So a week has passed since I last wrote. I can’t work out if a lot has happened or whether time is just flying by. Thanks for all your positive feedback by the way, let’s hope this blog can follow the last. Two weeks in and I’m still struggling to get my head around the fact I actually live and work in Africa. Permanently. No matter how many times I say out loud that I live in Kenya, it still doesn’t feel real. I mean, it’s pretty surreal that I only have to travel an hour to go on safari, that you see huge cacti growing at the side of the road and I can genuinely say the words ‘Hakuna matata’ on a daily basis (even though sadly, it is not a phrase many Kenyans say).
It’s difficult to cover everything so I will just touch upon some highlights and low-lights of the past week or so. I’ll start with the the low-lights so we can end on a high (see what I did there)?
Lowlights of the past week:
1. (Mild) altitude sickness
2. Being an expat in Nairobi
3. Nairobi traffic
Highlights of the past week:
4. Office welcome party
5. Blankets & Wine concert
6. Moving into an apartment
(This is not in any particular order by the way)
1. (Mild) altitude sickness
Most people think this is a kind of illness you can only get when you’re trekking up a mountain or something, myself included. Turns out you can get it in cities too and trust me, it ain’t pleasant. Nairobi is 5,450ft above sea level, practically a mile up. At first I just thought the food didn’t agree with me, or that my IBS was staging an unwelcome comeback but apparently, it’s the altitude. Fortunately (for some), it doesn’t affect everyone at this level, just weaklings like me! Anyway, without going into too much detail, my stomach hates me, I get a lot of headaches, I’ve got low blood pressure and the combination of the three make me feel absolutely exhausted and a little bit faint at times. It is likely it will pass soon but physically, I feel pretty crap.
N.B. Since I wrote this part on Wednesday, I’ve been feeling a lot worse – I went to the clinic today and it looks like I have a stomach bug. Had to take the day off work which I wasn’t too pleased about, as some of you will know, I’m not very good at admitting I’m ill and generally like to power on through!
2. First impressions on being an expat in Nairobi
Security is tight in Nairobi, there is no doubt about that. I get that it’s not the safest city on earth, and it probably isn’t a good idea to walk about at night alone as a mzungu (Swahili for ‘foreigner’). However, as much as I’m advised by officials against shopping in places other than malls, take matatus (old Ford vans with about 15-20 seats inside that have their own road rules and cost a fraction of the price of taxis, tro tros to any of my Ghanaian readers), eat street food and walk around in the day – I have to have a life, and I want to experience “real” Kenya. I refuse to live in that expat bubble, and I certainly don’t want to lose sight of why I applied for the job in the first place and the people I want to help. The other day, sat in the backseat of a 4×4 in a busy traffic jam, a small boy (he looked about 7 but the likelihood is he was malnourished) tapped on my window incessantly, making puppy dog eyes and holding out his hand in hope that I would give him some money. Yes, I faced these kinds of challenges whilst I was in Ghana but I was volunteering there, so I had no qualms with saying that I didn’t have any money. That doesn’t really hold true here because I clearly am not ‘struggling’ for money here. Without sounding too cliché, that really tugged on my heart strings.
Unfortunately, until I get my bearings (as I don’t know too many people here), I will be mostly staying within the expat bubble but as time goes on, I hope to travel by matatu occasionally, engage with the street-sellers in my local area and perhaps even walk to work (if I am feeling adventurous). I apologise to those of you I have already ranted to about this, and apologies in advance of future disgruntlements. Just to reassure though, I know it’s all in the name of my safety and I have taken everything that I have been told on board, I just am finding it hard to adjust to not being completely “free”.
