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On moving back pt. 1

So when I moved back I had all these grand ambitions of alpha-blogging from a local’s perspective…and then life took over. Plus I’m not as hilarious as Kenyan Prodigal Daughter (where is your book girl?). And I like to maintain my punditing blogging persona.

I’m now reading a book that somewhat captures what the experience has been and I’m thinking maybe I can use some excerpts as a cheap way out. It’s called Maximum City
and I had the pleasure of meeting the author, Suketu Mehta at Poptech. His mom incidentally grew up in Nairobi.

Most of the debate around moving back home centers on practical things like eh, finding jobs (and I will wade into this debate at some point). In my experience, you first have to commit to the idea of going back. Like really commit. No ten year plans. No once I make this much money. Cut the crap. Wake up and say I’m moving back. Then make a plan. Then a plan B and C. You’ll need them. But most important is your desire to move back. Remember how badly you wanted to fly out and all the stints you pulled to make it happen. Do the same. Then don’t get all freaked out about insecurity. Yes, there’s insecurity. But 30 million people including your loved ones put up with insecurity and other inconveniences on a day to day basis. It’s not that deep. Not saying that you won’t have to give up lots of things, like being able to stroll downtown in the evening and shoe shops. Lakini you have SUNSHINE, and sausages, and all the things you miss the minute you board the flight back. It’s all about quality of life. And work. You won’t make as much as you do overseas. Get over it. If you work things out right, you’ll end up doing more meaningful work and get to actually enjoy the office banter and get home at a decent hour to find a hot meal waiting for you. Don’t look for templates. Don’t expect other people’s experience to compare to yours. It all comes back to how determined you are to make things work. Don’t expect to come back and find open arms employment wise. It is a very competitive market…Kenyans are some of the most overqualified people I’ve met. So you need to learn the hustle. It’s not that hard, you do it everyday in the West. And by this I don’t mean having the right connections. When you’re back as a winter bunny spend your days doing more than recovering from hangovers. You’d be surprised at where opportunities can reveal themselves. It’s not in the classifieds. College student? Try and find a way to spend time interning in Kenya. I managed to find a way to work in Kenya almost every year since 1998. I’ve written grants, worked for free, done away with a you-owe-me-something attitude. I can’t tell you just how much it has helped. Relatives relying on you for money? Look a bit closer and you’ll find that in some cases you’ve created a dependency and you’re not the only one in the family earning an income…find a way to spread the load or get people to be independent. I cut back. Drastically. Only soft spot I have is for school fees. And guess what the sky didn’t fall. It was hard and I’m still guilt-stricken but I wondered what would happen if I wasn’t around. I suspect life would go on. And it does.

Wait, this wasn’t the plan. I think I kind of waded into the “eating cake” debate. Plus I sound preachy and on the verge of suggesting a template.

I probably have more to say, but work calls.

I’ll return to the point I was trying to make. Although me I love Nairobi regardless the challenge for me is adjusting to the “details.” In his book, Suketu writes about having to learn again how to stand in line and deal with all the things that will drive you crazy. Rings true in Nairobi as well. Just try to pay an electricity bill or try to do some banking. I’ve been told it takes about a year to get over it and learn to deal. An excerpt:

We also have to learn again how to stand in line. In Bombay, people are always waiting in line: to vote, to get a flat, to get a job, to get out of the country, to make a railway reservation….And when you get to the front of the line, you are always made conscious that you are inconveniencing all the hundreds and thousands and millions of people behind you. Hurry, hurry; get your business over with. And if you’re next in line, you never stand behind the person at the head of the line; you always stand next to him, as if you were really with him, so that you can occupy the place he vacates with just one sideways step.

All this takes most of our waking time. It is a city hostile to outsiders or nostalgia-stuck returnees. We can muscle our way in with our dollars, but even when the city gives in, it resents us for making it do so. The city is groaning udner the pressure of the 1 million people per square mile. It doesn’t want me any more than the destitute migrant from Bihar, but it can’t kick either of us out. So it makes life uncomfortable for us by guerilla warfare, by constant low-level sniping, by creating small crises every day. All these irriations add up to a murderous rage in your mind, especially when you’ve come from a country where things work better, where institutions are more responsive.”

27 comments to On moving back pt. 1

  • Mwiraria has resigned!

    We’re winning! (I hope . . .)

  • Good luck on you settling back home. Kenya is wonderful to live in (mashida mingi lakini) Wish you well.
    @Keguro, Mwiraria resigning is nothing to celebrate, lets have systems first, it is not about the person.

  • msaniixl

    Its about time 😀 was wondering when you would post ‘something’ in line iwth you getting back home…Great post.

    can’t wait for part 2,3,4…

  • Very insightful. I did a test run back in ’02 for 9 months and it was alright – though it was easier because I knew I was coming back to States. It was also an opportune moment for me coz of the election campaigns and worldcup! Few months to go.
    Btw, Go Steelers! ….Why not?

