Nicole Silver, Nairobi

My name is Nicole Silver, I am about to turn 50 years old. I am South African.I was an accountant for 22 years, unhappy in my job , so when Michael, my Iife partner, got offered a job overseas, we jumped at the opportunity. This was 5 years ago.

Our first expat landing was to Ghana, West Africa. We were there for two and a half years.

Ghana is a very hot, humid climate. It is also very safe and peaceful. The Ghanaians in our experience are very friendly, trusting and religious people.

Ghana is a developing country and we saw many positive changes while we were there, there is still a lot to be done though. There is a lot of potential to turn Ghana into a tourist destination. When we were there from 2014-2016 , it was a business hub and not a holiday destination.

When we arrived, Michael was replacing someone else in the business, so we just took over his lease in a complex. The complex was suitable for our needs, a bit empty, as many other expats had left, so maybe too quiet for us to meet other people.

For Michael and I, without children, it is quite difficult to meet other like-minded expats. We also don’t drink too much and we quickly discovered that part of expat lives revolve around a lot of drinking. I can’t condone it, as I think it is done in a way to relieve the pressure and the loneliness. In fact that is one of the negative sides, the binge drinking that we experienced with others around us. Quite scary, as I think it can escalate quickly and affect the ability to do your job.

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Michael and I soon got into our own rhythm though. We love quizzes, so I found one we could go to and soon we met other people, both locals and other expats. As I was not working, I had time on my hands to explore as much as I could and was always looking for different places to visit or things to do. I started exploring new hobbies, I found a love for crochet and started to make crochet toys. Most of what I made, I gave away to children’s charities or to friends’ kids.

Then another opportunity came up for Michael, to go to Kenya, East Africa, to work for the same company. We again jumped at the opportunity.

We have been in Kenya for three years. East Africa is very different to West Africa.

Kenya is also a developing country, lots of potential, so many changes have happened in these three years. All for the positive of the country, yet they still have so many challenges. The infrastructure is terrible and not keeping up with demand. Roads are very bad in some places, with huge potholes, and traffic is a nightmare. It takes a lot of patience and restraint when you have to get somewhere quickly.

Kenyans are also very nice, they treat foreigners well. I’ve never felt unwelcome or unsafe here.

We decided to adopt two cats from the KSPCA, a girl and a boy. They are such a joy and have been a great support and comfort to me when Michael had to travel for work and I was home alone.

Another frustration was not having a car here, so had to rely on taxis, Uber and Michael to get around, so feel I lost my independence as I could not just pop to a friend or to the shop. All very spoilt options, to be fair.

As an expat supporting partner, without a work permit, I was free to explore all that Nairobi has to offer. This time round I found it easier to join women’s organizations and other such like-minded ladies that were in the same position as myself. I found many groups that were rewarding.

My best times were where I could learn something, gain perspective, meet other people from all walks of life, from too many countries to mention. There is Here we Are, Kenya, part of a global group, which was great. I also joined a group called WonderWalk, where we walked in the Karura Forest and had mindful sessions at the same time. Another group has just started up called ‘Wonder Women’, they have guest speakers and teach all types of skills. There is also a very active American Women’s Association (AWA) that I joined, there were interesting talks and out-and-abouts, exploring Nairobi and surrounds. There is a South African Women’s Association (SAWA) here, that has been up and down, sometimes active, sometimes not, not sure why, to be honest. It is a pity, as there is a large South African expat community here, but yet there seems to be different factions between Afrikaans- and English-speaking people (in my opinion).

These various groups form part of some of my precious memories. I even started a sip & stitch group, taught crochet to elderly ladies and we hosted our own quiz night.

Michael and I got to travel throughout Kenya while here. How lucky we are to have got to experience the Maasai Mara TWICE, and got to see the wildebeest migration. We also travelled to Mount Kenya, Navaisha, Mombasa, Lake Mogadi and Diani Beach. That is definitely an advantage of being an expat as well as paying resident rates!! Kenya is very expensive if you are not paid in dollars!

There is also the Nairobi National Park right on our doorstep, and we happily went there on many Sundays. We love the bush and while away from South Africa we missed the Kruger National Park terribly.

One regret might be that we never went to other game parks here, but to be honest, they are very expensive and if we compare roads and facilities, nothing compares to KNP, in my opinion.

Another bonus of this part of our lives is that we have been fortunate to do some awesome overseas traveling. We have been to Egypt, Sri Lanka, England, Mauritius, Vietnam and Thailand. We might never have been able to afford this otherwise.

The downside is always missing family back home, and occasions, both happy and sad. My sister passed away while we were here, both our mothers are frail and elderly. It’s always a challenge to hear about them having falls and hurting themselves when we can do nothing about it.

The other downside is other South African expats and how they are very cliquey, the Afrikaans people will stick to themselves and not integrate well with others, in my opinion. We are English South Africans and often felt left out. Also, my goodness, the binge drinking, it is very prevalent!!

So now the next chapter in our lives is happening:

Michael’s work permit here is not being extended, his company has offered him a Voluntary Retrenchment Package and we are going back to RSA.

Both without jobs, 50 years old and a minority in our home country. It’s both scary, terrifying and also filled with mixed emotions.

We are definitely taking our cats back to SA with us, we made the commitment and we are sticking to it, anyway we love and adore them too much to leave them behind. They are family!

We hope that we can gain employment and become useful, tax-paying , loyal citizens again. If we have to go somewhere else, I’m sure we will jump at the choice again too.

We have definitely gained useful tools for any foreseeable expat landings.

We only truly understand how blessed we are that South Africa is such a beautiful country, when we are out of the country. I wish more people had the opportunity to do this and see for themselves how lucky we are. We have brilliant roads/infrastructure, amazing climates and the most friendly and helpful people.

These are just a few of my observations and experiences, hope you have enjoyed reading.


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