12 March 2013

Jambo! My name is Katie and I’m currently living in Mombasa, Kenya on a career break.

Katie Baxter jumping for joy

Let’s take a few steps back though first. I had just finished university in 2007 with a Childhood Studies degree when I had the opportunity to live in Uganda for a month as an English teacher. It was amazing and changed my whole outlook on travel.

I fell into a job with the UK company I travelled to Uganda with and proceeded to work there for the next 5 and a half years. During that time I got some amazing travel opportunities to Kenya three times, Honduras and parts of Europe but they were short-term and I was hungry for some serious longer term travel. I hated the restrictions that came with taking holiday using your annual leave, I feel like there’s a giant invisible countdown timer hanging around next to me.

When my five year anniversary came up at work, I approached the Big Boss with the request of taking a three month unpaid career break. I was really nervous about asking, but the conversation went really well. I think because I worked in the travel industry it was no real surprise that I wanted to travel. I explained to my boss that I had the opportunity to go to Kenya and get involved in an exciting project and that I’d always regret if I didn’t ask! She understood my reasons but sadly the timing wasn’t right in the business and my request was denied, the reasons for which I totally understood.

However, that left me in even more of a predicament…

Katie and friends

I still wanted to go to Kenya, but I didn’t want to use my annual leave again and feel rushed. I had to make a decision about whether to quit my job and go for it or just squash down the urge to travel and GET OUT THERE. Me and my husband (oh yes, I forgot to tell you I’m married, sorry) had a lot of talking to do before we could come to some sort of agreement. He wasn’t in the same position as me and was happy enough with his job so it looked like I was going to be flying solo, but I’d rather do that than drag someone else along who isn’t 100% on board and it wasn’t for ever.

One Monday night after a stressful day at work, it was raining, cold and pitch black at 5pm and I was fed up. Sorry Monday, I love you really, no hard feelings eh? I went for a drink (a bad sign if you’re drinking on a Monday night) and the husband and I had a frank discussion – it was now or never, if I didn’t quit and go for it I’d always regret it. So we sat and figured out a plan over red wine and steak – how very indulgent. We worked out that I could afford to be away for three months if I worked as a freelance copywriter while away to bring in some extra cash. The very next day I went in to work and handed in my notice. It was a sad decision because I did love my job and the people I worked with, I was lucky, but it wasn’t enough to keep me happy. I needed to try a new challenge. I got on well with my boss and she was very understanding.

I decided to have a long notice period so that I would leave the company on good terms, besides, now that I knew I was going it was a little scary and I needed time to prepare for it! In the end, my notice period was almost three months long, and my colleagues stopped asking me when I was leaving… My last day in the office was so emotional (it was also Christmas Eve which was good as I got my secret Santa present along with leaving presents – score!) I couldn’t believe I was actually going to be moving to Kenya. Cue massive panic and questions of whether I was making the right decision.

I started to question whether I should have kept my job and stayed in full time employment. Why was I leaving my husband to move to Kenya? What was so wrong with my current life that I had to change it so drastically? In these times of soul searching, I had to go back to WHY I wanted to do this in the first place. Of course it’s scary leaving your comfort zone, there’s a reason why it is so comfortable and leaving it is terrifying.

The day I left England was awful; I’m not going to lie. Saying goodbye to my husband was horrible but I had to remember that I was the one who had chosen to go away, no one else. I went to the airport alone as I didn’t want anyone to wave me off or I might not have got on the plane. It all suddenly felt very real and I was overwhelmed with a mixture of sadness and excitement.

Katie and friends in the sea

Fast forward a few months and I’m completely content here and 100% in love with Kenya. There’s so much good here and everything is so laid back and straightforward. There’s a simplicity to life that I’ve fallen in love with. I’m lucky enough that my husband could take three weeks off of work to come over and stay with me, but he’s just flown home again so it’s back to flying solo.

My days are spent either helping out at a children’s home, visiting other projects, exploring the local sights, haggling in the markets or just sitting at my laptop in my apartment earning money as a freelance copywriter while the African breeze drifts in through my open window. It’s a pretty simple life and I’m enjoying the temporary feeling of being almost carefree. All I need now is a hammock.

Every day I learn something new, and every day I fall in love with Kenya even more. It’s such an amazing country and it’s teaching me so much. Back in England we’ve developed ourselves so much that I feel we’ve forgotten the basics like treating each other with respect and just talking to each other. We use self-service checkouts and shop online! Instead of having simple conversations with strangers, we hide behind our phones and laptops on commutes. Here, the local transport is a 9-seater minivan which almost always seats more like fifteen people, so you quickly forget the idea of personal space. Instead of politely ringing a bell when you want it to stop, you have to bang on the roof or shout out to the conductor before the whole things screeches to a halt. It’s so much fun, and so cheap too!

I’m learning a lot about myself too every day. I’m learning to cook properly for the first time with fresh ingredients, I’m learning a new language, I’ve started running (but only in the evenings when the sun goes down, it’s too hot otherwise). I’m also learning that even when you have nothing, you can still give someone something… and that is incredibly humbling. I’m coming to the end of my career break, and people are starting to ask me “What do you want to do when you get home?” and the truth is, I have no idea. I want to keep doing this, to feel challenged, to feel alive and to not feel like I’m festering away behind a desk somewhere, but right now I have absolutely no idea what will happen when I get on that plane back to England. Ideas on a postcard, please. I need to start thinking and planning, and I will… right after I’ve been to the beach, I promise I will.

People walking on beach

This post was written by Katie Baxter. If you've got any suggestions or advice for Katie, please post it in the comments below.