  • Deno

    great post!

    You cant wade into that debate without getting preachy and idealistic I’ve found.

    But your right..the at-the-pit-of-your-stomach-desire to go back is most important. mambo ya 10 year adjusting plans hapana….

  • Prousette

    All those with excuses about not coming back now have a living/blogging example that it can be done. Maybe you should set up a consulting firm and get paid for the info you’re dishing out free.:grin:

  • Osas

    Did I hear consulting firm? Advice for free? Here, here: Ory advise me first, pretty please, about that enigmatic promise of yours, where you assured that you now can “get home at a decent hour to find a hot meal waiting for you.”

    Now how do you do that? Do you have a private helicopter (due to the vanishing AMREF millions having been put to good use)? Did you discover a secret underground network, unavailable to ordinary mortals, with quick, clean and spacious speed trains running deep under the feet of ordinary matatu-crammed mortals? Inquiring minds want to know… and not to spend 3 to 3.5 hours daily in Nairobean traffic jams.


  • Inquiring minds want to know… and not to spend 3 to 3.5 hours daily in Nairobean traffic jams.
    Gosh! have you ever lived in Nairobi,we normally have jam only at peak times. At other times it is easy traffic flow. Gather your facts first. M sorry KP to lose on your blog but it is disturbing how some people think we live the hardest lives anyone has ever lived.

  • Osas

    Sorry, the report is fresh. May I ask in which privileged conditions you live, Shiroh Esq., such as to invalidate the experience of many?


  • Irena

    Okay, this debate is among the many that are going around but a simple question is “If we all lived there at some point and we experienced the dust, the bureacracy, the bad customer service, the Traffic Jam etc, then why do we pretend when we go back and be all awed by the state of Kenya. If you follow the Kenyan news through the media or hearsay from relas , friends etc while away, then there is no shock in what you find when you go back.” and it is common sense that when you plan to move to a country or move back to your own country, you have to have a master plan and I believe we all did that when we were leaving Kenya and so it should still be the same concept while moving back and easier since this is a familiar ground with familiar people….:-).. This debate is getting overrated!

  • Anonymous

    Hello Ory

    Yuo truly are a maverick. The issue of wether or not to “go back” is not as easy as picking your bags and returning home. I believe that it takes a revolutionary mind to make that decision. Those who return in essence are “sacrificial lambs” and must be applauded by all coz they are the heroes of our continent….the Rosa Parks, the Martin Luther Kings, the Malcom Xs of our generation. I hope that you will have the strength to see it through and if you ever get tired and undo the wheels it will be totally understandable . I also hope that you are not trying to “prove a point” and your return is strictly out of personal motivation for the burden of Africa’s brain drain can crush the soul of one person. Ory you have great potential to be a mover and shaker , I believe you are on the right path. Praying for you.

    Kenyan Abroad without guts to move back.

  • Corrie

    Hi Ory,

    Good luck relocating back home, not surprised though!
    Anyway I hope you achieve whatever it is your goal is, and
    keep us posted on how you get on.

    Speak soon

  • roja

    Mine is just to let those giving lengthy excuses about going back to the city in the sun that home is best. You may line up for services for hours but then the end result is that you will finally get the service. Those of us living abroad we have our own stress. Imagine working doubles or tribles in the name of paying bills. Let’s all have a positive imagine about Kenya all any developing country for that matter. Living in the diaspora is running away from reality. Stop sitting on the fence and waiting for someone to put off the fire of your burning house. Strategize on how to go back and help build our country.

  • Ngash

    The road less traveled is the most successful that many question going back home. How proud are you living on the charity of others? For heavens sake, go develop where you came from and stop chastising the ones who have the guts to take on responsibility. You can’t go back coz of jams…..puhleez!

  • nyako

    Kenya is a beautiful country,has hospitable people and if one works hard and smart enough, then life is very sweet. The rest are excuses not to come back home. Traffic jams are everywhere,tell me a country that has no traffic snarl ups. In Kenya,you don’t need to work three jobs,some so lowly that can’t compare with ones educational background,just to pay bills.Kenyans do the normal 8-5. The medical/health insurance is totally manageable. The systems might be a bit slow but hey,how long did it take the western world to have theirs in place?Best of all, people get time to be with family,to eat healthy and yes,to have fun without worry of being in a whites only/blacks only dominated neighborhood where one can be easily shot. Kenyans’ earnings are commensurate with their bills and their work times.The insecurity is basically the petty muggings that take place and pick pocketing,but tell me,is there a place on earth that these vices do not exist? The reason most of us do not want to go back home is either because we did not accomplish what took us abroad,or we live fake lives and are scared of the reality of going back home without the so called prestige we portrayed or implied to have. so,if one wants to go back home,make the decision and do it, don’t give excuses. And when we compare ourselves with the age mates we left behind, we are embarrassed because compared to us,they do own something and seem happier and have progressed more in life than we have. My two cents

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