Forced Vacation

This was my first week working at home because of the immigration issues so while I'm still working, I've had a bit of extra free time as well. It was actually quite a convenient time for "forced vacation" to begin because of midterms. In addition to work-work, much of my week was spent studying and taking exams, and at the pool at my apartment enjoying the sun. 

The most exciting night for me this week was Thursday. I was invited by some of my co-workers to go to a going-away party for one of their friends. We arrived at the apartment complex around 9pm to find it full of people, music, food, and drinks. The demographic was mostly expatriates from all over the world, as well as a decent number of Kenyans. The coolest thing for me about the party was the almost everyone there was in a similar line of work. The people I met consisted of PhD students completing their research in Development Economics, students involved in clean water projects with NGOs, and a handful of people who worked for Kiva on their Zip program. Kiva is a micro-lending crowd-funding platform that is doing some pretty interesting stuff (learn more at https://zip.kiva.org/).  

Towards the end of the night, around 2am as I was about ready to head home, the remaining group decided to head down to a Nairobi Night Club -- my colleagues were going, and I made up my mind to join them... it ended up being quite a late night, but I got to see what nightlife is like in Nairobi, and became acquainted with some very cool people. Surely not something I could do every night, but definitely worth the experience.

Tomorrow I am off to Masai Mara on Safari, and will hopefully bring back many more great experiences to share!

New Experiences

The last couple of weeks have been full of new experiences. Last Friday and Saturday the accelerator program I'm working for held an investor day -- a handful of impact-investors flew in from all around the world to meet the entrepreneurs here and get to know their companies. The event was two long days and quite a success. At the end of it all was an evening cocktail party, which was a great opportunity to get to know many of my colleagues in a casual setting, and to try a Tusker, my first Kenyan beer (very good!). 

On Tuesday this week, I went to meet with another company that I've been working with over the past couple of months back in Salt Lake City. This company does waste collection in low income areas, and converts the waste to compost and recycled materials. The company sent someone to pick me up -- but what I didn't expect was to be picked up by a motorcycle. Nairobi's streets are a free-for-all, so on the way there we were weaving in and out of traffic at all kinds of speeds. It was a bit nerve-racking, but a great experience. Once I was there, I was given a tour of their operations throughout the slum of Kangemi. This was my first experience in a slum and almost too much to take in -- it was pretty unbelievable. 

Lastly, on Wednesday this week, immigration officials arrived at my work and took most of the other interns down to the immigration office because they did not have work permits. I was in the same boat, but was fortunately able to leave before I was taken. The result of the situation was that members of my work had to call in a "favor" to get everyone released, otherwise they may have been arrested. Lets just say I am learning quite a bit about how "favors" work in Kenya -- people always want something in return.

So far the experiences have been awesome -- I'm looking forward to more!

 

 

 

Bittersweet First Week

So I've been in Nairobi for a little over a week and have been having an incredible experience. I'm working for an organization called  Growth Africa while they host a 12-week long business accelerator program called Innovation to Impact, in conjunction with a U.S. organization called Village Capital. I'm working at a Finance Associate to help each of the 14 businesses in the cohort develop their financial plan. Most of my first week was spent on initial meetings with these companies for a financial assessment. However, I have had the opportunity to check out local malls and grocery stores as I've begun to get settled in. And most exciting thing so far has been the safari I went on yesterday at Nairobi National Park with a group of the other interns from my office. 

Unfortunately, while I was on safari, a tragedy occurred in Nairobi as there was a terrorist attack and now hostage situation at Westgate Mall only a few miles away from my home. Its a bizarre experience to actually be here while this is happening, when I'm used to watching these type of things on TV. We all hope the situation will be over soon, as this as been one of the worst crises in Kenya's history, comparable to the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. In all, it has made for a bittersweet week as I begin to make this my home for the next three months. 

 

 

 

Arrival

I arrived in Nairobi late on the 11th of September. A fire recently burnt down most of the airport, so when we landed we were escorted onto the landing pad and took shuttles to a large white pavilion to attain visas, and retrieve our luggage. My first thoughts were that it was very green, and very flat. It was dark when I arrived, and after being in a plane for 17 hours and moving to a new time zone 9 hours ahead, it was a bit disorienting. 

Everyone from my flight as well as one or two other planes huddled together in anticipation for our luggage, which was all lined up in rows inside the pavilion rather than on a convenient conveyer-belt as I am used to. As soon as they permitted us to enter the large tent, it was quite a free-for-all and I felt fortunate to have tied a handkerchief around the handle of my bag, making it easy to identify. I quickly retrieved it and climbed through the mess of people and bags onto the arrivals port. On my way, I stopped to convert my dollars to Kenyan Shillings, which trade for about Ksh 84 to $ 1. I also purchased a basic Nokia cell phone with SIM-card, similar what most of our cell phones looked like in the United States 10-15 years ago. 

The airport staff were very helpful and friendly as I made my way through the airport. The weather outside was pretty temperate overall -- thus far it had been around 65-70 F every day (my ability to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit is slowly improving). As I finally reached the arrival port, which was a dirt road with seemingly hundreds of eager cab drivers hoping for business from the new arrivals, I looked out among the ruckus to see a modest Kenyan man wearing glass holding a sign that said "Basil Vetas." I made my way toward Kairo, the man I knew was my ride, and couldn't help thinking how bizarre it was that this man, thousands of miles away from my home, was expecting me, holding a sign bearing my name in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. The interconnectivity of our world is quite powerful I thought. 

The next hour was relatively uneventful as I sat in Kairo's car, which looked like just a normal car (as all the cabs do in Nairobi), because we were stuck in stand-still traffic in the parking lot. It was chaotic as every car in the dirt parking lot tried to force they way through a single narrow road to the rest of Nairobi. However, once we were on the road the drive seemed very fast, as they was not much of a speed limited, nor any traffic lights, through the roads of the city. 

We sped around corners and arrived at my apartment, only to be greeted by a 12-foot wall with electric wire and glass shards at the top, and a guard at the gate who promptly let us in. As we pulled up, I met my landlord and roommate, Fredrik, waiting for me. Fredrik and Katrine are the Danish couple I am staying with; they have lived in Kenya for about two years and were kind enough to take me on as a tenant for the next three months.  Fredrik and I walked up stairs to their apartment and he showed me to my bedroom, and no sooner I was asleep.