Life in Nairobi vs. Life in Sharjah Essay

Ever wondered what it would be like to live in a tropical African metropolis or a major Arabian concrete jungle erected in the midst of a desert? Or how living in two cities could differ to the point of contradiction? Being a Kenyan national who has lived in the Kenyan capital Nairobi and the Arab Emirate of Sharjah, I experienced two extreme ends of a spectrum. Day-to day life in the Nairobi is distinctly different from life in Sharjah. The most obvious differences lie with everyday safety, costs of living, government corruption, and key services like healthcare and public transport.

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Firstly, the general safety you feel living in Nairobi is much lower in comparison to sheltered Sharjah. There is a lot of pickpocketing, “hold-ups”, burglaries and house invasions in Nairobi, so residents have to be vigilant of their surroundings more often than not. For instance in Nairobi, to ensure personal safety, the majority of residents (expats and locals) who can afford proper living accommodation live in gated apartment complexes and pay a monthly rate for private security, which can be costly.

Additionally, leaving said apartment complexes after the sunsets (6-7pm) in certain areas is a sure fire way of volunteering for a kidnapping or car hijack. To illustrate, in 2013 the widely popular and upscale “West Gate Mall” in Nairobi was bombed as an act of terrorism by Somali militant groups. Since then, to enter a mall in Nairobi, you are subject to an x-ray scan and metal detectors.

On the other hand in Sharjah, gated apartment buildings are a rare sight and not a necessity. There may be a small scale burglary but that is the limit and it happens only ‘once in a blue moon’. Furthermore, in regards to time concerns, in Sharjah you could take a stroll down the “Buhaira Corniche” blindfolded after midnight without a care in the world. I can speak for most residents when I say that I do not feel threatened at any time. Of course, there is always the off-chance you could ‘be in the wrong place at the wrong time’ even in Sharjah but that is not something you need to be particularly aware or concerned of.

Secondly, the cost of living in Nairobi is much higher considering the hefty 30% tax, inflated rent for safe apartments, and overpriced everyday expenses and goods like electronics in comparison to the tax free haven of Sharjah. For instance, buying an entry-level iPhone 7 in Nairobi would set you back around 105 000 Shillings (approx. 1000USD), that is 350 dollars more than the launch price in the US (650USD). In this sense, the shopping opportunities in Nairobi are somewhat limiting. A lot of the residents, mainly expats, ship the needful to their homes from oversees. As a result, I normally receive a dozen or so orders a year from relatives in Kenya.

In contrast, the costs of living in Sharjah are relatively much lower. Aside from the lack of government tax, there are often price ceilings placed by government on rent, interest, and certain goods etc. which prevent overpricing. Using the example from above, the same iPhone 7 would cost 2600 Dirhams (approx. 700USD) in the UAE, which we can all agree is much cheaper. As for shopping opportunities, living in Sharjah you will have access to a global market place with a much greater variety of brands and from different parts of the world at a reasonable rate; the thought of custom ordering goods probably will not ever even cross your mind.

Thirdly, a lot of corruption exists in Nairobi, not only amongst the upper echelon of the Kenyan government but with officials like police officers, ministers, etc. as well. The tax paid by citizens is not really put to use in maintaining the roads or public facilities and instead just ‘lines the pockets’ of the elite. To give an example, a couple of months ago my uncle and I were driving to the local community center in Nairobi, when a scowling police officers signaled for us to pull over. The officer said that my uncle had not turn on the indicator light when taking the earlier round-a-bout and produced a ticket with a fine of 15000 shillings (approx. 150USD). After doing so, he held out his hand into the car, rubbed his fingers and simply said “but I could …” and that is all it took for us to get the message that he wanted some ‘hush money’. Being in too much of a rush to negotiate a cash amount or some other kind of “treat” (like lunch), which is frequent routine in Nairobi, my uncle refused and took the fine ticket. However, the bribery aspect is not always as bad as all that since there may be cases where you might find yourself in a tough spot and the line of integrity and ethics will start to blur.

Contrastively in Sharjah, and the UAE by extension, corruption is virtually non-existent. On the premise of bribery, it is looked down upon and strictly prohibited by the Emirati officials. A year or so ago, there was a news report in the “Khaleej Times” that a bank manager tried to cover up an embezzlement that had occurred with one of the bank’s customers by bribing the investigators. The manager was instantly arrested for simply implying a bribe. There are very strict laws against bribery in the UAE and by just being suggestive of it, you can be persecuted. The Emirati government and its officials are a lot more straight forward and trouble free in comparison to the Kenyan counterpart, all the more so since you do not have to bribe to get some paperwork processed properly!

And finally, the key services offered by the Kenyan and Emirati governments to its residents are poles different. To begin with, let us take public healthcare. Public hospitals in Nairobi are run-down, poorly equipped and hardly meet the sanitary/hygienic requirements of such a facility. There are not enough beds so most patients sleep on mattresses and some even on concrete. The medical equipment and apparatus are worn out and outdated, and there is a recurring shortage of qualified doctors so amateurs with piecemeal knowledge are called in at times. Another aspect is the public transport; Nairobi does not have a formal intra-city public transport system so the only alternative to the costly taxis are privately run vans called “matatu’s”. A ride in a matatu is most likely not going to be a pleasant experience as they are normally filled over-capacity, irregular in time, speed on dangerous roads and sometimes the vans themselves are not even road worthy with loose parts and components.

In contrast, the public healthcare in Sharjah is top of the line with well-maintained buildings, modern technology and equipment, and ample highly qualified doctors. Finding a job as a doctor in the UAE is very competitive as the requirements are higher than in Kenya. Additionally, there is a proper public transport system in Sharjah in the form of “KGL buses” which are regulated by the government, affordable, comfortable, spacious and punctual in time.

To conclude, living in Nairobi and Sharjah are two greatly dissimilar experiences. Living in any city is a unique experience of its own wherein you are exposed to that country’s culture and way of life, and over time integrate into the local society. Nairobi as a city exhibits the phrase ‘the land of the free’, where there are not as many laws and restrictions, which in some cases can be a good thing whilst in others not too much so. On the other end of the court, Sharjah conflicts this viewpoint with a more controlled, sophisticated and orderly society.

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