I know that many of my family members are uncomfortable about the idea of me traveling to Kenya to volunteer. Attached here is a link to the organization I will be representing (https://www.abroaderview.org/faq.php) and below is the entirety of the basic information pack they provided me with. Hopefully this will help lessen the anxiety that I know some of my friends and family members are experiencing.
Everything You Need to Know About Kenya!
If you’ve ever fantasized aboutAfrica- sleeping in the bush surrounded by wildlife beneath the broad African sky or walking with tribal people through places the first humans called home – thenKenyais for you.Kenya’s incredible natural environment and cultural heritage is almost unmatched inAfrica. Revered by anthropologists as the ‘cradle of humanity’,Kenyais wild and a little dangerous. If you’re adventurous – and sensible – it promises the globe’s most magnificent wildlife parks, unsullied beaches, thriving coral reefs, memorable mountain scales and ancient Swahili cities.
Kenya’s beauty is compromised by a cluster of familiar problems. HIV remains a major problem along with cholera and malaria epidemics.Kenyahas also experienced major floods and drought which lead to food shortages in mid-2004 that were deemed a national crisis. WhileKenya’s ethnic diversity has produced a vibrant culture, it is also a source of conflict that has lead to ethnic fighting.
Other pressing challenges include high unemployment, crime and poverty; most Kenyans live below the poverty level of $1 a day.
In this guide we try to provide answers to every single question an international volunteer may have when traveling toKenya. Please feel free to contact A Broader View office if you have more questions.
Kenyalies across the equator on the east coast ofAfrica. It bordersSomalia,EthiopiaandSudanto the North,Ugandato the west,Tanzaniato the South and theIndian Oceanto the East.Kenyacovers an area of 225, 000 sq miles (582, 646 sq km); slightly more than twice the size ofNevada,U.S.A.Its has a population size of 32,021,856 (2004 est.).
Kenyahas a tropical climate. It is hot and humid at the coast, temperate inland and very dry in the north and northeast parts of the country. There is plenty of sunshine all the year round and summer clothes are worn throughout the year. However, it is usually cool at night and early in the morning.
The average annual temperature for the coastal town of Mombassa (altitude 17 metres) is 30.30 Celsius maximum and 22.40 Celsius minimum; the capital city, Nairobi, (altitude 1,661 metres) 25.20 Celsius maximum and 13.60 Celsius minimum; Eldoret (altitude 3,085) 23.60 Celsius maximum and 9.50 Celsius minimum; Lodwar (altitude) 506 metres) and the drier north plainlands 34.80 Celsius maximum and 23.70 Celsius minimum.
The long rains occur from April to June and short rains from October to December. The rainfall is sometimes heavy and when it does come it often falls in the afternoons and evenings. The hottest period is from February to March and coldest in July to August.
Kenya’s two official languages are English and Swahili (Kiswahili). Unless you are hopelessly lost in the bush somewhere, you will probably be able to find someone who speaks English. Attempts to use Swahili are generally warmly received and can often help in conversations. Despite the widespread use of Swahili, most Kenyans have their own tribal language and view Swahili as a foreign language, as they do English. It is useful for volunteers to have a working knowledge of Swahili, especially outside the urban areas and in remote parts of the country. Another language you may come across is Sheng, spoken almost exclusively by the younger members of society. A fairly recent development, Sheng is a mixture of Swahili and English.
Social Customs and Culture
There are more than 70 tribal groups among the Africans inKenya. Distinctions between many of them are blurred – western cultural values are becoming more ingrained and traditional values are disintegrating. Yet, even though the average Kenyan may have outwardly drifted away from tribal traditions, the first question asked when two of them meet is ‘What tribe are you from?’.
Each tribe has their own traditions, beliefs, language and culture, it is not possible to learn all the cultural taboos during a short vacation. However, there are a few do’s and don’ts that will ensure you do not offend local custom throughout the countries:
- Politeness, respect and modesty are highly valued inKenya.
- Immodest attire, public displays of affection, and open anger are frowned upon.
- Pleasantries are very important; several minutes of verbal greetings when meeting and departing are common, and may be accompanied by a long handshake.
- Learning a few words of greetings and responses in Swahili are most welcome and will be very much appreciated.
- An offered gift or invitation to a join a meal should be accepted; to refuse may shame the giver.
- Spoken thanks aren’t common; don’t be concerned if you aren’t thanked for a gift.
- Family and community are a priority inKenya; personal interests and gain are secondary. Courtesy and respect for elders and professionals is expected.
- The elderly are very respected in East African culture; when introduced to a local family, addressing the eldest member first generates an excellent rapport.
- Time and deadlines are flexible; “now” and “tomorrow” may have many different meanings; don’t expect things to run to clockwork inKenya. To hear about previous volunteer’s experiences of “Africatime” click here.
- Do not take photographs without permission. Photography of airports or any government buildings are not permitted. Save your film for the wildlife and cultural villages where photos are encouraged!
- Kenyans love to party and the music style known as benga is the contemporary dance music that rules. It originated among the Luo people of westernKenyaand became popular in the area in the 1950s. Some well-known exponents of benga includeShirati Jazz,VictoriaKings, Globestyle and the Ambira Boys. If you’re not a jive bunny, your most likely experience ofKenyais the 1985 movie Out of Africa, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.
Kenyahas no state religion. However, the majority of Kenyans are members of the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and other Protestant churches. These religious connections came from early missionary activities of colonial times. Along with those religious forms, the traditional beliefs of the population are very strong in a traditional society. Animals (cattle, sheep, and goats), natural objects and phenomena (rain, thunder, lightning, wind, even rocks and mountains) are often associated with God and considered to be sacred. Some people have names for God that mean sky, heaven, or the above.
