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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

 

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.

 

 

mass

 

 

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?

 

When Terrorists Strike

This weekend in many parts of the world there were terrorist attacks. To us it was brought close to home when a mall we visit was taken over by terrorists. As I write this blog it is going into it’s 4th day of the siege. Only a few minutes ago an Australian friend found out three of her close friends perished, one of them to give birth in two weeks time.

People escaping from Westgate Mall.

People escaping from Westgate Mall.

A lack of security is a reality here, but when a mall we frequent is taken over and people die it brings in a whole new level of things. Already we don’t travel at night, go for a walk at night and always lock the car when we get in it. We have a security gate on our apartment door and two night guards on the apartment block.

The thing is that you hardly ever ‘feel’ insecure. We walk through the slums (even though the Aussie High Commission says not to) to visit families and the biggest threat is shaking all of the hands of the kids who say ‘How are you?’ We are more worried about avoiding people as they step out in front of our car or suddenly seeing a donkey and cart pull out and there isn’t enough space to stop.

You get used to having your car checked at the mall, or being security scanned on the way into church. However, the thought of people attacking people as their children are in a cooking class is totally different.

The first thing that happened to us was the numerous questions on Facebook checking if we were okay. We were 4 hours away at the Amboseli National Park looking at wild elephants when I just happened to check FB to find out about the tragedy. Automatically I posted that we were fine. What I didn’t let people know is that we actually would’ve been there as already planned.

When we got back to Nairobi, like everyone else we were glued to the TV to see what the story was about. We had planned to go to the movies at the local mall, but when things like this happen you are best to stay at home. So it was toast for dinner and we put on a comedy to lighten the situation. I used this time to field through the endless questions online and SMS our pastors back home. Both responded even though it was really late, which was great. We have a number of expat friends so you instantly go through the list to make sure they weren’t near the incident. Thankfully they were all fine.

When terrorism happens people put their lives on hold. While you don’t want it to stop you from doing everyday things you can’t help yourself. You choose your seat at a café based on how you can escape. You look at people a bit more suspiciously. You decide if you really need to get a few groceries.

Waiting to get our car checked

Waiting to get our car checked

We ventured to the mall yesterday and things are very different. There is normally a check of your boot, but now they check the glove box, back seat and boot. Instead of two lines for the check, they’ve merged it into one, barriers up on both sides, and very long lines. That’s just to get into the carpark. Normally there would be plenty of cars but yesterday there were only 4 others. Javahouse is a café which is packed at lunchtime, there were two people.

At our mall you just walk in – normally. Now they are doing a full bag and body check. Pete went there on his motorbike and he had to thoroughly empty his bag out. Churches were only half full on Sunday. This is because they are normally the next target. I’m not sure if we would’ve gone had we been home.

Normally this carpark is full

Normally this carpark is full

Liz had a co-worker who was injured and like us, they started their day in prayer for our nation.

When terrorism strikes it does a couple of things. It makes people retrench and it also makes them come out and do extraordinary things. It will take a good month for businesses to recover from this incident and for those at the mall it could be a number of months. It will have a huge economic impact for those in that business district.

On the positive side people here rally in times of disaster. There was an outpouring of money, food items, counsellors and also blood donations. The Red Cross were at the forefront of this tragedy and did a great job in the face of so many challenges. It gave people a chance to go out of their comfort zones and care for others. I heard of one lady that was giving out cups of tea from the boot of her car to the police on the scene. It might not seem much but here no one does anything without payment.

Wherever we went people were glued to TV’s on updates. At our mall there were crowds of young, old, black, white trying to get a viewing point on a TV to keep updated. Some businesses closed down and had an all day of prayer. People took time out to talk to their colleagues to make sure they were okay. There were the conversations of ‘where you were when it happened’.

The Westgate Mall siege is over. The TV channels are showing less about it. People give a sigh of relief. Children return back to school and people resume their lives as normal as possible.

However, we have to create a ‘new normal’. Things won’t be the same for a very long time, especially for those involved. We will still look with suspicion and keep as secure as possible and unfortunately terrorism will happen on our back doorstep and we will go on the emotional rollercoaster all over again.

Life is not certain but our faith in God is. Stuff happens and some people equate life with God, which is not true. We live in a broken and fallen world and have to suffer the consequences of that.

What humbled us is the number of people from around the world that sent us messages of support and concern. Each and every one made a huge impact on us and wasn’t taken lightly. It reminded us that we are not here alone.

This incident also reminded me that we need to update our insurance!!

 

 

 

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!