Early this year, I received my letter of transfer from my organization. Mark and I were officially moving to Nairobi! I had requested for this transfer because Mark had been offered a position in the city. I felt lucky and happy to have gotten it, especially since it came quite easily. But as soon as I did, I started going through the motions.
First, came excitement. I was finally getting to visit Kenya – a place I have always dreamt about travelling to. However, I understood that visiting a country for a couple of weeks was one thing, living in it was and is a completely different situation altogether. After Mark moved to Lagos two years ago, we often explored the options of living in a different country. Being travellers at heart, we always knew that a move away from Nigeria, whether temporarily or permanently, was in our future. But now that the time had come for us to make that move, I began to feel nervous and overwhelmed.
We decided to break the news to my parents on the day of our legal marriage ceremony and we decided that it was best the news came from me. But as we sat across my parents at lunch, I couldn’t bring myself to look at my mother in the eye and tell her that we were moving to Kenya.
As a woman who spends a lot of time watching international cable news, my mother doesn’t necessarily view Nairobi as a safe city to travel to, let alone live in. This was also a view I partially shared because of news of insecurity I had seen in parts of the city. I wanted to visit Nairobi but I did not want to live there. The irony isn’t lost on me that we both live in Nigeria, a country plagued with cases of insecurity and bad press but you know, we always tend to see the speck of dirt in other people’s eyes and ignore the log in ours.
When my sister and I visited Tanzania in 2016, we transited through the Jomo Kenyatta Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi and my mum barely slept a wink until we got back from our 2-week holiday. Yes, it was difficult for me to tell her about this move. So, Mark did. And I watched her take the news – her eyes rolled to the back of her head, I thought she was going to faint!
My mother wears her heart of her sleeves and could never successfully hide her expressions. She was visibly upset. My dad, on the other hand, took the news like a champ – at least in front of us. We all then tried to offer encouraging words to her. Eventually, she gave her blessings after Mark had a one-on-one conversation with her, while my dad and I went to use an ATM.
Moving to Nairobi – The Journey
With my parents on board, the excitement started to build up again. But then, Covid-19 hit and stalled our plans to move for several months. Five months after our original transfer dates, we arrived in Nairobi via a charter flight. A friend of mine, Fisayo A., who is an avid reader of this blog helped get us on that flight and I cannot say enough, how thankful I am for and to her. It seemed like our lives, post-marriage, had been on hold for some time and being able to get that flight gave us an opportunity for a fresh start.
In the last few days as we packed up to leave, my nerves got the best of me again. More than being apprehensive about leaving my family, friends and the life I had in Lagos, I was worried about the one I would live in Nairobi. Would I love the city? What would our lives be like here, Mark and I? Would my new life be a constant comparison of the one I leave in Lagos? Would my accent give away my nationality and would I be pre-judged before given the chance to prove myself?
For this last thought, I didn’t have to wonder for long. Upon arrival at JKIA in Nairobi, a Port Health official simply glanced at my passport and decided that my yellow fever card certificate was invalid. She asked me to step aside while she waived other travellers past, barely even looking at their cards. Some of them had old and washed up cards and she didn’t even bat an eyelid.
We had arrived at about 1 am, tired and worn out from a long day of travel and she refused to speak to us or tell us why she thought the card was invalid. At some point, she got very chatty and friendly with a traveller who didn’t have a yellow fever card at all. I suspected that she might have let him through if we weren’t there.
After several minutes, she put a call through to her colleague who came and confirmed that the card was fine and the problem was due to a particular date not being legible. It was a sour first impression into the country but the friendly immigration officer we encountered made up for it.
Another thing I wondered about was what working here would be like. While I have undergone work-related training in several countries, I have only ever worked in four – Namibia, Liberia, Egypt and Congo. In Namibia and Liberia, where I spent a month and 2 weeks respectively, I worked aboard a ship with people from multiple nationalities and English was the common language spoken. It wasn’t much different from my experience working in Nigeria.
In Egypt, where I spent 3 months working, my interpersonal relationship with the clients was almost non-existent because they spoke a different language. Nevertheless, the job and general work culture were not very much different than what I was used to. Congo, however, did feel different. The laid back attitude to work and the long break hours were things I struggled with in the beginning but later grew to appreciate. How would working in Kenya compare to these two?
One of the ways I felt my work relationships could have been better, both in Cairo and Pointe-Noire, Congo, was learning the local language. So for the past few months, I have dedicated myself to learning to speak Swahili fluently. I have had vivid dreams of getting a new client to agree to a product purchase, simply because I was able to convince them to do so in Swahili. Of course, I know this is silly. Sometimes, the dream turns into a nightmare when the audience realizes that I have only memorized the presentation and cannot respond adequately to their questions.
It would be a long time before I learn to speak fluently or integrate fully into the Kenyan life but I am looking forward to doing so.
Since our arrival, we have settled in quite nicely. After spending 4 days quarantining in a government chosen facility, we moved into our apartment to self-quarantine for an additional 10 days. We got released early because our negative COVID-19 test certificates were still valid. Even after the quarantine duration has passed, we will continue to apply the same level of caution as we did during our months of isolation at home in Lagos.
I am of course, also looking to exploring Nairobi and Kenya in general, as well as other East African countries, safely and as a tourist. I will be sharing both my tourist and non-tourist life here and on Instagram and I welcome you to join me on this wonderful adventure!
I would love to hear from you! What kind of content are you most looking forward to reading about? Everyday life? Work-life? Tourist life? Also, If you been to Nairobi, please share some of your favourite spots with me in the comment section below. And finally, I would also love to hear your tips about moving to a new country or city if you’ve gone through this experience before.