If I Only Knew

We are fast approaching our second anniversary of serving in Kenya so I thought I’d write down a list of things I wish I’d known before we came. Of course, hindsight is an awesome thing, but if you ever consider moving this way for a short or long period of time, it might be good to know.

 1. Africa Is Not Cheap To Live In

It’s a myth that’s for sure. We did our budget in 2011 but by the time we got here in 2012 prices had skyrocketed. Most things have stabilised in price since the VAT (tax) of 16% was added. Locals have really struggled since then. We spent a lot of 2013 buying furniture for our place as money came in, with most things bought second hand or built at a roadside carpenters.

Of course, income determines if something is expensive or not. Our budget is short by $1,000 a month, which is a lot when you aren’t allowed to earn money within the country. Our rent is half of what we paid in Sydney for something more than twice the size. We wanted a place where we could have people come and stay, relax and then go on their journey. We’ve had people from NZ, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Ethiopia, USA and Norway stay with us. We love it and are grateful for the apartment we have to be able to do it. But our landlord put up the rent by $100 per month after being here for a year, so we’re looking at alternatives for next year.

 

Equivalent to $9,700AUD for a 2001 car

Equivalent to $9,700AUD for a 2001 car

 2. White = Rich

If you’re not Kenyan, you’re white, even if you’re not white. That means you must have money to burn. If you go to the markets on the side of the road, you will spend more time bargaining than what you want. This is why people go to the more expensive supermarkets because they just get tired of being hassled all the time. A friend of ours got his suit for his wedding made for $50. If Pete went, it would be 3 times more the price.

If we want furniture made at the roadside market we send a Kenyan there first for a price so we know what we should be paying. No matter how much you tell your colleagues that you don’t have much money, it doesn’t matter, because you will always have more than them. What people don’t see is the amount of money spent on the work you do – petrol, car costs, school equipment, feeding people or running programs.

I need to get me one of these!

I need to get me one of these!

3. You’ll Want To Go Home, Often

Sometimes you wonder if the obstacles are worth it, wasn’t it much less complicated back home? Well, yes it was. Kenya is not impossible to live in it’s just very complicated. As a friend said to us in our early days “Living in Africa will show you what capacity you have on the inside” and I happen to think he’s very right.

It was much easier living in Australia. If we wanted to earn more money, we’d go paint a house. We understood the language. You could walk the streets at night and no problem. There were parks to play in that were free. If you wanted to go to church you had a Saturday night, Sunday morning and a Sunday night to choose from. The ocean was a 4 minute walk from our place.

There’s probably twice in the last couple of years when I’ve thought “Stick this, I don’t need this hassle, I’m heading home”, but for Pete it’s been quite often. He asked me the other day why we were here again. My simple answer is that God knew we were big enough to handle it.

 

 4. Set Work Boundaries

We’ve got plenty of friends who work in the same area as us, but with different organisations. All of us have the same problem – we struggle with work boundaries. I’ve a friend who gets paid for 2 days a week but often works for 5 ‘because they’re in need’. Our phones will often go off at 10pm. We’ve had one weekend off in the last 2 months. I’ve calculated we’ve had 5 days of actual holidays in the last 2 years. When we’ve travelled out of town or overseas, it’s all to do with work. That is really dumb.

This year I decided to work at the office until 1pm, have lunch and then do the rest of my work from home. In essence I can work anywhere in the world but feel obliged to turn up to prove I’m actually working. Between now and when we fly out to Australia in November I’m even taking an hour out in the middle of the day to get some exercise and sunshine.

Next year I’m even thinking of rehashing my working conditions by spending less time in the office and more in the field with people.

Learn to turn it off

Learn to turn it off

 5. Sign A Contract

Too many people come with good intentions which get squished out and changed to be not what they came for. I’ve friends in another country who came to work with orphaned children then after 8 months were dumped because the organisation didn’t want to make necessary changes for improvement. Another family came to build a school but wasn’t allowed any input into the long term planning of it. Others were having to give a certain percentage of their support money for the ‘privilege of volunteering’. Make sure the requirements are written down and everyone understands the small print, who pays what and what is expected. For some reason we do this in the business world, but not in development work. Go figure?

