Category Archives: Work

What It’s Like To Work in a Big 4

I had the privilege of working for Ernst & Young for almost two years in Kenya. If you asked me whether I enjoyed the experience, I would tell you I did. Here’s what it’s like to work in one of the big four professional firms worldwide. (Don’t worry, I am not going to reveal confidential information here, lest I get sued)

The big 4 accounting firms in the world
The big 4 accounting firms in the world

Brilliant Minds

It’s no secret that the big four recruit the sharpest minds from campus or when they hire at higher levels, they get those with a proven performance record in the industry. So it was a pleasure working with some smart people in EY. People for whom the common goal is to finish an assignment with efficiency. People to whom you explain something only once, or no explanation is needed. No pettiness (mostly), no sweating the small stuff (depending on your team).

Dynamic Environment & Great Experience


I worked on various assignments dealing with clients in different industries: manufacturing, hospitality, banking, insurance etc. In the jobs you get to learn about the clients’ needs and understand how various industries operate. I worked in IT Risk & Advisory, which is a very dynamic field. Well, although EY is known as an accounting firm, and where balance sheets remain the same year in year out; I was in a different service line which is Advisory (Consultancy). In IT, things change all the time and we needed to stay on top of the game in order to win jobs and perform on assignments.

Consultancy

Being a consultant means I hardly spent time in the office. I would report to the office only to get a new assignment, then I go to the client’s premises to ‘advise’ them and stay there for the period of the assignment. When it was done, back to the office for the next assignment; or just straight from one client to the next. At the very least, there is no dread at the thought of going to the same desk over and over again, each day every day, several months and years gone by.. although some client’s working environments were not the most desirable, at least change was guaranteed from time to time.

When you strut into the offices of a new client, and they’ll introduce you like, “This is the consultant from EY” and you stand taller haha.. consultants are generally selfimportant. And you get respect and tea served on time, and since the tag “auditor” hangs over you, and everyone wants to be in your good books.

The Name
So I’m in Japan and I am meeting people from the world over. I tell them I worked in EY and they nod in understanding. Everyone knows EY. Everyone assumes that you must be smart, I mean the big 4 are known for recruiting the smartest of the lot. So the name on your CV will already put in you in favourable light. Of course now you have to prove yourself. And back home you state you work in EY and you pause for people to take it in, as if you own shares in the company, when all you really are is a KYM (Kazi ya Mkono).

Once an EYer, always an EYer
Once an EYer, always an EYer

 

Work Structure

At entry-level, you are a KYM. Then you get to be a senior, after some years, when you have enough work experience to lead an assignment and have also acquired some managerial skills. And then depending on your ability to bring in business, you can make manager. To make director, partner.. it’s not so much about your technical skills now but your ability to sell the business, to bring in accounts and retain clients. You’re a salesman. Just ask Harvey Specter in Suits how he made partner. And it’s a pyramid, so some people have to fall of off along the way. It’s competitive, it is the so-called corporate ladder. Will I go back to the corporate world? Hmmm.. I am now in Japan to get leverage, if I come back it will not be at the base of the pyramid, that’s for sure. In any case, that pyramid base is fed by fresh-eyed and eager smart graduates churned out by our universities, year after year. I am coming for the very top. (GG do you read this? ;-) )

Pay

Haha, what pay? You guys are joking. I think it’s case of the grass is greener on the other side. Guys who are out think we earn more than them, and us who are in know we don’t. After all, we do look at your payroll cough cough. Anyway, money has never been and will never be enough. And if it’s your chief motivation then EY is not the place for you.

Work Environment

There is no workplace without its politics and all. Some companies have it better, some have it worse. Also, as a young mother, I was able to work and deliver on my assignments, thanks to a fairly understanding team.  All you can do is embrace the positive and soldier on. The company is quite fair, on paper at least. EY was voted top employer in Africa by some survey. All in all, the work at EY was a necessary corporate experience that I’m grateful for.

 

What Goes Through the Mind of a 26 Year Old Woman?