Most Kenyans outside the coastal and eastern provinces areChristians of one sort or another, while most of those on the coast and in the eastern part of the country are Muslim. Muslims make up some 20% of the population. In the more remote tribal areas you’ll find a mixture of Muslims,Christians and those who follow their ancestral tribal beliefs.
Kenyan food is characterized as “survival fodder” by locals, meaning maximum filling-up potential at minimum cost. It is generally plain and filling, the basic Kenyan diet consists of potatoes and rice eaten with chicken or beef are staples at most meals. Stodge filler, such as ugali, with beans or a meat sauce is also part of the regular diet. Snacks may include mandaazi and egg-bread.
Kenya’s culinary culture is distinguished by an array of meat dishes. A national dish inKenyais nyama choma – barbecued meat, usually goat, for example. In addition, alongKenya’s coastline a distinctive style of regional cooking has developed through a long association withIndian Oceantrade. This region’s cooking typified with rice and fish dishes, flavoured with coconut, tamarind and exotic spices.
The national beverage is chai – tea. Universally drunk at breakfast and as a pick-me-up at anytime, it’s a variant on the classic British brew: milk, water, lots of sugar and tea leaves, brought to the boil in a kettle and served scalding hot. Instant coffee – fresh coffee is rare – is normally available in hotels as well, but it is expensive (ironically, the country is a large coffee producer), so not as popular as tea.
Kenya’s history dates to the Stone Age, makingKenyaone of the oldest countries in the world and a source for one of the most complete records of human cultural development. According to archeological finds in various parts of the country, the prehistoric period can best be described under two categories; the Stone Age period which dates from about 2 million years ago and Neolithic period from about 10,000 to 2000 years ago. Available evidence indicates that humans left behind traces of their occupation during the Iron Age through the pre-colonial period and up to the present time. The phases of the various periods are characterized by tools ranging from crude to advanced much smaller ones and relevant to the respective lifestyles. The sites for the tools are widespread inKenya.
History does not provide many details as to the exact type of inhabitants who resided inKenyathroughout the centuries. What is known is that Islamic immigrants started settling at the coast during the 8th Century. Portuguese followed and are among the first known European settlers along the coast. Up to the 19th Century, very little else is known of the Kenyan hinterland until the arrival of the British who came and colonizedKenya.
The colonization process was met with resistance which was countered with excessive force. Hence, most ofKenya’s modern history is marked by rebellions against the British, with the first being in 1890 and the last one known as Mau Mau rebellion in 1952. The outbreak of the Mau Mau paved the way for constitutional reforms and development in subsequent years. In 1955, a myriad of political parties were formed all over the country after the colonial Government yielded to their formation. Elections were held in March 1957, after which racial barriers in the Government began to be lifted. By 1960, the traditionally European dominated Legislative Council (LEGCO) now had an African majority. In 1960, Kenya African National Union (KANU), which advocated for a unitary government was formed. In 1961, Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) which advocated a quasi-federal government (Majimbo) was also formed.
The first full franchise General Elections were held in May 1963 and KANU emerged the winner. In June 1963,Kenyaattained internal self-government. On December 12th of the same year, independence was achieved with a complex Majimbo constitution which conceded much autonomy to the regions. On the first anniversary of independence in 1964,Kenyabecame a Republic with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta as the President. Following his death onAugust 22, 1978, Hon. Daniel Arap Moi assumed the Presidency in accordance with the Kenyan Constitution. He ruledKenyafor 25 years. Following a general election held in 2002, Hon. Mwai Kibaki, the third President of theRepublicofKenyatook office on30th December 2002.
Since 1993 the government ofKenyahas implemented a program of economic liberalization and reform. Steps have included the removal of import licensing and price controls removal of foreign exchange controls fiscal and monetary restraint and reduction of the public sector through privatizing publicly owned companies and downsizing the civil service. With the support of the World Bank IMF and other donors these reforms have led to a turnaround in economic performance following a period of negative growth in the early 1990s.Kenya’s real GDP grew at 5% in 1995 and 4% in 1996 and inflation remained under control. Growth slowed in 1997. Political violence damaged the tourist industry and the IMF allowedKenya’s Enhanced Structural Adjustment Program to lapse due to the government’s failure to enact reform conditions and to adequately address public sector corruption. Moreover El Nino rains destroyed crops and damaged an already crumbling infrastructure in 1997 and on into 1998. Long-term barriers to development include electricity shortages, the government’s continued and inefficient dominance of key sectors, endemic corruption and the country’s high population growth rate.
Kenyahas been hit hard by the HIV epidemic with approximately 1.25 million adults and over 100,000 children infected. The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2003 found a prevalence of 9% in adult women and 5% in adult men. However, these statistics are marred by the fact that only 14% of Kenyan adults know their HIV status.
Surveillance of HIV in pregnant women has been conducted annually since 1990, with prevalence rising to 16% in urban areas and 8% in rural areas in the late 90’s. These figures are now showing signs of decline in some regions.
To learn more about the impact of AIDS inAfricawe recommend you have a look at the following links:
BothChristian and Muslim religious holidays are observed, as well as secular national holidays. Local seasonal and cyclical events, particular to ethnic groups, are less well advertised.Kenya’s most spectacular annual event is organised by an unlikely group – wild beasts. Literally millions of antelopes move en masse in July and August from the Serengeti in search of lush grass. They head south again around October. The best place to see this phenomenon is at the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
- New Years Day: 1st January
- Good Friday, Easter Monday: March-April
- Labour Day: 1st May
- Madaraka Day (anniversary of the self government): 1st June
- Moi Day (anniversary of Moi’s inauguration): 10th October
- Kenyatta Day (anniversary of Kenyatta’s arrest): 20th October
- Jamhuri Day (anniversary of independence): 12th December
- Christmas day: 25th December
- Boxing Day: 26th December
- Idd-ul-Fitr Muslim celebration of the end of Ramadan: variable from year to year
Responsible tourism entails refraining from supporting trades or services that do harm to the people or the environment, and travellers toKenyashould be very aware its importance.
