As a follow-up to the episode featuring Stephen Jennings, we’re releasing two bonus conversations showing the daily life, culture, and politics of Nairobi and Kenya at large. This first installment features Harriet Muriithi. Harriet is a 22-year-old hospitality professional living and working in Tatu City, a massive mixed-used development spearheaded by Jennings. Harriet grew up in the picturesque foothills of Mount Kenya before moving to the capital city as a child to pursue better schooling. She has witnessed Nairobi’s remarkable growth firsthand over the last decade. An ambitious go-getter, Harriet studied supply chain management but and wishes to open her own high-end restaurant.
In her conversation with Tyler, Harriet opens up about her TikTok hobby, love of fantasy novels, thoughts on improving Kenya’s education system, and how she leverages AI tools like ChatGPT in her daily life, the Chinese influence across Africa, the challenges women face in village life versus Nairobi, what foods to sample as a visitor to Kenya, her favorite musicians from Beyoncé to Nigerian Afrobeats stars, why she believes technology can help address racism, her Catholic faith and church attendance, how COVID-19 affected her education and Kenya’s recovery, the superstitions that persist in rural areas, the career paths available to Kenya’s youth today, why Nollywood movies captivate her, the diversity of languages and tribes across the country, whether Kenya’s neighbors impact prospects for peace, what she thinks of the decline in the size of families, why she enjoys podcasts about random acts of kindness, what infrastructure and lifestyle changes are reshaping Nairobi, if the British colonial legacy still influences politics today, and more.
Watch the full conversation
Recorded June 12th, 2023
Read the full transcript
TYLER COWEN: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Conversations with Tyler. I am sitting here right outside of Nairobi, Kenya, in Tatu City, and I will be speaking with Harriet Muriithi. She’s a 22-year-old hostess and waitress. She works at a restaurant, Roast by Carnivore, located in Tatu City. She’s worked there for a year and a half, and she has strong interests in the hospitality sector. She studied supply chain management at the Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology in Kiambu County.
She loves reading books, watching movies, and also traveling. She comes from Kirinyaga County. Her village is called Karumandi. It’s near Mount Kenya. I am told the area has spectacular views, especially in the morning. It can be cold, but it’s ideal for cash crops such as coffee and tea. She is a Kikuyu, speaking the Bantu language, and that is one of 42 tribes in Kenya. Harriet, welcome.
HARRIET MURIITHI: Thank you so much.
COWEN: What for you makes Nairobi such an interesting city? Why is it the place you chose to live?
MURIITHI: Nairobi just has so much to offer in terms of opportunities career-wise. Also, it’s a very nice place to be in Nairobi.
COWEN: The part of Nairobi you live in, why did you choose that part of the city?
MURIITHI: This I chose because, one, it was close to the school where I was, and now it’s close to the place where I work, so it’s convenient for me to move around.
COWEN: And languages — you speak Bantu, right? That is your family’s language?
MURIITHI: Yes, it is.
COWEN: English, obviously, and you speak Kiswahili?
COWEN: Any other languages?
MURIITHI: Not for now, no.
COWEN: What else would you like to know?
MURIITHI: Maybe a bit of Italian.
COWEN: Have you ever been to Italy?
MURIITHI: No, but I do have a friend who just moved there last year.
COWEN: If you dream of going to Italy, what do you think you will see or do?
MURIITHI: I will say it’s the views for me. I also know it has a variety of job opportunities around that place. Also, the pay can be quite good, more than it is here.
COWEN: Do you eat Italian food in Nairobi ever?
MURIITHI: Not really.
COWEN: It’s very good. See if you can get some. I like pasta very much.
MURIITHI: [chuckles] We do have pasta, though.
COWEN: The artworks in Italy, they’re very beautiful. Very interesting to see.
COWEN: You say you like to read books. What are some of your favorite books or kinds of books?
MURIITHI: I will say fantasy, history, adventure.
COWEN: What would be something you would read in fantasy?
MURIITHI: Let’s see. Dean Koontz will be my writer to go all the way. Actually, he covers almost every range that I actually mentioned. Yes.
COWEN: For history, what do you like to read about? About Kenya or about Italy, other countries?
MURIITHI: History is quite interesting because, actually, to specialize in Kenya, we have different tribes, and they all have different histories, which can be actually fascinating. Something that you didn’t grow up with or didn’t experience on your way growing up.
