Relocation to Nairobi – the trials and tribulations of settling in – by Frances of Africa Expat Wives Club

Posted on June 26th, 2013
Categories: News

mother_lonely_1753597cPersonally I was thrilled to move here in March 9 years ago. This had a lot to do with the fact that we were coming from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Nairobi is a lot less hot, not humid, no malaria, far fewer bugs or snakes. Plus there were novelties such as an open fire and joy of joys, you can buy things like fresh mushrooms! But after the building boom of the last 10 years and with horrendous traffic getting worse by the year, is Nairobi really still the ‘Green City in the Sun’ that it was once famous for? Let’s face it, nowadays apartment living is more the norm.I think what often comes as something of a surprise after all the excitement of sorting out the logistics of the move – is loneliness. Going to live in another country, suddenly divorced from your former life, friends, family, far from your support network (and in the case of the trailing spouse, also your job, which is always bound up with personal identity, sense of self-worth etc) – can be immensely lonely. On one hand you are supposed to be grateful for all the spare time on your hands, your friends back home are jealous – more often than not someone is doing the housework for you – and perhaps you are grateful for a while – but the novelty of being in a new country soon wears off.The only thing to do is zip up your boots and give it your best crack. Having children in tow always makes life easier because of the school network and some companies are more supportive than others, but in the end for everyone, the only way to tackle this loneliness is to get enormously resourceful –

Top Tips

 Go along to terrifying groups and meetings even though instinct tells you that you’d rather poke your eyes out with knitting needles than stand at the back blushing. In Tanzania, I joined the Hash House Harriers for goodness sake (hate, hate, hate running – singing in public and beer (especially warm Safari) – but I have to admit, it could be fun once the embarrassment subsided!

 Learn some Swahili. I know you can certainly get by without it as everyone speaks wonderful English in Kenya, but if nothing else – by learning the language you learn something of the culture and knowing a few words helps you feel included. Plus, encouragingly the effort to speak Swahili is always appreciated (unlike in trying to speak French in France where people deliberately pretend they haven’t the faintest idea what you are trying to say).

 Apply for a job (your own embassy is always a good start – the pay is lousy but it’s a mini support network nonetheless). Find out from them about any informal meetings/groups that you could join. Voluntary work is admirable, but it’s hugely challenging here and in my opinion only really recommended for people who have been living here for some time and are fully settled.

 If you don’t want to work, think of doing some online training in an area that you’ve always been interested in – teaching, web design, writing, do an MA/PHD? Working alone at home is not going to help much with loneliness, but it does help with self esteem.

 Join a gym. Exercise always makes you feel better and it gets you out of the house.

 Get creative. Start making things, in Kenya you can even get things made for you because we are surrounded by fabulously skilled artisans (fundis) who charge comparatively little for their time (furniture, clothes, leather belts and bags) – either for gifts or you could even send them back home for friends to sell?

 Pursue anything that you are interested in with dogged determination. You may be disappointed by a lack of formal sports facilities but there will always be an informal group of like minded enthusiasts gathering somewhere, be it motor biking, playing football or hockey, bicycling, stamp collecting – whatever. You’ll track them down in the end.

Hope this doesn’t all sound too patronising.  The good news is that Nairobi is a hugely cosmopolitan city, absolutely chock full of other people from other countries both from the region and overseas, many of whom might well be feeling exactly the same as you.

Once you have settled in, I’ve noticed that people (myself included) wear those early, harder experiences of being new in the country, like a sort of badge of honour. Horror stories of misunderstandings and awkward situations get rolled out over dinners and coffees, new friends bond over them.

If anyone else has any tips on how to get settled as quickly as possible, knows of networking groups for newcomers (I know that there is one Facebook group who meet regularly) or even if you just have a story on how it panned out for you – then please do share it by commenting – it might help.

Click here for Telegraph article: ‘settling-in is expat’s biggest worry when moving abroad’.

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