Life at the ILRI Center

I was tired after spending a day under the sun; I couldn’t have dinner at my favourite restaurant; the plane was delayed; I couldn’t sleep on the plane; my eyes were burning; I had to wait an hour and a half to get a visa; and when I finally came out at the airport in Nairobi there was no taxi waiting for me. I was tired; I was cranky and I was pissed! Eventually I made it to the ILRI centre on the outskirts of Nairobi. We drove through the massive iron gates to be greeted by a large garden dotted with ancient acacia trees, bushes and exotic flowers. All maintained to perfection. Then I was taken to my room. I’d already cheered up a bit and after seeing my room I was ecstatic. The negativity of the previous 12h was gone.

Now, let’s rewind a bit and start with the first thing that hit me when I left the airport was the weather. It was cold. Where was the sun? I was in Africa and I’d just come from a country with a scorching sun. Weren’t all African countries supposed to be hot and sunny? Turns out it was winter in Kenya and that means grey skies and temperatures of 15°C at 8.30am. Apparently the climate varies widely depending on which part of the country you are in.

Comfortably sat at the back of the taxi I noticed the roads. There was many of them and they were all paved! Nairobi looked like any other modern, well-developed, buzzing metropolis which was in such a stark contrast to the dirt roads in Cotonou. There was also no shacks lining the roads.

After a few days the British influences became clear – they drive on the left, their currency is romantically called Kenyan Shilling, they speak English and they take tea with milk. Although I have to say that the last one is more like milk with tea rather than the other way around 🙂

Now we go back to the centre – I already mentioned the beautiful and peaceful grounds; my room is actually a studio apartment, fully furnished and equipped, which opens onto a small patio overlooking the garden (it is old fashioned, 70s if I had to guess but perfectly maintained just like everything else; further down there is a bar, a cafeteria that serves three delicious (to various degrees) meals a day; there is a gym and a tennis court; there is even an open swimming pool, its bright blue wear reflecting the few sun rays of the Nairobi winter.

Room No 4 at ILRI

Room No 4 at ILRI

The view from ILRI, Nairobi hills wrapped in mist in the distance

One of many fields in and around the centre at sunset

My studio flat is on the bottom floor of the building to the left. I wake up to these views every morning!

The heated pool at ILRI, right next to a tennis court. Just had lunch there!

The heated pool at ILRI, right next to a tennis court. Just had lunch there!

Days at work are passing pleasantly – the team is young and fun, if a little inexperienced; the project is organised and on schedule; and the management is formidable! I don’t even remember the last time I worked with a director who was so knowledgable, so clear and so demanding. I had my quick introduction with him on Monday afternoon, which turned into a full blown meeting discussing requirements, time scales, and deliverables. I left his office feeling inspired, challenged and motivated to deliver the best solution I possibly could! I feel that I have been given a huge responsibility which has been very liberating. An opportunity to show what I have always known I am capable of but never quite had the chance to demonstrate it. The lesson here is – give responsibility to a person and they thrive!

Isaac and I having a meeting about procurement business processes

Isaac (my PM) and I having a meeting about procurement business processes

There hasn’t been much time to do anything except a couple of drinks with team mates at the centre bar but I have joined the jogging group at work and had my first work out yesterday. I thought it would be a quick 30min run but it turned into a proper workout. After the run we did various endurance, strength exercises and stretching and it must have worked pretty well because my whole body is aching today! I love that I am able to exercise with others – it is a lot more fun, I am more motivated and times seems to fly by without me looking at the clock every two minutes. The scenery is also spectacular – gentle rolling hills, covered in lush grass and palm trees; dotted with grazing cattle; the air is cool, fresh and it smells of rain, earth, grass and occasionally of burning wood. Mmmmm….Such a scenery makes a huge deal when doing something as mundane as running 🙂 I am looking forward to my Friday workout.

I’ve ventured into town a couple of times, only to do a bit of shopping at a local supermarket – although Nairobi seems a lot more developed than Cotonou the shopping situation is not much different – little variety, and inflated prices. The way there is also familiar – a short, traffic congested ride through rough slums, dirt, dust and noise. On a positive note, SIM cards and calling rates are very low!

I don’t want to end this post on a low so I will tell you about my mornings – I wake up @6.30am to chirping birds and occasionally blue skies; I walk through the gardens to the cafeteria for breakfast and get to each fresh pineapple, watermelon and mango every day; then I walk to the office at about 8am while the open-air corridors are still empty. All is quite, peaceful, fresh, it is slightly chilly and even more birds have woken up and joined the choir in the ancient trees and colourful blossoms. All is still. What better way to start a bright new day…?


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