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

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Essentials When Travelling

We’ve just returned from 6 weeks on the road in the US and UK. Living out of suitcases is never fun but there’s some ways to ease the burden. Here’s a list of essentials you’ll need while away:

 

  1. Ziplock Bags

These are a life saver. Whether you’re packing your shampoo and conditioner in one, or your makeup, it saves a lot of time having everything put in sealed plastic bags.

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  1. A face cloth

I’ve found that most places, even flash hotels don’t supply face cloths. Make sure you take a light one that can dry, so go budget.

 

  1. Washing bag

You can go to the $2 store and buy a meshed washing bag. These are great for throwing in your dirty laundry. Sure, you can put it in a plastic bag but this way is more superior and they last forever.

bag 2

  1. Limited clothes

We all take way too many clothes on a trip. For our 6 week trip I took just 2 black and 2 white tee shirts, 4 pairs of underwear and 1 good dress. There were also a couple of cardigans and 1 pair of shorts. How many pair of jeans you need depends on what the weather will be like. Remember that you can always buy clothes on the run. Airlines are becoming more strict on baggage weight so don’t think you can sweet talk them out of 5 kilos overweight.

 

  1. Small bag for jewelry

While I try to take a limited amount of jewelry on a trip it’s nice to be able to reach directly in a bag and find something I like. On long haul flights the airline tends to give you a small draw bag with toothpaste, toothbrush and eye mask. I’ve converted my Emirates one into a bag I put my earrings into.

bag 3

  1. Nail file

There’s nothing worse than having a broken nail and you’re out in the middle of nowhere. Cut your toe nails before you leave home, but definitely take a nail file.

 

  1. Antibiotic/Mossie cream

Sure, you can pick up a tube at the chemist when you’re out and about but when you’re itchy from a mosquito bite in the middle of the night you want to reach out to something there and then. Put the tube in a sealed plastic bag so it doesn’t explode on the flight.

 

  1. Coin purse

It might seem a bit girly but in some countries there are so many coins. You don’t want to have the hassle of going through your wallet trying to suss out unknown coins. Keep them separate from your notes. It’s also handy if you are paying to get your clothes washed at a laundromat and need quick access to coins.

coin

 

What are the essential items you take on your trips?

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.

 

Coming Home

I once asked some friends who were returning to Australia after two years of volunteering in Tanzania “How long do you think it will take you to get used to being there?” Their answer was a couple of months.

After spending 6 weeks in the US, I can verify that answer. We were just getting used to the conveniences of life and how things worked in another world.

But now we’ve returned home.

Home is where the majority of my family is. Hannah is with her husband Luke in New Zealand, awaiting the birth of their first child next year. That leaves Pete, Liz and I.

home

We were all a bit anxious about returning because we knew what we were heading into. It will be home for a few more years. We were looking forward to a more familiar world and definitely not living out of a suitcase.

Home, a 4 letter word that means so much more than that.

Our first morning here was interesting. None of our showerheads were working, so I ended up having a bucket shower. One where you fill a bucket with boiled water and pretty much pour it over yourself a few times. I realized afterwards that I had forgotten to pull out the tap so water came out of the showerhead.

shower

We thought our internet had pretty good speed, until we went overseas. Now it feels painstakingly slow. It’s way better than dialup but also much slower than what we experienced in the US.

Coming home meant unpacking an entire houselot of furniture from a spare room. Because the floors had been sanded and repolished all of the cupboards were full of red dust. You could tell that the workers had thumbed through our clothes hanging up because their fingerprints were all over the place. We also discovered they had stolen our very good iron and used our TV stand as a ladder. We knew because there was paint all over it. To say we weren’t happy campers is an understatement. And this was just Monday.

Of course, you can’t live in their world any more without the internet, but guess what wasn’t working when we returned? This meant trips down to the mall to visit our friendly staff at Zuku who worked it all out for us.

Jetlag, unpacking, buying food, meetings on day 3, all were a bit much. Before Liz headed off to volunteer at her preschool I insisted that she put up the Christmas tree to keep her busy. Liz had absolutely no worries about jetlag. She slept like a baby, while Pete and I got about 2 hours sleep and stayed awake the remainder of the night. We’ve never had such jetlag in our entire lives, and we’ve done a lot of travelling. It took an entire week to get back to normal.

Coming home also meant that we were broke.

We stayed two weeks too long on our trip. While we had a couple of schools in that time, it really put the financial pressure on us. We didn’t realize how expensive the US was going to be for public transport and food. We stretched ourselves way further than ever before. We don’t have a credit card to fall back on, no savings that we could dig into. What we had is what we had and with the fall in the Aussie dollar there wasn’t much bang for your buck.

dollar

Coming home meant coming back to very little freedom. This has been my biggest challenge to date. No more walking around at night. Always having our bags and cars checked at church and shopping malls. Having to take off my jewellery before walking out in public. Locking the metal gate and door every time you step out, even to get rid of the garbage.

The loss of freedom is something I haven’t got used to. A friend who lives here but is in New Zealand over the Christmas break, couldn’t help but send me a post of Facebook post to say she had just walked home at 10pm at night. I miss freedom.

