A Good House.

What makes a good house?

Would you prefer to build your own or buy a complete unit?

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There are many properties in Kenya for sale at the moment, and options to suit different clients. From luxury apartments to beachside villas, sprawling bungalows to basic housing; there is almost something for everyone.

However that does not mean it is a straightforward process. There are other factors to take into consideration. From the cost of the unit, financing options, proximity to social amenities, types of finishing, and many more.

There are a myriad of YouTube videos showing these properties and let me tell you guys, I am calling out lies on some of them.

First of all, the words “luxury” and “executive” are so overused folks, it’s appalling.

Basic amenities, such as a good parking spot, a paved driveway are the ones being touted as luxury. Nope, noppity nope. The lies have to stop.

A good property; a basic habitable unit, in my opinion should have some things done as a basic, not as an incentive. Is it too much to ask for non- skid flooring in wet areas such as the bathroom, laundry area and kitchen? Large windows to bring in natural lighting and great air flow. A garden with trees and some nice grass, a paved driveway? A covered parking area?

Recent housing developments do not value free unstructured spaces our children can play in, building on them instead. They have small gravelled areas with hard plastic slides and a couple of swings and call it the kids play area.

While I do understand that it is not possible for many to build their own homes, but when buying a property, let us be a bit more keen in how habitable it is. There are things that come up once you move in, but there are also a few things one should take note of when considering to buy a property. In addition to the due diligence on the legal paperwork, also check and ask around how the security is around that location.

There are many beautifully constructed housing developments popping up all over the place. That bungalow or villa you’re about to pay for, may not be as damp proof as they claim. Look at the corners, sniff the air in that house in all the rooms and cupboards.

Check for loose fittings and signs of mould inside and outside. Are the tiles, inside flooring or outside paving blocks warping or loose? Visit with a qualified person not connected to the project and let them give their opinion. We are paying too much money for real estate, it will not hurt to take your time checking them out thoroughly.

I saw a recent YouTube video of someone house hunting and there was one unit that had obvious water damage and no proper drainage in some areas, (can you imagine a flooded balcony?). When buying land or a house in certain areas, it is good to check out the geographical history of the place. If you can, visit during both the rainy and dry seasons to see the difference. Some properties being sold are located on dried up waterways. With recent climatic changes, flooding is on the increase worldwide; that river that dried up fifty years ago will find its way back and carry whatever is built in its path with it. Some unscrupulous people are filling up old stone quarries, and selling off the land as quick as they can. Due diligence is important and quite wide.

Beach or waterfront properties are beautiful with breathtaking views, and an amazing breeze.

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How well shielded is that property from strong gusts of wind, underground dampness and are there screen doors to avoid bugs? I remember reading of a certain luxury property in the region that was bought up fast but the owners are now in tears. The fitted appliances do not work, the smart home system is ever glitchy and to top it off, some of the houses have had their balconies develop cracks. Scary!

Not all developers are unscrupulous, but well done houses with good quality fixtures and thoughtful finishing are not that common. It has become a preferred option by some to buy off plan or semi finished units, instead of a complete house that one will spend a lot of money repairing and refurbishing to one’s personal taste.

Location is another headache. Imagine buying a lovely apartment with a winding balcony only for a taller, sprawling high-rise to come up right next door! You now have a view of stone walls and the natural lighting in your apartment is dimmed. Or you buy a stand alone house in a quiet neighbourhood only for a religious institution or school to come up next door. There are some developments that have rules guiding what and how one can construct in that locality, which is good in such instances.

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Getting a good property that one can enjoy is not impossible, but will require a lot of commitment and resources. Time, patience, finances and an eye to detail helps. And don’t forget your gut instinct too; How you feel about the place.

What is a good house to you?

Out and About: Entebbe Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Entebbe Wildlife Sanctuary, popularly know as the Entebbe Zoo, is one of the places one must visit when in Entebbe or Kampala.

It is located in Entebbe, but not that far from Kampala; about a hour’s drive, which makes it an excellent family outing option.

We have been there several times already, but this time round was more special to us as we had yet to see the two Bengal Tigers the zoo acquired sometime last year.

There is a lot to see at the zoo. From chimpanzees, to beautiful lions, cheetahs, giraffes, elephant, snakes, otters and even the elusive Shoebill stork, usually found at Mabamba Bay. I have already written about our visit there here.

