Top Tips for Traveling in Kenya Like a Local
You probably all know the English proverb “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Of course, this doesn't refer only to Rome. While traveling or living abroad it's always a good idea to adjust to the local customs. Not only because it can prevent many unnecessary misunderstandings but also because it will open your eyes to a new culture and, by doing so, to many new experiences and people. It sounds so logical but in reality not many are able to fully act as the Romans do. Or in this case, as the Kenyans.
While working as an aid worker and volunteering in Kenya it never stopped amazing me how easy it is to spot the tourists. Tourists are usually the least adjusted bunch and easy to spot. Pale skin, white socks and sandals are a common thing but who is to say they don't wear this at home. It's usually behaviour, not appearance, which sets people apart from the locals. Most tourists in Kenya are from Europe, Asia or the United States. Quite some cultural differences... as you can imagine.
When you travel to a country as Kenya to spend your holiday it is not as important to adjust as well as, let's say when you are visiting or even moving there. It is, however, more fun! It enables you to understand the local customs & make local friends, but it also helps you to stay safe and to not feed the misconception of stereotypes. Tourists who have dared to hop off the big safari buses will recognize it when I say Kenyans can be quite straight forward. You'll hear a lot of mzungu mzungu how are you.. roughly translated: white person, white person how are you. Or Mzungu buy me soda! Things like that. Don't run straight back to the bus and definitely don't start buying everybody soda's.
All the attention is usually fun in the beginning but after a while it can become quite annoying and tiring. Just keep in mind that most people are just very happy to see you as their visitor and have no bad intentions what so ever. So just have a laugh. Learn some of the basic Kiswahili words so you can surprise the crowd. A simple 'I am fine. How are you mzungu' usually does the trick. You'll have a laughing party before you know it. Stereotypes way heavily in Kenya. Thanks to the tourist if you ask me. They usually stay on their busses and have no problem paying big mzungu prices for everything.
The stereotype image of every tourist must be filthy rich is the result. Which in result means some tourists feel cheated and people visiting the country often get harassed for money. So many tourists stay on the safari buses for this exact reason because when you get off the chances to feel cheated are high. Stories about Kenyan people being pushy and greedy are not uncommon. But, let's think about this for a second and look at ourselves. We walk around in our brand new clothes, our iPhones and we were obviously able to buy a plane ticket. Things which are undo able for many in Kenya. So don't blame the Kenyan but adjust. Do as the Kenyans do.
Carry your change in your pocket. Don't walk around on the street taking selfies, learn some Kiswahili and don't pay 500 shillings for a 50 shilling souvenir. Have some fun and leave your Western ways in the safari bus. Walk around slowly (pole pole), have a laugh, enjoy some street food and work that Nokia 3310. Go to local places and enjoy the real Kenya. And last but not least.. Don't dress like Crocodile Dundee. I promise there is no lion or crocodile in the city.
By Mechteld Schiphorst