COWEN: What makes Kikuyu tribe different or special?
MURIITHI: I will say it’s special because Kikuyu, in general, is a Bantu language. But it’s divided in different modes of languages because we can actually speak Kikuyu but different versions of it. Maybe from the intonations to the way you communicate. Two different words to mean the same thing.
COWEN: Say the culture or the personalities, are they different for Kikuyu?
MURIITHI: Not really.
COWEN: Not really, same as other people in Kenya?
COWEN: What are you most proud about when it comes to Nairobi?
MURIITHI: I’m proud about the growth. I have seen Nairobi grow since early enough.
COWEN: How old were you when you left your village?
MURIITHI: I would say I was 10.
COWEN: That was 12 years ago. That’s a long time.
COWEN: What made you decide to leave?
MURIITHI: One, the reason why I left my place was I was offered a sponsorship in a school around Kitengela, so I left for school. Given that you have to choose high schools around your area, I chose around Nairobi. That is how I found my way in Nairobi.
COWEN: That’s because you’re ambitious and smart.
COWEN: Did your parents come with you, or you came here at age 10 alone?
MURIITHI: No. My parents were left back in Kirinyaga, but I used to live with my aunts and uncle.
COWEN: They took care of you.
MURIITHI: Yes, they did.
COWEN: How many brothers and sisters do you have?
MURIITHI: I only have one brother. We are two.
COWEN: He’s still back in the village, or he came here?
MURIITHI: No, he’s still back in the village.
COWEN: What does he do?
MURIITHI: He’s still in school. He’s 13 years old.
COWEN: 13, so younger brother.
COWEN: When you see families in Nairobi, a lot — they only have two children. You’re a part of a family of two children. Do you think that’s the future of Kenya?
MURIITHI: Yes, because the economy is quite hard as it is, and having more children is the [reason] that is leading to all these street children, a lot of people in not good businesses, like theft and stuff.
COWEN: If you think of your future, you think you want two children, or something different, or maybe no children?
MURIITHI: I’m okay with two.
COWEN: Two, yes.
COWEN: I understand. What do you watch on YouTube?
MURIITHI: I do watch podcasts. Yes, podcasts, storytime.
COWEN: Which podcasts?
MURIITHI: These guys —
COWEN: Kenya podcast or American?
MURIITHI: No, these huge guys in America.
COWEN: Like Joe Rogan and Tim Ferriss.
MURIITHI: Yes, like those ones, but I can’t recall the names.
COWEN: What do you find interesting about it? What do you listen for, or what topics?
MURIITHI: The evolving technology that is coming along. You could say the AI. You can see the people who are privileged to own — like, they have money; they help a lot of people. They just create a random way of reaching out to people who actually need their help.
COWEN: You’re interested in tech. What social media do you use?
MURIITHI: Social media, we do have TikTok, we do have Instagram, we do have YouTube. Whatsapp as well.
COWEN: Which do you like? What’s your favorite?
MURIITHI: TikTok all the way.
COWEN: Because it’s more fun.
MURIITHI: Yes, it is.
COWEN: You make TikTok videos?
MURIITHI: I do. I actually do.
COWEN: Can you tell us how to get to them?
COWEN: What’s your site address?
MURIITHI: It’s Hazel.
MURIITHI: Yes, Hazel Jones.
COWEN: Hazel Jones?
COWEN: On TikTok. What are your videos about?
MURIITHI: Mostly, it’s about how I spend my days and my work at Roast. Yes, about how I go about my days.
COWEN: You do these in English, not Bantu, or both?
MURIITHI: Both. Depends. Sometimes it’s dancing. Yes, it makes it interesting when you have a little bit of everything.
COWEN: You’ll dance and then you’ll talk.
COWEN: Your friends watch the videos? Many strangers watch?
MURIITHI: They do. They actually do.
COWEN: When you listen to music, what do you listen to?
MURIITHI: For me, in music, it’s about the message conveyed in the music. I’m more of an old soul, the Westlife kind of vibe.
COWEN: You listen to rhythm and blues?
MURIITHI: Yes, I do.
MURIITHI: Of course.
COWEN: Is your favorite?
MURIITHI: My all-time. [chuckles]
COWEN: Your all-time favorite.
COWEN: The Lemonade album by her is one of my favorites.
MURIITHI: Oh, that is an amazing one.
