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.

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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’.

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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.

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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?

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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?

When We Return Home

It feels weird to say I’m going home, because Kenya is home for us and the thought of leaving it for 6 months just breaks my heart. I definitely want to be with our daughter Hannah for the arrival of our first grandbaby but leaving Nairobi, everyone close to us and the familiarity of home weighs heavy on me.

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Hannah is ready to go!

I thought I would write about how YOU can help others like me who return to their home land, even though it is foreign for us. You see we often don’t understand the language, culture, politics and general day to day procedures in our homeland

To me, home is where my heart is at that time and especially where I am with my husband. While were living in Australia that was definitely home. I’ve returned a few times since being on assignment in Kenya and now I feel uncomfortable there. I’ve had several friends move back permanently to their homelands and I’ve asked them how long it took for them to adjust and they all say at least 8 weeks. I can identify with this as we spent 6 weeks in the States last year and it got quite comfortable by the end of the trip.

 

Sharon’s Tips:

  1. Give us time.

Homecomers (HC) usually travel a long way to get back. For me it was more than 30 hours in transit, that’s a really long time. I have done longer but on my ticket I had to be back in New Zealand by a certain date. It can take up to a week to get over jetlag.

Besides that though there are often things HC have to deal with. Organising bank accounts, health checks, drivers licenses and buying appropriate clothes for the local scene. And of course, you have to figure out how to get from A to B to do those things. We only hold Kenyan drivers licenses but it looks like we have to re-sit everything to get our New Zealand ones. That means I have to spend time studying, making sure I get my crazy driving ways out of my system and get to obey the laws here.

While it’s great to catch up with everyone, we come with a priority. For me, it was our daughter. For others it may be relocating back permanently or sorting out family issues. I had lots of people sending me messages and requests for catch ups and I’d only been in the country for 24 hours. It was all a bit much when what I really wanted to do was to just sit down after more than 3 years and watch a movie with my daughter.

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Just after landing

 

  1. Don’t assume.

A really hard things is that people assume that you know people, politics, current affairs and where to go for something. While we get a lot of news online, it’s just one of many things our brains are taking in. Our main focus is on the foreign country where we are based, not our homeland. Yes we attend events at embassies but that is to catch up with people of the same nationality and relax for a night. We know who our ambassador or high commissioner are but we don’t know who the MP is in the suburb we used to live in.

 

I haven’t lived in NZ for 15 years, it’s pretty much ALL foreign to me.

 

  1. Realise we are in two minds/hearts.

While we want to be with our families in times of need, we also have a new family in our foreign country. We have a new set of friends there, a new way of living, a new reality. We adjust.

When we return to our homeland we are torn in two. While we try to adjust here, our thoughts are with what is happening in the country we’ve just left. Today is the 2nd birthday of Alisa, our friends daughter. Tomorrow a group of friends will be going to their house for her party. We gave a gift to be unwrapped then but we will miss out on all of the fun. You can’t help but think about it, yet you wouldn’t be anywhere else right now.

Some people are forced to come back to their homeland as their visa might have run out, or there are family matters to attend to. Some have HAD to return for their kids. It’s very expensive to fly your whole family back so many have to decide who gets to return every now and then to the foreign country.

 

kids

At the beach for the first time in over a year

  1. Invite us home.

We find that people like to meet up for coffee or take us out for meals. While that’s great try and see it from our viewpoint. It costs at least double to go to a restaurant and we often think in our minds ‘I could take that extra $70 and put a kid through school for a couple of months’. Do that 20 times and you see a number of children’s faces or the local street children who could actually be getting educated rather than begging, or worse.

We come out for a couple of months at a time but hardly ever get invited into peoples homes. When you’re out speaking/fundraising you get tired of seeing the inside of buildings, offices and meeting rooms. You’re presenting non-stop about your cause, which you are passionate about, and you don’t get ‘down time’. Last time I was on tour I just got my feet wet in the ocean and my daughter said “Mum, your next appointment is early”. 30 seconds is all I got – our ocean is a 9 hour drive away.

 

Give us an option of where to meet.

