WALKING ACROSS NAIROBI SEES ACHOLA ROSARIO COME CLOSE UP AND PERSONAL WITH SOME DISTANT HISTORY
By Achola Rosario, Contributing Editor to http://www.ATCNews.org
(Posted 15th February 2021)
When I walk I feel connected to the environment around me, like I am tapping into some of its life-force. The smells are a vehicle for the internal goings-on of each building. Each step reveals something of the nature of the people who live there, whether you look down or up, or even directly into their eyes. Communication is never wrong or right, just simply an expression of one’s motivation and desire. Like I only realized yesterday that women generally avoid looking at each other when they pass in order to give the other a break from ever present scrutiny and judgement. It is not what I originally took it for as a lack of solidarity. But I digress.
In order to look through your brother’s eyes, I must first uncover mine and that is why I had to give the Nairobi City Walking Tour by Chinku Travels an episode of its own. Walking with our guide Jeen Gichuhu and learning the stories behind buildings I had passed and glanced at a various points during my hurried life was an enlightening experience that put many historical “facts” that we learned as we grew up into a clearer perspective. We have the power to change our point of view simply by knowing what caused a situation to come to pass, and that is why I highly recommend this walking tour.
We started from Jevanjee gardens, where we learned about the larger than life Alibhai Mulla Jevanjee, and was surprised to learn that not only had he usurped the sulking Lord Delamere to donate the land for the garden and get in the Queen’s good graces on her Jubilee celebrations, but he was also the founder of the East African Standard newspaper, when his rise to power became a little too much for some colonialists leading them to slander.
This contradicts online information that says that another person who was profiled later on the walking tour, Lord Ewart Grogan, builder of Torr Hotel on Kenyatta Avenue and the famous “castle’ in Chiromo, was the proprietor of the East African Standard along with Lord Delamere. This points to a long-standing feud. On the walking tour, our guide Jeen Gichuhu told us about Grogan’s enormous love for his wife Gertrude, and how he tried to woo her by first building her Torr Hotel, which she branded a chicken house, and then building her the house in Chiromo, which was so large that she asked how she would live there by herself. Legend says that it was to prove his suitability as her mate to her father, that he undertook the Cape to Cairo expedition, becoming the first white man to do so. He then settled in Kenya and built the first of the Gertrude Garden Children’s hospitals around Nairobi in memory of his beloved late wife.
Then there was the story of English businesswoman Mayence Bent, who in 1902 when Nairobi was just a two street railway depot, built the Stanley Hotel when nobody would serve her at the local lodges and inns because she was a woman. They said there was no room for her. It thrived because of the new handsewn mattresses she pioneered with her business partner by sewing canvas and stuffing them with the grass cut when building the railway, burned down and was rebuilt at its current location on Kenyatta Avenue, and is now known as the New Stanley Sarova hotel, the oldest 5-star hotel in the country. Since the early 1900s, the Stanley Hotel has been known as the traditional meeting place for those going on safari in Kenya. It has played host to royalty, politicians, movie stars, and authors including Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Gregory Peck, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, and Frank Sinatra.
Nairobi’s importance to the region has been great from the very beginning, being as it was chosen as a Headquarters for the railway company because it was the last piece of flat land before the Great Rift Valley. It was from here that the colonialists chose to push into the mysterious African Interior, where fabled riches awaited. And so, one Italian explorer undertook to measure distances from Nairobi to the major East African outposts of Fort Hall, Nanyuki, Moyale, Juba, Khartoom, Cairo and Alexandria by car. He was the founder of the Automobile Association of Kenya, Lionel Galton Fenzi. His monument also stands on Kenyatta Avenue.
The stories of the run up to Independence are woven in to this narrative the entire time, along with the nationalization and renaming of Nairobi’s landmarks and streets, starting with Kenyatta avenue, the main gateway of Nairobi’s history and traffic, running parallel in solidarity with Hailey Selassie Avenue, gifted to the Emperor by Mzee Kenyatta upon Independence in 1963 and runs all the way to Uhuru Park launched in 1969, the symbol of freedom and a new Kenya, where Wangari Mathai was buried because she protested to keep it green and won.
The Nairobi, the City we assume walking tour costs kshs3000 ($30) for a 3-6 hour half day tour and kshs5000 ($50) for a 6-12 hour full day tour.
To book call or email:
+254 725 375 776
To watch episode 59 of The F.O.M.O. Travel Show:
In honor of Black History Month.