Tara: Mama Mgeni
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Kenya, etc.
My name is Tara, and I’m an American living in Nairobi, Kenya. My husband is Kenyan, and we have two young daughters. Many people ask if my husband and I met here in Kenya, but the fact of the matter is that we met in Uzbekistan! My husband and I have been working abroad together since we met in 2005, and we moved back to Kenya as a family in 2011.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I decided to start blogging a couple of years after I moved to Nairobi. A good friend of mine who often asked for my advice about life with kids in Kenya was often telling me, “You should start a blog!” One day, I finally listened to her…
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I think my favorite blog post was one about a camping trip we took with friends in Gatamaiyo Forest Nature Reserve. It was such an amazing camping spot, with incredible views, walks through indigenous bamboo thickets, and the most spectacular views of the sunrise in the morning. Kenya is so rich in travel opportunities, and I think many people are intimidated by the idea of camping. I love to show people that camping is a great way to see all that Kenya has to offer!
Tell us about the ways your new life in Kenya differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I have spent the bulk of the last 15 years living abroad, and I have lived in many other African countries prior to settling down in Kenya – mostly in bush settings, with very limited resources and infrastructure. So moving to Nairobi was a breeze! Life here is very comfortable and easy, and in a lot of ways it’s not very different from life at home. We have wonderful friends and family here, and it has truly become home for me. (Sorry, Mom!)
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Nairobi? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I was quite prepared for life in Nairobi, because I had spent so much time here (and in the region) before we moved. We had almost nothing when we moved here – just a few suitcases of personal belongings. It was easy to buy furniture (you can get almost anything you want made by local carpenters), but it was hard to find quality pots, pans and kitchen appliances. I think this has gotten better over the years, but if I had it to do all over again, I would have brought all my cookware and bakeware from the UK when we moved!
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
My funniest experiences come from cases of mistaken identity. When we married, I took my husband’s surname. It is a very typical Kenyan Kikuyu name, and people are always surprised and a little confused when they see me, and hear my name. I once met someone in person, after several weeks of email communication for work. He took one look at me, and said, “No, you can’t be Tara. Tara is African!” It keeps people on their toes…
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Kenya?
- If you have kids, bring your car seats with you. Quality car seats from recognizable brands are difficult to find here, and are exorbitantly expensive. Driving is arguably the most dangerous thing you and your family will do in Kenya, and a quality car seat can help keep your kids safe!
- Try to get out of the expat scene now and again and experience Kenya as Kenyans do. Make friends with your Kenyan coworkers and neighbors. Get out of Nairobi and see what life is like upcountry. Learn Swahili!
- Make time for travel! Kenya has so much to offer – mountains, lakes, beaches, rain forests, wildlife, bird watching, and so much more. After four years of living here, I still feel like I haven’t seen enough!
How is the expat community in Nairobi? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a huge expat community living in Nairobi, and it’s quite easy to meet other expats through Facebook groups, social events, athletic events, etc. As a mom, I found it very easy to meet other parents, both expats and Kenyans alike, through play groups and kids’ activities.
How would you summarize your expat life in Nairobi in a single, catchy sentence?
Being married to a Kenyan, my expat life in Nairobi isn’t entirely “expat” - we have a foot in both the expat and local Kenyan worlds – the best of both!