Sunday, August 23, 2015

Daily Life in Kenya


Living in Kenya was a different experience for me.  I tried to read books ahead of time to prepare but there were just some things I found so interesting and different.  I'll try to quickly give you a tour of the daily life we had there.

We stayed at a complex with furnished 2 bedroom apartments on the outskirts of Nairobi for about $100 a night.  Nairobi is a large traffic filled city, supposedly with thieves and crimes...but we never experienced anything like that.  We lived over a fitness studio which started pounding out the tunes at 6 am...the kind of music that shakes your bed so you have no choice but to be an early riser.  There was a swimming pool right outside our door a couple levels below.  My son, Omar, was usually the only one using it because temperatures were in the 60-70s (considered their coldest season).  There was still a nice lady who handed out towels all day next to the pool.  Most of the business she got was from those visiting the fitness center.  We also had a Chinese restaurant in the complex.  The food was really good in spite of them rarely having customers. Every afternoon one of the guys who worked there would get high on marijuana in the alcove beneath our patio so we had the sweet scent wafting in our kitchen window. There was a washing machine in the bathroom, along with a toilet that was kind of a slot machine.  Usually by the third attempt you'd get a full flush.  To dry clothes, we hung them out on the clothesline at the end of the building.  That fresh smell you get with laundry hung on the line varied by how often the marijuana using guy visited the porch area.
Our kitchen had the basics
Everyone shared the clothesline, even the housekeepers

There was a mall within walking distance if you didn't mind walking on the dirt path next to the drainage ditch.  It wasn't bad during the day, but I tried it once at night and found out all the street lamps were burned out and it was pitch black.  My mind was filled with ideas about either being run over by a car or twisting an ankle and falling into the ditch before hoodlums came and stole all my possessions.  Neither actually happened, though my heart raced a bit the whole way.  During daylight hours you could stop and buy a Coke at a snack stand for about 50 cents. For lunch, several workers in the area would sit on tree stumps around a charcoal fire where a woman cooked beans and corn.  She also had fresh picked bananas. The price was right but there were no takeaways because she used real plates and washed them in a bucket for the next person. You could buy a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, locally grown, for just a buck or two at the flower vendor.  He had an assistant who seemed to sleep a lot on top of a cardboard box. When you got to the mall, if you arrived by car, you would be approached by a young man with a bucket of soapy water.  You could pay him about a dollar to wash your car.  I was told people should not refuse this service or something might happen to your car.  Since we didn't have a car, we just talked to the boys and Omar enjoyed shaking hands with them. When you entered a mall or a larger store, you had to go through security where they put you through a metal detector and checked all your bags.
The snack stand
Lunch and fresh bananas
Beautiful bouquets that were inexpensive
Car washing done in the parking lot
Driving anywhere took time...sometimes a lot of time.  As you waited in traffic, you could expect a barrage of people to come by selling goods.  Some of it seemed quite useful like nuts, crackers or bananas.  Other stuff just seemed weird- like it fell off the back of a truck somewhere and they needed to move the goods.  We saw jumper cables, end tables, laundry bins, dish towels, Disney posters, and even educational posters of body parts.  Beside the street, wherever there seemed to be pedestrian traffic, you could usually find some kind of vendors.  You could shout out to the vendors and they would bring over what you desired.  The strangest purchase I saw was eggs.  They just hand them to you, so you need a bag or box or something- no cartons.  You could even find clothing.  It was like a walmart on the streets as you drove through some neighborhoods.
This guy was selling sugar cane. I never tried it but it's apparently sweet and tasty.

Nairobi has several slums.  After being in Ethiopia, I was unfazed by the sights of garbage and mud, but for an average tourist, it was pretty interesting.  You could even book a tour through the slum to see the people up close and find out how they lived.  It's just a city within a city.  You can buy ANYTHING and there are hotels which have no running water- just beds.  It's about as primitive as it gets, but it exists because there is so much poverty.  We drove through Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, which houses about 1 million people. When seen from the air, it stretches for miles. The average mud shack can house 8 people and it's probably smaller than your living room. Who lives here?  Lots of people with jobs actually.  Most people with reliable income hire house helpers to do kitchen work, laundry, or watch children.  Some firms hire drivers.  These people live on about $210 per month and this is the life they can afford, in spite of being employed.  No one has a set work week either.  Most work when there is work, which can mean no weekend family plans or evenings spent around the television.
Children from the slum with the homes behind them
There were small canals or creeks along the roadways throughout the city and these enterprising entrepreneurs would start up garden centers using the water.  They would just use buckets to water the plants every day and everything looked very healthy.  The larger the piece of land near water, the larger the garden center.
Garden Center by a creek
People always ask about the food.  In Kenya it was good but nothing like what I ate in Ethiopia.  Because there's a food travel blogger, Dave Wiens,  who does it so much better than I can, I'll give you the link to his blog which includes full color photos of everything I ate.  We were lucky that we had a good friend who invited us into her home and she cooked for us several times.  In spite of all the differences, we enjoyed learning and seeing what life was like.  Every day was a new surprise. Some things seemed quite modern, like wifi in all the cafes.  Other things would be harder to live with like the lack of street lights and sidewalks. 

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