COWEN: There’s a new one. I forget the title, but I think that’s quite good. It’s a 1970 sound for a lot of it. A lot taken from disco and earlier musics.
MURIITHI: Okay. I’ll be sure to check that out.
COWEN: In Kenyan music, what do you listen to?
MURIITHI: I used to listen to a bit of bongo. You know bongo?
COWEN: Of course.
MURIITHI: Yes, we do that. We also do that right now. Gengetone a bit. It’s the clubbing vibe.
COWEN: Do you listen to Nigerian music?
MURIITHI: Yes, they are Afrobeats.
COWEN: That’s very popular now also in America.
MURIITHI: That is interesting.
COWEN: A lot of big Nigerian stars now in the US on YouTube, most of all.
MURIITHI: Ah, that is interesting.
COWEN: You go out to clubs at night?
MURIITHI: Sometimes I do, yes.
COWEN: That’s to hear music or to meet people, or how do you think about it? Just for fun?
MURIITHI: Mostly it’s more about having fun, just letting loose a bit from the normal schedule and work and everything. Also, it’s a nice way to hang out with friends. You all can catch up and talk about what has been going on because we’re all in different parts right now.
COWEN: Could you tell us a little about the restaurant where you work?
MURIITHI: Sure. The restaurant is Roast by Carnivore. Right now I’m the waiter/hostess, but hostess is my main thing. I just help out a bit in service interacting with people because as a hostess, overall, I manage and make sure that all the guests visiting the restaurant, they are served quite right, they have everything they need, and just checking up on them every once in a while.
COWEN: You have to oversee the other staff and make sure they’re working well?
COWEN: What‘’s the main mistake sometimes they make?
MURIITHI: [chuckles] I wouldn’t call it a mistake, but when we are a bit overwhelmed, you have like five, six tables you’re handling, and they all want your attention. You can‘’t be there all at once, so somebody has to step in to help out.
COWEN: That’s you.
COWEN: What kind of food do they serve?
MURIITHI: Mostly it’s about meats. We offer different types of meats.
COWEN: Do you serve game like ostrich? Or just like beef, chicken, goat?
MURIITHI: Right now we’re doing the beef, chicken, goat, but in our main restaurant in Carnivore, they offer all that. They’ll add even the crocodiles.
COWEN: Is goat your favorite meat?
MURIITHI: No, I’ll go with beef.
COWEN: Yes. Goat is more traditional meat, right?
MURIITHI: Yes, sure.
COWEN: For ritual ceremony.
COWEN: Older people prefer goat?
MURIITHI: Yes, I think they do because depending on the turn-up I see at work on a daily basis, many people prefer to go for the goat at that age.
COWEN: Do you like Indian food?
MURIITHI: I hate the spicy parts.
COWEN: Too spicy?
COWEN: Maybe you don’t like it so much.
MURIITHI: Yes. [chuckles]
COWEN: Do you like ugali?
MURIITHI: Of course, I do.
COWEN: That’s the main, like, your staple food for breakfast?
MURIITHI: I wouldn’t say that. I will say I’m more into rice, but I do love ugali because where I’m from, rice is readily available because we’re just around the Mwea region. And that is where you get the best rice, the pishori rice.
COWEN: That’s a little unusual for Kenya, right? There’s more wheat here than rice overall?
MURIITHI: True, but the region where I come from, there’s more rice.
COWEN: More rice?
COWEN: That’s great. Have you ever had jollof rice from Nigeria or Ghana?
MURIITHI: No, I haven’t.
COWEN: It’s a good dish. It’s hard to make, but they make it very well in Nigeria.
COWEN: The job you have, why did you take that job?
MURIITHI: I took the job because, one, I’m passionate about the hospitality industry. I love the way you go to a place that is not your own, and you meet different people, and you get to get a treatment that will make you remember the place and want to go back there over and over again. Also in restaurants, that is where you find people mostly want to unwind about their days, so the people can be quite talkative, and it’s amazing. You get to interact with different people from different places.
COWEN: How ambitious are you?
MURIITHI: On a scale of 1 to 10, I will say an 8.5.
COWEN: You want to own your own restaurant someday?
MURIITHI: Of course. That would be a dream come true.
COWEN: What kind of restaurant would it be?
MURIITHI: I want to go for a high-end restaurant. Yes.
