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.

christmas-girls-5

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?

Home and Away

I’ve tried all I can to call Kenya home but it’s not quite working. I thought if I put it into my head that this was ‘home’ it would happen automatically, but it hasn’t. I still call Australia home. While we will always consider ourselves Kiwis, we see ourselves as more honorary Aussies. Of course, when it comes to the rugby we always love the haka. Our 11 years in Australia were some of the best we’ve ever had.

It’s not a bad thing though, pretty much all expats have a place they call home, but that’s because they’re only here for 2 or 3 years on assignment. For us, as long as the money lasts, we’re here.

It’s been nearly 9 months since we’ve been in our own place. For a month our Aussie mum put us up at her place, then we spent a month in the US before coming here to Nairobi. We’ve been house sitting since then. Getting into our own house is pretty important. I was so over having our stuff in boxes that I just had to get some small things out. Some have been packed since a year ago!

A place can be a house but definitely not a home. I’m hoping when we find a place next week that we can really make it our own. It was way too expensive to bring many belongings with us from Aussie so it was just a few mementos and kitchen gear. Everything else we had to start from scratch.

Between the time we came in 2011 and then again in 2012 living costs had pretty much doubled. Still, we press on.

There’s been some challenges to even finding a place. Twice now we’ve been promised an apartment and it’s fallen through. Apparently on the 28th we’ve been guaranteed a 3 bedroom apartment just up the road from the office. I’m not into crossing fingers but I really hope we get it. The owners of the house we’re in are coming back from New Zealand in exactly 2 weeks and we also have some Kiwi friends coming for a week. So, we’re cutting it pretty thin.

apartment

The actual apartment we hope to get.

At this stage we’ll be sleeping on airbeds, but that’s okay, we’ve done it before.

Thanks to some generous friends we will have a couch to sit on! As I’m writing this blog our builder is sitting in our lounge drawing what he’s done. It was meant to be finished tomorrow, but in good Kenyan time it’ll be next week. We are so grateful for all of our supporters we really could not be here without them. When renting an apartment here you even have to supply your own gas oven, known as a ‘cooker’ here. I guess that’s because people steal them when they leave.

One of the reasons we are here is to host the many international visitors who come to Kenya to look at the work we are doing. Every month for the rest of the year we get the great pleasure of having people in our home, whether it be just for one night or seven. In fact, one couple arrive just a few days after we hopefully move into our home! I love having people at our place, whether they are a local or a visitor. To us it’s really really important to have a nice place that people can call their second home.

Thankfully it’s not over the top expensive to get furniture made. The same lounge suite we wanted in Sydney is about ¼ of the price to be made here and we only have to wait a week for it. To get a bed made takes around 4 days.

Hence, we’ve started a campaign called ‘House our Home’ to give people an opportunity to partner with us to make our new house (actually an apartment), our home. Check out the link HERE which has a whole list of things people can donate towards. The cool thing is that it doesn’t matter if you’re in Australia, the US or the UK, it’s tax deductible, sorry about the rest of you though!

I’m hoping that when we get into our own place that we’ll feel like this could become our home. We’re not ready to go back to Australia yet, but I think I’ll always call it home (of some sort anyway).

Life In A Shipping Container

This coming week sees us living in Kenya for 2 months. It also sees us moving out of living in a shipping container (converted of course) and into a real, life house. In all we haven’t lived in our own place for 5 months, so we are going to be very happy campers.

Most of the time it’s been great living there. It’s onsite, so we’re close to work. We have some immediate neighbours as there are quite a few people living here too.  However, it’s had it’s challenges and ‘cabin fever’ has taken on a new meaning.

While most people wouldn’t even consider living in a 6 metre container, it’s a good learning curve.

Millions of people around the world for whom poverty is an everyday occurrence live in nothing bigger than a 3 by 3 metre area, usually with 5 family members. It got me thinking about what life in a extremely small area is really like.

 

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. It’s complicated

You plan and then something comes in to interrupt it. The power goes out unexpectedly and if you don’t have charcoal for the BBQ, or it happens just as you go to start cooking, what will you have for dinner. Belongings have to be stacked up because there’s no room for drawers or a wardrobe, it is so easy to mess up. Over the last couple of months we’ve bought some plastic drawers and a sort of freestanding wardrobe. I think to myself of the millions of people who the amount of belongings they have fit into one plastic bag. They don’t have several pairs of sneakers or two jackets for when it gets cold. They wear one set of clothes until they literally fall off their bodies. If their home gets destroyed by fire, war or floods there’s no government handout, but somehow they start all over again.

 

2. There’s no privacy

If I had a lounge, I would purposely sit in it wearing my pyjamas watching a DVD. Where we are living there are two rooms and at any time, the people living in the same compound can come in. Both rooms have doors to outside that have large glass panels in them. I wait some time in the mornings before I open them just to have ‘our’ space. If I were living with poverty, my whole family would use the same room for everything. There’s no ‘time out’ space, if you want to study you have to do with everything else going on.

 

3. It can be noisy

Sound travels and bounces off walls. You can hear all sorts of body sounds, music, animals outside and anything else happening.  While our container is lined and painted, those in poverty may have a shack that leaks, doesn’t lock and is unsafe. When it rains here, it pours, but at least our roof is a good one. I often think of those in places like Kibera Slum whose homes have rushing streams through them when it rains.

