The reason I love this series so much is I’ve always been a bit obsessed to peek into peoples’ lives and see how they live. I’m the kind of person who has been known to go to an open house in the neighborhood, just because I am curious about how someone else lives their life. And it is even more exciting when the person’s life is so drastically different than my own. That’s why I am so excited to introduce you to Ashleigh. She’s a mom of 2, a dog owner, an entrepreneur and lives here fabulous life in a suburb of Nairobi, Kenya.
Please say hello to Ashleigh.
Hello! I am Ashleigh. I share my home with my husband, Andrew, my 3 year old son, Felix, my 1 year old daughter, Raffi, and our two English Setters, Izzy and Frida. My husband and I are actually both from the same town near Detroit, Michigan. We knew each other a bit early on, but I had moved to New York and we started dating when he moved there following a Peace Corps tour in Kenya.
My son Felix speaks FLUENT Kiswahili (one of the many dialects here), and actually translates when speaking to me in English because he thinks I can’t understand — but I can!! My daughter, Raffi, just started walking this month, and I haven’t been able to keep up with her since.
I have a company called Zuri, which is a women’s clothing company featuring African inspired textiles, and my husband is in finance.
I live in Northwest Nairoibi, in a suburb called Gigiri. We’re very near to the UN, so our neighbors are Kenyan, Spanish, German, Dutch, American, you name it. It’s great having so much diversity around us and there are a lot of kids mostly all the same age who enjoy playing together which is terrific. It’s one of the few streets in Nairobi that isn’t a through-way, so there’s not much traffic, which makes going for walks really nice.
I love living here and there really isn’t much I don’t like about this place. But if I was forced to think of something, our electricity can be a bit unpredictable. During the rain storms, the power is in and out quite often, which can be frustrating. Oh, and the termites here are biblical.
How did we end up here? My husband had been offered a job in Nairobi with a private equity fund, and after 10 years in New York, we were ready for a change. (He learned fluent Kiswahili in Peace Corps, so Kenya was a natural fit for him.)
I was actually pregnant at the time with Felix, and moving to a house with lots of greenery around was sounding better and better. The decision was actually pretty easy — I tend not to think much about my life choices (this has pros and cons of course), but once I made the decision that we were going, I honestly never looked back.
Once we got here, of course, I felt the weight of the move. I was essentially now a housewife, and people kept asking me what my husband did, rather than what I did. It was really depressing! You don’t realize how much of your identity is tied to your work until you no longer have it. Within 6 months, I was already hustling for a new project. Now that we’ve been here a while and I’ve found something that roots me, I can honestly say the move was the best decision I ever made.
Right after we moved here and were in the process of looking for a place, a friend told me about this amazing rental. I knew I wanted to see it immediately and went to meet with the landlord. I met her and I loved her! She originally wasn’t too sure about letting us move in with two dogs, but eventually she caved. :)
We love Kenya so, so much. It’s a great place to live with kids. The weather is ideal so they spend a lot of time outside — they’re outside all year round! The people are really kind and lovely, and I feel like we have so much freedom in how we live our lives; it feels like anything is possible. I actually find America super limiting when I go home. For example, we use mobile to mobile payments a lot here, so I’m constantly forgetting my wallet in the states because I just don’t think of it. I don’t usually need it here!
I hope we won’t leave anytime soon, but if we do, I’ll miss the freedom, the openness (both of the people and of the terrain,) and the beautiful coast.
Parenting in Kenya is truly a team effort. Our kids are really part of a village here; the adults all help each other out, and the kids are safe to run across the lawn to go find their little friends — everyone looks out for them. Our family culture is definitely different than it would have been in the States. Felix has a heavy Kenyan accent and anglicizes Kiswahili words, mixing the languages and forming his own variant of the two. We all use his style now, so we’ve replaced certain English words with Kiswahili when we speak to each other. I hear his little voice when I say them. :)
It’s added humor into the tough parts of mundane family life: for example, instead of saying: “please stop hiding that toy from your sister”, I say “please stop gifiicha-ing that toy from your sister” (kugificha is the verb “to hide”). It disarms us both and makes the situation a bit softer.
I started my business with another American living in Nairobi (my partner, Sandra Zhao) in November of 2016. We met at a wedding! Sandra had made a dress for herself that I LOVED, and being 10 months pregnant, it was the exactly what I had been looking for. I asked her to make me one, and once I got it and started wearing it I decided I needed one for every day of the week.
We decided to start making them commercially and it pretty much immediately took off. We got really lucky and were featured in the New York Times which really launched our brand. We just opened a store in New York on Bleecker Street, and it’s been such a fun experience!
As far as challenges go, we’ve had lots. We only work with Kitenge fabrics, and the fabrics only last about a month in the market, so our main issues have been timing and supply-chain related, but we’re getting those problems pretty much smoothed over.
If someone was starting their own business and asked for my advice, I’d advise them to treat the business like it’s going to be a success from day one. Don’t ever assume that you’re not going to make it just because you are only beginning — it can really be a self-fulfilling prophecy (both for the good and the bad). Call everyone you know in the industry and learn from them, even if there’s not a linear reason that you can see — don’t filter, and don’t limit what you can learn from others. Finally, ask for what you want — whether it’s a better deal from your supplier, or marketing advice from a friend. If you don’t ask for something, you’ll never get it!
I started Zuri when my daughter was 3 months old and my son was just over 2 years. I honestly think I needed it at that time as a way to separate myself from mom-life. It’s made me a much happier person, which I think has made me a better mom. I think because I have kids, I have learned to be much more patient. I’m used to delaying gratification a bit more now and managing expectations, setting clear limits (for myself and for others) on what can and can’t be done. A 3 year old will really test those boundaries, so I’ve been forced to define them both at home and at work.
I hope when my kids look back on growing up here, they remember our dogs, and how beautiful their garden was — they are SO LUCKY. They wake up to monkeys in the trees! And I hope they can forget how wound up I get when we lose power, or find lots of bugs, or are driving on a really bad road. I wear my heart on my sleeve, so when I’m stressed, everyone feels it.
Living with kids really is not for everyone. Before my kids came along I wasn’t every sure it was for me, but now that I have them, I can’t imagine my life any other way. I am lucky because I get to travel every now and then and have some time to myself, but I miss them terribly when I’m gone. I love how wacky and whimsical they are, and how things about the world I never would have noticed or thought of, are all of a sudden being pointed out to me with great exuberance.
I wish someone had told me (and I had listened!) that life can be exactly the way you design it, if you allow yourself to take every opportunity. Growing up, there’s always this feeling of keeping up, getting into the right school, being on a track. But if you allow yourself to follow your instincts and to veer off the track a bit and are able to adapt to an unexpected situation, you can open up a set of opportunities you weren’t necessarily aware of.
What a really wonderful story. It sort of makes me want to pack everything up and head to Africa. If I could live in a home half as charming as Ashleigh’s I would do it! All of the warm woods mixed with the bright colors and patterns. It’s heaven. (And those two dogs do an amazing job posing just right in the photos! Ha!)
I love when Ashleigh says that what you believe about a business when you are starting it (or a goal, or change you are trying to make in your life or whatever) can become a self fulfilling prophecy for good or bad. If you think you are going to succeed, you likely will. And if you think you are going to fail, then that will probably be true too. Our minds truly do have the ability to create the realities we live in.
What about you, fearless reader? What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done? Started a business? Became a parent? Asked that cute guy (or girl) to dance? Moved around the world? Took a leap of faith?
Yellow zig-zag lamp
You can learn more about (and shop!) Ashleigh’s amazing dresses at shopZuri.com. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, gay parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.