Have you ever wondered what’s it like to house sit in Nairobi, Kenya? I know I had never even given it a thought before this opportunity came along. House sitting in Africa so far for me had been nothing but luxurious homes in South Africa. Would it be any different in Kenya?
One, day, while sitting in my comfortable beachfront home in Cape Town, South Africa, I decided to check the latest offerings available on Trustedhouseitters.com. Listings in Africa on this site or any house sitting website, are few and far between. To my surprise, I saw a month-long sit in Nairobi, Kenya, taking care of two cats and a parrot. The dates would give me a two-week gap between my current sit in Cape Town and the start of this sit. I decided to apply for the sit, and amazingly I was accepted for it in just a few minutes. I guess not many people liked the idea of a month in Nairobi, and to be honest, I’m not sure that I really did either.
Via WhatsApp, I offered the homeowners in Cape Town the opportunity to enjoy two more weeks of European summer instead of coming back to winter in Cape Town. Within the hour I received a message that they had changed their flights and would now return home two weeks later than planned. Perfect! I would now get to spend a few extra weeks in one of my favorite places in the world. Even better, I wouldn’t have to plan what to do for the two week gap, or pay for any hotels!
The choice of flights from Cape Town to Nairobi was not great. Two of the three options had hideous schedules, and the third option was double the price. With my travel agent knowledge, I was actually able to get on the direct overnight flight with Kenya Airways. By sneakily tricking the system, I was able to get a good flight for about the same price as the other options with poor schedules.
I had no idea what I was going to do with myself in Nairobi for a whole month. After a little research on the internet, I was even less convinced that it was a good idea. But July 4th soon came around and I was on my way to Kenya for the first time.
After an uneventful and empty flight with a whole row to myself, I safely arrived at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport at around 5am. As there were only twenty people on my flight, most of them just in transit, I was through immigration and customs in just a few minutes. The homeowner was working that day but she arranged for her driver to pick me up. I picked up a new Airtel sim card for my phone while waiting for him, and soon enough I was experiencing the notorious Nairobi traffic on the way to my new home for the next month.
After almost two hours of Nairobi traffic, we pulled into my new compound and home for the next month. At this point I was thankful that this sit didn’t come with a car. This meant I would never have to drive myself around the crazy streets of Nairobi.
I was greeted by Petronilla, my housekeeper and friend for my stay here. She gave me a quick tour of the house before showing me to my room and instructing me to take a nap. And nap I did! Once I awoke, she cooked me a wonderful lunch while I waited for the homeowner and her son to arrive home. Upon their arrival I got an introduction to the facilities of the compound, and to the ever present security staff. As I would’t have my own car during my stay they also offered to take me grocery shopping.
The nearest decent supermarket was in the nearby neighborhood of Westlands. It was located inside the Westgate Shopping Mall. Security was tight at the mall, including dogs, cameras and metal detectors, and all for good reason. In September of 2013, there was a major terrorist attack at this mall. Somali gunmen belonging to Al-Shabaab took over the mall and held everyone inside hostage. 67 people died in the attack and over 200 were injured before they were freed. This would be where I would be doing my shopping for the next month!
The house was located in a secure compound in the wealthiest neighborhood in Nairobi. There were about forty houses in the compound, but as far as I could tell, not a single Kenyan lived there. It had everything you could wish for for a comfortable life in Nairobi. Security is the main thing expats look for when living in this crazy city, and there was no shortage of that. I also had a gym, swimming pool, tennis courts, mini golf amongst other things to keep me busy when I needed a day away from the city.
The house itself was pretty luxurious too, especially by African standards. I had everything I needed for a very comfortable stay in Kenya. It came with two very friendly cats, Pamira and Jelondy, and a rather interesting African Grey parrot named Canaillou. I’d taken care of plenty of cats before, but never a parrot. Caniallou was quite the talker and singer, but unfortunately our conversations were limited. As his owners were French, his English was pretty limited. He was free to go anywhere he liked in the house or outside. But for the most part, he seemed quite happy in or around his cage and would never stray too far.
I would feed him his usual assortment of seeds every morning, but fresh fruit or vegetables was his favorite. Carrots, apples and passion fruit would be the things that he looked forward to every day.
Many house sits I do come with a maid or housekeeper. While some may consider that a luxury, it is often just an inconvenience too. You usually have to be home to let them in, or lock up when they are done. Sometimes you need to give them a ride, or take care of their payment. You feel guilty sitting on the couch watching TV in your underwear.
This time it was a blessing to have a housekeeper. Not only did we become good friends, but also she gave me great advice. Like where to go, or not go in Nairobi, how to get there, how much to pay for things, etc. Petronilla would also keep the house sparkling clean. But the main benefit of having her was that she cleaned the parrots cage every few days! I never knew how messy a parrot could be! Between all the food he would drop, the feathers he would lose, and of course, parrot poop, cleaning up after him would be quite a task. Luckily that was something I never had to worry about for my whole stay.
Pamira and Jelondy were much easier than the parrot. they were friendly yet undemanding. They were quite happy to be left inside the house all day, or to be locked outside if I had to leave. This gave me plenty of time to explore the city without worrying too much about them. They would always be there waiting for me at the front door when I got back from my daily outings.
As beautiful of a house I had to stay in, I really didn’t spend much time there. The same would go for the neighborhood. It was probably the nicest area in Nairobi, but sometimes it didn’t feel like Africa. It was boring! During my months stay, I never met a single one of my neighbors in the compound. Most would just drive in and out, and never walk anywhere. The only people I would get to know in the compound and the neighborhood would be the security guards. Most of them were usually bored and would love to chat. They found it fascinating that a mzungu (white man) would actually walk anywhere. Why would you walk when you could afford to have someone drive you?
I would take Uber if coming home late at night, but that wasn’t too often. If venturing out during the day I would either walk into the city or take a matatu. Matatu’s are the local minibusses that locals use to get around. You can expect them to be colorful, loud, crowded but very cheap. They were a great way to get experience the local culture. During my time in Kenya, not once did I ever see another mzungu on the bus with me!
I can honestly say, not once during my month stay at the house was I ever bored. I had my doubts before arriving if I would enjoy that much time in such a busy city. There were a few days where I would just stay at home and go to the gym or the pool, but they were few and far between.
I spent most of my days exploring the city and making new friends. Making friends was hard to avoid in Nairobi, everyone loves to talk to mzungus. Most tourists rarely spend any time in the city. Most are too afraid and just spend one night in a luxury hotel before heading out on safari. It’s definitely not a pretty city. The food isn’t that great. It can be hard to find a cold beer sometimes. It can be a little scary at times, especially if you have never traveled in Africa before.
But there was something about the city I loved. Like most places in Africa, the people are what you will remember the most. I knew this was a place I would be coming back too. I ended up spending about six weeks in Nairobi altogether, and three months in Kenya. It’s not a place that I would want to live forever but I’m already dreaming of going back again one day soon.
So what did I do during my time in the capital of Kenya? I was so busy that you will have to wait for another post to hear some stories…..