I composed this blog post in my head while I sat in traffic, contemplating my life. The radio was tuned into 1FM, it’s the only radio station that has a clear reception, since I am still using the Japanese frequencies that came with the car radio. The music is local and urban hits: basically modern African hits – Mafikizolo, Davido, Sauti Sol, Elani, Diamond Platinumz, Ali Kiba (mapenzi yana run dunia comes to mind) etc. But my thoughts drift…

nairobi traffic
These are the traffic jams I have to go through in the evenings. Plenty of time to think. Image from http://monicahnjeri.files.wordpress.com/

My Son

Of course, he’s always on mind, especially if I am idle. I think about how he will start crying for me from the moment I drive through the gate, rushing towards me so I can pick him up then he smiles and tries to remove my spectacles. He’s already widened them beyond belief and now they hang limp and loose on my face. This means I have to remove them and then there is the delicate balancing act of my son, spectacles, keys, handbag, laptop bag and any groceries I may have bought. Usually, I make sure I drop anything else except Jeremy.

When in traffic, I think about what kind of life I want to give my son. Will I bring him up to be a kind, responsible man? Will I help him achieve his dreams and ambitions? Will I be the kind of mother he would be proud of? Can I set a good example for him to follow? How will I afford his school feels? What kind of schools will I take him to? In fact, where in the world will I bring him up? (This will be relevant when you read later thoughts).

I’m grateful everyday for the support of my parents, I’m still living with them and in a way they are parenting both of us. Will I make it when I move out and start on my own? How tough is this single parenthood journey?

Then I relax and decide it will be a journey, one day at a time, and things will always work out, they always do for me, in the end.

Finances

cash-kenya-shillings
Money, money, money… money (know that song?)

Which leads to finances. I have been working in formal employment for almost 2 years now, but I have little to no savings. Start saving now, they say, while you are still young, no matter how much you earn. It is not easy, I must admit. I live a subsistence kind of life; my salary only sustains me as far as the next salary. I need a side hustle that brings in good money. Or a better job, which will of course mean I increase my expenses and we are back to subsistence. How can I make more money? I ask myself.

I am not the type of person who would depend on another for money & security, I always know I will make my own money. And when we speak with friends, we tell ourselves, can we really make enough in formal employment? Business is the way to go, we agree. Entrepreneurship. Some of my friends are already running their own businesses. Some are working, like me. Not many have the courage to be entrepreneurs, not many were meant to be entrepreneurs.

Career

This could be me and Jeremy..
This could be me and Jeremy.. or is it Jeremy and I?

Which leads me to ask myself, do I like what I am doing? Is it leading me to the path of riches and accomplishments (vain thoughts?)

Do I want to continue working in Ernst & Young in IT audit and consultancy? Is there a future for me here, right now?

Then I remember the decision was already made for me. I have already tendered my resignation letter  but will be here for the next 2 months, then have my last working day in early September. I am leaving EY to go back to school. See next train of thought.

Academics

I recently graduated from Strathmore University with an MSc in Mobile Telecommunication and Innovation. Here is a graduation selfie to prove it :- ) (FYI I graduated three years ago with a first class BSc in Computer Science from JKUAT)

graduation selfie
I am serious looking I know but I was contemplating my accomplishments :)

Did the time I invested in learning at Strathmore, courtesy of the Safaricom Academy worth it? Definitely. I learned not only mobile programming in all platforms (USSD, Android etc), but also project management, business skills, entrepreneurship, leadership and management. I know I will apply them not only now but also in the future, especially when I set up my own business to make more money so I can better take care of my son (all thoughts center around the same issues, as you can see!)

Japan, October 2014

As you wonder why I am resigning from my job with a reputable, international firm, I will tell you to stop wondering.. here’s why.

I got a Japanese Ministry of Culture and Education (MEXT) scholarship to go and study in Japan, at a university of my choice. I decided to go because I have always wanted to travel, and I’m going to the East first, conquer the world one country at a time. So I am going to the School of Information Science at JAIST to major in Artificial Intelligence. Another MSc. For like 2 years. But I’m young enough, with 2 years of work experience.. and I like studying, and will probably end up in (industry) research. Every tech company worth its salt has invested in research. (Edit: I found out I can do PhD directly, no need for a second PhD. This blogger will be staying in Japan for at least 4 years, including the months she will spend learning some basic Japanese before embarking on her research!)

So I’m leaving in early October, hopefully, fingers crossed. I’ll leave Jeremy and Bella in my mother’s loving arms, then when I’m settled, I’ll send for J. For the next 2.5 years that I will be in Japan, I couldn’t possibly leave my son behind that long! I will have to do everything possible to reunite us.

