Saturday 29 August 2009

Bittersweet moments

OK firstly I wish to apologise for the lack of photos but frankly, the thought of walking around with a camera seems weird as it's not exactly a tourist haven in Nairobi and it feels voyeuristic to do this but yes, I will when I get into the flat to show people my new home.

I went to a bar on Friday with my friend N. Her kids said we looked like twins - apart from the glam outfit, lipgloss, perfume and attitude, I couldn't quite see it. 5FT 10 black, 5FT 2 white. Yeah - definitely twins.

We get to the bar and the conversation buzzes around subject areas I know nothing of. The mafia here, the corruption, stories of Mossad supported politicians who shoot criminals dead in the street, security scams, phone bugging and illegal land sales.

It's chaotic, black market, a mix of "enchufes" as they say in Spanish, - who knows who.

The conversation moves onto tribalism and the massacres of 2007 and that people expect the same again in 2012 -next elections but this time, the violence will start before and not after. I blink again. I can't think of how people accept this as the norm.

Then my friend who is from Burundi says that Africa needs to learn from the Rwandan genocide that spread. They talk more, I listen, then she says that her brother was killed in the genocide.

I have nothing to say and wish I did.

Friday 21 August 2009

The two economies

I know it's a cliche but the difference between rich and poor here is sickening.

The guards that stand all night in the cold "guarding" ie doing nothing earn between 6-9 thousand shillings a month

Just to give you an idea what that buys - I just put 100o shillings credit on my phone, my lunch costs around 4-600 hundred shillings each day, my taxi ride to work and back costs 1400 shillings each day. It's not a lot.

If the house owners are generous and kind, they give them a blanket and maybe some food. Many go hungry. Some resort to eating dog food because the dogs get treated better than they do.

They spend their lives sharing a shack in the garden, with their families miles away owning nothing but the clothes they stand in, a glass and a few bits and bobs.

They aren't valued - yet the rich can't seem to manage without them as they lock themselves away in their fortresses.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Sunday 16 August 2009

Culture shock

I had always thought of myself as an environmentalist. I realize now that was somewhat disingenuous as in fact, every single Kenyan I meet puts anyone in the so called developed world to shame.

Of course, it is not necessarily out of noble conviction, but because life is hard and things are scarce.

Resources, materials, containers and “utilities” are so valued that nothing is taken for granted.

Every single glass container is kept, washed and used again. I go to a small supermarket at work and there are no plastic bags at all- a cardboard box if you really need it to again but it’s bring your own or struggle carrying and balancing things in your arms.

I see slightly rotting fruit today and my stomach turns as the ants surround it and the flies amass. There isn’t really anything wrong with it though and I offer the fruit to the very grateful guards at the house I am staying. I feel like a brat as I see how they jump for the fruit and smile gratefully.

Every single appliance is turned off at the wall. Why? Because electricity is scarce, people in Nairobi are used to power cuts frequently and if you have a generator – then great – but let’s not waste it.

Water- I can’t tell you many times I go to the kitchen tap and forget there is no water in the kitchen at the moment. Again, there are cuts and rationing. There is a reserve for washing and we buy containers to drink. I don’t want to exaggerate – I am lucky enough to be able to go and buy water and have access to water reserves and generators but it gets you thinking.

As for owning a washing machine, of course lots of people do, but many, even those that can afford it, prefer to handwash to save water and because they its deemed more thorough.

I’ve been here two weeks and learnt more about being an environmentalist and how precious these things are that we take for granted in the developed world really are.

Onto some funnies….I was asked to be estate agent’s fourth wife. I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or an insult. I was asked to fill in a form at work of all the forms I’ve filled in – a form for the forms..I jest not…and apparently “flashing” here isn’t about dropping your pants but is actually when you ring someone’s mobile phone to tell them you’ve called or to give them your number.

Who would know?


Thursday 13 August 2009

OK folks - so let me tell you about it all - Nairobi

Hello people.... Friends keep writing me lovely emails wanting to hear all about the initial impressions, so here goes.

Firstly and I hope you appreciate this.... I am writing this by candlelight because I appear to have turned up at a time of national crisis and massive electricity and water shortages.