There were a few changes we noticed while there. Obviously, there are standard Covid 19 prevention protocols to be observed, the zoo is now charging parking fees, and there is a small vehicle to drive those who do to want or are unable to walk around, (at a fee of course).

There is a big playground filled with different activities for children, a restaurant (that serves some awesome fish) and an area one can picnic at on the shores of Lake Victoria.

This time round though, we just wanted to see the animals. We began at the tiger enclosure. Such majestic creatures.

The lions, cheetah and leopard were all asleep though, I guess it was big cats nap time.

Can you spot the leopard?

They also have a caracal and a serval which I find so beautiful with its black spots, long neck and long legs which make it a great jumper.

The zoo has two rhinos too that are so good at minding their own business, just grazing peacefully.

The kids were fascinated by the tigers, the rhinos which we were lucky to get really close to, the chimpanzees as well as the otters.

It was also our first time to see the otters up close as most times they hide out in the water.

Other fascinating sections were the reptile section, with the snakes and crocodiles.

If you are an avid birdwatcher, you will be able to hear and spot a few birds in the trees as you walk around the zoo. We spotted other animals too that are not part of the captive ones such as vervet moneys frolicking in the trees and a monitor lizard.

How many monkeys can you spot?

There is a botanicals section too, that is very informative on indigenous plants and their healing properties. Sadly this time round the guide was not available and the garden looked a bit rundown but I was able to get a few photos and information. It is one of my favorite parts of the gardens as we get to learn how many plants and trees around us, including some we view as weeds, were actually used in olden times to heal and manage various diseases and disorders. Quite intriguing.

The zoo has many other animals, warthogs, giraffes, baboons, red tailed monkeys, crowned cranes, ostriches, buffalos, waterbucks, a zebra, elephant and many more.

Rothschild giraffes
Ostriches.

PS: I know there are people who do not like going to zoos as they do not want to see the animals in captivity. Well, for me, I see it is a learning opportunity. We get to see many animals and learn about them without having to travel to do so. Travelling to see animals in the wild is not within reach for many. Some of the animals are also rescued from the wild as they are at risk of being poached or endangered, so it is part of animal conservation efforts undertaken by those entrusted to care for them.

Many of the trees around the zoo had signs indicating their names, both local and scientific and if they are indigenous to the region or not.

Some also have installations around them to promote conservation and how to reuse plastics that are a menace to the environment.

These used water bottles are being used as planters for tree seedlings.
These tree base has been reinforced with used soda bottles in the concrete and plastic bottle caps on top.

We all enjoyed ourselves despite being a hot day and the place being quite busy than all the other times we have been there.

When you decide to visit the zoo, wear comfortable shoes and clothing, sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses will not hurt too as there is quite a bit of walking around to do to see the animals.

Definitely worth a visit.

No Green Thumb here.

I come from a culture that prides itself in farming; no matter the scale. (Hello there, Andū a Nyūmba).

Such a disappointment given the amount of space I have here at the moment.

It wasn’t always like this though. Some years ago, I had a thriving kitchen garden back home. I grew my own spring onion, dhania, rosemary, mint, celery, beetroot, spinach, carrots, even strawberries, and they all thrived. I have no idea what happened when we got here.

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Growing up, we had a garden and livestock. We grew maize, potatoes, avocados, kale, spinach, amaranth, passion fruits, avocado, luquats, tree tomato, pumpkins, beans etc. My Dad who has a green thumb alright, had planted some beautiful flowers all around the house too. It was a pretty place. You would think I’d get some of that green pixie dust… Well, maybe I did, it just didn’t last long.

H and I lived in Naivasha for a while and we tried to garden, it was successful, except for the monkeys that would come and have a field day uprooting the carrots and messing up the maize. We did enjoy the onions and anything else the monkeys could not consume.

When we moved back to Nairobi, I did the kitchen garden thing again and it was pretty neat except for the strawberries that would go missing just before harvest. I did figure out who the culprit was but that is a story for another day. Anyway, somewhere along the line, I got too busy with work and neglected the small space, we ended up planting grass there. Funny enough though, the celery, beetroot and lemongrass keep popping up.

Fast forward to Kampala. We found a couple of banana trees, some lemongrass, struggling mint and chives in a small corner of the compound. Hurray! I thought, I can do this. So we had the small patch fenced off the rest of the garden because of the dogs, and got planting. Guys, nothing grew! Absolutely nothing! Even the existing chives and mint just decided to exit stage left. The bananas did grow without our help and we have enjoyed them twice but that is all. Even the maize I got to plant next to the bananas just decided to leave this world.

