bridging the gap

Bridging the gap between the things you do, and those you only think about. Bridging the gap between the stuff you write, and the stuff you would like to write about more often.

„So what makes you special, why should I employ you and not someone else from Kenya? Why shouldn’t I employ a graduate from Kenyatta University with a Master degree, pay him around 4000,- EUR and maybe get the same results?“, the lady asked me on that job interview.

She had been to Kenya before, and knows the country to some extent. She’s in charge of a huge programme, and remains focused on the basic needs. A good, diligent worker who achieved a lot during her career. I respect her.

„Because I speak German“, I replied, „and because I don’t feel bad about the simpler work that has to be done sometimes. And because I’ll instantly fix your computer problems and get your team into operation….”

There’s no logical argument why I should be employed instead of a local person unless my marks are better. But they are not.

I also explained her that my German Abitur (A-Levels) back then was achieved under different circumstances, and that I really worked my ass off to get this stupid paper. Same as with these studies – I’ve seen so many people who really delivered good theoretical work, but didn’t know anything about practical stuff. Pls, don’t get me wrong – I don’t want blame anyone for my situation – but since those guys and gals set the standards, it also explains why we so often find assimilated workers in office jobs. People who just play by the rules and have learned to stick to their Terms of Reference only. People who never risk their job for what they believe in. Either because they are cowards, or because they need the job to pay for their families, etc.

Life, it seems, is about bridging the gap between such insanities and remaining focused on yourself.

And then, when I left the premises, I remembered my Kenyan friends telling me how much more Kenyan I am compared to them. Well, when it comes to work permits and payments, I am reduced to my passport and my marks. It is a fair system, which still ignores a lot of practical experiences. Should I have told her that I am “so Kenyan”? :-)

But then: many others depend on such a job, because they can’t do anything else. I don’t. I will make it to Kenya, with or without these companies. But going to Kenya isn’t my dream.

“a room with a view” a.k.a. the beautiful skyline @ Frankfurt am Main as of Feb 15th 2007….there is some love-hate-relationship i am having with this city. strange.

„There are four obstacles on your way to fulfill the dream of your life“, Paulo Coehlo wrote in the preface to „The Alchimist“. The first one is that still as a child, we’re told that our dreams will never become reality. The older we become, the more we try to hide it. We’ve accepted it being a dream, and remaining as such.
And then there is love. „We mistake the love“, he writes, „as an obstacle, but instead it is an additional motivation, and those who really love us, will come along“.
The third obstacle is the fear of the numerous defeats we may encounter on our way to happiness. Often, we seem to be afraid of those failures.
The fourth obstacle, he continues explaining, is about the fear of seeing our dream come true. After all those years of fighting and struggling to make the dream come true, people tend to relinquish, to give it up because they are afraid to also lose their motivation which made them go for that dream.

This small book was given to me by a dear friend, because she wanted to share this little source of wisdom with me. It’s a nice book, but then – I stopped reading it at the most exciting part because something bugged me. Something I couldn’t relate to.

The author talks about dreams and people who often miss their way to happiness and fulfilling their dreams. Only – I don’t have a dream.

I am happy with myself, I am strong and I know that I shouldn’t worry about my future because there will always be a way out of miserable situations. And as a consequence of this, there’s no dream I urgently want to fulfil. Small things maybe, small things here and there, some materialistic, some concerning my studies and some also concerning mapenzi-issues. But still, THE dream (the one and only) isn’t there.

It irritated me. Instead of a wise author trying to tell his readers a nice little story, I was waiting for that advice on how to make deciscions. I am having problems to decide. Particularly here in Europe where the choices are so many. For instance, shopping is a problem. In Kenya the range of available products is often limited (and I don’t need more), so the actual process of deciding upon certain things is much easier. I like that. Keeping it simple. But life isn’t about shopping items you may return if you don’t like them.

