Returning Home After Living in the Diaspora

Africa Returns the Gaze

Dear Diasporan,

You have finally taken that step of courage and decided to return home. Back to the motherland full of opportunities and where you are determined to make a change. Armed with your degree, you are convinced that you will be able to introduce and implement more efficient working methods and ideas. Driven by your conviction, you will come back home to help fight the animal that is graft and hammer sense into the citizens who sit back and watch the looting of the country’s coffers. Inspired by the burgeoning number of young millionaires, you will return in the hopes of joining the circle of the young rich.

So you will sell off your assets or send them in a container to Kenya. You know you are coming to settle but keep the option for return open, so a return ticket will have to do. Plus they happen to be cheaper…go figure. You will jubilate when you land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and smell the African air. Depending on the time of the year, it could be dry and dusty or fresh with a light breeze. You might even kiss the ground for dramatic purposes. You might be surprised that only a handful of people will be waiting to receive you. There might not be nissan matatus full of villagers welcoming you. People got busy; there are too many things to do. Plus the high costs of everything makes it impractical for them to come and just receive you.

You are home now. You need to settle down. But wait…. there are a few things you have not been told about settling down in the motherland from the diaspora. Things I had to learn the hard way after years in Europe.

1. You will feel lost

There is nothing as disconcerting as feeling like a stranger in your own home. You will attend many a cocktail or choma only to realize that the only person you know is the host and maybe a friend. You will be lost in the conversations that your peers will be having and all you can do is watch while you sip your tipple. Your friends in Kenya will have moved on to having families and doing so much better than you. You will feel out of your depth in matters career and family.

2. You will feel the pressure

In a world where marriage is not a big deal till you are in your late thirties, you will start feeling the pressure the moment you land. Your family will not understand why a 35-year-old man is yet to settle down and give the society some grandchildren. They fail to understand why a 28-year-old woman is not worried about shriveled eggs. Your peers will be getting married and having babies. They will hit milestones while you are still trying to figure yourself out in Kenya.

3. You will realise that Kenya is not cheap

You might have underestimated the value of the shilling when you were sending chums back home while you were in the diaspora. But you will come to realize that it is expensive in this motherland of ours. Buying basic items will put a strain on you and don’t even get me started on the furniture and luxury items.

4. You will tarmac

Unless your father or mother owns a company where they are willing to let you just come in and start working, you will tarmac. You will hit the offices, send endless email applications and attend numerous interviews. You will fail on some and succeed in others. The trick is to keep trying.

5. Your degree will work against you

Yes, that degree you worked your ass off…in between endless work shifts..could end up being your undoing. Sometimes illiterate employers will have a hard time trying to equate it to its equivalent Kenyan university degree. Others will dismiss you as too arrogant for choosing a degree from abroad instead of Kenya. Others will quite honestly feel threatened.

6. You will discover the Kenyan market is very different

So you have decided that employment is not for you. Being the entrepreneur you are, setting up a business is your choice. What you will quickly notice is that Kenyans have very different consumer habits. Your online store might not pick up as fast because for some strange reason, Kenyans prefer Facebook pages to actual online stores. Your designer bags may not fly off the shelves because despite demanding good quality, Kenyans would rather buy cheap. You will have to know that the business models from the diaspora will have to be customized for the Kenyan market.

7. You will be disappointed, over and over again

Once you have gotten used to the working public transport service, security and efficient customer servicesystems in the diaspora, you will be disappointed, even appalled by the sad state of affairs in Kenya. The Personal Service Vehicle industry here will have you shedding tears, the non-existent road etiquette will drive you up the wall. The pathetic customer service in many institutions and establishments will be constant.

8. You will have to forgo the very essence of time keeping

Kenyans don’t give a rat’s ass about keeping time. We are African timers for a reason.  A meeting to take place at 7am will really happen at 9 or 10…on a good day. You will rant, rave and scream about it but we will still not care. You are in Kenyan time.

9. You will love it

If you choose to keep pushing beyond the disappointments and challenges in the job search or starting thebusiness, you will love being in Kenya. You will start appreciating the creativity that comes with the matatu madness. The warmth that comes with the December heat. The hospitality that comes with Kenyans lack of care when it comes to personal boundaries. The humor that comes with the annoying politicking. The opportunities that come with Kenyans’ never ending strive for every hustle. The inner peace that comes with our strong belief in religion. Just don’t give up.

By Njambi Mungai

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