Please avoid purchasing wildlife products such as ivory and skins as the market created by these purchases encourages poaching and terrible injuries to the animals themselves.
Removal of coral, shells from turtles or any other kind of marine animal also causes a tremendous upset to the balance of marine life which is more often than not impossible to correct.
Responsible tourism also involves not handing out candy and pens to children or giving money to beggars. While the kids may be cute and the beggars poor, there are much better ways to use any resources you have. Handing out money or other items to people in the street encourages a begging mentality and makes locals dependant on tourists.
Everything You Need to Know Prior To Your Arrival in Kenya!
We recommend that you consult a travel doctor as they will be able to advise you of what vaccinations you require for your travels. They will also be able to advise which vaccinations are suitable if you are pregnant or have allergies – we do not recommend volunteering while pregnant. Check with your travel doctor to find out which vaccinations are relevant to you. It is important not to leave this too close to the date you travel as some vaccinations take a few weeks to become effective. Other vaccinations cannot always be given together and some can be taken in oral form. Please consult your travel doctor at least six weeks before you are due to volunteer.
What to take with you
When packing your bag consider the security regulations that have been put in place in the last few years when traveling on airlines. Ensure items that may be considered dangerous such as pocket knifes or items in a medical kit are not packed in carry on luggage.
Some suggestions for what you may need inKenya:
- duplicate copies of papers, e.g passport, visa, spare passport photos.
- money belt that can be worn under clothing to hold money and other important documents
- credit card (with a PIN number), traveler’s cheques or cash
- Journal and pens to keep a diary (highly recommended)
- A day pack (smaller pack for carrying items you need for the day)
- Any snack foods that you just can’t live without – make sure these are in sealed packages and non perishable. An airtight container for snacks is a good idea.
- Any personal health or hygiene items – sanitary items, toothbrush, soap, medication, sun block, insect repellent (this needs to be a good quality product).
- Mosquito net may not always be available in your accommodation so you may wish to take your own for sleeping under
- Sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner (optional)
- Flashlight/torch with spare batteries
- Clothing – Consider the temperature and environment you will be working in.
- Sunglasses and hat.
- Sturdy comfortable footwear as well as a pair of sandals/jandals for light walking.
- Cameras, laptops and electronic gear can be taken but be aware that these need to be kept securely when not in use. Electricity is available in almost all villages and towns. 240 volts, A.C. 50 cycles. Flat 3 pin plugs are most commonly used (http://kropla.com/!g.htm), so take a universal adapter. In certain less developed areas blackouts are common. A power surge protector for sensitive equipment and a torch are good ideas.
- a small padlock for locking luggage.
- a knife (of the Swiss army variety is good) – do not carry this in hand luggage when on the plane.
- ziplock plastic bags for storing items. Larger plastic bags or pack liner’s can be used for various roles.
- old plastic shopping bags are useful for rubbish storage, clothes that need washing etc.
- Flash Disk
- Phone charger
- Converter plug
- International Student Card
- books to read
- playing cards
If staying with a host family, it is always appreciated if house guests bring gifts for the family they are staying with. Simple Souvenir items from your home country are suggested, such as a t-shirt, cap, key ring, coffee, candies or chocolate bars. You do not need to spend more than US$10.00 and it is not necessary.
Other things to consider bringing:
- Safari hiking boots are a good idea if you plan to do any trekking
- Drink bottle (that holds a liter minimum) for day work – although most volunteers just end up re-using the water bottles they buy
- Most items can be purchased locally: soap, shampoo, toilet paper etc. and most medicines, although some brands may not be widely available outside ofNairobi. If staying in rural areas you can stock up before heading out or on any trips into town.
- Rehydration salts are a good idea if you find heat hard to cope with. You will lose a lot of fluid through sweating and rehydration salts help to retain fluid. However these can often be picked up cheaply at supermarkets and pharmacies.
- A medical kit is a must if you are planning on spending all your time in rural areas. Most of the following items are available in Nairobi, however you must bring enough insect repellant to last your trip as it is just not available inKenya. Here are some items you may like to include:
- Aspirin or paracetamol for pain relief
- Antihistamine for allergies and relief for bites
- ‘Blockers’ for diarrhoea (consult pharmacy)
- Rehydration mixture for cases of diarrhea (consult pharmacy)
- Insect repellent
- Lip balm
- Calamine lotion or Aloe Vera to ease sunburn and bites
- Antiseptic for cuts and grazes
- Band aids/plasters
- Water purification tablets or iodine for emergency use
- Scissors and tweezers
- a thermometer
- Syringes and needles for emergency injection if needed while inKenya. You will need to take a note from you doctor for these If you are bringing medication intoKenyait is advisable that you bring a note from your doctor. Common medicines are easy to procure inKenyadue to the number of pharmacies throughout the country.
When packing your luggage do not put your first aid kit in hand luggage. Scissors and syringes will be taken off you at the airport.
Avoid taking perfume or aftershave as this can attract mosquitoes. Light, cotton clothing that covers most of the body is useful to protect against sun and getting bitten by mosquitoes. A few warm jerseys are a good idea also for the cooler nights.
There will be extremely limited materials in most places you are volunteering. Most supplies can be purchased more cheaply inKenya. If you have had help in fundraising and wish to use this money to donate items, purchasing them inKenya will be cheaper and help you save on luggage space and also help to support the economy. However some people may like to donate items rather than money.
Most of these resources could be used in all projects; for instance materials may also be useful in the orphanage for helping children with their homework. If you can fit a few things in your bag you’ll have an excellent base to start of your program and you’ll be making a huge contribution to the people you are working with.
