Saturday, December 22, 2007

December 21, 2007 – Welcome Home or Nothing Says Christmas Like a Flood

(posted later than written)

We found it! Our new apartment! Yesterday, Kristoffer and I decided to take matters into our own hands apartment hunting. The realtors are not helpful here and we were unable to feel really happy about moving into any of the apartments that we had previously seen. The night before we had started driving around calling up phone numbers that individuals posted about apartments, calling different property companies, and talking to security guards. Yesterday we continued doing that until we found the place we now call home.

Our landlord Anuja, who we love, is a Kenyan born woman of Indian descent. She was educated in London so when I first spoke to her on the phone I assumed she was British. She is so nice! The apartment is next to one we were considering, but it is set back a little from the road so it is not as noticeable. It is our favourite and most preferred street to live on. Ours is a top (4th) floor apartment so we have the biggest balcony with a nice view! Once we saw it, we just knew it was the one. Compared to everything else we had seen, with the exception of Bent’s place, it is very “us”. We moved in 3 hours after we saw it! It has a living room, eat-in kitchen, laundry room, 3 bedrooms, and 3 bathrooms. The ceilings are at least 15 feet high, which we love, and the floors are hardwood except in the kitchen and bathrooms. It is 1.5 years old so that is good, except even brand new in Nairobi does not look like brand new in either the US or Europe. The problem is that labor here is very cheap and workers aren’t actually educated about how to do what they are doing, so the quality isn’t super high. Regardless, our apartment has charm and is a normal size and we love it. We sacrificed a pool and a gym in order to have a place on a very safe street. We have a gate, 24 hour security, another gate, and an alarm system. Anuja’s previous tenant worked for the UN as well and the UN comes to security proof every apartment to their standards. They will be here next week to give us the once over again.

Upon moving in last night, we decided our first order of business was to do laundry! Anuja left us a fridge, washer, and bed which we could buy from her eventually. When we went to do laundry, we realized the washer needed to be hooked up. The little gadget that connects the washer hose to the water spout was broken so we couldn’t get it to work. When Kristoffer went to screw the cap back on the spout, it cracked and water began to leak. We couldn’t turn off the water because we don’t have access to the basement. Kristoffer did everything imaginable to stop that leak but the laundry room was quickly flooding. We went to the 24 hour store at 10:00 at night (we had never been out that late here before so you know we were desperate!), fearing immediate eviction!, but they didn’t have the right gadget…only a really big bucket. I couldn’t get a plumber in the evening (no such thing as a 24 hour plumber in Kenya, I learned from Anuja today) so there was nothing else we could do. We had even asked one of our security guards to come up and have a look and he couldn’t do anything either without that gadget!

After scooping bowls of water into the sink, the laundry room was a little less wet and we finally went to bed at midnight. Kristoffer got up every hour to empty the bucket and to curse himself...he felt so awful, but it was truly an accident that he couldn’t have prevented. In the morning, he had to go to work before the stores opened to buy the gadget so he left me emptying buckets of water and having to face the music with Anuja. She couldn’t have been nicer. She actually said that her father had trouble disconnecting the washer when the other tenant moved out, and probably he was the one who broke the gadget! She got a plumber (Morris) to come fix it, which took no time and was very inexpensive for labor and the part, and she got the caretaker of the compound (Jacob) to come clean up the mess.

That was actually totally new for me. It is expected here that everyone who has money or is an expatriate will have staff, or servants. These are Kenyan people who work for you for extremely little money – a driver, a housekeeper, a gardener, a nanny, a cook. I know this is true in other developing countries as well and, quite frankly, the economy depends on this exchange. However, as an American who never had a cleaning person or a driver (except my parents!), it still makes me uncomfortable. So when Anuja arranged for Jacob to come and clean all of the floors of the apartment and the mess in the laundry room on his lunch hour for the price of 200 Kenyan shillings (Ksh)…which equals less than $3.50…I was so stressed! He is the first Kenyan I have met who didn’t speak any English at all so I couldn’t communicate with him. Anuja told me he said that he would come around every couple of days to see if “Mama” wants anything to be done (the lady of the household is always called “Mama” by staff here), at least until we decide if we are going to hire help. Yikes! I suppose we will consider the idea when we are a little more settled and, racked with guilt that Jacob was getting paid so little, I gave him a generous Christmas tip.

So now the flood is over and we are unpacked in our unfurnished-but-for-a-bed apartment. The bed here is actually too soft for my back so we are going to buy a firm bed right now. I think I will have fun furnishing and decorating this place and it will keep me occupied until I can find a job!


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