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A guide to: every day life in Nairobi

Less of a guide and more of a snapshot of daily life but I’ve had a lot of messages from people that are moving to Nairobi, or to Africa asking what its like, so I hope this helps.  I know why, when I was moving here I was desperate to understand the mechanisms of daily life, not the tourist destinations or what restaurants to go, to but would my life would be like.

Growing up in the England, Africa seemed like the last frontier; a savage land of wild animals, drought and famine, and a place where nobody I had ever met had ever been.  When we planned our move to South Africa I spent more time googling local snakes and baboon spiders than I did searching for a house. I was terrified, heading into the unknown with my tiny 3 month old baby, it all felt so foreign and so far away from home.

So what is it like?  It’s impossible to put into words, suffice to say Africa is a complete immersion into another culture.  There are spots in Nairobi (a few) where you can sit and pretend you are in Europe but for the most part its raw, rough, ready and utterly wonderful and frustrating at the same time.   In brief, of Nairobi the following can be said with conviction:

  1. It’s nearly always warm, even if it’s chilly in the morning you can always sunbath come the afternoon… but warm doesn’t necessarily mean sunny AND when it rains, man! does it chuck it down.
  2. There are road works (meaning piles of dirt and ditches full of rubbish) everywhere. In Karen you can’t drive fast ever because of speed bumps, cows, horses, boda bodas (motorbike taxis) buses, and people that generally swerve all over the road or drive down the centre of it forcing you into a ditch… the ditch and you are going to happen, accept it and get a 4×4.
  3. There are wild animals; monkeys visit our house on a daily basis and nick our food. Warthogs, Giraffes and Baboons make a regular appearance on my run, I hear hyenas at night and the scariest sounding animal in the world the Tree Hyrax. There are also lots of weird insects and shocking creepy crawlies… a baboon spider (Tarantula) ran over my foot when I was hanging the washing…slugs the size of my forearm cling to the side of my house, there are centipedes that surely crawled out of the gates of hell.
  4. The local people are lovely (if you ignore the drivers) the people who work in our house are the cheeriest, friendliest people Ive ever met. On the streets people wave to the kids in the car, the security guards at all the gates smile and say Jambo every single time, you are gifted with bright smiles wherever you go.
  5. The expat people are lovely; there are some cliques to be sure and it’s a case of trying to figure out where you fit, but most people have been a newly arrived expat in a strange country and invitations will ensue with gusto.
  6. Things are impossibly frustrating… a trip to the supermarket involves rally driving to the mall and 2 or 3 security checks before you get into the supermarket.  This is a shop that stocks the most random items in the world; French cheese and Fois Gras are always available, but sometimes you cant buy apples. There are always insane queues and you often get bumped from one till to another.   Everything is slow and takes time… you can either embrace it or spend your time mainlining wine and tearing your hair out.
  7. Culture is all around you, from people selling flowers, brightly coloured baskets and fruit & veg on the round-a-bouts, to Maasai grazing their cows down a busy street.  People light fires all over the place, sometimes to cook maize but sometimes just for the hell of it. In Cape Town you had to travel to tourist destination to find something of how locals live, here you are immersed in it… in fact, this is my favourite thing about Nairobi.
  8. Things are expensive; everything is nearly as expensive as England.  The only things you can buy cheap are flowers, kikoy, local fruit and labor.
  9. Labor: if you are an expat you are generally expected to employ someone to help around the house, perhaps to do the garden and maybe an Askari (guard).   These are loving people who work to make your life easier, so please pay your staff fairly. Contrary to what some people believe the cost of living isn’t that much cheaper for them, don’t those people who care for your children as though they were there own deserve a life free from stress and worry too.
  10. There’s so much more.. the list is endless… look at my blog for some more practical insights, ideas of schools and places to eat, or hit me up if you just want to chat.

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