What’s it like being a Jamaican living in Kenya?
Interviews

What’s it like being a Jamaican living in Kenya?

Have you ever wondered what’s it like being a Jamaican living in Kenya? On our “Jamaicans to the World” Facebook Live show, Jamaicans.com founder Xavier Murphy spoke with Kerry-Ann Makatiani. She is a Jamaican living in Kenya.

Xavier: What is it like being a Jamaican in Kenya? Hi, I’m Xavier Murphy, the founder of Jamaicans.com, and today in Jamaicans to the World we talk to Kerry-Ann Makatiani; who is living in Kenya. Welcome Kerry-Ann, did I get that last name right?

Kerry-Ann: Thanks. That’s fine Xavier. A little bit off, but then I also think I just did the other pronunciation of your name so we’re all good. It’s Makatiani. Thanks, Xavier

Xavier: And listen, I’m fine.

Kerry-Ann: Which name is right?

Xavier: I am fine with Xavier. That is totally fine.

Kerry-Ann: Okay.

Xavier: I know it’s a French pronunciation, and I’m good with it.

Kerry-Ann: Thanks so much. We’re good.

Xavier: My first question is this. Where in Jamaica are you from?

Kerry-Ann: I’m from St. Catherine. I lived in Greendale, St. Catherine, but went to school in St. Andrew, actually went to St. Andrew High School for girls. My grandparents were in Kingston as well, so we spent a lot of time in Kingston, and then went back home to St. Catherine in the evenings after school.

Xavier: Okay. I grew up in St. Catherine myself. I grew up in Portmore.

Kerry-Ann: Okay, I know Portmore as well and my dad’s family is from Kitson Town, which normally people don’t really know it, but then recently there was the earthquake that had the epicenter near Kitson Town so it became known to the world but yes that’s where my dad’s family is from and then we lived just a bit halfway between Kitson Town and closer to Kingston.

Xavier: Okay. How long have you been living in Kenya?

Kerry-Ann: In Kenya, I’ll say I have been in Kenya since 1999, but in 1998 we were in South Africa. I did an exchange program at school, from New York to South Africa and my husband was also doing some business in South Africa at the time and then we moved to Kenya in 1999. I mean, that answers a question actually, is why am I in Kenya because my husband is Kenyan. So we moved in 99, got married and then in 2003 we went back to South Africa, again, spent around six years, and then came back in 2009 and then we’ve been here since.

Xavier: Okay. What do you love about Kenya?

Kerry-Ann: Kenya is a beautiful country. I mean, that’s one of the first things I can say it’s a really beautiful country. It has its seas which was critical. I mean, I remember it was one of the first things my husband had to show me; I needed to know that they were good seas and it’s the Indian Ocean. So the beaches remind me a lot of home, you know, blue seas and warm water. Unlike South Africa, where you can get very cold water because it’s the Atlantic Ocean, instead of the Indian Ocean in parts of South Africa. I mean, it has mountains, it has lakes, you hike, I’ve climbed Mount Kenya. After we climbed Mount Kenya, we came down, we went to a National Park. From climbing the mountain and you come down and you’re in a park, you go on a Safari, you see the animals. When we want to chill, we go to the beach and relax. So it’s just a beautiful country. The weather is great.

Xavier: Okay. Sounds like it has it all.

Kerry-Ann: Many things.

Xavier: It sounds like it has it all. So my next question is, what do you like the least about Kenya?

Kerry-Ann: I probably have the same pet peeves as a lot of people, I mean, corruption and I think politics are the two things I like the least. Kenya has so much going for it, and just like with a lot of African countries that, you know, corruption becomes the issue and to me, that’s why the development is not where it should be. When you look at what Kenya has, it has natural oils, gases, it has minerals. It has beautiful weather, it has a young population and an educated population. I’ve been here as I said, since 1999. I speak very little Swahili, not because my mother-in-law didn’t try; she tried, but I don’t have to speak it because everywhere I go people speak English, I mean, so as you can see, most people are bilingual. They speak in English, Swahili, and a lot of time their own ethnically language. We shouldn’t be where we are, so I mean, corruption is something that has just really impacted our development and that annoys me and politics. I just don’t like politics anywhere. I don’t think politics is a nice game in any country.

Xavier: Just for everybody to know, you spoke some Swahili to me earlier.

Kerry-Ann: Oh no. You’re gonna ask me to speak some? And if there’s a Kenyan who listens to this, or my husband sees this. Anyway, I say I speak ‘kidogo kidogo’ which means just a little Swahili but I do speak some phrases like if you said something to me, and we finally got the lighting and everything right and then we were ready to start and then I said, okay, good ‘sawa’. That’s just kind of second nature. ‘Sawa’, it just means okay, cool, you know, we’re ready to go. So I say ‘sawa’, I even say it to my sister sometimes so they have to kind of get used to it. I’d say sometime, like ‘sawa’ yes, I’m ready to go. Let’s go ‘sawa sawa’. So, yes, I just know a few phrases, but not enough to hold a conversation, or follow a conversation, unfortunately.

