Wednesday, September 30, 2009
1. Shopping is always packed for you either into plastic bags or old boxes. An added service is to have the shopping carried to your car. This is done willingly but tipping is a good idea (30/- to even 50/- inflation has been horrendous lately!).
On annual trips home I find myself gazing into the middle distance in supermarket check outs, then wake-up, surprised that I must knuckle down and do the packing myself, then get a bit flustered by the chip and pin machine and never know which way to put in my card. It’s all a bit pathetic really.
2. Which leads me onto my next point. Don’t expect you credit/debit card to always work in East Africa. Often the card won’t run at the supermarket or in cash machines due to regular comms (communication) failures. I used to get in a panic and think that a card not running through straight away meant ‘insufficient funds’ but am a lot more laid back now. For anyone feeling desperate, it is always worth trying a different ATM. I know that Barclays usually works for UK visitors if all else fails. The cash machines can also be out of service due to the same comms reason. Cheques can be used in shops where the owners agree, just write your contact phone numbers on the back.
Please note; if shopping in a hurry, do pay with cash because using a card could delay you at least ten minutes! Alternatively, I have had the same amount debited four times consecutively at one petrol station when they struggled with the machine.
In fact, if you can help it, don’t ever be in a hurry around here. It’s not worth the stress, plus you will look like a foolish fish out of water! Haraka, haraka heina baraka.
3. Friendly service is common, chatting over a shop counter usual, smiling – always. There is always time spared to strike up a conversation and share a chuckle at the shops especially with shop staff. Shopping can be fun with lots of human contact.
4. At ATM machines there is a uniformed guard who kindly moonlights as a cash machine technician. For those people who are unused to cash machines, new to bank accounts etc, askari’s will insert your card for you and even punch in your number if you wish. This is not as silly as it sounds. ATMs here are used to transfer money to mobile phones and even pay bills. It is very complicated. Again – fabulous additional service if there is anything you don't understand!
5. In East Africa, there is no shame in staring. This is less common in busy capitals like Nairobi but do prepare to be overtly stared at from time to time and take it in good humour. Stare back if you like! This is a world away from the unfriendly streets of London, or UK tube and train etiquette where any eye contact at all is highly unusual and sometimes even considered dangerous.
6. Don’t expect to get everything that is on your list when you go shopping. I hate lists, so it’s not really a problem for me – but you’ll find shop stocks vary wildly according to supply (sometimes ‘supply’ means waiting for a container to clear in Mombasa). Don’t plan for a dinner/lunch party before shopping – see what looks nice and what is available first. If you see something you love, treat it like gold dust and sweep up as much as you can as it may be six months before you see that Colmans yellow mustard, special nappies or Brownie mix again. I don’t joke! Haven’t been able to get porridge oats or even sugar in Nakumatt for ages!
7. Managing hawkers. The best advice I ever had was to simply say, ‘no thank you’ rather than get upset by persistent hawkers waving pirate cds, knife sets, nuts and bags of fruit or flowers in my face. In Tanzania I was told to say ‘Sitaki asante (no thank you)’ but was since told by a hawker in Kenya to add, ‘labda kesho (maybe tomorrow)’ which he said made him feel much better. At the same time, don’t feel compelled to buy anything you don't want and be aware of hawkers charging higher prices. Showing even the vaguest interest in the item for sale can be fatal, as the hawkers’ persuasive skills are legendary.
N.b. In Tanzania, hawkers hiss loudly at you – there is no offence meant by this gesture, so don’t take any. They also call out ‘hey sister!’ which is still considered polite, so don’t get upset – at least they are not saying ‘hey mother!’
8. School children holding up sponsorship forms is one challenge that I have yet to fathom. I often give a little money but have no idea if this is a good idea. (Readers’ advice welcome!) There are always food donation boxes in supermarkets, so regularly buying an extra bag of flour, rice or sugar may be a better idea than handing out cash to strangers.
9. The same goes for hawkers holding up live baby rabbits or puppies on road verges. We had tears from my 6 year old daughter for the whole journey home last Sunday, because I wouldn’t let her borrow my money to buy a baby rabbit. (She intended to pay me back from her piggy bank). I did hear of one brave lady who, in Mombasa, pretended she was interested in buying tropical birds, then just before handing over the money, released them all into the air. I think she is still alive to tell the tale.