COWEN: It would be Kenyan food, yes? Or something else? Food from your village, a lot of rice, or what’s your dream?
MURIITHI: I will have a mix-match of everything, more like giving the people what they want because from where I’m at, I can be able to see what it is that people love, what they like. I can visualize on that.
COWEN: You think you’re a good people person, like very friendly, cooperative?
MURIITHI: Yes, I can say that about myself.
COWEN: A good boss?
MURIITHI: [chuckles] Yes.
COWEN: Are you good at getting mad at them and firing them if you need to fire them?
MURIITHI: Oh, not the firing part. That one, I leave it to the big bosses.
COWEN: If it’s your restaurant, you are the big boss.
MURIITHI: Yes. I would say I love giving people chances before I am completely done.
COWEN: Why do you think the cost of living has become so much harder in Nairobi in the last few years?
MURIITHI: The government. [laughs]
COWEN: What do they do wrong?
MURIITHI: Everything. I just have a million questions I would like to ask them, because the management controls everything, the government governs everything. They’re the ones who are calling the shots. And right now what they’re doing, they’re pressing on people so much.
COWEN: You don’t think they’re running the country that well?
COWEN: Do you think it’s a question of voting for some other party, or you think deep structural changes are needed?
MURIITHI: Both. A little bit of both. We could use both because right now we need a complete change around the government. We need to switch things up a bit so we can run smoothly like we used to a while back.
COWEN: If people try to start a small business, do you think it’s very hard, they need to get a lot of permits, spend a lot of money, get licenses? Or is it easy? If you went to start your restaurant, how hard would that be?
MURIITHI: It will be a bit hard, I will say. I actually try to start selling clothes a while back, sometime last year but one, and it was a bit hectic. One, reaching out to people. Second, before finding a spot, and the permits, as you said. You find the kanjo [council] people, as they call them — they’re quite distracting for the people who are trying to start up their businesses.
COWEN: Your clothing sales, was it from a physical store or online?
MURIITHI: A physical.
COWEN: Physical store.
MURIITHI: I used to do physical. And also WhatsApp used to help me a lot by then, reach out to my friends, reach out to people from school.
COWEN: You talk a lot on WhatsApp?
MURIITHI: Yes, I do.
COWEN: You’re very extroverted?
MURIITHI: Yes, I can be extroverted and introverted, because I’ll rather be indoors all day than go out and have fun.
COWEN: Why would you rather be indoors all day? What’s your thought there?
MURIITHI: I enjoy my company.
COWEN: Your own company?
MURIITHI: Yes, and the movies — it’s the storyline for me. When I start a movie and I love the storyline, I just want to go with it till the very end.
COWEN: What kind of movies do you like?
MURIITHI: A little bit of everything. It’s the storyline for me. If it’s drama, if it’s horror, if it’s a thriller, if it’s fantasy.
COWEN: Is it Bollywood movie, Nollywood movie, Kenyan movie, US movie?
MURIITHI: Hollywood, Nollywood, US.
COWEN: All of those?
COWEN: Do you have a favorite movie of some kind?
MURIITHI: Right now what I’ve been following up on is Power.
COWEN: Power. Political power, or you mean just people who are strong?
MURIITHI: It’s the storyline for me because the Power started when I was quite a bit young, and I have seen the people who are acting grow till date, and they’re still doing it. I’ve seen them grow in that industry, and the storyline is quite captivating.
COWEN: You mean electrical power?
MURIITHI: No, no, no, no.
COWEN: Just political power.
COWEN: You like movies about political power?
COWEN: Do you think power corrupts people?
MURIITHI: Oh, it sure does because when you really want the power, you have to go through extreme stuff.
COWEN: The people who come out of that process, they care too much about power maybe.
COWEN: You have a mobile smartphone, right?
MURIITHI: Yes, I do.
COWEN: How much time do you spend on it?
MURIITHI: Given that I work for like 10 hours in a day, I would say spend four, five hours maximum.
COWEN: You think that’s the right amount, too little, too much?
MURIITHI: It’s too little sometimes because when I’m tired from work, sometimes I don’t even look at my phone. I just want to get to bed and sleep.
COWEN: It makes you happy when you do it?
MURIITHI: Yes, it does.
COWEN: What kind of phone do you have?
MURIITHI: I have a Tecno Spark 8C.
COWEN: That’s Android system or what?
