‘Karibu’ is Kiswahili for ‘welcome’
‘Karibu Kenya!’ called out the taxi man, eagerly trying to get my custom and I thought yes.
Yes, karibu Kenya.
It had been karibu Kenya from the moment the pilot finished his local Nairobi weather update with ‘nice time’.
It was certainly karibu Kenya when the beautifully familiar African smell hit me, overwhelmed me, as I stepped off the plane. The smell that cannot be described as anything other than ‘Africa’ and it fills your lungs and it fills your heart. Infects you from that very moment.
It was karibu Kenya as I joined the immigration queue for visas that backed behind me for several miles with just two weary and unfriendly immigration officials slowly drowning in paperwork as they tried to work their way through the increasing queue of foreigners, ‘tourists’, not so happy to be stood for hours on end after a tiring night-flight.
It was a karibu Kenya that caught me by surprise when my bags were the first to come round on the baggage reclaim thingy (what’s it called, that thing?!). The cynical me was half suspecting the karibu Kenya to be lost luggage after a quick transfer in Amsterdam on my way. But no, this was a nice surprise of a karibu Kenya.
And it was followed by ‘Eh! Karibu Kenya! Taxi? Taxi? Here! Where to? Karibu Kenya!’ ‘Yes, asante!’ I replied ‘Jamhuri ngapi?’ (How much to Jamhuri?). Cue bit of bargaining, and price agreed: 2,000Ksh.
Get in taxi. Leave airport. And…
Karibu Kenya. Traffic. Jam. Kubwa (big). Karibu, yes, karibu Kenya, karibu Nairobi.
‘Oh’ says taxi driver. ‘Oh. Which Jamhuri do you want to go to?’ Hmm…I think. As far as I know there is only one Jamhuri in Nairobi. ‘Jamhuri estate. Near Junction.’ ‘Oh’ he replies, ‘I thought you meant Jamhuri in Embakasi. You know there is a Jamhuri here in Embakasi. Oh. But to Jamhuri estate is 3,000Ksh.’
And I sigh. A little bit disappointed that I’ve only been in the country for all of 10 minutes and already someone is trying to con me. 10 minutes. You see, Mr taxi-driver, I know it’s not 3,000Ksh to Jamhuri. I know it’s 2,000Ksh. And I also know that:
1. There is no Jamhuri in Embakasi
2. If there was, it would cost 200Ksh rather than 2,000Ksh.
And I explain, and we bargain, and I get a little bit cross, and we agree that yes, it should be 2,000Ksh.
And I sigh again. And I think karibu Kenya. Karibu Kenya, indeed.
But then I look out of the window. I look at the people, mama’s selling chai at the side of the road to busy people rushing to work. I look at the matatus, jam-packed and music blaring. I look at the school children chattering as they walk to school. Older siblings taking the hands of younger ones to guide them across the road. And I look up. Up to the vast blue African sky. So blue. So big, as it stretches to blanket the motherland, coming down and kissing the horizon. So big and vast in a way that it can only be Africa.
Yes, karibu Kenya. Karibu Kenya. It’s good to be back.