“What is it like to live in Kenya?” This is for Jules ( http://julieangelos.com/ ) , my dear friend who got me started on my blog and who continues to show me support.
Living in Kenya is a huge basket of fruit, vegetable and meats. With a side of coke (soda).
There are so many wonderful and enchanting pleasures to living in this country that match us so well and there are vast amounts of plight, drought, death and corruption that is equally the same. It is a constant tight rope to balance on and not get lost in the negative, but always remembering to celebrate the beauty.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly! From our perspectives, here are some of the stories and insights to living in Kenya, a country we love and are adopted daughters of and truly grateful for it.
Dawn (The Goddess) and I are single mums, which means not getting invited to too many dinner parties: how do they fill the extra chair where our husbands once sat? Also, as many people in the world have heard the saying, “Are you married or do you live in Kenya?” Dawn and I DON’T SHARE! As we have had to tell many married woman here, we want nothing to do with their husbands. The sad thing is there are young women here who do share married women’s husbands and don’t care who it affects. I know this happens everywhere in the world, but here you cannot keep it secret and people have been known to die because of it. Remember Lord Earl?
We have to take on the Black African Men who have a hard time differentiating us from Black African Women (whom we consider our equals). We are single! Where do they put us? There is no man for them to discuss business issues with – they have to deal with us, or should I say, we have to “deal” with them.
When my children were first starting preschool and kindergarten, I would have to drive them through a part of town that was busy and had bars and shops (kiosks) along the side of the road. Inevitably there would always be a dead body on the side of the road in the morning. Tiva and Rian used to ask me as we passed them, “Mummy is that man dead?” “Sweetheart, I think he just had too much to drink,” I would say, as I felt they were still too young to need to know that side of life.
Rian came to me, when she was about 15, and she asked “Mum, I told you I saw the man killed today on the side of the road, the bicyclist who got hit by a car.”
“Yes, honey, I am sorry about that.”
“Mum, have I seen dead bodies before this?”
“Yes, honey, remember when you and Tiva used to ask me about the men on the side of the road that were lying there when I used to take you to preschool?”
“Yes,” and her whole expression took on what I was about to admit to her and she bellowed out “ OH MY GOD! I KNEW IT!”
“You were 4 Rian! I just thought seeing a dead body everyday and knowing it, might not be the best way to start your day.”
We have freedoms here to be ourselves in certain situations and at the same time we have to be the most amazing “lady” in other scenarios, you will be judged here at all times as Kenya gossip is endless and ruthless. Anyone can do something off coloured upcountry and all of Nairobi will have heard about it the following day.
The two year wonders as we call them (UN and N.G.O. employees, here on two year contracts) have out-priced most of us locals: whereas before renting a house was reasonable – they came in offering the landlords four times the amount that was normal to all of us and have made it impossible for our grown children to move out, as they can’t afford it. It takes them time to get a job and save up and it is twice as hard for single parents to continue to provide for our children the same way.
The Somali pirates made it even worse as they bring in all their cash and throw it down in front of a landlord and buy the house for ten times the worth, just to hide their cash in Kenya.
You have to always beware that at any time and at any place you can be robbed, which could also mean, beatings, being shot or raped, but if you are lucky you will be left on the side of the road to find your way home. This normally only happens in the cities, as they know the upcountry farmers all sleep with their guns.
Upcountry people who have farms have to deal with cattle robbers and gun fights. Now all this sounds a bit crazy, but it is just the norm and if it does occur no one really talks about it as it is not that big a deal unless someone gets shot, which is never a good thing, unless of course it is a poacher, then there are usually pats on the back.
Most of us have had friends and family members killed in road accidents, as many drivers here just buy their drivers license and the Matatu drivers (Matatu: local transport for people in a mini bus) are the worst. They drive as fast as they can and on whichever side of the road they feel like when there is traffic. Different from the rest of us, who drive on the ‘best’ side of the road, as cars have been known to get swallowed up in our potholes.
I read in the newspaper a few years back: “Man kills wife in rage, sentenced to 6 months in jail.” Next headline: “Man kills neighbours cow, sentenced to 6 years in jail.” Hope this helps you understand women’s rights and value here.