MURIITHI: Yes, it is.
COWEN: Where is it made? China?
COWEN: Do you see a big Chinese influence in Nairobi?
MURIITHI: Yes, I can say that.
COWEN: How do you think that’s going?
MURIITHI: For me, I don’t think I have much to say about it. I’m just happy everybody’s trying to find their way because when they come and they make things a bit cheaper for us, that is exactly what we need.
COWEN: They help create jobs, right?
MURIITHI: Yes, they do.
COWEN: By investing… Have you ever been to America?
MURIITHI: No, I haven’t.
COWEN: What’s your main impression of it from what you see? You can tell the truth. I won’t be offended.
MURIITHI: [chuckles] I think it’s a nice place, but I will say the blending in — or do I say fitting in — before you actually do familiarize yourself with everything that goes on around, that could be quite a challenge.
COWEN: Do you think we’re crazy?
MURIITHI: Sometimes when you all go out on the Black people, yes.
COWEN: Do you think we don’t respect our parents enough?
MURIITHI: No, I wouldn’t say that because it’s all about the upbringing, and it happens in every place, different countries.
COWEN: The race problems in America, what do you think they come from?
COWEN: How so technology?
MURIITHI: Because your technology is more advanced. It is way, way more advanced than it is in other places.
COWEN: You think that increases racism in some ways?
MURIITHI: Not really, but the platforms, the fact that nobody knows who’s talking to who, it makes people have the courage to speak out what they want, and not everything that they do speak out is good.
COWEN: Then they become worse maybe over time because they’re saying too much.
COWEN: Including messaging services or online.
COWEN: Do you think the world will fix that problem, or what do you expect?
MURIITHI: The world can fix it, but it all starts with an individual because once you want to change it and you influence the people you are hanging out with or the people you have around, it goes like that. And maybe with time, we might see some changes.
COWEN: Are you an optimist about Kenya?
MURIITHI: Yes, I am.
COWEN: Do you think you’ll live here your whole life, or you’ll try to go to Italy or somewhere else?
MURIITHI: I wouldn’t mind traveling, but Kenya is the place I would like to be. For living, Kenya is the place to be, but I would like to visit other places.
COWEN: You like the climate here?
MURIITHI: Everything about Kenya is amazing.
COWEN: The people, the food.
MURIITHI: Yes, especially the food.
COWEN: Not the Indian food. [chuckles]
MURIITHI: Not the Indian food.
COWEN: In the food, have you seen that change in your lifetime?
MURIITHI: For the food?
COWEN: Yes. You’ve been in Nairobi 12 years. How is it changing?
MURIITHI: It is changing quite a lot because, with time, the people are forgetting about the indigenous foods that we used to get at home. Right now around Nairobi, given that it’s more of a residential place, you don’t find a lot of places where people want to grow their stuff. The thought of getting them from the villages and transporting them to where you are can be quite hectic because some will spoil on the way. Their budget may be just not pocket-friendly. People are more reliable on the junk food parts around Nairobi than it is around the village areas.
COWEN: Do people here think about the British much? This was once a British colony. Is that an important issue, or you’ve all forgotten?
MURIITHI: History taught us a lot about what happened in the past, but with time, we have seen the changes, and by now people have adjusted to the day-to-day living.
COWEN: Do you think being a British colony was good for Kenya or bad for Kenya?
MURIITHI: Not so good. It is an in-between because we all had something to learn. The Christianity mode came along that time. At least we got to learn something from them.
COWEN: They treated people here very badly, yes?
MURIITHI: Yes, they did.
COWEN: Do you go to church?
MURIITHI: I do.
COWEN: Which branch?
MURIITHI: I’m a Catholic.
COWEN: What makes Catholic appealing to you?
MURIITHI: The unity. There’s not as much diversity as it is in the Protestants. Because whatever is being taught in the American church is whatever is being taught in the village church. We have the same Bibles, the same readings, scriptures for every Sunday. It’s programmed that so long as you’re in the Catholic [Church], you’re getting the same information.
COWEN: Do you think fewer Kenyans are going to church than before?
MURIITHI: Yes, I will say that.
COWEN: That concerns you, or you think it’s okay?
MURIITHI: It does concern me because I’m also affected. Because I work six days in a week, and Sunday is one of the busiest days. You can never get an off day on Sunday. Personally, for me, I will say it has affected Kenyans a lot, work-wise. Yes.
