I’ve hosted a few visitors from Europe here in Kenya recently which has exposed a bit of a cultural difference: how people make bookings.
In the UK/ Ireland/ Denmark it’s pretty common to now use “a system” when organising things. i.e. you’ll go on a restaurant website and book a table for a certain time. If you need to change the booking, you’ll go back online and make the adjustment there. You then have trust that if you turn up at the revised time, your table will be waiting for you.
In Kenya, because “the system” is less reliable (for a number of technological/ cultural reasons) it’s much more common to organise such things with by talking with a person.
“Where are you? Where are you going?” A common frustration for new arrivals in Kenya is the need to repeat information when ordering an Uber. 98% of the time, once connected, the driver will call you up to confirm where you are.
The first few times, it’s common to respond “erm… just drive towards the pin..?”, but after a while, one learns that explaining with words how to get to the location is just the way it goes.
From the drivers’ perspective, there’s enough reason to doubt the location is wrong, and so they’d rather get confirmation from a person at the end of the phone.
Will we have enough time? On one evening, the visitors and I arranged a boat tour that was scheduled from 4-7pm at which point we’d be dropped at a restaurant.
We could only start at 4.30pm which, interestingly, led to two different reactions.
European residents: does this mean we’ll be late for dinner? Kenyan residents: we’ll just ask the guide to shorten the trip by 30 minutes
I’m not sure if I’ve interpreted this correctly, but my sense is that it at its root, the difference lies in whether someone treats the information they’ve been given from “the system” to be fixed, or whether there’s room for flexibility.
In Kenya, at least, it’s helpful to keep in mind that it’s almost always possible to make something happen, even if the computer says no.
If you find yourself in a situation where “the system” is frustrating you, consider picking up phone.
Last weekend there was in interesting discussion about phrases which now have a completely new meaning.
In 2019, asking someone to drop their pin is (I think) widely understood to mean sending someone your current location.
Even 5 years ago it could’ve been construed as an instruction to fumble your sewing box.
This naturally got us on to other examples of common parlance which would seem nonsensical in previous times.
To “swipe right” being synonymous with rejection, the concept of a “profile picture” and asking “how many followers” someone has.
Almost of all these are using existing words/ concepts, but applied to new technology.
As technology advances, existing words are used to explain them, but there will always a slight misalignment. As time goes on, the new application for the word may assume what the technology does, as opposed to its previous definition.
An example of this is computer.
Back in Alan Turing days a computer described a job function.
It was someone’s job to… well, compute things. A very typical conversation might be:
“How was your day at work?” “Very good thanks, had a lovely chat with the new computer, she started last week”.
What gets strange in this example is that the word “chat” is in the middle of a transformation from one of a human-human interaction to one that also includes communication between human and machine.
In a few years, that particular phrase may well make perfect sense again (depending on whether modern day computers get assigned a gender), even though it’s describing a pretty different interaction 80 years apart.
I was wondering what the next version of “computer” might be… any thoughts?
Best guess for now is that in 30-40 years, the term “driver” might be synonymous with a vehicle that gets you from A to B.
“What’s that Grandad? When you were growing up a driver was a… person.
From Tuesday-Wednesday I had a borderline flu-cold* and so to remedy had several weeks’ worth of lemon consumption in a 48 hour period.
With all this Vitamin C doing its business, it got me realising that I didn’t actually know if there was any logic behind the letter naming convention.
What is a vitamin? A vitamin is classified as an organic molecule that is an essential micronutrient. They were only officially “discovered” in 1910.
There are 13 types of vitamin: A, C, D, E, K and eight B vitamins.
What’s the naming convention? It’s quite simple really: the order in which they were discovered.
The gaps in the alphabet are because things that were initially thought of as vitamins were later declassified (or renamed to be a subseries of B vitamins, e.g. Vitamin H become B7), and by the time science had moved on and dished out new letters to everyone.
Vitamin itself is named as such after Polish scientist (great name: Professor Funk) adopted the compound for the words ‘vital’ and ‘amines’, the latter being a chemical structure that also encapsulates things like amino acids.
Isn’t Wikipedia great? The real MVP here is Wikipedia.
It’s amazing how simple this exercise was to research and have all of the important info in a concise and conveniently organised manner with just the level of detail.
I was reading a book recently set in 2000. The main character had to find out some fairly mundane information about countries near the North Pole. Their only option was to take a bus across town, walk to the public library, ask at reception where the reference shelves were, and then scour through reams of volumes to find the information they needed.
That, and how anyone arranged any sort of mildly logistically complex social activity before mobile phones, blows my mind.
* a good test is this: if you saw a £20 on the floor, would you pick it up? Yes: cold. No: flu.
I’ve had a few conversations with people recently about how it’d be nice to have a boyfriend/girlfriend.
There were lots of similarities in the conversations. We brainstormed some ideas, and so I thought I’d share the essence in the text below. For those in long-standing relationships, there’s a link for you at the bottom.
Anyway, off we go…
What are we covering here How to think strategically about getting a Significant Other. Not necessarily “the one”, but someone to write home about.
