Public transport - only for locals and idealists?
The other day I asked an expat who’s been in Africa 20 years or more what made newcomers like me stand out. “People who’ve just arrived will refuse to let Africans carry their bags for them”, he said. “Once you’ve been here a while, you hand them over immediately.” Clearly I’ve been hanging out in the wrong places – no one ever offers to help me with my bags, though surprisingly a fellow passenger paid my bus fare yesterday (I accepted gracefully).
Actually, taking public transport or walking seems also to brand you as being new to the continent. Experienced mzungus tend to abandon any ambitions of mixing with the locals in favour of the more practical, cooler, and safer option of driving. Walking home from the office, stubbornly sweating in the afternoon heat, I half-envy, half-disdain their monster 4x4s swishing past and coating me in another layer of city dust. But apparently I give myself away above all in what I say. Most recently: I’ve been trying to find a photographer at work and had hoped to hire a local. A Kenyan-English resident I met here was highly sceptical I’d find anyone professional enough. She quoted her Dad: “When you come to Africa, you go through three phases: first phase, Africans can do no wrong; second, Africans can do no right; third, you don’t give a s**t either way”. Continue reading