This is Uganda, fertile land and all with rain almost every month of the year. We watered, got manure, even dug everything up and tried again, we did all we could but nope, nothing happened.

I have given up on gardening. And I have no shame in admitting it. H and the kids haven’t though. My son has a bean plant he planted in class and it is thriving, so far so good. They also planted pumpkin and mint that is also coming on well. Even they pineapples they planted have taken root. I have decided to watch it all from a distance though, I do not want to jinx their plants, seeing as I now have a black thumb.

My Mum has been sending me pictures of their amazing organically grown vegetables. Courgettes almost as big as my arm, plump beans, large leafy greens, maize and peas and I have nothing to show for all my talk of having a big space for a wonderful kitchen garden. NOTHING.

As much as I have never been an ardent gardener, I still feel like I have failed bigly. What sort of Kikuyu woman is this who cannot even grow simple dhania guys? Dhania, the easiest thing to grow. I have failed my people. Do you know how lousy of a gardener I have become that I could not even sustain an existing rosemary bush people, Rosemary!

Black thumb it is for me.

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House Matters.

Shelter is a basic need. We all need somewhere to go home to, a place to call our own, a haven from daily work struggles and a place to be safe from the elements.

Where I come from, a lot of people believe that one of the things a person should aspire to have is his or her own piece of land, where they can go ahead and construct their own home. For those who do not own property near the city, it is assumed that by the time your working life ends, you will have finished constructing a place in the village to retire to, complete with a cow and chicken coop and space to grow your own vegetables to boot.

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I grew up about 15 km from Nairobi, in a rural village juxtaposed with a college campus on one side, a farming area on another and a busy highway on another end that connects the capital to the Rift Valley. Folks made fun of it a lot, but it is home. We lived on our own land, so no rent, had our cows, chicken and eggs, and a land to farm on, which meant food was easily accessible. Back then a lot of people believed living in town (within the city and suburbs) was the best life. Well, not anymore. I keep reading and seeing more people opting to move to our area and beyond and farm life and waking up to the sound of birds singing has more appeal now.

Times have changed. We are no longer living within our tribal communities’ geographical boundaries. People are choosing to settle anywhere they feel comfortable. This could be in different towns, countries or even continents.

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With the pandemic, a lot of people have had to cut down on living costs. Housing is one of the things that takes up a large chunk of one’s income if you live in the city where rent is high. A lot of people are opting to move farther away to the country side or different counties altogether where life is more affordable, which is a good decision. Adapting to Covid 19 has taught us that it is possible for many to work from home, as long as you have a reliable internet connection, you can work from anywhere.

Land is very expensive too, not all of us may afford to get that land to build our dream house on. One can opt to get a mortgage and settle on an already built housing unit or just decide to rent for life. Which is fine.

Culture is dynamic, there is nothing cast in stone, we need to adapt to these changes and respect each others’ decisions on what is best for them. That does not mean however that these decisions are easy to arrive at.

Is there a need of having to build a house in the village that you will head to once or twice a year for a week tops, that will then stay empty till the day you retire to the village? On the other hand, it will be great to have a roof over your head with no pressure to pay rent in case your income lines dry up.

What about buying an already built property; if you do not have the ability to pay cash upfront, are you willing to be burdened with a mortgage for almost 3/4 or even all of your working life?

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Or you buy land somewhere, then extreme changes in weather, like what we have been experiencing worldwide, force you to move. Lake levels are rising here and old dried up waterways are filled with water now as well as wetlands we thought are dried up. These are places people settled in and lived for years until recently, now their homes are gone!

Some properties are also controversial in terms of location and land ownership. Imagine taking out a loan to buy a house that turns out to built on land later claimed by the government or somebody else, or buying a house that ends up not being structurally sound?

Once you hear all the horror stories some people go through, renting suddenly looks more appealing than ever.

No matter the decision, shelter is a basic right for all. We all need somewhere to live, rest and sleep in. Choosing where to live depends on our economic situation, affordability, access to infrastructure, quality of life and also access to quality education if you have kids. Security too. And not just burglary and the likes, there are certain areas that are prone to tribal clashes every few years.

There is a lot to consider when making the decision where to live, and there is no perfect place that one will pick and say “This is it.” It is all about weighing all that you consider important, the pros and cons, do your due diligence, and make the final place you decide on a home fit for you and your family.

Food.

