Things I will miss about Kenya – Nairobi – Mombassa – Malindi
I am currently on a plane from Nairobi en route to Amsterdam where I will be spending a couple of days with family. It is too soon to reflect on my experience in Kenya as a whole; in some ways the experience feels like a dream that didn’t really happen and in other ways I can’t even believe that it is over. It is not too soon, however, to reflect on what I will miss from Kenya. So here goes…
- Kind Kenyans
The mentality in Nairobi is one of self-preservation. It is an environment that accepts lying, encourages an every-man-for-himself mentality, and one that encourages taking advantage of any and every opportunity that comes your way, even if it is at the expense of someone else. A lot of the reason for this is the environment and circumstance, but it is a self-perpetuating cycle. The thievery, the danger, the rudeness and the pick pocketing are things that I will absolutely not miss whatsoever from Nairobi. This is not a reflection on Kenya as a whole, or even on everyone in Nairobi. Therefore, what I will miss, are those Kenyans that surprise you and make your day by being polite, doing something nice, or not taking advantage of you. The taxi driver who always gave me a fair price and never took advantage of me. The stranger who helped me when I was in a matatu and the seat just collapsed and I had no idea what the matatu driver was yelling at me. The waitress who did not put up a fight when she realized that the restaurant had made a mistake in pricing and had in fact overcharged us. More than just the random acts of kindness, however, I will miss my host family. They truly became my second family, provided a home away from home, were there to help me, and I’m sure without realizing it taught be an immeasurable amount about Kenyan life, culture, and family.
Though riding a matatu probably has a higher risk of danger than any other activity in Nairobi, and though they are prime territory for getting pick-pocketed (as I, and many others, experienced) they are a fun, fast, and easy way to get around. They are cheap (10 to 20 cents a ride), they are efficient (most matatu drivers have a death wish evident by how crazy and fast they drive), and they are always running. It is nice to be able to hop on and off, alternating between a nice walk and a ride wherever you may want to go.
- Prices in Markets
It is no lie that the prices of everything in Nairobi as compared with the US are much cheaper. This is even more drastically true, however, in the various markets in Nairobi. One favorite was Massai Market, a traveling market selling mostly gift items. The items are reasonably priced, and as we learned quickly after moving to Kenya, everything is Kenya is negotiable. Coming from this mentality, it was difficult to swallow having to buy another gift for a friend in the airport, because the gift that I bought was over five times the price of the same gift that I had bought in the market . The same goes for Toi Market, a second hand market located on the way to Kibera. Essentially all of the second hand clothes that you and I wear in America, or in Europe, somehow all end up in enormous piles in the market. I found the greatest success by rummaging through huge piles of endless clothes already marked with a price per piece, usually 20shillings, or 50 shillings. On my most successful shopping day I purchased seven shirts for $1.50 total. Makes goodwill’s prices look outrageous!
- The lifestyle
During the months that I was living with my host family, I walked 45 minutes to and from school every day. While I spent the majority of my days at the SIT office listening to lectures and doing work, my time at home with my host family was free of any computers, any internet, any TV and I loved it. The problem is, as we found out living in the apartment in Nairobi during ISP, if the internet is there and if the computer is there, we are naturally habituated to go on the computer and surf the web even if we don’t actually need to be on the internet. And on the flip side, if we do have work to do, usually we don’t get it done because we have the internet and facebook distracting us. Some of the most fun times my apartment mates and I had, the times that we played cards or silly games, the times when we sat and chatted for hours in our apartment, were the times when we had no power. When we had no power we regularly all sat by candlelight or headlamp light in our dining room, and enjoyed one anothers company without any internet of computers. That is what I will miss.
- The learning
Every single day in Kenya was a learning experience. My passions are in reproductive health education and financial empowerment for girls, and while I did not learn explicitly about those topics every day, my learning by life living in Kenya taught me more about those subjects than I ever could have learned in a classroom. Every day, no matter whether a good day or a bad day, I learned something new about myself, about Kenya, about development work, and about life. I will miss that constant passionate learning.
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