There are several ways to derive excitement from living in Nairobi city. There are lots of stunningly beautiful women to stare at, lots of places to eat and thousands of clubs and hangout joints. If you are the nature loving kind, there is a national park within the city, a few forest trails and the Ngong Hills for those that want to trek for hours while breathing in clean crisp air. I hear this is good for the liver.
The best way to get excitement out of Nairobi though, I find, is to ride into the city centre and park on any of the streets. First there are no designated parking slots for motorbikes so you have to wedge your bike in between cars. The true excitement comes when you return to your bike, ready to go home. You never quite know what you’ll encounter, it’s the sort of stuff that gets your heart racing and your adrenaline pumping.
Several months ago I rode into town for some business and while I was standing beside my bike, putting on my helmet and preparing to leave, I was approached by three men who greeted me and insisted that I speak to them. I obliged by removing my helmet and then one of them, their leader I presume, showed me a heavily faded badge and announced himself to be an undercover parking attendant from the Nairobi City Council.
I laughed heartily at his job description and asked the funny man and his friends how I could be of use to them. His face suddenly turned severe and he wanted to know if I was aware that I was breaking a city by-law by parking my bike without a special permit sticker.
I said I was not aware and that if he assured me on his word as a gentleman that I had indeed broken a city by-law, then I would, without further hesitation, believe it. He gave me the required assurance and I thanked him, proceeding to put on my helmet.
I mounted the bike and one of the henchmen moved in and clasped my handlebars. I asked what the matter was and the funny man said that this matter could not be resolved by the mere cold sounding words of gratitude I had offered him. He said that he must take the bike away and that I must follow him to pay a city fine, towing fees, release fees and a whole other list of fees and fines.
As it turned out, these were criminals who pose as parking attendants and extort money from people. I immediately knew I was in trouble because in this lawless country, such criminals work with the police and city council officials, the very people you’d look up to for help. So I had to think quickly.
People tell me that I am a well-made man, about 6 feet in height, muscular but with a growing pot belly which am told does not suit me. People also tell me that with my light complexion and face hair shaved, I could easily pass for an army colonel working in the American embassy. So with my heart pounding and my armpits pumping out enough sweat to wash my shirt, I dismounted the bike and stood beside it, drawing myself to my full height and pushing my chest outwards.
I removed my helmet and told the gangsters in a surprisingly calm voice, that as a senior colonel working in the American embassy, I was not obliged to pay for parking anywhere in Nairobi. I further told them that I knew they were not City Council employees, and that our undercover FBI agents in city have been tracking and reporting their activities. The fellow holding my handlebars recoiled and withdrew to a position behind the others and I knew I had them.
It was the funny man’s turn to laugh nervously at my suggestion that he was an impostor. He said, calling me “Sir” that he was indeed a city parking attendant and had not worn his uniform because he was on leave and only came to town to check if his colleagues were doing the work properly.
I arranged my face to give the most dangerous look I could give and with an American accent I invented there and then, I told the fellows that they left me disappointed and that had I not been a good man who did not want to ruin their families, I would have them arrested or shot immediately.
By this point, the henchmen, were really not equal to conversation and in a fluid movement, they bolted away from the scene leaving me with their leader. I placed my arm on his shoulder, in an Italian mafia kind of way and told him to think about himself and his family. I told him it would be a sad thing for his family if he got arrested or shot for messing with the American government. He apologized profusely, mumbling all kinds of words and then beat a hasty retreat too.
I mounted the bike again and inside the helmet breathed a massive sigh of relief. I have never parked on any street in Nairobi since that day, it had been such a warning.