One thing I was absolutely not prepared for when coming here in May was the large and active expat scene in Nairobi. My last time around, I was living full time at the FKLA house, staying at a hotel downtown on the days I spent doing Oasis visits. I met almost no expats during my six month stay (other than fellow FKLA volunteers) and had no idea there was any expat scene to speak of. However, since my arrival in May, I’ve camped at the base of Mt. Kenya and at Hell’s Gate National Park, gone to film screenings at the Alliance Françoise, been to birthday and housewarming parties, enjoyed a variety of culinary experiences in and around Nairobi, visited the giraffe center, watched the Stanley Cup with Vancouver fans, traveled to the island of Lamu off the Kenyan coast and seen the final Harry Potter movie in an air conditioned theater! There are several Facebook groups that organize get togethers, dinners and social hours which people attend for the exclusive purpose to make friends and have a pleasant evening with other expats. It’s been a great way to get to know people in a no pressure environment.
I must say, however, that the majority of my current social circle is derived from the Original Nairobi Hash House Harriers – or, the Hash Club. For those of you not aware of this ridiculous international “drinking club with a running problem” (as I wasn’t until I arrived here), please check it out and track it down in your city: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hash_House_Harriers. I promise you won’t regret it (unless you are easily offended and inclined towards political correctness, in which case, you will almost definitely regret it).The club is a fun Monday night event marked by a short (5-7K) run followed by dinner and several hours of drinking/socializing. Each week the run hosted by a different runner at their house/apartment/place of work; recently, Frannie and I were the “hares,” meaning we hosted the run and laid the trail – NOT an easy task car-less and navigation system-less, never mind the fact that I have yet to master the kilometers to miles conversion. A “rite of passage” in clubs throughout the world is receiving your Hash nickname; more often than not it’s an inappropriate and/or offensive name with which you are dubbed after doing something particularly memorable or stupid in front of the group. Frannie and I have both been christened with our individual nicknames….let’s just say that they are on par with my above description.
Needless to say, I’ve really enjoyed my time in Nairobi and am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to experience both the rural and city aspects of living in Kenya over the course of my visits here. I have made some amazing friends whom I will truly miss upon my departure in two short weeks. Frannie and I invited a couple Oasis volunteers who are at our Oasis homes to the run we hosted and were chatting the next morning about the importance of that experience for them. While obviously they are here primarily to spend time at their orphanage and with the children there, we thought it was equally important for them to see and understand that there is so much more to Kenya (and at the risk of over-generalizing, I will venture to say sub-Saharan Africa) than poverty and sadness. Yes, those things absolutely do exist, but they do not define the country. There is a life here, a culture, luxuries and reminders of home that we, unfortunately often do not associate with this area of the world. Not everybody here is working for an NGO or volunteering among the poor populations. We meet employees of Barclays Bank, PWC, KPMG, entrepreneurs, environmental engineers and techies. You can do good during the day and still meet your friends for dinner at night. That’s an important lesson that I’ve learned this time around.
Nairobi is a vibrant city with a diverse population of expats, some of whom have chosen to stay here for 10+ years. They’ve gotten married, have children and visit their home countries over the holidays. Their lives are here now. As we were driving home from the hills of Mt. Kenya a few weeks ago (from the 600th Hash Run, which was marked by a weekend-long retreat to the country) it struck me that I could see myself living here long term. It’s not where you are as much as the people you’re with that make the experience. I’ve met the kind of people who make living anywhere fun. Not to mention the fact that Kenya is such an amazing country with so much to offer that it would take years for one to explore its every nook and cranny. Its diverse climates and environments leave you little reason to travel elsewhere – you can be in the Masaai Mara in shorts and a tank top in the morning and at Mt. Kenya wearing a hat and gloves in the evening. While it took my heart a mere 6 months to fall for NYC I would venture to say that had I not yet betrothed myself to that city, I could see myself in this one. Never say never, right?
Now, enjoy some photos from above mentioned travels: