Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Why the Pope is Dope

1.      The Argentinean Pope chose his Papal name after St Francis of Assisi, to show his commitment to the poor and love for peace. While in Nairobi, he will be visiting Kangemi slum. His philosophy on life is centred around simplicity and humility.

2.       Known as the ‘humble Pope’ he has chosen to eschew the normally lavish robes and jewels of the Papacy, preferring to wear the more humble robes of a priest, black lace-up shoes (traditionally the pope wears red shoes) and a silver rather than a gold ring. He lives in a Vatican guest house rather than the official Papal apartments. While in the US in September, he opted to ride around in a small black, Italian made Fiat car, rather than the better known ‘Popemobile’.

3.      A people’s Pope. In Nairobi, about 1.4 people are expected to turn out for a Papal mass tomorrow. This will cause a problem for security. The central business district will be closed and around 10,000 police officers will be deployed.  “We are encouraging Kenyans to flock into the city in their numbers to cheer the pope and celebrate mass with him,” said a presidential spokesperson, Manoah Esipisu.

4.       The only previous Papal visit to Africa was in 1969, when Pope Paul VI visited Uganda. On this trip, Pope Francis will be in Kenya, Uganda and then The Central African Republic.

5.       In a recent survey, Kenyans were asked which issues they most wanted Pope Francis to address. Among the 777 Kenyans polled, 65 per cent would like the head of the Catholic Church to preach the message of peaceful co-existence among communities, while 24 per cent of Catholics and non-Catholics think the Pope should address corruption. Yesterday, President Kenyatta announced a major reshuffle in Government that saw him sack x5 cabinet secretaries for their connections with graft.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Masai Market Bargaining Tips


First of all, I have to confess that I am hopeless at bargaining. I will fall in love with something and then will accept the price far too willingly. Sometimes I feel that it is a little mean to hammer the price down too low – largely because the sellers far outnumber the buyers in these markets. However, I have been knocking around these markets for long enough to see how others do it and have picked up a few tips of my own.

1.       Think before you shop. What do you want to buy and how much have you got to spend. It’s amazing how a tight budget will help you hone those bargaining skills! It’s also a good idea to have some lower denomination notes and change with you. Waiting for change to be found amongst other market vendors can double the time of your transaction – however, don’t worry – your trader might disappear for 10 minutes but they fully intend to find you to give you the change owed. I have never experienced a ‘disappearing act’ in these cases.

2.       Walking around the market with all of those goods laid out on the ground can be overwhelming. Not only is it a technicolour feast for the eye, but every time you want to bend over and look at anything at all closely, you are hit with a hard sales spiel that is impossible to ignore. Don’t be bullied. Look at and pick up anything you like and don’t be afraid to put it right back down again. My cop out is the phrase; ‘Nitarudi baadai’ – ‘I’ll come back later’. My advice is have a good look around to ‘get your eye in’ before buying anything. Check out the opening price of a Tusker T-shirt with a few vendors, before opening your negotiation.

3.       Go low. Generally the vendor will give you an opening price. They use a few tricks, such as whispering to create the impression that their competitors should not hear or telling you that you are ‘opening their business for the day’, i.e. you are their first customer.  And that they are giving you the ‘local price’ not ‘tourist price’. All of this gives the impression that you are being taken into the vendor’s confidence.   In spite of the guilt you might feel – go in at less than half the opening price. I generally end up settling on a price somewhere just above half but people who bargain better than me can often wind up paying less than half.

4.       Don’t be afraid to walk away. Yes, go on! Walk away!! The vendors might convince you to come back straight away to ‘talk’ – however, others will let you go. Just remember, time is on your side. After what has presumably a fairly stressful few moments of heavy bargaining, go away and decide if you really do want the item or not. If the vendor is not concerned about you going, then you are probably pushing for too low a price.

5.       Show the money. When you and the vendor are quibbling over the last few hundred shillings, then pulling out a note or two can really seal the deal.  If you say, well I have 600 bob, and that’s all I have left, then hand over said notes, the feeling of that currency in the vendor’s hand is often enough for them to agree to your terms. (This is where I feel guilty and start fishing around for coins to make up an extra 50 bob). Remember that you might need to keep a couple of small notes for your parking fee!

6.       Are you happy? Are you comfortable with the price you paid? I know that other people are better at bargaining than me but at the end of the day, if I have paid a price that I was happy with and that was within my budget, then that is more important to me than screwing the vendor down to the last possible shilling. (By now you can tell that I am a hopeless business woman!). Also, save enough cash for a ‘recovery’ cappuccino and a cake later (or something stronger). It’s amazing how the noise and excitement of the market can make you come over all weak and funny.

Monday, November 16, 2015

So sorry Paris

Parisians are reeling in shock and mourning after Friday's attacks but for those in Nairobi, our thoughts cannot help but spin back to the Westgate Mall (Sept 2013)and Garissa University (April 2015) attacks. The tragedy is that there is no possible defense against these types of terror attacks. After the Westgate shopping centre was stormed by armed gunmen leaving over 65 dead (and the Garissa University attack where 147 were killed), there was shock, a pulling together of the community and later, anger. Thankfully I was not mourning the loss of a loved one but I felt deeply angry that a handful of individuals could cause so much death and carnage in their wake. I hated the thought of those terrorists with their warped intentions and also hated feeling fearful about going to do my supermarket shop, fearful about putting my kids on the bus to school or going to the cinema, or fearful about just doing normal day-to-day things and that resentment is still there under the surface.