10. In petrol stations, fuel will be put into your car for you. Just state how much you want put in in terms of money (ie. 1,000 shillings please) or say ‘fill her up’ ‘jaza tafhadali!’ If paying by card, don’t worry about the man disappearing off to take your card off into his office. He will reappear eventually – but as warned above, it might be worth checking that the card machine is working before starting the process as you don't want to find yourself in a fix.
11. This is a bonus tip for shoppers – everything can be fixed, kettles, shoes, chainsaws, cd players, dvd machines, it’s incredible. You will always find somebody very clever to put things back together in little electronic shops, or just ask a hawker to point you in the right direction to find the right fundi.
The ‘disposable’ culture is alien here so don’t throw things away – do recycle – you will never have a problem finding homes for things as long as you are giving them away for nothing! In additin, I wash out cooking oil, milk containers, tin cans, then put them in a separate plastic bag on rubbish collection day which saves the people who are always collecting these items on the road, from getting too dirty when sifting through the bins. My trip to visit a school in Kibera enlightened me on this one.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I reminded myself that generally you spend a lot of time wishing for rain, then when it arrives you find it disrupts things and grey skies get you down - so it's better to live for the moment. I remember previous experiences of aqua-planing on Ngong Road, tarmac breaking up making new sharp sided potholes, getting regularly soaked in downpours whilst out on school runs and shopping, water dripping in through the sunroof onto my driver's seat, brown stains appearing on the ceiling boards in our house, patches of flooded ground and standing water in the garden, the septic tank/soak away system backing up unpleasantly.
In the meantime, I have fertilizer for the garden stowed away, ready to be sprinkled at the first opportunity and for now it is fine dust and hot weather day after day.
The vegetables we buy are noticeably stunted and small - ie mini carrots, tiny green peppers etc. Electricity and food prices continue to rise. We are being warned that this rain is not the answer to all of Kenya's water/food/electricity problems - there might be flooding, damage to the landscape, landslides, farmers will not be able to bring in a good crop - so we wait and see what might happen.
Friday, September 25, 2009
'Can we go to Splash?' they start chorusing on Friday night and do not let up until Sunday afternoon when they have given up hope. The rusty metal steps up to the high slides irk me a little and I do have nightmares about people banging heads and sinking to the bottom unconscious at the end. A friend told me that her mum got wedged halfway down in a water slide in England, whilst accompanying her grandson - that sounded like a horror story and a half!
I met up with a friend there who also has 3 girls, she is great fun and our kids are the same age. She arrived a little before us, so was already shooting down slides with her 4 year old in an itsy bitsy bikini. Desperate to dodge the agony of freezing water, I shoved my 4 year old toward my bikini clad friend, safely in armbands and told my older daughters to keep an eye out for the youngest. I then joined a third friend who was sitting with her 3 month old baby (she had a good excuse not to swim), I was being plain cowardly.
'I do feel guilty about not changing into my swimming costume' I said,
Friend no 3 said,
'There's no point in SPREADING the agony is there?'
We always try to get to Splash at around 10am when the water slides open, as an hour or so after that at the weekend and the place fills up unbearably whereas at 10am you normally have it to yourself.
What was funny was that last Sunday was IDD - and obviously Splash was the perfect, family Id El Fitr special treat. Muslim Men with accompanying wives in full synthetic black abayas arrived in their droves. Daughters were going down slides fully covered with costumes and leggings and t-shirts. My mortified friend in her bikini said more than once,
'How to feel really self conscious running around Splash with only a bikini on - visit during Id!'
I giggled and felt like a traitor. It didn't help when my daughter was begging my friend to take her down another slide (she had evidently given up on me).
'Oh, you're fine!'
friend 3 with the baby and I reassured - patently glad that it was not us getting the funny looks, proffering dry towels.
On the old topic and dreadfully boring I know, but there was an article in yesterdays Nation newspaper that stated that everyone is suffering terribly from electricity price hikes. A lady who paid an average of 300/- per month says her bill is now 7,700/-. Another says,
'I don't get power for three days a week in my house, but my bill shows that I have consumed more than the previous month, what is happening?'
I gather that at the end of August there was a rise in inflation of more than one percent in one month. KPLC are also using around 59% thermal power as their hydro electric plants are too low on water to operate. Electricity costs are also set to rise again - I bought x22 low energy bulbs today. Wonder if it will make much difference?
