One thing I love about blogging this overseas life is the communication with families who are preparing to move here themselves. A few families have contacted us over the past year or so with questions about what to expect. This truly makes my heart happy, and I want to be a resource as they prepare for life in Kenya. I think its so helpful to know the availability of things prior to coming (especially families with children). So stalk away, stalkers, and shoot us an email if you have questions!
I’ve put together a list of things that made the cut for our big move and things I will be replenishing during our time in the States this fall. Hopefully this will be helpful to folks preparing to come to the Kijabe area.
For the KITCHEN: Sharp knives, silverware, kitchen utensils, kitchen towels & hot pads. All are much nicer in the states – bring those along. We bought a KitchenAid mixer used once we were here, but many people bring theirs along. I’ve never used it more than I do here. All cooking - ALL COOKING - is from scratch. Overall, these were heavy items, but we spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking. At RVA, a big part of our job is hospitality. A big part of hospitality is food. We did not, however, bring pots and pans, and I'm glad that we didn’t since they're so heavy and can be purchased here. Things that are important to you now, that you can’t live without, bring. Keep in mind that big appliances (ovens, refrigerators) and even small appliances (toasters, coffee pots) can be purchased here for the most part.
For the PANTRY: LOTS OF sliced pepperoni, chocolate chips, taco seasoning, American chili powder (Kenyan is super spicy), maple syrup (if your husband is a maple syrup snob like mine), craisons, walnuts, sure-jell (for making jelly), seasoning packets, Crystal Light mixes and/or Kool-aid mixes, food coloring (the paste tubes are way nicer than the powder here). Most spices are easy to get and very cheap, but not the special mixes. Bring what you can fit. American candy is a delicacy here (Reeses peanut butter cups, skittles, etc. Pack some if you have room.) Also, Ziplock bags are like gold! Actually, you can buy something similar in town, but they’re not freezer bag quality. Bring lots in several sizes – stuff them in the empty corners of each bag that you can. I also like the Scotch Brite sponges from the states – these are lightweight, easy to bring & far more durable than sponges here.
Sheets and towels: I brought two sets of sheets for each bed and enough towels, including beach towels. These were actually really nice for packing around breakables. I also brought comforters for my kids beds, so that their room would feel familiar and instantly be their own. I have no idea if this helped, since they were so young, but I like to think it did. I brought wall decals and we decorated their room with those. It was simple (and easy to pack), but again, I think it helped make their new room here feel special. I did pack a lightweight quilt for our bed as well to make it feel more like home. Heavy blankets can be purchased here easily and aren’t worth the weight in packing.
For the kids: I did bring bags of clothes in the next sizes up for the kids. Kids clothing sells in the Nairobi malls for upwards of $30 a piece. You can purchase used clothing at the LARGE market in town, but it's a hassle and it takes a full day. It's an adventure, too, haggling and searching for what you need, but not something you want to do every time your child grows out of his shorts. Also, I would highly recommend packing plenty of socks & underwear! Bring more than you think you need. We line-dry all of our clothes and its amazing the wear and tear that puts on them. In addition, we walk everywhere – so our socks get thread-bare quickly. As far as shoes go – in my opinion, a few pairs of durable kids’ shoes are nice to bring with you but, you can get them here, about the price and quality of Payless. And for all the bulk and weight shoes add to your luggage, I would use it on adult shoes, not kids shoes.
For yourself: It’s always fun to pull out a few new outfits after months of wearing the same stretched out things. (See paragraph above regarding the wear and tear on clothes) It’s important to have supportive shoes – our roads are terrible! I recommend a few pairs of Keens/Clarks/Merrell’s – something known for its support & comfort. I think the space and weight is much more wisely used packing quality adult shoes. And again, I can’t say it enough: bring plenty of socks and underwear. You can’t just run to Target when you need new undershirts. Also, make sure to bring warm clothing, jackets, and rain gear for the whole family. At 7,400 ft above sea level, it gets downright chilly during rainy season and at night. You’ll be thankful for slippers or wool socks when lounging around the house – no carpet here!
SPECIFICALLY for the KIDS:
Toys/Gifts are very expensive here (at least 3x's the price as at home). It’s definitely worth bringing out some special new things for Christmas/birthdays. This is in addition to special toys/games that you would be bringing already. Dress-up clothes - there are fun birthday parties and playgroup and there's a "carnival" at the end of October where the kids dress in costume.
Sturdy wooden clothes pins - the plastic ones you can get here work but aren't as sturdy. Tupperware - if you like the ones you have, use them for packing small breakables or liquids. I purchased real Tupperware brand containers from someone here and they are completely worth it for food storage. Seeds for a garden/herb garden. You can get some veggie seeds in town, but not too many herbs. Things grow really well here. Sunscreen & bug spray – both very expensive if bought here. Band-aids, cold medicine, ibuprofen – medicines can be purchased here but who wants to drive an hour for cold medicine? Better to have some on hand initially. Any hygiene products for which you are brand-particular. Most things can be found easily here, but often the brands are very different. Christmas decorations – I brought our stockings, a lot of ornaments, our Advent wreath. Anything you have in the way of traditions, try to bring. Anything that will help make it feel like Christmas to you, bring. I recommend jarred candles in scents that feel like home. You can’t find scented candles here like you can in the states. Scrapbook paper or craft supplies for decorating is a good idea too. Some craft supplies can be purchased here, but I’ve never seen the pretty scrapbook papers or fabrics like the craft stores carry in the US. DVDs of TV series are good to have for breaks. We enjoy watching shows that we can’t otherwise watch here.
I think that about covers what I deemed to be important to us. Obviously this list changes depending on your family’s needs and how long you will be living here, but it gives you an idea. We came out for two years initially, as a family of five people, with 17 checked bags.
Speaking of bags, I highly recommend these bags for linens, clothing, and more. They are durable, withstanding international travel multiple times, and pack 50lbs. easily. For footlockers, we went with the Rubbermaid version, though people also like Contico.
Hopefully this blog can continue to be an ongoing resource to those preparing to come, in addition to providing updates to our loved ones back home.
What would make YOUR list of non-negotiables when packing to move to Kenya?