The Kenyan Airbnb Experience

So you’ve gotten wind of this neat little invention called Airbnb and decided to check it out. For those who are living under a rock and have no clue what Airbnb is; it’s the new way to find accommodation in a city if hotels are too expensive, or you’d like to add a local touch to your holiday. People who have extra rooms in their homes put them up on the site and charge a certain fee. Travelers can then decide, based on their budget, which place they like best. Hotels are expensive and people have found new ways of accommodating the masses. If you do decide to share your home with strangers, you must be prepared for anything; good or bad. The upside of this arrangement is that you could make some good money and meet some pretty cool people. The downside is that you could meet some really nasty people who could steal your expensive shoes and runaway with your poodle. But hey, it’s 2017. We Uber all around town with strangers and no one has gotten killed. Yet. Airbnb is an affordable way to see the world and is quite convenient once you get the hang of it.

There are lots of people in Kenya , mostly from the leafy suburbs, who have put up their homes on Airbnb. Their homes are in places with names like ‘Bougainvillea drive’ that foreigners can pronounce with ease. However, this shouldn’t stop you from making money. Just because you live on Gachambaki corner doesn’t mean you can’t make an honest shilling.

However, I think there are a few ground rules we ought to consider before we make the leap into this level of familiarity with strangers. We are a developing country and things are very different on this side of the continent.

Here are 10 things to consider as you set up your own Airbnb:

1. Location, Location, Location

Don’t believe all the nonsense that real estate agents say about location. You house on Gachambaki corner is just as good as the one on Muthaiga Road. I’m pretty sure that potted plant slowly wilting outside your front door will give your house character. It’s all bout how you sell it. Throw in words like cozy, affordable, intimate and free breakfast and you will have lots of offers. Do not mention the fact that there is a huge crater outside your house that fills with water every time it rains and threatens to swallow your whole neighborhood whole. They also don’t need to know about the stray dogs that walk along the road in your hood and are probably filled with rabies. Focus on the positives; everything they need is right outside your door, literally. They can get a haircut while buying tomatoes and grab a stray kitten to take home with them. Their home, not yours. It’s really not about what you say, it’s more about what you don’t say…

2. Space

Nairobi landlords are notorious for charging an arm and a leg for space you can barely squeeze your furniture into. If you have an extra room, chances are it’s the size of a shoe box. That however should not stop you for making money off of it. Space is overrated, just ask the Japanese. With a little imagination you can turn tiny into cozy in a heartbeat. Invest in a couple of mirrors; apparently they make rooms look bigger. Convince your guest that having wardrobes means chopping down trees, which you are completely against. They should live off their suitcase even if they’re staying for a month. Mention casually that they shouldn’t travel with so much stuff anyway. Litter the room with African trinkets you’ve bought cheaply at Maasai market. When visitors gush over them, tell them they can keep them. This is the start of repeat customers my friend…

3. Food

Guests can either cook for themselves or eat out. If they choose to cook, then you will have to share space with them in your fridge. It’s important you inform them of our peculiar Kenyan habits to avoid potential misunderstandings. The various ice cream tins filling the fridge do not actually contain ice cream. Some have left over food from three weeks ago which you wanted to throw out but couldn’t find due to the other ice cream tins blocking your view. That white lumpy thing in one of the tins is not some unique ice cream flavor only found in Kenya, it’s stale ugali that has dried up so badly and will chip your tooth if you dare bite into it. You must also inform your guests that the clear liquid in that huge Fanta orange bottle is  not Fanta lemon but actually water you’ve put in the fridge to get cold. Please ignore them when they ask about that water dispenser in the corner that is never switched on and only dispenses lukewarm water. There is a reason why electricity is part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and a top priority of the President’s development agenda; its expensive and we must conserve it. Tell them you are however willing to switch on the dispenser for an extra 20 dollars for their drinking pleasure…

4. Water

Water is a scarce commodity in Kenya. Your visitors will expect to have it running constantly and some might even decide to wash their hair. You must nip these kinds of ideas in the bud. Please tell them that washing hair is forbidden as the hair gets clogged in the pipes and the neighbours end up not getting water. You are only being considerate of your neighbors.Even though that doesn’t make any sense, say it with a straight face and everyone will believe you.  If it’s possible try to introduce them to the concept of taking a bath using a bucket. I can assure you that none of them have ever tried it and they will find it refreshingly primitive. Nobody ever takes too long bathing with a bucket, there’s not enough space or water for that. You must also insist that they brush their teeth with water in a big metal cup. All of these things will save you water and will make your home seem authentically Kenyan…..

5. Bathroom

People generally don’t like to share bathrooms and you are not the exception. However, since you are out to make money, your preferences should be put aside for the greater good. You would not be a good Kenyan citizen if you did not warn your guests of what they will find in your bathroom. Most Kenyans if not all Africans wash their underwear after they shower and hang them in the bathroom. This might seem like a strange custom to foreigners but it is a way of life here. You however must not encourage them to do the same, please refer to water rules above. They can do their laundry when they get back home. However for the sake of your dignity please try to hang pleasant-looking underwear. The comments section of your profile could be your undoing….

