“Nairobians love their tea, and there’s none better than Kenyan tea.”
As VSO’s Media Officer for Africa, Amina Abdirashid supports VSO country offices across the continent to showcase their work through national, regional and international media coverage. She does this by taking national and international media on field visits, writing and distributing press releases and providing training so teams are able to liaise effectively with media. Amina’s work is crucial to attracting new volunteers and funding for VSO’s projects.
What are your earliest memories of Nairobi?
Visiting the Nairobi Agricultural Show with my parents and siblings. We’d wake up early, be dressed in our best outfits, get into the car and head out. The annual showcase organised by the Agricultural Society of Kenya exhibited the best of Kenya’s agricultural and livestock produce, machinery and other things. For us kids, it was the amusements on the sidelines and eating ice cream that stayed with us. The ‘Show’, as we called it, was an important part of being in Nairobi. Even though we grew up and stopped going, the Show is still my fondest and earliest memory of Nairobi.
How has Nairobi changed for you?
Nairobi has changed in several ways. First, the road network has grown a great deal. Before, Nairobi roads were mostly two-way single lanes but now the city has several dual carriageways. The Thika Superhighway and the Northern and Southern Bypass come to mind. I live in Langata and love commuting on the Southern Bypass. The road from the airport is also much better now.
Nairobi’s eating out scene has changed a lot, too. In the past we had fewer and smaller restaurants but now we have chains of coffee houses and places for local cuisine in various parts of the city. I no longer need to come to the city centre to have coffee at Java House; I can find one in Langata, or Westlands. I’m Kenyan-Somali and in the past, when I needed to eat some nice Somali food, my parents would bring me all the way to Al-Yusra, near Jamia Mall in the Central Business District. It was the only place to get Somali food. Now there are so many Somali food joints in the suburbs.
When someone needs help, you can see the power of people coming together to help each other.
What do you love most about Nairobi?
I love Nairobi people. We help each other when the time calls for it. When someone needs help, you can see the power of people coming together to help each other. Secondly, I love Nairobi weather. It is mostly sunny throughout the year. I know when it is the rainy season it’s really wet, but we know how to deal with it when it comes. Nairobians love their tea, and there’s none better than Kenyan tea. The other thing I love about Nairobi is its food. Our ugali (maize meal, aka ‘mealie meal’), matoke (cooked plantain), and nyama choma (barbecued meat) are awesome. I wouldn’t trade them for anything else.
Where would you recommend for street food?
The most common street foods include mshikaki (meat on skewers), mutura (local sausages), kuku choma and nyama choma (barbecued chicken and meat). You will find these in the evening outside most pubs that have butcheries close by. Electric Avenue in Westlands is a good place to visit. Outside the CBD, in the residential areas, you will find mahindi choma (roasted green maize). We love mahindi choma with some lemon and pepper, especially on a cold evening after work.
Which places would you recommend for someone visiting Nairobi?
Because my dad was a park ranger for the Kenya Wildlife Service, I have lived in almost all of Kenya’s wildlife parks so Nairobi National Park is top of the list. One fond memory is my dad driving us to do our homework by Lake Nakuru. In Nairobi National Park you can go on game drive and watch most of the big five in their natural habitat. I also recommend the Carnivore restaurant for nyama choma, including game meat, and the Maasai market. I love the Maasai market. You can get Maasai T-shirts, jewellery, sandals and handicrafts. They are truly Kenyan. A Nairobi experience is not complete, without taking a matatu [buses adorned in street art, playing loud music] to the city centre.
What’s Nairobi’s cultural scene like?
Kenyans generally love to come together to sing and dance. You can find a place that plays live music – rhumba, Afropop and benga – almost every weekend. Carnivore, Alliance Française and J’s Kitchen, are good places to check out. There are monthly poetry readings and open mics, theatre performances at Kenya National Theatre, book readings at the Goethe-Institut, and the annual Storymoja Festival in September at the National Museum. Art lovers will find photography and art exhibitions at Shifteye Studios, Circle Art Gallery and the GoDown Arts Centre. There’s always something happening in Nairobi.
What makes you most proud of being Nairobian?
Nairobi people are fun to hang out with; we’re spontaneous and are the heart of the party. We love to sing, eat and dance. We have the perfect way of unwinding.
VSO has been in Kenya since 1959. Read more about VSO'S work in the country here.