The concept of “strategising” over finding, well, love might seem sacrilege to some, but bear with me on this.
Not a numbers game One philosophy to finding someone you like is to “kiss enough frogs”.
This philosophy seems a bit crude.
Number of dates you go on/ people you speak to us undeniably a function of finding “the one”, but with finite time I’d argue it’s smarter to optimise for the other factors.
Go fishing in the right ponds If you’re going to spend a decent amount of time with this person you’re likely going to want some common interests.
To increase your likelihood of meeting people with a shared outlook on (at least some aspect of) life you can focus your attention a bit more in those places.
The good thing about this is, if you like doing said activity too, even if you don’t see anyone you like, you’ve still enjoyed doing it.
Actually cast your net To string out a fishing analogy, it’s one thing to set sail and spend time in these places where your ideal ̶c̶match will also be, but you’re much more likely to get somewhere if you’re proactive.
It’s perfectly plausible that someone you might like just bumps into you at a networking event, or sits next to you in the last free seat in the coffee shop.
However you’re much more likely to end up having a conversation with them if you, well, go up and start a conversation with them.
Speaking to… a stranger? A common reflex to notion of speaking to a random hottie in a public place is some derivative of “I could never do that, it’s so embarrassing”.
Let’s dig into this.
For most people, myself included, aversion to speaking to random people (with some potential for romantic interest) was borne in the playground.
This is most probably the worst ecosystem to do such a thing.
Everyone knows everyone, and news of your potential rejection would spread like wildfire. In a place where what other people think of you has a lot of social value, that’s risky business.
What’s more, the playground is a tough environment which promotes hardy characteristics. Even if the recipient of your ask felt complimented, there’s an incentive to be aloof, and claim the higher ground that “so-and-so asked me out”.
What’s more, there’s a finite number of people in the playground who are most likely sticking around for the foreseeable future. If you get cold feet about asking out your crush, there’s always next week.
And finally, you’re 15! Entertaining the notion of getting to “know” someone has drastically less upside compared to your older self.
All this conspires to promote a set of beliefs/ behaviours whereby if you see someone who you think you might like, your default reaction is not go and speak to them.
Real life isn’t a playground For better or for worse, the people we interact with as adults aren’t a closed-loop network.
Whereas news of a rejection would ricochet through a school/ closed community until everyone knew about it, in real life the news would just fizzle off into nothingness. No-one will really care.
Of course if you are in some sort of closed-loop network with people whose opinions you value (i.e. work colleagues) this is a consideration, though for the majority of instances there will little to no consequence to your conversation with a stranger.
And anyway, making the effort to speak to someone you think is nice will most likely give them a good feeling.
In summary Finding your other half is a probability game.
Whilst there is every chance you bump into Mr/Ms Right tomorrow, there are also things you can do stack the deck in your favour, especially considering there are finite evenings/ weekends left to meet people. (I didn’t mean this to sound that ominous, but you get the point).
1. Where would someone you like hang out? E.g. coffee shop on a Saturday morning, interesting mid-week talk, ski slopes, running club, networking event 2. Spend time in those places. Could be a commitment to go one cultural/ networking event/ fitness class a week 3. Find an excuse to speak to people you don’t know (and like the look of). Much easier (but not impossible) in a context where you can reference a shared experience. “How did you find the speaker?” (networking event) or “Are you training for any events?” (group exercise activity) > “How’s that macchiato treating you?” (coffee shop) 4. Just be normal. You’re having a conversation with another person. Whilst a small part of you might feel this is super weird, it’s not really is it. 5. Take it from there. You’ll quickly gauge if it’s something worth taking further. If not, chat to someone else, your world is bigger than the playground now
Relationship advice Now, for those in long-standing relationships who skipped over the bulk of this, the link below is to a very good article encapsulated, I feel, by the following comment:
“If you’re in a relationship that you’d like to prosper then reading this is probably the best way you could ever spend 30 minutes”
Anyway, as ever, would be interested to hear your thoughts on any of the points raised here. Do also feel free to forward it on to someone if you think it could be helpful.
As this is the last newsletter of the year it feels like I should at least make some attempt to write something thoughtful.
Rather than a chronological run through of what’s been happening, I’ll instead share some things I’ve been thinking about, which you might find interesting to read.
Article I’ve shared the most The Tail End. Essentially how things which we may take for granted because we can “always” do them later actually have a very real finite number attached to them.
E.g. books you’ll read, elections you’ll vote in, times you’ll visit your parents.
“You’re not thinking; you’re just being logical” I recently came across this quote through the Thought Cages radio programme. They’re great little 15 minute episodes which each look at one aspect of how the world is (largely) constructed on the premise of people acting logically. And how that’s not always the best thing to do.
For someone who has a bias for being logical, this “don’t be logical” mindset is something I’m trying to adopt more.
How to make time for the important things? I’ve been having a recurring sense that I’m missing out on doing the important things, and instead getting caught up in the busyness of life.