- Vitamins/Calcium tablets
- Scabies Medicine
- Multivitamins (syrup more than tablets)
- Antibiotics, antiseptics
- Medical family guides
- Gauze, plasters (elastoplasts, not band-aid)
- Antifungal cream
- Nit combs
- Any books and/or research on health care relevant toAfrica
- First aid materials for teaching
- Antibacterial Soap
- Children’s clothing
- Water Balloons
- Bubble Solution
- Face Paint
- A cassette player, plenty of batteries and some children’s music
- Treats such as stickers, stamps and certificates etc will encourage the children.
- Group games such as bingo, crossword puzzles, scrabble, twister etc.
- Pencils, pens, erasers and good quality sharpeners.
- Blank Flash Cards
- Alphabet flash cards
- Books of all sorts, coloring in books, basic reading books etc.
- Kids scissors
- Markers and Crayons
- Colored drawing paper
- A cassette player, plenty of batteries and some children’s music
- Colored pavement chalk
- Magazine pictures of everyday objects or words mounted on cardboard. These can be used as flash cards.
- Group games such as bingo, crossword puzzles, scrabble, snakes and ladders, twister etc.
- Treats such as stickers, stamps and certificates etc will encourage the children.
For all programs:
Photos of yourself, your family, family pet, house, hometown, scenes of your home country. These can be used both to introduce yourself and to stimulate conversation. You’ll also find this a great way to improve your Swahili vocabulary. If you’re teaching this could be a good first lesson. The Kenyan people love to see where their visitors have come from.
If you bring resources for the school or orphanage you may like to keep these things in a kind of ‘class set’ and use them for your lessons only and then leave them for future volunteers. In the past volunteers have found that the new materials they brought with them for the kids have been locked away by school and orphanage management to avoid letting the children ‘spoil’ the new equipment. This can be avoided if the volunteers are insistent.
Another thing to consider is that what you may use in your own country may not be suitable in the program you will work in, for example a certain type of pen, pencil, or paper used in some schools may be preferred over the type that is used at home.
Traveling to Kenya
When booking your flights we suggest you consult a local travel agent. We have also put together a list of travel links to help you compare prices. We are in no way affiliated with any of these companies and are not responsible for any communication or flight bookings. We have researched these purely for the purpose of helping you to get the best price possible. We have not been able to cover every country but you may still be able to use certain companies if you live in a nearby country.
If you are flying fromEurope, direct flights are available fromLondon,Paris,Amsterdam,Brussels,Copenhagen,Frankfurt,Madrid,Moscow,Athens,Rome, andZurich. Some of the airlines flying toNairobiinclude British Airways, Air France, Sabena, SAS,Lufthansa,Iberia, Aeroflot, Olympic Airways, Alitalia, and Swiss Air. Kenya Airways flies fromParis,London,Zurich,Athens,Frankfurt,Rome, andCairo. Depending on where you are leaving from flight time fromEuropetoNairobiis approximately 8 hours.
If flying from theUnited StatesandCanada, you will have to change planes inEurope. Over thirty international airlines provide scheduled flights toKenya. Flying time fromNorth AmericatoNairobiis approximately 16 hours. The two main points of entry areJomoKenyattaInternationalAirportinNairobiandMoiInternationalAirportinMombasa. Volunteers will need to fly intoJomoKenyattaInternationalAirportinNairobi.
Air Brokers International: http://www.airbrokers.com
Air Courier Association: http://www.aircourier.org
STA Travel: http://www.sta.com
STA Travel: http://www.statravel.co.uk
Cheap Flights: http://www.cheapflights.co.uk
Arriving at the Airport
The international airport has adequate traveler facilities: tourist information & assistance counters, money changers & ATMs, postal service, telephone booths, internet facilities, and medical clinics, among others. Baggage carts and porter services are available for a fee (US$1 to US$2).
Personal effects, film and cameras may be imported temporarily free of duty. However professional video equipment, tape recorders, radios, musical instruments and souvenirs from other countries may require a customs bond to ensure re-exportation.
Baggage is normally inspected by customs officials on arrival and departure.
Visa, Passport and Other Documents
Volunteers will need to obtain a tourist visa to enterKenya. Visas are required by almost all visitors toKenya, including Europeans, Australians, New Zealanders, Americans and Canadians, although citizens from a few smaller Commonwealth countries are exempt.
Visas are valid for three months from the date of entry and can be purchased upon arrival atJomoKenyattaInternationalAirportinNairobifor US$50.00 for a single-entry visa, double for multiple entries. Tourist visas can be extended for a further three month period, but not seven-day transit visas. To extend your visa go to Nyayo House,Nairobi. The current rate for a 3 month tourist visa extension is $30US.
It’s also possible to get visas from Kenyan diplomatic missions overseas, but you should apply well in advance, especially if you’re doing it by mail.
Requirements change however, and you should always check in advance with a Kenyan embassy, consulate or high commission to confirm the current situation.
Before leaving your own country make 2 duplicates of all documents such as passport, visa page, (if obtained before leaving), air tickets, travel insurance policy etc. Leave one set with someone at home and take the other set with you, keeping them separate from the originals for emergency use. Bring extras of passport photos with you as a precaution.
Embassy of the Republic of Kenya
Address 45 Portland Place
GB-London W1N 4AS
Telephone: (44-20) 6362371
United States of America
Embassy of the Republic of Kenya
Telephone: (202) 387-6101
Fax: (202) 462-3829
Address: 2249 R Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008 U.S.A.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.kenyaembassy.com
Before leaving home make 2 duplicates of all documents such as passport, visa page, air tickets, travel insurance policy etc. Leave one set with someone at home and take the other set with you, keeping them separate from the originals for emergency use.
You should carry your passport with you. You are not usually required to show it outside of the airport but may need it for bank transactions.
