Nairobi – dawn

[note: in keeping with the need to respect radio silence until The Carter Center STO mission is over, I’m putting these posts up in sequence, with a one week delay from realtime.]

28 Feb, 2013. Nairobi Hillpark Hotel. It’s pushing 5 a.m. and in the dark of my room I can detect the faintest whiff of that scent. Honestly, I don’t know what it is – a woodsmoke of some kind, but it’s not like the sizzling, crackling pitch of a pine bonfire, or the deep, full-bodied smell of oak or maple from an old stone fireplace. It feels like hickory and dust – my mind may be playing tricks on me, but I remember it from half a continent away, from Liberia.

Could be coming from anywhere; it feels like the evening wind has carried a ways. My guess is Kibera, to the west. It’s the largest urban slum in Africa; and by all reports, a fascinating microcosm of human tragedy and triumph. I doubt I’ll ever see it up close – as adventuresome as I am by some standards, my comfort zone doesn’t extend quite that far.

The hotel we’re staying in is halfway up a wooded hill that was the heart of British colonial Nairobi. It’s low key – away from the central business district, away from the flashy Intercontinental Hotel. That’s the way the Carter Center likes it: an election observation mission wants to be low key.

There’s no air conditioning, and it’s not really needed. Even though we’re practically smack dab on the equator, the city’s up at 5400’, and the temperatures don’t get much above the mid-80’s even during the dry season. Compared to Accra, to Tamale and Monrovia, this is a piece of cake. Besides, we’ve got internet – real broadband internet, fast and free (you hear that, you pretentious American hotel chains? Free. And fast. Take a memo, willya?).

From my window, I can see the city lights below, framed by – what are they – acacia trees? The sun will be coming up soon, and already the birds are starting to come alive. The chattering, cackling and cooing would be heaven for the right ornithologist, but it’s wasted on me. To me it just sounds the way the smoke smells: a half-remembered recollection of something from far away. Maybe not even from this lifetime – maybe it’s imprinted somewhere in my DNA from a thousand thousand generations ago. I imagine smells could be like that.

Anyhow, the sun’s up and the day’s getting started. And 11 hours of jet lag aside, I think I’m as ready for it as I can be.

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