In 2015 I fell in love with East-Africa after backpacking on my own in Tanzania for a month, but sadly I had to go back to uni to start my Masters. Fortunately for me, my course offered a 3 month opportunity to carryout research on refugees. To me this was a chance to go back to East Africa so the decision was made quickly! Kenya turned out to be an extremely interesting place to do my research but I had to find an organistaion that would take me in as a student-researcher first.
I started my search on Google, e-mailed a couple of organizations but not with a lot of response. So I turned to Instagram; after a few days of scrolling and searching, I came across a page under the name Octopizzo, which I learned was a rapper and an ambassador for UNHCR (the UN refugee agency). I sent him a message and he was kind enough to link me up with Xavier Project. (thanks for that again!) Xavier Project is an NGO that helps refugee students to get education, and this ended up to be the perfect place for me to do my research. Now I was ready and excited to book my ticket to Nairobi!
I thought I had overcome any fears of travelling alone but the whole circus started all over again. “Nairobi? Nai-robbery you mean! A horrible city: pollution, crime, terrorist attacks. Al-Shabaab is there! Can’t you go somewhere close by? Do they wear underwear in Kenya? Do they speak English?” (None of this is made up; I have honestly heard it all). It is such a shame these are still the first thoughts many people have when they hear you are going to Kenya or Africa. So once again I found myself feeling very anxious – on my arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, I remember thinking have I made the right decision?
Fast forward, three months later and I found myself settled into the Nairobi life pretty well. I stayed at a hostel in Olympic, five minutes from one of the biggest slums in the world. To me it was a lovely neighbourhood where I felt pretty much at home in a week’s time. I learned how to cook chapatti from my lovely hostess Becky; I walked to my office everyday greeting the people at the stalls on the way. I went for lunch at one of the small restaurants – I became a regular here and soon enough they knew what I wanted without having to order. I could stroll over the vegetable and second-hand markets down the road for hours.
But besides the charm from living in a local neighbourhood, I discovered that Nairobi is a real cosmopolitan city. In no time you can make friends from all over the world and you will find out about all that Nairobi has to offer; the vibrant night-life, amazing creative scene, all types of events and some really great restaurants.
Besides that, there are many places to go for a sweet escape outside the city too. Less than an hour drive outside Nairobi you can find the beautiful Great Rift Valley with amazing views in the distance. A little further you find national parks where you can spot giraffes and lions or the wonderful coast with its paradisiac beaches and Swahili culture.
My research was almost done and the thought of going back to the Netherlands became more and more difficult to fathom. I had just started to discover everything that Kenya had to offer and was just not ready to leave! I believe that sometimes the universe hears your cry because the week before I was supposed to fly back home, I got the opportunity to do a really cool internship in Nairobi and stay another six months! I only had a few days to make a decision, but in my heart I already knew that Kenya was where I wanted to be.
It’s now been over a year since I first arrived in Nairobi and I’m still in love. I’ve been lucky enough to get hired after finishing my internship and now moved into an apartment that I share with three housemates. During the week I work 9-5 in my office, and in my free time I like to go for drinks and live music, rap-battles or Ethiopian dinner with friends. On the weekends I either hang out with my friends or dance the night away. It’s pretty similar to life in Amsterdam, but the weather is better (most of the time) and as a bonus you can easily go for a back-to-basics camping trip or screensaver worthy beach getaway over the weekend.
When I think back to that first day when I was standing at the airport with my suitcase, I could have never imagined what a cool place Nairobi is and how easy I would feel at home. Yes, you can get robbed but so can you in any other big city. Yes, the traffic and pollution are horrible at times, but outside the city you find the greenest and cleanest places. If you can take care of yourself and talk to the Kenyans you will soon enough learn about what to do, where to go and you will find a great city with some amazing people in it. I’m still glad I discovered this for myself after all the shaking heads I got when I decided to go and now hope to convince others to do it. If you’re ever around and in need of tips, check out my blog and/or Instagram and always feel free to send a message!
Living in: Nairobi, Kenya
Follow her: http://www.nadionsafari.com (blog) / @nadionsafari (Instagram)