Five Things I Didn't Know About Kenya

One of the best parts of the Kiva Fellowship is the anticipation while awaiting the location of your placement, which could be nearly anywhere Kiva loans are available. Wouldn’t it be great to stroll by the Taj Mahal on the way to work, gallop on horseback through the plains of Mongolia, or take in a sunset on a Samoan beach?

Then on a beautiful July afternoon, I almost physically jumped for joy when offered the opportunity to work in Kiva Zip’s Nairobi office. Having spent a few days in Kenya a few years ago, I relished the chance to return and get to know it better.

Here are some things I learned about Kenya the second time around.

Pole Pole (take it easy)

Things often doesn't move too quickly here. Pole pole is a way of life but most notable with traffic which varies wildly from none at all to insanely epic. As one might imagine, this organizing meetings quite difficult!

Five minutes into an hour long traffic jam

Kibera (the largest slum in Nairobi)

Slums are generally positioned at the extreme low end of the poverty spectrum. However, don't mistake lack of wealth for lack community support structures. Without official government support, Kibera residents and non-profit organizations have developed school and health care systems and a thriving economy of small restaurants and shops selling everything from clothing to household electronics. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well here and visiting our Kibera based trustees and borrowers is easily the favorite part of my job.

An open-air food market in Kibera


Chakula (food)

Food choices span the entire range of popular world cuisine. I’ve already had Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, and Turkish but prefer a local dish of beef stew with vegetables and chapati or rice. There’s plenty of vegetarian options too!

Rice with mince beef and vegetables, a typical Kenya dish

Safiri (travel)

Nairobi offers a wide range of activities but there are more weekend excursions available than can be done in my few months here. Nairobi can become a bit isolating amongst the crowds of people and traffic jams so it’s quite liberating to experience the beauty of nature that is as little as an hour or two away. Here’s a sample of some popular trips: wildlife safari in Masai Mara National Reserve, scuba diving and deep sea fishing in Zanzibar, gorilla trekking in Uganda, and gorgeous resorts in Mombasa and Lamu Island.

Sunset at Maasai Mara National Reserve

Kiswahili (The Swahili language)

The Swahili language is surprisingly easy to learn! Although everyone I’ve met spoke English quite well, I usually get a big smile in return when greeting someone in their native language. Hujambo! Habari gani?

This is just a small glimpse into life in Kenya. Visit to browse Kiva's portfolio of Kenyan loans and discover your own inspirational stories.

About the author

Tony Chow

Tony was raised in the NY metropolitan area and is a graduate of Rutgers University. He began his IT career in Atlanta where he also completed his MBA at Georgia Tech. An avid traveler, he is passionate about experiencing a wide variety of cultures and has a keen eye for exploration and adventure. Lending on Kiva was a tremendously powerful way to stay connected to the countries he visited. Serving as a Kiva Fellow is a natural extension of his commitment to make a positive impact around the world.