I cannot deny that I arrived in Nairobi with my fists ready, in a defense position. I had heard many stories of thefts and scams and the nickname “NaiRobbery” repeated in dozens of forums, guides, books and it was not encouraging at all. When leaving the airport, in the early hours of the morning, it took me over an hour to get into a taxi, since I had to make sure that the price was fair and I was not putting myself in any kind of risk. I approached several muzungos, but none of them were heading to the same direction.

In the taxi, the only traveling option at that time, I talked to the driver and led the conversation to two ways: first, I praised the Kenyan population for being nice and friendly (a schizophrenic attempt to convince him not to rob me); and second, I shared several unfounded stories about myself in order to guarantee that I was not just some stupid guy: I stated that this was my fifth time visiting the country, I told horror stories about life in São Paulo and how used I was to violence; I boasted about fighting championships and my knowledge of self-defense. At the end, I guess the driver thought that I was going to rob him.

On the spot marked with an “x” in my guide, the hotel where I planned to stay no longer existed. Nevertheless, from 2007 until today (the date my guide was published), many other “hotels” opened in that region. The loud music and the different models that strode along the street told me exactly what part of the city I was staying in. After checking more than 5 options and realizing that they were all booked, I finally found a suitable room for those few hours of sleep.

When I went out the next day I realized where I was: basically in the middle of a Nairobi’s “25 de Março” (mixed with Augusta Street). The neighbors gave me a nice reception when I left the hotel n search for an ATM to pay for the hotel. With a city map in hand, in a few hours I crossed Nairobi. I felt like home. In fact, I felt like in São Paulo.

On one hand, people walking in a hurry, many wearing suits and ties, going from home to work to lunch to work and home. The city is also divided in regions: the street of the electronics (Indians and Chinese), the street of textiles (most coming from Tanzania), two large parks with trees, some museums, giant supermarket chains and coffee places and hotels for all tastes. But, where are the slums and poverty? After all, one of the reasons for my trip to Kenya was to explore Kibera (considered one of the largest slums in Africa) and other regions famous for their extreme concentration of poverty.

The subject was not postponed. I sat at a coffee house with two Kenyan friends I met in a UN-Habitat course in partnership with my previous job at the Weitz Center, in Israel. After talking about the location of my hotel and ask about the whereabouts  of the slums in Nairobi, we made a decision: I would move in to Stanley’s house and I was going to help him and Debrah to start a consulting business for the development of slums.

The agreement was perfect. While I continued with my research and visited different projects, we would be, at the same time, creating opportunities to continue our discussion through the new consulting business. We quickly assessed the contacts and organizations we already had and started developing a visit schedule for my stay in Kenya.

I retrieved my backpack from the hotel downtown and we hopped in a  Matatu* heading to a kind of Nairobi suburb named Uthiru, where Stanley lived. So, where are Nairobi’s slums? In general, they are located in the periphery of the city (not that far). When I said I felt like home, in São Paulo, I was also referring to this dualism. For the “city” inhabitants it is quite easy to spend their entire life without even knowing about the existence of the slums and the life conditions there.

*Matatu is the name of the transportation minivans in Kenya. In the past, they were covered in graffiti, decorated, and competed for the most powerful sound system. I read the report in the wonderful book Pé na África, by Fabio Zanini and I was disappointed because a new series of laws restricted the cultural competition among those vehicles. What was left: worn signs of old graffiti, sound systems working in secret, and the same feeling that each trip puts your life in a Russian roulette. The origin of the word Matatu comes from Swahili and it means something like “4 moneys”, because this used to be the price of the trip. Today, depending on the time and on the weather, you pay 20 to 300 Shillings for the same trip.