There's something familiar about the drive from Jomo Kenyatta International in to Nairobi. The landscape of scrubland and bougainvillea reminds me of driving down Horrie Miller Drive on the way to my hometown of Perth, in Western Australia.
As we head down Mombasa Road and into the city the similarities to fade. Most striking are the birds - gliding on the thermals, the size of small donkeys. Butterflies the size of birds complete the impression of Gulliver visiting Brobdingnag.
I didn't have the opportunity to venture outside of Nairobi, so I'm in no position to describe what it's like outside the capital - but Nairobi struck me as a city of contrasts. It was certainly chaotic, unlike many Australian and American cities that have transformed into hubs for well ordered suburbia. If you pan out from where I used to live, you'll quickly notice the grids and arterials that make up a planned, ordered city.
Nairobi isn't like that. In many ways it reminded me of organic cities like Rome and Paris - cities where you can get most of what you need by foot (and traffic bad enough to force you to do so). Along every road there's people going about their business. Walking to work, coming back from the shops, heading to see a movie. Similar to the crepes in Paris and pizza in Rome, ambulatory commuters are tempted with roasted corn-on-the-cob as well as with streetside markets overflowing with fresh fruit that tastes like fruit (note: In London fruit does not taste like fruit, it is merely fruit flavoured).
While the city's infrastructure is still some way behind that of most European capitals, there are signs of modernization. The country has a new constitution to go along with the air-conditioned malls and shiny high-rises that have started to appear. The 3G data plans are cheap and plentiful and smartphones, while still scarce, are starting to make an appearance. There's also a fat cable pipe now to provides the bandwidth vital for local technologists to participate in the Internet economy.
I was in town for G-Kenya, a 3 day Google conference aimed at sharing Google developer technologies with the student, developer, and entraupeneurial communities. If you're interested, I'll detail more about my experiences on the Android Developer Blog later this week.