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.”