The 2017 Kenya Elections & Us

This is our second elections that we have been through living in Kenya. Last time we stocked up on food and fuel for a month as it was the first time after the 2007 elections which ended up being hugely violent. 2012 was minimal violence.

Now in 2017 everyone was so unsure of what would eventuate. We decided to stay in Nairobi because we’ve travelled a lot this year and we wanted to be here for our team in case it all went cactus. We’ve actually ended up with extras at our place. First we had an Aussie friend who lives in Uganda staying. When she left a friend and her son who live in the Kibera Slum have come to stay for a few days until the elections are over.

Here’s the lowdown on how it affected not just us but the public.

 

Beforehand

Usually in an election year there’s lots of upgrades on the roads, improvements in communities and better access to water. This year there was absolutely nothing. So things are more rundown than ever.

Nairobi is known to be an apartment city and there’s lots of building going on. However, for the past 6 months I haven’t seen as many busy sites. They’re there but not active. Maybe it’s because investors have pulled out but also businesses aren’t sure if they will get paid.

We’ve talked with a lot of business people and that’s their biggest problem. There’s plenty of work but people are not paying their bills. It’s usually a problem here but it’s blown up this year.

The elections were held on August 8th. That meant on 5th and 6th the shops were jam packed. Imagine what it’s like in your country leading up to Christmas when every man and his dog decides to visit the mall. Here people shopped like it was the end of the world. Everything was meant to be closed on election day but it was more than that. It was the uncertainty of what would happen afterwards.

That was the biggest thing that hung in the air all year – a sense of uncertainty.

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Will things flare up, will there be peace, will everything flare up?

It looks like half of Nairobi has emptied out. Many people have gone to their home village or to resorts. It’s deathly quiet, a bit like it is during the Christmas break. In our apartment block only half the people are here and it seems to be the norm across the city.

 

During

I went for a walk about 8.30am on the day of elections. Mainly it was because I was totally nosy as there was a polling booth just up the road from our apartment and I wanted to see what the turnout was like. I was really pleased to see it jam packed with people.

The roads themselves were empty and have been ever since. There is also an eerie quiet over the city. It made me a bit nervous because we are used to the noise of Nairobi.

After visiting some friends of ours in the morning we decided to venture out to see if there was a café open. We knew that the movie theatre was open and also a sports pub up the road but I thought Pete needed to get out. I was surprised to find that all of the eateries were open and packed with people.

 

After

The last three days have felt the longest ever. While I’ve enjoyed the lack of cars on the road what we really need is for people to get back to their normal lives. If people aren’t working, they’re not making money. That means school fees and bills won’t be paid when the term starts again in a few weeks. I was really pleased to hear the noise coming off the building site yesterday. These guys are earning minimal wages so it’s important for them to be able to feed their families.

The fact is if unemployment was lower than 65% in the under 25’s we would have a lot less trouble. It’s these ones who struggle daily and when a politician stirs them up or they feel like they’re not being listened to, it’s easy to stir them up. They’ll be the ones who will throw stones, set tyres alight and march up streets directly into tear gas thrown by police.

If a person is employed they are able to feed their family, pay school fees, buy clothes and pay the rent. When you’re employed you have a responsibility to turn up to work the next day. You don’t have time to get yourself in trouble and spend your nights stirring things up.

Now we play the waiting game. As soon as it is officially announced (hopefully today) then we will wait once again to see what flareups will happen because of it.

One thing I can say. The Kenyan elections have pretty much put the whole country on hold. Productivity has gone down the toilet and all we want to do is get on with our lives.

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Essentials on the Plane

If you’re like me and do long haul flights maybe over a couple of days and anywhere from 10 – 16 hours, it’s important to take a few essentials with you to make it comfortable.

If you would much rather watch the video of this rather than reading it, check it out HERE.

 

  1. Noise Reducing Headphones

I would suggest going all out and purchasing a pair of Bose headphones. Some people have got the cheaper ones but according to travel buddies, they are nowhere near as good as Bose. You can buy wireless ones, but for $100 less you can get the ones with a cord. I’ve done a lot of trips with mine and found the AAA batteries last longer than what I was told.

