There are some pretty stark differences in so many things in Nairobi. An example is how police manage the city and crime. So most of us think of pick-pocketing, theft, assault, etc. Another crime in Nairobi is “hawking” or street vendors who walk through crowds and traffic or spread their wares on a cloth on the sidewalk – they are everywhere! On occasion, the police decide to take action against the hawkers……so….
I was almost at my bus stop to go home yesterday when I heard two very loud bangs; I thought it was gunfire and I saw some people running from something up the street (not in my direction). There was also a lot of commotion and noise. I kept moving, convincing myself not to panic, after all no one in my near vicinity was doing anything but continuing on their way. I got to the little street before my stop and there was a pedestrian jam with people coughing and spitting – what the heck was going on? Well, figuring I do the Kenyan thing, I pushed my way through and got to my bus and boarded. As I moved this very short distance 30 feet or so, I smelled something terribly caustic and felt it in the air, it was like breathing acid. The bus windows were all closed and people had hankies and scarves over their faces. I asked the gal sitting next me and she explained that it was tear gas. GOOD GRIEF!!! What the heck is going on that prompts the use of tear gas? Apparently, the police use this tactic to clear/chase/raid the hawkers in a given area. The hawkers respond by banging on tins and making a commotion to warn other hawkers and in general cause chaos. They also pick up the tear gas cans and throw them back toward the police. I just can’t explain how shocked I was at this. I told my husband Alex that night about it and he said “Welcome to Kenya”. I also told my team today and they also said this is a normal occurrence in the city. I guess I’ve been initiated; I’d take any smell in the informals in lieu of tear gas!