Man Around Nairobi: Ian Arunga


Every Wednesday we feature one of the men who lives, works and plays in Nairobi in our Man Around Nairobi segment. Our Man Around Nairobi today is Ian Arunga. Ian is an art director at FCB Sema House, children’s author, blogger, book lover, literature activist, fine artist, key holder collector, mosquito assassin and an overall cool guy. He says
“When I am not too busy, I am writing letters to a plus sized, light skinned woman with tiny feet called at” Dear Doris, was nominated for Best Kenyan Blog and Best Creative Blog by the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) 2014 & 2015.

Ian Arunga

1. Did you grow up in Nairobi?

I did not grow up in Nairobi. I grew up in Kisumu. I knew of only one person who had been to Nairobi when growing up… My best friend Kuku’s dad. Yes, Kuku was his name. Kuku’s dad was always in Nairobi for work. I really wanted to go to Nairobi because of all the stories he told us about the place. He told us about buildings that went up so high that they got lost in the clouds and stairs that moved up and down. I knew I had to go to Nairobi this one time when he brought us canned pineapples when he came back. I loved those canned pineapples so much that I promised myself I had to go to Nairobi.

I came to Nairobi for a funeral immediately after high school and I have been here to date. I walked from Afya Centre to Odeon in the dead of the night holding a small suitcase that had most of the things I owned on my head… You know, like the typical ‘mshamba in Nairobi’ story.

I did not have a phone so all I had was a small piece of paper with directions to my aunt’s place in Mountain View. The piece of paper had two possibilities of where the mini van would drop me off and directions on how to get to Odeon for each of the possible drop offs. Odeon is where you get matatus to Mountain View. I got to Mountain View at 2am.

2. What you love about Nairobi?

I love the speed. I love how fast things move. One time I was mugged right in front of Kenya Cinema. A young man ran passed me and slapped me so hard. A split second later, while still lost in confusion, a group of boys grabbed me and took everything I had in my pockets. I was so impressed by how quick and clean the job was.

This city moves so fast that falling asleep feels wrong. I love it!

3. What would you change about Nairobi?

I have never thought about this one. I think the traffic. No! Wait! I would change how cops treat people. I have had the craziest experiences with cops. I have a few experiences on Dear Doris.

4. As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?

Hehehe. My first job ever in Nairobi was selling fries in Buru Buru at a relative’s fast food restaurant. I have worked in bars and brothels pushing Guinness sales. Believe it or not, at some point in my life, I was at Sabina Joy every Friday and Saturday night pushing Guinness sales. I have stood in supermarket isles promoting a local margarine and I have sold t-shirts and back packs that I painted on.

It wasn’t until I joined Storymoja (a local publishing house) that I really knew what I wanted to do – design. I learnt on the job. I was in the office till late in the night for the longest mastering design software. At this point is where I wrote my 4 children’s books and started Dear Doris.

There is a lot to do here. A sea of opportunities. You can only imagine what else falls between dealing fries and an AD job. Art and design has really grown in Nairobi. Art is everywhere nowadays – Even the guy who sells boiled eggs on the streets, have you seen how they peel off the shells? ART! If your art is unique then you will thrive.

5. If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting.

The partying is real in Nairobi!
Also, where else in the world do you randomly bump into a pride of lions in traffic on your way to work in the morning?

If you would like to interact with Ian find him on twitter at @arungaian. Also check out his blog

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