What not to do in Kenya, plus ten thoughts

Well, we have now lived in Kenya for about ten years now.  There are many great things to do here but we cannot say that we have not made blunders along the way in learning how to live here.  We thought that we would pass on some things that we have found to be not so high on our list of repeatable experiences.

1.  Do not throw metal objects onto unshielded power lines.  In the process of trying to cut down a dead branch without actually climbing the tree the metal saw attached to a rope flew through the air with the greatest of ease, over the branch and directly onto the 240 volt power lines.  Accidental but it produced a pretty amazing spark show.  Chalk that one up to experience – not to do again and call an expert.

2.  Do not disqualify a sports team for being late to a tournament.  OK, it seemed to be justified at the time when the team showed up three hours late.  Pool play had almost finished so they would have had to play every game back to back.  Time is relative here in Kenya so telling a team that they cannot play because they did not make it “on time” is a major blunder – at least they made it and we should be happy. 

3.  In additon to time we have found that age is relative as well.  In Canada when we say we will play your high school team we generally believe that we would be playing against like aged students.  However, here in Kenya when we say we will play the high school team that could include “students” of any age.  So be careful when you invite another school to play a game.  School is fluid so you can drop out for a few years and then come back to finish and enjoy the benefit of whooping younger kids with a more developed body.

4.   Do not expect that the common sense rules of the road exist.  If you do then it is most likely that you will be left sitting in one spot for a very long time.  Even though time is relative (most of the time) it seems as if when a Kenyan is behind the wheel of a motor vehicle watch out, it is every man for himself.  At least it appears that they drive like they should have been some place twenty minutes ago – all of the time.

5.  Along with the theme of driving do not think that 100 Km translates into 40 -45 minutes driving time.  One hundred kilometers here can easily translate into an all day trip.  It may also mean that you will probably have to change the suspension, tires, brakes, and maybe the whole engine…

6.  Women should not chase baboons.  Male baboons are not afraid of women.  Kylie says that even if a woman is holding a gun (not that we have a gun) they probably would not run away even then.  Baboons will think twice when they see a young boy – especially one holding a slingshot.  They will (typically) run away as soon as they see a man even if he does not have a slingshot.  So we figure that baboons exist to make men feel more manly.

7.  Do not think that when policemen ask for “chai” that they actually mean a drink.  Usually policemen will stop drivers not to cite them for breaking any laws but to see if they can get a bribe.  They have a lot of time on their hands and are not afraid to “wait you out” in order to get what they want.  They will make up some sort of excuse so that they can keep your license which they demand that you turn over when you are stopped.  One time Todd was told that he was pulled over because his license was “defaced”.  He still is baffled how that policemen knew that it was defaced while it was in his pocket.

8.  Do not miss an opportunity to buy a bag of sugar, marshmallows, peanut butter, …  One never knows if it is the last time it will be seen in a store.  Since most everything is imported into the country there is only limited supplies of items until the next shipment.  We have seen some items missing from shelves for weeks at a time.  It is amazing just how important things like sugar are – try it yourself and not buy it for several days.  We are hopeful that shortages like these are short lived and that they will reappear at the right time.  Otherwise, we might have to start refining our own sugar.  This might be tricky.

9.  Do not forget that 1000 Kenya schillings equals about 12 dollars.  It is easy to forget and all of the sudden the grocery bill becomes several tens of thousands of schillings.  Knowing the exchange rate is important and an ongoing reality.  So the next time someone comes up and says, “it is only 5,000 schillings”, think twice and ask yourself, “Is that piece of wood really worth $50 – $60?”.

 10.  Do not hit and kill wild animals with a vehicle.  Fortunately, we have not done that but we have been told that it is against the law to have an accident with a wild animal that kills it.  Apparently though we can hit all of the domesticated animals we want.  Kenyans will demand that they be paid for their donkey, sheep, goat, cow, chickens that roam on the road and are killed but jail time is to be expected for killing a wild animal.  Watch out for those giraffe!

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