 

6. Do Your Homework Before Coming

We had been to Kenya 3 times before moving here. Most times we came for 2 months and travelled to neighbouring countries as well. However, there is a BIG difference between visiting and living somewhere. How basic everyday things are run is a huge task to learn. It took us 6 weeks to even begin to figure out directions and where things were. Unfortunately, people who have lived somewhere for a long time take everything they’ve learnt for granted. I remember getting pulled across the coals because we didn’t visit a person in hospital enough. Apparently here you drop everything and race off to visit someone, you also take fruit or juice. No one told us about that, and we didn’t even know how to get to the hospital.

An important thing to look into is getting a visa, owning land and traffic laws. Everything here takes a l-o-n-g time and it’s never straight forward. Join expat blogs before you come so you get an idea of how things work. Get Swahili apps on your phone. Use Google maps to see how far things are in distance. Learn some history of the place.

 

 7. Clothes Are Expensive Here

Of course, if you want to, you can buy cheap clothes at the local market. The one closest to us to called the Toi Market. There you can buy second hand clothes, sometimes new ones, which come from overseas. Pete gets a pair of new jeans for $10, guys are lucky, they know their sizes and can get it off the rack. Ladies, not so much.

The clothes at the mall are way overpriced. These are either imported (and thus have large tax) or top of the line. I envy Kenyans, they don’t have to worry about skin tones, they’ve all just got brown skin. They can wear really bright clothes and look awesome!

When we return to Australia we’re buying up big time, especially in the sock and undies department. I think we might even go with empty suitcases.

toi  8. People Won’t Listen To You

The number of people who won’t listen to you if frustrating to the max. I mean, what do we know, we actually live here and know how the system works. Visitors have wasted so much money because they JUST WON’T LISTEN. One friend was told by his travel agent that he would have to pay $50 more for an English speaking taxi driver. What a load of rubbish, English is one of the national languages here. Of course, he decided to ignore all of our advice and ended up paying thousands of dollars more than he needed to. We’ve had others who didn’t want our help (thank you very much), decided to do things their way and paid way too much for a vehicle hire and didn’t get to see the areas they really needed to.

And that’s just the visitors.

When you’re trying to bring in different ways of doing things, people will predominantly resort back to their ways. The proof of the success of your teaching is if they put it into practise when you’re not around. If 50% of it is done, that is pretty impressive. We’ll be gone for 8 weeks and it will be interesting to see what the state of things will be on our return.

 

 9. You’ll Spend A Lot More Time On A Computer Than You Ever Thought

There were 2 things I didn’t want to do when we came to Kenya – fundraising and sit in front of a computer a lot. Guess what, I’ve ended up doing both. It’s a necessary evil. Today someone said to me that they haven’t seen a newsletter for a while (it’s been a month). Flip my lid, I’m on Facebook every day, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and weekly blogs but it still doesn’t cover everyone. There’s marketing material to be designed, videos to create (and they take ages), grants to write and complicated emails to answer. It’s not unusual for me to be on a computer 8 – 12 hours a day.

man 10. It Just Might Be One Of The Best Moves You’ve Ever Made

When Africa gets under your skin, there’s nothing you can do about it. Sure, not everyone should be here long term, in fact, most shouldn’t. Whether you come for a short or long time, all that matters is that you’re doing what you should be doing. If you come with a flexible attitude, don’t always compare it to your home country and be in an attitude of learning, then you should be fine. I called the first year ‘Going back to school’. Every day and even parts of a day were a lesson.

What you will be surprised at is the number of things happening across the country and especially in Nairobi. There’s music festivals, fun runs, street performers, fashion shows, expos, conferences and more. You will meet some amazing people, fruit abounds year round and you’ll never get bored. You’ll notice there are lots and lots of nationalities, wildlife you’ll only read of in books and have experiences your friends will envy.

Africa, Kenya are places that will change you for the better. You’ll get a bigger world view. You’ll miss it when you leave.

sunIf you plan on coming for at least 2 years can I highly suggest that you don’t do anything for at least a month or two. Get to know the place, the people, directions and get your home set up. We get so passionate about helping people, we can hinder things by rushing in too fast. When we got here some of our team members were leaving and we were expected to take up the slack. I’ve heard of it happening lots in many projects and the newbies either sink or swim. Most of the time we didn’t have a clue that was going on and I remember every few days we were saying to each other “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, I hope we’re doing okay”.

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The Road To Eldoret

On Monday we needed to go to Eldoret to take a dog to a new home, one of our students to his placement and also to look at one of our projects we did a couple of years ago.