Relationships

My friend Pitz tells me a woman is her most attractive at 26. He says there was research carried out, apparently. Or is it a survey? So as you see me today, I am at the height of my attractiveness hehe.. so where are those serious men? How will my ambitions to travel and see and work anywhere the world, to study etc.. how will these ambitions converge with another? Is there someone out there whose path will cross mine? Is it okay if I am not even contemplating marriage? Is it okay if I decide I don’t have to “settle down” and can live the rest of my life in single motherhood?

The thing about relationships is that it’s not your decision alone to make. So until someone else comes along whose decisions I want to be a part of, and vice versa, I shall reserve my stall my train of thought here….

By the time, traffic has started to move, but oh wait, it was just a teaser. The cop halts the flow of traffic after 2 or 3 cars. We sit and wait.. and I finally decide it’s time I solved the Rubik’s cube that I’ve been learning to these past few weeks, in between reading books (I am currently reading the Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and I am yet to write the review for Den of Inequities by Kinyanjui Kombani), blogging, meeting friends for coffee, and squeezing in some hours of work between commuting to work in the morning and commuting home in the evening..

Solving Rubik's Cube
I’ve been using a numbered cube to make mastering the moves faster

The cube is just about solved when traffic finally moves and I zoom home to my family, hooting at bad drivers, cursing at those who cut me off in traffic, and nodding to Elani’s kookoo.. I’m going kookookoo so kookoo coz I…aiaiai love you…… turning up the volume of my Japanese radio.

 

Conveniences of the Online World

With internet costs in Kenya quite high and suspicion about trading online on the same level, not many people are transacting online. However, for me, it’s a regular thing. I can’t tell you what a convenience online transactions have been for me, I’ll just illustrate with a few examples:

Smart Baby

I don’t remember who introduced me to Smart Baby facebook page but I am grateful they did. They stock really nice clothes – that you can’t find on the overrated Biashara Street. I usually go through the Facebook page, select what I like and order through email. My order is delivered the following day to the office, where I pay cash on delivery. I could have them delivered at home but since I live way out of town, the delivery charges will be too high. I pay Ksh. 150 for delivery to Upperhill. Quite affordable, no? Update: They actually deliver for only Ksh 200 to places like Mlolongo.

Some of the clothes on offer at Smart Baby
Some of the clothes on offer at Smart Baby

They actually have a website now and it’s much easier to browse through stuff. You can pay through M-Pesa. I think next month I will shop through the website. (Although it currently says: THIS IS A DEMO STORE- PLEASE DO NOT PLACE ANY ORDERS). My son tends to outgrow clothes fast (as do most babies) so I buy new outfits each new month or so. If you are going to buy clothes from there, buy one or two sizes bigger. The clothes might say 3 months but they fit a 0-month old baby (at least for my baby).

And for those who prefer old school shopping, please have a _. And then head to their shop in Kileleshwa (which opened well after the online shop).

Elegantly African

This is a shopping website for fashion accessories. I need a new watch and when I saw the pictures of the watches they have I wanted one.

A photo of the new watch. The glasses though, I had to go to Optica for the checkup. If only I could do it online too..
A photo of the new watch. The glasses though, I had to go to Optica for the checkup. If only I could do it online too..

I got it for Ksh. 1,000, paid through my Visa Debit card and it was delivered free to my office. So Elegant. So African. (Seems the watches are out of stock at the moment, just checked their site).

Diapers

For my diaper shopping, I was going to Biashara Street to buy them, so I can buy them at Ksh 50 bob cheaper than at the supermarkets. A colleague at work gave me the distributor’s number, I called them, made an order, paid through their M-Pesa paybill number and they delivered to my office free of charge. Okay, it’s not online shopping, more of over-the-phone shopping but it’s still quite convenient. You have to buy in Bulk though.

Huggies Gold Diapers, they're rather expensive but they've become my favorite brand
Huggies Gold Diapers, they’re rather expensive but they’ve become my favorite brand

Imperial Bank

I finally signed up for online banking so I can check my statements and do some transactions. I have accounts with both Equity (it has its advantages) and Imperial Banks and they both have online banking services. With Imperial, the forms were sent to me via email, I then filled and dropped them off. I’m sure I can download internet-banking forms online from the Equity site so I shall sign up soon.

