Story of Nairobi told in ingenious style

Susan Wakhungu-Githuku (right) and her daughter Natalie at Lord Erroll Restaurant. PHOTO | Magaretta Wa Gacheru | NMG
Susan Wakhungu-Githuku (right) and her daughter Natalie at Lord Erroll Restaurant. PHOTO | Magaretta Wa Gacheru | NMG 

The Lord Erroll Restaurant was transformed into a vibrant performance space this past Sunday afternoon when its entire garden, veranda and entry corridor were booked for the day by Susan Wakhungu-Githuku and Footprints Press.

Ostensibly, the programme was a simple book launch of the latest Footprints publication. But with Susan, nothing is simple. Better to think in terms of luminous and luxurious words like performative, gracious, elegant and posh.

Lord Erroll’s had become the place to be. That day it was a place where corporates, “creatives” and consultants mingled with media, select medics and a few well-chosen politicians like former Vice President Moody Awori.

Moody set the tone for the entire afternoon. That was after all the guests — who’d been advised to dress up in high-style — had been seated at white linen-topped tables under canopy-type tents and served High Tea.

Moody came after Susan, with the co-author of their book Nairobi 5453 Ft — her daughter Natalie — welcomed guests to the grand event.

Mother and daughter were the two brilliant masterminds behind the production of Footprints new two-volume book. Susan explained it had taken no less than three years to put it together.

The slimmer book, entitled Nairobi 5453 Ft – Personal Musings, featured personal reflections by 35 carefully-selected Kenyans as well as brief bios of almost 20 creatives, mainly photographers and painters, all of whom had contributed to the beautification of both books.

The thicker book, entitled Nairobi 5453 Ft — Photographic Slices, includes no less than 27 multi-coloured perspectives on the city ranging from Nairobi’s Humble Beginnings through its Contemporary Business Environment, and Budding Innovation through to ‘Youthful Exuberance with a Global Edge’.

Each chapter opens with a big bold-lettered summary of what comes next. Then what follows are glossy, full-paged photographs which are either black and white (true of the older archival snaps) or colour. Either way, the images are animated, attentive to detail and shot by some of Nairobi’s finest photographers.

They include master image-makers like Mutua Matheka, Thandiwe Muriu, Osborne Macharia and Joe Makeni. And since Susan clearly didn’t want to miss out on the main masters, she also called upon Bobby Pall, James Muriuki and Jolene Wood to contribute to creating a full and multifaceted set of images of her beloved city.

But if that Sunday was meant to be a book launch, Susan and Natalie had already decided to make the day performative. Moody was there to eloquently set the artistic ball rolling.

The former VP was the first of several superlative storytellers, poets and local stars who would share their own “musings” for the remainder of the afternoon.

Moody’s memory is sharp as a tack since he took his audience all the way back to his early arrival in Nairobi from Busia County.

Recalling the cleanliness of the city back, Moody could have continued all afternoon to weave strands of sonorous stories about his ever-evolving city. But there were others on the programme.

Susan had essentially designed a vibrant variety show to accompany the showcasing of her newest books. The performers were mainly personalities featured in Personal Musings, thus giving us a feeling for what we might find in the text.

There were poets like Aleya Hassan and Marcus Tan de Bibiana who shared their insight on the city. There were also eloquent public speakers like Dr PLO Lumumba, John Sibi-Okumu and Catherine Ngugi.

Susan had even invited Nairobi’s newly-elected Deputy Governor Polycarp Igathe to speak about his plans for fixing the city and restoring its image.

Yet not everybody who shared their thoughts on Nairobi were kind. Some were cynical about cruel moments when Nairobi had been hard on her own.

Yet others, like Sibi-Okumu, spoke hopefully, comparing Nairobi to Bethlehem. He even broke into song (being the natural entertainer that he is) crooning about that “little town”.

It was impossible not to be enthralled by the stylish-sort of book event that Susan and Natalie organised.

It was difficult not to be compelled to buy the books just to see what other incredible insights Nairobians had shared about their city. In fact, the books reveal just as much about the city’s citizens as it does about itself.