Xavier: Okay. So my next question to you is this one; is there any similarity you see in culture between Jamaica and Kenya?

Kerry-Ann: Yes, the similarity and I would say I don’t know if it’s, an African thing, because it’s not just Kenya, it may be part of our Africa connections in the Caribbean but the celebration of culture through food and music, I mean, you see it here. So obviously, the food is very different, the music is very different, but the fact that if you hear a certain song, you will know where it comes from; it has a meaning, it originates somewhere and then depending on what you’re eating, again, you know, each group has their food. So you know, this is a Luwah dish, this is a Luhyah dish, this is a Kikuyu dish and so just that celebration through food and music reminds me a lot of home. So different food, different music, but just that culture.

Ugali Sukuma Wiki, made with collard greens, known as sukuma, cooked with onions and spices. Kenyan cuisine.

Xavier: So favorite food, what is your favourite Kenyan food?

Kerry-Ann: Okay, that one is interesting, because when I first came, I had to get used to the food and particularly for the group that my husband is from. There’s a dish called ugali, it’s a staple in Kenya. It’s made out of maize meal, so you see how we would have cornmeal, it’s maize meal, but it’s a white corn; sorry, in Kenya they call corn maize and it’s a white corn and then it’s milled, you know, they grind it and it becomes a flour and that flour, they actually turn it into a dish similar to just cornmeal basically, you just add water sometimes, if you want to be adventurous then they add milk, but generally, it’s just water and then you cook it; they don’t add salt and it’s very plain but then you have to use it. You eat it like with some greens. I’m using terms again; for example Callaloo would be greens, so callaloo, spinach, anything like that is a greens. So here the popular greens are something like Sukuma spinach. So you will cook that down and then you will have a meat dish, chicken or beef with a stew. So it’s bland, it’s like rice. Rice doesn’t have a flavor, so ugali is bland because it’s just meant to be like the plate for the meal. Yes.

Xavier: I see.

Kerry-Ann: I found it very plain so I had to get used to that. Having said that, I must say the food scene in Kenya is amazing. They’re amazing restaurants. Anything. We have Indian; that was actually surprising to me. I mean, you learn things when you first come to the country. Like when I first came to Kenya, I thought Kenya was going to be like West Africa, just hot, like Jamaica. So I came with all short sleeve shirts and some, you know, shorts, not too short, because Kenya still a bit conservative, but everything cool and the weather can drop here to, you know, 6, 10 degrees and some of the places we’re going was even lower than that, that was a surprise. So something that shocked me as well was just the food here like Indian food is really good and that’s because there’s a very big Indian population in Kenya and their food is amazing. I wasn’t expecting that but the food scene here is great. We have great restaurants, Mexican, Indian, Italian. If you go to the coast of Kenya, going up to pass Mombasa, which is one of the coastal towns, and going further up, you’re gonna hit Malindi. Malindi is a little Italy in Kenya. I mean, a lot of Italians settle there and if you go there, you’ll hear Italian in the hotels, the workers in the hotel industry, they all speak Italian, and they have amazing Italian food there, but it also comes down into Nairobi. So I can’t say what my favorite food is because I’m spoilt for choice.

Xavier: Is Jamaican food there?

Kerry-Ann: Is which what?

Xavier: Are there any Jamaican restaurants?

Kerry-Ann: When I first came, there was a Jamaican restaurant and I remember I used to go and get a patty and I was really happy for that because the patty is the one thing that I can’t do. I mean, there are a lot of things that I replicate here because you can get the foods, it’s just not cooked the same way we do in Jamaica but you can get it. You can get dasheen, you can get green bananas, and they don’t have the yams here that we eat. You get the goat, the goat is very popular, but they don’t cook it how we cook it, but you can get the meat and the foods but the one thing I could never do was a patty. There was a restaurant here when I first moved but now, not so much. You have to do it yourself.

Xavier: Let me ask you this question. What Jamaican food apart from patty do you miss the most?

Kerry-Ann: Okay, when I come home, I mean, I do a food run so starting from my grapenut ice-cream, stew peas, ackee and saltfish. I can’t get ackee and saltfish here, there’s no ackee here and neither is there any saltfish, so ackee and saltfish. I just want the good curry goat. As much as I try and cook it sometimes, it’s not that great, so the good curry goat, good curry chicken, stew peas. I don’t know; I just go on a whole spree, brown stew chicken, everything, callaloo and saltfish, just everything. One of the stops has to be patty. I missed a good party and coco bread and can’t get anything like that here.

Xavier: Boy, yes. Patty and coco bread is the combination of all.

Kerry-Ann: Exactly.

