So, I know it’s been a while since I last wrote but hopefully you will soon understand why.
My accommodation experiences have been so varied that at times I have laughed, been utterly shocked, completely overwhelmed, in a state of disbelief, relieved, thankful, uncomfortable, desperate, and finally peaceful. Let’s just start by saying, to move four times in one week, is four times too many.
In Gigiri, Nairobi there are four places of accommodation where short-term consultants and interns stay. I had done all my preparatory work, and solidified in June where I would be living. I even confirmed it numerous times before leaving Canada, and upon my arrival in Kenya. Believe me, I was not planning to move quite so much. There is the German School Boarding House (GSBH), where I had arranged to stay for August, Slum Gardens (SG), where I had arranged to stay from September to February, and two other locations, China Gardens and Home 51.
Monday, September 5th came along, I packed my bags and said good-bye to the GSBH, my friends and the manager who was so kind and said “Laura, you’ve been a pleasure to have. Come back anytime. We hope to be seeing you soon.” Little did they know how soon I’d be back.
I arrived at SG by taxi. The guard was expecting me. He opened the gate and inside the taxi drove – right into one of the guard dogs. I thought the dog was running towards the car as the car entered; Ulli (a friend who was kind enough to help me move) thought she saw the dog lying down and the car running into it. Either way, the dog went running away, seemingly fine. There are some words exchanged between the driver and the guard that we did not understand, eventually my bags are unloaded, and I am led to my room. About 10 minutes later Ulli and I are heading to the gate ready to go get my last few things and meet the others for one last drink, when we notice the taxi is still in the compound. He’s not allowed to leave because he hit the dog. The guard is on the phone and we ask some questions trying to determine what’s going on. The dog is walking around sniffing the taxi, so I conclude it must be fine. What seriously injured creature returns to the object that struck it? Ulli asks some more questions about the dog, and the guard tells me to go ahead and get my other belongings.
Saying a ‘see you later’ to my friends after drinking my new favourite soft drink, Alvaro Sparkling Pear (So delicious!), I was enroute to SG and received a text message from the lady who runs the place saying that the owner is very angry that I did not handle the situation so I’m not welcomed to stay anymore and that I must find somewhere else to live. I call the lady and said, let’s talk, I’m 30 seconds away. When I got there the lady, who sent me the text, was almost in tears. She felt horrible. Apparently I failed to handle the situation with the dog being hit. This really surprised me as the dog seemed fine (even as we were talking), that Ulli and I had asked about the dog before leaving, and most of all, that I had not been the person responsible for driving the car. I was told that the owner was very angry and that I could only stay for one night.
Well, dark or not, I knew I was not going to be staying there. Not only did it not make sense to stay and unpack my bags for one night, but I was not going to stay somewhere where I now felt unsafe and uncomfortable, with an owner threateningly upset that my taxi driver hit their dog. So I said, that’s fine, bring in the car (that I had just arrived in) and I’ll load my bags back up and leave. However, of course, that was not possible, because the new rules were that no vehicles could enter the compound, due to the dog having been hit. I haul everything from the furthest building on the compound to the front gate, in the dark and in the mud. The lady who felt so bad, and the guard, offered to help me. Pain crossed her face and she asked me where I would go. It was late and dark. All I could hear was the voice of the lady from the GSBH in my head saying again and again, ‘Laura… Come back anytime. We hope to be seeing you soon.”
I arrived at the GSBH and the lady who runs the night shift was in the office. She, and all the boarders were shocked to see me back there, with all my belongings. We all laughed in utter disbelief at my story, and the lady on night shift felt so bad I was told, even if they had no beds left, I could sleep on the floor in her room. I ended up the third person, on the top bunk, in a room that normally goes to two. Thankfully everyone was so understanding, and my new roommates didn’t mind sharing with an extra person.
The next day I decided to be diplomatic and polite. I got to work early and sent an e-mail to the owner of SG acknowledging, without implying guilt, that … the taxi driver did hit one of the guard dogs and I understand that I can no longer stay. I know you will have no problem filling the space, and I wish you the best in all your endeavours. Regards, Laura…
To which I am further shocked with the reply I receive stating …that the dog has internal injuries and was bleeding quite badly by the time I (the owner) arrived. You should understand my (the owner’s) anger as no responsible person entering the yard would be so uncaring and without concern… This letter continued to the point where I was told that I should have arranged for the dog to be taken to the vet (I have yet to see a vet in Nairobi). I still find this oddly hilarious seeing as the dog had run off, that Ulli and I had asked about the dog before leaving and had not been told any of this, and most importantly, I had not been the one driving the car.
