September 2, 2011

5 differences between Nairobi and Seattle

When I got to Kenya, people kept asking me about experiencing the phenomenon of "culture shock." So much so that I started actively looking around for it ("Do I feel shocked by this? No? How about that?") in a hyper-sensitized sort of way. Sure, there are armed guards checking car trunks for bombs at all shopping malls, the radio plays a ridiculous amount of Boyz II Men, and there's no Yelp Nairobi (although I'm eagerly awaiting that day), but these things are hardly shocking. Living in Nairobi is quite the same as living in any city: Wake up, press snooze, press snooze again, roll out of bed, go to work, read and reply to lots of e-mails, go to the grocery store, cook dinner, rinse, repeat.

My routine is thrilling, I know.

But with my 2-month anniversary of living in Kenya soon approaching, I've reflected back on several ways in which my life here is different that it was back in the U.S. Thus, I present, in no particular order:

5 Ways My Life in Nairobi Differs from My Life in Seattle:

1. I like CNN.
To be fair, the primary exposure I had to CNN in Seattle was the clips that were rebroadcast on The Daily Show, and it is Jon Stewart's job to point out the ridiculous segments. But then again, when the scrolling headline reads, "Beyonce doesn't like the word Bootylicious" it doesn't take too much work to find the silly in the news reporting. International CNN is leaps and bounds above its U.S. counterpart... Perhaps it's just the illusion of British accents, but I feel so informed!

2. English.
Everybody speaks it, but the jargon and phraseology is so different that I have to relearn how to word myself in order to be understood. I have to ask the driver to "pick me" rather than "pick me up." Anytime anyone has planned communications about professional matter they are "liaising." And insurance plans are called "insurance schemes." This last one slays me because we're actually having quite a bit problem with our insurance company here being less-than-upfront, and I can't help thinking, "Well, you probably shouldn't have signed up with a scheme, now should you?"

3. Sarcasm as a foreign language.
It's not understood by the majority of people, which makes it like a secret code language. Since English is the only language I'm fluent it, I've never been able to communicate privately in public spaces, but with sarcasm, the sky's the limit! Approximation of a real conversation:

Laura: "Oh good, is this Boyz II Men again?"
Kara: "Yippee, I love Boyz II Men!"
Anjuli: "Although we've come to the eeeeennd ooooff the rooad, and just caaaaan't let you goooo."
Taxi driver: "Yes, they're very nice, aren't they?"

4. Meaningful relationships with taxi drivers.
I have 20 phone numbers in stored in my address book; 11 of them are in the Ts.

Taxi Evans
Taxi Evans2
Taxi Jeffrey
Taxi Matthew 6a-12a
Taxi Patrick- nights Steve
Taxi Peter
Taxi Peter- richard
Taxi Sammy
Taxi Samual 5a-8p
Taxi Steve
This phone

I rotate who I call based on and informal algorithm of rates, hours of operation, how chatty I feel that day. Jeffrey and Samual when I don't feel like talking; Peter and Steve when I do. I also still can't remember my own phone number.

5. I can't be sneaky.
Not that I'm generally that sneaky in the U.S., but coming from Seattle, my iridescently pale skin makes it impossible to fly under the radar here. There was recently a week-long workshop for another department at work, and they catered a mouth-watering lunch buffet every day with spiced lentils, fresh juice, greens, meats, breads... yum. My coworkers all stopped bringing their lunch that week and just hopped into the buffet line for freebies. Day 1 was OK, Day 2 I got raised eyebrows, and Day 3 I realized they were on to me. Started bringing my lunch again. Can't be sneaky.

6 (A bonus). Avocados are bigger than bananas.
The avocados are the approximate size of dinosaur eggs (could make a bowl of guacamole out of 1) and the bananas are itty bitty (need 8 for banana bread). This might seem trivial, but I still haven't gotten used to the way my fruit bowl looks.


  1. Hey

    I am An American planning on traveling to Nairobi this summer. I am a male, African American but a but on, larger side. Also from Seattle !!! Any tips? Is it safe to walk around?

    1. Hi there. No matter where you're from or what you look like, it's a good idea to take basic safety precautions-- don't carry a bunch of cash around, keep your wallet safe, and don't walk at night (take taxis- it's worth it). With just a bit of common sense and awareness, you should be fine. Have a good time!

  2. I came across your blog as I was doing a search for a program similar to Yelp in Nairobi, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your experiences as I have been living/volunteering in Kenya for the past three weeks (in a teeny remote town called Gilgil). I have fallen in love with the place, and hope to return within the next year so I will be following your blog. If I may inquire, how did you, as an American, find a job here? I hear getting a job as a foreigner is quite difficult. I look forward to hearing back from you!

    P.S. I have a blog as well (I need to update it!) at