6. Doing Laundry

Unless you’re living in the leafy suburbs where they have washing machines, chances are that you or someone else washes your clothes by hand and hangs them out to dry outside. If you are unable to convince them not to do their laundry to save on water, then you will have to show them the ropes. You must let them know of the things that can frustrate you to death about hanging clothes in Nairobi. If you live in a flat and are not living in the penthouse at the top, then you must deal with your neighbors clothes as well. Tell your guest to avoid hanging whites outside otherwise they might be shocked to find them completely blue once your neighbor decides to do their monthly wash of jeans. They should also monitor hanging times closely. They might hang their clothes and just when they are about to dry, find the neighbor has hanged their pink duvet out to dry. Or your neighbor might not have enough pegs and their clothes can keep dropping into your balcony every day. Sending their 3 year old to pick these clothes every hour will slowly drive you insane…

7. Internet

Internet is now a basic need like food and water, you cannot escape providing it to your guests. You might have to explain why the username is “pleasestopstealingmywifijohn” and how your name is coincidentally John. These coincidences happen but the main thing is that they get the internet. Streaming movies is completely forbidden. If they would like to see a movie, you can buy it for them at 200sh and bring it back home in the evening. Since you may not have provided them with a TV in their rooms, you will all have to share the main one. However, not all time is movie time. The main hours are for watching the news. Even if you have seen the 4pm and 7 pm news, you will still want to watch the 9pm and 11pm news even though the stories haven’t changed at all. Discourage them from watching the news; you don’t want them getting scared by the insults and threats been thrown around by politicians in this election season. You also don’t want them to watch Nairobi Diaries and judge us all by this level of ratchetness. If they speak Swahili they should watch Real Househelps of Kawangware, great show and Njugush never disappoints. If they don’t speak Swahili, then introduce them to AfroSinema. They’ll be thankful they chose Nairobi and not Lagos….

8. Neighbors

You will have to warn your guests about your crazy neighbours. There’s Jamo, the heavy drunk. He checks in everyday at around 3am and always confuses your house with his. He will spend 10 minutes trying to open your padlock while singing loudly. When he realizes it’s not opening, he will hurl insults at the gate for another 10 minutes. Finally he will decide to try the opposite door and be pleasantly surprised when it magically opens. This behavior used to scare you in the beginning, now it doesn’t even wake you. Your guest, however, may not share your ability to sleep like a log and will wake up every time Jamo touches the gate. You must try to explain what is happening using moving words like addiction and helplessness to make them not call the police and report you both. You must never introduce them to Jamo; that is a sexual harassment claim in waiting and will ruin your ratings. Instead introduce them to that cute chic downstairs you’ve been eyeing for a while, having foreigners at your place will make you seem cultured and approachable….

9. Security

Living in Nairobi requires you to take security seriously. Your guest might wonder why the padlock on your gate is bigger than the padlocks at Kamiti Prison. You must instruct them to keep the gate closed even during the day. Show them videos of daylight robbery gangs in Eastleigh and they will comply very quickly. You must warn them of the random people who will knock the door during the day and encourage them to use the peephole while shouting loudly through the door. They must never open it. The danger of being sprayed with a sleeping mist is real and you will find your house empty and your guest traumatized. If the Jehovah’s witnesses pass by they can slide the pamphlets under the door. Neighborhood kids who are looking for donations for the school charity run must also slide their forms under the door and receive their coins through the same way. Your guest can only open the gate to take out the trash and run quickly back in. Nairobi is not the place to do things leisurely, life is a mad dash here….

10. Traffic

Traffic in Nairobi is like an ex that refuses to leave you. No matter how many times you break up with them, they keep coming back to torment you. We have acquired a reputation for our nasty traffic. Lucky for your guests, you know just all the ways to beat this menace. You must scare them from using public transport with words like pickpockets and suffocation. Make sure you talk badly about Uber and Taxify, you need them to reach out to you for a solution. You can offer to drive them around in your old pick up at a reasonable fee while showing them the sights. You can take them to the National Park for a game drive. Having a cheetah jump into the back with your guests will earn you a 5 star rating; well, that is if it doesn’t kill them first. You can take them to Mama Oliech and show them where Obama sat when he came to Kenya. Be sure to keep your fuel tank purposefully low so that every time you get caught in traffic you can sigh loudly and say ” This fuel is so little and the thugs around this place carry pangas” there is no need to explain the word panga; the word sounds scary enough as it is. Sit back and watch how quickly you are asked to turn into the next petrol station with contributions coming  in fast…..

Airbnb is the way of the future and we must embrace these new inventions to make as much money as we can. So clean up that old room, hide your embarrassing high school pictures and welcome guests into your home. Hopefully it’s a good experience and you make some new friends and meet your soul mate. If it’s not, then shut it down and go back to making money the old-fashioned way, hustling in this Nairobery.