For the last two months, I have been living in a holding-pattern in Amsterdam, Netherlands, as I await my Kenyan Work visa. (For actual flights in a holding pattern above you, go here!). Thanks to a Kenyan immigration process so forward-thinking that it jumped to online-only applications before a functioning online system, this is set to last another two months.
During these months, I have had the pleasure of working at my company’s HQ and grown accustomed to a Dutch lifestyle, with the clear expectation this was a temporary stop-over. This was until last week when an opportunity arose at work to stay in the Amsterdam HQ indefinitely. Which got me thinking, in the eternal words of the Clash, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’
A Tale of Two Cities
Amsterdam is a unique and lovely place to live. It has the reputation of a prominent city, similar to that of London, and with only a tenth of London’s population, the feel of a town. As a ‘big’ city, it has a wonderful myriad of cultural events (concerts and ‘pleins’ aplenty) and a multicultural population with a progressive attitude towards things like ‘coffee’. As a town, it retains the charm of a quaint place with streets lined with canals and an absence of sky-scrapers to remind you of your insignificance.
The Beauty of Europe
Amsterdam, and more generally the Netherlands, is a beautiful country. Within an hour from Amsterdam one can get to the famous Tulip fields, Coastline beaches and Windmills. Cycling to all of these has been a real pleasure.
Amsterdam is also the perfect stepping stone to Europe thanks to the astonishing Dutch engineering with transport links by bus, rail or plane. Being on mainland Europe makes such travel opens up limitless weekend-trips. As I discovered this summer cycling across Europe, the Dutch make use of this with seemingly more Dutch cars in rural Hungary than Hungarians themselves. You can find out more about that trip on Where even are the Pamirs?.
The Dutch are very Dutch
I have also enjoyed Dutch culture which is renowned for being straight-forward and open. As I wrote in ‘I Found Myself Travelling’, one such example of this is their large transparent windows which add life to the streets. They also emphasise a good work-life balance, often only working 4 or 4.5 days a week. After all, wouldn’t you prefer to earn 10-20% less in return for 20% more time to spend with family and friends?
Despite their ‘average’ weather, they are outdoorsy and when the sun does come out, local pubs sprawl onto the pavements. Unlike in the UK, this is coupled with a healthy attitude towards alcohol. So stark is this difference that on the national festival day ‘King’s Day’, a British friend and I decided to head to the celebrations at 8pm only to discover the festivities had already ended!
Both as a cyclist and a commuter, I find the priority given to cycling remarkable (which only began in the 1960s). It has transformed the feel of Amsterdam with cyclists outnumbering cars. The separate cycling lanes improve safety and health for all whilst reducing the environmental and traffic costs. Out of my office of 40 people, around 25 come by bicycle in sun, rain or snow.
On top of all of this, the Dutch have great cheese (or so I hear) and wonderful coffee. For further stereotypes, watch this wonderful free short film by Jonathan Meades here. All in all, I have established a very comfortable and most pleasant life in Amsterdam.
Nairobi, in contrast, is a throbbing metropolis with terrifying traffic, a thick layer of dust which hangs in the air, decrepit buildings and no waterway. However, the people are very friendly, the weather is perfect and just outside of Nairobi there is remarkable wilderness. The Nairobi national park borders the city and it is mind-boggling how you can see wild animals like lions, giraffes, rhinos, hyenas and buffalos so close.
Furthermore, as you sit in the continent, there is all of Africa to travel. Whilst I was there, I had the privilege of visiting refugee camps in Rwanda, running from giraffes, baboons and elephants in Zambia and witnessing the historic fervour in the streets of Zimbabwe.
When the choice to ‘stay or go’ at work arose, having enjoyed around 3 months in Nairobi and Amsterdam, I had a good sense of both. I was choosing between the calm and comfort of Amsterdam or the chaos and changeable nature of Nairobi. Although the decision was tough, the answer was clear……Nairobi, Kenya, Africa.
Life in Amsterdam is very alluring. It is just so nice! In my routine, I feel like I am floating in an Epicurean dream of constant happiness. Time flies and I can easily envisage meeting a Dutch partner, settling down with a place by a canal, owning a boat and sailing off into the sunset. But just like being in Nozick’s Thought Experiment, a simulation which ensures complete happiness (which I challenge in this piece Confessions of an Addict), I have the nagging sensation that I am missing something I had in Nairobi.
This ‘something’ is best illustrated in my daily commute to work in both countries. In Amsterdam, I am on auto-pilot as I listen to an interesting podcast and the greatest change I have witnessed was the addition of another bike lane. In Nairobi, I always had to remain vigilant as monsoons frequently washed away sections of the road, tangled electricity wires would swing perilously across the path and the occasionally a monkey would dart out across the road (and in one shocking morning, was then run-over by a car).
A Tentative Conclusion
In ‘I Found Myself Travelling’, I wrote about how travelling exposes one to the unknown and in that, we learn and grow. In Amsterdam, life has become predictably pleasurable, and in this routine of known knowns and known unknowns, I have lost the real unknowns that make me feel alive.
As such, I have decided to return to the chaos and novelty of life in Nairobi. And who knows, perhaps on this adventure that is life, I shall return to this wonderful place.
What do you think? Am I doing Amsterdam an injustice? Could you see yourself living in either place? How have you found living in numerous places? Comment below.
Relevant posts – Interested to hear more about Kenyan Culture and their different approach to work and death? Check out A taste of Kenyan Culture. Alternatively, maybe you are interested to hear a defence of the line ‘I Found Myself Travelling’.
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