Dear America, I Miss You

Being myself back home… and not getting stared at!

My apartment was broken into last month and I was robbed (that’s after being pick-pocketed), and I have since moved into temporary housing until I move into my new place at the end of the week. I have written about it, but want to wait to post it publicly until things have been finally resolved with my landlord. However, based on my old apartment, I had written a list of things I missed from home. I thought I would share it with you before some of them become no longer relevant in my new place!

A list of things I miss about America:

1. Level countertops. Not only have I lost some perfectly good food because of it, but I have broken two eggs that rolled off the counter, one of which went splat on my foot. I now value the craftsmanship we have back home.
2. Correct time on my phone. The time does not come automatically on your phone here. So, if I switch my phone off and back on and forget to reset it, the time will be wrong. And then the alarm I set will not go off when it is supposed to and I end up being late.
3. Fridge. Oh how I value cold milk now that I’m sticking powdered milk in my tea. I also love that it keeps my vegetables fresh and that I don’t have to buy meat a couple of hours before I want to cook it- I can buy it when I’m at the grocery store even if it’s the day before!
4. Oven. I’m not a great cook, but I really love to bake. And I can’t make my security guard and housekeeper love me as much if I can’t bake them homemade chocolate chip cookies. I also love to bake dishes like teriyaki chicken and casseroles and none of that is possible.
5. Quiet ceilings… ie no rats. My apartment had rats. Giant rats. I know this because a girl in my building had two come in her house one evening. I also heard them fighting on occasion and they sounded like the size of cats. Ick. Brings back my memories of the giant rats in southeast Asia.
6. Less traffic. Traffic in Nairobi is insane! A route that takes 15 minutes with no traffic will take you 2 hours sometimes. It’s really horrible and makes it impossible to keep firm plans and a tight schedule. Some days, for no reason at all, traffic will just be backed up. One guy called into the radio and it took him 3-1/2 hours to get to work in town and he’s from an area about 12 miles away.
7. Speaking the local language. Many people speak English here and I know some Swahili and a tiny bit of sheng (the slang language spoken in Nairobi), but not being fluent means I miss out on some really great moments. Like when a kickass woman proceeds to belittle a businessman on a bus for 30 minutes because he refused to pay the proper fare. She offered to lend him the 10 Ksh he was lacking and when he mouthed off to her, she stood up on the bus and blasted him. I caught parts of it, and it was pretty hilarious but I know I missed out on some of her insults. When you sit in traffic for a long time, entertainment like this is highly valuable.
8. Amazon. Let me repeat- AMAZON. If you’re like me, all of you Americans take Amazon for granted. It’s freaking amazing. Try finding suede cord or measuring spoons in Nairobi. It’s impossible. And I spent a week on it when I really wished I could just hit the buy button on Amazon. Online shopping is the best invention in the past 100 years I think (after Macbook Pros of course. Sigh. I really do miss you.).
9. Knowing where to purchase things that would be a no-brainer back home. See number 8.
10. Mexican food. And Moes. Oh my god how do people on this earth live without Mexican food???
11. Chatting on the phone longer than 30 seconds. Since you pay by the minute here for phone usage and it is very expensive during peak hours, most people you talk to won’t say hi. They answer the phone saying, “Sema.” (which means ‘Speak’). People never say ‘Bye’ on the phone here either. I might still be talking and the person has hung up already. It took me some time to get used to it.
12. Internet that works in my living room. My internet only worked in my bedroom at my former apartment. It was so annoying, as I spent most evenings sitting in bed to work, rather than at my desk I dreamed of sitting at.
13. Washing machine. Hand washing clothes is time consuming and hand washing jeans just sucks. I had a housekeeper at my former place and it cost me next to nothing to get my clothes washed, but with the long hours I work, it was really hard to find a time when she could come. So half the time, I am still washing my own clothes.
14. Variety of food. See number 10. And number 3. I have learned to put eggplant in everything. It’s a great meat substitute for spaghetti and stews. I start off every single dish I make here with onions and tomatoes. It makes me wonder what I ever cooked back home because here I only have about 10 staples in my house and every dish revolves around those items. It has made me a more fearless cook though, of which I am thankful.
15. Mzungu meat aka boneless meat. If you go to a butcher, especially outside of Nairobi, your chopped meat will have bones in it. I have discovered boneless meat at the grocery store (at a high price) but since I eat at a lot of local restaurants, I am weary of the meat. I have found two local restaurants in town that serve boneless beef and I jumped for joy. If it’s not bones though, many places serve highly fatty meat. However, the meat thing is only a big issue when I am at a local’s house and have to prepare myself for the worst.
16. Wearing nicer clothing without standing out. I look like a scrub pretty much every day. Not only is my clothing simple but half of it is stretched out from hand washing or too big because I’ve lost weight. I have two nicer tops with me, but when I wear them I get even more attention than I already get as a white person. I don’t like it. So, I just have to stick to being a hot mess aka a slob, for now.
17. Recycling. I cringe every time I have to throw something in the trash that I would adamantly recycle back home. The good thing is, Kenya has the option of buying all sodas in glass bottles, so at least I can do that and return them at the store. There are guys who will dig through the trash to collect plastic bottles to recycle. But as for all of the paper, cardboard, tin cans… it really physically hurts me to put them in the trash.
18. Soft water. I have never experienced such bad water in my life (the water was much better when I stayed in the village in Kenya) and my hair is damaged and dried out. I don’t know what to do (Suggestions?). At home I have to wash my hair every day or else it will look greasy. Here, I wash it every other day and I don’t rinse out the conditioner. My hair is still disgustingly dry and difficult to get a brush through. I’m pretty sure my hair dresser is going to give me a look of horror when I show up in a few months.
19. Security. Probably a no-brainer since I have been pickpocketed and my apartment has been broken into (even with a security guard and electrical fencing!) but I really miss just walking down the street and not clutching my purse or looking out my periphery for who is coming near me. I miss not being able to carry a backpack on my back. I miss sitting in a restaurant and not having my belongings in my lap. I miss not having to see security guards with machine guns everywhere I go. I miss not having to worry whether someone will give me my change back and not having to yell at dirty conductors who try to swindle me.
20. Running water. Yes, even if Nairobi is a modernized city, there is a water and electricity shortage. At my temporary house, the city water has been off for 4 days now. My bathroom is hooked up to a storage water tank, but I have no water in my kitchen. Try doing dishes in a tiny bathroom sink. It’s not fun.

