Why I am moving to Africa
In a few weeks I’ll be taking a one-way flight to Rwanda to see what happens.
I’ve left my job, given up my flat and will be landing in a continent I have been to only once, when I was 11 years old.
The people I’ve spoken to have, understandably, had some questions about such a decision, and so I thought I would get down in words the recurring themes that come out when I tell them.
How did this all come about?
Often preceded by the first response/ question of “You’re doing what?!”
Well, living abroad is something I’ve always said I want to do, and I guess now is the time to follow up on it.
Here’s how the story goes:
I was taking a “flight mode weekend”, walking/ wild camping in Surrey with no other stimulation than the nature around me and the occasional village high street. In a situation where the majority of time is spent alone with your thoughts, I essentially cleared a backlog of lots of random musings I’d had filed away in order to keep myself entertained. After answering which five ingredients I’d survive on for the rest of my life, and what I’d do if I had to do an art exhibition, another thought fluttered by:
Why don’t I move to Africa?
This is going to be easy I thought, and began trying to dismantle the proposition. After an hour more walking through the forest though, I was really struggling to establish whether I had any inextricable ties to my current life in London which could prevent me moving to the continent of Africa. The seed was planted.
Over the next week I thought about it some more in my vacant moments and an interesting thing happened: I moved on from asking reasons to not go, to imagining why I should go. Everything was full of uncertainty and intrigue and yet, whilst based on scant hard evidence, it all became quite exciting…
Keeping the reader engaged
I sometimes think what would it be like to read my autobiography in years to come. Would a reader of your life find it compelling, or lose interest part way through?
Imagining myself putting words on a page for the “Early 20s” chapter of my book made me question whether the reader might find it laborious to keep going. Whilst some readers might enjoy hearing about someone who enjoys work, lives in the same flat, and sees his friends often, I felt that if this was stretched across an entire book, it might get a little repetitive.
So I viewed this idea of moving to Africa as an opportunity to spice up the plot a bit and change things around. I suppose you could say that part of my decision to leave the comfort of my current life is to give a hypothetical reader of Sam Floy: The Autobiography a bit of a cliff hanger after the 25th birthday to see what happens next.
The next question that often gets asked is: Why Africa?
It’s true, I could probably shake up my life sufficiently if I moved to New York, or Shanghai, or Berlin. My general feeling though is that there is less opportunity there.
What excites me about the continent of Africa is how it is still finding its feet in terms of its place in the global economy, and how a lot of we take for granted in the Western world has yet to be established there.
Some people ask if I am going out there to work as a wildlife ranger, or devoting myself to humanitarian aid and whilst these are noble endeavours, they are not for me.
I’m essentially looking to get myself familiar with a region that I think will have ever-greater significance over my lifetime, and what’s more I want to play a part in shaping it. Moving to New York, Shanghai or Berlin, I’d be a small cog in a big machine surrounded by others like me.
There are tons of smart people in the world, generally concentrated in major Western commercial cities. My ‘advantage’ over them is that I can be flexible in where I live and work and so viewed this way, why not grasp an opportunity to relocate to a region that I believe will be on the up in the future.
But where in Africa?
It’s true, it’s a big place, and I needed somewhere to book my flight to.
My thought process around how to whittle down the 54 possible countries was to look for places with:
- a low spread of deadly diseases
- a low probability of being killed by a terrorist/ armed robber
- an emerging tech scene
Consulting the Foreign Office map of where not to go, talking to people I knew and reading various articles I came up with four countries that were applicable: Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania.
Ghana is a bit out on a limb, whereas the other three are all joined up which seemed promising in terms of getting to know an area. What’s more, I’m very lucky to have a good friend living in Rwanda at the moment (Hi Olly!) who has been fantastic in giving a sense of what it’s like in Kigali (the capital of Rwanda) as well as providing introductions to others in the nearby countries.
What’s the plan?
I should note though that whilst I’m flying to Kigali, I’m not sure that it will be Rwanda that I look to “settle” in.
My general philosophy around making the larger decisions of my move is that I will have a much better idea once my feet are on the ground. At first glance it might seem bizarre saying that you’ll move half way across the world without knowing what country you’ll be living in and what you’ll do for work, but what keeps be comfortable is the notion that:
I’d rather make choices based on real reference points, rather than binding myself to decisions when I have almost none.
Of course there are ways to mitigate risks where possible, but then it’s just a leap of faith that things will work out. Others like me live and work in the region, so there is no fundamental reason why it shouldn’t.
I imagine that I will end up living in a fairly dynamic city. I’m after a balance between walkability (i.e. safe and pleasant) and commerciality (i.e. enough business opportunities to utilise my tech-based skill set) with bonus points if there is a good music scene and I can run home from work.
No doubt my main interactions to begin with will be the expat community, but I would like the time and ability to learn from local community, and feel part of their culture too.
I’ve spent the last 3+ years working with startups in London. Through broad, formal training on the New Entrepreneurs Foundation programme, and applying it as employee #1 at Tutorfair I have seen with my eyes what it takes to turn an idea into a thriving business.
My theory is that this operational know-how will be valuable in an ecosystem where startups are bubbling up, and smaller enterprises are beginning to scale.
I don’t know in what capacity I will be most useful, but through talking to as many interesting people as possible, I hope this will become clear.
Once I feel I have a grasp of how the country I’m in operates, I wouldn’t be surprised if I began my own venture.
The natural next question is what the business might be which (to me at least) feels like trying to answer what I’ll have for breakfast on this day one year from now — I know my current preferences, but am unsure whether a year on the continent might change my tastes, or more importantly, the local ingredients I can choose from.
How can I know what you’re up to?
By this stage most people have had the bases covered with what I’ll be doing come the end of July.
I’m hoping that the stuff I get up to will be interesting enough that I’ll feel compelled to tell others on a one-to-many basis.
As mentioned, my current reference points for what it’s like to live and work in East Africa are few and far between, and so I’m particularly interested in updating people on some of the more “mundane” aspects of what when I’m there (where do I do my shopping?!). Though there may well be some other stuff. Hopefully involving gorillas.
Here’s what I’m thinking will be the best way to know what I’m up to
Or message me. I won’t be choosing anywhere to live that doesn’t have good internet connection and so the normal channels of communication will still be open!
I’ve recently started getting some pixels flowing through my account again. Right now it’s mainly of random observations in England, but sit tight for the Africa stuff.
You can follow me [@samfloy] and see latest pics (including where I go shopping) here: https://www.instagram.com/samfloy/
Finding a Decent Profile Pic In…
For previous extended trips I’ve written a travel blog documenting my search to find a better profile pic than the one I currently have. Moving to East Africa seems no different as it has been me on an Indian motorbike for a while now…
This will probably feature news of any volcanoes, gorillas etc., so if you fancy seeing the dramatic stuff (with my face occasionally appearing) then email me [firstname.lastname@example.org] and I’ll add you to the updates I send out.
I’m not sure what, but I’ll likely post some particularly interesting things on here, just because. If you click to “Follow” me, then you should get an update when I post something new.
This is an summary version of my answer to: “what are you thinking moving to Africa?”
If there are other things that you’d like to know, just get in touch, or leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.