A few differences between life in Kenya and in the Netherlands

1) You will feel at home: You’re really home. You’re sinking your teeth into familiar food you’ve missed for so long: matumbo (cow entrails) fried tilapia, nyama choma (grilled meat), ugali (maize meal) and sukumawiki (collard greens), sour wimbi uji (fermented millet flour porridge) and so forth.

2) You will not feel at home: You’re realizing that you crave Dutch food too: kibbeling (fried cubes of cod) slathered in mayonnaise, fladder and vleesworst (Suriname sausage and boiled cow entrails slathered in spicy sauce and served up with pickles and onions) , appleflap (apple pie) and most of all the Dutch cheese. There’s cheese here alright, but now you’ve morphed into a cheese aficionado as you sample the supermarket cheese in Kenya and announce that it hasn’t been left to mature, doesn’t have that zing, or that it is not firm.

3) You no longer stand out: By gaw you’re home among your people, your country is homogenous, and most of the population is black, albeit different hues. You meet friendly folk all the time, you speak the same national language as they do, you have a shared history.

4) You stand out: There’s tribalism. Tribalism has become the new racism, you discover. People are quick to ask which tribe you are or assume you’re a certain tribe because of your height and your dark ebony chocolate colour. Those may be the first questions when you encounter new people or have to write down your name. You may easily be loved on the basis of where you originally come from, or you may be stereotyped by reason of your tribe. There is also colourism. The light-skinned seem more desirable than the dark ebony chocolate.

5) Things are expensive: You are astounded to find out you spend just as much if not more, in the supermarket as you did in your weekly budget in the Netherlands. The fast food joints are worse. They mint money from you like no one’s business. You try as much as possible to stop that tiny calculator in your head from glancing at items and converting their costs to euros. It just throws your budget into a funk when you do that.

6) Things are not expensive: Organic food is cheap and tasty. Your salonist performs magic on your hair at little cost. You look and feel pampered. There’s the option of bulk shopping for foodstuff such as maize meal, rice, legumes and so forth at wholesale prices which cost lower than at retail prices. You can also purchase at wholesale household stuff like soap, toiletries There are more transportation options and ways to get around on a budget: taxify and uber chap chap can be at your beck and call. You can survive on cheap internet bundles if you don’t want to pay for monthly subscription. There are options wherever you look.

7) E for egalitarianism
During past visits to Kenya, you have frowned at the way maids are treated. They are underpaid, and overworked, they have most of their meals in a corner of the kitchen, after putting in many hours from daybreak to day’s end. You decide to abolish hierarchy and in the spirit of egalitarianism, relax rules thus letting maids hold free reign over the house. They are welcome to eat on the same table as you, at the same time meals are served. You want to treat the domestic helps and workers equally. You want to improve their lot as a family.

8) C for classicism: The class system is rife in Kenya. Money will get you treated well. Heck, you’ll be buttered up. Folks endear to monied individuals. Kenyans of higher economic and social class tend to ignore the tribal divide. The world they inhabit is simplified into the haves who they are, and the have-nots who are the rest of the population. Some of the Kenyan wealthy do the right thing; they give back to society by participating in various community projects and setting up foundations to help the less fortunate.

9) Folks have a hard time keeping time. You have a hard time with folks who have a hard time keeping time. You get furious sitting in traffic, you get furious waiting for people to turn up. You get furious when folks tell you, “This is Kenya.” Like you’ve never lived here and have suddenly landed. You remember being fined 50 euros that time you were 15 minutes late for your dentist’s appointment back in the Netherlands. You fire some girls who create magic on your hair for not magically being on time to open their shops when you’ve made an appointment with them. You fume and froth at the mouth when siblings come for a Monday appointment on the following Friday. You froth some more when they don’t offer any apologies for their actions.

10) Health care is expensive: The hospitals may reject your foreign insurance card and nudge you to pay outta-pocket. The thing that irritates you about this is that from this time on, things will operate on a piecemeal basis; they will first ask you to pay a fee probably for even entering the hospital premises, could be the consulation fee. You’re sent to the lab for blood tests, and more money is asked of you. When it has been confirmed that you need further treatment and care, you may have to pay a hefty deposit to be admitted into the hospital. Woe betide if on the day of your discharge, you still have to pay some small amount of money. If you have a branula still sticking into your arm for fluids, they will not remove it until your bill is cleared.

Sculptures in City market, Nairobi.

11) Health care can be cheap: If you take out an NHIF card and pay as little as 500 ksh (5 euro equivalent) each month, you can avoid the small irritations and embarrassment of seeking medical care with an insurance card they don’t accept. My friends who’ve had the NHIF for years swear by it.

So there it is. You realize that you are fully Kenyan and somewhat Dutch. Even your palate has changed. You are in-betwixt two continents and it feels strange, it feels alien to carry them both. You know that you will always carry a piece of both places in your heart and you’re truly contented.

4 replies »

  1. Hello, africana girl. Thanks for this email. Actually I can’t thank you enough. I haven’t received any updates from you in a long time. Hope you’re doing okay, I tried to search for your blog o Google to no avail and had given up on reading from you again. I have always admired travellers(especially vloggers) like you and as someone from Uganda, it’s good to hear the experiences of a fellow black person. Due to work and school commitments, and of course the money, I hope to make Thailand or Vietnam my first destination probably in 2021 or 2022. Enjoy.


    • Thank you Daniel..sorry for being so quiet and not being consistent in my writing. I will try to up my game this year..otherwise I encourage you to get out there..a whole world is waiting to be explored!


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