 

4. You can use one thing at a time

As with most places, ours doesn’t have lots of power points. We were clever and bought a multi-box with us from Australia which helps. But, our kitchenette (a benchtop) is all we have to work with. If someone is working in the kitchen the other person has to wait. You can’t have two of you preparing vegetables at the same time, the other one has to go outside to do it.  Compared to those living in small shacks in the slum, we are living in luxury. We have electricity (most of the time) and a kitchen area. Often the one room home is shared for all activities. Or, they work outside their house where a dirt track, chickens, an open sewer system is.

 

5. Sometimes you’re climbing over each other

The sink isn’t deep enough to do the dishes. We have a huge bowl to wash our dinner dishes in. However, the person drying the dishes needs the person washing to move over to the right to put the dishes away. But, we have a tap. We have the ability to boil hot water. We have a place to hang the drying towel. What we don’t have to do is walk to the nearest water point and carry back 25kg’s of water after paying for it. While we can pour the dirty water down the sink, many people have to throw it outside their front door.

 

6. One bathroom means you have to wait – even if you can’t

One of our sayings here is ‘Go when you can’.  Once you leave the property you don’t know where your next toilet stop will be because there might not just be one. Last weekend we had a parents meeting but had a huge lunch beforehand. The meeting went for 5 hours and there are no toilets in the slum that we would choose to use. So, the first stop afterwards was at the mall for a bathroom break. It can get frustrating when someone is in the one and only bathroom and you want to brush your teeth. I’m not sure what I’m whinging about though, we actually have our own bathroom and a flushing toilet. We don’t have to do our business into a plastic bag and throw it away, and hope I don’t walk into someone else’s plastic bag.  A billion people don’t have access to a toilet. We do.

 

So, living out of a suitcase for months on end isn’t my ideal, it’s a good reality check and opens one’s eyes to what it’s like for millions of people around the world.

However, I am going to live up being in a house!

 

Image

Christchurch CBD now is made of converted shipping containers.

Surviving Week One

So, we’ve made it to the end of week one of our new life in Nairobi. It certainly has been an adventure, especially since we spent nearly 3 weeks in the States dashing from one place to another. I will be glad not to have to pack and get back on a plane for a long time. Actually, tomorrow we pack to go to Tanzania on a 7 hour shuttle to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and then fly home.
But we’ll forget that for now and let you in on some of the challenges / pleasures of the week.

1. Accommodation

We were pleasantly surprised to have a cottage to ourselves on our arrival. Okay, it’s 2 shipping containers transformed into a cottage but it has two rooms and a bathroom. We were expecting the 3 of us to be put into one small room and try and not fall over each other with all our baggage.

2. The Team

We’ve joined the team from Afri-Lift and they have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome. There was even a fruit bowl and food in the fridge when we got here. They’re happy to give info on how much to tip, how much we should be charged for either a matatu or motorbike ride to the mall. I even have my own desk in the office!

3. The Weather

I could easily get changed 3 times a day here. Shorts are not what you wear to the office but I’d be more than happy to wear them if I could. Things really heat up here late in the morning and jeans are a killer in it. I spend a lot of time in an office so can get away with it, but am really over them. In January it gets up to 30 degrees, so I’ll be clothes hunting for something that doesn’t look daggy but not expensive. We’ve noticed a real price hike since being here last year.

4. Transport

We don’t have our own car yet, and won’t for a while so are catching pike pike’s (motorbikes) and matatus (mini vans squashing in 14 people). They are super cheap, only about 45 cents to go to the mall. They also move really well through the traffic. Congestion is an understatement here. It can take 2 hours to get back from the airport, for what should be a 20 minute ride. We’ve also been doing a bit of walking cause that’s what the locals do and a lot of the time it’s faster than driving short distances.

5. Security

Our neighbour had her handbag stolen out of her car as she was stopped in traffic. Sure, she should’ve had her door locked and window up but she’s a visitor and wouldn’t think that thieves work in teams. We take as little money with us as possible and even on the compound keep everything locked when we’re in the office. Security is something you can’t take for granted, especially here. You have to keep your wits about you. You also don’t go out at night very far, so for us we catch a taxi. We’ve got someone we can call upon and we can trust to not rip us off too much.

6. Technology

Technology is great when it works, but when it doesn’t it’s a pain in the butt. For some reason my Aussie phone won’t send or receive anything even though I’ve topped it up. When you go from one side of the compound to another you have to log into different routers. Last night we had our first power cut, when Pete was in the shower, which we thought was really funny. When it’s dark here, it’s really dark. Most of the time we have the internet, our local phones work and life isn’t harsh for us, just sometimes inconvenient.

7. The Food

After 3 weeks of eating crappy US food (sorry guys, but so true) it’s nice to get back to normality. Gone is the idea of steak on the barbie, instead it’s often chicken. Pete’s discovered a charcoal BBQ and it cooks chicken really well. I’m surprised that the supermarket up the road has some gluten free items like cereal but I miss a few things like rice crackers and the New Zealand cheese. I’m sure I’ll find them somewhere, well, not the cheese! Pete is loving the Kenyan coffee and there is plenty of fruit galore. We’ve got a small bar fridge so a big weekly shop is out of the question. We send Liz up to the supermarket each day but she is still not confident on crossing one of the busy roads.

I think once we come back from Tanzania we’ll be more settled and in the swing of things. But then we have a camp we’re involved in so who really knows!