But – this is home.

 

 

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Q&A With The Creans

This week I’ve produced five 2 minute videos answering some questions about life in Africa.

1. Does everyone live in mud huts?

2. Isn’t it always hot there?

3. Everything is cheap there isn’t it?

4. Isn’t it dangerous being there?

5. Are there beggars everywhere?

Hopefully you feel better informed and see that Kenya is just like your place – just a bit different!

boy praying

Trying To Move On

It’s been two weeks since our house was broken into just after 3pm by armed men. We’ve all been on an emotional roller coaster that we weren’t prepared for.

A lot of this was due to small things. Like on the Sunday ‘after the event’ we discovered that a small pottery container which held all of Pete’s cufflinks was gone. It might not seem much to the average person but I was happy that none of Pete’s things had been stolen. Even more so, Hannah, our youngest daughter had given Pete a set of cufflinks with ‘Dad’ engraved on them, when she got married last year.

Dealing with the police has almost been worse than being held up at gunpoint.

Lizzies Lego gun she made to protect herself.

Lizzies Lego gun she made to protect herself.

The first night we spent hours with the police while they stood around the car that had been used in several burglaries that day. They insisted that our gear was all there, including the laptops but we could not see it because it was late at night. No matter how much our neighbor insisted on looking at our things, the big boss refused to allow us for a viewing.

Pete jimmied up the door with a plastic chair so that we would feel safe. None of us slept well that night. The next morning we got the call to go back to the police station. We really needed to get a new lock but that would have to wait. We kept Liz with us all day, she was in no state to go to work. None of us were.

Pete's extra security - actually it was for my peace of mind.

Pete’s extra security – actually it was for my peace of mind.

The landlady came around, I’m not sure why because she just sat there and waited to be served a coffee. She has made our stay here very difficult and we can’t wait to move out. She has lied constantly – we found out that there is only a water supply 3 days a week and we are expected to pay for all new locks and keys.

Basically the next three days went like this:

  • Wait for a phone call to go to whatever police station was needed
  • Get there and wait some more while not being told anything
  • Spend wasted time shaking hands with the same police officer who spent their time talking to one another
  • Pete being hassled by one or two officers for him to buy them a ticket to New Zealand because he was rich
  • The same officers following Pete to the canteen badgering him to buy them a drink
  • Go home still without a police report

Meanwhile, we also ran out of water, waited for plumbers to fix endless problems and try and get the place ready for our visitors from Ethiopia.

The getaway car with the bullet hole from where the police shot at them.

The getaway car with the bullet hole from where the police shot at them.

With new locks and new security measures in place we started sleeping better. We started finding a ‘new normal’.

Then there was the one week anniversary of the break-in. I made sure I wasn’t home at the time it happened. It was all still too fresh.

We went to get a new wedding band to replace the one that the woman who was the gang leader, ripped off my finger. The first Sunday it was all too much for me. The second Sunday I had psychologically prepared myself to get it sized.

ring

We’ve decided that while we can’t replace the personal items such as our anniversary rings that were stolen, we could make a new start on some things. Our good friends at a church in Australia donated enough for us to get a TV. It’s going to get a lot of use over the NRL season that’s for sure!

We’ve been super blessed to have people lend us a laptop until we get another one and we are trying to move on with our lives.

Once again, it’s the police that keep tripping us up. To claim on anything for our insurance, we need an abstract, it’s the official police report. Our neighbor keeps getting phone calls from a police officer demanding money. We are sure that is why we haven’t got the report – because we won’t pay up. Yesterday we were asked to go back to the police station.

A TV thanks to the church of C3 Coomera, Australia.

A TV thanks to the church of C3 Coomera, Australia.

We thought it was for the abstract – in fact it was for a line up.

There was no preparation, no telling you what was going on. I was told to go into a room and there were 10 or so women and then I had to choose one who was ‘the culprit’. How after only seeing her for about 5 seconds, and two weeks later, was I supposed to get the right woman? Of course I got it wrong. The worse thing was that I had to stand about 90cm away from these women, and when I thought I had the right one, walked up to one and tap them on the shoulder. How dodgy is that.

Still, we walked away without an abstract.

The sign for the officers room

The sign for the officers room

I’m not sure all this hassle for an abstract is actually worth it. The police keep dragging everything up and still nothing changes.

Nothing except us. We are more vigilant in security – we lock the car doors as soon as we get in, Pete has installed new and more locks, Lizzies motorbike driver collects and drops her off at the gate.

This is how the police put out the few belongings they recovered. Notice all the Mac products were missing...

This is how the police put out the few belongings they recovered. Notice all the Mac products were missing…

I miss the freedom we used to have. But in fact, was I blind to what the situation was really like for the majority of people who live here in Nairobi.

If you would like to help us move on, you can make a donation HERE

Big Changes

We’ve been in Kenya for 20 months so I thought it was time that I shared about a few things we have had to change since being here.

1. No Hot Water

Our apartment is three floors up. If we had our water cylinder connected up it would cost us $200 a month on our power bill. Instead we had instant water heaters on our shower heads. So, before you jump in the shower at our place you have to flick a switch by the door. The good thing is that you don’t have to wait for the water to warm up before jumping in.

