I’ve been out of Africa for just under two weeks and felt that I’d update the blog with some of the observations I’ve made since touching down back in England.
At a high level, the transition back into England was fairly underwhelming. My phone automatically switched back to picking up UK data, I whipped out my Oyster card, and before I knew it I was back on the tube catching up with life in London.
That said, I’ve noticed a number of things (of varying degrees of world importance) which made me think “Hmmm, that’s different” and as I had little else to update on, it felt like the appropriate thing to write about.
Waking up in darkness
At the beginning of the week, this was the bigger shock than the negative temperature change.
Being on the equator the sunlight hours deviate only slightly from 6am-6pm however returning to a northern hemisphere country in the winter has meant that it’s just darker more of the time. It’s taken a while to adjust to not relying on the sun outside to give an indication of when to wake up/ stop work for the day.
Not having to calculate time zones as much
As I had two SIM cards in my phone, I was making calls on a local number, and then still being plugged into my existing Whatsapp groups etc. with my English number.
Most of these conversations were a few hours behind, and so when scheduling calls/ generally trying to make myself feel better if no-one replied immediately to what I thought was an absolutely hilarious comment, I would constantly be making microcalculations about what the time was back in England.
I’ve had to make a conscious effort that I’m sharing this particular time of the day with the other people I’m chatting to. And also come to terms that I have less of an excuse if a joke flops…
The alternative hasn’t been too bad (most places have had water filtration systems) but I did have to fight my reflex against drinking water from the tap first time I did it.
It’s been dreamy finding places to take a seat when walking around town. In East Africa I felt I was perching on walls/ roadsides.
Not wanting a beer to be ice cold
Most of East Africa has a nascent industrial sector – factory produced goods are almost always imported.
The one almost universal exception to this is beer. Each country has at least one behemoth brewery that churns out (or rather brews out) millions of litres of beer a year.
All of this beer is (in a relative sense) pretty similar though, essentially inoffensive to taste buds, and fizzy.
There’s a separate point of how at a bar in East Africa you clarify the desired temperature of your local beer, but on the whole, for lager-style beers, I like ’em as cold as possible.
Anyway, in England there’s much greater diversity in the types of beer on offer. The question of “would you like your beer warm or cold?” hasn’t surfaced at the pubs in England, which was noticeable.
Unreserved tracts of land with green grass in them have been very pleasant to walk in.
Most of the ways to get around in East Africa involve an exhaust pipe.
If it’s not a private car or and Uber, it’s a minibus which does, I guess, count as a public transport.
Anyway, having some structured/ timetabled alternatives, such as covering a good distance across London on the tube has been good.
Tea without sugar
The default setting for a cup of tea at any outlet in East Africa is sweet sweet sweet.
Back in England I’ve been offered things like Earl Grey (fancy, I know) with not the hint of sugar and it hasn’t really tasted weird.
Strangely though, when I picture having tea back in East Africa it genuinely feels unthinkable without a spoonful of sugar. Don’t tell the dentist.
Uber drivers not calling you
This is a behaviour which I developed in Kampala (the service wasn’t in Rwanda) and soon became a reflex whenever getting an Uber. You’d open the app, request a driver and then almost immediately get a call from an unfamiliar number who would be “X from Uber”.
We’d then have a little chit-chat about where I was and whether they were on their way. None of these could be taken as given.
It was the hot topic amongst expats I spoke with, many citing that they would end up exasperatingly saying “just go to the pin”.
I have a feeling that the GPS on phones was unreliable and/or there was a general layer of not-total-reliance-on-what-the-phone-screen-says which meant giving a quick call was just the way things were.
Anyway, all this was to say that back in England the Ubers I’ve taken have required only my thumb, and not my vocal chords.
As odd as it sounds, one of my favourite products in recent years has been the Dyson Airblade.
My typical routine after washing my hands in a public bathroom used to be to dangle my wrists under a breath of hot air (to not look like a complete weirdo) and then dry my hands on my jumper or something as I walked out.
Then the Airblade came along and legit dried my hands
Soon the bar had been set, and almost every establishment had some sort of pneumatic air blower to pulverise any water on their customers’ hands.
In East Africa, the market hasn’t caught up. I kind of slipped back into the wet lettuce way things used to be until coming back to England and then realising bosh that’s different.
England seems to be full of them. In East Africa I barely remember seeing any. Maybe pigeons are scared of lions.
Some parts of East Africa (especially the high-altitude bits) got a bit nippy at night.
Being back in England in December meant unassisted rooms were generally pretty cold too and rediscovering that there was a magic nozzle you could twist which would make the surrounding area warmer was
Anyway, it wasn’t something I particularly missed, but was something that I was surprised that I noticed seeing as most of my life has been spent in rooms with radiators.
Avocados and mangoes
These two delicious foods have gone from costing ~15p to £1.50 each. My consumption has drastically declined.
What’s not different
Despite all the above, there have been things that I thought would be different, but have in fact remained same same.
Hats gloves scarves
England has been flush with knitwear around the extremities. Same goes in East Africa, especially at nighttime, so the sight of woolly hats wasn’t a new one when back.
People on phones
Pretty much everyone looks at their screen when walking down the street/ being unfortunately situated close to a boring conversation.
“Let’s meet for coffee”
If you’re organising to catch up with a friend/ new acquaintance in both regions it’s almost always done at a cafe or pub. And you almost always say “Let’s meet for a coffee”.
Side note: I’m not a coffee drinker (green tea for me please) and so have always found it slightly weird asking to meet someone for one knowing that I won’t be ordering it as a drink. I’ve not found the appropriate terminology for that ~1 hour formal/ informal daytime meeting you’d have with someone in a public place that typically involves a non-alcoholic beverage.
“A drink” is a bit ambiguous: you could be agreeing to meet someone who expects you to hit the G&Ts at 11am
“A green tea/ hot chocolate/ frappuccino” is too specific: what if you want a herbal infusion? Am I not invited?
“A chat” sounds like one of you is going to break up with the other
It seems that “a coffee” has superseded being simply the beverage involved and now encompasses the wider activity of two of the most enjoyable things that humans like to do: talk to each other and stay hydrated.
Anyway, if anyone does think of a phrase to capture the idea for those on the de-caff side of life, please let me know.
In almost all book shops/ supermarkets a prominent category is those texts which offer to increase the reader’s productivity/ happiness/ higher calling. Regardless of location, a lot of people seem interested in self-improvement.
~~What’s next from me?~~
I’ve booked my flight back out to Nairobi for the third week of January. It looks like I’ll be starting work on building out an exciting business that looks to provide credit to small businesses in Kenya.
Until then I have Christmas/ New Year in Canada (where my Aunt has been sending screenshots of the -37°C temperature) and so assuming I survive the chill, I’ll have a couple of weeks back in England before heading back out to get started.
If you’d like to stay in touch with what’s happening, then you can add yourself below to the regular email thingy I send out