Xavier: When people meet you and they realize your Jamaican; give me one of the funniest stories or it could be anything about, you know, someone finding out you’re Jamaican and what happens after.

Kerry-Ann: You know it’s always good vibes when you’re a Jamaican because people always ask you about Jamaica but I mean, it’s just this thing of; do you know Usain Bolt? Do you know so and so? You know, it’s no, we don’t know everybody. Which is typical but yes it’s always been good been a Jamaican. People just ask you about your accent. What’s it like in Jamaica? I always hear a lot; oh, I always want to go visit. It’s on my list of places to go and visit, so you just get a lot of good vibes.

Xavier: Do you find that it’s being Jamaican and I hear this from people all the time. It’s almost like a welcome mat is just thrown to you once they realize that you are Jamaica, do you find that?

Kerry-Ann: It’s true. I mean, you know, as they say, we little but we tallawah. So our culture goes ahead of us and everyone just loves the music and the food and they just think all Jamaicans are cool and when you say you’re Jamaican they’re so interested in knowing about Jamaica that they, are just really welcoming. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone I’m Jamaican had a bad reaction. It’s always an extra smile, oh my goodness, is where I want to go, what it is like over there. Yes, always. It just makes you smile.

Xavier: The other question I have is this one. Is there a place in Kenya if a Jamaican or anybody wants to visit; you’ll say to them, yuh haffi (you have to) guh (go) here so. What’s that place?

Kerry-Ann: I think one of the iconic places to go in Kenya, Nairobi is to go to Carnivore and it’s just a novelty of the place. You go, and you’re going to get what you call ‘nyama choma’. ‘Nyama choma’ means roast meat in Swahili and there they just serve everything. So for example, when I came, that’s where I went. That’s where I tasted alligator. Alligator interestingly taste kind of like smoked chicken, it’s really not bad but then they also give you some novelty meat. You get antelope, which again, is not bad but then they went into some other ones that were not that great, you know, like, zebra, but generally, most of the meat is just beef, chicken, sausages, alligator, but then they have some novelty ones. So it’s kind of the iconic place to go and then they have their drinks, and you go and you have your ‘nyama choma’ and have your drinks outside. So that’s the one place where everybody kind of at least passes through for the experience. It’s like when they go to Jamaica, you give somebody the good jerk pork place where you’re going to go. Carnivore is kind of like that place to go get the good ‘nyama choma’ and just experience but it’s not an everyday thing. You go when you have friends, you experience it, but it’s not like an everyday thing.

Nairobi, Kenya – December 2, 2016: Chief cook preparing nyama choma – traditional east african grilled meat

Xavier: My last question to you is this one. What advice would you give a Jamaican who is thinking of moving to Kenya?

Kerry-Ann: Connect, connect. We have a group of Jamaicans we get together. Obviously, with Covid we can’t get together so much anymore, but we get together, we lime. When Andrew Holness was here last year, we all met up and made sure that we represented at the state dinner and we just get together. Sometimes somebody would just say, come I’m cooking up some red peas soup, we just go by and have some rum and some red peas soup. I would say connect. We have a group and when anyone is in, we join in, we welcome them, and then they’re apart of the get to know part of coming in, because it helps you to settle in, when you kind of have a group that you can touch base with.

Xavier: About how many of you?

Kerry-Ann: That’s kind of hard to say because we come in stages. For example, there was a generation before me and I think it even came out when Kenya’s president came to Jamaica, because one of his brothers is married to a lady whose mother is Kenyan. So the mother came over, got married here. So there’s a generation of that and they’re quite a few of them actually and then there’s like my age group. Some of us got married to Kenyan, some of us are kids of that earlier generation that came in the 70s. So it’s hard to say how many of us there are, you know, we’re everywhere.

Landscape with snow covered peak of Kilimanjaro in Kenya

Xavier: I know.

Kerry-Ann: We represent, we’re a big enough group to represent; let me put it that way and even though we’re small, we make a lot of noise so people know we’re here.

Xavier: Kerry-Ann, thank you for taking the time to join us and just giving us a little idea of what it’s like being a Jamaican in Kenya. I don’t if you have any closing thoughts, any last words that you’d like to say? Maybe something in Swahili?

Kerry-Ann: Okay. At the end, I will say, ‘karibu’, which means Thank you. No, ‘karibu’ is welcome. So you’re welcome and ‘asante’, which is thank you. So you’re welcome. Thank you for inviting me and it was my pleasure to be here. I mean, Kenya is now my second home. I’m as passionate now about it as I am about Jamaica. So I’m really happy just to get the chance to just show you a little bit through what I’ve said but yes, it’s a good country. Yes. I’m enjoying being here.

Xavier: Thank you very much Kerry-Ann and you have a blessed day and thanks for sharing your story with us. Take care.

Kerry-Ann: Thank you so much for having me. Bye-bye.

Photo Source: DepositPhotos

About the author

Xavier Murphy