You have landed in Nairobi at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport. It is about 9 am in the morning and you can see your first animals at the adjacent Nairobi Game Park. All kinds of thoughts race through your mind and you are wondering what it might be like. Soon, you will find out...Welcome to Africa.
If you are landing at Entebbe in Uganda, you fly in near the city, you can see the matoke fields below you, there is Lake Victoria and the old airfield that the Israelis raided during Idi Amin’s time and soon you will come down the steps onto Mother Africa.
Once you are here, there are the immigration forms, the visa application, have your International Health Card ready in Uganda. Fill out the forms and move up the line. Immigration officials are quite helpful and usually nice. Customs you will find the same way.
Change some money into local currency in the airport at the bank. It is best that you have local currency when you make your first transaction with the taxi driver. Hopefully you know how to bargain, you can save quite a bit of money if you can. The London Cabs in Nairobi are pretty well regulated but even they will come down in price. I have also found them to be very honest. A camera left in the back seat was brought back to me by the driver at my residence.
Now that you have safely landed and are about to go into town. Do yourself a favor, leave judgment and your western standards behind and that goes for your sense of time and schedule. I found that most people who do not do so are overwhelmed by what they see, the need that in places can be so great.
The poverty that can be overwhelming, and if you compare it to Hometown USA, it will not measure up to your standard, but if you enjoy it as Nairobi, Kampala, Kigali, Kisumu, Jinja and enjoy the moment then you will be taking a new journey.
Most people in the West are outcome focused human doings. You are what you do, what you have, where you live and what you drive. Africans are process orientated, relationally orientated. We grow up, away from our roots, the African grows down to his or her roots, family, clan, tribe.
Africa is a different culture and a mosaic of many cultures and traditions. Life for many is harder here, life most often is shorter, people live in the moment, celebrate each day. In Rwanda it used to be said “I am glad you made it through the night.” In Uganda and Kenya, “how was your night?” There is a deep concern for a quality of life, of not missing out. Things are not measured by minutes, by appointments but more the quality of life. If one does not understand that, there will a cultural shock when one goes to Africa.
Westerners often become frustrated by the little things, instead of the big thing, “Quality of life and quality of relationships. Life, birth, marriage, graduations, death are all celebrated as family, clan, tribe, village or community. Go to Africa with an open heart and mind and learn some things that might enrich your own life. Oh, by the way if you do not know it now, “Hakuna matata,” no problems, if you do not have patience now, you will have after your season in Africa...kwaheri...
Practical tips that help and save you some grief:
Keep the jewelry to a minimum. I have seen earrings torn off a woman and this one was a pierced kind causing a lot of pain.
If you carry a wallet, cash, keep it in your front pocket so you can put your hand over it. Do not carry a money pack, that can easily be cut off and be gone before you know it.
Keep your passport in safe keeping and have a photo copy of it with you.
If you are staying for a long period of time, get an air evacuation insurance in case of a medical situation. It is not very expensive and a good idea in case of an accident or medical emergency.
Don’t act lost even if you are. You will attract attention that is not desirable and often it can mean that you might be followed. You can go into any shop and ask for direction. (Listen to your African Friends and follow their advice)
Do not drink the tap water, and if you are somewhere do not take ice in your drink unless you have been assured that it is purified water and that would be rare.
If you not near any source of bottled water, boil it for 20 to thirty minutes. Even some of my African friends have come down with typhoid in Nairobi by drinking tap water. When you brush your teeth, used boiled or bottled water. Where I live in Uganda, I boil my coffee water a few times before using it.
If you cannot peel it, don’t eat it. Stay away from raw things since unless you have a hearty system, otherwise it is Imodium time.
If you are invited for dinner, eat what is there. I have had tea in Kibera slum with rats running around the house but I certainly do not want to come across as the ugly American who rejects hospitality.
If you are staying somewhere where your laundry is done for you, “do not include your undergarments.” Africans find that offensive. Do them in the bathroom and hang them up in your room.
In most public places such as the post office, banks, airline offices, there are most often no such things as lines or queues, there is a sort of free for all. Two places the welcoming and kind African turns into this warrior person on the road driving or in a queue (line). The first time I tried to buy stamps in Kisumu, it took me 45 minutes, after that I too became a warrior with a gentle side of course.
Driving in Africa? Have patience, lots of it. Get used to the speed bumps, the police checks with barriers across the road and the pot holes in the road.
Before you swim in open body of water, make sure that there is not a Bilharzia danger in the lake or stream. That is a nasty group of worms that can invade your body and cause havoc. There are claims of Bilharzia free, but most lakes are not.
Taking pictures: If you are taking pictures of people up-close, ask first, some find it offensive to have their picture taken, or think that you are profiting from it.
If you do not know how to bargain, or it makes you uncomfortable, get used to the ancient dance of humorous haggling over the price. It is expected, and if you don’t the seller of wares will be disappointed. Do not accuse the seller of cheating. Keep smiling.
The biggest tip would be one of the cultural adjustments. How does one do that. It is the process of immersion. Allow yourself to be immersed into Africa, it sounds, scents, sights and most of all people.
The people of East Africa are some of the friendliest in the world. They love spending time with westerners and we have much to learn from them. Enjoy the new friendships, be open, be willing to learn and ask questions.