So, as a foreigner living in Kenya, I have definitely had a wake-up call. I have dreamed of living in Kenya for quite some time, and now that my wish has come true, I realize that in the long-term it probably isn’t for me. I could definitely live abroad again but somewhere that is safer, as stress has really taken its toll on me. I recognize now how many people would kill to live in a country with such freedoms and guilty pleasures. Oh America, I really do miss you sometimes.

13 thoughts on “Dear America, I Miss You

  • Excellent post Laura! It is so easy to take our cosy, convenient lives for granted… clicking on the purchase button, pushing Start on the washing machine, even having level work tops (wouldn’t even enter my head that a counter top wouldn’t be level!). You’ve certainly make me feel more appreciative this morning! :)

    • BLathnaid,

      Some things I expect from my previous trips to Kenya, but it really never crossed my mind that counter tops in a modernized apartment would not be level. Oh Africa.

  • Again, so glad you’re safe and days away from moving into an even safer place. Maybe it’ll have level counter tops to protect the eggs!

    Do you need/want anything shipped to you? Would it get there without being opened?

    • Heather,

      Such a sweet friend. Shipping to Kenya is next to impossible as the customs people are likely corrupt. In 2008, they tried to charge me $100 to pick up a $20 gift that someone sent me. I will just hang tight until I’m home ;)

  • Laura,

    I know I don’t know you personally but I feel like I know you because of your blog, is there anything from Texas you would like? I would be happy to ship you something, I use Wen Conditioner as a leave in conditioner my hair was fried from bleaching it and you would not believe how soft my hair is not for it, and a little can go a long way, which is what I bet you need in Kenya. Good luck and thanks for this post! It is eye opening to see what we take for granted in America. Something I know I need to be reminded of daily. Good Luck!


    • Jennifer,

      That is SUCH a kind offer. As I replied to Heather, shipping to Kenya is not really an option because of the duties that would be charged for me to receive anything. I am definitely going to seek out this Wen Conditioner when I get home (or have someone bring it to me) so muchos gracias for the tip!

  • Oh my gooodness yes, Mexican food how I miss you. And level counter tops. And just about everything else you mentioned. I just spent the whole day trying to find a single piece of tuperware (in Colombia) so I can save some food I’m cooking and cram it into the hostel fridge.

    Traveling is wonderful, but home is pretty great too.

    • Luckily Kenya has a local plastics company called KenPoly so tupperware is not a problem for me! Sometimes it surprises me at the random things that they happen to have, while other things that I would think are a given to sell, seem nonexistent.

  • Haha, can definitely agree on many of these. You may be in luck with mexican food. Was talking with Alan Boswell, a journalist based in Nairobi, and he said that he is going in on a mexican restaurant with some friends there!

  • Interesting points, I can understand that you miss them all!
    The one thing I usually miss is drinking water from the tap. Even if it’s possible in many countries, the water tastes so bad you don’t even want to drink it.

  • Yeah, I feel the Mexican food issue even in parts of the United States..I would die without it. Also, it’s funny because there was another stranded Carnival Cruise ship this week, and the conditions on the ship got to be really bad and everyone was complaining, etc..but people don’t realize that millions of people throughout the world live that way every single day for their entire lives (like the conditions in Kenya). I guess ignorance is bliss, but when you’ve had luxuries it’s really hard to give them up.

  • It’s interesting to me how easy it is to take everyday things for granted. I’ve had similar experiences where I go to a foreign country and realize they’re missing this or missing that. In the end though, it’s a great feeling to learn to adapt and thrive in a new environment.
    As for Amazon, maybe you could work out something with someone from the States to order what you need and then have them ship it to you? I agree, Amazon has revolutionized shopping for random, specialty items. It can be hard to find them otherwise

  • I live in Kenya. I couldn’t help myself giggling at your comments. I know, what you said is so true but try seeing the positive in those negatives so that when you finally get home, you’ll realize that the best things are always taken for granted, for example, who thought that one day you would be fussing over water, right? Anyway it’s a case of the grass being greener on the other side only to find it was a swamp.

    Only in Kenya.

    By the way I found your article lovely, from a fresh pair of eyes.

    :) I’m just imagining that once back home, you’ll be quite the spectacle. Everyone wanting to hear of your “Travels in Kenya” ;) ;) ;)

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