When you move to a new place, there are a lot of expectations but above all, you hope that you will find friends. Like minded people to hang with, laugh, share experiences, discover new places with and have fun. However, it can’t be denied that, while friendly enough; long term residents in Kenya tend to be a guarded lot. If you are newly arrived, your best bet would be to form friendships within a circle of people who arrived at around the same time as you. Longer term residents tend to be jaded. They’ve seen and heard all the stories before and if you get them talking, their tales will undoubtedly shock you to the core.
So why do you think longer term residents are seemingly closed off? It’s because they’ve been through a lot to make this place work. A ton of water has flowed under the bridge. For the majority of the time it is fun living here – quality of life is good and the sun shines (after all, living in a holiday destination can’t be bad) but there are also times when life really isn’t so great and there’s no safety net to catch you when things go wrong.
Major events since living here
Since we’ve lived in Nairobi we’ve experienced a couple of dire years of drought and famine in the country (of course in Nairobi you are relatively protected), a flawed election that very nearly tipped the country into civil war, (people demonstrated, were murdered, lost their homes), The Westgate shopping centre terrorist attack that proved to be the precursor for similar attacks in Europe taking place now. We’ve lived here while embassy travel advisories warned off foreign nationals from visiting the country or risk voiding insurance cover. So we’ve seen empty hotels and travel businesses suffer and wondered to ourselves, well if those guys aren’t safe to come then what the heck are we doing here with our kids?
I’ve siphoned bath water into the loo cistern to save water, received text messages saying that ‘school buses will be targeted by terrorists’ at a time when my kids sat in traffic jams on a school bus daily, rushed to collect my kids from school when a street demonstration nearby turned sour on a number of occasions. I’ve been in a shopping centre while it’s being locked down due to marauding political demonstrators outside. Witnessed panic buying and have friends have been caught up in street riots where stones have hit their car. (this is a fairly regular occurance).
Landing in hot water
God forbid you lose your job, your business folds, you experience a burglary or carjacking, or are involved in a road traffic accident that turns nasty. Malaria, hepatitis B, typhoid, yellow fever and dysentery are real things. Gunshots can occasionally be heard at night and we’ve all heard of, or known, people who have died in air crashes, road accidents, violent crime or even brushes with wild animals. Friends have lost money in business deals that have gone sour and there’s no recourse through which to get your money back because the local legal system is best avoided. An entire bank hit the skids last year and many have no hope of getting back their money.
And then there’s the day-to-day stuff. Traffic jams. Employees and acquaintances who appeal to you to chip in for school fees and medical expenses, who often have chilling tales of tragedy and woe. Stomach upsets that take the place of coughs and colds. There are power cuts and or water shortages thrown at you when you least expect it. A disparity of wealth that makes your heart break. Petty theft at home and finally, waves of good friends who up sticks and leave you to question your reasons for staying.
Challenges for 2017
And we’ve got a potentially wobbly year ahead in Kenya this year. The first signs of drought following inadequate rains in November are starting to show and there’s speculation that the March rains could also fail. Water is being rationed and there are already cows being herded around the city in search of grazing.
Then there is the 8th August 2017 presidential election. Time for a regime change? There’s widespread dissatisfaction in grand scale corruption and pressing problems such as doctors and teachers strikes that are not being adequately addressed. Many Kenyans fear the kind of violence that was seen in 2008. In spite of giant leaps being made in infrastructure development, the fact that foreign investors are still arriving as the rest of the world stays tuned for the next big thing to come from Kenya’s silicon Savannah, the economy noticeably slowed in the second half of 2016.
There is a lot that is new, hot, hip and exciting in Nairobi – so if you’ve recently arrived then your enthusiasm should not be dampened but when you do meet old timers who seem kind of tough, unconcerned or mildly unfriendly, then cut them some slack. They’ve probably been through quite a lot.
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