COWEN: If you marry someone, you want your husband to be religious, Catholic, or it doesn’t matter so much?
MURIITHI: It doesn’t matter so much.
COWEN: Just if he’s a good person?
COWEN: There’s this cult in the south of Kenya, Paul Mackenzie. I read about this in the newspapers. How do you understand that? What’s your sense of what happened there?
MURIITHI: That’s a tricky and interesting topic at the same time. But I really don’t get what teaching it is that these people are getting, to the extent that they can go and undergo the fasting session and their leader is not undergoing the same thing. That is something that is controversial. It is weird. I’m not in support of it.
COWEN: Yes, we’ve had things like that happen in America, of course. What do you think of women’s rights in Kenya? Are they strong enough?
MURIITHI: Yes, they are.
COWEN: How could women be treated better?
MURIITHI: Nothing, I will say, that is not being done right now.
COWEN: You think it’s really pretty good?
MURIITHI: Yes, it is, because in terms of leadership, we are given equal rights. In terms of speaking our minds, it’s allowed. I think it’s quite okay. You just need to work your way up to the top.
COWEN: Then women, you think, have the same chances as men?
MURIITHI: Yes, they do. Yes.
COWEN: Are you worried about any of Kenya’s neighbors, so either Somalia, Ethiopia, a lot of fighting? Does this concern you, or it feels very distant?
MURIITHI: I wouldn’t say it’s distant because every Kenyan is a human. I believe, so long as no one is trying to attack the other one and we are all trying to live in peace, everything is going to work out quite fine. Because it’s all about the peace and the humanity and the friendship between the countries.
COWEN: That’s a very Catholic view, right?
MURIITHI: [chuckles] Yes, it is.
COWEN: Kenya takes in a lot of refugees. How do you think that is going?
MURIITHI: I’m not sure how that is going to be going in the next few weeks or months because, with the GMO cut-outs, I don’t know how that is going to work out.
COWEN: How’s it working out with Uganda as a neighbor?
MURIITHI: I don’t know how they handle it. I haven’t read much about it, but if they’re doing okay, I think that’s good.
COWEN: Do you worry that Kenya is better run than most or all of its neighbors and that you will receive a lot of problems through your borders?
COWEN: You just think Kenya will be safe, it’s strong enough?
MURIITHI: No, but I wouldn’t say the management in Kenya is quite as good as our neighbors around. I would say we’re all working our way to try to improve lives around.
COWEN: What would you do to improve the schools here?
MURIITHI: The schools? Curriculum.
COWEN: What would you change?
MURIITHI: I’ll take it back to the 8–4–4 system.
COWEN: What is that system?
MURIITHI: Right now, what they’re doing, it’s called the CBC [competency-based curriculum]. They have a variety of things they’re teaching in schools, some that were not even teachable before. They’re even teaching PE in schools nowadays.
COWEN: That’s good, you think, or no?
MURIITHI: It is okay, but right now what people need is to go on with what they used to do.
COWEN: You mean stricter? More math, more reading and writing?
COWEN: Just to make sure everyone can read and write very well?
MURIITHI: Yes, I will say that.
COWEN: How good do you think your school was?
MURIITHI: I have been in different schools in primary and in secondary, I was in one. But schools were — how do I say it? It all depends with the schools because we have the public sector and the private sectors, and the two can never match. Cannot match or even come close.
COWEN: Which is better?
MURIITHI: It is not better, but it is okay.
COWEN: The private, the public — which of those two kinds of school gives you the better education?
MURIITHI: The private, of course.
COWEN: How is it you ended up curious? From your family, from a teacher, you were born that way?
MURIITHI: For me I just wanted to see more than just what was around me, and coming to Nairobi was the best thing.
COWEN: If you were to travel somewhere else but in Africa, where would you want to go the most?
MURIITHI: In Africa? I’ll go with Uganda. Yes.
COWEN: Why Uganda?
MURIITHI: It’s just a thing about Uganda and the way of living there. It’s not as expensive.
COWEN: The people seem very friendly when I meet them other places.
COWEN: You have that impression?
MURIITHI: Yes, people can be friendly, but it all depends on the approach.
COWEN: If you think of visiting somewhere in Asia, where do you think of going?
MURIITHI: In Asia? That’s a funny one. Let’s see. That’s a tricky one. I’ll have to research on that.
