life's real rough in the slums...
Most tourists come to Kenya expecting to see lions, elephants, and other safari fare. Others have ambitions of climbing peaks like Mount Kenya. But, if you really want to venture off the beaten path to go to the slums of Nairobi. Thomas and I went down fellow Canuckistani Leonard to Muthare. Unbelievably, with a population of 800,000 people, Muthare is the smaller of two giant slums on the periphery of Nairobi.
[ed. notes: Leonard is from Kelowna. He is the driving force behind the Pamoja Tunaweza Single Mothers Group, a small group of at risk mothers in Muthare whose husbands have abandoned them or died of AIDS or violence. The goal of the group is to raise funds through slum tours such as the one we were on or donations to start a micro-loan program that would provide members with seed money for starting small businesses. If you would like to help out, click the link. Trust me, a little donation goes a long way...]
As the taxi sped along, I noticed an endless row of roadside food stands and behind them rows of tin roofed shacks. The scene reminded me of similar shanty towns I saw in India. I knew then that we had arrived in Muthare. The taxi would stop abruptly. Before I even stepped out of the cab, I was overwhelmed by the stench; a wall of aroma composed of sewage, smoke from burning rubbish and human waste wafting from the slum.
didn't mean to startle you ma'am...
We entered the maze of tin shacks, following closely at the heels of Leonard. "Habari...mazuri...", he'd greet everyone we passed in the narrow corridor. Occasionally, he'd stop and have fun with the kids along the way; thus, breaking the "untouchable barrier". Unquestionably mzungus (white people) like me and Thomas take their lives into their own hands when coming down to the slums unescorted. Leonard's been down here at least 15 times by himself, he purports, but I couldn't help but feel a bit vulnerable (especially with my camera hanging around my neck).
lots 'o kid in the ghettos...
Minutes later, we emerged from the narrow alley way. We found ourselves standing on a small promontory overlooking a sea of corrugated tin shacks, all hastily arranged into long rows: stretching a couple of kilometres across a medium sized river valley in front of us and perhaps 5 to 10 kilometres stretched either side along the valley floor. Huge. There was no noise other than kids playing nearby and a howling wind that streaked through the labyrinth of shacks that we just negotiated.
The stench seemed to follow us like tsetse flies chasing a water buffalo's butt. No wonder, raw sewage ran along an open ditch in the middle of lane. Despite the freeflow of milky white fluid I observed, the ditch is often clogged with millions of plastic shopping bags that litter ground.
One of the few toilets serving the entire population of Muthare.
We scurried like rats on a sinking ship. The path narrowed until we reached a cul de sac. There we found Vicky's home, a single room shack with a double bed, a couple of chairs, and a hot plate on the foot of the bed. Vicky would be our official guide. An attractive young woman with an equally impressive handshake, like most young women in the slums, she is a single mum. Leonard informed us that the future of these mums are depressingly bleak. There is massive unemployment in Muthare. The young mothers are desperate, driving alot of them into the sex trade in order to make the money to support their families.
She offers Thomas and I a drink of water. I could not refuse. In the meantime, we met her little boy, her sisters, and neighbours. Despite the horrid conditions in which they live, they seemed so happy.
Muthare's Portage and Main
Vicky took us down to the "main street". Everyone's pretty friendly, shaking our hands, shouting out hello's. We couldn't help but notice that there people were completely sloshed. I mean men AND women were hitting the sauce. [ed. note. we'd walk along the river and Vicky would point out men, often members of gangs, and their primitive distillation equipment in the stream. apparently, more than a few people lose their lives in this trade.] Vicky would move us along if someone got too friendly. But, overall, she reassured us that things are cool.
Street art: damn Rastafarians are everywhere... Bob is hope, as is soccer using a tin can for a ball.
no, i'm not related to bruce. maybe jackie but not bruce.
Next, she took us to a school. We looked in and found the class, waiting for their teacher, was taking a nap! Ha!
you'll recognise this little boy from the original blog entry.
Next on the tour was the Good Samaritan orphanage.
Ladies with big hearts...
The orphanage was a breath of fresh air. These lovely ladies (above photo) manage the orphanage. They provide food and shelter for 40 to 50 kids of all ages every night. The dorm is packed to the rafters with kids at night and, unfortunately, many other kids are left out in the cold. Eva, the lady on the left, gave me a tour and pointed out the two story orphanage had an significant lean and could topple at any point.
3 to 4 kids share each bunk bed.
All is not doom and gloom however. A replacement building is being constructed next door. Progress has been halted though until more money is raised through donations.
the incomplete orphanage.
The aim of the orphanage is to become self-sustaining. Across the road is a plot of land where the orphanage raises cows, pigs, and chickens for food. The ladies have also started making handicrafts to sell to tourists (see the above pic of the lovely ladies) fund. There's also a scholarship fund in place that has give orphans the opportunity to go to college. Those kids and other alumni usually comeback to help out.
It was getting dark having a bit to eat at Vicky's sister's place. Not a good time for mzungus, let alone those who live there, to be in the slums. We hurried back to the main road for the bus ride back to the Campsite. It was a great day. Certainly an eyeopening experience. I couldn't help but envision a positive, hopeful outlook for the people of Muthare, like Vicky (and the other single mums) and the kids at the orphanage.
[ed. notes: the slums, in light of recent Kenyan elections, became the focal point for alot of the violence. i can see socio-economic factors playing a roll in the riots, but when you start introducing tribal grievances into the mix, these slums indeed are sitting on a powderkeg. Anyway, I got a email the other day from Leonard saying the situation in Muthare was insane. Vicky's sister was sent to hospital when she was hacked on the arm by machete wielding thugs. She's OK. so much for progress...]
Out of Canuckistan, Mar 5/07
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