First-hand Africa Experience| Blog 2 – Nairobi Life Heck

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Original 2017-09-10



Basics of interviewee

Name of interviewee: Zoe Zhao

Volunteer duration: 2016.5- 2016.9

Volunteer ID: 025326



Admin: Zoe, talk to us about the Kenya, How is it in Nairobi, in terms of living cost?


Zoe: Let’s take food and clothings for example as a generic comparison. Of course spending varies from person to person, but in my case as a volunteer, the average daily food consumption is around 42 RMB (or USD 7) if I am not opting for high-end restaurants. Yet since I am a volunteer, I can also choose cook at home, or have bread for the whole day, and the day’s food consumption will be close to zero. For clothing, it mainly depends on its thickness, and the expensive ones are around 4.5 dollars. Again of course, there are cheaper options available.


Author: Sounds pretty flexible. Let’s talk more about food. What are the common servings there, how do they taste like? We often hear rumours on fried banana or even boiled soybeans


Zoe: (laughs) I was also concerned about this before departure. As a matter of fact, Kenyan food are not particularly spicy, sweet, nor salty, and they serve a lot of fried diet (French fries, fried chicken …). Some restaurants would make their own chili as well. The classic dishes are Ugali (corn paste) and Chapati (pancake). Chapati is comparable to 手抓饼 (traditional Chinese snake), interested readers can try to do-it-yourself haha


Author: It seems they are pretty much hard-core staple food, is it because of the weather there? How is the temperature like? Many of us have some this stereotype towards Africa – it sounds hot even by hearing this name! What is the situation on-the-ground?


Zoe: I reckon there is indeed a relationship between food and the weather. It was summer when I went there, the average temperature is between 15 ~ 25 ° C, with huge differences around the day. At noon it gets hot when the sun comes out. I spent 3 months in Kenya, and there weren’t no more than 7 times of rain in total. My typical daywear is T-shirt plus jacket, but I would recommend readers to pick up few hoodies in case of cool weather, and also swimsuit if you are prepared to go sea-outing.


Author: Is it for convenience that you dress casually? What is the typical modes of transport there?


Zoe: Yes, it’s always a good practise to keep a low profile when you are in travel. In Kenya people mainly rely on bus and mamatu (van), there are also motorcycles though they are relatively expensive. The most affordable option should be matatu. It was actually quite convenient to take a ride on matatu when I was working in the slum. Oh yeah, I have more interesting stories to share with respect to matatu…


Author: Sure, we can do a special session on matatu in the future. At last, let’s talk more about the language, which is also a concerned topic among potential volunteers. Are a lot of Kenyans literate in English?


Zoe: The official languages ​​of Kenya are ‘Swahili’ and ‘English’, as a result English literacy in the area is relatively high – because the language of instruction in school is English. However, because of lack of education, the common languages in slums is still Kiswahili or other dialects. I also learnt a bit of Swahilli due to nature of work, feel it is even simpler than English. An interesting experience I would encourage volunteers to try on.


Author: Languages is indeed a very interesting topic, should be a whole new experience for volunteers. Ok, as our interview is coming to an end, do you have other tips to share?


Zoe: I would leave the readers with two practical suggestions:


(1) Many of us may have some sight-seeing plans when visiting Kenya (e.g. go watch the animal migration). There are lots of exotic places you can visit, but I suggest you to pick few spots among all – especially given time and budget constraints. Also, close the deal on all-inclusive prices before hitting the road, (in general, price can be lower shall there are more ‘tourists’), also note that ‘International Student Card’ or ‘Invitation Letter’ can sometimes be put into use. Try interacting with local Kenyans, most of them are very straight-forward and sensitive, it is only some have the perception that we, as foreigners, are pocket-fat (especially Chinese).


(2) On restaurant choices, with respect to the city center, you can easily tell the pricing range with respect to its decorations and dress-code of diners. So, pick your favourite within budget constraint. Typical foods are Chapati, Ugali, Masala, rice / noodles, stew / beans, bananas… Among all, Chapati is comparable to 手抓饼 (traditional Chinese food), so it is probably a safer choice. Ugali is fried block of cornmeal, recommend you to give it a try. If you are running out of choices, French fries can be a life-saver. Food inside slums are more or less similar, though given the hygienic situation there, you are advised to be extra cautious


Author: Well, thank you for your sharing today – great stuff. Next time we shall touch more on before trtip preparation.