Who doesn't do this anymore?
Who doesn’t do this anymore?

Dash2Do.com

Have you ever had an errand that required you to attend to it during working hours? Things like banking, registration of births (etc), picking documents from one place to another..

I started the birth certificate application for my son. I had to steal some time off work to do it. I filled in the forms, then was told to come later to pay for the processing (they do the verification for almost a week!). When I went to pay, they had run out of receipts so I walked back to the office in frustration. When I went the second time to pay, it was 2 p.m. and I found a huge crowd of people by the entrance waiting. If I was to wait with that crowd, I’d lose more than an hour of working so again I walked back to the office in frustration and decided I’d come earlier. Going back the 3rd time to pay, I was there by 8:30 a.m. only to be told the offices open at 9 a.m. I couldn’t stand around for another 30 minutes considering I’d left work. Can you spell F.R.U.S.T.R.A.T.I.O.N

A dasher. No, this is not Emily.
A dasher. No, this is not Emily.

Enter dash2do.com. You sign up, you load your account with some money from your debit/credit card, and then you can request for errand doers – stating the errand the amount you are willing to offer. Someone is assigned to the errand, and give you a call. You also get a text telling you who has been assigned. That’s how Emily from dash2do.com contacted me and finally sorted out this lining up to pay business. I was so relieved. Now to wait for about two weeks to go pick the certificate. I also had many other errands which she ran satisfactorily for me.

Once a task is complete, you go back to the dash2do.com website and pay the agreed amount. They also offer other services like phone tracking, luggage keeping etc.

Old Mutual

I am trying to invest. I know, I also laugh at the joke that is that statement. This means if there’s anything left in my account at the end of the month, I try to siphon it off to these guys, they have this fund which you can top up with any amount from 1,000. You can top up via M-Pesa or through bank deposits (scan and send the slip after depositing). You can liquidate any time. Although you can’t check statements online on the website, they are sent to me via email. The fund manager is available via email for any discussions etc.

Free Old Mutual Calendar
Free Old Mutual Calendar

I got a free calendar when I signed :) I keep it on my workspace.

P.S.

All these guys I’ve mentioned should pay me for marketing them :) Tell me you’re not convinced

Here and There: A Random Tuesday

So this past Saturday (the 23rd) was my 23rd birthday. Girls should not say their age, or weight. I’m willing to divulge my age though. Lemme share a few photos from that day, I had invited a few friends for a swimming day out.

Some friends and I swimming, in the deep end just so you know!
The cake, courtsey of many friends, Monch, Tristar4, TheKayrich and WallyB among them. Notice the name, it's like no one even uses my real name anymore!

Now this post is titled Tuesday and that’s what I’ll talk about. I kept checking my email every few minutes. I had attended an interview more than a week ago and I’d made a number of applications here and there and was hoping for some good news.

I know some people may be wondering about the number of interviews (two work interviews so far) I seem to have attended, but sometimes though you’re brilliant and talented, you can’t work anywhere. There is a right place, right time for you. Anyway, Tuesday morning I had yet another interview, this one work-related too.I’m expecting positive results as always.

I was back in town around noon and had to follow up on a registration hitch with KASNEB for my brother, who was reporting for his first day of campus. I wonder if I’ve inspired him to start blogging? He has five years of campus ahead of him.

As I passed by Agha Khan Walk in Nairobi, I couldn’t help but notice the number of (idle) people sitting on the raised ledge keenly watching anyone passing by. I managed to take a photo somehow, without anyone realizing it:

Notice the people seated, waiting for any object of interest to pass by. Usually, anyone walking past is an object of interest!

If you’ve had a busy up and down day in Nairobi during this hot weather season, you’ll know Githurai is not the place for a stopover on the way home. I tend to make fun of Githurai much, must be something to do with us being neighbours! Anyway, as I said earlier we buy some vegetables from this riot of a place and I told the driver of the matatu that I would be making a stopover.

“Uko sure ni Githu?” He asked, disbelieving.

I was seated in front with the driver and one other passenger so I was dealing with him directly, unlike when you sit at the back of the matatu and you have to poke (literally) the conductor so he can tap the matatu three times (more or less) then the driver knows to stop at the next stage.