If you are not from one of the above countries and cannot find the appropriate links online please let us know and we will try to be of assistance in finding your nearest embassy.
Most volunteers choose to fly out ofKenya. Please be aware airport departure tax of around $20US is required when departingKenyapayable inUScurrency only. You may have already paid this tax when you purchased your international air ticket.
If you are flying domestically inKenyaa local airport service charge is also payable on departure for domestic flights.
Kenya’s currency, the Kenyan shilling (Ksh), is a colonial legacy based on the old British currency. People often talk in “bob”, meaning shillings, and occasionally in “pounds”, meaning Ksh20 (you’ll also hear “quids” for pounds). There are Ksh1000, 500, 200, 100 and 50 notes, and coins of Ksh20, 10, 5, 1, 50 cents (half a shilling), 20 cents, 10 cents and 5 cents, though in practice you will rarely come across coins of less than Ksh1. Some foreign banks stock shillings should you wish to buy some before you leave, but at rates about ten percent less than what you might find inKenya.
You can exchange hard currencies in cash or travellers’ cheques (passport and sometimes receipt required) at banks and foreign exchange bureaux (“forex”) all over the country, and at most large hotels for a substantially poorer rate. US dollars and British pounds sterling are always the most acceptable and will cause the least delay; always ask first what commission and charges will be deducted, as they vary mysteriously even within branches of the same bank (it shouldn’t be more than one percent, plus Ksh15 per cheque). Cash invariably attracts better rates than travellers’ cheques. Comparative tables of bank and forex bureau rates are published daily (except Sun) in the Nation newspaper.
Many hotels and mid-range shops accept Credit Cards (MasterCard, Visa, Amex, Access, Diners Club). However, expect a 5 – 15% commission charge.
Visa and MasterCards with PIN numbers are an easy source of cash withinNairobibut are not so useful in rural areas as ATMS are not so widely available. Visa is more widely accepted, but having a PIN number is essential. Only 4 places inNairobiwill take a credit card over the counter.
Banking hours are: Monday to Friday,9am to 3pm.
Street money changers in Nairobi and Mombasa may offer slightly higher rates, but the black market is illegal, and most of them (certainly in Nairobi) are just muggers aiming to lure you into a dark alley and rob you, so you are very strongly advised not to change money on the street.
Most accommodation for volunteers will be in homes with host families. The following information is drawn from personal experiences of living in host families.
Nairobiis a cosmopolitan city and volunteers can expect a fairly high level of development although living is basic. Houses generally have electricity, running (though not necessarily hot) water and flush toilets. However power blackouts and water stoppages are common.
Houses are usually smaller than at home and have more people living in them. You will generally be living in close quarters with the other residents. Often you will find aunties and grandmothers living with the family. Many houses will also have a housekeeper.
Volunteers will often share a room with one to two other volunteers. You may sometimes be expected to share a bedroom with other members of the family. Bedding is usually provided however it may not be up to the standard you are use to at home. Mosquito nets are not often available so if you require one you should bring it with you. However inNairobimosquitoes are not really much of a problem, except in the rainy seasons.
Families will often expect you to take off your shoes when entering the house. Often they will put on flip flops/thongs/jandals as a form of moving around outside.
It is often considered a polite gesture to bring something from your home as gift to your host family, however they are not expected and if you don’t bring anything you won’t be considered rude. Something simple such as chocolates or tea towels with pictures of you local culture can be nice. Ensure that the gift is culturally appropriate and of moderate value.
Internet facilities and shops/supermarkets are usually located close by.
Volunteers live in a shared volunteer home, there are several bedrooms, which you may likely share with another volunteer (of the same sex). There is electricity, access to fresh water, and indoor bathing facilities. Mosquito nets should be bought locally, or brought with you. The house is clean, safe and is in walking distance to the main school project in ourMombasalocation.
Rural houses may not have electricity or running water, and internet facilities and shops are usually far away. Common are bucket baths, squat toilets and boiled hot water.
Electricity runs in cities and towns but rarely in rural areas. Power cuts do occur, so a torch and a power surge protector for sensitive equipment are good ideas.
Specifications: 240 volts AC, 50Hz: Rectangular blade 3 pin plug (http://kropla.com/!g.htm).
Meals inKenyamay differ to what you are used to
- Breakfast:7-9am(Generally fairly small, often bread, butter and tea with milk)
- Lunch:1-3pm(One of the largest/important meals of the day)
- Dinner:8-10pm(A large meal typically including beans, rice, potatoes and cabbage/spinach)
Bottled water is available inKenya. Expect to pay about $14 (U.S.) a week for bottled water. This would provide you with 2 litres per day. Be sure to check that the seals are not broken.
For breakfast you can expect to be served bread and tea. This is often interspersed with eggs, pancakes, mandazzi and fruit, but depends on who you are staying with. Lunch normally consists of vegetables in a meat gravy with rice or pasta plus fruit and sometimes soda. Dinner is often meat and vegetables in gravy with rice, pasta or potatoes as well as traditional dishes like ugali, githeri, irio and chapatti.
Each place may be different in what the hosts will expect of you but it is always best to ask before making any assumptions or attempts to help in preparing the food.
People will often eat late and many host families will prepare you three meals a day unless you advise otherwise. It might be a good idea to discuss with your host family which meals you will get and when they will be served. It is polite to give advance warning if you will not be home for a meal for which you are expected.
If you are offered food that you are not familiar with, it is anticipated that you try a little. But it is alright to refuse politely if there are health reasons or other dietary restrictions.
Some volunteers experience stomach problems due to the change in diet and recommend people who have sensitive stomachs or who don’t adjust to the food to be wary of the meat.
Most locals don’t snack between meals, so if you are used to snacking include money in your budget to cover this, and if there are some foods you can’t live without (eg. Granola Bars for Americans, Vegemite for Aussies) consider bringing a stash with you. Some volunteers advise bringing vitamins as the change in diet can often affect people’s energy levels, etc.
