My favourite thing about Kenya isn’t anything particularly exciting. It doesn’t involve any of the big five. It doesn’t involve majestic scenery or captivating customs of the Masai.
My favourite thing about Kenya is 10am tea break at work.
I realise that has the potential to make me sound a) work shy b) like I lead a fairly dull life and/ or c) like the epitome of a British stereotype. But give me chance to explain.
I love 10am tea break because it’s when I learn the most about Kenya.
But first let me give a bit of background. On my first day at work one of the first things I was told was that at 10am SHARP all staff made their way to the restaurant terrace where we would have a tea break for 20minutes. Being used to UK offices where you can nip to the kitchen for a cup of tea whenever you fancied, this seemed to me highly restrictive … but it didn’t take long to get on board with the new custom.
First of all, in addition to tea you also get snacks! A choice between manzadi (a bit like a donut but don’t ever say that in front of a Kenyan) or a chapati. Secondly, 20 minutes is more like 40…or on a really good/ bad day an hour. I shouldn’t brag about that bit as overrunning tea breaks have resulted in disciplinary memos being sent to everyone…
My first tea break wasn’t all that great however. As specified by my manager I arrived at 10am sharp only to find no-one else there… I collected my tea and snack and sat down to wait. Colleagues (who at this point I didn’t know) trickled in but alas, no one chose to sit with me! It was horrible! Like a first day at school before you have friends. I went home that evening and fretted to my flatmate that I was forever going to be an outsider!
But on the second day I came up with a new strategy. I would go 10minutes late to tea break so that I could ask to sit with whichever group looking the most friendly. Bingo! All of a sudden I found myself with a wonderful, hilarious group of friends that make me look forward to 10am every day.
So why so good? Well as I said, tea break is where I learn the most about Kenya. All my colleagues are Kenyan but they don’t treat me like a muzungu (white person). I’m just part of their gang, talking about the latest church scandal, the ridiculous radio call-in that morning on Classic 105FM, the big news story of the day. One moment we can be having an open, thoughtful debate about homosexuality (currently a criminal offence and a total cultural taboo), the next we will be talking about how hard it is to kill a rabbit when you have to look in their big brown eyes.
Weirdly, 10am tea break is when I feel both most at home, and when I get to revel most in getting to understand the differences between the UK and Kenya. I guess really the point is, just as in offices the world over – whether you’re in the UK, Kenya, Japan or India – having good colleagues is one of the main determinants of how much you’re going to enjoy going to work!