Matatus, Ugali and a Big Warm Welcome

Ignacio, fourth from the left, got a surprise party for his birthday.

Ignacio is the newest member of the VMM Family. He arrived in Kenya in January and works for HAART Kenya as their Legal Project Manager. Here he gives us his first impressions of life in Nairobi.

Every airport is kind of the same: lots of people, nervous facial expressions before border control, and police officers everywhere. What I usually think when I arrive in a new country, is: “How is it going to be outside the airport?”. I didn’t have to wait long. As soon as I got out, I could see all the people waiting for the newcomers at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Among them was Susan, the administrative assistant at HAART Kenya, who was waiting for me. She took me to one of the coordinators’ house and I got to meet the team. I was in Kenya. I was in the Horn of Africa.

In the following weeks I got to know this incredible city and the people that live here, as well as the team of HAART. The team is  representative of most of the people I meet on a daily basis: polite and well-disposed. I felt very welcomed, both by the team, as well as by society in general. From time to time, while walking around, there would be someone suddenly saying “How are you?” or “Yes, Mister, how is your day?”. That simple everyday thing is a good and nice reminder of life in Nairobi, and that you are welcome.

Yes, traffic is crazy. Taking a matatu (small bus) will always be a special experience, sometimes they will be silent, sometimes you will be travelling listening to hip-hop/reggae music, and you’ll just pay 20-50 Kenyan shillings. Sometimes they will speed, sometimes you will be stuck in traffic for a while, but it always is (at least for me) a reminder of where I am.

My place of work is really close to where I live, so I usually don’t have to struggle with traffic. It is a house adapted to be an office, a really comfortable place that I share with the rest of the team. The team is incredible. Actually, a few days ago it was my birthday and they prepared a surprise lunch, with a cake and everything, sang Happy Birthday to me, and also sang “Kata keki sio ugali” (Cut the cake, it’s not ugali –a typical food in Kenya-). It was a great experience and I must say that such simple things become really encouraging when you are celebrating your birthday and you are still developing your social networks.

All in all, Nairobi is an incredible city to live in, with plenty of things to do every day. The work that HAART Kenya is doing has a true impact (and that is key to feel motivated at work) as a direct consequence of the great team that constitutes it. For all this and more, I feel very welcome and very happy to be working here. I am eager to see what experiences this year and this country have waiting for me.

Ignacio Lepro




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