If you wish to purchase additional food, food outlets are situated close by most project and accommodation locations. They range from roadside eateries to restaurants, small roadside markets to larger food markets.
For instance fruit is available from roadside stalls just about everywhere. Any fruit that is still in its skins is fine to eat and many volunteers are fine eating the sliced fruit too. If you can build a relationship with a local fruit seller, they will often help you to pick out the best fruit for you to purchase. They will also love teaching you how to buy fruit in Swahili!
If you live in Nairobithe main supermarket chains are the Nakumat (slightly more expensive but bigger range) and Uchimi (slighlty cheaper bu a smaller range) which are similar to most major supermarkets inAmerica,UK, NZ and Oz. They stock a huge range of foods and many similar brands.
If you purchase food for your own consumption it is expected that you will keep it in your room and not eat it in front of the host family or that you will share it with them.
A vegetarian diet is possible, but special arrangements do need to be made. Fruit and vegetables are in plentiful supply: bananas, pineapples, and papaya are available year round, and citrus fruits seasonally. In some of the agricultural areas it is not unusual to see corn being roasted along the roadways for sale.
If you are vegetarian or have other specific diet requirements, as language may be a barrier when you first arrive, it is important to make sure that the family you are staying with is aware of any special diet requirements you may have.
Dress is casual in most situations. Comfort should be your key motivation for what to bring. Light, wash and wear clothes will give you the most use.
What is appropriate differs on where you are. In most places, knee-length skirts and shorts and loose-fitting pants, and tops with sleeves for women, and pants, three-quarters or knee-length shorts, and shirts and tee-shirts for men provide the best protection from the sun and mosquitoes.
However inNairobi, many volunteers (male & female) live in tank tops and short sleeves. Flip flops (thongs) are great except when it rains.
In Muslim areas including the coast, be aware of the prevailing customs. Shorts and T-shirts can be frowned upon. For men, long pants are a good idea away from resort areas. Women should wear pants or skirts which reach the knees or longer and tops which cover the shoulders. On theKenyacoast, ladies are expected to dress modestly and to have consideration for the dominant Muslim community there.
A warm sweater or pullover will be helpful. While the coast is hot year round,Nairobiand the western highlands can be cool at night. A light rain coat is advisable but can be purchased here fairly easily and cheaply.
On safari, long pants and long sleeves can help for those sensitive to strong sun. Good, comfortable walking shoes are adequate for most situations, hiking boots only if you plan to do a trek in mountain areas.
Health and Hygiene
Approximately one third of travelers to lesser-developed countries become ill as a reaction to contaminated food or water. While volunteering, you should monitor your own health so that you can see a doctor right away if you show signs of illness. In the case of malaria, it is much easier to treat when you detect it early. Most of the time though, if you get sick, it will be because of something simple like not washing your hands or drinking local, untreated water. As a result, you have diarrhea for a day or two, take some medication for it, and then go back to doing what you came to do.
There are several good health websites out there for travelers such as the ones established by the CDC, WHO as well as popular health journals.
Insect repellant and sunscreen are not widely available so make sure you bring a good supply with you.
Many visitors toKenyacan be unfamiliar to the heat and suffer from heat exhaustion. We urge you to keep up a high level of fluids, particularly water. It is never a good idea to drink the local water without filtering, boiling or using water purification tablets. Before leaving home, consult a chemist for advice on what type of water purification or iodine tablets are best for you. Too much iodine can be harmful. Fruit juice can have water added to it so watch out for this, unless brought bottled from a shop. Hot drinks such as coffee and tea are usually fine, as they require boiled water.
Bottled water is available inKenya. Expect to pay about $14 (U.S.) a week for bottled water. This would provide you with 2 litres per day. Be sure to check that the seals are not broken.
Filters are an alternative and can work out cheaper than bottled water if you are to be inKenyafor more than a few months. If considering this option, check the specifications to see what exactly the filter will keep out. They need to remove bacteria and viruses. Otherwise, what will look like nice clean water may be filled with tiny critters that carry disease.
It is possible to catch water-borne diseases by bathing or swimming in freshwater, lakes or rivers. Beaches can also double as a bath and toilet for locals so be aware of this.
Toileting may be quite a new experience for you if you have never had the opportunity to use a ‘squat’ toilet. Public toilets can usually be found in airports, bus stops, hotels and more expensive restaurants. When traveling it is acceptable to make a discreet stop behind a tree or bush if needed. You will often see local men, even in the capital, using a bush or the roadside as a toilet. You may wish to pack a few rolls of toilet paper for your own use. When staying at someone’s home check first before using paper as it may cause a blockage.
- Toilets are sometimes flushed using a bucket (even in businesses)
- Pit latrines are commonly used in slums and rural areas
- Always carry a roll of toilet paper and sanitary wipes with you
Pads and tampons are available in the large supermarkets, however tampons with applicators are hard to find, as are panty liners.
Disposing of used sanitary items can pose a problem as they can’t be dropped down pit toilets, most bathrooms don’t contain bins, and it is sometimes not appropriate to let males know that it is your time or discuss in front of them.
For many reasons you may not have access to showers all the time. Some female volunteers who are on the pill choose to take one or two courses back-to-back to avoid the issue altogether but you should discuss this with your doctor before coming.
There is a significant risk of malaria in rural areas, and appropriate medication is essential. However if sensible, malaria is not something to be scared about.
Spread by mosquitoes, this disease can be fatal in some circumstances if not diagnosed quickly. Once diagnosed, while not pleasant it will be over soon if you take the medication prescribed.
A wide range of anti-malarials are available and usually need to be started a few days before arriving inAfrica. Some affect people quite differently and each has its own benefits and drawbacks.