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  1. Neck Pillow

Don’t go and buy the cheap ones, go for the memory phone neck pillow. They last longer and you won’t regret the investment. The pillows on the planes just don’t do the trick and are never thick enough.

neck pillow

  1. Eye Mask

You can get freebies when you do long hauls on airlines such as Emirates, or you can spend a few dollars at the airport. They block out the light and help with the much needed sleep.

mask

  1. Contact Lenses

I hate wearing glasses, but it’s much more comfortable than your eyes drying out on a flight when you wear contacts. You can always put your contacts in at the airport toilets. Make sure you fill your contact lens case with lots of solution as it tends to leak on flights. Take a small bottle of solution with you on the plane, it doesn’t count towards your liquid take ons.

lens

  1. Socks

Kick your shoes off as soon as your flight takes off, it will help with keeping the swelling down. I tend to wear ballet flats on a plane and put on a pair of cheap socks for the flight. That way when I go to the dreaded toilets I just wear my socks, which I leave on the plane or put in the garbage after the flight. I find that my feet tend to get really cold on a flight so even if it’s hot outside, I wear my socks on the plane.

 

  1. Jumper

Call it a sweater, hoodie or jumper but definitely take something to keep warm on a flight. On one of our long flights from Abu Dhabi to Sydney it was so cold on the 14 hour flight that people had blankets over their heads and around them. For the life of me I don’t know why they didn’t turn up the air conditioning but it was the worst flight ever. From now on I’m even taking one of my Masai blankets as an extra precaution.

 

  1. Little Items

Hairbrush, hair tie, toothbrush, toothpaste. They all make a difference to your flight. At the airport you can buy (if you don’t get one on the flight) in the toilets a small toothbrush and toothpaste. It’s well worth the $2 investment. Most airplane toilets have hand moisturizer in them – use it. At least after a long haul flight you can walk off the plane feeling a little refreshed.

tooth

 

What essentials do you take on your long haul flights?

Why I Don’t Run Anymore

I have been running pretty much my whole life. I remember my dad kicking all 4 of us kids out the door to go running with him. He died when I was 14 and I think it was part of the grieving process that I just kept it up.

Throughout high school I entered races on sports day but I was never THAT good, especially the sprints. Doesn’t help when you have the New Zealand champion at the same school.

shoes

I think I like running because it’s just me and my headphones out there. It’s a great way to shake things off, especially if you’re in a grump or trying to work things through in your head.

I took a break when my husband and kids came along. We were youth workers and threw ourselves into that 110%. New Zealand winters are wickedly cold and there is no incentive to go skating on black ice when you’re running. That’s the bonus of living in Kenya, you never get great highs and lows in the weather.

When we moved to Sydney, Australia, we lived close to the beach. There is nothing like the smell of salt water mixed with fresh air. It’s quite magical down by the ocean. You can have a really crappy day but head down to the beach and it all melts away. Most mornings I would get out for a run and then a quick walk on the beach.

I also like running because I like food. I’m not a piggy, I just appreciate food. However, as you get older, shedding the weight becomes a major challenge. Running on sand as well as up and down stairs gives you great thigh muscles. But, nothing ever came off the waist. Science tells us that something like 80% of weight loss is from the food we eat and only 20% from exercise. I’m not disciplined enough to go super healthy.

We’ve been living in Kenya for 5 years now. For the last couple of years it feels like I’ve been more out than in because of international travel. Mostly it’s for family stuff but also fundraising. Overall this year I’m 6 months in Kenya and 6 months overseas, with me being away for 6 weeks at a time.

park

If only the place I went running was as good as this.

So I’ve decided for the rest of the year that I won’t go running. I’ve found it pretty impossible to go running when I’m on the road. Most of my friends who travel for work stay at hotels that have a gym. Me, I stay on people’s sofas or spare room. While I do find that going out for a run is a good way to get a lay of the land, I am the worst when it comes to directions. Also, because I move from one town to another after a few days and spend at least the first week trying to get over jetlag it’s near impossible to get into a routine.

