Rehema is a diaspora returnee who lived in the US.
I met Rehema in the True Love offices during one of my stints in Kenya. I was trying to be a life coach and she featured me in the magazine. She also approached me to write an article for them once. We became friends because we both had been in Diaspora. Rehema is very lady like, quiet demure and sweet. Enjoy her interview. Love her picture!!!!
Where did you live abroad and how long?
Believe it or not, I never grew up in Kenya. I’m a bit of a mixed basket: my father is Tanzanian, my mother is Kenyan but I was raised in Ethiopia for the first 17 years. We would come back to Kenya on holiday once to twice per year, and that is how I got to know my Kenyan side. Immediately after high school, I began university in Virginia in the US from 2000 – 2004. After graduating I remained in the US and opted to use the OPT (Optional Practical Training) that every non-immigrant student who has graduated can apply for. It allows you to work in the US for one calendar year without having to obtain a work permit. In 2005 after completing my OPT, I came to Kenya.
Why did u decide to come home?
I was eager to connect with Kenya. Having been raised as a Third Culture Kid, moving home seemed like the right thing to do. For years I’d always told people that I’m from Kenya and Tanzania, but in reality I’d never spent more than a month at a time in either country. If you asked me for an informed opinion about our media or politics, I didn’t have one. My older sister moved back to Tanzania for five years after university and said those were very important years for her – after that she was transferred back to the US with the same organisation.
Did you prepare to move or was it a last minute move?
I knew I would move back after my OPT was through. However I didn’t have a clear strategy as to what I would do with my life. I literally just winged it. My parents had since relocated back to Arusha, Tanzania, so that would give me a soft landing. Enough Kenyans back in the US thought I was nuts to go back home without a clear plan or any ‘godfathers’, but it was important to me to do this.
How did you prepare to move? (for example did you sort out your housing prior to coming or did you buy things so u would not have to buy stuff in Kenya)
Answered in the question above. In addition, the hardest part was sorting out what to pack and what to leave behind. And then how to send what I decided I didn’t want to part with.
How long have you lived in Kenya
I first landed in Arusha, Tanzania in July 2005. I did a short stint with a marketing company in Dar for 3 months before applying for a job in Nairobi with True Love magazine. In March 2006 I was hired and I moved to Nairobi. Been here ever since.
What are your biggest challenges about living there and your greatest joys or things you appreciate in Kenya after living abroad?
I guess being in my early 20s, moving back seemed like an adventure. I wouldn’t change it. What I missed dearly was the straight-forward systems and processes of the US. I really missed the efficiency that would come with basic services. But let me tell you, Kenya is not doing badly. When you travel to other African countries, you realize that while we could do better, we are not badly off. I have friends from countries such as Malawi telling me they feel like they’ve come to Europe each time they visit Nairobi.
How long did it take you to fully integrate in the system…jobwise etc
Contrary to what I’d believed, I was able to secure a job without any connections. My background was in media/editorial work, so when I first came home, I found that True Love had launched in Kenya in Dec 2004. I looked up the Editor’s address and sent her an email with my CV and cover letter. About two weeks later she emailed me to say that they would be holding interviews for Staff Writers and that I should apply. I did so and was invited for an interview at Nation Centre (where True Love used to be housed at the time). Soon after, I received an offer and was thrilled. In a nutshell, I landed in Tanzania in July 2005 and began working in Nairobi in March 2006.
What do you do now?
I work with a non-profit organisation called mothers2mothers (m2m) as the Regional Communications Coordinator supporting our Kenya, Uganda and Malawi offices in the Comms department.
What advice would you give someone thinking of moving back?
Follow your heart, pray, be realistic in your expectations and enjoy the journey. If you are able to secure permanent residency FIRST in the US before moving back, go for it. There’s something to say for being able to enjoy the best of both worlds.
What I took from her interview:
I’m personally scared to death of just boarding a flight and landing in Kenya without a financial cushion based on my past experiences. It’s interesting to know things worked out for her without having a detailed elaborate plan. And she got a job without someone doing the connections.