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Grey days in Nairobi

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The past couple of weeks have been pretty cold in Nairobi because we are going into our ‘winter’. We are used to spending July and August enveloped in low cloud with accompanying drizzle, but this year it seems to have started much earlier in June. The city is 1,870m above sea level, higher than Ben Nevis I gather, so it stands to reason that sometimes we Nairobi dwellers are lost high up in cloud. Many might assume that because I am writing from ‘Africa’, I’m in sweating in tropical heat, but Nairobi is very different to anywhere else and the climate here is best described as ‘temperate’. When the cloud disperses, we are bathed in very strong sun that can burn ferociously, even when the temperature outside is relatively cool. Think: crystal clear air skiing holiday weather then add in a touch of road pollution and you're there! We get a fantastic warm/dry weather over Christmas (very dusty), but it is always chilly in the evenings and the sun rises and sets at around 6.30 all year round, so no long summer evenings sitting outside. (Outdoor lunch parties work well though!)

The reason we have all been moaning about the weather this month, is that we have had grey day after grey day from dawn ‘til dusk for a couple of weeks now, which is unusual as we are used to getting at least an hour or two of sunshine in the middle of the day, all year round, almost without fail. We are feeling cheated, the cold weather has started early and we are flummoxed. Washing hangs limply from the line and won’t dry and today’s common greeting goes something like this;
‘Habari gani?’ – how are you?
‘Nzuri, lakini baridi iko mingi’ – good, but it’s very cold
When I chat to acquaintances that spend the day working out of doors, instead of ‘hello’ I say,
‘pole kwa baridi!’ – sorry about the cold!
and they laugh resignedly then say with good humour,
‘Ndiyo, ni baridi kabisa!’ – yes, it’s freezing!

To be a real Kenyan you have to have a very different thermostat to anyone else. When you are used to temperatures averaging 23 degrees, then cold weather comes as a bit of a shock. The ‘fleece’ jumper is de rigeur here during the cool season, coupled with jeans and a cotton scarf or kikoy wound around the neck. Very home made sheepskin slippers/boots are an optional addition. The irony is that very few actually ever need to own a coat (the only ‘coat’ I own is a denim jacket). There is no need to ever wear wool or gloves. Your nose will not go red from cold; your fingers will not freeze. Worse case scenario is slightly wet shoes and the vaguest damp chill. No houses have or need central heating; a single log fire usually will suffice. So while we go around shivering and complaining, I notice that it is still a steady 15 degrees outside and at night it never drops below 10, so in actual fact it’s really not too cold and certainly not freezing! Warmth is never far away either, because as soon as you venture out of the city and drop to a lower altitude, descending down into the Rift Valley the sun will always be shining.

So if you are coming from Europe to Nairobi over the next few months, pack a light jumper and perhaps a scarf, but if you hear a Kenyan say that it is freezing here, take it with a pinch of salt.

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