I’ve a Split Personality

I’ve been away from our African home for 3 weeks now and I’ve suddenly realized that I’ve got what used to be called a split personality, now it’s known as having a Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Here’s one definition:

‘dissociative identity disorder is a severe form of dissociation, a mental process which produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity’ (webmd.com)

Most of us turn towards Hollywood on this issue where we see someone suddenly transform into a totally different person and go ‘Oh, they have a split personality’.

Why on Earth would I confess to this?

It’s quite easy really. I was in the car with Pete and we agreed that we felt like fish out of water in a country that we call our ‘other home’. Sure, we hold an NZ passport but it doesn’t make us Kiwis. We are a mixed breed – born in New Zealand, spent a good number of years in Australia but Kenya feels more home than any other place.

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This does not taste like Kenyan tea.

We literally have to speak a different language, dress differently and act differently. I still get shocked that there is no place in cafes to wash your hands before you eat. It rains here A LOT and it’s the coldest we’ve been in a long time. Temperature wise it’s not that cold but it’s a chill that goes to the bones.

It’s almost like we have to put away our ‘Africa lifestyle’ and pretend that we belong here.

But there’s this tugging of a war inside of me. I’ve adapted and become someone else who doesn’t fit in here, I’m just pretending. I feel like the real me is waiting back in Nairobi.

It’s not that I’m not making the most of it, it just feels weird. I’m loving time with family and the food here is phenomenal, there’s no doubt about that. When I’m skyping my team back home I can slide back into my comfort zone. Even after a few weeks of being away, I feel like there’s a strong pull to East Africa while here I am not connected to much Kiwiana at all.

So what’s the answer?

I think I will embrace my very different ‘mes’, while I’m full on Kiwi on the outside, on the inside I’m very Kenyan. I’ll keep speaking English out loud and Swahili in my head. I’ll use knife and fork with my chicken here but gladly use fingers in Kenya.  I’ll get to understand how this new country of mine (for 2 months) works and then miss the simplicity of it when I return home.

sevens

And yes, the Kenyans beat the Kiwis in the sevens.

When you see me, feel free to say ‘habari za asubuhi’ (good morning) and you will make my day, but I warn you, my Kenyan side might come out in full swing!

 

 

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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.

elections

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.

bike

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!

Can you have Christmas without Candy Canes?

In another week, most people around the world will be celebrating Christmas. Some will be with friends, others with family and way too many people will spend the day alone. Probably for most it will be about Santa and gifts, for some it’s the time to remember the birth of Jesus Christ.

There’s always competition on who can have the best lighting show on their house and the most impressive gift given.

house

We have some traditions for Christmas. The tree goes up on the 1st December, followed by the lights. Each year we each go out and choose a decoration for the tree. Sometimes we’re in different countries so it’s nice as a memory of our travels.

This year we will be in Kenya for Christmas. We were here last year too but we were actually meant to be in South Africa. That all fell through at the last minute and so we felt a little lost being in Nairobi. All of our friends had gone away, both local and expat. Nairobi pretty much empties out as this is one of the few times people will travel to go and see their families. We knew we would be here this year so planned for it well.

However, the other day I was looking at the tree that Lizzie put up and really missed seeing the candy canes. I’ve never seen them in Kenya and although there is a lot more Christmassy stuff this year, not a candy cane in sight. We went to church on Sunday and there wasn’t even a Christmas tree up. The only decorations was a small wreath and a couple of red baubles. While there was a lot of people saying ‘Merry Christmas’ it didn’t quite have that feel.

Last weekend we took some friends to Thika Road Mall. TRM has the best decorations in the whole of the city. It’s quite marvelous and has such a Christmassy feel about it. There’s nothing like glitz and glamour to walk through. tree

When we lived in Australia it was often around 30 degrees and our days were spent at the beach having fish and chips. Now we live in Kenya with similar weather conditions but the beach for us is a 9 hour drive away. We brought all of our tree decorations with us from Australia and in 2012 we purchased a fake tree which has kept us going.

We have had to purposely make Christmas a great thing here. This year we decided that it would be no presents, but we would go camping instead. We made up 5 food parcels for people who needed them. We bought some Christmas crackers to take away with us. Every now and then Chrissy music plays through our house.

What we have is limited compared to how we would do things when we have greater family around. While it would be really cool to have candy canes, I think we can do without them. We’ve made a decision to make the most of it even if we don’t have much.

The one thing I have learned from living in Africa is that it’s not about the trimmings or gifts, it’s about getting together with family and giving kids what they so desperately want and need – TIME.

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Ruining Christmas

I couldn’t believe it when at the beginning of November, the malls around Nairobi started putting up Christmas decorations. Normally at this time of year you see the lights go up for the Diwali festival. You also see fire crackers and sparklers for sale.

But Christmas decorations?

tree

By Week Two in November the Christmas music started playing. It’s all a bit too much really.

In the West it’s a normal occurrence a few months before Christmas to have it all out there, but this is Kenya. Overpriced Christmas trees arrived this week. Tinsel and shiny balls are available year round here. Tinsel is often used as necklaces for when children and adults graduate school. When a small fake tree costs $100, there’s only a limited group of people who can invest in that.

Yesterday I saw a small decoration that cost $20. It was the outline of a Christmas tree with a couple of beads on it. It was no bigger than 10cm in size. No wonder people don’t buy decorations like this.

