A 100 Days in Nairobi

I heard stories of how aggressive the men were and how sexual harassment was a normal occurrence. I heard stories of how girls were raped amidst protests, in broad daylight. On two occasions men on the streets touched me inappropriately. I was scared.

Funmilayo Obasa
9 min readDec 24, 2019


Funmilayo Obasa. Nairobi Landscape, Nairobi Collection. 2019.

“I take this letter to congratulate you on your nomination by the University of Ilorin to participate in a One-semester Exchange Programme at Kenyatta University,” the invitation letter read. “Kindly note that your host school will be School of Humanities & Social Sciences”. I had just procured a spot to partake in an exchange programme at one of the best Universities in Kenya. I must state that a part of the experience was thrilling. It was the second time I found myself out of these constricting borders — Nigeria, and also the first time I would be out alone — without the family.

Being 4681km away, for a little over hundred days seemed like a great way to expose my mind’s eye and incorporate myself into the beautiful world of travel. Before this, Kenya sounded like that giant but reticent country people never failed to talk about, with lots of wildlife, dark-skinned, and athletic people. A few weeks to travel, Kenya looked like a distant cousin that I would eventually understand once we spent time together. Kenya looked like that friend that every parent loved.

How did I feel? Excited, overwhelmed, literally out of this world — the feelings were mixed.

I, Mudashiru, Comfort, and Oyinda — all participants of the exchange programme — left for Nairobi on 29 August, 15:30 pm (GMT +1), and arrived in Nairobi, via Kigali and Entebbe on 30 August, 5:00 am (GMT +3). I can now add Rwanda and Uganda to the list of countries I have visited. With my groggy self, the first thing I learnt to love was the cold; something I didn’t expect albeit I embraced wholeheartedly. Nairobi’s cold was a beautiful companion and I miss it dearly.

Funmilayo Obasa. Rainbow, Nairobi Collection2019

She treated me well, not entirely, but well enough for my fingers to dance gloriously to this article. Within a vast community of international students, I met new people and befriended some Kenyans. One of such friends was Beverlyne. I also met other Nigerians — we basically thrive anywhere. The zeal of getting exposed to a new system of education was delightful: learning was easier, lecturers did not cheat you off your marks, and the library was grand, beautiful, and organized. It was the definition of a full modern library accessible to all kinds of individuals.

Funmilayo Obasa. The Large Clock, Nairobi Collection. 2019

“This library is the largest in Kenya.” So the librarian said as she gave us a tour, pointing at a monitor designed for half-blind people. “It is a post-modern library, the most accessible even to disabled people.” I never felt more at peace than I did at the library.


Kenyans are excellent observers. They observe by staring persistently, burrowing precise stares into you. It was like Kenyan eyes were X Rays that could detect foreigners, scanning every inch of a strange body. These stares came deeply; you’d think there was something wrong with you. In the course of a lecture, I mentioned that I was Nigerian because the lecturer taught in Kiswahili intertwined with English. As intrigued as he was, from that day on, he made it his aim to always question me on whatever he taught. “Why did Karl Marx regard religion as the opium of the masses?” He also said, “Nigerian men are normally short, the ones I have met are shorter than me and they are not studious, but from what I can see, you are studious.” Regardless, you may have guessed that the class went on without any anomaly. Sadly, it did not, the staring did not cease, in short, I felt them harder than before and in the end, I left that class feeling very uncomfortable.

Funmilayo Obasa. Kenyatta University, Nairobi Collection. 2019

Kenyans love Nigerians. They love our music and films. Oh they love the films very much and frankly, I am embarrassed that they watch the backdated versions; the ones that either surround marriage or juju or both. In my “Politics in Africa” class, the professor jokingly referenced Nigeria as the best place to acquire juju and black magic. “I love the films but they always talk about marriage and juju; Nigerians are very superstitious,” another professor said while we engaged in small talk.

I should also mention that Kenyan ladies love Nigerian men. I can’t count the number of questions I got on if I had an elder brother — it is quite clear that they haven’t encountered a Yoruba demon. The hairdresser that did my hair asked me to tell my brother to purchase a ticket for her. “I want to come to Nigeria and marry your brother.” Another lady, who sold clothes and was fascinated by the garri we gave her said she dated a Nigerian. But he was always angry and hot-tempered.


The first time I had a taste of food from Kenya was on the day of arrival. Esther, the congress lady for Aberdares hostel, the place we were allocated to stay, took us down the path to a restaurant named Mugumo. We looked for the most convenient meal to order and settled on rice and Kenyan style beef stew which we bought for 250ksh. I wouldn’t say the stew was bad but it left me with an overall feeling of malaise after I managed to spoon down half of the meal.

