A year ago:
It’s a gloomy Saturday morning. You are tired from the work week and are sleeping in today later than usual. You’ve got brunch plans with a friend that you haven’t seen for awhile and that you scheduled a couple of weeks ago. You had Googled great lunch spots around the city and after some back and forth over Facebook messenger, you had landed upon this place you saw on Instagram — trendy, picture perfect photos of beetroot hummus avocado toast and thick fluffy carrot pancakes, boasting the best coffee in town since a few months ago. You both are excited to try out this new place that injects some fun and interesting twists to the usual brunch menu. So you roll yourself out of bed, put on some trendy jeans and a white top with the latest fall jacket from Aritzia and make your way to meet your friend.
You greet each other with hugs and “it’s been so long”, with a hint of distance and emptiness in the relationship. The smiles and laughters, though genuine, are not rich like the foam on your cappuccino. You then spend the rest of the hour catching up about what’s going on at work, how their boss really sucks, and how tiresome online dating is. She tells you the same story of how after a few months of dating this new guy, things aren’t working out anymore. And the thought of going on the dating app again feels frustrating as hell. Life doesn’t feel alive. Things are going nowhere but there are no plans either to take them anywhere.
That takes up the whole hour and you both realize that you have to be elsewhere shortly. So you wrap up, mention how nice this place was and “we should do this again”, and go on your merry way.
It’s a cloudy Saturday morning but the dew is making the trees glisten. You wake up energetically to go and buy some fresh ingredients for the brunch you are hosting. You see a lady by the road and eye her products to see if she’s got what you need — some fresh coriander, bright red onions, and ripe fresh fruits for smoothies. You now have an idea for what these things cost so the negotiations don’t take too long and you make your way back home with the groceries in the 22 degree weather.
It’s 11 AM and you spend the next hour preparing for brunch, and as if in a flow, you diligently chop French beans, onions, tomatoes, garlic, etc. Then, as people start strolling in, your kitchen fills up like a coffee shop on a weekend morning. In one corner, a friend chops up pineapples and and bananas for a refreshing smoothie, and in another corner a friend peels apples to experiment making caramelized apples for crepes. More people funnel in and lend you a hand in setting up the table, helping you chop onions, and chiming in on how much sugar should be added to caramelize apples. Not quite the hustle and bustle of a restaurant kitchen but a similar scene is taking place — the blender sound overtaking conversations, apples sizzling in sugar, plates clinking and cupboards being opened and closed. All the while a great debate is taking place as to whether to stir the apples or not and what the right amount of batter to put in the pan for crepes to turnout like actual crepes; meal experimentation always being the norm at such things.
The prep took longer than expected and it’s now 2 PM but the pieces have finally come together with a nice big spread on the dining table. This includes a toaster that is plugged into an extension cord to create on-demand fresh toast and a refreshing smoothie gracing the table as a centrepiece, stored in a flower vase because a jug could not be found. The hungry group of people gather around and shuffle dishes from one side of the table to another, indulging in pieces of everything that was made. Conversation begins naturally around food of course and covers multiple subjects like travel, living abroad experiences, history, etc.
An hour later, the pots and pans stand empty on the table but the conversation doesn’t end yet. It migrates to the couches, along with a hint of food coma and some coffee and tea. The afternoon passes just like this, people splayed out on the couches, obvious that no one is in a rush to get anywhere or showing signs that they’d rather be doing something else. Conversations take on an international tone as usual. Question on whether one can visit Congo or not comes up and the man who has frequented the region mentions that certain cities, Goma, Bukavu, and Kinshasa, are safe as the fighting is contained deep within the forests. But that one still has to be cautious since no one knows who may be a rebel. The conversation naturally then turns to Kenya and how it’s the leading hotspot for international drug trafficking with rumours of drugs being trafficked in UN vehicles. Then we migrate to Europe and start discussing the national languages of Finland, Swedish and Finnish, and which are widely spoken in major city centres, and how many citizens may not actually speak English all that well. All of a sudden the realization comes that the sun has set just as hunger makes another visit.
At 8 PM, the group then takes an Uber XL to an underrated Indian restaurant and ends the night by devouring the table full of food and beer within twenty minutes, with promises of doing this all over again — spending an entire day together eating food and just chatting away.
Being an expat is like being back in university. Complete strangers become your family for the simple reason that you’re all in the same boat. Close proximity, brand new experiences, and similar mindsets bring people together that form bonds which last a lifetime.
But being an expat is more than that. When you have lived in a city for a long time, the spontaneity of connections and relationships is often lost. There is always something to attend to — friends, family, career, errands, etc. Your life is full with commitments, sometimes not by choice. But when you are an expat, you are starting from scratch. No prior commitments, no prior relationships in the new city, just a clean canvas waiting to be filled in with whatever you desire.
What’s also beautiful about this lifestyle is that conversations are fresh and rich. The expat community consists of people from all walks of life and all parts of the world. In Nairobi itself, I have met people from France, England, Niger, Finland, Reunion Island, South Africa, The States, and counting. These folks bring with them stories that I haven’t heard before and whole slew of experiences from living in multiple places around the world. These new perspectives and cultures can enrich your life in a way that seems hard to do when you remain a local forever.