The Challenges of Living in the Third World

I hate the wording ‘Third World’ it seems so second handy and demeaning. I’ve been living and working in Kenya for 5 months. While it’s early days yet, there is no time for putting one’s feet up and enjoying the scenery.

There are some big challenges here though:

1. Language

Just when you think you start understanding Kiswahili, you try and enter a conversation and you’re blocked out. On top of that there’s the different languages in different areas and then the slang called ‘sheng’ which is the street language in Nairobi. Having lessons is like going back to school. I’ve taught English as a second language for years, now the teacher has become the student.

2. Electricity

Or the lack of it. When we travel to the farm, an hour away, it’s in a rural setting. You expect the power to go off there and brace yourself for heating up water on the gas stove and use the headlamp to get around. You don’t expect to be in the city and have no power for days on end. So, you have to compensate by using solar, making sure everything is charged when there is power and know where the torch is. I’ve got my laptop down to 2% just before the power returned.

It’s amazing how having lights and access to electricity can change your mood. Sure, we have a TV and an office on solar power but to be able to work in the light makes you feel better.

3. Internet

Where we are living there is wireless internet but for no apparent reason it just stops working. This usually happens just when you urgently need to find something on the web. I’ve resorted to getting a plugin modem that I can use anywhere. $2.50 of internet can last for weeks, so it’s rather handy.

It’s amazing that you can be in the middle of nowhere, and you run across (as opposed to over) a Masai warrior dressed in traditional clothes and there he is on his phone Tweeting about events in the field. I’m off to Uganda next week so here’s hoping I have no hassles in getting the internet there. Not that I;m addicted to the internet but without it I can’t work.

4. Clothes

The clothes shops in the malls are so expensive, I’m talking about label price for something that isn’t. There are plenty of places you can buy cheap second hand clothes but I don’t have the time nor the patience to go hunting for them. Pete refuses to buy second hand, it’s below him. Import duty here can be between 75 – 125%, uping the prices hugely. We bought enough clothes to last us a year but now I realise that most of my tee shirts are black. I’m not a floral person (I do like flowers) and a lot of clothes have flowers on them. I hope to head to Sydney in February next year and I sure will be shopping there.

5. Being Forgotten

We made the choice to come to Kenya. Nobody forced us, no one twisted our arms, we came of our own free will. I totally understand that everyone’s lives are busy but it’s frustrating when your old friends don’t keep in touch with us. It is true that when you are out of sight, you’re out of mind. In our online world no one has an excuse to not keep in touch. I remember the CEO of Compassion years ago saying that the thing that breaks his heart is that so many sponsors don’t write to the children. I totally understand this. Not that I’m expecting a letter but the odd SMS, email, hi on Facebook goes a long way. I work about 90 hours a week and sometimes the work is overwhelming. Then, I get an SMS from a friend just to say hello and it encourages me to go on.

To me, relationships are the most important asset we have in life.

All the other things like terrible roads, limited money, distance from family, long hours and still not being in our own home pale in comparison to the opportunity we have in impacting the lives of young people here.

Challenges are here not to break us but to make us into better people.

Well, that’s what I keep telling myself anyway!

Me and the girls

Me and the girls

2 thoughts on “The Challenges of Living in the Third World

  1. Hi Sharon,
    You spoke at the Round Square Conference in Armadale in 2012 and I was a delegate from Billanook College in Melbourne. I have just been speaking to an ex student who has been in Africa working in Nairobi for the last 12 months. She wants to get a service project going to Naiobi for students to work at a school called St Catherine’s in the slum area.
    We would stay with a Home stay family.
    Love to know what you think because you have now been in Nairobi for a while and also stay in touch. Looking to come to Nairobi hopefully in January 2014. Any points to share?
    Jane Yuille

  2. Hi Jane,

    Great to hear from you. Would love to have a chat with you and your friend. St Catherines is in a slum about 15 minutes up the road from where we are. The needs in Kibera are huge and looking at their website, St Catherines, like many other NGO’s are doing what they can with limited resources.
    When you talk about a homestay family, where would that be? I would be very concerned if it were with a family in Kibera. Things have changed there since 2007, so it is not safe for white people to walk around without a host, and that’s coming from a friend who has worked here for 10 years.

    I have plenty of information that could make your visit a bit easier. Are you planning on just a short visit or something a bit longer? It will be great to catch up with you and assist you where we can. The beauty of being here on the ground is that we can get stuff done a lot faster and find out information first hand.


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