Blog post by Peiwen and Karen

Under gentle showers and with a soft breeze, we started our 3rd morning in Nairobi. After a quick, fulsome breakfast and packing our lunches, we drove to the UN headquarters in Kenya in Nairobi. Instead of taking the same driving route though congested streets, we chose another highway with less traffic, passing through a poorer neighbourhood in Nairobi. About 60% of the population of Nairobi live in slums that make up only 6% of the land. This was an eye-opening scene for us to see all those small houses with blue, tin roofs squeezed together, and was certainly emblematic of the gap between the rich and the poor in Nairobi and elsewhere. The landscape quickly transitioned to gated well-attended brick houses and eventually transformed into highly guarded modern mansions.

The bus pulled up onto the driveway of one of the United Nations Headquarters (one of four in the world) in Nairobi . The UN headquarter in Kenya is home to the UN Environmental and Human Settlement Programmes. Today was the “Open Day” where visitors were invited to see the operation of the organization and layout of the facilities. Beyond the gates, the walkway was lined with the flags of the 193 UN member nations, lined up in alphabetical order. Booths lined the front atrium showcasing different donations from UN members dedicated to the goal of sustainable development.

A Masters student in social sciences named Lisa guided us through different sections of the headquarters. First we learned about the UNMAS (UN Mine Action Service) that was formed to clear and disarm landmines and munitions that remain after wars, and threaten the civilians, especially children who comprise 90% of casualties. This exhibit displayed deactivated explosives as well as uniforms worn by bomb specialists. From there, we trickled into the largest conference room in this facility that can seat representatives of the 193 member nations, their assistants, and observers. As we settled into the seats normally occupied by UN members, Lisa delivered a brief presentation on the roles of the 6 bodies of the UN. At the end of the presentation, we had a brief Q&A. It was really unique to be able to speak into the individual microphones while the video immediately focused on the speaker (who was projected onto giant screens), just as if we were participating in a formal assembly. After the interactive discussion, we strolled through the arboretum with trees planted by the 16 security council members representing hope of a greener future. The arboretum lead to the ‘green complex’, which is the most recent infrastructure addition, serving as the offices for UNEP. Features including rainwater harvesting and low-energy fluorescent lighting contributing to the carbon neutral design. We ended the tour by visiting the memorial garden gifted by Kenya in 1998 in memory of those who died in the embassy explosions. It was composed of a peace pole conveying world peace in the 6 official UN languages surrounded by coffee and tea plants, the main exports of Kenya.

Filing back onto the bus, we ate our packed sandwiches and headed to the National Museum. We explored the natural, cultural and political exhibits that provided a time capsule of Kenya’s history. The Human Origin Hall left a memorable impression on us as biology students. Museums serve to preserve the cultural and natural heritage of the country, and provide important and unique resources for scientific research as technology advances. Further, they provide opportunities for locals and tourists to learn about the natural and cultural history of Kenya.

Before leaving the park, we had a short visit to the Snake Park home to over 30 native species of reptiles. A tour guide kindly let us handle a non-venomous female Kenyan sand boa. Sand boas have a short bullet-shaped head, creamy white underbelly and rusty orange backs with dark brown splotches. She had just finished a delicious mouse and we could feel her muscles as she slithered across our hands. This was the end to a beautiful day and we can’t wait to see what is in store for tomorrow!

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