All Things Kenyan

Patience: A Required Virtue

The worst thing about Kenya is waiting. Be sure to pack your patience along with a good long book.

My first experience with waiting in Kenya was at a bank in Nairobi. I needed to exchange some money. It was about $45 US. I handed the teller my cash and filled out a form. And then I waited. And waited. I waited so long my friends wanted to know what was taking so long. I told them I didn’t know. So we all waited. Finally, forty-five minutes later, I had my money.

I had the same experience in Naivasha, Bungoma, and in Kisumu. Exchanging money takes a long time. After a few months in Kenya I learned the art of sleeping while standing to pass the time. In Bungoma, I actually got to sit in a chair while I waited. I watched the guy who took my travelers’ cheque. He put it down on his desk and walked off. He came back with a bottle of Fanta for a colleague and himself. They stood around chatting and drinking their soda. I was getting thirsty watching that. My money guy then went to his desk did some paperwork. Finally, he picked up my travelers’ cheque and processed it. I had my money in less than an hour.

Another place you may find your patience tested is in a restaurant. Once in Naivasha, a group of friends and I placed an order for some food and drinks. We got to talking and then realized it had been about half an hour. Surely our order must be on its way. One of us inquired about our order. “Not much longer”, we were told. That was fine. So we waited some more. By the time we got our order it had been close to two hours. Not all restaurants take that long, in fact, most restaurants in Nairobi are quite speedy. My experience is that the restaurants in the slightly more out of the way areas were much slower in their service.

Sometimes when you order food in a restaurant they don’t have that particular item. So you pick something else on the menu. That’s not available either. So you choose a third item. Guess what? They are out. This happened once to my friends and I in Kisumu. One of my friends was getting pretty exasperated. His comment to the waiter was “As usual, Bwana.” Apparently this had happened to him before.

The third place you will find yourself waiting is on a matatu or a bus. When you get onto either of these you pay your fare and take your seat. Once seated, pull out that book you packed or take a nap. You’ll be jolted awake once the matatu or bus starts moving. Personally, I’ve waited up to two hours for a matatu to move. The owners want it filled before they drive off. I’ve heard stories of people waiting close to three hours.

Such is the life in Kenya. Things move at a slower pace. Time isn’t as important to them as it is to us who are from ‘The West’.