As soon as I began to tell people we were moving to Morocco, a country in North Africa, I was almost immediately asked about various wildlife; lions, elephants, tigers etc. Most people were surprised to discover Morocco has none of these. This wasn’t “Africa” to them. There is a very singular understanding in the US of what constitutes Africa, and that it somehow is a very large monolith. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Did you know the area of the continental United States would fit 3 times into the continent of Africa? Just imagine how diverse the US is culturally, politically, and geographically – now multiply that by 3 – at least. I thought it would be interesting to reach out to other expat bloggers that are living around Africa and have them share about their adopted country. Over the next few months I’m going to take you on a journey all over the continent I now call home.
Second Stop: Kenya
Kim Siegal lives with her family in western Kenya. By day she works for an organization that does research on development interventions to see how well they actually do. From her website, Mama Mzungu “The blog is about being an unusual breed of expat. We’re not missionaries motivated by faith. We’re not embassy workers cloistured in capital cites. We’re not young unattached adventure-seekers starting their career as underpaid aid workers. We occupy a space somewhere in between all of that.”
What are some of the major cities in your country? How much is urban vs rural?
Nairobi is the capital and by far the biggest city, with the coastal city of Mombasa coming in second. We live in Western Kenya’s largest city – Kisumu. Like a lot of Africa, Kenya is becoming more urban but still the majority of the population lives in the rural areas as smallholder farmers.
What are the primary industries people work in? Most people (three-quarters of the population) farm on shambas, growing staple crops like maize, beans, millet, sorghum and cassava for mainly for consumption. Kenya’s biggest agricultural exports are tea, coffee and fresh flowers.
What types of wildlife are predominant? Kenya is known for it’s exotic wildlife and it draws people from around the world to its big game parks. Visitors regularly see giraffe, elephant, rhino, zebra, wildebeast, lion, leopard, cheetah, buffalo, all kinds of antelope. The diversity is stunning. Kenya also draws birders from around the world to see some of the worlds greatest bird biodiversity.
What are some of the staple foods/meals that people eat? The staple food is ugali, which is made often from maize (corn) but can also be made from cassava, millet or sorghum. It’s about the consistency of playdough and you simply break off a piece from a mound and use it to eat stews or greens. Like most staples (rice or pasta) it doesn’t have much flavor itself but is very filling and a great way to compliment a stew. Kenyans where I live eat a lot of fish (tilapia, omena, perch) from lake victoria, but in other areas they eat more goat, cow or chicken. Most everywhere people eat leafy greens and beans as well.
What is the education system like? The education system is a British colonial hangover. Classes are in English and it’s a very formal system in which uniforms are required. There are 8 years of primary school and 4 of secondary school. The government has made primary school “free” (there are still some remaining fees which make it difficult for the poorest to attend) and this has expanded access tremendously, however it has led to some overcrowding. There are qualifying exams to get into the best secondary schools and beyond. Kenyans take education very seriously and spend an enormous amount of their income to keep their children in school. They also start children early (generally as young as 3) in a level called “baby class.”
Please talk a little bit about the ethnic groups, religions, and languages represented in your country. There are 42 different language groups in Kenya and none has more than 22% of the population. Much of the population is Christian, however there are sizable populations of Muslims on the coast and elsewhere. There is also a large population of Indians who came here in the colonial era and now comprise a large merchant class.
If you were not born in the country, what made you decide to move here? My family moved here to work for an NGO (charity) that researches anti-poverty programs to ascertain if they are effective and then works to scale up those programs which are proven.
What is one (or more) misconception people have about your country?
When people think of Kenya, they think of luxury game viewing safaris, swahili coast beach scenes and … maybe crime. Nairobi’s, not totally undeserved, nickname is Nairobbery. But most of the country is outside of the game parks, beach resorts and capital city. And most of it is exceedingly friendly and safe.
What is your favorite part of living in this country? Number 1 by far has got to be the people. Kenyans are warm, inviting, and hospitable. It’s easy to strike up a conversation and instantly feel like you’re with family. And they love children. I feel like raising children here I’m instantly part of a large extended family of sorts and virtual strangers will joke around easily with my boy and offer to carry my baby when I’m struggling.
You can read more and follow Kim and her family’s adventures on;
Blog: Momma Mzungu
Facebook: Mama Mzungu
Are you an expat that has lived or is currently living in Africa? Help me cover every country on the continent by sharing your story! Email me today!