The Do’s and Don’ts of Living in Kenya
By Amy Shaw
Having grown up in Kenya with family spread around the world, I often wondered what it would be like to leave behind everything and move to a place you had never even considered or heard of. I have constantly seen friends come and go in Kenya, from the UN and Embassy professionals, to budding entrepreneurs, and people who generally are looking for a bit of an adventure. Many of these people have never been to Africa before, let alone Kenya, and if you are not used to the driving, bartering over prices, or having a troop of monkeys take over your garden, then it can be quite hard to adjust.
Having seen what some people go through when moving to Kenya, I thought I would share some of my do’s and don’ts in the hope that it helps. If you are thinking about moving out here but haven’t completely made up your mind or have just arrived and looking to get to grips with the county, here is your fail-proof guide to the do’s and don’ts of living in Kenya based on my experiences as a Kenyan born British expat:
- Do get a four-wheel drive. Driving in Africa is an adventure and western rules don’t apply when it comes to Kenyan roads. Imagine having to reverse the wrong way around a roundabout and swerve between buses constantly, and you will start to get the picture. However, there are two things you have to obey: the first is any policeman you see and the second is the other person in the bigger car. Tip – it helps if you have the bigger car!
- Don’t expect life to be the same as in the west. If that’s where you are coming from, be prepared for quite a big culture shock. Life out here is something that is taken with a pinch of salt, so to speak. Things move at a very slow pace (and sometimes not at all), but don’t worry you will get used to it, and trust me, you will learn to love the chilled out way of life.
- Do read up on the background of Kenya. The country has a fascinating history both pre and post-independence. If you are already there, then head down to the Nairobi Museum for a bit of information on the county or have tea at the famous Karen Blixen Estate.
- Don’t come under prepared when packing your clothes. Yes, Kenya is on the equator and boasts fantastic weather most of the year but you would be silly if you didn’t bring sweaters, pants and boots with you because when it rains… it really rains.
- Back up all your documents at least three times, it will save you a lot of hassle when approving your work visa, buying a car and renting a house.
- Try and learn a bit of the local lingo before you go. Kenyan’s are incredibly receptive if you speak to them in Swahili and often are honored by your effort. Some words you should know are:
Hello – Jambo
Goodbye – Kwaheri
Yes – Ndio
No – Hapana
Welcome – Karibu
Thanks – Asante
- Don’t feel bad about hiring help. In a country that still has a high amount of unemployment, it is often considered incredibly respectable for locals to gain employment in the households of expats.
- Don’t miss out on grabbing weekend breaks on the beautiful and world-renowned Kenyan coast. Only an
hour away by plane, it’s amazing to have long, winding beaches boasting white sand, deep blue sea and palm trees. Other places to go include Naivasha Lake, just outside of Nairobi in the Great Rift Valley, and Limuru for a spot of golf in the Highlands.
- Do go on safari when and where you can. It’s the number one tourist pull for people all over the world, and speaking from experience, I can honestly tell you there is nothing like being among the ‘big 5’ (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino). Unfortunately, poaching and hunting has become too acceptable in this part of the world and it’s likely that in a few years there will be no more elephants and rhinos to see, so you better make sure you see them while you can.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. This is a fantastic country (and I promise that I am not only saying that because I live here). You will find that when you come out here you will just slip into the way the country works. Kenya is a beautiful place to live, it’s full of life and laughter, and I have yet to meet anyone who has regretted their time here. If you are still not sure, then book a vacation out here and come and see for yourself!
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