To avoid this conversation continuing, I wrote briefly that …I had no idea the dog was so injured. I hope the dog continues to get well soon and that the driver of the vehicle acted responsibly… I do not believe that the owner was impressed. I am still shocked, with management like this, that this place remains the most highly recommended by many people in similar work positions as myself.
After work that day I returned to the GSBH and the lady which had told me ‘Laura… Come back anytime’ had not received the message that I was back. I was told that they had already filled my room and that another girl was coming. So, while I wasn’t forced to leave, I knew I couldn’t stay.
Bring on Tuesday, September 6. Having to look elsewhere I ended up at Home 51, the most eccentric and old movie-like place I have seen, because they had a room available immediately. I later found out that this was because an individual had received a midnight call the night before, saying that a room at SG had opened up, so they moved to what had been my room for barely a couple of hours; essentially we traded places.
Home 51 hosted mainly female UN interns who loved living here and had only positive things to say. There were two others looking at the room too, so after checking the place out, and not really having an option (as China Gardens, the only other option, was full until the new year) I moved in. For some reason, however, I felt so uncomfortable, unsettled and unsafe inside (difficult to explain why), that I knew I couldn’t stay. I managed to delay my move until Friday the 9th, when I had moved my things in and the extent of my unpacking had been to find a certain pair of shoes and put flowers in a glass. As I left the place and closed to compound gate, I looked back at the house and my insides ached. I had been on my way to a cafe so that I could e-mail my parents that I was in the new house, settled and fine when I suddenly realized that I couldn’t do it. How could I e-mail them that when internally I felt the opposite? Now most of you know that I am not crazy emotional and I sincerely hate to cry, but for some reason these sad forlorn tears kept coming (really uncool walking the street as the only mzungu) so I hid behind my sunglasses. Without knowing where to go, and because I couldn’t go to the cafe in this state, I found myself back at the GSBH; the only safe place I knew.
Perhaps you will understand: Home 51
I walked in to the GSBH, calm and collected (or so I thought) and the main lady immediately said that I always have a smile and she knew something was wrong. She ushered me into the office, even though some other people were there for a meeting, and had me explain right away what was bothering me and why I was back. She hugged me and was so happy to hear that I wanted to stay. She said that she never meant to push me out to anywhere that would be uncomfortable and supported me for following my instinct. They said that I brighten their day with my smiles and that if I had to, I could stay at her house. Luckily for me, they later received a cancellation and a room became available in a couple of days after someone left. Such happiness, I felt like a fool because now I was crying for joy (what was happening to me?). Everyone was telling me that I have to stop trying to leave, that this is where I should be and I can honestly say, that is what I intend to do.
The flowers which I mentioned were the only thing I had set up in my room, had been left for me on my bed at the GSBH from my roommate and some of the other boarders who knew I was struggling with the decision to move to Home 51, on the Thursday. They had seen me internally debating and trying to convince myself for some time the fact that I can’t be so picky, that this place was shelter, had nothing for me to complain about, was much cheaper, that the other girls there were happy, and that I had no other option. The note said “Sometimes days seem to be cloudy… but then there is some light… Or at least a flower which shows, that there was and will be a sun coming. Greetings from some friends from the Boarding House.” They were so sweet! Not to mention that the only way you can get flowers at night, when all the shops are closed, is to be creative. Such a bonding moment!
So I am back where I started, where I am comfortable and safe. I do not have plans to attempt moving again. My supervisor and the lady in charge of the JPCs and interns at the UNON both told me that the owner of SG had been looking for a handout, advised me of what to do when I received further suspicious e-mails, and helped me look into other accommodation options when I was essentially without a place to stay. I cannot imagine what would have happened had my attempt to move to SG been my first day here. I would not have known where to go or what to do.
The German School Boarding House
Not to be a downer, there is always a positive side. Since my supervisor had been asking about my accommodation situation throughout the week, he knows the story and thinks I win for best accommodation experiences so far, said that I have a great sense of humour because I laugh about it, and was impressed that I managed to finish an important piece of my work that same week. Sweet! (I just didn’t mention anything about the stress and lack of sleep induced migraine Thursday night!)
I am so thankful to know that I have a network of people looking out for me, both at home and here. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. I miss you all!