- Doxycyline and Malarone are considered good quality forms of anti malarial.
- Lariam (or Mefloquine) is also effective but should be reviewed first by the user as it has been reported as causing significant mood changes, as well as sleep disturbances and abnormal dreams.
- Chloroquine, one drug that was once used worldwide, is not effective in eastAfricaagainst malaria, so please seek the advice of a physician for an anti malarial that will protect you during your time inKenya. You may have a medical condition that prevents you from the use of one form of anti malarial that will need to be considered by your own doctor.
Whichever form of anti malarial you choose, it is essential that you know how and when to take it as it will only provide protection if used correctly. Make sure that you allow enough time prior to your travel to obtain medication and begin to medicate yourself.
*It is worth noting that even if you take anti-malarials exactly as prescribed it is still possible to catch malaria.
Malaria can be in your system for some time before you show signs of illness. Regardless of where you are, in-country or back home, you should seek medical attention if you show any signs of flu-like symptoms or fevers within a year of travel. Alert the medical practitioner to the fact that you have been traveling in a malaria infected country and let them know what medication you were taking.
Additional measures you can take to protect yourself include:
- You are most at risk at dusk or twilight when mosquitoes begin their day. Using mosquito nets is highly recommended outside ofNairobi. Soaking or spraying nets with appropriate insecticides or pyrethrum for additional protection is ideal. Nets need to be cared for. Mosquitoes are capable of eating through nets, so holes need to be mended. Nets should be hung so that no part of the net touches your skin, as bites will still occur through a net if it is resting on you. Edges should be tucked under the bed so that mosquitoes cannot crawl up under the net. You should also check each day before use that no mosquito has entered the net. Spraying the room or using a plug in insecticide during the day will help eliminate any stray mosquitoes that may have entered the room.
- Wearing long trousers and long sleeved clothing may not be practical with regards to the temperatures; however, they will aid in protecting your body from bites and should be worn after dark. Light colours are also less likely to attract mosquitoes.
- Insect repellent containing DEET is most effective; the higher the level of DEET, the more protection you will receive. Lemon has also been known to act as a natural repellent, so you may like to seek assistance from a natural health store as an alternative.
- Be sure that you have enough medication for the entire time you are travelling, as it is not recommended to switch medications during usage. Some anti malarial drugs are unavailable in some countries.
In general people are extremely friendly inKenyaand you will be humbled by their hospitality. But, there is real poverty inKenyaand you will soon realise that you are far richer and more fortunate than most local people you meet. You will probably attract your fair share of souvenir hawkers and beggars, but try and take the time to meet ordinary people going about their day to day business too. The experience will be worth it. Don’t be afraid to step out of that tour bus, just take some precautions.
Political rallies such as those held inNairobiand Kisumu in July, 2004 can become violent. Travel advisories recommend that visitors exercise caution, avoid rallies or demonstrations and stay aware of the situation as the details and dates of rallies may change.
The crime rate is high inNairobiyet lower in rural areas and small towns.
Using any sort of transport, even for short distances can prove dangerous if some basic precautions are not taken. See the section on transport below.
Basic Safety Rules
- Take commonsense precautions – keep to main roads, avoid short cuts or dark alleys. If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it here.
- Make a copy of your passport and keep it in your luggage. Do not carry your passport, large amounts of money or personal valuables if it can be avoided (keep in a safe place at home)
- Always try to travel with another person
- Don’t walk on your own at night, especially in the major cities or on empty beaches. Volunteers are often advised not to travel betweenMoi AvenueandRiver RoadinNairobicity center (downtown) during night time; this is a well known dangerous part of town.
- Don’t wear flashy or expensive-looking jewellery.
- Don’t carry too much cash with you. You may wish to wear a money belt that fits under your clothes.
- Don’t carry a lot of camera equipment where avoidable.
- Beware of thieves posing as police officers and other “con artists” who can approach you either pretending they know you, asking for you to lend them money or help them “push their car”.
Kenya has about 250 airports and airstrips (of vastly varying quality) and plenty of airlines connecting Nairobi with Mombasa, Kisumu, Nanyuki, Malindi, Lamu and the national parks/reserves of Amboseli, Masai Mara and Samburu. While many flights are heavily booked, flying aroundKenyaand its neighbouring countries is a relatively safe and fairly cheap way to cover a lot of ground.
The Kenyan train betweenNairobiandMombasais also a popular form of transport, despite the fact that the rolling stock, tracks and other essential works have been allowed to deteriorate. The train is slightly slower, a bit more expensive and vastly more comfortable than the buses and matatus, but have been known to break down.
Travelling between towns inKenyais via very poor road conditions – if you get travel sick bring medication! Allow at least ½ hour to 1 hour more time to get to a location than you expect
Kenyahas a network of regular buses (known as citi-hoppers) and matatus (minibuses). Neither run to a timetable. Citi-hoppers and most matatus travel on specific routes and have route numbers. Some matatus go wherever they’re passengers are traveling to. Expect to pay 20 shillings (30 in peak hour) on citi-hoppers or matatus for any trip inNairobi. Shorter trips on matatus may only be 10. Check with your host family for exact prices.
The City Hoppa is a bus system used inNairobiwhich is slightly more expensive than the matatu but more comfortable and easier to travel (because they have defined routes, marked pick-up/drop-off points, ticket collectors, etc.
Many people feel safer in a citi-hopper than in a matatu, but don’t get complacent – some people have had things stolen from them in the link for a citi-hopper, as they step on to the citi-hopper, or as someone steps past them to get off. These incidents are not frequent, nor are they indicative of the normal culture, but it is always good practice to stay aware.
When you pay for your citi-hopper, make sure you get a ticket – inspectors will often hop on and do a random check of passengers. If you pay and don’t get a ticket it is liekly that the conductor has pocketed the money.
