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Inventing Nairobi
SEPTEMBER 2005
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In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph courtesy David Alan Harvey



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Inventing Nairobi






    When the Nairobi story was first proposed to me, I wasn't that comfortable with doing it. My specialty has always been Latin American cultures. But once I got to Nairobi and started the work, it became one of the greatest projects I've ever worked on. I ended up falling in love with the place and all the different people I met there. I photographed students, businessmen, environmental activists, and people who lived in the slums. It was fascinating, and I felt like I was meeting real Africans and getting real stories. Hopefully, readers will feel the same way.
    Nairobi is quite a dangerous city, and that made it difficult for me to work. I couldn't wander around by myself like I usually do. I was constantly looking over my shoulder and couldn't stay in one place too long. Sometimes I even had armed bodyguards.     Fortunately nothing negative happened to me. I always tried to make eye contact and talk to the people on the street. That was probably my best security shield. I bet a few people consciously made the decision not to rob me because I was friendly. 
    I met this taxicab driver named John (pictured on page 43), and I hired him every day. While most of the people I met in Nairobi warned me about how dangerous the city was, John took the opposite approach. He was always saying, "No, Nairobi's not dangerous. Everything is fine here. Don't worry."
    So one day I was driving around with John in his London-style cab, and he was giving me this same speech. It was hot, so as I listened I hung my left arm out the window. As soon as John saw that, he told me to pull my arm in. Why? Because he was worried someone might try to steal my watch when we stopped at a traffic light. 
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