A Month In Kenya: Our Apartment


Figured I'd describe some of the quirks and attributes of the place we're staying. 

In my post on arriving, I shared some pictures of what our apartment looks like. My favorite features are the vaulted wood ceilings, the herringbone wood floors (as shown in the above photo), and the peaked metal casement windows. It's a very peaceful place. Aside from the occasional construction noise (which I actually rather enjoy) from the building that's going up across the street, I rarely hear anything from outside. Every once in awhile a vehicle's brakes squeak or a landscape trimmer drones, but that's about it. 

Generally our daily tasks unfold in much the same way as in the States, with a few little tweaks here and there. Because we only have a couple of electrical converters, I didn't bring my electric alarm clock and instead use my iPod touch as a morning alarm and nightly radio, and use one of the converters to charge my phone. Harry uses one of the converters for the portable speaker that plays his rain sounds at night. In the morning, we shift both converters to the living room, where we use the bigger one (which can accommodate a 3-prong plug from the U.S.) to charge laptops and use the smaller one to charge various devices throughout the day.

He makes his morning coffee using his grinder and French press (both of which he brought from home) and the electric kettle that belongs to the apartment. I make my tea using tea bags I brought from home and mineral water from the dispenser that looks like a Culligan dispenser from the States. I heat it using the  microwave just as I do at home, only this microwave is much less forgiving. Whereas the one in the U.S. will emit a single gentle reminder beep starting 15 minutes or so after a cup has been left in there and then every 15 or so minutes until the cup is retrieved, the microwave here wants to get about its day, so it beeps annoyingly loudly four times starting a mere one minute after the tea is ready, and then every minute afterwards until the cup is retrieved. It actually makes sense because it makes sure you get your stuff while it's still hot, and it definitely is a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease, because I am now much quicker to jump up to fetch my tea when it's finished!  

A few random differences:

  • Most electrical outlets here (including ones in the kitchen) have on/off switches so you don't waste current or risk surges.   
  • The electric oven/stove combo is compact, though it still has four burners. The burners are more like solid flat plates than the coils typically found in the States, but the knobs function the same as a typical electrical stove in the U.S. There's a lid that you can fold down to cover the burners for a tidier look. 
  • There are four each of dinner plates, salad plates, bowls, saucers, glasses, and silverware. Generally that's enough to last us until Christine washes everything in the mid-morning, but sometimes we need to wash some dishes before dinner. (There is no dishwasher.)
  • There is no pantry, so we either store our few "dry goods" on the counter or in drawers/cupboards. 
  • The refrigerator is compact (about 1/3 to 1/2 the size of a U.S. one), but it actually fits an amazing amount of stuff. It helps that eggs are customarily stored on the counter, not in the refrigerator, which initially made me squeamish, but hasn't been a safety issue so far or even crossed my mind in several days. Another space-saving measure relates to milk. People often buy milk in tetra paks (see bottom right photo below) because a day or two worth of milk can be poured into a slim pitcher and the remaining paks can be easily stuffed into any nooks and crannies of space around the other items in there.
  • I had noticed the refrigerator was labeled "LG Vitamin Plus"  with a "Built-In Vitamin Kit". Naturally, I was curious. According to LG's website: "The feature works by generating vitamin C, a well-known anti-oxidant, helping preserve (foods') freshness and moisture. Effective and practical, the Vitamin Plus function has a lifespan of between eight and nine years, and helps fruit and vegetables retain up to 1.7 times more vitamin C than if they were stored in a conventional fridge." Who knew?!
  • I've had to get over the fact that recycling does not appear to be widespread here. I still cringe whenever I throw out plastic milk bottles or empty cardboard boxes, but oh well. I can't really take a month's worth of stuff back in my suitcase!  
  • Leftovers are often stored in plastic bags, which then get washed out and reused until they become too mangled. 
  • This probably goes without saying, but no heat or air conditioning is necessary here. The temperature hovers between 70°F and 76°F with low dewpoint and no humidity. At night it is cool (50°F to 55°F), but not freezing. 
  • Toilets are all equipped with low-flow options. 
  • Hot water at our apartment is provided automatically thanks to some solar panels on the roof. (At the flats where two of Harry's brothers live, a hot water heater inside a bathroom closet has to be manually activated.)  
  • Because of the higher electrical voltage used here, light switches are located outside the bathroom. 

Security is a big thing around here. I'm not sure how much of that is due to Nairobi being a major city, or this being Africa, or this just being the way it's done. As I mentioned in a previous post, shopping malls have intense security, but most residential homes and communities are also gated and guarded. We need to use a key to get in and out of the stairwell into our wing, as well as our actual unit. 

One of the guards opening the gate at our apartment

One of the guards opening the gate at our apartment

Hard to believe, but one of my favorite areas in the apartment is the laundry room (sometimes known as the dhobi room). It has more vaulted wood ceilings and another peaked window, but this one has no panes so that air will flow freely and dry the clothes hanging on the line. There's something about the way the light pours in that makes this room seem a bit charmed.

The washer seems like it's tiny inside but it still fits quite a few clothes per load. It plays a tune several measures long when the load is finished. I keep trying to record it, but I haven't been quick enough yet. 

As for entertainment, there is a flat-screen TV and some cable channels, and we also brought our Apple TV from home so that we can watch Netflix. The WiFi seems to cut out a lot, but usually it comes back on its own, or we can flip the switch of the outlet to reset it. 

And speaking of cutting out, the power can shut off unexpectedly sometimes. It hasn't happened since the first day or two we were here, and even then it was only out for a minute, but it's enough of a potential problem that many landlords trying to attract tenants will boast of "emergency generators" among their amenities.