In the cold months of June and July, Nairobi is continuously soaked by showers. The city is a haze of grey skies with only spasms of sunlight. Unlike most of the year when there is plenty of sun but the occasional downpour to clear the skies, June and July are purposeful, bringing much needed water the area. Nairobians call this “Nairobi winter.” It is hardly winter, but for a city on the equator it is the closest it can come to one. Many trade in their loose, breezy clothes for short skirts worn over leggings, trench coats, pullovers, and their umbrellas, dotting the streets in a kaleidoscopes of monochromatic colors. Even in this “winter,” there is still a sense of vibrancy. Here is a group of people still layered with optimism, knowing that the cold months are just a part of their exciting lives. You can see this in how small groups huddle themselves in Java House—Kenya’s equivalent to Starbucks—and the other myriad of coffee places spread across the city. So much optimism in all the grey: the Nairobi spirit is at play.
It is a Friday night and we are in Westlands, Nairobi’s most popular nightlife scene. Even at 11 pm the streets are busy, filled with bar stools stretched right into the streets, vendors offering tequila shots, and drivers moving around slowly looking for parking. No one ever picks a single destination—club hopping is the name of the game. Night clubs stand adjacent to each other, all blaring catchy tunes with onlookers listening while deep in conversation outside, with the others dancing the night away indoors. The scene is infectious and alive with throngs of young people. The party here, as we are told, never stops until dawn.
Meanwhile, in downtown, the art scene is on its edge with a daring new protest art exhibit. Boniface Mwangi, Kenya’s most popular activist, has just launched his new book, The Alliance Francaise, detailing his activist work in photos and stories, some so gritty but all so powerful.
Kwani, a revolutionary literary space, is also running its monthly open mic sessions in the central business district. The rooftop is packed with people sipping on wine, all dressed in something artsy: Kitenge and Ankara prints.
There is a self-assured vibe about the place, about the people. The host, Ms. Cindy Ogana, jumps on stage to a great applause, cracking jokes and inviting the first poet of the night; fingers snap the air in approval. Electric!
Later, Afro pop music plays in the background with everyone laughing and chatting in small groups. Before long, there are bloggers, Youtubers, art enthusiasts, writers, filmmakers and budding film makers, fashion designers, and poets gathering around. Creatives.
This is Nairobi in one night!