COWEN: When COVID came here, how bad was that for you? You couldn’t go outside, you couldn’t meet with friends? Or how was it, or maybe not so different? How would you describe it?
MURIITHI: It was quite hard, and it actually delayed my school year. I had to extend time in school comparing to what I would have. It was tough. It was tough times.
COWEN: Do you think the country is over that?
MURIITHI: Not really.
COWEN: Not really?
COWEN: People are still depressed or upset or frustrated?
MURIITHI: Yes, people right now are trying to find their way back because COVID really, really affected a bunch of people. Many people became jobless. Relating with one another became an issue because of the social distancing.
COWEN: You stayed here, or you went back to your home place?
MURIITHI: Actually did both. I went back to my place, but I also came back to Nairobi.
COWEN: In your village, do you see large animals very often?
COWEN: You see lions, elephants, giraffes?
MURIITHI: We do have elephants, we do have hyenas. Not all the animals are there, but we do have some of them.
COWEN: You’ve seen them so many times you’re not excited, or you’re still excited when you see them?
MURIITHI: It’s exciting because you’re not used to seeing them on a daily basis, and it’s always fascinating to see animals.
COWEN: Are any of them dangerous for you?
MURIITHI: Yes, they are. Our place is near Mount Kenya, like I said, and sometimes they run away from the forests and they’re coming to people’s shambas [farms] to eat, so it can be a bit scary.
COWEN: Which one is the most scary?
MURIITHI: The elephants all the way.
COWEN: Because they’re so big and strong and they might just step on you.
MURIITHI: They’re fast. These things can chase you so fast. Yes.
COWEN: Are the hippos scary?
MURIITHI: Yes, they are. They are scary, but you don’t get to see so many of those around Kirinyaga.
COWEN: There’s just a lot more elephants?
COWEN: How do you think your village is doing? In terms of its economy, are people getting richer, happier, or do you think it’s stuck?
MURIITHI: It’s stuck. I have been there a couple of times, and I can’t say I have seen as many changes as I would expect to see in that span of years.
COWEN: Why do you think it’s stuck? The curious people leave?
MURIITHI: Yes, that is one. The people are a bit close-minded about opening up their minds to things. They make it more superstitious than it should be.
COWEN: They don’t have so much Christianity, they have older beliefs?
MURIITHI: Yes, I will say that.
COWEN: What would be something they might believe in?
MURIITHI: Let me say, in case you’re having disputes — or, let’s see, one, when you see an owl, they say that somebody’s going to die or something.
COWEN: They believe it?
MURIITHI: Yes. Sometimes it actually happens, weirdly enough.
COWEN: How much of your village is Christian?
COWEN: They blend Christian and the earlier beliefs together?
COWEN: How are women’s rights in your village, do you think?
MURIITHI: The people have not opened up their mind as they should, like I said. For the women around that place, it’s more of like a home-based thing. Not many of them go out to look for jobs or even want to do much about studies. They just know they should stick around at home to help their husbands and all and raise children.
COWEN: Not so much opportunity?
COWEN: Nairobi is much better, you think?
MURIITHI: Yes, it is.
COWEN: You think you’ll always live in or near Nairobi?
MURIITHI: “Always” could be a tough term but —
COWEN: But mostly.
COWEN: What do you see of Tatu City? You work there, right?
COWEN: You’re optimistic?
MURIITHI: Yes, I am. Very much so.
COWEN: You see a lot of progress, jobs coming, people visiting.
MURIITHI: Yes. Like, see, I got a chance to meet you.
COWEN: Maybe your restaurant will be in Tatu City sometime.
MURIITHI: Yes, maybe. Hopefully.
COWEN: Will you encourage your brother to move here?
MURIITHI: Yes, I will.
COWEN: You think he might?
MURIITHI: Yes, he is very much interested.
COWEN: Did you or he ever think of moving to Mombasa or some smaller city? Or you just think it has to be Nairobi because it’s the best, the biggest?
MURIITHI: It’s all about giving a place a chance because coming to Kiambu for me — I mostly came because of school around the Kiambu Institute, and me moving to Tatu City was closer to school and still closer to where I work.
COWEN: What is Kiambu Institute?
MURIITHI: It’s along Kiambu Road. It’s a college.
COWEN: What is it they teach?
