What’s your postal address?

Kenyans are very polite; not just with foreigners, they are very polite among themselves. They are very calm and patient.

So I was going to open a bank account in a famous international bank but the locals told me they were thieves. So they showed me the bank they used and recommended I opened an account there. It was the cheapest they said: I would only pay this much for withdrawal at the bank, this much at the ATM, this much for the card, this much for this….and that…. Well, I told the counselor, in my country I pay nothing for all these services. And he replied “ How do the banks make a living!” Well because of interests and loans, don’t  worry about them, I said ! He seemed puzzled. He replied that here, they were safeguarding my money so that’s why I was supposed to pay. Of course! If they put it that way…. This is after all Nairob(er)y so safeguarding should be indeed rewarded!….

I had to fill in an application form where they asked for my postal address. So I wrote down my address but didn’t know the postal code.  The very polite counselor asked me many times if this was where I lived and I replied that it was, indeed. Ok but do you have a postal address?Yes this is my postal address, and this is my email address. I don’t know the postal code, but this is definitely the address. But I’d rather have you not send me the statements at all I’ll manage everything through the internet banking.Fine she insisted but what is your postal address? Again I indicated my address and repeated that I’d rather use the internet banking. Then she said “I’m afraid that without your postal address I can’t open your account”.  She seemed apologetic.  “I understand, I said smiling,  it’s obvious in my country it’s pretty much the same thing. So I’ll manage everything through the internet but this is where I live”. “ Ok Madam I understand but what about your postal address”. The Kenyans are polite people so I needed to be equally polite. “This is my email address, and this is my postal address, you can send the stuff here, but I will manage everything through internet banking”.

She explained that she had understood that I lived out of town that she knew the place, that she understood that I was going to use the internet banking but still what she wanted was my postal address. Finally I asked her : “ So what’s a postal address?” – A place where we’ll send your mail. I laughed of course so what was the issue??? “ Ok you can send it here, it will reach me! ” I said Then she said : Are you settled in Kenya?Yes! I sighed, thinking that would be it! I work for the Army! . “So mm,  what’s your address at home then?”. – “ My address in Paris?? Well if you send the mail to Paris while I’m in Kenya I’m sure I won’t be getting it!” I said laughing.

She seemed to be facing an unsolvable issue. She replied that indeed it was a problem, but as I didn’t have a postal address… I agree, I said, so I suggested she sent the mail to the address I had given her. She explained once more that this was my residence address. And I told her that it was indeed and that she should forget about Paris and send the mail there even though I would manage everything by internet banking because soon enough I would have my own connection.

She said she would send it to a post box and I would go and collect if from there. I said it was far too complicated and as I was a whitie we should keep it simple and send it to my home. Then I thought of sending it to the Barracks, and I gave her the address of the Army Barracks….She still didn’t seem happy with that. I thought of having it sent to the Embassy itself, but this would force me to go to town and I definitely didn’t like traffic jams, pollution and robbery….. Then she considered sending it to the Kenyan guy’s postal address which was 120 km away… After a ten minute conversation I finally understood, that in Kenya there was no such thing as a postman delivering the mail at your home. Every day people went to collect their mail to their postbox located somewhere around: this was the postal address; the residence address was what I called a Postal address or ” adresse postale” in French as opposed to the email address.

I said  to her laughing: Oh at home the postman drops it at my place. Haven’t you ever seen anything like that?

I have, she said, in the movies!

That’s how I started thinking of myself as of a movie character!


Arrival at Nairobi

Arriving at Nairobi: the contrast between its airport and the airports I was used to in South East Asia was huge! This is a tiny ariport and it’s seems we go through a voyage of time…up a few decades…or even centuries…

 the Duty free shops selling sweets and wine  The VIP lounge!  Tiny airport luggage belts  Getting one’s luggage

It was the first time I stepped in “Afrique Noire” as we say in French. As I already had my entry visa and the airport being so little it took less than 15 min  to reach the luggage belts. But getting the luggage, that was another story! It took a very long time : so much luggage in such a big plane! Sometimes they put the luggage aside to relieve congestion in the belt and in that case you can wait for yours for a long time!

Major G*** and his beautiful wife were waiting for me. They had been waiting for more than an hour and a half. As I had been told the traffic in Nairobi is a true nightmare. So they came really early in order to be sure they weren’t going to miss me.

It was a diplomatic car: a huge car.

They said sometimes we could see people lying by the road. We should never help them. Often there were people hiding behind the bushes that would leap out and assault you. If someone was indeed dead, we could be taken as the main suspect just because we were the one by the corpse… Sometimes the lions escaped the Parks and attacked the cattle…so last year they killed four of them. Sometimes we could see zebras crossing the road. A few months ago it was an elephant a car crashed into it, the family and the elephant died… Waoo! all these things made me enter a new dimension in a few minutes.

Eventually I arrived at my place: 7 km away from the busy traffic city. It was a very calm area, full of greenery and open spaces. Nothing to do with Nairobi itself. Later the people of the school would tell me it was the first time a teacher lived so close to the school. They usually lived in areas for expats – which implied hours spent in jams everyday and also paradoxically insecurity: that’s where the people would rather go for their hackings.

Where I lived it seemed a totally different world from Nairobi, a few minutes away from the Nairobi National Park, which allowed me to walk there. Others would have to arrange a day off  to reach… because of the jams…