This is Kenya for you! I am convinced that 2012 will be an eye opener for me. Every other day, there is a new opportunity to be able to understand my country Kenya and my fellow countrymen-Kenyans, and of course my continent, Africa.
For the past one month, I have had Norwegian visitors and I have made interactions with foreigners from other countries. I will tell you for sure, this has been an adventure. I have learnt so much about my own country from a different perspective a foreigners perspective.
“My country needs me more, I have to go back home,” I told all my colleagues and friends as I packed to return home after my stay abroad. This huge conviction was as a result of the many stereotypes I felt I needed to break as far as my country and continent image was concerned.
It sickened me hearing so many negative things being said about Kenyans and about Africans. “Come and visit me in Kenya and lets see if what you say is true. As long as you are have not experienced Kenya, please let’s not make assumptions about my country.” I will defend my country.
Now, the visitors have been many and guess I will have visitors all year round. Yes, they miss me so much, so they will come and visit me in Kenya, very good for my ego. At the same time, I am determined to prove to them that Kenya is different from the perceptions that they hold about us and about Kenyans.
Though they reckon that we are the most friendly people on planet earth, which we are anyway, many tourists come to Kenya with preconceived mindset -(be careful, you will be robbed if not, you will be conned in Nairobi. Do not walk at night alone. Do not talk to strangers who stop you in town. You will be overcharged, *(mzungu prices). Kenyans are dishonesty people, be careful when dealing with them. These and many more, are some of the things people know about us out there.)
How true is this? To some extent, these are true perceptions. We have taken ourselves there and branded a name for us. It’s a shame my fellow Kenyans. We have a tainted image which we need to wake up and restore.
Interacting with these foreigners has taught me many lessons. I realize I have been very naïve of so many things and at times, I really don’t get words to defend my country. Having done some courses in Diplomacy, at times I feel the need to be very diplomatic in defending my country, but it gets to a point I say, “Ok, I have no idea why we operate like this, I will find out from other people and give you feedback.”
A quick overview of things that I don’t seem to understand. “Why do we have mzungu prices in Kenya?” Why? Where did this notion come from? How and why? For me, this is an exploitation and this kind of exploitation is everywhere in Kenya. It steams from the policy makers and goes down to the boda-boda cyclists. This is all because we imagine these white people have more money than we do. So we look for every opportunity to exploit them. Take note of the word exploit, because this is what we do. We are very good at this, very shameful.
While at Norway, I visited Polland, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. All the time, I was a tourist in these countries. I toured their parks, historic sites and did many other things tourists will do. I bought many soveigners, as a reminder that I had toured these countries.
Never at one point did I get special treatment as a foreigner, in Kenya we use the word (NON-CITIZEN)! I never paid special prices because I was a non-citizen. If I needed to pay, then I paid the same price just like my friends. Now, my friends have been visiting and we have toured the Amboseli National Park, The Maasai Mara, Fort Jesus (just to mention a few) and it’s incredible that we have these NON-CITIZEN prices all over.
At the curio shops, the vendors are quick to point out “Wewe nunua, tutakupa bei ya Mkenya, lakini wao, ni bei ya Mzungu”. (“We will give you a Kenyan price, but your friends will pay Mzungu price,”) which is extremely exaggerated.
And guess what do these tourists do? They talk about it immediately and make all sort of remarks. “Only third world countries do this. You will find this kind of mentality in Tanzania, Nepal, Uganda and the like.” Remarked a friend from Germany.
At the Fort Jesus in Mombasa, I asked the gate-keeper to explain to me like a 3-year-old, why do I pay Ksh. 100 to access the fortress, and my foreigner friend pays Ksh.800. This is 7 times more! Why the disparity? It puzzled me. We experienced the same tendency on the Safaris at the National Parks. As a Kenyan, I paid Kshs. 1000, Non Resident Adults (18+) – US$ 70 and above.
“You know we do this to encourage local tourism, Kenyans will not come to the park if the fees are higher than this. The foreigners are able to afford this, and many do not complain about the prices,” said one of the receptionists at the park.
Funny. What don’t we know? These tourists do not complain at the reception, they pay and immediately make huge debate about it right there. “ Oh, I find this concept extremely stupid. How does a government come up with such policies? This is all because Kenyans still imagine we are very rich people. Pass the message, we are not, we just want to visit and see your country. We sacrifice so much to make it to Africa, and of course we are not happy when we see such things.” Remarked a journalist.
A Norwegian friend saw it from a different perspective, “It’s ok Patience, we come from Norway and as you know, its one of the richest country in the world, we can afford it just to see your country,but …….., it is very segregating. This wouldn’t happen in Norway, especially when the difference is 7 or even 8 times higher than the local price.”
I feel their pain and I totally understand them. Travelling is a huge expense, we seem to forget this, accommodation too is a huge expense, no one seems to remember this. “Patience, Kenya is a third world country, your country needs our hard-earned cash, we will pay, just to support you to get to where we are, hope one day you will,” said a Norwegian.
Ok, as a Kenyan, what do you think this makes me feel when such remarks are made on my face??