Living in Nairobi

Sub-Saharan metropolis with a distinct mixture of local tribes and global influence
Sunday, April 24, 2016 to Monday, May 23, 2016

Introduction: my third home this year

I am slowly becoming a digital nomad. This means, that I am constantly moving ahead while working online. The last step would be to work remotely from any given location. After traveling across Europeinfo-icon and living three months in California, I was more than thrilled to move on. The same project, that brought me to San Francisco, now also enabled my travel to Sub-Saharan Africainfo-icon: living and working three months in Nairobi!

Culture: a global mesh, with a wicked twist

Nairobi is an African metropolis with strong global influences. Besides the British colonial footprint, now the USAinfo-icon and Chinainfo-icon strongly shape everyday’s life. Surprising to me was the diversity in Kenyan tribes and the century-old Indian influence. The latter immigrated many generations back and kept their community utterly separated. Preserving the over 40 tribes is rather politically than culturally driven. Political parties and alternatives are more defined by the origin than an agenda or program. The cultural heritage has yet to be re-discovered.

People: happy and always hustling around

There are way more smiling people in the streets than Europe. Despite Northern European countries leading the world happiness ranking, I have met more genuinely content people here. No matter where I went, I was always welcomed with a smile. Followed by a business proposal or cultural inquiry. The ordinary Kenyan is having multiple revenue streams and is always on the lookout for the next opportunity. Bargaining and hustling are deeply rooted in the culture.

Districts: between fancy villas and dirty slums

The city of Nairobi is as diverse as it can get. My personal favorite is definitely Kilimani, an upcoming startup quarter surrounded by more fancy neighborhoods and slums. This is also my beloved home base, from where I can explore other parts of the city. In the slums of Kibera and Kawangware, I met kind and intelligent people. At the same time, in Westland, Karen and Langata, I witnessed an exclusive bubble. There are different ways of living, but not all have a choice!

Streets: lots of transportation, but not public

Infrastructure and public service is a huge problem. Raining season and corruption undermine the creation of high-quality roads and sidewalks. Foreigners heavily rely on private drivers or the newly introduced uber driving service. Locals choose between a Boda Boda (moped) or a Matatu (bus). Both are privately operated and therefore have a notorious reputation. Even bus drivers and conductors are entrepreneurs, aggressively hustling for guests. All this leads to heavily congested roads and a pretty polluted air. Despite all this, I prefer to walk, also known as urban hiking.

Security: everybody is living in a nice prison

Locals kindly refer to their capital as Nairobery. While I have never witnessed a crime or seriously dangerous scene, the crime rate is comparably high. This leads to the absurd situation, that every single property is surrounded by a wall. In addition, they are secured with barbwire, alarm systems and private security guards. All public buildings like malls are equipped with, mostly not working, metal detectors. This makes me feel like living in a never-ending prison, where only the bad boys are truly free.

Summary: different culture, but no shock

Thanks to the friendly welcome, I felt at home from the very first day. I had no difficulties adapting to the new lifestyle. In short, society operates very similar and people strive for the same as in Europe and the States. The differences mostly affect the freedom of movement and obvious inequality of opportunities. The culture shock might strike me, once I return to my original home. Where everything is more clean, tidy and a bit boring.

Thank you very much to everybody who enabled this inspiring experience for me!

My waypoints on this journey