First Impressions of Nairobi, Kenya

My most overwhelming first impressions of Nairobi are centered on the smells. As my friend Julie pointed out to me, the U.S. is so sterile. People wear deodorant; we clean ourselves, our clothes, and our homes obsessively. Our trash is stored in dumpsters and cans and taken far away to decompose. My husband puts it like this, “At home, I never smell anything, and here I can smell all sorts of stuff.” Touche.

Night in the suburbs, my first impressions of Nairobi, Kenya
Nairobi at night

First Impressions of Nairobi, Kenya

Life is smelly here. You can see black car exhaust escaping from the tail pipes of buses. You can obviously smell it too, along with the trash that someone around the corner is burning. The sidewalks collapse into knee-deep gutters, where food wrappers and grass cuttings float in greasy rain water. A short walk leaves my nose running and my throat scratchy.

Body odor is a prevailing scent on the sidewalk and in stores. It’s not gross, but it is strange to someone not used to smelling other people. I can see why people are sweating; it’s warmer and more humid here than I expected. And I guess it makes me feel less conscious about my own sweating.


The grocery store smells like a cat died behind the milk section and no one did anything about it. Needless to say, we haven’t bought any milk yet, although the smell permeates the entire store. The grocery store scents have migrated back to our house with our groceries. Apparently Kenyans like their fruit extra sweet, which means extra ripe. The area around our fruit bowl has that sickeningly sweet smell of fruit on the edge of rotting. Other groceries have left a lasting impression too. We didn’t realize that a jar of hot sauce we had bought had started to ferment. When my husband opened it, it released a potent hot pepper gas that left us coughing, and laughing.

I have always thought that music conjures up my most vivid travel memories, but now I wonder if smells are just as powerful.

What do you think?

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Since 2008 The HoliDaze has been inspiring people to travel different. Don't just do what everybody else does. Get off the beaten path, befriend some locals and discover the hidden gems. Be a traveler, not a tourist. We'll help show you how.

4 thoughts on “First Impressions of Nairobi, Kenya”

  1. Great article I think its a guessing game most times of which sense will get shocked or stimulated first. Did you ever get used to it?

    Reply
    • I totally agree. Moving somewhere new can really overwhelm you on many levels.

      I’ve gotten used to the outside smells, but the grocery store is still…a bit too pungent for me.

      Reply
  2. Wow. Okay, get this. Back in 2008 while living in Tokyo I flew over to the Philippines for a change in scenery. Anyway, that first night there I wrote a post about my first impressions of the Philippines. Never thought about it again. Spent the next two years dating a Filipina girl I met during that trip, exploring and learning the country.

    Fast forward until somewhere around 2011 or 2012 when I happened to re-read that old first impressions post. Despite all the trips and time and experiences I spent in the Philippines since, re-reading that first post transported me back to that very first day. So vividly! I was not just remembering what I had seen but remembering what I was thinking while seeing these things. My writing helped me I recall memories long since forgotten. Memories that most likely never EVER would have remembered again, had I not written these initial feelings down.

    Upon realizing that I began writing “First Impressions” posts for every new country within 24 hours of arrival. More for my own benefit than others, but you just made me realize that maybe this section should be featured in the menu……..

    Reply
    • So true, first impression articles can really give some great insight into a new place. I would love to read about some of your first impressions of new places– I’ll start looking for them here at The Holidaze.

      Reply

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