Not for the tender-hearted

Are you new to Kenya? Or an old hand?

Excited? Or jaded?

Nairobi newbie or Nairobbery oldie?

Well, here’s the real deal. This blog is about how it really is here in Kenya from an expat’s point of view. This is based on my experiences and from the experiences of other expats who live here, who have lived here, and for better or for worse, will continue to live here. I’ll tell you like it is.

If you’re an expat, tourist or simply a mzungu (white person) looking to rent an apartment, go on a safari, make new friends, shop, or simply know how to deal with everyday life here in Kenya, specifically Nairobi, and you find yourself  bewildered, frustrated, and angry at times, “Get Real, Kenya” hopes to arm you with a little bit of realism.  This place ain’t for the tender-hearted.

As that famous line in the movie “Blood Diamonds” goes, “This is Africa.”

Scam scam scams galore! +254 703 146407, +254 729 333333, +254 788 484020

There I was eating some nicely boiled sweet potato on a nice Sunday morning when I received a text from
+254 703 146 407.

To wit:
100,000 From
safaricom  Contact
us on (0729333333)
or (0788484020)
NB:Don’t pay
anything for your

Any takers, anyone?

Scammer - 1135

Of course, I have NOT won Ksh 100,000.  And this text is  NOT from Safaricom about one of their promotions.

Beware, folks. Con artists abound here in Kenya.

I know of this old Kikuyu woman (who should have known better) who was scammed out of some Ksh 8,000 from her M-Pesa account because she gave away personal information  (she really should have known better, tsk tsk tsk) to this caller claiming she had won Ksh 100,000 because she had topped up her M-Pesa account. What the promise of some windfall can do, eh?

Don’t be gullible, people!

Oh, in case you’re wondering about M-Pesa, here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

“M-Pesa (M for mobile, pesa is Swahili for money) is a mobile-phone based money transfer and microfinancing service for Safaricom andVodacom, the largest mobile network operators in Kenya and Tanzania. Currently the most developed mobile payment system in the world, M-Pesa allows users with a national ID card or passport to deposit, withdraw, and transfer money easily with a mobile device.”

I must admit, M-Pesa is one pretty cool service. Seriously. It is very convenient. (Except when their system is down, of course.) 😉

Smart? Definitely NOT.

I gotta admit it  – Dormans “The Coffee Experts” make some pretty damn good coffee this side of East Africa.  They have also smartened up some of their spaces in Nairobi. Take their big, bright, brand-new joint in Nakumatt just off the Karen roundabout.  The two-level cafe has a mix of tables à deux, easy armchairs, slouchy couches, barstool and countertop corners, and a couple of purposedly-distressed hardwood, seats-eight behemoths of a table.

Their internet service is fast – there are times when downloads speeds can reach almost 1 MB (I know, quite pathetic, because that is already considered “blazing” fast here in Kenya) but the Karen “Welcome to Dormans Fast Internet” speed norm is  between 125 to 350 kbps with very occasional dips to 90, 35, to 0 kbps. (I know…). Their internet speed graph looks like a surfer’s dream of spikey huge waves…

And what’s this??  The ladies room looks smart. Wow. But there are no hooks to hang bags, shopping, or jackets inside the toilet cubicles. Where do they expect the women to put their bags while they do their thing? On the toilet roll dispenser?? On the floor?? Round their necks?? Hmmm.

The servers are unsmiling and they give an impression of efficiency. But… they invariably get something wrong in my order. I always ask for artificial sweetener and they always hand me a sugar bowl even if they earlier said they have Canderel or such.

One time my house coffee arrived looking and smelling suspiciously dreggy. Ugh. Sigh.

But that’s not really my beef with Dormans “The Coffee Experts” – Karen. Their joint is so new they haven’t managed to make the prices on their menu match with what’s on their point-of-sale registers. In fact, they haven’t even managed to have their menus match.

In one menu, a small cup of house coffee is listed at Ksh140, the medium cup at Ksh170, while the large cup is attractively priced at Ksh180.  So imagine my consternation when I am handed a bill for Ksh220 for my large cup of house coffee.

“Excuse me, miss, but it says in your menu, house coffee large should be Ksh180.”

“Our program has a problem. It should be Ksh180. That’s what you’ll pay for.”

So why didn’t you say that?? I hand her Ksh200.

