Exploring Nairobi with Google Local Guides

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I love being out in the wild. But urban spaces can be fun too, if you know how to look. Not primarily where, but how. It requires viewing things from a new perspective. I remember in uni a book called ‘Looking and Seeing’ that explains how to ‘see’ as an architect. Being conscious of what’s in your environment as you take it in visually. It’s a bit hard to understand especially if you’re not a creative…haha. In May I had the opportunity to ‘see’ Nairobi in a different light…read on to join in the discovery.

Clarion Hotel, Nairobi.
Matatus are an infamous part of Nairobi life.

One sunny Sunday afternoon, I joined Nairobi Google Local Guides for a photowalk. Actually it was a mapping exercise, but I didn’t know that until I got to the meeting point. Google Local Guides program aims to get inhabitants of a city to document its streets and buildings  through photos and information on type of establishment, operating hours, etc. Participants then earn points and advance to different levels depending on how active they are. I was here for the photos though! Shooting in this city’s streets isn’t easy so when you get a free pass, you take it! 🙂 To read about my first Nairobi photowalk, check out this link here.

Scenes from my first photowalk.

I must commend the organiser Robert and the rest of the team for being on time, contrary to the concept of ‘African timing’. Within a few minutes of arriving, we were briefed and handed copies of the Council permit that granted us permission to shoot for the afternoon. The hassles of shooting in Nairobi CBD are all too familiar to fellow photographers, a topic for another post. Right next to us on Kenyatta Avenue, a group of skateboarders were displaying their prowess. I had just started to enjoy the show when some Council officers chased them off in a huff. We really need to let loose and have fun in our streets!

Street reflection on bus.
Scenes from a drive through Cape Town.

Anyway, we began the walk in search of the best angles and perspectives. The photos were to be collected and those that made the cut stood a chance of being used on Google Maps. Wow! The sun was out and the streets mostly clear, typical of Sunday afternoons in Nairobi. I came to notice later that the clouds were washed out as they were too bright…can’t wait to get my hands on some Neutral Density filters.

The famous Koja Mosque, Nairobi.
The famous Koja Mosque. Never been inside all these years!

Taking time to really look at buildings, I notice some pretty amazing textures, patterns, lines and shadows. Not forgetting perspective views that always provide a feast for the eyes. Our group attracted stares from curious passers-by who wondered just how ‘bold’ these kids were to shoot openly in the streets. Occasionally a security guard would ask us what our agenda was and if we had a permit…sigh. Somehow it added fun to the experience, as we would pull out copies of the permit in such instances. In the previous photowalk, one of us was briefly arrested for taking a shot of the Supreme Court. Wueeeh!

Patterns on a building.
Light and shadow…

It was not until several hours later that I noticed I was tired (and hungry). When I’m shooting I get really absorbed in the exercise. Before we concluded the walk, we had to ‘milk’ the permit dry. One of us suggested going to KICC for some group photos.  And so we did. We would have loved  to shoot the sunset from the rooftop but there’s a separate charge for that. (Double sigh!) Many photos and videos later, we wrapped it up. I hadn’t had such fun in a while. And I made new friends too!

Patterns on a building.
More patterns…

Some guys dashed home, but the rest of us went to a fast food restaurant to appease our tummies. As a famous Kenyan saying goes, mwili haujengwi na mbao, which loosely translates to ‘food is important for a healthy body’. I couldn’t agree more. (Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of fast food, I just needed something quick and light that day.) But the statement still holds true, food is important. Very. And with that, our street exploring came to an end.

Street scene in Nairobi.

Tip: if you wish to shoot (with a camera) in Nairobi, you’ll need a permit from the County Council of Nairobi. Have several copies just in case. And be patient to explain to security guards (several times) that you do have a permit and mean no harm. For some reason phone photography is okay but as soon as you take out a DSLR…guys go on high alert mode.

Maendeleo House, Nairobi.
‘Seeing’ from a different angle.

Next time you walk in the city, take some time to ‘see’ things differently. You’ll be pleasantly surprised!


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