly, many Kenyans are terrified of dogs, even ones that sort-of look like teddy-bears. Dogs are more widely kept as guard dogs than as pets here and I suspect that even those kept as pets are not quite as “petted” as Johnny, a.k.a “dog-baby”.
Having consulted Google, Will set off for the Oloolua Nature Trail which is close to where we live. Result. The Trail is set in a huge expanse of tropical forest with lots of small paths criss-crossing it and even a stream to splash about in.
The only problem is that it is owned and managed by the Institute of Primate Research. I’m not sure how they feel about an Airedale bounding through their reserve? Luckily the monkeys (I think these are mainly Sykes monkeys) are much cleverer than Johnny – and he hasn’t quite worked out how to climb trees, so they are safe and sound. They makes little, high, chirruping noises when he approaches. Some of the larger monkeys make a deeper sound “Igh, Igh Igh” or as I like to think of it “Dog, Big Dog”. I’ve have been there almost every day we’ve been in Nairobi (since recovering from my nasty bug) and it’s a great place to walk.
I have found, unsurprisingly, that it’s best to avoid the midday sun here if possible, as the temperature rises to 30-35 degrees, which for an English Rose like me means heat-rash/sunburn/general wilting. In fact I was so unaccustomed to the heat and the light that I spent my first few days trying to “turn off the lights” when I walked into a room. (It was just the sunlight pouring through our creamy-yellow blinds.)
I usually take Johnny for a quick walk early in the morning or in the evening, just in the streets surrounding our compound. Despite Karen having become much more developed since I was here in 2003, there are still a lot of farms in the area and it is very common to run into herds of cattle or sheep in the streets, or sometimes just one cow attached to a rope, with a slightly miserable looking farm-hand on the other end of it.
Karen is an affluent neighbourhood and there are some lovely old colonial-style houses as well as some fairly hideous new-build ones. The newer houses tend to be very large, but laid out in plots of 15-20 buildings, all crammed into quite a small area of land. Developers getting their money’s worth.
All houses, regardless of when they were built, are surrounded by high fences and guarded day and night by “askari” (security guards). Very annoying for nosy parkers like me wanting to catch a glimpse of the prettier, older houses, but sadly necessary in a world where the divide between rich and poor could not be more obvious.
In our compound, bedsides the askari, there are a few other workers who keep the place spick and span (we haven’t employed a cleaner yet so despite my best efforts, our house is probably the grubbiest thing here). They are fascinated and repelled by Johnny in equal measure so we have to keep him on the lead when we’re outside.
Monica, one of the gardeners was amazed when I set out with him one morning, wearing shorts and a t-shirt:
“Why are you going out now? It is so bitter.” It was 8am and already a “cool” 20 degrees.
I have noticed many Kenyans wearing padded jackets and woolly hats at this time of the day…if I ever feel the need for either of these items of clothing in this climate, it will be time for me to return home.