Having been in Nairobi, Kenya for a week now I can’t tell you a whole lot about it – I’m here on business for the first few weeks of my trip, organising a large international conference, and so my experience of this beautiful country has mostly been airport-hotel-office-hotel. But I’ve been embracing my surroundings as much as possible so here are 5 ways to enjoy travelling on business:
1. Actively embrace local food and culture.
You’re likely to be staying in a hotel catered for westerners – burgers, chips and omelettes on the menu and Carlsberg in the fridge. If you don’t make the effort to try new things it’s easy to slip into a “Busman’s Holiday”. Even if it’s not on the menu, ask your hotel staff to make you something traditional – they’re usually happy to cook their local cuisine!
There’s no one dish that represents Kenya as the 42 different tribes (or communities) of the country hold their own unique culture and tradition. Nyama choma (grilled meat) is the most popular meal and usually eaten with ugali and kachumbari.
2. Have a day off.
Working on a large project in any country can mean 12 hour days, 7 days a week. Make sure you plan 1 day in the middle of your work trip to go and explore. Go out early on a Sunday as most of your colleagues won’t be calling and traffic will be clear. Get all of your work done on Friday/Saturday so you can relax in the knowledge that you’re on top of your deadlines and can turn off all of your devices. You’re free for a day, enjoy the calm before Monday’s storm!
I took a day to drive around the entire city with a local – he took me to tourist attractions like the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and the Nairobi Giraffe Center. He also showed me the real Nairobi outside of the tourist areas and largely European suburbs. Stepping away from the computer and into Kenya was just what I needed!
3. Make friends with the hotel staff.
It can get a little dull stuck in a hotel on your own, especially in a city like Nairobi where – as a foreigner – you can’t safely just wander out to a bar alone and make friends.
Having worked in bars and restaurants I know the hotel staff are probably more bored than I am! So when I’ve had enough of my room I’ve wandered downstairs, offered the night-staff a beer and learnt about their lives and their country. This week I even got let into the kitchen for a late-night cooking lesson!
4. Get used to local time.
I don’t mean re-set your watch. You’ll find in a lot of places that your local colleagues are much more laid-back about deadlines than you’re used to. In Kenya particularly the approach really is “hakuna matata” – no worries, it’ll get done.
Most Kenyans run on “Kenyan-time” and so your 2pm meeting could start anywhere between 2.30-4pm. Get used to this quickly and don’t let it frustrate you. Surrender to the idea that you may become the office monster from time-to-time!
5. Speak the language.
As with anywhere you go on holiday or on business, locals appreciate hearing their native language. Even if you just learn the basics (hello, thank you, goodbye) you can be assured to receive a wider smile, especially in Kenya!