While it seems straight forward, nothing here in Kenya is simple. Before we could go on our trip we had a meeting, which meant a pickup at the airport at 6.30am. Of course, the flight was delayed by 90 minutes. The only way to tell was because I could find it online. At the airport the only flights up on the screen were those from Kenya Airways and our guy was coming in on Jet Airways.

Us with Chege at Java

Us with Chege at Java

The plan was to go and have breakfast with a businessman to discuss whether a project we’re working on will be possible. But when we got there, plans had changed and we had a meeting and THEN the breakfast, at around 10am. We ended up going to a lovely hotel called Ole Sereni. Apparently this is where the US set up their embassy when theirs was bombed in 1998. It also backs onto the Nairobi National Park, although we didn’t see any animals!

We then had very little time to get our Aussie mate back to the airport for his ongoing flight. At JKIA security checks can take up to 30 minutes. You wait in your car, then you have to get out (except the driver), go line up (ladies with a female security guard), show your ID and then they pat you down to make sure you’re not carrying a bomb. Of course, they never check under the seats where you could easily hide a bomb.

Kiwi

Kiwi

The next part of our trip was to travel out to Kiserian where the training farm is that Pete assists with. It was the total opposite direction from where we wanted to end up but we had to go and pick up ‘Kiwi’ a dog who was travelling the 6 hours with us to Eldoret. We spent a whopping 15 minutes there before we started on our real trip.

It was just over an hour to Nairobi and by then I was snoozing and the dog was throwing up. I can do dislocations, broken bones and blood, but I don’t do vomit. When my kids chucked up Pete was on cleanup duty. Thankfully we always have baby wipes in the car.

Ninety minutes later we arrived in Naivasha to pick up the student. We then spent 45 minutes looking for him. There are no big meetup points in Naivasha. He told us to ‘meet him at the bridge’. Well, there are two bridges outside of Naivasha and he wasn’t at either. Eventually I sent him a text message to say if he wasn’t there in 10 minutes we were going without him. Surprise, surprise he turned up.

The toilet blocks we fundraised for

The toilet blocks we fundraised for

By then we were starving so only an hour later we stopped at Java House in Nakuru. Java is a place we go to in Nairobi for a small meal, it’s relatively cheap and the food tastes good. The student we were taking had never been there before in his life. For him, to spend $6 on a meal was not even thinkable. It was really nice to be able to take him out somewhere he’d never been before in a town only an hour from him, but he’d never had the money to travel there.

Our Golden Rule is that we don’t drive long distance at night – we broke it. The roads are too dangerous, the truck drivers crazy and it is just not a good idea. Thankfully Pete was driving but it was pretty stressful.

We left home at 6am and got to Eldoret at 9.15pm. Of course, we then went to a hotel for a cup of tea and our student got to order sausages and chips for the second time in the day. I think he thought he was in food heaven. It was midnight by the time we got to bed because we had to introduce Kiwi to the other dogs. He wasn’t going to have a bar of it and kept trying to jump back into the car. It was pretty sad really but after 30 minutes he was okay and locked into the garage.

 

Lizzie in filming mode

Lizzie in filming mode

The next morning Kiwi was best mates with the other two dogs. We headed into town to do some shopping for our student. I quite like country towns, they’re more intimate than Nairobi and a lot cheaper. Prices in Nairobi are sky rocketing but prices in Eldoret were awesome. We bought a few things for our student to help him set up his room. He won’t get paid for another month so needed some bits and pieces and food.

We really wanted to head out of Eldoret by 12. It wasn’t going to happen. Firstly we had to go to the farm to make sure everything was okay for our student. Next, we headed to the place we had done a toilet block project in. Sadly the kids were on holidays but we got lots of filming done for future videos. We were pretty pleased that 2 years later they were still in good condition. Just as well one was unlocked as we needed to use it.

Pete waiting for us to film

Pete waiting for us to film

The drive home was long, really long. We stopped off in Nakuru again, at Java again and headed back to Nairobi, again. By the time we got home we were all sick and tired of sitting down and over dodging in between trucks.

On the flip side we managed to pick up super cheap veges and fruit on the side of the road. I made sure we got lots of rhubarb to go into the freezer.

We were glad we got to go even though it was a really long trip. We got to see what our students need to start in a job. We could tell that our projects are still working. We got to give a dog a home.

