On Valentine’s Day 2015, my friend Kirstin and I met George outside the Hilton Hotel in downtown Nairobi. It was not some kinky Valentine’s arrangement, but more of a very informative and entertaining walking tour of the Nairobi CBD.

From the Hilton, we walked to Kimathi Road, where there is a statue of the war hero, General Kimathi. When this statue was erected, there was a lot of controversy as to whether Kimathi was worthy of a statue or not. After a year of deliberation he got his place. Kimathi was a leader of the Mau Mau rebellion, which has been seen by some Kenyans as the great rebellion that gave Kenya its independence and by other Kenyans as a bunch of rogues who caused unnecessary trouble while more formal efforts were underway.

We then headed to Kenyatta Avenue, where the impressive Sarova Stanley Hotel dominates. Inside the hotel is the Thorn Tree Cafe, where an acacia tree used to be. The acacia tree had a message board where colonial settlers left messages for each other. Nowadays, you may have heard of Lonely Planet’s online travel forum called “Thorn Tree” – that’s where the name comes from!

Also at this intersection, there used to be a statue of Lord Delamere. He marked the division of Nairobi: to the west of Delamere was the side of the city for the white colonialists and to the east was the mob of Indian traders and Kenyan vendors. You can still see the difference between the east and west sides of the city today.

Along Kenyatta Avenue, we stopped to admire Cameo. Not because it’s a popular nightspot, but because it’s the oldest building in Nairobi at over 100 years old. Ironically, Nairobi’s newest outlet is in the hinterland: Subway, the sandwich chain has made a foray into the Kenyan market. Next door is the Bank of India, which has had quite a bit of history. It has been Parliament House, before the current Parliament was built, and also the National Archives before they too were relocated to their current home on Moi Avenue.

Leaving Kenyatta towards Wabera Street we find the McMillan National Library. It’s not hard to find anything if your address is Wabera Street, as the street is only 100 meters long! Next to the library is the Jamia Mosque and following the mosque to the end we reach Chai House and the City Market. The market sells everything from meat and fish to vegetables and souvenirs. Yet despite all the shops, the market was empty of customers. Outside though, the rose sellers were doing a thriving Valentine’s business!

Our last stop was the Kenya International Conference Center (KICC), the tallest building in Nairobi at 28 stories. The second floor from the top was a revolving restaurant, but the large empty space was today a place for young couples to hang out. On the roof is a helicopter landing pad and, for a fee, you can walk around for 360-degree views of Nairobi.

On weekends there is an outdoor market that George offered to take us to for souvenirs. But it had started to rain and Kirstin and I figured this wouldn’t be our only chance to buy souvenirs, so we skipped it and went to a cafe. Over a cup of tea, we learned more about George, who had been taken in by Mathare Children’s Fund (MCF) when he was a child and received support from the community organization to complete school. MCF also provided him with the training to become a city tour guide, facilitated by the National Museums of Kenya. George is also attending university, studying economics, and the guide allows him to earn some money to help him in school.

MCF has trained several young people to be guides on walking tours of the city. Although I have lived in Kenya for over four years, we saw many things on the tour that I had never noticed before (even if I had been there a dozen times!). And things she’d noticed, that she didn’t know about. The tour lasts two hours (not including the cup of tea at the end!) and costs 1000 Kenyan shillings (approximately US$10) per person plus 400 KES to climb to the top of KICC.

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