5 Reasons why you SHOULD visit Africa

I often see these posts on Facebook of which country ranks as the best to visit and why, even in Kenya. Many of them are fabricated and one-sided, so I thought I’d give a more realistic list of reasons you should give it a go:

No Regrets

The reason we decided to relocate here was because we didn’t want to get to 70 years of age and go “If only”. We all have some regrets throughout our lives so why add more to it.

kids with raq 1

Bigger World View

The world is not all white, middle-class and English speaking. When our girls finished high school we all went off to East Africa for 2 months. We caught public transport, stayed at $2 backpackers, ate what the locals ate and had a blast. It helped them to see that the world is an adventure playground and there’s some really nice people in it.


Crap Happens Everywhere

I often hear people say ‘don’t go to Africa, it’s too dangerous’. Here’s some news ‘bad stuff happens all over the world, every hour, every minute’. You have no guarantees that if you stay in your home country that you’re going to be safe. I often get people asking me if it’s okay when there’s an Ebola outbreak (wrong side of the continent), a bombing (if we’re alive it’s a good) or a fellow Kiwi or Aussie is injured (did we know them). Remember, bombs go off in Indonesia, London, Middle East and the US. A café was held up by a crazy dude in Sydney and the whole country went on alert. Schools in the US are often reported to have gunmen going through them. It wasn’t that long ago that people were up in arms about 2 Aussies executed in Bali – but people still go there.


There’s Things You’ll Only Experience Here

We live about 30 minutes from the Nairobi National Park where there is pretty much every wild animal except elephants (need a bigger place than that). We drove around for 8 hours last week and saw some exceptional groups of animals. Kenya has 25 national parks, 14 national reserves and 7 marine parks. And that’s just in Kenya alone. Imagine with 53 other countries what your experience could be. There’s also the adventure sports, culture and unique food to this part of the world. Not many can say they went white water rafting on the Nile.


Travel On The Ground Is Cheap

Getting here would probably be the most expensive part of your trip. Once you’re here though, local travel, food and entertainment is pretty cheap compared to other places in the world. I can catch a bus to Uganda from Kenya for around $25, a private shuttle to Tanzania for around the same. You can get beef stew and rice for $2.50. Of course, there’s the other end of the spectrum where you can pay through the nose for services and entertainment, it all depends on your budget.

elephant crossing

Sure, I could go on about the wonderful friendships you’ll make, the unique encounters you’ve had or the different cultural practices you’ve discovered but it’s much more than that. It’s something you can’t explain in proper words to your friends when you return home. There are wonderful memories and experiences that only people who’ve been to this part of the world will understand.

The question is – what is really stopping you from visiting?



Why Kenya

I always get amazed on what draws people to come to Kenya to work or volunteer. Everyone has a story and I try and get them to tell me.

Some come to escape from their former life. Others to get themselves up the ladder of success in business. Some found that this was the only way to get to see this part of the world.

And then there’s me.

Food is an important medium for connecting.

Food is an important medium for connecting.

When I was in Standard 4, at about 10 years of age, we did a study – The Manyatta of Kenya.

I’m 46 years old. In ‘my day’ very few people travelled internationally. I remember one friend whose entire family went to Disneyland and they brought back a huge (and I mean huge) Winnie the Pooh. Another friend went to The Netherlands. But that was about it. I remember the same year that a plane full of tourists from New Zealand flew to Antarctica and them all perishing on a mountain there.

And then there was me.

The War Cemetery is one of the tidiest places in Nairobi.

The War Cemetery is one of the tidiest places in Nairobi.

We didn’t own a car until we inherited money from a grandparent passing. I remember travelling out of town once or twice.

Over my teens I had grown up reading adventures of people who had travelled through China, Africa, South America and India. But I’d never been there.

At the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

At the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

The first time I travelled internationally was when Pete went to college in Australia for 3 months, so we packed up and headed for the Sunshine Coast. Our girls were 8 weeks and a year old, I was 22.

A couple of years later we went to India for a few weeks, left the babies behind and had a blast. We would’ve been happy to move there but things didn’t pan out that way.

