Wakaabout Series: A Glimpse of Nairobi

nairobi_kenya
By Pelu Awofeso

Nairobi called “the green city in the sun” is the capital and largest city in Kenya. Pelu Awofeso, Nigeria’s travel guru, gives us a narrative of his personal experience on layover, of nightlife in Nairobi. In this Wakaabout Series, Pelu uses the pidgin English term for “one who is always on the move”, waka about to guide you through Nairobi, the gem of East Africa.

“Small girls are nice, good in bed,” the petite lady standing by the doorway muttered as four of us filed out of the Florida Nite Club at just past midnight. “I can make it worth your while, you know.” Fair in complexion and standing at about five feet, she couldn’t have been more than 20. We pretended not to hear her, making straight for the car we came in.

The Florida Nite Club, more popularly called the ‘Mad House’ by locals, is one of Nairobi’s landmark attractions, thronged by locals and resident foreigners. “Even some of our people in the Diaspora, they do come here when they’re in town,” photographer David told me while we were inside the club, sipping our drinks and watching a couple of night crawlers dance to tunes from the 1980s.

Coming out here though was actually Boniface’s idea. We had all flown in from Kampala a few hours earlier and the flight schedule was such that we had to spend the night in Nairobi and then connect a flight to Lagos early the next morning. “Why don’t you let me show you around town after you’ve rested a bit,” he offered as we waited for our luggage. “We can then go to my place afterwards to have dinner.” Deal?

It was both a wish and selfless offer, coming from a Kenyan happy to show his West and East African friends a piece of Nairobi; and with the soothing way he said it, I in particular couldn’t have said no. So at 11 p.m. he drove over to the Crowne Plaza hotel to pick the three of us up. Tired and somewhat drowsy, we all dressed up and packed into the white Toyota and the car sped into the chilly Nairobi night.

Naturally, the roads were deserted at that hour of the day but that didn’t stop Boniface from doing a bit of tour guiding, and wholeheartedly so too.

“There is the Public View Point,” he said, after pulling the car to a stop by the roadside a moment later. We all stepped out, walked closer to the embankment and peered into the distance. The space, covered in sparse vegetation, looked like a coliseum and I could see a podium down the slope on the other end; but in the near darkness it was difficult to see much else. “Whenever you see images of the Kenyan president being sworn in, that is where it’s done all the time.”

Just behind us, on the other side of the road, is Kenya’s tallest building—the cylindrical Times Tower . “It’s a boring view at this hour but then that is the city,” Boniface joked and we all got back in the car.

Leaving that spot, Boniface then drove to the Mad House, located near the intersection of Market Street and Koinange Street. The club’s oval architecture make it stand  apart in the neighborhood and having been in existence for about 40 years, it has acquired a legend of its own. Sometime recently, according to David, the owners announced that they wanted to close up the place, pull down the structure and then re-construct a newer building, a high-rise specifically, in its place. But there was much public opposition to the move. In the midst of that, the national museum offered to buy it off.

“We don’t know what the current situation is now,” David said. “On a personal note, the Mad House is my favorite place when I feel like partying.”

I enjoyed listening to the string of old-school tunes but I didn’t really dig the place, which was more to do with my not being a night owl and less to do with the bubbly setting and the happy crowd. For half the time we sat there, a tall and pretty Kenyan lady shared the dance floor with an Asian man whose scattered dancing didn’t rhyme with the music. If nothing else amused me, at least his gyrating did.

Besides, I wanted to see more of the city. We downed our drinks and picked our steps past the bar counter, trying not to disturb anything. Boniface drove around the city for a while, sharing some facts about the Kenyan capital and allowing us to catch a few more sights.

Nairobi, he said at some point, meant ‘A place of the cool waters’, and it used to be where the Massai tribe usually led their cattle to graze on foliage.

At 1 a.m. we took the lift up to a shopping complex. “There is a 24-hour shopping complex nearby,” Boniface said on the second floor corridor, “If you guys want we can go there.” Moments later we were back downstairs and placing orders for different flavors of corn-snacks based on Boniface’s prodding and assurances that we would love the taste.

“I’ll try the Peri Peri Magic,” I said, after looking through the menu.

“Utterly Butterly for me,” Mustafa said.

The young man behind the kiosk told us he learned how to prepare all ten different flavors on offer from a restaurant where he used to work many months ago. “But the whole concept is Indian in origin,” he said.

We opted not to visit the shopping complex. It was just a few hours before we would head for the airport. We would rather be going back to our rooms to catch some sleep. “One thing that the president is doing right now that is really impressive is that he is expanding most of the roads,” Boniface told us as the car galloped over a road under repair. “He is doing it with a lot of technical support from the Chinese.”

Pelu Awofeso is an award-winning travel journalist and blogger. See more of his travel stories here.

Article Update: Since the original publication of this article in 2011 according to News 24 Kenya the Florida Night Club or Madhouse shut down in 2013 and relocated and the original building was torn down for reconstruction.