 

  1. Support us.

It’s VERY expensive to travel to our homeland. It’s the number one reason we don’t return more often. Many of us rely on personal donors to keep us in the field. Some people just stop supporting because they think that the money isn’t needed any more. Often it’s the opposite. Many times things like eating out are cheaper overseas but that’s about it. If you’re going to stop financially supporting someone, at least write them an email explaining it.

 

  1. We still have a job to do.

When we are in New Zealand and Australia this year we are travelling to schools and Rotary clubs to try and raise project funds. It’s certainly no holiday when you return, even though people think so. There’s lots of emails, contacting your team back in the foreign country, making sure there’s funds for projects, visiting people here, grant writing, setting up legal entities and more. You are also working across time zones to balance everything out.

Work does not stop just because you’re in a different geographical place. It’s hard because you want to spend time with everyone but need to keep working. My brother asked what I’m up to while here and I really couldn’t be bothered trying to explain that I’m working because he just wouldn’t get it.

To me a holiday is hanging at the beach with the family, everyone off their phones and out playing games. This trip is so not a holiday. We need to quadruple our personal support level to be able to return to the work we do. Money does not automatically come in and it takes a lot of arm twisting to convince people to part with their hard earned dollars.

me

 

 

 

The Challenge of Exercising in Nairobi

Nairobi is not the easiest place to keep fit. There are lots of gyms popping up but there are very few places you can get out in the fresh air. We have Karura Forest which you can walk or run through, for us it’s a 30 minute drive away. If you’re into tennis there’s a number of courts to hire. Some people risk their lives biking. I think Nairobi has one actually hockey field but it’s under construction. We have the only ice skating rink in East Africa and costs $10 for a one hour session.

 

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My faithful runners have kept me going for 5 years

So there’s not a lack of variety of things to do, you just need to have the budget and time to drive to where you need to go. Liz plays soccer (we call it football here) on Saturday mornings and she’s just discovered volleyball on Friday nights.

For me I like to run.

I like getting out there as soon as the sun rises and it’s safe to be out there by myself. This means the earliest I can go is 7am. Because we’re close to the Equator the sun starts rising at 6.30am, every day and it’s pitch dark by 7pm.

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Normal 7am traffic

I’ve never been a fast runner, in fact it’s probably more jogging than running. I’ve dubbed it my ‘granny shuffle’.

It’s not exactly easy to run here though. Hundreds of people are walking on the side of the road to get to work. 85% of Nairobians rely on public transport. That means they walk as far as possible to reach a bus to take them to work. The average person spends 1 – 2 hours each way to work. That means I have to run in between people, and most don’t move over.

There are very little footpaths in our area. You simply walk on a dirt track on the side of the road. More footpaths are being built which is great, but not around us. I try and run on the road when it’s clear but with the condensed traffic it doesn’t happen much. Some idiot on a local building site decided to put the broken tiles and bricks into a shallow ditch that suffices as a path. It’s really dangerous whether you are walking or running. It’s easy to twist an ankle.

 

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The ‘footpath’

Buses are my biggest annoyance. The other morning there were 3 school buses outside our compound picking up school kids. The blocked the whole road and don’t care about pedestrians. Just up the road a bus pulled up in front of me and parked up on the only footpath we have. There’s plenty of private schools in the area and kids are picked up from 6am onwards. It’s sad to see the little preschoolers being picked up super early and then they get dropped off at 5pm.

Between the traffic, dirt tracks and people it’s a real challenge to even want to get out there.

However, I’ve found a secret place.

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A 5 minute walk from our house is a gated community full of huge houses hidden behind large fences and security guards. Pete tells me there are a few politicians living there which explains the niceness of it all. Only residents can drive in there, there’s painted lines on the road and there are no potholes at all. In fact you don’t feel like you’re in Nairobi at all.

Running along there with the beautiful green trees, no noise (except the guard dogs) is just serene.

 

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The entrance into the gated community

Over the last couple of months of exercising there I’ve seen the regulars and spotted the new ones out there either walking or pounding the pavement. There’s even a small fitness group with a personal trainer that meets a few times a week.

 

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A little slice of heaven

We move out of our place at the end of the month and I often wonder if we will get an apartment in the same area when I return in September. If not, then I’m going to have to start finding a safe running area all over again. This one took me 2 years to find this one, I wonder how long it will take to find the next one.

 

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How red I get at the end of it all