As an expat blogger, I am often asked to do written interviews for various expat themed websites. I guess that it’s an occupational hazard (but good for those inbound links). On my part, there’s a bit of head scratching involved and it takes time to fill these in. Oddly enough, this week I was asked to do 2 new expat interviews and, stranger still, I also received an email from blogexpat.com telling me that an interview that I did for them in 2011 is now going to form part of a book. Did I miss something? I read the interview back through and fortunately didn’t cringe too badly…just slightly…and I’m pretty happy with the old profile photo that I sent them way back then. Oh to be frozen in time. Wouldn’t that be great?
Of the two interviews, I’ve done this week, here’s an example. I wonder if, in another 5 years time, this might also appear in a book? Doubt it. I always try to keep it honest 😉 but comments included here in Italics are for the benefit of readers of this post only.
Living and working in Kenya
1. Please tell us about you and where you are from?
I live in Nairobi, Kenya and am originally from the UK. (Before I came to Africa I had never been travelling and had barely been out of Europe)
2. Where do you live now? How long for?
I have lived in Nairobi with my family since 2003 but before this was living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for four years, so I’ve been in East Africa full time since 1999. (Yes, it’s been a pretty long time – now I can properly stare down those folk who ask, in unfailingly superior tones,- “so how long have you lived here?” )
3. What do you for a living?
I work as a freelance writer and am a mum of three girls (my work load varies. Right now I’m kind of wondering why I bothered renewing my work permit)
4. What’s the economic climate like in Kenya, is it favorable to all businesses or specific custom made businesses?
Kenya has been going through a significant economic boom over the past 10 years, fueled by a fast growing Kenyan middle class. There are still challenges in terms of infrastructure development, population growth and a high level of corruption but steps forward are visible in the form of new roads, a new regional rail line being built, a new port etc (not sure that I really answered that question properly but come on – I don’t fit the profile of the sort of entrepreneurs that these guys are used to interviewing)
6. What do you enjoy most about Kenya?
A warm, friendly atmosphere, welcoming people and year round sunshine as well as fantastic places to visit on holiday that are right here on our doorstep; the famous Kenya coast/Indian Ocean and fabulous safaris (I should have added – ‘if you can afford it’ because these type of holidays don’t come cheap).
7. When you compare the quality of life to your home country, how would you rate Kenya?
The quality of life in Kenya is very good with more time spent outdoors than I would be able to experience back home in England (due to the great climate). We also benefit from domestic help so there is more free time but the trend here is moving toward more urban, apartment living for expatriates, so lots of things are changing. Heavy traffic, power cuts, water shortages can be challenging so it’s hard to make that call between quality of life here and at home definitively. (that’s a pretty even balance, non? But I forgot to mention restrictions on freedom of movement – see related post Living behind bars)
8. Most expatriates moving to Africa are warned about security. Was this the same experience for you? What do think can be done to improve security in developing countries?
I think that it is fair to warn expatriates about security but the level of risk can sometimes be taken out of context and exaggerated. I arrived as a pretty clueless newlywed but yes, everyone back home mentioned security risks before I left (from the check-out lady at the supermarket to the lady doing my make-up on my wedding day – that is, once we had established that Tanzania was not in fact Tasmania) .
Security problems come hand-in-hand with a vast disparity of wealth. The only way to improve the situation would be for developing countries to have un-self interested inspirational leaders, accountable governments and an effective social security system. Sadly I can’t see this becoming a reality any time soon. (you notice that I’m getting slightly outspoken here!)
10. What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling in Kenya? Did you or are you still experiencing culture shock? How did the rest of your family if any adjust?
My kids have all been brought up in Kenya, so for them this is home (in fact two of them have experienced a huge adjustment and culture shock going to school in UK). The biggest adjustment for me has been bringing my kids up without family or old friends close by. It’s also tough when fellow expatriate friends move on to pastures new as you tend to rely on them in place of family. (All long term expats feel cut loose and seriously unsettled when close friends leave. Their departure invariably sees you re-analysing all of your own life choices.)
11. Public transport in Kenya or definitely self drive?
Definitely self drive sadly. There are poorly maintained buses, mini buses or motorbikes that people use for transport around the city but they are dangerous. A commuter train network within the city should be in place in the next few years (plans are afoot) but we are not there yet. (will we ever be?)
12. How sufficient is the health care plan and medical attention from doctors in Kenya?
Many expatriates rely on private international medical insurance plans for emergencies. There are very good doctors based within private hospitals in Nairobi and quality of treatment compares well with private treatment in the rest of the world, both in terms of quality and cost. (unless of course you get a potentially terminal disease or mixed up in a bad road accident – in these cases the wholesale recommendation is to seek treatment elsewhere – funds permitting – doesn’t matter whether you are Kenyan or expat)
13. How would you rate the housing standards and general cost of living in Kenya?
The cost of living is high. Rent is high and so is the cost of electricity etc. Most households contribute toward, or cover entirely, the cost of a security company that supplies day and night watchmen to guard your home. Groceries, new clothing and private school fees are all very expensive. (yes, I repeat; cost of living is high..just because you are in Africa doesn’t mean you will suddenly be existing on $1 per day)
Meeting people and making friends
- How tolerant are the locals to foreigners?
Very tolerant and welcoming. The only time that I have felt uncomfortable here was during election years when politicians tend to stir up anti-colonial, anti-incomer sentiment for their own gains. (That’s right. Kenyans I meet are up there as pretty much the nicest people you will meet in the world, no kidding).
2. Was it or is it easy to meet and mingle with the local people or do you mainly mix with fellow expatriates? What advice would you give to fellow expatriates looking to move to Kenya?
I mix with expatriates and have some Kenyan friends too but fellow expatriates tend to be more open to socialising with incomers, whilst Kenyan friends already have an established support network of friends and family in place. Advice to an expatriate looking to move to Kenya? Temper expectations, be open to new experiences and learn some Swahili, as this gives a valuable insight into the local culture.
Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
Getting a work permit is tough, time consuming and costly and I did employ an accountant to help me navigate this process. It is possible to get the correct permits on your own by dealing directly with government immigration offices but you need a thick skin, patience and plenty of time! (getting a work permit sucks and costs 250,000 Kenya shillings plus – that’s around $2,500 – $3,000 US). Related link to a fellow expat blogger in Africa: Trailing spouse – the graveyard of ambition
Questions were from Africa news website: Suluzulu.com
Image Credit: Unsplash
Related post: Counting the Cost of Moving Abroad