The downside is that we don’t have any hot water that comes out of the taps. We put on a large pot of water to boil while we’re having dinner and because we have gas it doesn’t take too long to heat up.

This is our showerhead.

This is our showerhead.

When there’s no power in the mornings I only have 2 options – a cold shower, or heat up water in our trusty pot  and have a wash. I’ve done both and guess which one I like better?

 

2. Electricity

One thing you can guarantee about the power being on, is that it won’t always be on. For 3 weeks out of a month it seems to be pretty good and then for one week it’s off and on. If the electricity goes off I don’t even bother resetting the alarm clock until I go to bed at night. We have a solar lamp sitting on our windowsill so it’s always charged up. The longest we’ve been without electricity is 24 hours. We got so bored that night we went to the mall to do grocery shopping. When we bought a washing machine we especially got one that restarted at the same place when the power came back on.

 

3. Towels

I was really challenged by one of our colleagues about how we used new towels every second day. She said ‘Why, you come out of the shower clean, I wash mine every 2 weeks?’ It got me thinking as to why we do what we do. While we have lots of towels, my friend has ever only had one. Of course, when I heard this I was shocked and even though she never asked for it, I blessed her with some more. She had never had a new towel in her life before. So, just to shock you, we use the same towels for a week before they go into the wash.

 

4. The Car

Carjacking’s happen here often. So, every time I get in the car the first thing I’ve got into the habit of, is locking the car doors. Even when we go through smaller towns where traffic moves slowly and there are plenty of people around the car, the doors are locked. I often have my phone hiding under my thigh so if I’m ever carjacked they can take my money and my car but I at least have a way of contacting someone. The number one rule though is never run out of petrol.

Car jackers usually work in groups, at peak traffic times when there are jams and here they use guns over bats.

Car jackers usually work in groups, at peak traffic times when there are jams and here they use guns over bats.

5. Don’t Shop Just At The Supermarket

We have a good number of supermarkets here – Nakumatt, Uchumi, Chandarana and lots of shopping malls. There’s also smaller shopping centres dotted around the place. To get any gluten free food I need to go to a shop called HealthyU. Stuff there is awfully expensive but what choice do I have for such things as flour and cereals that I can actually eat and not get sick.

The best place to buy fruit and veges is at roadside markets or out of Nairobi. Generally people think that everything in Africa is cheap – I wish! We travel an hour each Thursday to a place called Kiserian where we spend the day on a training farm. Bananas are half the price there. Overall fruit and veges are cheaper here than back in Aussie but besides that groceries are way more expensive.

duka

Dukas are handy little shops all over the place.

If we need credit for our phone or we’ve run out of something we don’t need to travel up to the supermarket, instead we have around 3 little dukas (shops/stalls) around our place. Be in avocadoes, dishwashing liquid or a bottle of Coke, they have it all. I only meat I get at the supermarket is chicken and mince, anything else is a plain ripoff. Instead we go to independent butchers. Mind you, we found this one around the corner from our house and it stinks to high heaven – never a good sign.

meat

I’ve never bought meat from a place like this.

When stuck in a traffic jam you can buy bags of fruit from the vendors who walk amongst the cars. They also have newspapers, kites, earplugs, maps and toys available.

We haven’t bought any of our furniture at the shopping mall or any furniture stores – it is just way too expensive. Instead we got things made by fundis (tradesmen) who make furniture at the side of the road. If we ever had to leave the country we would definitely get stuff taken back that was made here.

 

6. Flowers

Oh my goodness, they are so cheap here – all of the time if you shop at the right place. For $2.50 you can pick up a big bunch of roses. This price is only from the small stalls on the side of the road. If you buy flowers from the florist or in the malls they will be the same price as back in Aussie.

flowers7. Security

I noticed when I was back in Australia and New Zealand earlier this year I didn’t have to worry about security and we got really slack. Here you will find guards at every gate, bank, ATM, shopping centre and car yard. It’s not unusual to find guys from the army or police officers with rifles walking around. When you go into the mall or even a church your car is searched. It’s a hassle but better to be safe than sorry. Mind you, Pete asked a guard one day what he would do if he saw a bomb in a car and he said they would all run! Once you enter into the mall your bags and body are checked. Poor Pete, he has a metal pin in his leg and it often goes off. When there’s a threat in the city we are pressured to avoid any public place. We get security updates from the NZ and Australian High Commissions. While we don’t ignore them, we pretty much carry on life as normal. There are a lot more dangerous places to live in the world and we have this philosophy that when it’s your time, it’s your time. I just don’t want it to happen slowly and bit by bit. There is more danger travelling on our roads than terrorism.

guards

It never feels scarey having the army or guards around, unless one of them jumps in your car and points the gun at you!

Of course you also have to change how you speak, and not just in language. You have to learn how individual friends come from different cultural backgrounds and how to respond to them appropriately. What works in your home country doesn’t always work here. You can’t wear short shorts, travel long distances at night and yes, the food tastes different. Driving is insane. The people different.

If it wasn’t different here what was the point in coming?