NYC to NRB “The list of things I love about Nairobi has grown bigger over time.”

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Integration of an expatriate family in the host country is an adventurous journey as much as it is also one full of challenges. Mahua, the name behind the captivating website nyc2nairobi, agreed to sit down with Jumia Travel for an interview on how she finds life in Kenya. Her candid nature will have you digging into the archives of Africa’s political history as well as desire to travel more.

  • What inspired you to start blogging about living in Nairobi?

When I moved to Kenya, I wanted to have a way to share my experiences with friends and family. Having a blog would be a good way to do that. Also, I had not found many blogs about life in Kenya. I thought I might be able to help others like me who were new to Kenya and wanted some insights prior to moving.

  • What was your family’s reaction to your decision to move to Kenya?

The reaction was very much a mixed bag. Some people were excited. Some people were scared for us, which is ironic and more than a little hypocritical given all the gun violence in America. Many were sad, or rather became sad.

The reaction hit biggest when people learned we were taking our belongings with us. When they learned that this was not a one-year jaunt, but rather a long-term change. That was less about Kenya and more a reaction of saying goodbye.

  • We really liked your post on life’s little luxuries. The list of things you missed about NYC over a year ago was shorter than that of the things you loved about Kenya. Has the list changed?

The list has changed. I still really miss walking around and I really miss Equinox (my gym). I miss the ease of transportation, but I’m driving myself around a lot more now so it’s not so bad anymore. The shopping for personal items (especially knitting) is still tough and I have to hoard up on those items when I go to the US and Europe.

The biggest change on that list is that I have a social life here now. I have real friends again. That has been a huge life improvement.

Treehouse Live Band

Treehouse Live Band

The list of things I love has grown bigger. While Monsanto, GMO seeds, is now in Kenya (which is terrible as they are pure evil), I have my own vegetable garden now. I could never grow anything before and now everything bursts into life. It’s amazing!

I’m enjoying the outdoors even more. I still love the weather and have even come to love the rains. It’s not all about good BBQ weather. The rains are important. I guess between being outdoors more and the gardening, I am much more connected to the Earth and nature. That has been a really wonderful change and it’s very fulfilling.

Primates in Samburu

Primates in Samburu

The thrill of being somewhere new has not faded. I keep finding new things to love. I’m discovering new places. I’m learning more about modern East African Art. Kenya doesn’t get old or stale. It’s a vibrant and thriving culture.

  • How do you think living and working in Kenya has changed you and your view of the Africa?

The working side of it is complicated. I’m not sure where to begin. It’s less about Africa and more about working in Kenya.

Living here, I can speak to more easily. I never saw Africa as one, and still don’t. I never saw it as backwards, and still don’t. What’s changed is more that I have better focus. My focus in on Kenya. I’ve learned a lot more about Kenya.

River Cafe Karura Forest

River Cafe Karura

I’ve gotten more perspective on relations between African countries. I’ve gotten more of the small but very important details. Listing it out will seem awkward, but if you look at this list, which is not exhaustive, and think about how all the pieces come together, you start to get a richer understanding of modern African history and how it affects daily life:

  • Kenya has amazing Internet and great cell coverage. The rest of Africa…not so much. The Silicon Savannah is a very real thing.
  • Kenya never had sanctions against South Africa during the Apartheid year. This feels really wrong and I don’t understand how this was the case.
  • There is a strange animosity between Kenyans and Tanzanians. Is this rooted in the first World War when Europeans forced Africans to kill each other in a war that was not their own? Or is it a remains of the Cold War when Tanzania was more socialist and Kenya more capitalist? Whatever the reason, the animosity is there.
  • People from outside Nairobi insist that people in Nairobi don’t speak Swahili.
  • Tribal lines run deep.
  • Sexism is a big problem, and yet it is easy put a sexist man in his place (at least for me as an expat). Men will assume you are weak. The minute you stand up for yourself, the sexist man will immediately back down and then be afraid of you. If you pull in another woman or two to help you, he will cower in fear, especially if those women are Kenyan. At least, this has been my experience.

 

  • From the post, it appears that you struggle with the perception of time in Kenya. What other cultural differences have you had to adjust to or are still trying to cope with?

There is a new cultural nuance that I’ve noticed in the last few months. I am meeting more Indian Kenyans. They really want me to be Indian. I am, in part, of Indian decent. But, I’m not Indian. I have no connection to the country. I don’t speak any Indian languages. I don’t cook Indian food. I’m a boring American. But they really want me to be Indian. It’s as though they are trying to get people to be on their side, their team so to speak. It’s strange.

Supermarket Aisle

Supermarket Cheese Fridge

I see Kenya as very multicultural. However, I’m not naïve. I know there are lines drawn between Indian, Black, and White Kenyans, and even more along tribal lines. I just never expected any particular group to try to “recruit” me. It’s really odd and I find it divisive rather than welcoming.

Mind you, this isn’t all Indian Kenyans, just a select few. But those few have been very aggressive in their “recruitment.”

On the lighter side, one thing I will never get over is the refusal to walk on the sidewalk (pavement). There is a wide open sidewalk, yet people will walk on the street. I don’t understand it. Is it a leftover from British Rule? I know in India the British didn’t allow Indians to walk on the sidewalks. Was that the case here? Is that why people prefer to walk in the street?

Whatever the reason, it makes it really hard to drive!

  • What is your favourite destination in Kenya? And Why?

I still love Naivasha. In two hours from Nairobi you can be in paradise.

Mt. Longonot

Mt. Longonot

You can be in mountains, or a game park, or hiking along a gorge, or on a lake. It’s beautiful and peaceful.

  • What things do you look for before you pick a place to travel to?

It depends on what we want to do. We love hiking and the outdoors. We love game drives. We love to scuba dive. So, really it’s just a matter of what activity we want.

Watamu Scuba Diving

Watamu Scuba Diving

That aside, we also try to go to new places. We’ll be in Nairobi for a while but not forever. So, we want to see as much as we can. For example, last year we went diving in Mauritius. Why Mauritius? It seemed good and who knows if we’d ever have a chance to go so easily again (4 hours direct from NBO).

  • When travelling with your spouse, what has been your greatest travel fight/disagreement?

Home leave. Not really a fight…but…well, we would both rather travel throughout Kenya or elsewhere in Africa than go home this year. America is in a state of turmoil. We are very scared for our country. It’s heartbreaking to see it get destroyed. We do what can to fight from abroad, but it’s minimal.

When it comes to going home…we argued on how long to stay. We didn’t argue but had to think long and hard about whether we felt it would be safe to leave New York City at all. It would be better to stay in a free, sanctuary city, right?

We also had some long talks about what to do in case either one of us is detained. I haven’t done much other than signed petitions, sent postcards, and tweeted opinions. But I fear that could be enough for the immigration officials to give me a hard time.

This is causing a great deal of stress and anxiety.

  • What’s the one advice you would give to a first time traveler to Kenya?

As you plan your trip, look at everything there is to do here. It’s not just game parks and safaris. There is that and you’ll want to do that for sure.

Diani Beach Camel Ride

Diani Beach Camel Ride

But, there is also hiking, paragliding, wind surfing, kite surfing (world class destinations on the Kenyan Coast), scuba, birding, and more. But together a full package and experience the parts that interest you. It would be sad if you spent your whole trip in a safari vehicle.

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