Instead of running which I can’t sustain when I’m on the road, I’m power walking. It’s easier on the knees and it looks just as good as my ‘granny shuffle’. It doesn’t build as much muscle but I’m compensating by doing some exercises like situps and squats. So my ‘plan’ when I’m travelling is to at least walk three times a week for 30 minutes, which is what I do when I’m at home. At least that way I’m getting some form of exercise.

Will I ever go back to running? I hope so. I’ve finally found a better route that has less people walking on it and less potholes or a footpath. There’s no sewerage filled streams to run over and lots of trees. My running shoes are more than 5 years old so will pick up a spare pair I have in New Zealand and hopefully get back into it. I can’t see myself entering into any 15km ‘funruns’ but I can see myself enjoying the great outdoors.

shaz

My typical running gear. This was in NZ when I tried walking on the beach as my exercise.

I’ll be 49 in a few months but I’m not going to let that nor my environment dictate my health to me. I hope to get back to running, I really do like it and at the same time I hate it because it’s such hard work. But then, I do like eating a lot!

 

 

 

How To Plan Your Trip

Preparation is the name of the game. You can’t go to a foreign country and expect it to be like your home. That would be boring to travel somewhere and it’s exactly the same as what you left.

 

So here’s some things to consider:

  1. Decide how long you can afford to be away from home for.

10 days is an ideal time for a short trip, 6 weeks at the most. Do you really want to use all of your annual holidays in one block? That makes it a really long year! If you can, ask your boss for time without pay if you want a really extended holiday. Most businesses are really good on this one if you’ve proven yourself a good employee. Ten days should be your minimum time away. Allow one day each way for travel and that’s not  much time to see everything you want.

 

  1. Decide what you want to do and where you want to go.

Get it in your head that you can’t do everything you want in one trip. Write out your bucket list and make these a priority for your trip. You don’t want to come back so totally exhausted, but you do want to come back with some awesome memories. Plan out beforehand what is most important to you and go do these.

 

  1. Budget

Remember that your biggest expenses besides the flight will be accommodation and food. Places like Indonesia and Bali have cheap food, but most places are quite expensive to eat at. Try getting public transport over hiring a car if you can, as hiring is quite expensive. Always put insurance in your budget. I cannot over emphasize how important it is to get insurance. While it’s a huge investment, it’s better than getting a bill for a million dollars if you have a heart attack in the US.

 

  1. Save

Set up an account that you absolutely refuse to touch, which is specifically for your travel expenses. You are better to save rather than put everything on a credit card and spend the next year paying off, with huge interest attached to it. You might have to give up extras like buying the latest clothes, music, going to the movies or eating out as much as you would like. You need to sacrifice to get what you really want.

 

  1. Search Engines

To save yourself lots of time use travel search engines such as Webjet, Skyscanner, Travelstart just to name a few. When you find the flight/s your happy with, go directly to the airline website as sometimes it is cheaper and you can save on card fees. Join their frequent flyer clubs and sign up for specials. That way you get points for flying and can use these for reduced flight costs. While it may be a pain getting endless emails, there’s nothing like a delete button! When you accrue enough points you can get extra services and lounge entries as part of the deal.

Once you start saving and searching, you’ll start dreaming about the endless possibilities for your trip. Forty years ago I did a study on the Manyatta of Kenya and who would’ve thought I now live here. A dream has to start somewhere.

 

What are your best tips for travel preparation?

The Tourist v The Resident

We often get short term visitors here in Kenya, some for just a night, others for a week. Not many come for a couple of weeks as they’re usually passing through on their way to another country. We always go out of our way for visitors, but I think they assume that’s how it always is. For our last visitor we bought bacon but I don’t think he has a clue that we only buy bacon once or twice a year – it’s way out of our budget.

We’ve been living here for 5 years and before that travelling back and forth for another 5. The longer we are the more interesting observations we’ve made.