As the years went by we hosted plenty of international development workers or missionaries, many who worked in Africa. We threw (not literally) our girls out of their beds for our visitors. The girls thought it was cool, they didn’t know any different. I home schooled them for 6 years and integrated a lot of history, country information and cultural teaching.

You can't come to Africa and be in a hurry.

You can’t come to Africa and be in a hurry.

Then life took a turn.

We moved to Sydney, Australia where we’d never been before. Set up a new life, and it was great. That was 2002.

In 2007 I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya to graduate my students. I emailed a Kiwi friend of ours who we hadn’t seen for a few years and met up with them. It was great seeing their work with streetboys. I returned home for only a few weeks and then had to go to Ghana for a seminar. Ghana was so different to Kenya. East and West are like chalk and cheese.

Pete being walked down Mt Kilimanjaro with a broken leg.

Pete being walked down Mt Kilimanjaro with a broken leg.

In 2009 Pete and I decided that we wanted our girls to have a bigger world view. We wanted to show them that not all of the world was white, English speaking and middle class. So, we took them to Africa, specifically Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. Our youngest daughter DID NOT want to go. She had just finished her last year at high school and decided she ‘wanted to work’ we told her she had the rest of her life to work, and she was coming.

Pete was flown to Nairobi to receive top class medical care.

Pete was flown to Nairobi to receive top class medical care.

For a year we saved, sacrificed and made budget. A couple of other young people came with us some of the way. It was a cheap trip – buses, backpackers and motorbikes. We had a blast (most of the time). After 8 weeks we returned home tired but changed.


Han & Jules on Lake Victoria

In 2010 Pete and I went to Hawaii to drop Hannah off at school. It was there that we decided to move out Sydney, we were bored. The answer was either Hawaii or Kenya. I LOVE Hawaii, love, love, love it. But we thought ‘what the heck, what have we got to lose by going to Kenya?’

In 2011, Pete, Liz and I returned to Africa with the specific thought of ‘Could we really live here and what could we do?’ This time for another 2 months but it was to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (Climb Mount Kilimanjaro). Pete broke his leg on the mountain, so he stayed back in Nairobi and Liz and I went throughout Uganda checking in on our projects. The change in plans gave us a longer time to see if Kenya would be our new home or not. We’d travelled through lots of countries but there was something pulling us back to Kenya.

Nairobi is bustling with small businesses.

Nairobi is bustling with small businesses.

Nairobi was the most modern city we visited. We had people we knew there. It could give us easy access to other countries. We liked it. We liked it enough that we moved in 2012.

While there is lots of wildlife which is absolutely the coolest, it’s the amazing people that you get to meet. Those who struggle from day to day but keep a positive attitude. Those who are starting out in business and doing well. Expats who come here for some sort of experience.

The scenery is amazing.

The scenery is amazing.

Nairobi is made up mainly of Kenyans but there are representatives from pretty much every nationality on earth.


And so are the people.

Kenya is never dull and boring. There’s always something to do and people to meet. There is a lot of history here (which I love). It’s diverse and interesting. You’re always learning something new. We’re close to our water projects and the communities we work with.

We could’ve gone anywhere in the world and it we would’ve been fine but we chose Kenya.

Actually, I think Kenya chose us.

Dispelling the Myths

There are lots of things that people ‘know’ about Africa but it’s actually what think they know. Stuff we’ve read online or more likely, what we’ve heard from others, their opinions or third hand knowledge.

Today I’m going to tell it like it really is so you can see a different side to what life here. Just remember, Africa has 54 countries, that’s a quarter of the number of countries in the entire world. Here’s 6 myths people hold about Africa.

Africa is huge.

Africa is huge.

