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From the UK to Kenya: Africa Expat Wives Club

23 May, 2011 09:00  Erin Erin

africa expat wives frances My name is: Africa Expat Wife.  I am originally from UK but am currently living in Kenya, East Africa.  I have been an East Africa resident for the past 12 years now.

1. Why did you move abroad?
I met my husband in England/London but he had spent a good chunk of his childhood on the Kenya coast and was itching to come back.  He managed to line up a job in Tanzania and we moved there two days after our wedding.  The wedding itself was a bit of a giant ‘goodbye’ party – we thought we were coming over for a two or three year posting but still haven’t gone home.  My husband says ‘we’re still on honeymoon’ but 3 children later and after purchasing a house in Nairobi – I’m not so sure.
2. How do you make a living?
My husband is a surveyor and works in real estate (mostly commercial properties).  His business just keeps on growing with the emerging economy.  I am messing around at being a freelance writer.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I still use email but Skype has really been a godsend.  I prefer ‘type skype-ing’ as the face to face bit can be awkward and often very difficult to extricate yourself from!  The typing is immediate but you can walk away to grab a coffee.  My Skype sound is not working so that’s a great excuse not to have too many video chats – not sure I’m going to bother to get it fixed any time soon!

4. What's your favourite thing about being an expat in Kenya?
The Kenyans.  It sounds corny but it’s such a friendly, smiley place.  I absolutely love how upbeat everyone is, often in quite tough circumstances.  I speak Swahili and love to practise so that helps break down barriers too.  And the sun shines nearly every single day!

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Kenya?
The disparity of wealth.  I don’t think that we need all the material things that we yearn for in the West, they don’t bring happiness – but when it’s hard to get access to healthcare, you don’t have a roof over your head and there’s no welfare system, it’s really hard for the local population.

As an employer, you tend to get dragged into a lot of personal issues of employees and try help out where you can.  I’ve visited the slums a few times and the lack of infrastructure is shocking.  The fact that for miles and miles, you can’t see a single blade of grass.  Again, it’s the people who are amazing, always immaculately turned out, focussed, hustling, coping.
As an expat, it’s worth being aware that all Kenyans have their own agenda.  Because you are an expat, they often will ask you to help them personally, often openly asking for help ('will you sponsor me?' ), rather than expect to benefit from you helping a community/school or group.  
Since Independence there have been 50 years solid of foreign aid and handouts flooding into the country, much of it misdirected, failing to reach the people who need it most.  The Government is corrupt.  I guess that the practise of looking out for number one has been learned through years of disappointment and survival.  My advice, don’t take it personally and don’t be too naive.

6. What do you miss most?
I miss contact with family.  We have a big family and have to shoehorn all family interaction into a three week annual leave to UK.  The same goes for old friends too.  It’s great when visitors come to stay with us in Kenya as then you get ‘quality time’ and we go on holiday together etc.  Since the kids are getting older, I’d love to show them more of Europe, museums, culture but long haul flights are expensive.  However, I’m sure I can work around this – I just need to be more organised about how I manage our yearly trips home.

7. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Kenyans are often very open and unrushed.  Culturally it’s considered extremely rude not to stop and listen if someone has a problem that they’d like to get off their chest.  Us westerners can be very rushed and impatient so sometimes you need to stop and take and deep breath, then listen.

There are also no public displays of affection.  It’s something you don’t really notice until you stop and think about how you were once used to seeing snogging couples in Europe’s capitals but hardly even catch anyone hand-holding here.

8. What is a myth about your adopted country?
The myth is that it Africa/Kenya is ‘soooo’ dangerous.  The media always portrays Africa in a negative light but I think that crimes that go on in the developed world often seem far more sinister.

In the West, you wouldn’t dare let go of your child’s hand in a shopping centre.  Here there is more space, friendliness, better quality of life, fewer crowds, decorum and old fashioned good manners. 

9. What advice would you give other expats?
Slow down and try to keep your mind open.  When you arrive with very high expectations, particularly of employees, then you might end up feeling frustrated.  Instead, try to show some empathy and be happy when things go right (instead of focussing on when things go wrong).  Your water may run out, there may be a power cut, the cream that you bought in the shop might turn out to be sour but at least the sun is still shining and (let’s be honest) someone else is doing the housework for you!

Although English is widely spoken, try learning the local lingo.  You’ll be surprised how much this helps you understand local culture too, which in turn helps you to settle in faster.

10. When and why did you start your blog?
I got a bit fed up with reading overly romanticised accounts of Africa.  I wanted to fill a gap for people who wanted to know what contemporary life is like in East Africa from day to day.  I also wanted to try and poke some fun at myself and the odd relationship I/we expats have with our host country.

I wrote a couple of pieces for the UK weekly Telegraph which gave me the confidence to spend more time writing.  I started the blog almost five years ago and hoped that by writing regularly, I’d get better at it and also receive constructive feedback. africa expat wives frances

Although you might labour away at a blog for pure love and no financial gain, the spin-offs can be amazing.  My blog has really set a lot of things into motion that would not have been possible without it as a starting point.    

Thanks to my blog I’ve been quoted, done articles and been interviewed by in the UK broadsheets, appeared on International BBC news & done radio interviews.  I was approached by a UK literary agent (that one didn’t work out, but it gave me the courage to write a book, as yet unpublished..!), have worked as a freelance writer in Kenya and have received great/encouraging feedback from tons of kind readers of the blog.

More recently I’ve started doing some travel writing for a local magazine and have been approached by various local businesses looking to advertise on my blog.  As a result, I plan to develop the africaexpatwivesclub website, incorporating the forum, more info etc.  Then obviously I’ll achieve world domination...!!  It’s also fun to be interviewed by other websites like Blogexpat!  Thanks! 

Blog Link Africa Expat Wives Club Blog

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