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.


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.


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.


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?


Hunting For Beads

So, I come up with this idea for our child sponsorship program and that is to get the kids to make a small gift for their sponsor. I was thinking of a bead bracelet of really nice handmade card. So now we have to find the materials.

Forget your local arts and crafts shop, think more like – it’s bigger than Ben Hur.

I know I will get ripped off because I’m a Mzungu (whitey) so I take my partner in crime and co-worker Joy with me.

my view from inside the matatu

my view from inside the matatu

Step one – get a matatu into town, but first you have to wait for it to fill up. We only waited for about 15 minutes so that’s pretty good.

Step two – walk for 5 hours around town visiting various touristy stores to see what they have on offer as well as several markets to see if we can bargain for a better price.

Our overall goal was to get some ideas for cards using local material to spruce them up and see where the beads come from.

This is Joy after 2 hours

This is Joy after 2 hours

At the Masai market (there’s stacks of them) no one was giving away their secrets, they just wanted us to buy something. I’m teaching some of our students on earth sciences and spotted a piece of pumice for around $1.50 which I thought was good. No way was Joy letting me spend that much, she reckons it’s only worth around 50c. No matter what I said she refused to let me buy it and said that I could get it for the same price at the local supermarket. For 2 days now I’ve looked at every shopping centre in the area and there is no pumice in sight. Hence as I am writing this Joy is going back into town to buy me a piece of pumice so I can talk to the students on volcanic rocks.

There are both locals and tourists at the market

There are both locals and tourists at the market

I’m glad I didn’t have much cash on me because there are some very cool things at these markets. You’ll see people making necklaces, carvings and trinkets. You didn’t get hassled like in other markets. It was quite relaced and orderly. Except there was one vendor who thought I was telling lies when I said I’d been here for 9 months because my skin wasn’t dark enough!

What we discovered in the end is that you can’t buy just plain white cards, you have to cut your own. Everyone at the markets buys their beads from some invisible person first thing in the morning, pulls apart the necklaces and then put them back together in a special design by the vendor.

Some of the very cool things for sale at the markets

Some of the very cool things for sale at the markets

After traipsing around for hours we headed to a bookstore in search of a book on volcanoes and what did we find – a bead shop. However we had to wait until 2pm because all the shops closed between 1 and 2 for lunch. When it did eventually opened we discovered a little Masai woman in their buying her beads to take back to the markets to sell. So this was their secret spot.

By 2.30pm we were absolutely starving and managed to find the one and only place to get something to eat in the whole of the area. I guess this is where everyone went for their lunch break while we meandered around the market. Beef stew, rice and a bottle of soda all for $5.

Bargaing necklaces down from $1.50 to $1. In the end we paid $1.30

Bargaining necklaces down from $1.50 to $1. In the end we paid $1.30

Of course as soon as we got back to the office (another matatu ride for 40c) someone announced that they knew of a place 2 hours drive from Nairobi that you can buy beads from.

Guess where my next adventure will be!

Always have a good pair of sneakers for the long walk ahead

Always have a good pair of sneakers for the long walk ahead



Kenya 101

As we hit the 7 month mark of living in Kenya I thought I’d share with you some of the things you will never find on a website nor in a Lonely Planet book.