Another day, my significant other and I each order the house coffee small. It is listed at Ksh140 in the menu handed to us, which is the way it should be priced. Sometime later, feeling peckish and wanting another small cup of coffee, I ask a passing waiter for the menu. Hmmm, house coffee small is at Ksh170, medium at Ksh200, and large at Ksh240?? Hmmm, I think to myself, does Dormans “The Coffee Experts” have different prices in the afternoon?? A check with the waiter reveals that, oh no, there is a problem with their menus. I was evidently handed a menu with the “wrong” prices. There are two (maybe even three??) sets of menus with different pricing schemes. A misprint, I am assured by the waiter.

Well, for crying out loud, why can’t you tell me you handed me a misprinted menu?? In fact, why hand out misprinted menus to customers at all?? It’s not like the place is crawling with customers that you’re running out of the damn menus.

That’s the second time they’ve omitted telling me there’s a problem with their prices. One more time and it will be a “strike three, you’re out” for them.

You know, Kenyans pride themselves on looking smart. The highest  compliment one can give a Kenyan is to tell them: “You look smart.” They will puff out their chests and preen like pea-brained peacocks. But looking smart and being smart are two very different things.

Dormans “The Coffee Experts” – Karen looks smart. But do they work smart?? Nah.

I’m about to ask for my bill. Let’s see if they strike themselves out.

Watch this space! 😉

Hedonistic and uncluttered sexual mores

On page 73 of the May 2010 edition of Rough Guide to Kenya is this interesting tidbit re sexual attitudes in Kenya:

…”sexual mores in Kenya are generally hedonistic and uncluttered.  Expressive sexuality is a very obvious part of the social fabric in most communities, and in Muslim areas Islamic moral strictures tend to be generously interpreted. The age of consent for heterosexual relations is 16.”

“If you’re a man, you’re likely to find flirtatious pestering a constant part of the scene, especially if you visit bars and clubs. With HIV infection rates extremely high, even protected sex is extremely inadvisable.”

Open the lifestyle section of any of the leading dailies and it does not take rocket science to know that most people here have multiple simultaneous relationships – most for money, most for sex, most  for both – from the upper echelons of society to your cleaning lady to the house guard. They all do it, whether for some phone credit, a bag of maize flour, a new wig/braids/dreads, the annual Easter vacation at the Coast, a new “buy me a girlie one plz” mobile phone,  having a mother’s house repainted yet another shade of ghastly vomit green, or pretending a sister is sick of meningitis so one can get a “r u gonna help me or wat??” payout from the gullible  white dickhead or flake. It’s sex land out here, baby, more than you can shake your stick at. (The high HIV/AIDS rate in Kenya attests to that.)

So wazungu,  (white people), take note. While you may feel very handsome/pretty and attractive while in Kenya (even if the opposite sex back home barely gives you a second glance, tee hee), don’t let it get to your head (and wallet.) “money is the only factor to consider!” according to this very public Facebook post of this Kalenjin babe-wannabe-but-is-an-airhead-actually who looks so smug to have hooked the gullible elderly white male easily 30 years her senior sitting beside her. Her friends on Facebook had been asking her “lini wedding“? (when’s the wedding?) “does he have a best friend of same age, tell him im tall n slim” screeches another tarty friend on the same page.

Well, if you play your cards right, girls, you might get the ring on your finger. Ask the many successful Kenyans who have bagged their whites. But wait, make sure the white has money first, lots of it. You might be in for a rude awakening.

It ain’t your real hair, honey.

Advertised on page 32 of the 30th June 2012 issue of Xpat Link:

“Get the most realist (sic) looking lace wig with the *Skin top* lace wig. 100% hidden knots, you cant (sic) even see them with a magnifying glass.”

Oh come on, get real, women. Everyone WILL KNOW you’re wearing a WIG because your natural hair is tight, “hard”, and really kinky. Everybody knows that. (Well, maybe except the really stupid white people, especially gullible old men who you can get to fork out wig and salon money for you. I should know – I was one of them gullibles before.)

Don’t you know that wearing your hair au naturelle looks better on you?? No need to ape foreign women with their gorgeous soft and silky hair. 😉 And save your hard-earned (or more likely, hard-won) shillings for putting food on the table instead. Or better yet, buy a real book (no glossy junk mags please) and improve your minds.

Be proud of your African hair, girls. Seriously. Phonies stick out a mile.

Route 111 Bus 436

If you ever decide to take a Ngong Road bus for Karen town, steer clear of Citi Hoppa Bus 436.

Last 4th of June, I boarded the Route 111 Citi Hoppa bus at the corner of  KenCom building in downtown Nairobi at 3 pm. I was elated when the bus quickly filled and began a journey that normally would take an hour max to reach the Karen roundabout some 18 kilometers away. But it was mid-afternoon and so I was prepared for more traffic than usual as the bus meandered its way through clogged downtown and past Uhuru Highway. I sat in my usual favored spot just in front of the exit. The conductor started collecting fare.