How did we evolve or change our behaviour in Nairobi since the terror attacks here? By increasing security in schools, shopping centres, hotels and office buildings; and this is not comfortable to live with. Every car is checked and every person scanned. We go through this process every day, sometimes multiple times. Labour is cheap so there are security personnel from private companies everywhere. Before driving into a car park, you will be asked by uniformed security guards to stop, unlock your car, open your car boot, side doors and glove compartment.  Sometimes you have to get out of the vehicle entirely so that the underside of your seat can be checked. The guard will walk around your car with a ground level mirror to check your car's chassis and more recently, high tech, ground level scanning machines and bollards or spikes that sink into the ground have been introduced at the main airport, shopping centres and hotel entrances. And more sophisticated scanning systems are on their way.

Next, on entering the mall on foot, more security guards will ask you to open your handbag in order for it to be searched, or hand it over as you walk through a scanner similar to those found in airports. Security guards in smaller centres have hand held scanners that beep furiously when wafted around your frame. Female security guards check women and men, the men. Kids are bemused. "Why didn't she search me Mummy, I could be carrying a bomb," my 9 year old said on more than one occasion.

Being scanned and checked endlessly is intrusive and sometimes annoying (woe betide you if you are in hurry) but has also been grudgingly accepted as a part of life in Nairobi today.  Are endless security checks the answer to living with the threat of extremist terrorism? I doubt it.

We watched helplessly as the tourist sector fell off a cliff as the rest of the world recoiled from Kenya. The subsequent Ebola outbreak in West Africa affected the East as 'the final nail in the coffin', even though there was never a single case found here. After the Westgate attack, the kids complained of nightmares and underwent 'duck and cover' drills at school. After an attack, you say that you are not afraid but of course, that's not how you feel. Only time can go some way to healing those feelings but when a car backfires - everyone still jumps. For a few years, fireworks were banned in the city because the bangs sounded too much like grenades (at the time there was a spate of grenades being thrown into public service vehicles or minibuses). For a long while, you think very carefully about which table you choose in a restaurant and take note of emergency exits in the supermarket. 

I am so sorry Paris. We already knew how these terrorists operate and the powerlessness you feel is the worst aspect of it.

Telegraph Article from July 2014: Kenya terror hoax texts causing fear for expats

Friday, November 13, 2015

Your call would be attended to shortly....

This has been one of those weeks where any plans you might have had at the outset are pretty much out of the window by Thursday.  Why? Because it's raining and so the week went like this:
  • Monday - no power (electricity)
  • Tuesday - no internet (but power was back)
  • Wednesday - no power
  • Thursday - no power
  • Friday  - power and internet - yay! Friday 13th is apparently lucky for some!
On Monday and even Tuesday I was okay with the situation. I made plans to shower elsewhere. Only cooked food that worked on the hob etc. Went out to buy diesel for our tiny generator that can't summon enough strength to run a fridge, but basic lights are okay. By Thursday the fridge was smelling pretty high.  At our 6am breakfast, when I reached in for the milk I got pained exclamations from my husband and the kids so that the fridge door could only be opened a crack. Fortunately I found the green, moldy ham this morning so the stink has finally abated. I even got into the groove of phoning Kenya Power (KPLC) fairly often and having endless lists of account and report numbers scribbled in pencil on scraps of paper handy.

The laugh-out-loud, British 'Eliza Doolittle' voice of the automated answering service even got old - and normally it's hysterical.  This extremely strange female British accent says "all of our customer service agents are busy (normal spiel), your call would be attended too shortly (very strange grammar and lots of emp-far-sis on the wrong syl-I-ble !?)' and it's on a loop - obviously - because the agents are always busy, especially when it's raining.  The hold music went on for so long that there was ample time to start imagining the person behind the peculiar voice. A lady in India who had been trained by a voice coach who harked back to 1912? A British woman with delusions of grandeur, or a clever Kenyan who self taught by taking her cue from recordings of BBC World Service circa 1930.

If, after spending a minimum of 15 minutes on hold and by the grace of a small miracle, a person answers the phone, then you are in luck - but I can't help blustering at this point.  "I have had no power for 3 days out of 4 this week and it really is unacceptable" I say. Invariably the customer service man or woman then hangs up. It's an abrupt ending to a frustrating wait.

To be honest, it's not as bad as it sounds as we did have some power on Monday and Wednesday night, through some notably biblical weather.  I know that others around town have had much worse power cuts this week (no wonder our Mum's whatsapp group has been quiet, our iphones batteries are all dead). But why the power outage was a little frustrating for me was that I was trying to do something very important and that was move this blog and set up a social media empire!

Folks, the plunge has been taken. A new 'Africa Expat Wives Club' site is in the offing. I am really excited about it because it's a vanity project - no, not really, because it's been a creative process and a fun one and hopefully this will be the beginning of something new and fabulous. I hope you like the new logo above. It struck me today that the stiletto heel might be a bit 'stripper-y' - but hey ho.

Today, I tentatively opened a Facebook account - (yee gads - it has only taken me 10 years! - I fear that Big Brother truly knows where I am now). Instagram is next on the list and after that, (shudder), Twitter... I think that opening a YouTube account to upload my first vlog might have to be next week or the week after - electricity permitting and depending on how long it takes me to master 'i-movies' (thinking about it, that could be months!). On my first attempt at recording a vlog there was much eye-rolling from my teenage daughter who really could not believe that I was so inept at taking selfies, let alone speaking into the camera. It could be an epic fail - but at least I tried. Life is too short for standing still.