A Kenyan’s Guide to London and the UK

This article is a story of Felix Owino and his first trip to London to attend the Youth Summit 2015. He was selected by VSO to represent Kenya amongst a great number of people thanks to the numerous youth, health and educational projects he had taken part in.

The first time I heard his story, I found fascinating the culture shock he went though whilst integrating with British culture and the big city of London.  I decided to interview him and find out more of what he found shocking or surprising during his stay there – little things that the Brits might take for granted but Kenyans see it in a whole different way. Let this be Felix’s guide to London:

Heathrow is a place where the whole world meets – Also, expect to be stopped at border control

 “When I first landed to Heathrow Airport I was flabbergasted by the diversity of passengers and commuters. People from all over the world were gathered in one space – astonishing.

It took me about 2 hours to go through the borders, where my details were being checked and I got asked a lot of questions. A lot of things went through my mind when going through that process but in the end I was let go.

Someone was meant to pick me up at the Arrivals section but with no working phone to call – I panicked. I looked around me to ask for help but was hesitant to ask in case I was being judged, as a completely new person to this country.  Amongst the crowd I spotted someone holding a Kenyan passport! I felt instant joy that I could speak in Swahili with him and not be misunderstood by my accent.

To my relief, I found my guide called Lucy and we made our way out of the airport”

The UK is green; much greener than I expected

“I felt the cold instantly as soon as I stepped out of the airport, even if that time of the year was considered warm for the British public.

The car journey was an eye- opening experience to me. There was so much green everywhere! The green land was filled with sheep and other animals enjoying the fresh grass. I really felt good for them compared to the dry grass the animals have to feed on back in Kenya. I asked Lucy what was the purpose of these animals. She explained to me the sheep were left in the field to feed on the grass and that the wool was being used for clothing. From a Kenyan’s perspective, an animal serves a purpose and that is to be slaughtered and eaten.

These animals called deer also captured my attention. I couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t touch them. They looked so nice!”

The road systems and people minding their own business

 “My journey to the VSO Offices in London was a 45 minute drive from Heathrow airport.

As we approached London, I was looking forward to seeing big buildings. That was the vision I had in mind. I saw people riding bicycles, getting in and out of their bungalow houses. What struck was how quiet the environment was; very calm. People were almost not talking to each other and minding their own business. That was almost opposite to what a Kenyan community is like.

We finally approached the more urban area of London and I could see people being quite busy and driving.

As we were walking with Lucy noticed how strict the road systems were. She was crossing the road very carefully, only when the traffic light system allowed her to. I found the rules quite suppressing.”

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How to shower in the UK

 “As we made our way into the hotel, I was asked if I wanted to shower after my long journey. I immediately replied yes.

The thing that concerned me was that I am used to using a scrubber when I shower. All I was given was a towel and some sort of liquid soap. I was about to ask her for a scrubber but then I realised I was not in Kenya!

‘Is that all I am getting?’ I asked her. She said ‘Yes, that’s all you need. Go ahead and use the shower.’ I went ahead and entered the office showers. It was weird for me not using anything to scrub my body with. I felt like I wasn’t getting any cleaner. Instead, I used lotion and oil.”

Accent is a huge challenge

“The VSO office was a huge are and a lot of people were there. I was expected there as I arrived late.

I was surprised to see my biography all over the wall with all my experience and photos of me documented. People were interested in my background and experience so they came up to me asking questions. The accent was intense and they spoke too fast. I could hardly understand them! The good thing was that the context involved myself so I would just respond to what I’ve done without even understanding the questions fully. I tried to avoid them asking me more questions but trying to think of what they would ask me at the same time.  Moreover, all white people looked the same to me!

I was offered coffee, which tasted disgusting. It came in some sort of powder form. I moved on to the snacks for something sweeter. Strawberries were the lifesaver.”

Weird food everywhere!

“Once the first day was over I was told to have some time to rest and then meet downstairs for dinner at 6 pm. 6 pm? That was so early.

As I was very tired from the trip, I accidentally overslept so someone came upstairs looking for me. I changed clothes very fast and made my way downstairs to go to Zizzi’s for dinner.

When we got into the restaurant I was asked to choose what I wanted. I was too confused with the weird menu. There was nothing on the menu that I could recognise. I decide to wait for people to order their food first and choose from what I could see being served. The food looked very unfamiliar to me. I was concerned of ordering something in case I didn’t like it and it went to waste. I asked my fellow Africans for advice who kind of understood the menu and decide to order something safe. Chicken sounded like the safest of option at that time.”

Exploring London

“Amongst my busy schedule with VSO I had the opportunity to explore London and get to live the London way for a couple of days.

The underground (or tube how Londoners call it) was a very confusing experience. We were give Oyster cards and were told to take good care of them, as they were our form of paying for transport. It was surprising to me how there was no other way in or out of the station but the doors with the barriers. It was scary how swiftly they’d close behind you as soon as you walk through them.

We had the opportunity to visit museums; one of them was the Natural History Museum. Seeing the size of dinosaurs through their skeletons was very exciting. Even the building itself was an artwork.

Buckingham Palace was one of the historical landmarks that was on our list to visit. What raised my eyebrows was, how could such a guarded building with the royalties staying inside be so open to the public? There were tons of tourists around taking pictures with selfie sticks of the guards with the tall hats and red suits. In Kenya, buildings like that are completely closed from the public.

We later visited a pub to unwind from our busy schedule. But to my surprise the doors were closed. My friends pushed the doors to get through. Why would someone have to struggle to get into a pub?

We sat down and then had to walk to the bar to order our drinks. How come didn’t anyone come up to us to take orders? As the bartender was preparing the drinks he poured the beer through a pump, which was connected to a tank. I have never seen beer coming from a tank and then being served into a huge glass. It was called a pint as my fellow Londoners called it. The beer was very cold and fresh. The glass was covered in droplets, which gives you an idea of how cold it was. I very much enjoyed drinking ice-cold beer.”

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A trip to remember

 “My trip to London was one to remember. I am very happy I had this unique experience that I even dreamt of having. This was a Kenyan’s experience in London. What will yours be?”

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