Of course, most people blame corruption rather than just the lack of rain...I mean Australia manages to keep things going doesn't it - but here, no...apparently not!

Some people have written too saying hey - are you there or not?

Yes, I am here- Day 13 I believe.

I am working for a rather large international bureaucratic organisation - but not going to mention names cos I don't want to be fired just as I get going.

Oh my god, I feel like I have landed in a Kaftka novel.

Nothing makes any sense. Hence I've given up trying to comprehend things. A decision taken one minute is overturned the next. Let me give you an example. I find a flat. Fine. I go to sign the lease - there is no lease. There is however, a flat available in the opposite block to be free on September 1. Fine.

Today I receive a call - it's back to the first flat and it's free now. Do I dare try and fathom this?

No. Just say ok. I'll take the one that I first said I'd take...going in circles..are you following me?

Ok what else? Well the office. Hah hah hah.

5 days to get a functioning email. Yes, I had email address but it wouldn't accept any emails from an outside address, very useful. After 4 calls I gather that I need to be added to a list. Then fking add me...!!!!! Thank you. Let's move on.

I have opened two bank accounts. One has a cheque book and a card. Magic. The other takes longer to set up but is an international dollar account. Work screwed up and paid it all into the dollar account - yes - the one I can't access for 3 weeks. Good, good.

The earth is red, it's dry, it's sprawling and vast but actually also very green and lush. Two monkeys appeared on my window ledge two days ago smelling my rotting banana on my desk.

My.. the little buggers were persistent - opening the window, trying to come in. Obviously their persistence paid off and they got the fruit - good for them.

I have been blessed by being "adopted" by a girl from the office who is lending me her house whilst I find a place. Her younger brother is here too and we cook up messes on the stove, or as per tonight, we opened nuts, cheese and bread and had a no electricity picnic.

What else? I went dancing last night and was the only white person in the club - did feel a little conspicuous but frankly - I was there with a friend and I can I reckon that's more of a criteria! Great live music and had fun - but was too late to go out on a school night..People kept telling me how tired I looked today. Sympathy vote. Hah hah.

The driving is horrendous. I think it's on a par with India - worse than Italy. People look they are continually drunk driving - veering here and there..and then I saw an overturned bus last night - all smashed in on the road to the airport. Eeek.

This is a bit incoherent - don't forget there is a candle here and am doing my best - but to say that Kenyans are very friendly overall -and it's been an odd, stressful, random but gets a little easier each day.

Something to end on - a security check issued by work.

On 12/08/09 at about 0710hrs the driver of one of the contracted Budget bus reported that, while driving the said bus ferrying staff members to the complex, on reaching Githogoro slums area before Runda Estate the bus was attacked with stones by seven armed persons. One of the attackers was armed with a pistol which he aimed at the driver but did not fire which s/ms suspected to have been a toy. The attackers tried to enter into the bus but both the driver and passenger doors were properly secured. No injuries reported. Security and DPU Officers attended the scene.

A TOY????

Told ya, Kafka - perhaps mixed with Monti Python.

Til next time. xxx

Saturday 8 August 2009

One week in...

Well, I have survived a week and boy there were times when I thought about grabbing a taxi and just heading to the airport and cancelling my shipment and returning...but that's not really me - I just like to enjoy the drama and think about doing these things.

It's not what I expected or hoped - but I need to readjust expectations. I am sure things will get better, but everything does feel like a struggle.

It would be nice to be able to carve a niche in the workplace - but let's see how things go. It ain't exactly straightforward.

Two funny Nairobi moments I have to share.

1. I discovered a place to do washing. Fine. I popped in and expected to be given a form to fill in or something. No, he tipped up my bag, underwear and an' all - and counted everything in there piece by piece, knicker by knicker.

Red? I was the colour of a tomato. He, however, was non plussed.

2. Yesterday I sat in a queue at an office called Host Country Services - basically visas and car stuff. An irate american guy came in blustering and shouting. However, he was pretty funny.

"I gave this paperwork in - in December 08!!!!! I can't drive without a licence. I am stuck. I need help with this - what do you guys want me to drive - a wheelchair - cos by the way it's sorted, that's what I'll need."

I cracked up. No one else did.