More interesting news is, following Raila Odinga's meeting with Obama this week, US ambassador has slapped a visa ban on 15 MPS and prominent civil servants. We are not supposed to know who they are, but the Nation is printing names.
For people not familiar with expat life - today we ran out of water again so need to order a truck. Hope their borehole is not completely dry or otherwise we will be stuck. We are now using second hand bathwater instead of for the garden, for loo flushing and floor mopping.
Florence's 15 year old niece has been diagnosed with skin cancer after a biopsy (she had a swelling on her tummy) and now must have all the skin around her belly button removed, then have plastic surgery to replace the tummy button and skin grafts.
In an attempt to help, I contacted a missionary hospital in Kijabe to see if she could have the op. done there for free, but unfortunately they do not have a dermatologist there, so no go. The niece is now checked into Aga Khan hospital and having her first op today. After meeting last Monday, Family members have put money toward a deposit and pledged as much as they can. The total cost will be an estimated 200,000/-.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I heard that there is currently flooding in Kisumu, and a lot of rain falling in Western Kenya. Water levels in Masai Mara are rising a little after their all time low during July and August.
I don't know whether any rain has reached Samburu/Shaba or further north toward Turkana yet?
If anybody knows more - do comment!x
Monday, September 21, 2009
What was interesting to me was the relevance (or lack of it) of next month’s Moi Day (10th October) and Kenyatta Day (20th October), where the Kenyan people celebrate public holidays to honour their first two leaders since Independence.
Kenyatta assumed power in 1963 (46 years ago) followed by Daniel Arap Moi on Kenyatta’s death in 1979 (30 years ago). As the ensuing years have slipped by new light has been shed on their respective times in power which were not without controversy, thus calling into question whether the holidays should continue to be honoured or are perhaps outdated?
On 19th September 1999, writer Michael Mundia Kamau suggested scrapping both days ‘in favour of one alternative public holiday that the entire nation can relate to.’ Others, including current Prime Minister Raila Odinga last year, have suggested that Kenyatta Day be renamed ‘Heroes Day’ in an attempt to move Kenya away from what has become known as post-independence personality cults. In spite of this, both Moi and Kenyatta Day continue to be firmly fixed on the Kenyan calendar.
Some years after President Moi was elected, enthusiasm for the new Moi Day holiday had waned. Critics of Moi argued that by naming a day after himself he was setting a precedent, where each successive President would be tempted to further overcrowd Kenya’s already full calendar with new holidays to commemorate their own tenures.
In 2002, the last year of President Moi’s twenty four year long presidency, Moi gave instructions ahead of time that Moi Day should be celebrated quietly (perhaps embarrassed by the attention it drew). So instead of the usual personal address to the nation preceded by festivities, that year President Moi chose to make a low key visit to a home for the disabled just outside Nairobi.
So far President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have resisted the urge to create new national holidays in their names. The only addition has been ‘Obama Day’ created last year in a wave of Obama mania on the 6th November 2008, the day the new US President was elected. Aptly catching the public mood, President Kibaki sent a public message to Barack Obama;
‘We the Kenyan people are immensely proud of your Kenyan roots. Your victory is not only an inspiration to millions of people all over the world, but it has special resonance for us here in Kenya.’
It remains to be seen whether Kenyatta Day, Moi Day and indeed Obama Day stand the test of time or will be swept aside in years to come. With Madaraka Day, Jamhuri Day and Idd-ul-Fitr (the celebrating of Id-ul-Hajj was last year de-gazetted in Kenya) also jostling with better known Christian holidays such as Christmas, Boxing Day and Easter, Kenya is losing a sizeable chunk of revenue through disruption to local businesses on each public holiday; perhaps more frequently that the country can afford? This year we also had Census Day thrown into the mix in August.
Meanwhile we will continue to celebrate twelve public holidays each year in Kenya (barring last minute additions) which is still fewer than Uganda’s thirteen days and Tanzania’s eighteen days of celebration, then we will count the cost to the economy later.
(The UK celebrates seven public or bank holidays per year and the USA ten – plus one Inauguration Day celebrated every four years).
The following days are observed as public holidays in Kenya:
(2008 we added Obama Day and in 2009 Census Day – bringing the total to 14 holidays)
Saturday, September 19, 2009
The electricity bill debate rages on. Had some friends over last night. One friend of ours gave us a copy of his electricity bill that shows his monthly Active DC consumption is 118 units - ours is 1850 (sometimes over 2000)! His bill was around 4,000/- for one month. Another friend in a smaller compound said that his bill once tipped 37,000/ - he has brought it down to 26,000/- per month by using energy saver light bulbs, so what gives?!