I observed that they had so many fried food restaurants where fried chips, chicken, confectionaries were sold. I particularly enjoyed eating chapati, an unleavened flatbread that could be eaten with stew, eggs, and smokies. Trust that I and Mudashiru had a variety of options to experiment with. The bakery in the heart of campus also provided an array of choices on wonderful snacks including chapatis, samosa, a snack they called andazi, doughts, etc. For comfort food, the chicken and beef pilau were most palatable for me. Aside from that and the snacks, we prepared most of our meals. Ingredients were transported from Nigeria in two large Ghana-must-go bags that weighed 90kg in total.

Sexual Harassment

My experiences in this aspect have invariably shaped a part of what I think of Kenya that I refuse to remain reticent. “In matatus, it happens all the time”. Beverlyne said. “At one time they stripped off a girl because she was in very short clothes.’’ Like this girl and many other girls in Kenya, I too have my matatu experience. As I sat by the aisle of the long bus that resembles the BRT buses in Lagos, a group of men stayed by the other side. They spoke Swahili in a way that let their gestures refer to me. I felt their eyes burrow into me. One reached out to tap me, and of course, it was followed with no response. He tried it again and I retorted back at him. They laughed at it and he proceeded to tap me again. Only when Mudashiru spoke sternly at them did they decide to leave me alone. That is it, here and in that part of the world, your voice — the voice of a girl, woman — means nothing.

I heard stories of how aggressive the men were and how sexual harassment was a normal occurrence. I heard stories of how girls were raped amidst protests, in broad daylight. On two occasions men on the streets touched me inappropriately. I was scared. I couldn’t go into town without always looking behind me to see if a man was trailing me. I always moved with my backpack clutched to my front and eyes looking at all different angles. Conductors were most times drunk and had their way with pedestrian ladies.


Funmilayo Obasa. National Museum, Nairobi Collection. 2019.

Just like Nigeria, there are a variety of tribes in Kenya. There is the Kikuyu, Luo, Maasai, Mbere, etc., all consolidated under one country as an effect of colonialism. They are relatively tribalistic and cling on to stereotypes. However, the Kenyan culture is a colourful set that reflects wholly in the Maasai market and other areas of cultural jurisprudence. I still feel saddened about not being able to make it to Mombasa to see the coastal area. The “Military History of Africa” course I took was my favourite. We had two paper presentations and where only eight students offering the course. There I learnt the extensive histories of east Africa, most especially of Kenya and her relations with other countries. The lecturer was kind enough to let us contact him for future recommendations. “You write very well, contact me if you need a recommendation.”

Let me mention that in trying to understand the country and her individuals the culture shock was a surreal one. I was shocked to see how open they were towards issues on sex and reproductive health. There were condoms in the toilets, condoms with the housekeepers of each hostel, and condoms in the clinic, and the best part was that students could take condoms freely without feeling ashamed! That is what happens when priorities are placed on reproductive health. In Nigeria, we peddle this issue with buckets of hypocrisy whereas, in Kenya, they successfully removed all kinds of disparagements from it.

Funmilayo Obasa. National Museum, Nairobi Collection. 2019

I ensured that the national museum, animal farm, and two rivers mall in Nairobi did not elude my stay. The museum traced Kenya’s history from the origin of man to colonisation and neo-colonialism. The animal farm showed me a portion of Kenya’s wildlife; too bad I couldn’t go on a safari trip. And Two rivers Mall, the largest mall in East Africa, was a wonderful, glorious site.

Funmilayo Obasa. Two Rivers, Nairobi Collection. 2019.

I learnt that the political atmosphere of Kenya is brittle and has been formed from the tenets of their history. One professor said, “Kenya is like a depressed man who tries to hide his fettle within.” In learning their history, I got to understand that traces of tribalism still linger over there and for some reason, the students think that if they go on strikes their problems will be solved. Now here’s the fun part: my first day on Kenyan soil was when I learnt that there is no monopoly to this thing called corruption; it goes beyond government officials stealing funds, it becomes a philosophy that finds its way into the people. An immigration officer called us aside because — according to her — she needed to confirm the authenticity of our yellow cards. A fellow Nigerian, before she scripted such an excuse, complained of how the same officer forced him to pay a bribe before he was set free on a previous encounter. Each time I went into the heart of Nairobi town, I had to carry my backpack in front of me, clutching it tightly hoping that it didn’t get snatched, because I was told that there are people with unique styles of pickpocketing. Remember what I said about Kenyans being great observers? Once the sellers notice your naivety, they prey on your wallet by calling prices that can kill you!