“Karen,” I told him when he tapped on my shoulder. “Fifty bob only,” he replied. I waited to be given a ticket in return for my Ksh 50 but he moved on. I rolled my eyes as the woman beside me chuckled. I have always been told, get a ticket. Even signs inside the buses say that.

“Excuse me but where’s my ticket?” I called out to the conductor when he passed me again.

“No more tickets, I have no more tickets.”
“How can you have no more tickets?!” I asked. He just shrugged. The woman beside me also shrugged.
“He didn’t give me a ticket too,” she whispered to me.
“Oh well, this is Africa. Why stew over it.” I thought to myself.

We had already turned left on Ngong Road with the driver shifting gears for the uphill climb when the bus lurched to a standstill, prompting a blare of horns from all around. A couple of hundred meters behind, an ambulance ululated.

“Oh no…” I sighed. This was my first time ever to take the Route 111 bus or any bus for that matter from downtown to Karen. This is probably the same bus my friend took one night a couple of weeks ago. His bus had stalled three times in blinding rain, the last time on a vehicle-choked stretch of Ngong Road in front of Nakumatt Junction. Each time, the conductor and the bus driver had gone down, thumped and clunked under the hood, got the bus going again till the next breakdown a couple of kilometers or so. Finally, the conductor was forced to hand back the fares of very irate and drenched passengers, my friend included.

So I looked for my conductor but he was nowhere to be seen. My fellow passengers started leaving the bus. I stood and walked over to the driver who shrugged when I asked him where his conductor was. Great, a nation of shruggers.

I joined the restless masses outside. The driver, who was by then being browbeaten by a cacophony of car horns, attempted to maneuver his crippled bus onto a side road as a glowering blue-suited traffic policeman huffed up to him. I decided to get back into the bus – I figured the only way I could get my fifty shillings back was to stay put inside since I was not given a ticket.

One by one, the other passengers followed me back. The woman beside me said the bus had broken down because it ran out of petrol! What the?? Sure enough, I saw the conductor sauntering back with a small jerrican. Using a couple of his laminated signboards, he funneled the petrol into the gas tank just outside from where I was seated. Some of the passengers were shaking their heads, a group of sleepy-eyed young men were popping their gums while a clutch of heavy-set bewigged African mamas near me were cackling in amusement.

The bus convulsed as the driver tried to start the engine. A half dozen of the most able-bodied passengers got off and started pushing the bus from behind on that steep steep side road. No luck – the engine just kept coughing. The conductor tried to edge out of the bus, avoiding eye-contact with the other passengers who were by now demanding for their fares to be returned. I grabbed his shirtsleeve as he made his way down.

“Give me back my fifty shillings please.” The conductor motioned for me to wait. I followed him out and said, in a louder voice – “Give me back my money. It’s getting late, I have a long way to go and I am wasting my time here.”

By this time the other passengers were also crowding  him, some of them waving five 10-ksh tickets. “I asked you first,”  I tried to make myself heard above the other passengers.

After much hemming and hawing, the conductor finally handed me back fifty shillings while the other passengers pressed around me. I managed to wriggle my way out of the seething mass.

Good thing there was a near-empty Kilele Shuttle Bus at the nearby bus stop. “Hamsini, hamsini (fifty shillings)”, the woman conductor shouted to me.  We all scrambled in. Two hours after I left downtown Nairobi, I finally arrived at the Karen roundabout. What a waste of a nice sunny afternoon just because 1) driver or dispatcher or operator or whoever at Citi Hoppa forgot to check if the bus had enough petrol. Added to that, the ticket conductor did not have enough tickets for all the passengers. He even “wasted” five 10-ksh tickets for a ksh50 fare.

Get real, Kenya. ;-p


KPLC aka Kenya Paraffin Lanterns and Candles strikes again. Nairobians will attest to never-ending daily, nay, hourly (!) power cuts that we might as well, yes, really, go back to the days of paraffin, lanterns and candles. Never mind if we want to get into the information supercyberhighway – forget it, we can’t because we are always HAKUNA STIMA!!

So if you’re unable to get your regular fix of Get Real, Kenya, don’t blame it on me. 🙂 Blame it on good ol’ KPLC…. and the various sundry internet service providers who continue to make our online existence non-existent.

Have an illuminating day, everyone! 😉

Want to look for an apartment? Go walkabout.