Life is about making decisions all the time. Decisions that indicate the difference between childhood and being an adult. But how do you know that your decision was the best?

You can’t know that in advance. So I just applied for another internship (with that above mentioned company!) which should pave my way back to Kenya. I think I will never know the truth if I remain being afraid of making the right decisions. After all, I should be glad about all those different chances I am having right now (good background, broad education, no flat/home/rent, no car, limited obligations – all those things that push most of the sad faces I see in the morning hours out of bed because they have to earn a living and keep on dreaming).

I am trying to bridge the gap between a student’s life, and setting up the framework for a secured future. Also, I am very curious to see where I am in, let’s say: 10 years time from now? Because right now, I am open to everything. And that’s my little precious treasure. Real freedom (uhuru).


Author: jke

Hi, I am an engineer who freelances in water & sanitation-related IT projects at You'll also find me on Twitter @jke and Instagram.

11 thoughts on “bridging the gap”

  1. All the best in your endeavours. I’ve been through this stage in life and I can tell you that if you persevere and focus on your goals you’ll come through fine.

  2. “So what makes you special, why should I employ you and not someone else from Kenya? Why shouldn’t I employ a graduate from Kenyatta University with a Master degree, pay him around 4000,- EUR and maybe get the same results?“, the lady asked me on that job interview.”

    I think this is a very valid question just as you observed and I personally have a problem with expatriates who continue to mushroom Kenya in the name of they can do a better job than the locals. They come with their so called better expertise and education and that they are more disciplined and believe in what they do more than the locals. Give me a break! Who says the locals are not? Maybe the locals have become cynical because of the same behavior by the multinationals corp. and non profit organization who have continued to potray lack of trust that the locals can handle the job just as well as the expatriates can and perhaps even better. What is to stop a local from doing a great job if by the end of the day, an European organization will bring in a half baked so called manager to overlook their work anyways. Just look around in the major organizations/companies that are foreign owned and see how many have the audacity to trust a locally educated man/woman to spearhead the company? Does that mean the locals cannot do it, does it mean that the locals didn’t burn the midnight oil working for that paper in a perhaps more crude environment, does it mean they didn’t choose that career path because they were passionate about it?.

    The question is, why do they not show that passion or how come the passion died, well maybe if they see a kikuyumoja all the way from Europe getting that internship and they didn’t, somehow they stopped caring as much. Does it mean they do not love Kenya like the next person, they of course do. Kenyans in or out of the country love their country dearly, the country may have problems but we all want to see it do better and even those of us who “ran away or are not that royal living in diaspora”. ( Yet we are contributing massively to the economy with our transfer payments, participating in our stock exchange markets etc)
    I still have a problem with organizations who still want to pretend to love Kenya and I include the missionaries too but yet they would rather import how grown talents any day any time for even basic bookkeeping functions and yes internships because the locals are not all that capable and willing to give their all.

  3. Irene, pls correct me if I am wrong – but isn’t it that you yourself are working in the US? Has there ever been someone from the US telling you to go to Kenya because “locals” could do a better job?

    I mentioned this delicate issue of foreigners working in Kenya because OF COURSE there are Kenyans who are also qualified to do the job. That’s exactly why there’s no work permit coming along for me unless there’s no one else capable of doing the job. U might know about this dilema since obtaining a visa in the US is also difficult and you’ve prolly gone through the same thing.

    Personally, I don’t think most foreigners in Kenya actually think they “could do a better job”, but that’s just me. But I agree, and also believe that many of those working there are just wasting money and delivering a very small output/impact.

    As for development aid – what I learned during my internship is that this aid actually is a big business. And as a consequence of that, I personally don’t have any problems with foreign aid workers in Kenya once their countries are on the donnors list. Altruism is for suckers, as Steve mentioned the other day, and after many years of working free of charge because of my stupid generosity, i eventually want to see some pesa coming into my direction. And so does my Kenyan colleague Kilonzo who survives on a 30.000 Ksh income as an engineer for NEMA.