I told the driver that yes, I was sure. I asked him why he didn’t believe I wanted to stop at Githurai.

“We hukai mtu wa Githurai…” – You don’t look like a Githurai person.

I was flattered. It meant I throw these middle-to-upper class vibes, which is a good thing when you have hopes of becoming East Africa’s president in 2032. People will not vote for a poor person! Okay, maybe they will but who doesn’t want people to think they’re rich even when you have no cent to your name?

I told him I was merely stopping over to buy some stuff and he nodded in understanding, saying Githurai people look more like him! Never mind Githurai and Kahawa Estates join somewhere, providing a smooth transition between the hoods.

There was a traffic cop at the stage and the driver had to stop some distance ahead. I can bet the matatu was violating all kinds of rules, from loud music to no speed governer.

I got home to no electricity and a phone with low battery. If you’re as addicted to my phone as I am, you become religious and pray earnestly for the electricity to come back. As I waited for my prayers to be answered, I got a new email in my inbox. It was from Strathmore University.

I had applied for a scholarship being offered by Safaricom, for a new Master of Science program in Telecommunications Innovation and Development that will be conducted at Strathmore Univeristy. I’ll blog more about it later. It was an acceptance email! I start my MSc next week.

The first good news in some time.

The downside is I had to postpone (hopefully) an internship opportunity with ILRI in Ethiopia. I was so looking forward to working in an international research organisation, going to the country directly north of us and having some shisha during my free time (why lie!). Ethiopia will have to wait till another time.

Looks like I’m going to be a student again!

Here and There: A Random Thursday

On Thursday morning, I went to a job interview. I woke up very early, probably the earliest I’ve woken up in a month so I could beat the traffic and arrive at Westlands in time. I think the interview went well, I don’t want to write about it in case I jinx it!

I’ve decided my two financial goals this year are to raise money for a motorbike and college applications. I’m looking for a university to do my graduate studies next year, and so far all applications must be accompanied by an application fee of not less than 100 dollars/euros/pounds. So if you intend to apply to 10 universities… do the math! Don’t even get me started on the tuition fees! As for the motorbike, I want something that costs 60-80K. Something gisty, and awesome.

A job will definitely come in handy!

Back in town, I ran into a former primary school classmate! It’s been about 10 years since I last saw her but she hasn’t changed a bit. She didn’t recognize me so that should tell you I did the changing for both of us! I remember she was one of the cool girls back then, I think I became one of her entourage! There was also another girl who was part of the sidekick group. One day, the popular girl went home sick and I was mean to the other sidekick. I still feel a bit guilty to this day, I hope she forgot about it!

We exchanged numbers and went on with our lives. We’ll probably never call each other unless there is need to. Life happens.

My Lunch

I had lunch with a friend at The Savanna Lounge on Loita Street. I thought about becoming an restaurant reviewer, but I’ll start next time. Just know sandwiches, served with fries, are recommended. Don’t try the mocktails, don’t let the menu scare you (it’s a dirty laminated thing), and the service is average. Food is good. The Mango juice is awesome. The coffee too.

The Savannah Lounge Menu. It probably doesn't look too bad in this photo but it's rough around the edges

As I walked towards my stage, I saw this sign at the JKUAT (my alma mater) town campus:

Loanding zone? Seriously! Loanding zone! Still can't get over that. Loanding zone!

Bro’s Lunch

I went back home around 4pm, met my brother who was coming back from KCA where he does his accounting studies. He tells me that for lunch, he went to Area 4. That’s at Mathare North behind KCA. He doesn’t think he’ll go back there but the food is at its cheapest! One big 30cm in diameter chapatti, costing 15bob. The second one is discounted at 10bob. You have this with some kind stew. Avoid the Mix. The Mix is a mixture of all kinds of soups and vegetables.

Mum is Back Home

We live not too far from the main road, and not too far from Githurai either. We live at Kahawa Wendani (or Barracks since there’s an army base here.) This building (see below) always fascinates me. This is not where we live though, I don’t know who would want to live there!

Weird building in Kahawa Wendani. I would love to know its architect.