 

Clothing

Tourists like to wear khaki coloured shorts or shirts. Naturally, when they go out on safari, this is the chosen colour. They also wear funny looking sandals. Too often, we see people wearing inappropriate clothing – like super short/tight shorts – it doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

As a resident, you know to wear covered in shoes because its so dusty and the ground dirty. I’m always jealous of Africa women because they can get away with brightly coloured clothes. Me, I’m just emerging into florals. Khaki is only for safaris that’s for sure. Unfortunately we are seeing more locals wear shorter clothing but nowhere near what we see in the West – thankfully.

tourist

 

Photos

Yep, you can spot the tourists as they all hang their cameras around their necks. They whip out a camera and take a billion and one shots – without asking the person. They are happy to shove a camera in the face of a stranger and snap away and then wonder why the person asks for money.

As a local you learn pretty fast that you don’t win friends that way. No one likes having their photo taken without permission. It’s also not safe to walk around with a camera. Nothing says ‘steal from me’ than a camera on your body.

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Security

I feel afraid for people when I see them walking around as it gets dark. It starts getting dark at 6.45pm and pitch dark by 7pm, it happens that fast – every day. I also see people on the back of motorbike taxis with no helmet or safety gear. It’s not like you can grow another head or anything!

Our daughter Liz travels lots of places on the back of a bike, but only if she wears a bright protective jacket and she has her own helmet. Once, her driver skidded on mud while he was taking a short cut and she ended up on the ground. It totally shook her up but reinforced the need for safety gear. We try not to drive long distances when its dark, there’s just too many people who walk around and vehicles without any lights to make it worth it. You have to have a plan if you want to last long term here. That includes not walking around when it starts getting dark. There’s been way to many muggings for that.

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Money

Tipping isn’t compulsory here but when you get good service, it’s appreciated. Our biggest note is 1,000 shillings, equivalent to $10USD. At one meal out with some visitors someone dropped in a whole 1,000 shillings, against our protests. For him it was nothing, but for us we could see the ongoing issues with it. The waiter was impressed because he was getting a great amount, but then it reinforces the thought ‘all foreigners are wealthy and we ‘poor Africans’ should be looked after’.

If we are just getting a coffee, we’ll give 50 shillings (65 cents), if it’s a meal, it will be 100 shillings ($1.30). If there’s a large group we’ll add another one hundred shillings. You have to think about the affect of what you do on the communities you work with.

 

So when you come, and we hope you do, please listen to us – we might just know a thing or two about the place, the culture, the people. This is their home, this is our home.

 

Peperuka

Peperuka – ‘to soar’ in Swahili.

I met the founder of this company a couple of years ago at a Christmas market in Nairobi. I had seen their tee shirts around town and was rapt to be able to get Liz a tee shirt that said ‘I love Nairobi’. The shirt has done her well but since Liz has lost weight, it’s time to downsize.

pillow

Wherever I go, I’m always grabbing business cards of interesting people, because you never know when you’ll need them. I’m constantly on the lookout for guest speakers at a program I’m involved in called The Girl Project. While my team does the majority of work, my role is to make sure there is an interesting speaker to inspire the girls. To say they are from disadvantaged situations is an understatement.

These students live in a 3 by 3 metre tin shack in the Kibera Slum. Their parents (mostly single mums) struggle to earn $5 a day. The girls often leave home at 5.30 in the morning for school and don’t get home until 7pm. We created The Girl Project not only to make sure they get sanitary products, but leadership and mentoring by Kenyan businesswomen.

Hence – Peperuka.

Why I love their work, is that they are proudly Kenyan – Africa is their home and want to show the inspirational side of it through design and clothing. I also like how they don’t compromise on quality. Too many times here I’ve seen second class quality on goods and it frustrates me, because it doesn’t have to be this way. I heard someone run a quote that went something along the lines of ‘We won’t see change until we as Kenyans stop accepting that we are worthy of only being second class’.

wangari

I agree. I’m always telling our students ‘if you want to be treated first class, you have to be thinking first class, cause our actions come out of our thoughts’.

