The purpose of this post is NOT to scare my parents, I swear. Really I'm just trying to describe what I think is a defining feature of the city.
A lot of time and effort has been put into dividing wealthy Nairobians (Nairobi-ites?) from everyone else. I'm housesitting for a US embassy. The house is far from the main road, with a security guard at the entrance to the neighborhood. Houses are surrounded by high walls, hedges and electric fences. When you get to my street, there is a gate guarded by two guards. After making it past them, I get to my house, which is surrounded by walls topped by electric fences. Our front door is similar to the door of a bank vault. Four different bolts go deep into the door frame. Once INSIDE OUR HOUSE, there is one final security measure. Upon going up the stairs, there is a metal gate known as a safe haven. The idea that is if a criminal breaks into the house at night, he/she won't be able to reach the bedrooms. Every time I've heard someone discuss the housing they live in, the security features are always the first thing they mention.
Most every biggish store has security guards. The grocery store is guarded by men with machine guns. Getting into the UN (where I work) involves going through lots of security. With my pass, I can get past the guards and open the revolving metal gates to get inside the compound. Cars are checked for bombs before entering the compound. Every new employee at the UN has to sit through a security briefing discussing safe behavior in Nairobi. Additionally, the UN is already located in a very wealthy, isolated neighborhood (Gigiri) that is separated from the rest of Nairobi by a small forest. The US Embassy is in the same neighborhood and, between the thousands of employees who work at the two organizations, Gigiri is its own small city, cut off from the rest of Nairobi.
All of this adds up to a lot of barriers between the wealthy and everyone else. There are lots of wealthy Kenyans and other people of color on my side of the fence, but the vast majority of people on the other side of the fence are Africans. I think it's a class thing, not a racial thing, but the correlation between race and class creates a racial divide. There are many other reminders of the class and color divides (all the gardeners, maids, drivers and laborers are black), but I think the security aspect is the most obvious on a daily basis.
But Nairobi isn't called "Nairobbery" for nothing. A lot of these security measures are probably necessary as poorly guarded homes are broken into. With 40% unemployment in Kenya, there are a lot of poor people with few options for making a living. Pickpocketing and mugging do happen. Two other UN interns that I know have had their phones stolen in just the month that I've been here. There are some parts of the city I would never go alone - Kibera, at 1 million people, is one of the largest slums in the world. And walking anywhere after 9 or 10 pm is a bad idea.
My work is going well; making a lot of progress on my paper. In my Morocco blog I had a similar habit of only discussing the negative aspects of the place...despite the posts on security and transport I really really like it here. Having an amazing time!