Anyway, whenever mum wants to go grocery shopping, she goes to Githurai. If you can avoid the stench of rotting vegetables, mass of humanity and vehicles, dust/mad depending on the season, then you are going to buy the freshest and cheapest groceries in Nairobi. Traders from other estates come to Githurai for their supplies.

Whenever she comes back with a big paper bag of groceries and/or sweet potatoes, bananas, maize etc she calls whoever is at home to go to the stage and help her carry the luggage. This time, my bro and I reluctantly walked to the stage and there she was, with a whole bunch of green bananas.

She had a bunch exactly like this

After hurriedly crossing the dangerous and very wide Thika road, we decided to give someone the porting job. My bro gestured this street kid who sniffing glue and watching us. We gave him 20bob for just a short distance, less than 100m. On reaching the stairs of our apartment block, he dropped the bunch and walked off! I knew we shouldn’t have trusted him.

60 Seconds With Savvy Kenya

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

At first I wanted to be a pilot. When I was a kid, I used to watch the planes high in the sky, sometimes they left a trail of smoke behind, and think how I want to be high up in the clouds like them. Sad I’ve never actually flown, huh?

Then I went to school and I wanted to be a teacher.

Later, in primary school, I wanted to be a doctor/lawyer/engineer. It changed depending on who was asking me the question, but my heart wasn’t really in it. Though I remember Regine Re on Ommo Pick a Box, that program that used to air on KBC? My mum told me she’s an electrical engineer and for a while I wanted to be one.

Much later, in class six, I read Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands and I wanted to become a neurosurgeon. Tell me you didn’t dream of separating some Siamese twins after reading that book.

In short, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be when I was young. I was fickle.

Now I still have ambitions of being a world renowned novelist and a sports journalist so I can attend a world cup sponsored by my media house, of course.

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

What’s the worst that could happen if you tried?

What’s the best piece of advice you ever gave?

If it was meant to be, it will. No point worrying about things you can’t control. Do what you can, you’ll know you did your best.

What do you most enjoy about your job?

Let’s say I’m currently jobless but we can talk about my most recent job. I was working with kids and I realized I’m not as bad with kids as I thought. I don’t mean babies and toddlers, but 9-15 year olds.

Oh, let’s not forget Friday afternoons. They were the best days in the office.

Who would you most like to have dinner with?

Paul Kagame. I got a number of questions to ask him, there was never time to talk a lot when I first met him.

Who is your role model?

This is a hard one. Most people just say their parents but it’s just an easy way out for answering this question. My parents inspire me, they really do. They both come from extremely humble backgrounds and they do the best for us. Wangari Mathai is another one, she’s my hero! Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison and came out with no bitterness, I don’t understand it! I’m not even 27 yet! There are many unsung heroes, people whose stories you’ll never see aired on CNN, let alone any local news channel, whom I look at every day and wish I could somehow acquire part of their character.

I had a role model when I was young, an older family friend. I went to the same primary school she went to, followed in her footsteps to the national secondary school she went, got the same grade in the secondary exam! She went to Moi University and got a first class honours degree in engineering. I went to JKUAT and got a first class honours degree in computer science. I guess you could say she’s one of my role models.

Another person who I’ve never met in person but inspires me online is Grace Mwaura. Google her!

There is no one person who is my role model; there are many from whom I’d like to copy some part of the character and somehow assimilate it in me. There is no space to name them all.

If you could be one person for a day, who would that be?

Barrack Obama. I would love to know how being the president of one of the world’s most powerful countries feels like. I hope no one tries to assassinate me while at it! Perhaps I would then get a chance to influence and change people’s lives in a big way. A lot can be done in a day!

Work, Love and Life: Rwanda so far

I did not come to Rwanda to look for love (love looks for me, I do not look for it), neither did I come to start a pimping business or to look for wives for my Kenyan friends. I came to work. So please, stop asking me if Rwandese women are as beautiful as the myth goes? Okay, let me be polite and answer that. A few women are beautiful, most of them are average, and a few are er….a little below average. It’s the normal curve, nothing skewed towards the right (meaning most people are beautiful). Also, for the ladies, kindly don’t ask me how the men are, for reasons mentioned above :-D

Back to serious business. I’m living at a guest house (you know, like those lodges in Naivasha) so my new quarters are a big room with a bed, table and chair, two easy chairs and comfortable bathroom. Comfortable meaning plenty of space, and separate shower and toilet. It’s done with an African theme, if there’s something like that. The few hangings on the wall, the containers made from banana/fiber weaving etc. Breakfast is a part of accommodation, and I can also eat lunch/supper here at my own cost.