I remember Christmas back when we lived in Australia and before that, New Zealand. There was so much pressure to get everyone a gift, and not something small either. Doesn’t look like much has changed in that aspect. There’s the buying of gifts for workmates, friends, family members, church leaders, school teachers. And of course, there’s all the Christmas breakup parties to go to.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating, I’m all for it. But why spend all that money for one day, buying pricey gifts for people who probably don’t need anything more to collect dust. Why do we put ourselves under so much pressure to ‘have it all together’ for one day in the year?

gifts

I love the way Christmas is celebrated here in Kenya – generally. It’s not about gifts, it’s about getting together as a family. For many people they only see their family once or twice a year so coming together is really important. We have some friends who are rather wealthy and even they are not into gift giving.

Since coming to Kenya, the whole gift giving thing has taken a back burner. To be honest, if we really wanted to buy ourselves something, we probably would. Mind you, things here are pretty expensive and our budget is small so gifts aren’t a high priority.  Mind you, we did buy our grand daughter some clothes when we were in Dubai. We had a friend who was visiting from New Zealand send them to here. Which was just as well, as she would’ve grown out of them by now, and they were so cute.

This year we’ve decided to go camping at one of the national parks we have in Kenya. Staying in Nairobi is quite depressing, there’s pretty much no one here. Most people will go to their families home in the country. Last year we were stuck in Nairobi and it was the worst.

One thing we wanted to do was to make sure our security guards and caretaker get looked after. They earn around $120 a month, that’s barely enough to survive on. One of our guards works 7 days a week. What we are doing for them is to make up a food parcel to see them through a couple of weeks over Christmas. We can’t buy them any meat as they don’t have a fridge or freezer, so it has to be dried food. It works out at around $35 each but that’s a big deal to them.

I’m not writing this to make people feel bad about spending money on Christmas, but I am writing it to make us think what it’s all about. I know lots of organisations like Churches have a large Christmas tree with tags on it and people can buy a gift for a needy person.

I think that is great. However, writing a cheque is the easy part.

Why not take your kids to visit some people at a nursing home? Sit with a homeless person on the street and talk to them. On Christmas Day itself, stop for a few minutes and chat with someone who has to work that day. You could also drop into your local police station with some homemade baked goodies that your kids have made. Invite someone over to share lunch with you. Call someone you haven’t spoken to all year.

police

My message is to DO SOMETHING, not just to go and buy something. Suicide rates are very high at this time of year. It can be super lonely for people, especially those who are estranged from their families. You can be the real difference to someone, you can change their lives.

Don’t ruin your Christmas by letting it all become about who can give the flashiest gift. That simply makes it a shallow competition. Instead enjoy the being together, the playing of board games, celebrating with food. Turn off the phones, get off the laptop, go and enjoy playing with the kids.

Life is short, make the most of every day.

elderly

 

 

 

 

Not Quite What I Thought It Would Be Like

Yesterday we moved our belongings into an apartment. For the past 6 months we’ve been living out of suitcases while we went on a fundraising tour. Pretty much we were in a different bed every second night, so we got into a routine and where everything went. We had our ‘speaking clothes’, ‘casual wear’ and ‘travel clothes’. We knew where our toiletries would be and most importantly, where to find the hair brush.

Of course, after 6 months it did get a bit tedious but we were there for work so we made it the easiest for us.

So when we decided to return I was really looking forward to settling down and having a home to ourselves.

However, it hasn’t turned out so wonderful as I thought.

I thought finding an apartment would be easy. What I didn’t take into account was how prices for rent had risen since we’d been away. We were pretty specific on what we wanted. We needed a balcony for our BBQ (and I love sitting out there) and I wanted somewhere for my washing machine. I also wanted to drop how much we would pay per month because we hadn’t raised our personal income enough to spend more.

To find a place here you decide on the area you want to live in, then go from gate to gate and ask the guards if there is anything available. After a couple of fruitless days we employed the skills of two agents. I’d had other agents call me after I made some enquiries online but they all wanted $50 upfront for a commitment fee. At least these two guys wanted nothing (they got paid by the landlady).

We ended up with two options, none we were 100% happy about but we needed to find something this week. On the Friday we signed for the apartment and then discovered that the President announced a public holiday on Monday. Thankfully, the guy we’ve used before was able to bring together a team to work on the Monday anyway.

I’m used to moving so it was no big deal to do it for the umpteenth time.

What got me was when we started unpacking the 30 something boxes. I got so overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we had accumulated over 4 years. I was used to just a few clothes and here I was looking at more clothes than I ever saw. Then when I went to unpack the kitchenware I got annoyed with myself in how many plastic containers we had. Seriously, did we need that many containers? Did we need that many clothes and shoes?

I know after a few weeks I’ll adjust but right now I’m staring at my wardrobe and already deciding that if I don’t wear them in the next few months, I’ll pass them on to someone who actually needs them.

We do have to ask ourselves if we really NEED the amount of belongings we own. While travelling I’ve seen some people who have a whole room dedicated to just their shoes. Isn’t there a better investment in life than that?

Stuff disintegrates, but the investment we can make into the lives of people is what continues forever.

That’s where I’ll be making more of an investment in. What about you?