UP MAGAZINE Vol 7.07 Photography Issue - Page 35

WORD UP Dispatch Civilising Culture T By Aarti Shah his is my second stint as a Kenyan immigrant, and Nairobi resident. The first was at the turn of the millennium, when the government and businesses were concentrated in the central business district, the Florida nightclub occupied a spaceship-like structure above a petrol station and most foreign news agencies were based in the Press Centre, a corridor in Chester House with offices on both sides and a kitchen at the end. Even with its iconic, now defunct, shops – Biba, the Six Eighty Hotel tobacconist, my uncle’s Equity for men’s clothing (including his own label), another uncle’s Eadie’s for shoes – the CBD was predominantly functional. Restaurants like Stavrose and Alan Bobbe’s Bistro have relocated, losing their charm on the way, though Trattoria, the French Cultural Centre café and Sno-Cream remain. The original thorn tree in the Stanley Hotel café named after it has been replaced, but people still leave notes, even with the advent of digital communication. The CBD felt less safe than now, especially from Saturday afternoon and in the evenings when the streets would be almost deserted, except for people soliciting for money or jewellery with varying degrees of aggression. Going to Tamarind for dinner, one watched one’s back, the neighbouring government offices having been abandoned until the following morning. University of Nairobi students protested during a nationwide power cut, throwing stones at vehicles. Yet in 1999 people were returning to the Arboretum, as security improved. Today Nairobi still boasts robberies, often with threats of violence that can be curbed if one remembers to play by the rule of nonresistance, but the persistently looming threat of murder based on a blinkered ideology is trickier. I originally arrived six months after the U.S. Embassy had been bombed, and the ongoing attacks have spawned a business for metal detectors, and ever more security guards and occasionally dogs. Like so many Kenyan “issues”, people address the symptoms rather than the causes, and (out of conviction or for publicity) pray for peace. Thankfully, though, the CBD is buzzing with pedestrians heading to their matatus and buses from around five o’clock, and I will happily walk from Finance House to the (now Fairmont) Norfolk Hotel till past seven. The Maasai market at the Supreme Court keeps that side of town busy on Saturdays. As well as Uhuru Park, Karura Forest, after welcome attention, has given the city natural respite. In contrast, in disregard for the aesthetic, detached bungalows and joint family mansions in Parklands have, in the last fifteen to twenty years, been yielding to unsightly blocks of uniform flats. As the artist Eltayeb told me six months before I moved back to Nairobi, “People are demolishing old buildings and houses. Nobody is asking [questions].” He blamed the Kenyan government, “always talking business. It is only interested in tourism. It doesn’t believe in culture. If there is no money, they are not interested, but civilisation always comes from art.” Eltayeb, arriving from his native Sudan with “a letter from the art union that we should be able to belong to an art union here” did not anticipate Kenya would be different. Yet he is not the only artist from the horn to have made Nairobi his home, even YHY[\H\[HY[\B[ܙHX\Y[X]H[HۙH[\˜YY[N\[XHX]\HYHق[H[\YY\\\]Z][[\KB\Y[X[ݙ\Y[YYH[Y[\8'YZ'H8$[H][ۘ[]\][H[[\]XH[Y]H[ݙ\][ H]][K[ۙY[\H]]H[S[XH Y\][ۜH]HY ][[H[[\H[H[ۘH\\B[[ۙH[\˂YKYܙXK[XXK\]Y[ ^[]BXX[ܝ[۝X]H[[HX\X[]Hو\[ [YY H]H[ܙB[\[KX]]\[[ܘZ\]HۈB]][Y[[HX[XZ[ܙZYۈXYوݙ\Y[X\Z[X[ܚY˂Z\ؚH\Y[[\\[]\[\X\H[ܙHYX][KXZHB[\ۙH[[H]H[]Y\ۙHY]X\[[\[\HۙH\][K[ؚ[\šY\Y\X\[]\H[X]][B^[]H܈[[K[ݘ][ۈY[ܛX][ۈ[[][X][ۈXH\\[ۘXK[Z][HZXܛ؛[K\[ XH[ق^K]H\وHXH\[Y]\›XZHH[XHY\[H[][\ܜ&B[YY[Y\ˈ]XوH[[[[[X[]\™HH\ [XX[]]HX܂[[[Z[]K][]HXܚYXHوB[ܘYH܈YHܝ ]\Hٚ] H[ݙ\Y[[[ ]]^[[]\[ܛ[[Y\][ۋX^HHۙH˂\\H[X\H[x&\]]YB\[\K]]Y\^[ۙ]›ۙ[[[\[[K][H[YB܈H]][ۈ8$[HܛHوHYZHX\]\Z[]HY] ][[\\[ ]\\\\ˈۙH[ۋ˝\Z\ؚKBB]Y\ M