Electronics and Communicating in Kenya

My reliable Nokia phone and Airtel internet modem

It’s no secret that I almost always travel with my computer and some accessories, but suddenly when it came time for my temporary move to Kenya, I gave my electronics packing a lot more thought. Why? Well for starters I want to have a more normal life here in Kenya: I want to call home when I feel like it, communicate with friends here in Kenya, and have a reliable system in place to get work done as well. I also learned from past experiences that a bad outlet can easily fry a computer plug and that Apple hard drives are not above crashing. 

Here are the electronics I brought with me to Kenya:

Computer: I really can’t live without my Mac computer. I have a Macbook Pro and while I always considered it a necessity for photo editing, email, blogging, and general use, I also need my design programs as I work on my business here. It’s sad to say this about an inanimate object but it’s pretty much like my child. I also greatly enjoy being able to Skype with friends and family back home. Since I have internet, this is a free way for me to communicate, and plus I get to see everyone rather than just speaking on the phone.

Phone: I have a little Nokia phone that I got while working in South Africa last year. While it only cost about $20, I absolutely love it (especially my British-accented female alarm clock who tells me “It’s time to get up”). It has a slot for a SIM card so I can use it in any country. I’m also considering buying a smart phone though, because I spend about two hours each day sitting in traffic (and that’s if I don’t transit during rush hour) so I can spend that time checking and responding to emails and getting a lot of internet work done during my commute. I can also use my internet to talk to people via Skype to help pass the time. Smart phones are pretty cheap here (as long as you stay away from an iPhone), so that’s next on my list to buy.

Internet: Also known as a modem back home, I use a dongle to access the internet. I unlocked a Safaricom dongle a few years ago to be able to use it everywhere I traveled, but now on my Macbook Pro, I discovered that it crashes every time I plug it in. I decided to go with Airtel here in Kenya, because the modems are ridiculously cheap and they still offer unlimited monthly internet bundles (Safaricom did away with unlimited this year). My other option was to have wireless internet installed by the cable company, but it’s too much of a hassle since I’m here a short time, and it’s a little more expensive. Plus, I don’t have a TV so the cable would be pointless. I did discover though that my modem will not work in my living room, so I have to go into my bedroom to get service. Frustrating, but at least I have internet.

Phone Network: There are plenty of phone carriers in Kenya to choose from and have greatly expanded since I even came here for the first time a few years back. I use Safaricom mostly because that’s what friends have (meaning it’s cheaper for me to call on the same network). I can also buy text messaging bundles that make it cheap for me to communicate. I used to think phone usage here was so cheap. Then I realized that this is only the case if you keep your phone calls to like 30 seconds. When you talk 10 or 15 minutes at a time it adds up. So, I have been trying to use more text messaging and less phone calls for short messages. I can also call the US for 5 shillings/minute (or about 6 cents). Another reason to have Safaricom is for mpesa. It is a local money transfer system that uses your phone. My friends were actually robbed yesterday and I used mpesa this morning to transfer money to them so they weren’t stranded. I believe for practicality and safety, a phone is essential when traveling in places like Kenya (unless of course you’re on an organized tour and not living or traveling alone).

Backup: I use external hard drives to back up my information. There are plenty of backup options, including cloud storage, but I chose to stick with external hard drives because they’re just easy to use. I also purchased an extra one when I bought my Macbook Pro so that I could start using Time Machine to backup my computer files. My old Macbook crashed earlier this year and a few things on my computer were not backed up. Taking preventative measures to avoid losing files, like backing up regularly, will help minimize the tragic moments when you realize you’ve lost important data. I keep all of my photo files on these external hard drives so that they don’t take up space on my computer.

Music and Photos: I brought my iPod with me but mostly for the plane and long bus journeys. I don’t feel comfortable carrying it around. I also have a little Sony pocket camera and my trusty old Olympus dSLR camera. I don’t carry either of those around with me, and hope to use my soon-to-own smart phone for everyday photos. I have already taken my cameras on my first trip north though and am eager to post photos.

Plugs: I brought along my adaptor for my US cords, but this time I also bought a travel surge protector so that I don’t fry my computer cord again. (I also brought the computer cord to my old computer as a backup though, because without my computer, I wouldn’t be able to work).

Costs: In case you were wondering, unlimited internet for 1 month is 3000 Ksh ($35). If I weren’t streaming video like I do on Skype, I could buy internet by the gig, and it would be cheaper. But that SIM card for internet I can use at home on my computer, or put it in my smart phone and use on the go. I probably spend about 50 Ksh ($0.60) per day on phone credit (it costs me 5 Ksh per day to send 20 text messages). Receiving calls and text messages is free; you only pay to call or send.

So that’s a little breakdown on how I communicate and use technology here in Kenya.

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