Circumcision still takes place for both men and woman even though it is against the law for women. This issue is difficult, because a lot of the woman in these tribes ask to be circumcised. If they aren’t then they are shunned and never considered a grown woman able to be married. The women in these tribes who can get away and have educated parents can escape it, as the parents just tell everyone that the girl had it done while they were visiting an auntie or grandparent that lives elsewhere. But, this is rare.
Most Black Kenyans have never seen a lion, elephant or any wildlife for that matter.
Oh our electricity! Such a wonder to us. We get excited when we switch our lights on and they work! It is not uncommon to be sitting having a dinner party and the lights go out, the conversation will continue in the dark as the hosts reach for the candles, always nearby, light them and carry on.
Hospitals are tricky. Just because they look impressive does not mean they are. Ones that look like they are dated back in the 1950’s can be amazing. Our doctors are wonderful and are sought out all over the world. There are only a few operations we would leave the country for and either go to India or South Africa, obviously wherever you could afford really.
We also have clinics and doctors here from all over the world who specialize in certain procedures, for example my house lady needed a hip replacement, the cost 400,000/- (USD 5,128), she had it down at a hospital most would not want to walk into, but it is renowned for the great work they do. Now true most Kenyans can’t afford that, but they will through a harambee (a fundraiser) and come up with the money.
Water is considered gold here! It is common knowledge, if you are out in the bush and you’re invited to a meeting from a Maasai, he will offer you a coke before handing you a glass of clean water.
We also have the ability to have amazing staff, who helps you to raise your children and look after your house and garden while you are trying to bring in money.
You can jump in the car and drive (depending on where you live) 15 minutes or 6 hours and be in Gods Palm. Nature all around, pure beauty and an orchestra of sounds that would match and may even out do the New York Symphony.
The food is fresh and has amazing flavour.
You can be a child and run around naked with no shame, roll around in the mud and get as dirty as you want. We believe in our kids getting dirty as it helps their immune system.
Children here can make a toy out of anything! Give them a tyre and a stick and they are happy, give them wire and they will make a car to play with. Most children are loved here, it is just in recent years with TV and movies that things have started to change.
Children at very young ages are given huge responsibilities and take them on with no problem. You will see a four year old walking to school alone or with a younger or older sibling, or a six year old carrying their baby sister or brother on their backs.
Children who live in the bush will be sent out to tend to the cattle, goats and sheep.
If you live out in the countryside and ride horses, you can go for a hack and within minutes be riding near zebra, giraffe, impala, elephant (if your horse is alright with that). You try to stay a distance away from lion or leopard, no need to explain, I hope.
Now the subject so many people ask me about ‘snakes.’ Yes we have a vast variety of snakes, venomous and non-venomous, but I promise it is rare to ever spot them. They don’t like humans. In 40 years I have only seen 4 poisonous snakes and one of those was dead. I have seen a few more non-poisonous, but mostly brown house snakes which are very sweet and help with the rats. The problem is they come in a multitude of colours and identifying them is not always easy for me.
Both Dawn’s and my children have attended private schools and all them were accepted to top universities, meaning that our educational system, when it is private, is exceptional.
There are monkeys on the campus and quit often children will be chased by them, if they haven’t learned how to deal with them they will learn fast.
Drinking age here is 18, although most of the children start taking beer bottles off the tables when they are tall enough to reach them. You can usually find them under the table giggling. As parents we give our children sips and teach them how to drink without getting drunk, as it will always be offered to them at parties. Sort of like Italian children and wine over dinner.
Dancing is a big part of the culture here, for our children it is a rite of passage to learn how to rock and roll, they love it.
Bush parties, we love them! Huge bonfires, good friends, your 4×4 and tents. Depending on who is cooking there is usually amazing camp food (I am never asked to cook, but will bring my cook if asked). Occasionally you will get the curious hyena looking on or hear lion in the distance, elephant sometimes pass by and all around great fun.
Sun Downers: After a very long day at work or a weekend break, we will get our finger food and drinks and drive out to the Ngong hills or find an open space, park the car and watch the sun go down.
I hope this answers some questions about living in Kenya. IF you have any others please feel free to ask and I will do my best to answer them.