Kenya: Surprisingly Expensive For Mzungu
We are leaving Kenya despite our wishes to stay around a bit longer. Renting a flat didn’t work out the way we expected—instead, we got a mzungu treatment. Mzungu means a white person in Swahili and it is often derogatory.
We started our trip from Nairobi and stayed there a week. The city was OK. We didn’t feel unsafe despite the city’s reputation of "nice robbery", Nairobbery. The only downside was the temperature. On daytime, it was a bit above 20°C and during the night 14-15°C. Heading to the coast was more pleasant because the temperature rose on the better side of 30°C.
Renting is Tricky Business Everywhere
Renting a flat is challenging everywhere in the world as only lawyers are worse conmen than real estate agents. This is what happened to us in Diani Beach in Mombasa.
We rented a two-room flat from a local Ukunda businessman called Solomon who owns the Ndoto Apartments. We wanted to start with a three week trial period and told him that if everything goes smoothly, we will stay in the flat up to six months. We also agreed that during the busy Christmas season we would stay six nights somewhere else because our landlord had a reservation to the flat.
The first two weeks went fine and we liked the flat. It was quiet and comfortable for writing and the beach was near for our morning jogging and walks. But then, after the two weeks, Solomon suddenly came to us and begged to pay him three months’ rent upfront claiming that he needed the money badly for paying the electricity bill. The sum was 45.000 Kenyan shillings (420 €). After he got the money, everything changed, especially the landlord himself. He became arrogant and didn’t appreciate us as customers any more.
Water started to leak from the ceiling threatening to destroy our laptops but nobody came to repair the damage. We had to put basins to avoid flooding. Then the Christmas came and Solomon moved us—one day earlier than agreed—to a barn that used to function as a brothel. It was within his compound, just beside geese and goat staples and the junk yard. Solomon claimed that his original idea had been to place us in some nice hotel and said that he had even negotiated us a good price for the stay, but when we went to see the room and they saw that we are mzungus, the price suddenly jumped 12-fold.
From Rags to Riches
While living in the barn, we got to know a bit more about our landlord’s life and business practises from the village people. We learned that he had been a beach boy selling himself to old mzungu women. He had made his fortune by marrying an elderly Western lady who was still living in the compound. She had lost all her investments and fortune to Solomon by signing some papers without checking them properly while madly in love. She had later divorced Solomon but stayed in the premises apparently sharing Solomon with his second wife—a local woman with four children.
We saw the lady a few times tiptoeing in the shadows and avoiding other people. Once she replied to our greeting looking away. The unfortunate past may explain her behaviour. She seemed to be a prisoner in her house.
Take the Money And Run
We were supposed to move back to the flat in six days but before the six days had passed, Solomon came to us again and said that we would have to stay in the barn longer or find another place. This time our patience and flexibility were tested a bit too much. None of Solomon’s suggestions were part of the deal we had made. We started to argue with him. We got Solomon to promise that we can move to another, almost equal flat in his house.
A few days passed and the good old ritual repeated. Now Mr. landlord was acting even more arrogantly, which according to some locals was because of the high season and getting so many customers. December is the only busy month in Mombasa. During the other months holiday flats are empty, especially from March when the rainy season starts. But naturally if you ask the prices, the never-ending high-season is always on as we wrote in our Brazilian tourism guide.
Solomon got seemingly irritated by our counter arguments and offered to return us the money. This was what we wanted. We had had enough and wanted to leave as soon as possible but it wasn’t so easy. Solomon of course didn’t have the money. He said he would return it some day soon which didn’t convince us at all. We had heard that some of Solomon’s guests had had to take him to the local police station before he had returned their deposit. Their guess was that Solomon would never give up the money, no matter what we did.
The Final Act
On the 29th of December when we were supposed to be back in the flat, we climbed to Solomon’s rooftop lounge to meet him. He was in good spirits, laughing with some guests who had just paid for him for their stay. Assuming the best, we were cheerful, too, until Solomon came to us. He started once again giving excuses and telling that we would not be able to move to the flat, or in general, to any of his flats because now all of them were rented to some other people who were paying more than us. He said that we could stay for free (in reality with the same high price we had paid for the flat) in the one-room tiny barn a week or two more, but for sure no more than a month.
So the landlord wanted to rent the flat we had paid for to other people; to eat and save the cake! We confronted him. He had one more trick in store: his friend could accommodate us while waiting for our flat to be free, until the 3rd of January. He insisted us to have a look at the flat and that was also locals’ advice, who were quite convinced that squeezing the money back from Solomon would prove to be impossible. The guy was always broke.
The other flat was acceptable, but in the middle of the discussion Solomon slipped out that he had agreed with his friend to give him all our money as a compensation for the three months’ stay. He had no intention of giving the original flat back to us. We had really had enough of his stupid games and asked him to give the money back right away and reminded him of the favour we did by giving him the upfront rent so that his Nairobi guests were able to enjoy electricity on their Christmas holiday. Finally he put his hand into his pocket, took out a wad of notes and gave us our money back.
We were relieved that the Kenyan renting story was finally over. We didn’t feel like asking around any more flat offers nor even staying in the country. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Living a few weeks under pressure, having constant issues with trust and money, and feeling cheated were not increasing anyone’s happiness. At best, there were only losers in this game. We lost a few weeks of the time we would have needed for writing our newest book. Solomon on the other hand lost everything: his customers, reputation, and our money he had been hoping to keep. He will have some dry months ahead when the few tourists vanish after the so-called high season and the rains arrive.
We found it sad that so many Kenyan people see mzungus, whites, as walking money bags. They assume every white person to be so rich that they deserve to be treated badly and cheated. This unfortunately also applies to some Kenyan Couch Surfers, who only use CS to earn money. We received some uninvited approaches made with this aim.
New Year Wishes
We are all one. By harming each other we end up harming ourselves. Money and possessions do not increase happiness, love does. And happiness can not exist in the past or future, old years or new years.
We wish you a happy present, this magical moment that contains all the time in the world. Let the happiness fill your life right now—no matter if you are a mzungu or not.
Former MzungusKey words: Solomon, Ndoto Apartments, Ukunda, rent, renting, rental, flat, Diani Beach, Kenya, cheat, scam, mzungu, steal, money, police.