MURIITHI: I would say more of the physical stuff. They have business courses.
COWEN: Like how to build things?
MURIITHI: Yes. We also have the hospitality there. They do teach hospitality.
COWEN: You studied hospitality?
MURIITHI: No, I haven’t.
COWEN: You want to, or you think you know enough already?
MURIITHI: I wouldn’t mind to because it is something that I am passionate about, but what I did in school was the procurement, the supply chain management.
COWEN: What did you learn from that?
MURIITHI: There’s a lot, and there’s procurement in almost everything. Be it hospitals, be it companies, be it the hotels, be it schools, procurement is everywhere. It’s fascinating how people do that.
COWEN: Do you think you need a degree in hospitality to advance further, or you think you can advance just with experience?
MURIITHI: School is important. The school bit is important because the papers will also help a great deal. It all narrows down to what you learn on the ground because mostly what is in the books is not what normally happens in the places of work. It’s very different.
COWEN: Do you think you’ll go back to school, or it’s too much a waste of time?
MURIITHI: I will go back to school, but first I want to learn more.
COWEN: Learn more on the job?
COWEN: What kinds of things do you want to learn?
MURIITHI: Interacting with people sure takes a lot of courage and humility because not everybody is quite friendly. Some people just come, like I said, they want to unwind their days, and sometimes they’re not that good because they can be harsh at times. That part is something that I would really like to impound on, the humility part, because it’s a bit tricky, I will say that.
COWEN: What questions might you have for me?
MURIITHI: How do you like it in Kenya so far?
COWEN: This is only my second day. So far, I like it very much. The green vistas are very beautiful. This part of Kenya is quite peaceful. I’ve had very good food. It’s been good to see Stephen [Jennings] again, but most of it I haven’t seen. I’m going on safari in a bit. My wife is coming tomorrow, and she will join me here. I want to come back sometime and see the coast, see the north. This time I will only see around here and then safari.
COWEN: People are very friendly here, and it feels easy to me.
MURIITHI: Okay, that is great. For food, what is one thing that you would like to try, maybe the meat?
COWEN: I once visited Tanzania, and I very much liked the ugali.
COWEN: Now, I don’t know if it’s the same here. But I go to these meals, and Westerners, they feed me everything but ugali. So I hope I can get some more ugali.
MURIITHI: Oh, sure. You can pass by Roast and you’ll be sure to get some.
COWEN: Okay, but unlike you, I like Indian food. I like very spicy.
MURIITHI: We have the spicy part too.
COWEN: I will do that. On safari, I’m not sure what they serve me, but I think I have no choice. [chuckles]
MURIITHI: Yes, but sure, since you’re in Tatu City, you might pass by Roast. We’ll give you the ugali.
COWEN: Okay. Great.
MURIITHI: [chuckles] Okay.
COWEN: If you think about America, what is it you wonder about America?
MURIITHI: About America is their way of living, their education, how they know so much at a very young age. They’re also quite friendly.
COWEN: Americans, they’re pretty direct, fairly open, I think.
COWEN: Final question, what is the next thing that you want to learn?
MURIITHI: What is the next thing I want to learn? You know, right now, the way the country is evolving, I believe it’s all about gaining a skill. You need to have a skill because employment, the deductions are getting worse, and you’d rather be self-employed than be an employee. For the skills, I would like to learn more about technology. I don’t want to be left behind; I want to learn more.
COWEN: Do you use ChatGPT, by the way?
MURIITHI: Oh, yes, I do. [chuckles]
COWEN: What do you do with it? I have another few more questions, then.
MURIITHI: I learned about ChatGPT through a YouTube channel, and also I have colleagues who are so much impressed by it. I just like the way it makes work easier for everybody, but it also poses as a threat because once you’re getting the AI to do all that stuff for you, you might not need the employees as you do.
COWEN: Do you talk with it? Does it write poems for you? Do you ask it questions?
COWEN: All of those.
MURIITHI: Yes, when I have burning questions, when I want to know something, because when you‘’re in the night shift, I will say I‘’m not much of a newspaper person or news, so ChatGPT is my way to go.
COWEN: Just more fun.
MURIITHI: Yes. ChatGPT and TikTok.
COWEN: Harriet Muriithi—
COWEN: — thank you very much.
MURIITHI: You’re welcome. Thank you, too, for having me. It’s a pleasure.