Getting perspective on what I’m spending time doing has been playing on my mind a bit, and I’m conscious that I’ll need to think about this more come May 2019 when I finish a contract with a company I’ve been working with full time for the past year.
This means I’ll “lose the crutch” of going to the office every day and feeling productive about my life, and instead have more of a blank canvas about what I want to be doing.
The best advice I’ve read on getting into good habits is the concept of Goals vs Systems, which says focusing on a good practice (i.e. system) has a much greater pay off than trying to achieve a “goal”. Another take is captured here.
Is this prime time to make money? I know there are endless advice articles saying that it’s important to “do what you love” and “live in the moment” but I’m also conscious that late 20s into 30s is the time when you’re most likely to have the energy and (somewhat) skill to make a decent chunk of cash that could set you up for the rest of your life.
Whilst there is short term benefit in reading lots of books, taking long walks every day and pursuing some niche hobby, it may not be the best course of action when I theoretically would be best placed to get out and set up something.
Anyway, I don’t have an answer for this one, but it’s a conversation I’ve had with a few people recently.
A date to move back from East Africa Most likely November 2020.
Work permits in Kenya come in multiples of two, and my girlfriend recently received a new permit which means two years is a natural end point.
I’ll be thinking about this more throughout the year once I have more time to properly commit the headspace but either way, I’m confident I’ll want to continue having involvement in the region, despite not living there.
Quote I’m thinking on “In any situation, the person who can most accurately describe reality without laying blame will emerge as the leader, whether designated or not.” Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations.
Enjoyable GIF Aren’t animals great
Thank you To everyone who takes the time to read these posts each week, or on occasion. It’s always nice to hear how people are getting on, and any of the links which you found particularly interesting (and why).
I also know that each email can be a bit random, but I appreciate you sticking with it!
It was 4 days and 3 nights in the National Park on the equator and offered up some pretty phenomenal views. See here
Support the local economy This is the mindset I try to take when travelling to places where tourism is a significant function of livelihoods in the surrounding area.
It also means that paying for two porters and a chef to accompany us on our trip can be somewhat more guilt-free.
We (my gf Camilla and I) had Christopher (56), Gabriel (37) and Stanley (37) guide us up the mountain. All lived in villages nearby, looked young for their age and had perplexing amounts of energy.
Fuelled by tea Each morning the C, G and S would brew up a pot of milky, sugary tea and knock back a couple of pints.
And that was it until dinner.
Camilla and I were snacking at any opportunity, drinking from the fresh rivers and relapsing after a meal of veg stew with rice/spaghetti in the evening.
The guides’ abstinence seemed to be partly out of service “we need to make sure you’re OK first” (which we did our best to absolve them from) and partly that they didn’t seem to be that hungry.
Perhaps they were just being polite/ a lot fitter than us both, but I’ve never seen such power of putting the kettle on.
Tent with a view On the second night we were in the shadows of the peaks.
Mount Kenya is the second highest peak on the continent (5,200m) behind Kilimanjaro (5,800m).
To get to the Kenya peak requires “technical skills” (i.e. the ability to use a pick axe) which none in our group were in possession of.
As such we climbed to “Lenana Point”, the third highest in the range, designed for the more casual mountaineer.
Bloody cold To get to the top we left the campsite at 3am, and trudged up for the final ascent.
Soon we were in snow, though with deep cloud, it was unclear quite how far we were going beyond the dim glare of our head torches.
It was about 7am, with the rays straining through the dense cloud when we got to the summit.
In total we were up on the top for about 15 minutes, taking some proof-bearing snaps, and enjoying the unusual vantage point of looking down and out onto the world below.
The clouds parted ways momentarily and a pallet of blues appeared before us.
Stunning vistas Descending from the peak we walked past various fresh lakes, streams and beautiful vantage points.
The route we took was called “Chogoria” and afforded many moments to just stop and look around at the scenery.
We arrived at our final campsite 14 hours after setting off that morning, and after setting up our tent, a hot drink and some food duly collapsed to sleep.
Back to reality The final morning was spent walking like puppets to a nearby waterfall and cave, and then finally through some more changing landscapes back to the gate.
The guides swiftly changed into their Sunday best, and we did a debrief saying what was good about the experience together. Camilla and I also gave them all a tip.
It was then an hour’s drive in a beaten up Land Rover and a quick transition to a shuttle bus back to Nairobi. Christopher, polite as ever, still found time to suggest we break for “perhaps a cup of tea?”.
Doing the hike If you have any inclination for good “raw nature” views, then I’d highly recommend the Mount Kenya National Park. At times, it felt like we were walking through a High School geography syllabus.
The summit itself required some sure footing, but was rewarding, when at the top.
The guy who organised it for us was called Peterson, if you’re interested in making a trip too, his WhatsApp number is +254722579818.
Any other questions on the trip – very happy to answer!
I’d say 280/365 days a year I wear the same (type of) blue chino trousers, and will rotate a few basic T-shirts/ jumpers depending on the season. Which in Kenya, ranges from bit chilly – quite hot – pretty hot.
When it comes to shoes, I was very much the same, basically something comfortable (yet undistinctive).