Seriously, the best way to look for an apartment is to go walkabout. No need for agents, especially the briefcase aka folder types (please refer to previous post). First, choose the area where you want to live. Mark out the streets you intend to cover. Put on some sunscreen, grab a bottle of water, don a hat, and wear your most comfortable pair of shoes. Don’t forget to bring pen and paper and if you want, take along your camera too. It’ll be loads of fun. For where else can you poke your nose and get to see inside all these apartments except when you’re flat-hunting.

Don’t be deterred if you don’t see a “to let” sign on the gate. Just ask the askari (guard) if there is an apartment for rent and 3 out of 5 times, there will indeed be an available or soon-to-be available flat.

Today, I must have walked about 6 kilometers back and forth. The farthest apartment I went to was about two and a half  kilometers from my current flat. And sure enough, I was able to check out at least 7 apartments.

Something fishy about this deal…

I went apartment-hunting yesterday. The day before, I tried searching via the leading (well…) online classifieds here in Kenya.  After three pages, I was getting cross-eyed from the sheer volume of  “very helpful information”. To wit:

Rooms: 3 rooms LAVINGTON This is new 3bedroom apartment, master ensuite,
spacious sitting room cum dining, imported fitting in kitchen and pantry,
laundry area, swimmwing pool and 2hrs security

Er, Ksh 55.00 per month only??  (Note: as of 21 April 2011, US$1.00 = Ksh 84.00
/ € 1.00 = Ksh 122.84)  Maybe the agent meant per hour…? And only 2 hours of security? My, my… Mr/Ms. 722-404*** needs lessons in proofreading and typing, huh? Ksh 55.00 is vastly different from Ksh 55,000, as is 2-hour versus 24-hour security.

Or how about this?

Property is located on: Dennis Prit , Kilimani City: Nairobi 
Phone Number: 0737600*** , 0721317*** , 0725454*** 
Date Posted: 24.03.2011 Monthly Rental: Kshs 120,000
Bedrooms: 3 Bedrooms Bathrooms: 2 Year Built: 1999
Property Features: Furnished , Laundry Room , Swimming Pool

This property is one of many properties owned by a leading media group here in Kenya and this listing set me to wondering  exactly how eagle-eyed really are their editors.

Or how about the very generic ads like this:

Ngong Road | Adams Arcade | Nairobi | Kshs 38,000
Property is located on: Ngong Road , Adams Arcade City: Nairobi
Phone Number: 0719-038***
For more information please call: 0720 040 ***.

Hmmm, I think I’ll pass on all three!

After narrowing my choices to those ads which looked more promising, I called the listed numbers and made appointments to view the apartments. One of them was with a certain David, whose email ID address, by the way, is “splendorhomes”. Hmmm, really. Okay. I’ll give this one a shot.

Yaya Centre, 10 a.m. I’m waiting by the designated meeting place. My phone rings. It flashes David’s name. I look up and see two men approaching me. The bigger guy speaks up.

“Hi, are you Missy? I’m David and this is my friend Charles.”  They look at me from head to foot and back. “Are you alone?”
Me: Er, yes. Why?

David: Let’s use your car.
Me: Um, I don’t have a car.
David: How are we going to see the apartment??
Me: I thought it’s just a 5-minute walk down the road.
David: Okay, we’ll use my car. But you have to pay for the gas.
Me: Why would I do that??
David: Or I call my taxi guy and you pay the fare.
Me: Wait a minute. You said yesterday the apartment is just down the road, a mere 5-minute walk, at the most, from Yaya Centre. And I’m the client. You’re the one who’s supposed take me there. Not the other way around.
David: But I want to show you other apartments in other places.
Me: But I want to see this apartment only.
David: Well, here in Kenya, the client always provides transportation. I already spent fuel going around looking for flats and houses to let.
Me: Well, that’s not really my problem, is it? That’s supposed to be your job. Never mind, I’ll go check out this apartment myself. You’ve just lost me as a potential client.

What a strange way of doing business. I mean, I’ve never met these clowns before – they could be carjackers (if I did have a car) for all I know. All I had to go by was an ad anybody could place on these online classified. They could well be con artists, of which “Nairobbery” abounds…

A lot of these online ads are placed by “briefcase agents” aka “folder agents” who are not connected with established realty offices but who go around, briefcase or more likely, brown folder in hand, looking for “to let” apartments. They make a deal with the caretakers or landlords for a commission should they find tenants. Then they place online ads or advertise themselves in the tried and tested sign board. As for me, I’ll just go round and do my own inquiries. Or, go to a proper real estate office. What do you think? Keep tuned!

Apartments to let in Nairobi, KenyaApartments to let sign board in Nairobi, Kenya
photo all rights reserved “Get, Real, Kenya” 2011