 1. Mud Huts

Not everyone lives in a mud hut. In Kenya, 32% of people live in cities, Uganda 15%, Algeria 72%. Most of those people live in apartment blocks. In Nairobi where we live there are guards and sometimes guard dogs at the gated entrance of the property. While there are some houses, these tend to be in certain suburbs. Many homes tend to have house help. On the day we moved into our apartment, the caretaker offered his daughter as our househelp, all for $120 per month. We said no thanks.

hut  apartment

 2. Security

We have people staying in our home all of the time. They might be students coming to do research for their studies or perhaps taking a break from working in remote places around Africa. I love having people over. If I had a bigger house I would probably have a whole bunch of teenagers living with us who really need a place they can call ‘home’.

The number one question I get asked is ‘Is it safe there?’ Safety is all-relative. It’s not safe for me as a white person to walk around the streets at night, but it is during the day. We work with young people who live in the Kibera Slum. They are amazing and give me hope for our country. However, I am unwise to walk through Kibera by myself. Therefore, I go with people who live there.

Unfortunately, you can never take security for granted. We live in a relatively safe area but I still lock the car doors when I get in. We are always aware of things like our bags, phones and wallets. When we go to a slum, I take off my jewellery and leave anything I value, at home. If you wear it, you have to be prepared to lose it.

Kenya has been rocked by a number of security issues. In the last two years we’ve been involved in a rock throwing/riot situation while working, bus blow-ups (we don’t catch them if at all possible), attacks at the Coast and of course, the Westgate attack a year ago. It sounds bad but it doesn’t affect you too much unless you are involved. Even when we were running the kids program and we all had to huddle inside because the hall was being pelted with rocks, we didn’t feel afraid. We were just concerned how the little kids were going to get home safely.

The thing about acts of terrorism though is that you don’t know when and where it’s going to happen. You have to be alert and use the brain you’ve been given.

We are thankful that over the past two years we haven’t been carjacked or anything on our persons stolen. We’ve heard of it happening to lots of others but not us. May it so continue.

riot3. Money

There is money to be made in Africa. Get it out of your mind that the streets are lined with people begging with a bowl saying ‘please sir can I have some more’. Yes, there are beggars and homeless people (just like the rest of the world) and yes, a lot of people live in poverty. But – there are also people with money.

The top African countries with millionaires include South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Angola, Tanzania and even Algeria. Throughout the continent there are more than 130,100 millionaires. There are 27 billionaires.

I’ve been travelling to East Africa for 7 years. In that time there’s been an obvious sign that there is a developing bigger middle class – the number of locals at the coffee shop at the shopping mall and those shopping there. There’s also been a huge increase of cars on the roads. I am forever seeing Mercedes on the road!

Ashish Thakkar - Africa's youngest billionaire

Ashish Thakkar – Africa’s youngest billionaire

4. Modern Facilities

There is a huge difference between life in the city and that in the village. We have running water, electricity (most of the time), more footpaths and lots of shopping malls. In the village there might be one small shop to buy something from or, you jump on a bus to go to the nearest town. It’s basically opposite to a city. You have to buy water in a jerry can, you probably don’t have electricity.

In Nairobi, we have a number of slums that don’t have running water or sanitation facilities. We also have a large portion of locals who have never even stepped into a slum. On the other end of the spectrum, you have young people from well off families that don’t even speak Swahili (official language) because they go to private international schools.

We are quite spoilt in Nairobi, we can pretty much buy any food that we want. It’s not always available but when it is, it’s great. There are lots and lots of places to eat out and plenty to do. Nairobi is not a place you can get bored in. We’ve friends in Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia who, when they visit are ecstatic at what food and items we regularly buy. My husband Pete went to Ethiopia last week and half of his bag was full of sugar, meat and chocolate for an associate, because they couldn’t even get things like sausages.

On the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda

On the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda

5. Technology

East Africa has ridiculously cheap Internet. In Australia I was spending $100 just on my phone plan and then about that much more on a telephone/TV/internet package. $45 gives us unlimited wireless internet, TV package and a landline phone (which we never use). I use $5 for phone/SMS and another $5 for internet on my phone. And that’s on a busy month.