  • They are called ‘blinders’ here not ‘netting curtains’.
  • There’s no cell phone, nor mobile phone, we just call it a phone.
  • You’re either from Western Kenya, Central or The Coast – seems like nothing in between and definitely no South.
  • Kenyans don’t like Ugandans. It’s a relationship similar between Aussies and Kiwis.
  • Asians tend to belittle Africans, it’s like they are the superior race.
  • All Muzungu’s (white people) are considered rich. They think you have enough to give them extra work, extra money and extra for when they don’t have it.
  • You get a fine for being on your phone when crossing the road. A council worker will grab you by the arm into their car, then you pay them off.
  • Everything is negotiable, especially when they say ‘what are you prepared to pay’.
  • If someone says ‘it’s possible’ it probably won’t be.
  • If someone is directing you in traffic or on the footpath they might say ‘straight’ but may mean left or right depending on the direction their hand is in.
  • People will say yes to your face, but what they really mean is no.
  • Someone will say ‘yes, yes’ which actually means they don’t understand what you just said.
  • Tipping is not mandatory, but it is highly appreciated.
  • Your ‘friendly’ traffic officers have no worries about paying their kids school fees with your ‘donation’ to them paid at their discernment (or lack of it).
  • You can wear whatever you like in the city, but it’s a big coverup for the ladies in the country.
  • Up country doesn’t refer to the direction you’re going, it means you are traveling more than 2 hours out of town.
  • You seem to be every Kenyan’s ‘friend’ especially when they want to sell you something at the market.
  • Always make use of toilets available, especially when you probably will be stuck in traffic for 2 hours after a meal.
  • A meal without ugali is not a real meal (Google ‘uglai’)
  • Having dinner (called supper here) before 9pm means you will need a snack before going to bed
  • If you want to leave work, you just don’t turn up to your present job, it’s usually done just after payday. No resignation letter, no text message – just don’t show. While it ticks your boss off, you’ve been paid so that’s all that matters.
  • No matter how bad the singer is up the front at church, you clap anyway in appreciation.
  • Kenyans top at hospitality. Even if you’re super poor, you put on the most amazing meal for your visitors.

If you learn this by heart before you come you will be years ahead of us!

Meet My Therapist

We had a wonderfully (not) sleepless night thanks to some very loud music being played in our Nairobi neighbourhood. So it gave me lots of thinking time for this blog.

I just read an article that says that nearly 20% of Americans have seen a therapist and 20% are on some kind of medication for anxiety or depression.

Don’t worry, I’m not either depressed or have overwhelming anxiety. Sure, there’s plenty here to keep you awake at night (besides loud music), worry about finances, wondering about the future, kids that are struggling. It doesn’t matter if you’re here in Kenya or in a developed country we all have those sleepless nights.

Over here there are lot of ways to de-stress. Join a very expensive club (one has a $3,000 joining fee). Go for a run or walk (trying not to get hit by a car in the process). Get some retail therapy (that’s if you have the money for it). You can go to a safari park (but how many animals can you look at over the year). Some choose to fly to the beach at Mombasa for the weekend (hmm, we usually work on weekends).


Our movie theatre is called Cnemax Cinemas

Me, my therapy is to go to the movies every now and then.

You see, my therapist is cheap as chips. He costs only $6 per session, in comparison to $18 we were paying in Sydney. I think it’s value for money.

My therapist has lots of options for the challenges I face. Sure, a movie might come out a month later but we get them eventually. Right now, I’m waiting for the next Star Trek movie to come out, apparently it’s in June, it was available 6 weeks earlier in Aussie. Sometimes, you just have to wait until your therapist is available.

My therapist shows me that it’s not all about poverty here. When you’re working with some of the most disadvantaged youth, are sitting for endless hours in front of the computer looking at projects or wondering where your next dollar is coming from, my therapist gives me choices. When I come out of a movie I feel refreshed, nothing changes, but it does. I feel better, relieved and recharged. For a brief moment I can forget everything else and just enjoy being entertained.

My therapist makes me laugh. I choose my therapist wisely, I don’t want to hear crappola from him, sometimes I just want to laugh. One of our kids (Hannah) is like me, a bit of a movie buff. I think her therapist is definitely movies – and chocolate. We don’t always have the same tastes, but it is really good to have a conversation with movie quotes in it. We have a multitude of favourites, but it’s the humorous ones we love the best. I definitely laughed out loud during Iron Man 3, it was fantastic. It’s not often I want to watch a movie twice, but that one was definitely on my list of future DVD purchases.

I am not ashamed of being in therapy. I’ve recognised I have weaknesses in my life and need a bit of assistance every now and then.

I’m not dependent on my therapist for getting me through – that’s what God is for. I can’t fix all of the problems in the universe (let alone in my own world) but He sure can.

That doesn’t mean I have to totally deprive myself of a few indulgences while here though.

I like my therapist. I’m going to keep my therapist. I will keep seeing him from time to time for a bit of social adjustment.

Hi, my name is Sharon Crean and I’m in therapy. Why not join me.