Seven years ago this week, I took a deep breath and drove across the Busia border post and onto a new job in Nairobi. Fed up with the dead end situation I found myself in kampala, I took a risk and decided to swim the sharks in a big, big pond.
It s actually amazing that I was able to make up my mind to take the jump as everyone I know was dead set against the move. Everyone was anxious about the poor security situation, Nairoberry and all. And if the thugs didn’t get me then the cops would or the immigration officers. And the locals would not like me one bit.
The most depressing point was made by a colleague who was astounded that I would so ‘easily’ give up my government pension after 7 years of working as a civil servant just to chase a dream of a better life. To me she was totally lacking in ambition and content with the crumbs that fell off the table……..the civil service does that to you.
Arriving in Nairobi was a breath of fresh air, it was and still is a big city, bright lights and killer instincts. The guys here do not play games. Nobody had time for personal stuff during work time, everyone was trying to get the job done and then do some personal enterprise after 6pm. The work ethic really was a shocker for a Ugandan. Nobody gave two hoots that I had no idea where to find the supermarket, how one goes about getting a new electricity account or locate a decent barber. After 5 pm I was essentially on my own.
It did get depressing at times and I did wonder what I was doing in Nairobi, of course it was the money who am I kidding. But I did feel the stories about Nairobians unfriendliness was actually true, just like in London, everyone minds their own business. And because the clubs and water holes are a multitude it is quite possible never to bump into people you know for months even if you went out every weekend.
The gym came to the rescue, it proved a great ice breaker and I was able to make friends with people from all spheres of the economy, contacts I still keep today.
My work space was just as smooth. It did help that the Ugandan economy was ‘booming’ and thousands of Kenyans were working in kampala and even more so that tens of thousands of Kenyan school kids were studying in Ugandan schools. This made me less of the ‘poorer’ cousin than I was made to feel many years earlier as a refugee in Kenya.
The one thing that reminded me I was a foreigner was that every 2 years I have had to apply for renewal of my work permit. This is one process that shakes everyone to their toes: I get finger printed, I get issued a new I.D. (alien Certificate) and pay the equivalent of $1,500. That’s if they have agreed to renew it in the first place. Many a person has had to sit out a month or two at home waiting for the renewal of the work permit to come through.
Having weathered the storms I feel Ihave actually assimilated to a large extent, though many other Ugandans complain of cold attitudes towards them, I have never encountered this. Am I now comfortable enough to go a step higher and buy a house….boy oh boy, that will freak my parents for sure (lost forever and all that).
Its getting easier to stay here , coming this july East African citizens may not need work permits to work here anymore. And the banks, which used to think I was ‘high risk’ because I was non citizen , now keep calling me up to take up a loan or a mortgage. Money transfers back home are getting cheaper, though the cost of flights is still extortionate.
I love Nairobi, it is fast and furious, it is aggressive, it is entrepreneurial, it is impersonal, it is non intrusive and also caring as evidenced by many charity efforts that are all locally driven. I can eat Korean or brazillian food, I can learn to ride horses, I can find any book, take part in almost any hobby and still take only 45min to get to Entebbe for gonja and sabulenya.