First of all, Happy New Year 2017, folks!! I know there are a lot of mixed reactions about the just concluded 2016 b’se probably it wasn’t that bad or that good but still, we remain thankful to the Almighty God who’s made it possible for us to cross over into the much anticipated 2017. I just hope you had a fabulous time watching the colorful fireworks that ushered in the new year.
As a Ugandan expat who now calls Kenya a home, I’d say that 2016 has been a lot interesting b’se when it started, I never expected to emigrate here. As I reflect on how I embarked on living as an alien in a foreign country where I had no relatives, whose national language I never knew, the frustrating weather, and whose living costs were exorbitantly high, I just can’t believe that I have indeed made it this far!
It all began as a ‘trial’ since I intended to stay for only one month while on a fact-finding mission to ascertain if Kenyan life was manageable. What was meant to be a month’s stay ended up getting extended with the issuance of a Kenyan residential permit. Like all daring missions, this one never kicked off easily b’se of the many socio-cultural shocks and the high costs of living all of which I needed a lot of time to adjust to.
The first hurdle was to find a well-paying job for my sustenance and to cope with the high costs of urban living. Though some employers appraised my outstanding academic qualities, many just claimed that my lack of Swahili knowledge didn’t bail me out and that this is why I wasn’t the right choice for the available jobs.
Eventually, one of my trusted Kenyan friends secured one for me through connections with his bosses. Like in my native Uganda, you need to have some kinships in the job market to get employed in Kenya. The overall unemployment rate is very high and the number of young graduates is too big. I have come across a dozen of them smartly dressed and holding placards with their contact information for interested employers to get in touch and hire them.
It was also very challenging to find an affordable house in the immediate outskirts of Nairobi city. I struggled a lot by moving from one estate to another searching for a single bedroomed house, just a simple one for only myself but the monthly rates were really high. So, I had to stay with my Kenyan friend in Mukuru ghettos for one and a half month as I sorted out my housing crisis. Eventually, I settled for a bedsitter in Embakasi East, near Mombasa road. Though the distance to town is more than 30km from Nairobi city, it really paid off to settle here, I love the views of the planes landing and taking off and being close to the airport, the place is generally secure compared to the rest of the city.
Thank goodness, with perseverance, I have learned to appreciate Nairobi’s urban life that moves at a faster pace and eventually catching up to its speed. I have enjoyed the daily Matatu rides, feasted on local foods which I had never tasted before like the Ugali (cornmeal staple), Githeri (beans and corn), Mokimo (Kikuyu dish made of maize, potatoes, peas), Chapatti (thin fried pancake of unleavened whole-grain bread). Other superb meals I have enjoyed include the Sukuma wiki (collard greens), Irio (mashed peas and potato mix), Kenyan Pilau (spiced rice), Wali wa Nazi (coconut rice), and the tasty Kenyan stew which all make a fabulous typical Kenyan meal.
Another highlight of my 2016 was when I visited some of Kenya’s magical tourist attractions. You know how I have written extensively about the natural and ancient wonders of the enchanting Kenya. Do you want to know these places? Well, I was once atop the KICC Tower (a spectacular building depicted on the Ksh.100/- notes), the Nairobi National Museum, the Great Rift Valley, Fort Jesus, Mombasa island, and the Gedi Ruins at the coast.
I also toured prominent national parks like the Hells Gate, Aberdares, Shimba Hills, Maasai Mara and Nairobi National Park. Besides, I also adventured the impressive Indian ocean coastline which I saw for the first time and the white sandy beaches in Mombasa, particularly the Diani beach which I rate as the best among those I have been to. I will never forget the wild animals I encountered, the Rothschild giraffes I fed at the Giraffe Center, the African Bush Elephants and the king of the jungle – the African lion. In 2017, I am hoping to adventure into more interesting places and one of my biggest plans is to climb and conquer the highest mountain in the land – Mount Kenya!
Probably my major frustration of the year was not taking my Swahili language courses seriously. This is Kenya’s national language in addition to dozens of other indigenous ones and it is used more frequently than English which is the official language. Honestly, this is not an easy language to master and given my initial reluctance, I have always maintained a negative attitude towards using it. The fact that an average Kenyan can speak flawless English has also helped me to subdue the lingual stress but still, I have always found myself in situations where I needed to use Swahili and all I could say was “Mimi sijui Kiswahili” meaning that I don’t speak Swahili.
Despite the shortcomings in my expectations about living here, I have been helped a lot by the soft-hearted Kenyans who are among the most hospitable people in Africa. I remember some thief snatching my smartphone while I was walking along a busy Nairobi street and people were consoling with me, that evening I enjoyed the warm-hearted courtesy of the amazing Kenyan people.
Whenever I found myself lost in Nairobi’s complex alleys, random walkers would take their time to give me detailed directions, some offering to take me right there! This is an incredible multi-diverse country with more than 40 tribes but it’s like a homogenous country where everyone is respected and treated with utmost dignity.
You’d have a hard time distinguishing a native from a foreigner b’se all are treated fairly. Whether white, Asian, Arab, Somali or a fellow black, all are Kenyans. And the only way someone knew that I am an alien is when I told them that I don’t speak Swahili, otherwise no one else cares about your origins. Just follow the rules of the land and you’ll find it easier to settle in without anyone minding your stuff! This is the incredibly magical Kenya…
Once again, Happy New Year 2017!!