Some assume that expat life in East Africa is living life in a bubble. Here’s why it’s not:
1. It is raining in Kenya and raining heavily in Nairobi. For a city that has changed so infinitely due to rapid development over the past 5-10 years, we find the city infrastructure melting down. There’s flooding in many areas and structures built without adequate foundations or too close to natural water courses are in the line of destruction. A 7 storey building in Huruma collapsed and the scale of the rescue of people from the wreckage has been epic with incredible stories of residents pulled out alive over a week after the building fell. Shopping centres, shops and home are getting flooded. Videos recently sent around on a Whatsapp chat give practical instruction about how to exit cars that are sinking in water and I watched it more than a few times because I’m aware roads become rivers around here in a flash. We are beginning to wonder when this rain started and when it will end.
2. The other night I lay awake listening to the screeches of bush babies and tree hyrax, there was the sound of a distant hyena which surprised me and then I heard gun shots. No kidding. Break-ins and security problems are a fact of life but reminders close to home are not welcome. On Friday night a public figure was assassinated on the highway not far from our house.
3. At the beginning of the week, people who oppose the current government were rioting in town, calling for the disbandment of the independent electoral commission ahead of next year’s election. The police used teargas and water canon against protesters so roads closed and traffic went crazy (as if traffic in Nairobi ever needs an excuse to go crazy). This and other signs do not bode well for the December 2017 election.
4. I heard about a couple of major money worries last week for other people. Our house helper’s 80 year old dad was taken ill and was rushed to a private to hospital last month following a stroke (he was up country, near Eldoret). After 3 days in ICU and on a hospital ward, the family were staggered to be presented with a 500,000 Kenya shilling bill ($5,000). Coincidentally, a friendly taxi driver called me with the same problem – his 90 year old granny had been in Kikuyu hospital and the family now owe 280,000/- bills. I can’t help feeling flummoxed and angry at how hospitals dare to charge people who are in no position to pay such vast amounts – but then I’m from the UK where there is the NHS (stretched to breaking point though it is) offers free treatment to all. Even a sizeable donation would not make a dent in these huge bills. ‘Because of this, we could lose our land and then we will have nothing‘ I was told.
5. And finally, our former nightwatchman who we still keep in touch with (he’s pretty good at keeping in touch with us!) lives in Kibera is about to lose his house because it lies in the path of a newly planned road (rumours are that all of Kibera has been sold off secretly to public figures, so there are a lot of changes afoot). By some miracle he has land elsewhere, but now needs funds to build a basic house on it. Again, substantial funds. He doesn’t want to be in Kibera during the next elections. He’s ready to get out and thankfully he has a place to fall back on. He has a few odd jobs but nothing substantial, so can’t save.