In the bill, the water heating consumption is stated seperately and in our case does not seem to be too high, so not the problem. (love the irony of discussing electricity bills over a lavish dinner party!)
Daily, we use one water heater on a timer switch, an iron (often), one fridge, one outside freezer, one kettle, one tv, one computer. All cooking is on gas.
Our frugal friend did point out that we have eight large sodium security lights in the garden that are left on all night, whereas at his house, he just makes do with a few low energy lights attached to the outside of the house and leaves the rest of the plot in darkness.
I said, 'I'm not afraid of the dark, I'm afraid of what's in the dark!' He said, 'let your two alsatians and two nightwatchmen do their job!'
Alternatively, we could have a faulty electricity meter that races around all day with its own agenda?! Whatever happens, I will do my best to get to the bottom of it.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
This would explain why for the last two months our domestic electricity bill has been 35,000 Kenya shillings! (£300)! Before it was 25,000/- (£200) per month and a year or two before that 15,000/- (£100) - yet we consistently use the same amount of power, for lighting, fridge, water heating (the oven is gas), all year round. (obviously there is no central heating here!).
I know that we shouldn't wish for El Nino rains of course - but just enough to fill the Nairobi dams and give Kenyan farmers a fighting chance with their crops next month would be nice!..
We are every day syphoning our soapy bath water out of an upstairs window to a standing water butt, to re use out in the garden. This involves my husband filling a hose pipe that runs through the window with tap water, then jamming it into the dirty bath, then listening for the water to trickle into the barrel downstairs. Our water preservation/collection methods are state of the art!!
Monday, September 14, 2009
The newspaper interviewed a car hire company operator,
'First the electricity bill has more than tripled in the last two years and I pay for water that I do not receive and rising oil prices means everything from running my business to basic things like unga have become expensive'
It also said, 2 years ago 1,000 Kenya shillings could buy a kilo of meat, 2kg of maize flour, a loaf of bread, two packets of milk, six eggs and a packet of sausages. Now the same amount will buy much less and he makes do with a quarter kilo of meat and half kilo of unga.
I chatted with my friend who is a plumber,
'now 1,000 shillings is worth only 100/- and 100/- is only 10/-' he said laughing, but speaking the all too painful truth. I notice that local fruits and vegetables that were once so wonderfully well priced are now downright expensive. We gave the nightwatchman 1,000/- as he needed to go to the funeral of a deceased aunt.
'1,000/- isn't going to help him much is it?' I said to my husband. 'it's probably just something toward the bus fare.'
There is no sign of rain yet. It's hot, dusty and more like January weather at the moment. I asked Shadrack when he reckons it will rain.
'Next month' he said, 'and there will be more than usual.'
Let's hope he's right.
Wangari Maathai says the government must clear the Mau forest of illegal settlers before the rain starts.
'the evictions should be before long rains to ensure the forest rejuvenates naturally.'
to read more about the coming El Nino rains and Kenya's drought look at www.irinnews.org A UN humanitarian news and analysis website
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
When I spoke to her about the work she does I was really impressed. The Christian charity's aim is to work with homeless children living in the Kibera slum of Nairobi. They are mostly supported by donations from the UK.
They try to work closely with families, keeping them together in spite of difficult circumstances and trying to promote their quality of life through a feeding program for kids, working with local schools to transition street children back into education etc. also providing micro finance and advice so that adults can start small businesses and become self sufficient.
The Trust also own land which is now a farm in the Aberdares/Kinangop where they have relocated a group of nine very willing single mothers and their children, in order to gradually learn from the local community how to work the land. The idea is that once their skills are good enough, they can farm independently on Turning Point Trust land, then more mothers from Kibera can move out if they wish and begin the process.
There have been set backs. The election crisis and the current drought have not helped. The very well designed website explains all: http://www.tptrust.org/
In addition, our daughters' school, Kenton College, is currently raising money to build a school in Kibera. They have been helping the Kigulu Aids Orphans School for some years, but recently bought land (previously Kigulu was renting rooms), it has now been cleared and new construction has begun.
(if you like, see previous posts on my Kibera visit).
