Nairobi, Kenya Report of what it's like to live there - 07/31/13

Personal Experiences from Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi, Kenya 07/31/13

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Previous tours in west and east Africa.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington, D.C. Depart from IAD with a layover in Amsterdam, London or Zurich.

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3. How long have you lived here?

3 years.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Great housing. There is one large embassy housing compound (that everyone wants), a few smaller ones and stand alones. The large compound homes are a good size and more "American." The others are large and quirky but they mostly have large yards and all have fireplaces. Commutes vary from 2 minutes to upwards of 30.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Ugh, Expensive. The COLA needs a revamp. Milk/Dairy/Cheese are EXPENSIVE. Red meat is cheap but not aged so it isn't great. Chicken is overpriced. Eggs are cheap. Fruits and veggies are great and very inexpensive. Cleaning supplies are inexpensive but are super harsh and strong smelling. Coffee and tea are fabulous and inexpensive. Don't expect to find sour cream. You can find ingredients for Mexican food. The embassy morale store is a racket. Get your staples through Amazon Prime. That being said, you can eat well here.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Nothing. You can get anything here or have it sent in though Amazon. Anything you need is here, you just have to pay for it.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Nothing American. A few South African chains like Steers, Spurs, Creamy Inn, Pizza Inn and Galitos. All are fine. There are plenty of actual restaurants and most are quite good, but expensive.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitos and ants. Nairobi is too high for malaria but you still get mosquitos. Some people use nets but it is a personal preference. The medical unit recommends antimalarials for trips to the coast and on safaris. Larium and Doxy are provided by the med unit free of cost. If you want Malarone they will write you a prescription and you can fill it locally.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Gardeners are around US$150-200 per month. Ayahs are between US$200-250. It depends. Interview before hiring and expect to be asked for loans. There is no shortage of people looking for work.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

The Embassy has a small gym that is sufficient. Many people run outside or exercise at home. There is a nice Pilates studio a ways from the Embassy and you can find private instructors for just about anything.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

I don't but many do. Many treat this place as a cash only post.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yes, the local papers are in English. Some people use AFN and some get South African satellite TV (DSTV) which runs about US$85 a month.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None, although a bit of Swahili helps.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yikes! Nothing is wheelchair accessible and the streets are uneven. There is nary a sidewalk in sight.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Jim Cab for taxis. The Embassy has set rates with them. RSO recommends you not use matatus or local buses as the drivers don't know how to drive (seriously).

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

Right hand drive SUV (so like the UK). Many drive Prados, Land Rovers and Pajeros. People either ship in from Japan or buy from those departing post. This is another racket. People sell for what they bought it for. You will overpay. It will not be worth what you pay for it. Accept it and be prepared to put some cash into it because the roads here are tough. There are a few good mechanics and several not so good. Ask around before your wallet is drained. Parts are hard to come by for Land Rovers and Pajeros. Prado is the vehicle of choice.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, again the telecom sector here is growing. The customer service is lacking but the product isn't bad. We pay US$115 a month for unlimited.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Buy one locally and get scratch off cards for minutes. Works well. You can get any type of phone here (iPhone etc). The telecommunications system here is very robust. Zero complaints here.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No, but we found a pet shipper to be helpful.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Yes, several excellent vets. Dr. Ghalay is fantastic.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Less conservative than DC but still somewhat dressy.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

It isn't called "Nairobbery" for nothing. Carjackings and smash and grabs are rather common and there was a recent uptick in home invasions. The wealth disparity is depressing and the country is currently at 40% unemployment and you are driving a Prado and living in a huge house. If you follow the RSO guidelines you should be ok. They do everything they can to keep employees and families safe, you just have to listen and be self aware. Don't be "that person."

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

The Med Unit is there for day-to-day issues and well-baby visits and I think they do a good job. Gertrude's Children's Hospital is good. Pharmacies are well stocked and don't require prescriptions.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Not bad. You get days where the smell of burning trash and matatu (local buses) exhaust is overwhelming. However, it is all personal perspective. Coming from west Africa...the air is perfect.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Wonderful. It is one of the highlights of living here. The majority of the year it is 80 degrees (F) and sunny with zero humidity. Summertime here is winter and it is chilly and overcast most days. There are two rainy seasons (big and small rains) but nothing major. Houses are neither heated nor air conditioned. There will be times that you will be begging for air conditioning. The Embassy is always sweltering. Kenyans always think it is cold here and will criticize you for not swaddling your children in 80 degree (F) weather. The coast is stiflingly hot and humid.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

ISK and Rosslyn Academy are the two main schools. I don't have experience with them but I understand that parents are happy with boths schools for the lower grades but there are issues with the HS.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Most families use nannies (ayahs) for daycare but there are several preschools. I was not happy with the preschool situation. AT ALL. There is also a large contingent of home schooled children here. They make the effort to socialize their kids with structured activities.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Huge. Between embassies, aid workers and the UN.

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2. Morale among expats:

Depends. Some love it here. Others are miserable. I think the truth is somewhere in between.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Plenty to do. Dinners out, family get togethers etc.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Good for families. Singles and childless couples seem to have fun as well. There is plenty to do.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

On the surface, no.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes but it is tribal. Take a look back at the post election violence in 2007 for reference. I won't dare to attempt to summarize it in this small box.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Safaris, visiting Mount Kenya and trips to the coast. Nairobi isn't the most exciting city but it is a great starting point for more exciting destinations. The Masai Mara, Tsavo, Samburu country, Lamu, Zanzibar, Mount Kenya. The list goes on and on. You can "tour" Nairobi in a weekend or two. Visit the elephant orphanage, adopt an orphaned elephant (allowing you "bedtime" visits), feed the giraffes, visit the Karen Blixen house, hike the Ngong Hills, hike Mt Longnot, visit a tea plantation.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

You can "tour" Nairobi in a weekend or two. Visit the elephant orphanage, adopt an orphaned elephant (allowing you "bedtime" visits), feed the giraffes, visit the Karen Blixen house, hike the Ngong Hills, hike Mt Longnot, visit a tea plantation.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Fabric, soapstone carvings, jewelry, Tsavorite, Tanzanite, leather luggage and bags, etc. Nairobi is home to a lot of artisans. This is potentially another money drain.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Touring, housing and weather. A tour in Nairobi provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for safaris and access to the rest of Africa. Housing is spacious with gardens. The weather is perfect. Generally blue skies and zero humidity with just enough chilly days to feel like you aren't missing out.

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11. Can you save money?

It depends. You can spend it all if you travel a lot. Safari's aren't cheap. You If you don't go out to eat every night you can.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

YES. We love it here. I'll be sad to leave.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Impatience, low clearance vehicle.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen, money for safaris, camping equipment and patience.

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4. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Nairobi Half Life.
Out of Africa.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

"Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass"
"Something of Value"
"White Mischief"
"The Bolter"
"The Flame Trees of Thika"
"Rules of the Wild"
"I Dreamed of Africa"
"The White Masai"

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Nairobi is a fabulous tour. Take it if the opportunity presents itself.

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