What I really like is that you can buy a scratchie card and put credit on your phone for as little as 50 cents. MPesa is a very cool monetary system established by Safaricom. Let’s say I need $5, anyone can send me that through the phone and I get it in an instant. I can then go and withdraw it or use it to buy goods or pay a bill. I often send Pete airtime on his phone via mine. I remember when Pete broke his leg when we were in Tanzania, on Mt Kilimanjaro and I called back to our friends in Nairobi to tell them and also, could they send me some credit on my phone – and they did. Got to love this system.


In 9 days we fly out to Australia and New Zealand for our daughters’ wedding and we all know that we will have a heart attack on how expensive our phones will cost us. One phone package in New Zealand will cost me 4 months of what we would spend here.

6. It’s Hot

As I write this blog I’m sitting in jeans, wearing a jumper and have my ugg boots on. Okay, it’s not that cold but wearing uggies is comfortable around the house. Google tells me it’s 19 degrees and will hit 24 later. Very rarely does Nairobi get to 30 degrees.

Sahara Desert

Sahara Desert

You don’t have to travel far and there’s a huge temperature difference. In Garissa (4 hours away) it’s often 35 degrees. The Lake Turkana area often gets to 50 degrees. So yes, it does get hot here but not like what people think. During the middle of the year the temperature drops to around 13 in the morning, rainy seasons are in June/July and November/December. Things have been much drier this year and the rains in June just didn’t come. I’m seeing signs of the coming rains so it actually makes me happy. Outside of the city it’s dry and brown, here’s hoping it greens up fast.

tempDon’t believe everything you hear on the news about Africa. It’s a place of adventure, challenges and amazing people. You should come on over!


On Safari to Tanzania

 Last week we took the journey (safari) to Tanzania, one of Kenya’s neighbouring countries. The plan was to look at one of our completed projects and then have a look at some potential new ones. It was also a good chance to see our Aussie mates the Pocknall’s. Last year we bumped into them at our local mall and have kept in contact ever since. The Pocknall family are amazing (Andrew, Jenny, Maddie, Lauren and Oliver).

Arusha has about the same population as Christchurch but no where near the facilities as Nairobi. It’s a bit like a big country town. On the upside there is a whole lot less traffic than Nairobi. It’s also about 3 degrees warmer in Arusha.

Apparently you’re meant to enjoy the journey and not just the destination.

Traveling by road from one country to another in Africa is not as easy as it sounds. A few months ago when we got our car we were meant to get our transfer papers done but ‘someone’ in the office didn’t get it done. Hence, the papers were still in the name of the car dealership.

Because of this the insurance company would not insure us for Tanzania. It’s only about $50 for a couple of months insurance but we were forced to get it at the border and hope we got it with a legitimate company. Africa is one place you don’t want to end up insurance-less.

We were to leave on Thursday but everything fell apart on Wednesday. Pete was out at the farm and everything was left to me (just the way the cookie crumbled) to organise and Monday was a public holiday so it was a super short week anyway. For the whole morning we got conflicting reports ‘yes you can get through the border’, 30 minutes later ‘no, it’s impossible’. What an emotional rollercoaster. By 11am I was ready to throw in the towel but my brave husband jumped on his motorbike and came to my rescue.

Image           Shuttles waiting at the border.

First to hit AA who said it was no problem. Go to the car dealership to see the boss – he’s out of town. Insurance guy says we’re too much of a risk.

Thursday morning we head out. I had thrown my hands up in the air and decided that if we drove the 2 hours to the border and they turned us back we would come home, pick up our tent and get out of Dodge for the weekend.

The road to the border is 176km’s and it’s been built really well. Most of the time getting out of Nairobi is a real drag and can take an hour. It took us 20 minutes. The road we took is the same one that trucks use to get to the port in Mombasa and it has endless trucks.

ImageNot sure how long the trucks were parked at the border but it would’ve been ages.

Just before the border is a place called Paradise Gallery. It has flush toilets (always a bonus) and a large shop with allsorts of Kenyan artwork. There, Pete asked the owner if she knew of someone who could help us at the border (a 2 minute drive). Of course she did! So, we ended up with Sitoki, a Masai man who for $30 got our car through the border. We waited while he found some friends who he could negotiate with. Normally if the car isn’t in your name you can’t get insurance or through the border.