3. Nairobi traffic
As I mentioned last week, traffic is quite a big issue here in Nairobi and over the last week, I have been stuck in a few traffic jams. It now makes sense why almost everyone in the office plans their life around traffic. For example, I tend to leave for work early (7am) and leave early (4pm) in an attempt to avoid the traffic. I wish this was foolproof but rush hour is practically all day. Some people cycle in as have had problems in the past arriving in work at a reasonable time. One of my colleagues, who lives about 10km from the office, once took 2 hours to get to work. 5km an hour? Insane right?! Essentially, because the public transport system mainly consists of matatus (those minibuses), which are generally quite unreliable and uncomfortable, most residents (including expats) drive a car. I was speaking to a taxi driver the other day about the fact that almost everyone drives a car and then complains about the traffic. It’s a Catch-22 really because if the rich continue to buy cars, that weakens the demand to invest in the public transport system. The taxi driver also pointed out that having a car is somewhat of a status symbol in Nairobi. I’m in two minds about driving myself for a number of reasons. One, I haven’t driven for 4 years, two, I’ve never driven in this sort of environment (where the roads are full of potholes and people tend to ignore traffic lights) and three, cars are expensive here. Having said that, the other transport options are far from ideal.
Now for the highlights!
4. Office welcome party
I know this sounds like an extremely boring event, and you’re probably wondering why I am including this in my blog. Amazingly, it was perhaps even the highlight of my first week in Nairobi (yes, this is what happens when you live in a business hotel in a city recovering from a terrorist attack). So on Fridays, the office closes a little earlier (around 1pm), and since there were about 5 new staff that week, it was decided that a little party should be held on the terrace. Cue ugali (one of the staples, made using water and maize flour) a lot of goat meat (none for me of course), Tusker beers and Smirnoff Ice.
Since it is a busy office, and people travel a lot, the staff are quite divided in terms of UK-appointed and national staff as well as people working in the regional team (like me) and those working in the Kenya team. These types of events, are thus intended to bring staff together. It certainly worked as about 15-20 of us were still laughing, chatting and dancing until about 9pm! I certainly impressed my colleagues with my azonto (yes I know…it was going to happen eventually), and they showed me a few Kenyan dance moves. Here’s one of my favourite songs of the night, ‘Karolina’ by Awilo Longomba. I was under the impression it was Kenyan but, it turns out it’s Congolese. Anywho, enjoy the East African vibes!
5. Blankets and Wine concert
Last Sunday, my fellow graduate colleagues and I (three of us came to Kenya), decided to go to the Blankets and Wine concert, an event that happens every first Sunday of the month.
This particular concert was special as it was a tribute to everyone affected by Westgate and all proceeds went to the Kenya Red Cross. It really was an example of how the country is coming together following the event and was part of the #WeAreOne campaign. I’m not too clued up on Kenyan music yet but artists such as Sarabi, Yellow Light Machine and Atemi Oyungu graced the stage.
It was a bit like a mini-festival, with attendees sat on their blankets drinking and eating, others dancing, others chilling and smoking shisha in a large marquee. There was even a kids area with a bouncy castle where candy floss was being sold. I must admit that we completely missed the concept of the whole event, despite the fact that the clue was in the name. We didn’t take a blanket and we didn’t take wine. Talk about a schoolboy error. We’ll know for next time though! All in all, it was a really nice atmosphere, great music and just generally a nice environment. It cost 2000 Kenyan shillings for entry, which is around £15 but I would say it was well worth it. It was the first place in Nairobi I felt I could properly relax and not have to be (too) wary of my surroundings. If you’re living in Nairobi and haven’t been, I would really recommend going.
6. Moving into an apartment
I will keep this short and sweet, as I am wary this entry is turning into an essay! On Tuesday evening, I finally left the hotel and I am now living in a furnished apartment in Hurlingham. I’m not going to lie, in comparison to other places I have lived, it’s not too shabby! The building also has a pool, gym, tennis court and basketball court. It’s safe to say that I feel a little bit spoilt and there is definitely room to host visitors! It is approximately 3.5km from the office, and unlike the hotel I was staying at, the area has character and is relatively lively. There is also a mall next door and it isn’t too far from the city centre. I am not 100% sure if this arrangement will be permanent but for now, I am just glad I am able to cook for myself and not waste money or time eating at a hotel. It is also nice to not be confined to one room!
In other news, my fellow graduate colleagues, are in Cape Town, South Africa for a language conference. Their hotel is on the beach…obviously I am not jealous at all! Haha. Ah well, it is a possibility I will be visiting the Maasai Mara (potentially the most famous African safari destination) next weekend so I can’t complain really 🙂
Until next time ✌