    Alafu, we need to make a difference between foreigners working abroad and their respective attitude towards work & the country.

  4. but isn’t it that you yourself are working in the US? Has there ever been someone from the US telling you to go to Kenya because “locals” could do a better job?
    Yes ,they make it known of their disgust in their presence all the time, trust me. I have proven myself to be there and my being hired was out of the merit and that didn’t come easy at all. I hassled and still I’m hassling like anyone else and I have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that I ‘m better not to mention other factors that make me bend backwards to get there. But what pisses me off if I do nto get it easy here where should some jungus come to my country and have a bed of roses in every way. Yes the Visa should not be easy for anyone and certainly the government should put stringent measure to ensure of that absolutely! We all know some foreigners (and I’m not saying you) but some think it is “exotic and in-thing) to be in Africa, get a job there easily and live better than the locals only because they couldn’t make it in their own countries or succumbed to the competitive nature of living in such countries after all getting paid 1400 in EURO, and converting that to KSH, one is rich in Kenyan standards, no? and one can lead a good life .
    I agree, one can have good intentions of living and working in Kenya but the end of the day, if there was a depression, and one lost that job or the organization relocated, will they still love Kenya that much still or will they emigrate back to their motherland???

  5. P/s I do not work in menial jobs, I’m sure no one here would be disgusted that I’m taking their jobs or working in their country. Just thought you should know the difference.

  6. Hey, I agree, nice to see some pics of (born in Mainz grown up in Wiesbaden Airbase and Frankfurt) my almost hometown. I live in munich since 25 years, but I still miss that town.

  7. I cant go into the whole why so and so hires so and so, if one can have the ingenuity to go through the interview and get the job good for them, basically i dont believe that having a degree means that necessarily you are the best person for the job(and this is just my penni mbili)
    I read the alchemist and it was a nice book, really simple and yeah not having a dream kinda takes “the majic” from the book. Reading it what i learnt was listening to you heart, and as much as you say you dont have a dream, am sure there is something that you yearn for. Try reading it again and lenga the dream bits if you must.

  8. Great post as always JKE.

    I visit your site for many reasons but two of the important ones are that your posts make me think about my view of the world that we share and that you quote me :)

    You are right on a ton of counts – building a foundation now for success later is critical. Setting up relationships and networks, needing to come back and assess one’s decisions – all these are things that you need to do to discover your dream.

    Question is though, what if you don’t discover this dream?

    What if you are not hit by some epiphany or vision telling you “your dream is to start a company that will change the way people have access to cheap reliable clean and accessible water all over Africa”?

    What then?

    Shall you search for “the dream” forever?


    Why not start doing something that is not “the dream” right now – but might be “a dream” and move from there?

  9. I believe, that if Aid & Development starts to be more about business that about aid & development, when profit moves to the core position, it has not only failed, but died, and has become the agent of that, which it was set out to fight. If any aid programm turns to making money it is in essence exploiting the poor and suffering. It has corrupted itself and profit has turned it against those who are defenseless, it’s tools of help have become useless and they are being abused as weapons to increase injustice.

    Examples are seen looking at the big UN’s lifeline Sudan for example. While the aid machinery is running, well lubricated by the west, the programm has long failed to address the needs of those who need it most – yielding to the forces that cause the need in the first place – then becoming an agent of death to those who were not getting aid, while catering for the need of corrupted individuals who seek their own gain – and now in a developing disaster like Dafur, which has still not been solved or even appropriatly been addressed, a helpless giant who can do nothing but write reports and keep quiet.

  10. @58: It’s not the issue of development aid being run as a business; it’s aid being a business or industry. You gotta read Lords of Poverty (which I have), White Man’s Burden (which I have not), even Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, and similar to better understand the distinction.

    Actually, if development aid was run as a business, there just might be more accountability. But the likelihood of that happening is minimal.

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