The picture is stunning. It shows One Africa Place, a bullet-shaped glass high-rise in Nairobi, framed by the jagged, snowcapped peaks of Mount Kenya.
All of the COVID-19 social distancing measures have reduced pollution so much that suddenly, the second-highest mountain in Africa, with an altitude of 17,057 feet, is visible from Kenya’s capital city, about 85 miles away.
Many complained they had lived in Nairobi for years and had never spotted Mount Kenya.
It was so unbelievable, it became a meme:
The pyramids from Nairobi.
Mount Kenya behind the White House.
Landmarks from a balcony.
The picture of Mount Kenya, however, is real. It was taken last month by Nairobi resident Osman Siddiqi, using a single-lens reflex camera with a telephoto lens.
Speaking via WhatsApp, he walked NPR out to his seventh-story balcony and pointed his phone toward the glass building in his picture. From this same spot, he has been able to see Mount Kenya before — albeit blurrier than in his latest photo, because of the smog.
Nairobi is a city notorious for its traffic. A few miles can sometimes take hours to travel. But over the past month, as Kenya instituted a curfew and encouraged citizens to work from home, you can zoom through the city and the air is clean.
“In some sense, this was the laziest photograph ever, and I’m a little sad that all the birds I’ve been photographing that have taken time and effort and patience don’t get nearly as much attention,” he said, laughing.
He says he sent the picture of Mount Kenya to his family WhatsApp group, and from there, it was shared widely until it found its way to Twitter, where it blew up.
He says he has received messages from older folks who told him that in the past, they could see Mount Kenya from many places in Nairobi. One person told him that from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport traffic control tower, you can actually see both Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain on the African continent.
It surprised him, Siddiqi said, that so many people didn’t know they could see Mount Kenya from Nairobi, especially because it is visible on good days. Maybe, he said, it’s because Nairobians are too busy to look.
“The hustle of Nairobi prevents people from looking up,” he said. “And the slowing down is not there. And also, people can’t afford to slow down … It’s like you kind of have to hustle.”
Maybe, he said, one good thing that has come of this pandemic is that people slowed down, and maybe after this, they might be able to imagine a different Nairobi — one with less traffic and less pollution, where you could see Mount Kenya every morning.