Strangers in a Strange Land

Happier times!

Yesterday marked six months in Kenya! And yet it’s only going to be next week that we move into a house with furniture that will be ours, and ideally into a house that we can feel comfortable long-term.

We’ve had a difficult time this past month, with a lack of Christmas spirit, and a forced move. I’m going to be intentionally vague because issues are still ongoing, but it’s important to chronicle the good and the bad here.

We’d gotten our original house before we ever arrived in Kenya, desperate to find a place to settle with the kitties since I had to start working the day after we arrived. And of course there are things you expect.  The house being furnished, maybe the furnishings will be fabulous, and maybe they’ll be awful.  And, as an expat, you expect to be paying more than others.

But in the last two months, it became a bigger, less funny issue.  Our landlords seemed to be trying to trick us into paying fees we weren’t responsible for, and when trying to confirm what our actual responsibilities were for things like electricity, we discovered that we were paying twice as much rent per month as our neighbors.

And it becomes really easy to go from feeling like you’re in someone else’s realm (with their furniture, etc) to feeling like you’re being taken advantage of and unwelcome in your own home.

At the end of the day, when living abroad, you’re reliant on crowdsourced information to find out what’s fair and good.  “How much did you pay for a taxi between A and B?” “Who made your furniture and how much did they charge you?”

To some extent as well you’re reliant on the honesty of your host country delegates, too. Though my interactions with my Kenyan landlord were amicable, the shock of feeling like she was dishonest at the end of our relationship was a reflection on Kenya.

It’s easy to start feeling beleaguered too; you’re not familiar with rules and regulations here. It’s not your home country, and the learning curve when it comes to serious matters feels like a real deficit. A lot of it comes down to following your gut, and if someone doesn’t seem trustworthy, it is a good idea not to give them any more money.

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Our new furniture

Being emotionally unsettled is obviously a side effect of being physically unsettled.  To protect ourselves (and our finances) we had to leave our first house and move in with friends.
We’ve found a new house, and, for the first time, we’ll have furniture of oour own.  I am feeling the urge to nest and buy cushions and lamps, and hang my art properly, and try to find solace in Kenya again.

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Baobob Christmas Tree

It does mean that Christmas will be odd. We’re trying to make do, and find Christmas cheer where we can.

Yesterday I went to the Maasai Market and bought some ornaments and a homemade “Christmas tree”(/earring holder?)  and decorated it while listening to Christmas music.

I feel a bit better, having engaged a lawyer and scheduled a minibreak holiday, but there’s still an element of shellshock.

In fits of self pity too, I’m upset that my old landlords spoiled Christmas, and that our rapid need for moving made me cancel holiday crafting and my Christmas caroling party.

We have amazing friends here already. I have incredible people that work for me and that I work with.

Things will improve, but the point of all of these public feelings is that there are issues you can come across living abroad that are hard to grasp, and are definitely alienating.

New house, new furniture, new year.  Bring it on, 2014.

8 thoughts on “Strangers in a Strange Land

  1. Trust me – you will look back on this and laugh. Maybe not next week, but not too long after. It will be a landmark in the “History of Laura and Adam,” never to be forgotten. Years from now, when the Xmas tree falls over and breaks or one of your kids has the flu or whatever, your first thought will be “not as bad as the year we got evicted for Xmas.” Thinking of you with love – Deb

  2. Hi stranger in strange land. You won’t believe how i found your post. I was searching for the cost of furniture in Kenya to furnish my house there. I am about to close I mean my nephew is doing what they call “Handover” hopefully next week.Here in America we call it closing. The process of buying a house while away has not been smooth I am glad it is almost over. Although I was born in Kenya visit for a couple weeks every other year I haven’t lived there for decades.But guess what stranger? Your new house with your new furniture looks just like mine. I bought a Habiscus at the four way junction at Kiambu road ten minutes to the Airport also near the United Nations. I am looking to furnace it hoping to rent it now and then and at the same time i want to have a place to stay when I visit rather than staying with family all the time. What should Ido given that you had such bad experience with your old landlord and her furniture, should I do it? I already picked out a leather couch and a love seat for my trusted nephew to pick up but I stopped after I saw your post. I would love to ask a few more questions like the going rental rates although I saw a few posted on the three bedroom units but mine has four. I need your expertise including one from that lady with the delicious looking Thanksgiving dinner and from anybody who may have other ideas such us does the U.N. rent for their guests who may come to visit for a few weeks or months? It may be cheaper to put them in house rather than a hotel. Thanks

    • Please feel free to contact me with any additional questions! The UN does not rent for their guests to answer that one, though.

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