A glimpse into American expat and missionary Paul's life in Nairobi, Kenya

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Paul Merrill

March 18 2007

-Where were you born?
Bethesda, Maryland, USA

-In which country and city are you living now?
Nairobi, Kenya

melewa Africa-Are you living alone or with your family?
With my wife & 3 kids

-How long have you been living in Kenya?
Almost 2 years. We also lived here from 1991-1994.

-What is your age?
47

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Kenya?
We had lived here before and found that it is easy to make a difference in many peoples’ lives here – compared to in the States.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
No. My org took care of it. But now I am managing the guy who does it for the org, and he has a tough job. We require 6-9 months to get a work permit for those coming in. Visa? Easy - $50 at the airport.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
No. We use Talent Trust in Malaysia. Thankfully we have been healthy enough that we haven’t had to make a claim.

-How do you make your living in Kenya? Do you have any type of income generated?
I’m a missionary working for a group that translates the Bible into smaller language groups. We also work to improve their lives through literacy and helping them take pride in their culture. My income comes from outside Kenya (the USA) – our funds are provided by individuals and churches who believe in what we’re doing here.

-Do you speak Swahili and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Swahili is great to know. I know just enough to be dangerous. In Nairobi, most people speak way better English than I speak Swahili, so we resort to English quickly in any conversation. It’s important to know some of the basics for anyone living here more than a week or two.

It is extremely important for foreigners to observe and then respect Kenyan culture. It’s very different from “the west” – so it takes a while of making mistakes before you get it right. And some aspects I’ll never get right. Training in Kenyan culture is vitally important if you can get it.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I miss my family. I miss my home culture. I miss seeing the kind of live music I like.

We eat out as much as our budget allows and watch way too much TV. (We can’t pick up any TV stations, so it’s all on DVD or tape.)

-Do you have other plans for the future?
We’re leaving in June to return to the States. It will be like slipping into a warm bath. I’m curious what will have changed during our 2-year absence.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We rent for about $650 for a 4-bedroom 3-bath apartment with some great garden areas. (The latter is hard to find in some parts of Nairobi.)

-What is the cost of living in Kenya?
It’s less than in the States, but some things are more expensive. Buy your laptop in the States before coming!

The best deal coffee to buy at local supermarkets is Dorman’s Continental, Dark. It’s excellent and a good deal.

-What do you think about the Kenyans?
Kenyans are very friendly, almost without exception. Some will take advantage of you, if your skin is white. (That skin color almost immediately puts the bearer in a privileged financial class. I’m like Bill Gates to many here, even though I’m lower-middle-class in the States.)

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Kenya?
Weather is PERFECT in Nairobi. People are great to us. The traffic and standard of driving habits are HORRIBLE. Air pollution is something like 38 times worse than the lowest acceptable standard in the States.

Don’t drive past midnight or you may kill someone! People don’t necessarily walk on the side of the road. With few streetlights, it can get dangerous. And you may be killed – bandits put up roadblocks in certain areas.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Kenya?
Come with a relaxed attitude. “No hurry in Africa” is true. It’s easy to forget that when the pressure is on.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Kenya?
I like my site, of course: My Part of Nairobi

What a wonderful story--

Kizzy's picture

I enjoyed reading your interview. I lived in Maryland all my life until recently.
I miss Maryland...Do not miss the snow!
I am now in Atlanta, GA--

How is the basic infrastructure over there?

Sheryl NY's picture

hi,
I may be assigned to Nirobi as a senior volunteer, working on one of the UN related mission. It will be my very first time to venture into African continent and I have no idea where I should start in preparing for the departure. (having lived in a city settings only - Tokyo and New York City etc, hope you can imagine how confused I am at the moment.)
Is there clean drinking water from the tap?
How is the electricity provided? (Includd in rent or we need to look for providers)?
How is the satelite/cable for internet? Is there a WiFi connection? Internet services?
For a single person, is there a reasonably priced apartment?
How is the security? Are women walking around by themselves?
I the VISA for foreign workerts granted timely manner?