 

 

I Want To Help The Poor

Last week we had a friend from Australia come and visit for a few days before she moved on to look at other projects in Kenya.

She said something on the first day that I’ve heard many a time over the years “We’d better get busy, I’m here to help the poor.”

While I knew what she meant, it got me thinking about how we think about what we think helping others actually is.

In the West we have the mentality to put a band aid on something and walk away. Or, we write a cheque because it’s the easiest way for us to ‘deal with it’.

Not that there’s anything wrong with handing out money but is it really the answer?

Most weeks I get the privilege of going to the Kibera Slum. The reason I say privilege, is because as a white person by myself, it would be unwise and it wouldn’t be safe for me, but with one of our friends, I am fine. It’s not that they don’t like white people, but they’re over white people coming in buses, taking photos and leaving. They’re over white people telling them what to do.

They just want to get on with their lives and make the best of what’s been dealt to them.

I look at the slum of nearly a million people and how much money has been poured into that place over the years and wonder what impact it has made. And yet I see glimmers of hope.

 

How can we make a real impact on people:

1. Learn about the people you want to help

Do you remember their name or just their need? How can we tell people we care if we don’t know who we’re talking about? Our motto should always be ‘People matter most’. Leave the programs up to those living on the ground long term.

Ask people “What is your dream for your children?” They will be more than willing to tell you. For most it will be that they want their children to go to school and have a better life than what they did.

girlchild2. Learn their story

Everyone has a story but not everyone has a voice. Our job is to give them a platform to be heard.

When I lived in Sydney, Australia I was studying for my MBA and needed to go into the city to buy a $120 textbook for a subject. I was walking through an area called Martin Place at lunchtime and threw $5 into a bowl by a homeless lady who was sitting on the footpath. I went on my merry way and then this thought came to me ‘what a fat lot of difference that made’. I knew what I had to do. I went and bought my book, dropped into a friends million dollar jewellery store for a chat and went back to Martin Place. In my mind I was kind of hoping the lady was still there and then I didn’t. But when I saw her, I was relieved that she was.

I sat down with her and asked her story. There was a food cart across the street so I asked her if she wanted a Coke and chips, to which her answer was “No, just a bottle of water and a sandwich is fine.” I ended up buying as much as possible and sat back on the ground with her for a few more minutes. As a Jesus follower I asked if I could pray with her, which she allowed. Then I told her I had to go and catch a ferry to Manly. I walked away hoping that I gave her hope.

The gist of it is that I gave her a chance to tell about herself and I just had to listen – that was all.

home3. Link up with people working on the ground

When you come to a place like Africa all you will see are the things that need fixing – the roads, the electricity, the living conditions, the poverty. Plenty of people have walked in with pockets full of cash and gone home penniless. They give out money here and there. People’s stories will pull on your heart strings and you couldn’t imagine YOUR children living in some of these conditions. You’ll be shocked and want to give, give, give.

Can I suggest something. Give to organisations (never individuals) who have a good track record and can prove where the money goes. There is no harm in asking for copies of the receipts. Accountability is a good thing.

This week we gave a person we trust a small amount of money for some clothes for a young man. Even then, I asked if they could take a photo on their phone and to send it to me. It’s not because we don’t trust them, it’s because I want to use it to raise more money for more kids. Because we knew each other, we’d built this relationship, it wasn’t offensive.

Remember – the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

chocolate_pudding_s

4. Don’t make promises

When you see a great need it’s easy to get swept away in emotion, especially if there are young children involved. Too many people have come to Africa and said that when they return home they will do something to help. The truth is, when you get back home you hit the ground running and get caught up in every day life.

If you raise funds, that’s great. If you raise awareness that raises funds, even better.

poverty-in-africa5. Be rather than do

We tend to think that if we get in there and ‘fix it’ we’ve done our job. Sure, we can do it but what have we left the person with? Have we left them with a sense of value, belonging and that they are our equals? Or, do people just see dollar signs when they see us?

Play a game of soccer with the kids, have tea with the mamas, sit with people in their home, show them photos of your kids, be a friend.

basketball-children-africa

We always welcome visitors with open arms, but please, come to learn, then you will get everything out of your trip that is available. If you come to do, do, do, you’ll end up judging, frustrated and wonder what difference you’ve made.

Leave your chequebook at home. Then when you get back, you can give to one project that really touched your heart. Crumbs given out here and there don’t really impact much, but a larger one off donation can be utilised really well.