I think it's great that the older kids in our school get an opportunity visit Kibera and often, after their final exams, do physical work to improve conditions for kids at Kigulu. The feedback from the kids on this part of the 'Wider Horizons' program is always extremely positive. Last term Kigulu kids came to the school and spent the day doing art and crafts/playing football etc with our kids.
Back to the school playground thronging with parents. Oooo! But also back to days of peace and uninterrupted quiet at home on my computer. Ahhh!
We have been a bit worried about the middle one, as she is starting 'big school' without any of her peers. She seemed to have survived her first day but did mention somewhat plaintively,
'everybody else KNOWS each other!'
Her our oldest daughter has been doing her level best to ease the big school transition and apparently lept into action whenever she spotted her little sister looking lost and not communicating with anyone.
'I am so CROSS with Ellie' the big one said, (Ellie is one girl who our daughter vaguely knows from a few years back) 'I saw her. She is just not playing with Lucy and is sticking to all her old school friends'.
Something else made me smile. Our eldest emerged on the school playground dramatically clasping an iced piece of cotton wool to her nose and a note from Sister.
'I was hit by a rounders ball.' she said.
'On your first day!' I exclaimed, 'who threw it?'
The words fell out,
'Well, it was the new girl and I SO want to be best friends with her but she is in the other class and not in any of my sets so I don't know how I am ever going to get to be best friends. It's impossible!' she said, disconsolate.
Mental images of Anne of Green Gables in the 'depths of despair' sprang to mind.
We had a very nice week in Watamu/Nairobi on Sea last week. We were in a lovely self catering house with friends who go to that particular beach twice a year - so they know the ropes backwards. In true Brits 'going to the beach' style, we took everything bar the kitchen sink. My husband had the bright idea of borrowing a friend's trailer as we had asked Florence if she would come with us and we took one of our dogs for good measure/added security.
Florence was delighted to be invited on holiday with us for the first time - and said she had only once before been to the Kenya coast - to Likoni, years ago. I heard her say to the kids;
'you always go away without me but this time I'm coming too!'
Our friends teased - now that your children are practically grown up you decide to bring help? What's that about? In fact it was heaven to have an extra pair of eyes around the pool with 5 children in total and a relaxing holiday for all (given that the house also provided a cook, cook's assistant and lady who cleans/does laundry.....OK, OK, describing all this makes me feel very self concious and decadent!).
The car journey was a gruelling 9 hours straight. My husband blamed the trailer full of food and barrels of drinking water, but it was still 9 hours on the way back too. For some odd reason a kids space hopper even got into a the trailer. It had deflated by the time we got to the beach due to the change in altitude.
'Well, it was next to the suitcases so I threw it in!' said my husband defensively.
I think that July/Aug/Sept is the best time of year to hang out at the coast, because it's warm but breezy and not too hot. It used to be our favourite time when we lived in Dar es Salaam. It's only necessary to sleep under a fan (not air conditioning - which is lucky as the house does not have any). My best bits were;
- fresh fish from the local fish trader (crab for lunch was a highlight for me)
- Walking down to the Italian end of the beach and noticing beach hawkers switch from speaking English to fabulous Italian. Even the beachside shacks changed from being named 'John Lewis' and 'Argos' to 'Roberto Cavalli'. V. funny
- People watching over lunches out at hotel restaurants
- long breakfasts
- The last beach walk of the day with long palm tree shadows and golden light, kids making sandcastles
- Evenings sitting on the roof with a drink, watching comings and goings on the beach
- wave jumping at high tide - in spite of tons of seaweed at this time of year
- beach walking generally and nosing in at hotels and other people's lovely houses
- buying pretty kangas and kids kikoy trousers, flip flops and towels from the beach
- kids getting henna tattoos
- pedalo ride with the kids around the rock - though tough on the old thighs!
- snorkling trip out to the marine park
- watching my husband split his swimming trunks right down the back whilst attempting windsurfing
- full moon
- tuktuk rides with the kids
- first trip to Gedi ruins after years of saying 'we must go to Gedi'
- odd rain showers and lush green in stark contrast to the the rest of the country which is in drought
- being utterly lazy all week
The dog was not sure about the trip at first and when my husband and I went out of the house she tried to run away (out onto the road) and find us/him - which meant that our friends and collective kids had to rush out after the dog, barefoot, in hot pursuit. The dog had her first swimming experiences (didn't really take to it) and twitched her nose at crabs and bits of seaweed which was funny.