Nairobi, Kenya Report of what it's like to live there - 07/21/09

Personal Experiences from Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi, Kenya 07/21/09

Background:

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

Second.

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2. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

Work at US Embassy.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Too darn long. The KLM flight through Amsterdam is nice if you can swing an overnight there.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

For embassy folks there's the big compounds, which are nice, with the usual drawbacks of living with people whom you work with. We have a great house; it's huge and well laid out.

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

Produce and fruit is cheap and wonderful. Meat, on the other hand, is puny and pricey. Bring canned meat from the US.

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

Toilet paper, tampons, canned chicken and tuna, spaghetti sauce, stationery.

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

Decent Java House food. Not any fast food to speak of, but some OK Chinese. And there's plenty of very very cheap Kenyan places if you are willing to go where the locals go.

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

Minor. The embassy housing usually has one window screened per room, to avoid the random flying things. Mosquitoes can be pesky, so bring a bed net to use a few weeks per year.

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Daily Life:

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

APO now, but it's changing to more restrictive DPO in the fall.

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

Good. We pay our maid about $180 a month. She lives in. All the houses in our Rosslyn Ridge compound have separate live-in (BR, bath and tiny patio) quarters, and this is common.

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

There is a gym at the embassy.

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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'm not crazy enough to use them here. I don't carry anything I don't want to give up. I don't wear my wedding ring (plain gold band) here, for example.

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

There's a non-denominational Christian church at Rosslyn Academy, but it's pretty far to the right politically and religiously.

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

Local papers are OK, and the Intl. Herald is available.

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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?

Not really any.

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

It is pretty hard to get around, since a lot of the time walkers don't have a sidewalk.

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Transportation:

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

US Embassy personnel can only use one taxi company, but I've been on others. Fix the price before you go; you can bargain. Buses are iffy but an option for long-term travel. White or black, you will stand out as someone with money.

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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?

Definitely 4-wheel drive even for the city. The driving is nuts and the roads are full of potholes or pot-canyons.

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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?

Rosslyn Ridge just hooked up Internet and it's pretty good, by Kenyan standards.

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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?

Get one. It's cheap to recharge your SIM card and no monthly fees.

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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.

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

Our vet is Indian. He is so cheap. It's about $1.50 total to get our cat wormed (which you have to do every 3 mos. even with an indoor pet).

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

I doubt it, when you have college-educated Kenyans willing to work for peanuts.

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

Kenyan women wear skirts, so you'll feel funny in shorts or sexy jeans.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Not bad, except in winter when people are burning stuff (what is it?) to keep warm - then it can be hazy on some days.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

The usual. You don't need malaria medicine in Nairobi, only when travelling to other parts of the country.

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

Major. Carjackings can occur anywhere at any time. If you can't handle this, don't come here. On the plus side, if you cooperate, you're very likely to come out of it injury free. Most carjackers have guns and aren't afraid to use them if you resist. For housing, we live on a compound and it's safe. Everyone with any money at all has a guard night and day at their home, plus high walls.

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

Great at the embassy. When you need Rx meds, you can often get them over the counter at the local pharmacy, for low price. If you get into a wreck out in the country, say your prayers. I've only seen one ambulance in a year of living here, in Nairobi.

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

Forget Africa being hot and unbearable. This is the best climate I've ever encountered: warm but dry in their summer, and down to maybe 50 in the winter. Two rainy seasons, but even then, you can have pouring rain but sunny skies within an hour.

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Schools & Children:

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

Our kids have been in middle school and high school at International School of Kenya. We are happy overall. The school's small enough that your kids won't get lost. The IB for high schoolers seem challenging enough for those who need challenge. A fair number of embassy kids go to Rosslyn Academy. It is right next door to Rosslyn Ridge, and is good for those with a narrow-minded Christian approach. The school isn't known for its tolerance for others, even Catholics or middle-of-the-road Christians. My high-school kids say that it has a lot of pot smokers, but I've never verified this! I am happy my kids are at ISK, which seems to have a broader range of nationalities, not to mention religions. I think some embassy families end up with kids at Rosslyn Academy without realizing how religious it is. That being said, there are some parents who love it.

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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?

I don't know of any. Nannies are cheap, and seem to genuinely care for and even love the children they watch.

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

Through school.

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Expat Life:

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

Large.

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2. Morale among expats:

Good.

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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?

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

Great for families and couples. It's good for singles too, I think, if you are willing to find friends. The embassy's big enough that there are plenty of singles so you can find weekend friends to go exploring the country without any problem.

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

It's conservative here. but I have one gay friend who apparently lives fine despite being obviously gay.

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

There's more tribal prejudice than anything else. I'm white and might as well have a big neon sign on my head, but still get treated fine.

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

Safaris, travel to beautiful white beaches. Hotels for Westerners can be expensive, though. There's no middle price. We've stayed in city hotels for Kenyans, which were cheap but very basic. We survived.

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

Lots of crafts.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, but travel can be pricey unless you are willing to downplay your need for hotels to be like Holiday Inn.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

In a heartbeat. I wish I could stay longer than two years.

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

weak stomach - you'll probably see a dead pedestrian before you leave. If you can't stand seeing very poor people, you don't belong here. The way to get around this is to help - there are lots of ways to do so, even just buying crafts at the embassy's craft fair where some of the groups help those with HIV, etc.

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3. But don't forget your:

ability to bear heavy traffic, even at unexpected times of the day. There's no logic to it.

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

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

"Born Free" was filmed at Hell's Gate Natl. Park, about an hour from Nairobi.

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

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7. Do you have any other comments?

This is a terrific, beautiful place to live. It is very poor, but the people are incredibly nice. The corruption of the government makes me sad, since Kenyan could be fabulous if their leaders would actually lead.

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