«Kenya: A Country of Contrasts By Johan Woxenius September 2011 Kenya is defined by its immense contrasts. The country’s natural habitat ranges from ...»
You also become accustomed to less stringent time management, even compared to my own. The observant reader might have found many “plan to’s”, “intends” and “hopes” in my text and recognised that the remaining time here will not be sufficient to do all those things. That is true and that is intentionally so. I obviously expected that things would take more time here, but meetings scheduled for
13.00 on Monday might be held 9.00 on Thursday and decisions on the next step in a joint effort might take a few days or a week. It is hence wise to have many initiatives running in parallel and also accept the risk that all projects will not be finished or will have to be finished from Gothenburg.
Another observation is that it is suggested to bring redundant work equipment on long trips abroad.
Office equipment and supplies are obviously sold here but computers come without a Swedish keyboard. It took me about a week to resolve a software problem—I was really happy when I could recover my files and re-enter Windows after some guidance from GU’s IT support. At that time I was pleased that I had also brought a private computer with me so I could continue to work. Since the consequences of a broken computer or lost files are severe when abroad, I also spend more time making backups.
Traffic is hilarious, but you get used to both the dangers and the congestion. Trucks are surrounded by black smoke and although Nairobi is at an altitude of 1700 m it is not exactly Alpine air. The public transport system is based on buses and matatus—small vans with 14 (!) seats driven by crazy men.
They are often owned by police officers so traffic rules are of no concern. They are old, noisy and polluting but the CO2 performance is really good considering that they are always fully occupied and often carry as many passengers as a Swedish 70-seater bus in lunch traffic. I have tried them and survived, but you are advised not to bring valuables.
Riding a bumpy matatu.
Dressed up for the office and carrying a laptop implies that I use taxi; even my Kenyan colleagues do that when they carry a laptop. The taxi trips to the office are really informative since so much happens on the streets. Crowds of people are walking, sitting, sleeping, and selling newspapers, mobile airtime and food. You even witness production of furniture and growing and selling of plants along the streets.
As elsewhere, Kenyan taxi drivers are also a prime source of information about the country. I am impressed by their political, economic and cultural awareness!
Common view in Nairobi’s chaotic traffic.
Shopping is interesting and, of course, Kenya is within reach of the global supply chains. We do most shopping in a nearby mall that sells Wasa “knäckebröd”, Swedish “lösgodis” and dajm as well as all the major international food and snack brands. It is like going to ICA Maxi. Logistics is like home with trucks at a loading dock behind the store. Walking a km in the other direction takes us to a traditional African market in the slums. Much more fun, a fraction of the price but best visited accompanied by African friends and with a firm grip on the wallet. Logistics is not like home.
A local market place.
Goods distribution to the local market.
There is an immense building boom in the area in which we live. Blocks of apartments are growing like mushrooms and one is built on the neighbouring plot. I have watched it through the apartment window for some months now, and the amount of manual labour assigned is fascinating. During the construction, I have only seen a cement mixer being used and I have far more dusty electric carpentry machinery in my garage at home than they have used to build a five-storey building! Health and security for the workers is not prioritised.
With all the misery present in Kenya, quite little of it is seen in Nairobi. You see very little begging, people seem satisfied and you rarely hear complaints. Being here, acknowledging that I have not seen all of Kenya, I actually have the picture of hope rather than that of starving refugees that is regularly passed on to us at home.
Safaris offer thrilling encounters of the animals you see at BBC’s and National Geographic’s nature programmes. Seeing a moose in the forest is a different experience from seeing it in Slottsskogen and accordingly a safari is different from seeing the same species at a zoo. At AIBUMA I noted that Julius Kipng'etich, director of Kenya Wildlife Service, when asked why Kenya’s national parks were not fenced, replied, “An ecosystem that is closed is destined to extinction”.
A proud lion in Masai Mara.
I could not help to associate that with the Swedish universities suffering from limited teacher mobility at risk of stagnating in our own smugness. When I return, probably at the end of the year, I hope that the stay in an open academic ecosystem and the “competence maintenance” in Kenya have prepared me for serving another 20 years in Gothenburg’s academic corridors!