We wanted to take the Pocknall’s some food goodies from Nairobi but every blog I read said how things are stolen at the border or confiscated. We had neither and kicked ourselves for not taking more through. Who knows where the Kenyan Police were. We just drove through.

Of course you have to go through all the rigmarole of completing departure and arrival forms, paying $50 each for visas and then an American $20 for a car which wasn’t in our name.

ImageSigning in and out of immigration

After about an hour at the border we simply kept driving. The hardest thing was dodging all of the trucks lined up that were waiting. Then there were the multiple ‘diversion’ signs which were a waste of time. Before we knew it we were on our way for the 2 hour drive on the Tanzanian side.

ImageSo many trucks it was hard to find a parking spot.

The hilarious thing about the Tanzanian road is that it was only completed a couple of years ago. Now some intelligent person has decided to build in new culverts AFTER the new road was built. So every few kilometres we were diverted onto a dirt patch where they were building.


TIA – this is Africa

Going to the Movies

I’ve been to the cinema twice here in Nairobi, once to see The Hobbit and then the latest Die Hard movie. When we are in a new country we go and see a movie just for the experience.

It all started with watching 2012, showing in Arusha Tanzania. Pete hated going especially since there was an outdoor cafe outside and he despises those types of movies. After 8 weeks on the road I told him he owed his kids that much. He survived.

In 2011, Liz and I were on our almost solo trip to Uganda as Pete was holed up in a very nice hospital in Kenya with a broken leg. Since we were staying in a $15 a night motel we splurged out and went to see Rise of The Planet of the Apes. We thought it was a bit risky to leave our bags at the security desk but had no option. But for $6 we got a movie and a Coke. A pity there was no air conditioning but since we there were only 3 of us in there I ripped off my hiking boots and rolled up my pants. There’s not many fun things to do in Kampala, but I do suggest the cinema.

As soon as the Hobbit arrived in Nairobi, Liz and I jumped on some motorbikes and headed up to the local mall. Actually, bodaboda’s are a really cheap way to get around town, all of $1 to get to our mall. I hadn’t read the book so it was kind of vague and I didn’t know the movie was a trilogy so I was a bit of a let down. Also, the teenyboppers behind me were like “OMG is that for real, if it were me…” the whole way through the movie. Really wanted to turn around and slap them silly but you’ll be pleased to know I didn’t. On the upside, we didn’t fry because of a lack of air conditioning and then we accidentally bumped into some fellow Aussies in the cafe next door.

There’s a small but nice waiting area where you can buy some snacks and wait for the doors to open, there’s a flat screen TV playing previews and there’s even some toilets. Here’s the sign outside the lift:

theatre 2

Roll forward to 2013 and Die Hard. Liz was keen as mustard to see it. Me, I like the action, hate Bruce Willis’ language, I just want to get in there with some soap and a toothbrush to wash out his mouth. Seriously, there’s no need for every second word to be the ‘F word’. We dragged Pete along under the guise of a dad/daughter date, with me as the tag along. I was seriously surprised at how little swearing there was in comparison to his other Die Hard movies (or it’s been so long since I saw them that I’ve forgotten). Entry was a whopping $5 each and for another $5 we all got a bottle of fizzy and the most delicious caramel popcorn. Because it’s been here for so long there were only 7 of us in the theatre, all adults and although the air con wasn’t on, it was quite pleasant.

theatreHere’s one of the theatres, there’s 4 in the nearest cinema.

I’m looking forward to May when a whole bunch of decent movies come out. The TV shows here are really old and if you choose to buy DVD’s on the side of the road (we don’t) the sound can be terrible, the movies don’t work or they suddenly stop halfway through.

I’m not sure if I can convince Pete to come again as he’s not a big theatre fan, but Liz and I will definitely take some time out from all of our work here. There’s nothing quite like zoning out of reality for a couple of hours and having a breather. While most people here can’t afford the $5 to go to the movies, it’s something we can do every few months that doesn’t mean eating ugali, corruption, dealing with poverty or avoiding potholes bigger than the car.