01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Relocation to Nairobi, Kenya - the trials and tribulations of settling in 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Relocation to Nairobi, Kenya - the trials and tribulations of settling in


Ant Carnage

Only 3 ants in my coffee this morning. I think I found the nest in the kitchen at the weekend and fortunately still had the dregs of an imported bottle of ‘Nippon’ powder –( as in - imported via my suitcase one summer in a moment of extreme foresight, or else brought in by a kind friend or member of my family). – I have never found a good ant powder in Nairobi, but a friend of mine said that her house help brought her something once that she called ‘chalk’ which apparently works a treat.

Before tackling the problem, by Sunday morning our abandoned looking dirty washing-up that was sitting in the kitchen sink, was heaving darkly with a gazillion ants. The children squealed when they saw it. Throwing the dirty plates into my ‘pride and joy’ mini dishwasher was a fairly revolting tasks. I was up to my elbows in drowned ant carcasses. Others were still furiously running about.

Photo from Telegraph article on expats settling-in (see link below)
Thoughts on Relocation and settling in

Apologies for the long absence. I’ve been writing a comprehensive Nairobi relocation guide and it has been a big project (currently running at x120 pages). I do know that if I was presented with a document like that on arrival I’d run and hide, so I’ve tried to liven it up with jazzy photos and coloured fonts in my characteristically ‘low tech’ approach. Never done desk top publishing.. it’s more a case of cut and paste.

So it has been 3 weeks of long days sitting on my butt with just the occasional break, to get up and stretch or emerge squinting into the garden for 5 minutes before turning back inside – plus a few incidents of getting to 3pm and realising I haven’t brushed my teeth yet or – skipping lunch etc. And now the guide is nearly complete with all-you-need-to-know info on everything from; what to do at weekends, how to open a bank account, how much do international schools cost, which hospitals, how to find a house, stuff to do with kids, where to shop etc. Test me, test me – my mind is still racing...

This guide (and of course the Africa Expat Wives Club forum – which is still active I might add!) has concentrated my mind on relocation and how people really feel about moving to Nairobi.   It reminded me that it really is an emotional journey.

How does reality measure up to expectation?

Personally I was thrilled to move here in March 9 years ago. This had a lot to do with the fact that we were coming from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Nairobi is a lot less hot, not humid, no malaria, far fewer bugs or snakes. Plus there were novelties such as an open fire and joy of joys, you can buy things like fresh mushrooms! But after the building boom of the last 10 years and with horrendous traffic getting worse by the year, is Nairobi really still the ‘Green City in the Sun’ that it was once famous for? Let’s face it, nowadays apartment living is more the norm.

I think what often comes as something of a surprise after all the excitement of sorting out the logistics of the move - is loneliness. Going to live in another country, suddenly divorced from your former life, friends, family, far from your support network (and in the case of the trailing spouse, also your job, which is always bound up with personal identity, sense of self-worth etc) – can be immensely lonely. On one hand you are supposed to be grateful for all the spare time on your hands, your friends back home are jealous – more often than not someone is doing the housework for you - and perhaps you are grateful for a while - but the novelty of being in a new country soon wears off.

The only thing to do is zip up your boots and give it your best crack. Having children in tow always makes life easier because of the school network and some companies are more supportive than others, but in the end for everyone, the only way to tackle this loneliness is to get enormously resourceful –

Top Tips

 Go along to terrifying groups and meetings even though instinct tells you that you’d rather poke your eyes out with knitting needles than stand at the back blushing. In Tanzania, I joined the Hash House Harriers for goodness sake (hate, hate, hate running – singing in public and beer (especially warm Safari) – but I have to admit, it could be fun once the embarrassment subsided!

 Learn some Swahili. I know you can certainly get by without it as everyone speaks wonderful English in Kenya, but if nothing else – by learning the language you learn something of the culture and knowing a few words helps you feel included. Plus, encouragingly the effort to speak Swahili is always appreciated (unlike in trying to speak French in France where people deliberately pretend they haven’t the faintest idea what you are trying to say).

 Apply for a job (your own embassy is always a good start – the pay is lousy but it’s a mini support network nonetheless). Find out from them about any informal meetings/groups that you could join. Voluntary work is admirable, but it’s hugely challenging here and in my opinion only really recommended for people who have been living here for some time and are fully settled.

 If you don’t want to work, think of doing some online training in an area that you’ve always been interested in – teaching, web design, writing, do an MA/PHD? Working alone at home is not going to help much with loneliness, but it does help with self esteem.

 Join a gym. Exercise always makes you feel better and it gets you out of the house.

 Get creative. Start making things, in Kenya you can even get things made for you because we are surrounded by fabulously skilled artisans (fundis) who charge comparatively little for their time (furniture, clothes, leather belts and bags) – either for gifts or you could even send them back home for friends to sell?

 Pursue anything that you are interested in with dogged determination. You may be disappointed by a lack of formal sports facilities but there will always be an informal group of like minded enthusiasts gathering somewhere, be it motor biking, playing football or hockey, bicycling, stamp collecting – whatever. You’ll track them down in the end.

Hope this doesn't all sound too patronising.  The good news is that Nairobi is a hugely cosmopolitan city, absolutely chock full of other people from other countries both from the region and overseas, many of whom might well be feeling exactly the same as you.

Once you have settled in, I’ve noticed that people (myself included) wear those early, harder experiences of being new in the country, like a sort of badge of honour. Horror stories of misunderstandings and awkward situations get rolled out over dinners and coffees, new friends bond over them.

If anyone else has any tips on how to get settled as quickly as possible, knows of networking groups for newcomers (I know that there is one Facebook group who meet regularly) or even if you just have a story on how it panned out for you – then please do share it by commenting – it might help.

Click here for Telegraph article: 'settling-in is expat's biggest worry when moving abroad'.

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