Just last weekend we have the founder of Peperuka, Wangari and one of her team, Mary come and speak to our girls. I think it was the most impacting message the students had heard for a long time. It wasn’t just about the design and clothing industry, it was about lessons they had learnt in their own personal lives. Making the right choices can have a HUGE impact on our lives.

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I wish people in the West could get a real picture of some of the amazing people we have here in Kenya. Unfortunately, good news doesn’t sell. I am privileged to be able to meet these people and I am proud to share about them.

When you see me this year, you’ll see me wearing some of the tee shirts made by Peperuka. I love their work and I think you should too!

Tsavo Conservancy

It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been to a wildlife park that has elephants in it, and I really wanted to get away this Christmas to see them. Elephants eat a lot of food (100-300kg’s) and drink lots of water (190litres) and not all parks can cater for them. They also have routes that they follow.

sign

So, off we went to a place called the Tsavo Conservancy.

camp-sign

In theory it should take 6 hours to drive there from Nairobi, but with trucks going ridiculously slow (think 40km’s per hour) and traffic thick because of the holidays it took us 7 hours. It’s an easy drive and the road is in pretty good condition until just after Voi, where it’s advisable to fill up on petrol.

cheetah-licking

We stayed at a place called Rukinga, one of 7 ranches that form the Tsavo Conservancy. Cara, my contact there gave very clear directions (which is unusual here). We signed in at the gate and kept following the directions to the camp. I said we’d get there at 3.30pm and we did.

hornbill-staring

What surprised me the most was the quietness. After being in a noisy city the quiet was almost deafening. I was also surprised that there were very few people around. I assumed because it was coming up to Christmas that the place would be overflowing with visitors. There was just the three of us and a group of eleven people from Nairobi. It was ironic that the group actually lived in the same suburb we do. The next day a family of three from Germany were going to join the camp.

ele-eating

Rukinga is split into three areas. There’s the tenting and self catering area. There’s Nduvo House which is a two story building with three huge bedrooms, it’s own kitchen and a couple of open space lounges. That’s where the large group were staying.

And then there was our area.

There are bandas which either have bunk beds in them or like ours, a two room with a bathroom in between. There’s an outdoor eating area as well as a bar and an open area for the lounge. Unfortunately there’s no pool, which, with the sweltering weather would’ve been appreciated. However, we would’ve had to fight the elephants for it had there been one.

camp-grounds

One of the things we quickly discovered is that the wifi that was advertised, did not exist. I was bummed out because we really wanted to Skype the kids on Christmas Day.

nduvo-lounge

Our time there was spent on early morning and late afternoon safaris. The best thing we had done was to pay for a jeep and driver to go on the three drives. There was also a guide who was on the lookout for animals. One the first afternoon we were there we drove ourselves and saw – nothing. The guides know the habits of the animals, their feeding and watering grounds, as well as how to get good photographs.

I hate it when drivers become impatient and want to get on to the next animal ‘fix’. We like to watch, observe and get a million and one photos. Sometimes you just need to enjoy the beauty in front of you through real eyes and not just a lens. Our guides were fantastic.

guides

I do have to say that the meals provided were really basic, but we figured it out before we left. We didn’t go hungry, but the meals weren’t flash. Our Christmas lunch was spaghetti and tomato puree. Not anything to rave about. However, there was always fruit at the end of every meal, and the mangoes were to die for.

While having no wifi at the camp, we managed to find it when on safari. We even managed to call the kids in New Zealand on their Christmas morning, which was great.

But I guess that’s what getting away is really about. Getting away from all the hassles of daily life, getting connected to the world and not a device, take a break to breathe.

If you visit the Tsavo Conservancy I suggest a couple of things:

  1. Take a book, games and cards.
  2. Definitely pay for a safari guide and driver – you can see much more from their vehicles.

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The staff at the Conservancy were of some of the highest I’ve experienced. They went out of their way to make sure our stay was the best one possible. We liked it so much, that we’ve decided to return in April.

Why not take a weekend out from the city and visit the Tsavo Conservancy, it might just do you some good.