A simple definition is what we consume to provide us with the nutrients we need to sustain our bodies. What we choose to eat is influenced by so many things. Our environment, our culture, availability, personal preference and so many more.

Food makes us happy. Reminds us of good or bad times, by the scent, the taste and even how it looks. Preparing and sharing a meal with loved ones is a pleasure, where we can share our thoughts in a relaxed atmosphere.

Githeri ; A Kenyan staple.

I currently live in a country that is very fertile and food is relatively cheap and easy to come by, that is, fresh fruit and vegetables. Processed food here is more expensive. When I first visited the United States, despite what I had watched and read before, I was still taken aback by how cheap processed and junk food was in comparison to fresh produce. I was also appalled at the wastage. And the irony is in both countries, there are people who are struggling to put a meal on the table.

Food is political. Yes it is. Think about it. In the past, food was just for sustenance. Our ancestors ate what they came across, what was around them at the time and their lives and dishes reflected that. These days though food has become a hot political take. What we eat, where it comes from, how it has been produced, how accessible it is to those who are lacking… it is no longer just about survival, but a reflection of what is going on with the world today.

Food can also be a fiery topic. There are certain foods some do not eat for religious, or health reasons, that are traditional staples in other communities. How do we deal with this? Do we bash those who do not eat what we eat or look down on them?

Many of us are now living in multicultural communities where our food has been influenced by other cultures.

Maize which is a staple in the community I come from, was brought by the Portuguese in the 1400s thereabouts. Potatoes which we love too, were introduced by the British in the 1800s. We did have other staples, milk and meat were accompanied by indigenous tubers, grains and cereals before that were wiped out by the introduction and spread of these new crops. Enslaved Africans crossed with cowpeas, okra and watermelon to name a few which are now part and parcel of American cuisine.

Railroad workers brought in from the Indian Subcontinent by British colonialists came with their food and spices that have had a tremendous effect on East African cuisine. Long time trade on the East African coast with Arabs and Chinese has seen influences from their cuisine here too. Our scented pilau and biriani dishes, chapati, samosas, Maru bhajias, masala tea, curries are just a few of the dishes that indicate this.

Beef shank curry and methi naan.

I remember this time I got gifted a bunch of green bananas ( green figs aka matooke), and I shared them with someone who declined as that specific type of banana was only eaten in times of starvation as a last resort where she came from. The banana she was rejecting is what we grow and eat back home as a staple.. what a difference! I was too shocked to be offended but it really opened my eyes to how we all relate differently with food depending on where we come from.

What we eat also changes with the times. There are many people opting not to eat certain foods as they are not produced in the right way, or overly processed. There is a shift to more traditional foods and older methods of cooking and food preservations that we had discarded over time.

Food is a very important part of our cultures, no matter what part of the world we come from. What we eat, how we prepare it, present and consume it speaks a lot on who we are as a people. It is an essential part of our lives we cannot do without. I like reading, collecting and trying recipes from different parts of the world as it is a way I can try to experience a small part of a different culture. We live in a time where information is so easily available we can interact with other cultures and traditions without having to move there physically. And food is one of the ways we can do that. Cooking different dishes with the kids makes them curious and want to know more about that culture we are making the food from, and I believe this makes them open minded and appreciative of different cultures too. Food, a meal, a recipe will always have a story to tell.

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We have however abused the role of food in recent times. Food has become something some of us take pleasure in wasting, hating and using to highlight our ignorance of other cultures. Numerous videos online show people playing pranks with food, overeating as entertainment and even trying challenges of food from other cultures and competing on how gross they find them. This is appalling and disgusting to say the least. Whatever happened to basic decency and respect of other cultures?

Despite the fact that we are living in times where information on anything is a thumb click away, people are priding themselves in showing off their ignorance and arrogance. We have moved from times where we preferred to ignore or fear what we did not know and understand, to ridiculing what is different from us. And these recent food challenges are a perfect indicator of that.

Food is IDENTITY. What we eat tells us about where we come from, what is available there, what grows there and our creativity at making something palatable from it. It connects us and makes us understand one another as we share a meal. When we go ahead and mock food that comes from a different culture… What exactly are we saying about that culture? What are we communicating about ourselves?

It is crucial for us to acknowledge the important role food plays in our lives. Food is central to what we value, how we understand our environment, understand each other and how we express who we are. It is not just about filling our bellies, it tells much more than that to us as human beings. We cannot claim to respect others’ cultures, and at the same time disrespect their food (which is an integral part of any culture). We can do better and be better.