Seeking out the past in Nairobi’s present

On a cold Sunday morning in the middle of Nairobi’s central business district, the usual bustling chaos of this vibrant city reduces to a slow, steady harmonized lull. The city’s heart beats, just not as loud and not as fast. The assignment was to identify locations in different historical photos of Nairobi and capture them as they appear in present day.

Most of the structures and streets still remain; Khoja mosque, Barclay’s house, Moi Avenue, Kenyatta Avenue, River Road and more, but perhaps what is more interesting than the permanence itself, is the lack of it. Everywhere you look, the signs of change glare at you. The vibrance, the matatus, the exhibition stalls, the billboards, the students, the hawkers the street preachers, you name it.

You can spot these differences when you compare the past and the present. Empty streets come alive, prominent colonial statues are replace by busy road intersections surrounded by construction sites and commercial billboards. Yet even as we seek to document the city today, I can’t help but think that the most significant changes are better felt than seen.

My whole life has been framed by this city, a city whose meanings have changed at each stage. As a child it was a mysterious place of magic and wonder, as an adult a volatile place to work, hustle and carve out a future.

The Nairobi of the 1950s and the Nairobi of today bear a lot of similarities, but the buildings and the streets seem to bend to the will of each different generation and the interpretation of each individual. It is for this reason that the city will never be the same day after day let alone decade after decade.

Chao Tayiana