A view of my room, this is a part of the guest house am staying at.
A view of my room, this is a part of the guest house am staying at.

 

Julie (my boss) with Percy (the guest house owner's 14 year old son)
Julie (my boss) with Percy (the guest house owner’s 14 year old son)

Rwanda is a beautiful country, but it’s just starting out. You know the way in Kenya there are many ATMs sprinkled all over? Well, I learnt that ATMs are limited here and withdrawing via ATM is expensive. I’m living in Musanze Town, which is quite far from Kigali and there are many services which we have to drive down to Kigali for, not just banking.

This town is clean and very well organized. There are rows upon rows of new buildings, beautiful houses surrounded by brick fences that I learned are a requirement. If you cannot build a good house with a good fence, then you’re forced to sell your plot.

 

The Main Street (don't know the name yet) in Musanze Town. I walk clean streets like this everyday to work, for about 10min
The Main Street (don’t know the name yet) in Musanze Town. I walk clean streets like this everyday to work, for about 10min

The first evening after work, Julie took me to meet some of her friends: Jan, who’s a gorilla doctor (cool job, innit?) and Valerie (she works with local committees and some tourism group, I think). I had fun with these ladies, and though the only common thing we may have had is that Rwanda is not our home country, I think we could be good friends in the end.

Yesterday, we passed by the Gorilla Lodge just next to my guest house: they have this beautiful swimming pool and I think I may have found my Sat/Sun afternoon pastimes. Have a look:

 

The Gorilla Lodge swimming pool
The Gorilla Lodge swimming pool

There are other guests that come and go, like yesterday there was this American family with a really hot son who looked about my age. (He had long hair). But you know, I’m still new and it was just all round conversation at supper time, who knows? ;-)

As I finish my second day at work, I have a feeling that my stay here will be worth it.

P.S. There is a Pizza place just walking distance from here and I’ve been looking for someone to play pool with.

I also noticed a chess board at the guest house and can’t wait to play.

Finally in Rwanda: Kampala to Kigali

The journey from Kampala to Kigali was uneventful, if by uneventful you mean we stopped several times on the way, picking up loud women and dropping them again somewhere ahead. The bus was delayed by almost two hours (this is the last time am riding Akamba), and it was not as comfortable as the one from Nairobi to Kampala. Since it was not full, the driver and conductor took it upon themselves to operate like a matatu (taxi), picking up random passengers, which means instead of riding express to the border, we stopped several times. A journey that was to take 9 hours took….14!

We stopped at Mbarara for a while, and of course long lines of passengers at the washrooms was expected. There were only two stalls for ladies and one sink at the highway motel/hotel. There’s this woman who’d made it there first, so she was washing her hands at the sink when I arrived. There were like 5 other people waiting to use that tap, from which there was a trickle of water. She proceeded to take her time…even washing her armpits in the process.

Okay, I understand, Mbarara was very hot that afternoon. But emerging from the washroom with even wetter underarms didn’t make much sense. She probably has never heard of wet wipes or deodorant. By this time, some ladies waiting to use the sink had become impatient and they left…I don’t know if they eventually found another tap elsewhere or they decided to go commando.

We were arriving at the border at 6.30 p.m., East Africa Time. (You’ll see the relevance of specifying which time zone it ahead.) I had told my boss, who’d arranged for me to be picked from the bus terminus, that I’d be arriving at 8 p.m. We reached Kigali at 9.30 p.m., and I was afraid I had made them wait for long, when I was told it was 8.30 p.m. Rwanda is one hour behind the rest of EA (except Burundi, which should be in the same time zone as Rwanda) and was glad I had told them 8 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.

Piece of advice: you do not want to use the toilets at the border. Please don’t make me describe them.

Towards the border, the land became hillier and hillier, and though we arrived at night, I confirmed that indeed, the whole of Rwanda is hilly. It’s known as the country of a thousand hills, Olivier told me. He (chief of staff, I think that’s his title), Valerie (executive assistant to the boss) and the driver (am so bad with names) came to pick me up from the stage. They greeted me enthusiastically, took my bags, said how happy they were to see me, told me they’d expected a much bigger person and generally made me feel very welcome.

