THE BLOG
13/03/2015 06:01 GMT | Updated 12/05/2015 06:59 BST

A Sense of the Absurd

When parents and those in-charge of small children are asked what it is that they have done all day, the answer can be hard to quantify. The exact details may be hazy, some of it may sound like nothing much at all and there are probably moments they've forgotten to account for, but it covers a great deal.

If I were to explain all that goes into setting up a business in Kenya, and why it took as long as it did, it would sound a lot like that: hard to quantify but deeply felt.

R and I had become investors in Kenya. But we were investors with a twist: we ourselves had almost no capital. That we survived in this state for almost a year, on our own in a foreign country, trying, through sweat, blood, tears and soaring frustration, to ensure everything was in order so that all involved could start benefiting from it (which at times seemed an elusive prospect), is a minor miracle.

I carried on teaching a few lessons after we moved to the coast, this time by Skype, and at certain critical junctures, the tide would unexpectedly turn in our favour. A shareholder loan would help us push forward or we would secure sponsorship for marketing events.

In Kenya, though it is not confined only to Kenya, there are other, complex factors at play. One must navigate between the right and the wrong way of setting up a business. The wrong way may speed things up. But it will cost you and take away a piece of your soul in the process. We chose the only way we knew, the only path we could have, which was the right one.

Choices have consequences though, and ours sometimes made it harder to get what we needed, when we needed it. Although we sometimes doubted how much of a difference this really made. Permits and licences, though the task of securing them fell to our local director, took a long time and became endless in number. Then there was the confusion which emanated from the country having been broken up and divided into 47 different counties, each with their own rules and regulations, unless they hadn't got round to implementing any. Our business spanned more than one and there were many occasions where we found ourselves caught between the two, sitting in board meetings trying to decipher conflicting advice.

We are involved with system of doing business that has something approaching multiple-personality disorder. This has given us both, if not quite the same disorder, then a life of ups and downs. It is possible to go to bed one evening believing all is right with the world and to wake up the next morning and find, even before the day has properly begun, that this is not at all true.

And then you repeat the same pattern all over again: recovering from one set back, then lurching towards another; your efforts, and your sanity, severely tested each time.

I stopped providing real-time updates to my family and the few friends back home who had some idea of what was happening because whatever I said would be obsolete within a couple of days.

When I was little and visiting my best friend, we used to sit sometimes at her parents' dining room table playing with a set of wooden Russian dolls. You could take off the top doll, then there would be another one underneath, and then another and another.

I thought about those dolls whenever we ticked off everything on our list of things to do and someone, somewhere would tell us there was another requirement we hadn't yet met. There did not seem to be a definitive list.

Through it all, I have never doubted that we are on the right track. We caught onto a swell of change in East Africa and become part of a growing number of investors, big and small, who could see its growth and potential, including others from South Africa. Some of my own, separate plans were still on hold but the hopes and dreams that I had now were not the same as the ones I had before I met R. They had taken on an added dimension and expanded while new ones had also been formed.

We got through it, and are still getting through it, partly by keeping a sense of humour.

At one stage, we almost didn't make it to our own launch event. The evening was being hosted by a top hotel in Nairobi but when I reached the check-in desk at Mombasa airport, our flight had been delayed.

I turned and waited for R who was still coming through security.

'Okay, don't panic. But our flight has been delayed.'

R's sighed heavily and rolled his eyes.

'For how long?'

'They're not sure.'

As we would learn later, there was a body on the runway in Nairobi, a presumed stowaway.

We took off about an hour behind schedule and were feeling relatively upbeat whilst bracing ourselves for an onslaught of traffic we would now face at the other end.

A representative from the hotel greeted us with a warm smile, welcomed us to Nairobi, and took us to our taxi.

No sooner had we started to move when the police stopped us.

The taxi driver got out and spoke to them away from the car. R looked at his watch. We wondered what kind of traffic offence the driver could possibly have committed.

Several minutes ticked by and then the hotel rep came and tapped on the window.

'R, Joanne, he said, 'I am very sorry, but your taxi driver has been arrested.'