My Kenyan Experience
The sun has gone down in Nakuru, and the noise of aerobic classes echoes around the centre part of town. I have spent most of my day going through documents needed for pitching by the end of the week. While many other groups have completed their testing process, I feel like the finish line is still miles ahead of me. Six weeks have gone by as quick as a 100m race down the stadium, and the time hurdle was definitely one of the toughest one to overcome.
I still remember the first day we met our first group. Waiting by the veranda for forty-five minutes with the sun shining bright – not a situation to complain about! However, the time we spent waiting over the next five weeks can add up to frustration, as pressure to get the work done weighed heavier day by day. We always joke about how there are two different time zones here: the mzungu (foreigner) time, and Kenyan time; so whenever an appointment is being made, you have to make sure what time scale you are relying upon! Business conduct in Nakuru is by no doubt a lot more relaxed than the busy life of London. To say I have not enjoyed an extra hour just sitting with my steaming hot cup of coffee, doing nothing is a lie. The slow flow of events gives a nice break from the always crowded, stressful hassle of the big city. Refreshing and much appreciated indeed! Yet, when appointments have to constantly be rescheduled, and filled up meeting slots force everything to be as precise as possible, it can be a challenge not pulling out every last strand of hair on your head.
I recalled an incident in Java (one of the most Westernised coffee house in the city) where I could no longer contain my temper. It went something like this: I was in a hurry to get to an important appointment; and having working all morning, I was not in the best of mood for waiting around. 30 minutes had already passed when I asked the waiter very politely for the bill, I was desperate to move. Another half an hour, and my change was still nowhere to be seen. I could see they were getting fed up of my waving hands, but I was also getting fed up of waiting just for something which can be done with one simple action. By the end of that hour, fuming, I went to complain at the cashier where I demanded for my change to be handed there and then. Obviously, nobody left feeling ‘happy bunny’ about the whole situation. It was then that I realised there has to be a way both parties can avoid getting on each other’s nerve.
So somewhere in-between the second and third week, we all came up with different coping mechanism for lateness. Understanding that many of the locals whom we worked with have their own businesses to run, with much more worries than ours, we erase hard feelings out of the picture. Some groups decided instead of meeting in cafés, they would rather meet at their business stalls so the locals can comfortably continue selling to customers and make a profit, while we can also swiftly exchange ideas with them as well as observe them at work. During unavoidable circumstances when you do need to wait around, it is best to catch up with an interesting book, or fill it up with completing questionnaires, data analysis or simply planning ahead for the upcoming weeks. As the workload rolled in, I suppose waiting time can be turned into productive period which means by the time I get back from work at roughly 6pm, I can afford to go to the gym, or have a beer over an interesting conversation with other fellows after dinner knowing that it is well deserved!
Although there is concern over pickpocketing in Nakuru, with a certain degree of alertness, most fellows bring their laptops or high-tech devices (notebook, tablets, smartphones) with them during working day. It’s fairly easy to access internet connection around town and catch up with a few news headlines, upload a couple of selfies to entertain family and friends, design business cards or simply laugh over ridiculous Youtube videos. However, it is not advisable to take valuable property when working out of town, having to walk through crowded places like the market or use them on the street in public places where spying eyes can cause future troubles.
Tight communities are engraved into Kenyan culture; people can freely stop on the street to catch up with a neighbour instead of rushing everywhere; and why although people do not own much here, I can see smiles that are brighter than those I have observed in gloomy London.
Written by Truc Doan, 2013 Fellow