I had no problems crossing the border, but I was later informed that if you are coming to work in Rwanda, you need a work visa. Wait a minute, I thought it was not necessary for Kenyans to get visas to work in Rwanda and vice versa? Turns out you do need the work permit and I will have to apply for one at the Immigration department in Kigali.

From Kigali, we stopped at some township (did I say am bad with names?) where I had supper. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet place, you pay and then serve yourself. I took some matoke (at least am familiar with those), vegetables and a roasted sweet potato. Fanta Orange to top it up. You think that’s too much? Nah, I wish I had a camera then. Guys (thin guys, fat guys, short guys, tall guys, short thin guys..) piled their plates up high and then topped it up with a 72CL beer (am guessing somewhere around 750ml). Rwandans bottle their beer in these huge bottles, I think you just need to have one for the night. They’re lovely people though…I could be indistinguishable from them, Oliver told me, if only I spoke Kinyarwanda. You know what they say about Rwandese women…they’re beautiful, so if Oliver thinks I look like one of them…

 

A 720ml beer
A 720ml beer

 

I’ll be working in Musanze town, 2 hours out of Kigali. The road leading here is a meander up the hills. I’m so excited to start working…got lodging at a guest house, where I should be staying for the next three months, if everything goes according to plan. The owner of the b/b guest house is a lovely lady called Elaine with these three dogs that like me, and I like them back.

That is how Tuesday morning finds me: having had breakfast, arranged my room (might put up pictures later), charged my phone, made calls and texted back home to say how am settling down, set up my speakers (only to find I forgot to bring the cable connecting comp and speaker) and having read half of “On Black Sisters’ Street”, a novel given by a friend.

Tuesday afternoon, I’ll take a walk to the offices and get introduced around. I live walking distance to the office, how cools is that?

Rwanda As I hear Of It

This is the first post in this blog. I used to blog over at the Diary of a Kenyan Campus Girl but then I finished campus on 17th Dec, 2010. Technically, it was on 16th but I left on the 17th, never more a campus girl.

Lucky me, I don’t have to tarmac in January looking for a job, I already have one. In Rwanda. How I got it? Story for another day. Meanwhile, here is what everyone has been telling me about it:

Map of Rwanda

Map of Rwanda

Whenever I mention I’m going to be working in Rwanda in Jan, I always receive some sort of information or advice from people who’ve never been there. They don’t even know it’s now part of East Africa, and I don’t need a work permit to work there, or a visa to visit. Anyway, here is what I hear, from those who’ve been there as well:

it’s very beautiful, green etc. I have to see this for myself. I hear Kigali is really clean too.

The people are friendly. I think Kenyans are the most ‘hostile’ of the 5 EA countries.

The cost of living is very high. A classmate who did his ‘internship’ in Rwanda told me something that costs 10bob here costs 20bob there because of transportation costs. Rwanda is landlocked, FYI, and they import their stuff through Kenya and Tanzania and I don’t know where else. So he told me to buy everything I needed before I travel. Everything? Well, seems like I may have to travel with some shopping from here.

They speak French mostly. Though Rwanda is changing its official language from French to English, most of Rwandans don’t know English yet. And their Kiswahili is a bit strange, hard to understand. Since I don’t know French (well, I know bonjour and Je t’aime but not enough to ask for directions), it seems am doomed. My classmate told me he used to speak Kikuyu. Apparently, since Kinyarwanda is bantu and Kikuyu is bantu, you have a better chance of being understood that way. It’s hard to bargain for stuff or pay in a public bus or order for food but I will survive. (Cue for Gloria somebody’s I’ll survive song)

Theirs is a French culture. So they only eat once a day (so I heard). Breakfast could be coffee or a glass or milk, but lunch, which is the main meal, is an all-you-can-eat buffet. Then supper is something light. I could live with that.

Kenyans hang out at Carwash. Just hop onto a motorcycle, and ask to be dropped off at Carwash and you’ll find company with whom you have much in common.

Nakumatta Kigali is alcohol-friendly. You can buy liquor and drink it right there, a cool area has been set aside for you to sit and drink away.