The common method of transport is via a “matatu” – a Nissan van with 14 seats installed inside. This is the cheapest form of transport but you will find pick up and drop off points are not marked.
To reduce any safety risks, never travel by matatu at night and never get into an empty matatu. Some people find matatus uncomfortable and prefer to travel by citi-hopper, however many volunteers travel by matatu and say that as long as you keep an eye on your valuables and eye out for where you going, you should be fine. Most theft cases take place when you are traveling so hold onto your bag and avoid receiving phone calls.
Taking taxis inNairobiis not quite like at home. Your host family will usually know some local taxi drivers and it is a good idea to use these, especially at night, if you are unsure of where you are going or are alone. Make sure you set the rates before you get in the taxi.
Cycling is best done in rural areas due to the chaotic traffic on the main roads, but the distances between towns and the poor condition of roads needs to be kept in mind.
Walking is still the main form of transportation for most people and a half hour walk is often considered short by locals.
Keeping in touch by post, telephone and email is generally easy, but sometimes not reliable.
In rural areas most shops are only open until 4 or5pmin the afternoon
Very few volunteer accommodations will have landlines. They are not widely used, except for inNairobibusiness district. Public phone booths are usually located in the cities. Most Kenyans however, rely on mobile phones to keep in contact with the outside world especially those in rural areas.
The international country dialing code forKenyais +254. The outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 00 27 if you are callingSouth Africa).
International calls made from rural areas may have to go through the operator.
Kenya’s telephone system is improving, though lines are often busy, while emailing is becoming more and more useful as a means of communication.
You can make cheap international calls (5-10 Ksh per minute) from some cyber café landlines (the ones that utilize Voice Over IP or VOIP)
Text messaging is cheaper (5 Ksh per message) than calling someone (10 Ksh per minute) on mobiles
Mobile phone is the common method of communication, yet rarely used for calling due to the expense
Calling landline-mobile is more expensive than mobile-mobile
We recommend volunteers to bring a cell phone or purchase a cheap one on arrival.
A very basic phone can be purchased for approx. US$30. Buying a sim card here is considerably cheaper than using international roaming.
The 2 main phone companies are Celtel & Safaricom. Celtel allows you to callTanzania,UgandaandKenyawhereas Safaricom is local and has cheaper rates, although it is a good idea to compare the promotions available.
A sim card will cost you about US$1.50. Calls to Kenyan mobiles are approx 30c per min and texts about 7c. International texts are about 15c. Some phones don’t work with Kenyan sim cards (especially theUS). You should check that your phone is tri-band or quad-band, and you will need your phone to be unlocked if it is not already.
If you use your own sim card from home, keep an eye on international calling charges. You should also check what coverage and cell phones are able to be used withinKenya.
IT has picked up rapidly inKenya. There are no computers or internet access within family homes. Commonly Kenyans will either use cyber cafes (1 Ksh per minute) or have access to internet at work. Internet cafes are available in the main towns. However the use of internet is often slow and not always available, particularly in the rural areas. You can expect to pay around US$1 for an hour of internet use (a little more for the high-speed internet cafes).
InNairobi, there are a number of Java Coffee Houses that provide free, fast, wireless internet for customers. So it is worth considering bringing your laptop if you have one. Make sure it is completely covered by your travel insurance.
There are several post offices inKenyascattered around the country. The post, on average, takes a few days toEuropeand around ten days toNorth America,AustraliaandNew Zealand; times from these places toKenyaare slightly longer. It is a good idea to keep copies of letters you don’t want to lose and we recommend not sending valuables just in case they go missing.
If you wish to receive mail or care packages from home while inKenya, your volunteer organisation will usually provide you with a PO Box or you can ask your host family for an address.
Banks, shopping and eating out
Banks and Money exchange
At foreign exchange bureaus you get a better rate for cash than you do travelers cheques.
Banks will offer a lower rate of exchange or charge you a higher fee to take cash out.
Barclays is the best western bank to perform Visa or Mastercard transactions
Banks, foreign exchange bureaus or businesses will not take money older than the year 2000
Credit card transactions are not widely used inKenya– you can only use your card in supermarkets and western hotels
InNairobithere are a lot of restaurants and take away cafes for you to access food
Western food (fried chicken, chips, burgers) is served in take away shops
In rural areas Western food is less accessible; most restaurants/cafes will serve African dishes.
Nairobi Maasai Market is open Tuesday and Saturday for curios, crafts and traditional items (Get a local person to accompany you in order to help with bargaining)
Bargaining often occurs only in local markets and stores for items without a price tag (ie. clothing, traditional items etc)
Farmers markets and local street stalls have good fruit and vegetables (make sure it is fresh)
Supermarkets exist in the main cities and big rural towns – the main ones are Nakumatt, Woolmatt and Ukwala
At supermarkets or farmers markets you are not expected to bargain
Free time & leisure activities
Pubs and clubs
If you are considering sightseeing we also highly recommend that you purchase, “Kenya: The Bradt Travel Guide” and “The Rough Guide toKenya” as a source of historical and cultural information as well as a thorough travel guide to the country.
Places to visit:
You can expect to spend the following per month (quoted in US dollars. Depending on your lifestyle inKenya(ie. you eat out, go clubbing etc) your budget will be different.
It is highly recommended to have an emergency fund available for the time you are here.
- Transport: $5 per week
- Snacks: $1 per day
- Entertainment: $50 per month
- Personal items: $5 per month
- Internet usage: $1-4 per month depending on time spent
- Phone: $10-20 per month depending on time spent
- Transport: $50 per month (for access to internet, shopping, food market and local transport)
- Snacks: $1 per day
- Bottled Water: $50 per month
- Personal items: $5 per month
- Internet usage: $1-4 per month depending on time spent
- Phone: $10-20 per month depending on time spent