Well today is the day Lindsay has been waiting for almost the entire trip. I gave her the guide book back in the summer sometime and told her to read through it and mark anything that interested her that she wanted to do. True to her quirkiness she picked only one thing different than I that she wanted to do. A slum tour of Kibera, Nairobi. I thought it would be interesting, Lindsay really wanted to see it. So this morning we headed off on that adventure.
We got up leisurely in the morning, so 7 am instead of 5, showered, enjoyed our beautiful tent, had some breakfast and packed the day bag for our hike in Kibera. We then headed to the main house here at Wildebeest to meet our guide at 10 sharp. We told reception we were ready to go and waited for our guide. A few minutes later the dishwasher came out and introduced himself as our guide, Rick.
Rick as it turns out lives in Kibera and works when he can get work at the Wildebeest camp doing dishes and the Kibera tour. He looks to be about 17, but we learned later that he is actually 26. Rick asked us if we were ready to go and then we all started walking out the front gate. The staff had said we would take the bus or bodas to Kibera but instead we were walking. That turned out to be all right as we got to see even more local life and talk with Rick. Once at the end of the road running past the camp it intersects with a rather large road under construction. This new road/African highway will run right past Kibera and through part of it. Currently there are massive piles of red dirt everywhere. It was almost like walking through a whole new landscape and of course extremely dusty.
It took us about 30-40 minutes to walk to Kibera and then we stopped above to see it. It is something else. Looking down you see a sea of rusty corrugated tin roofs running together one after another through a small valley or ravine built into the side of a hill. After taking a few pictures and getting info from Rick, who is a wealth of knowledge about Kibera, we headed down to one of the entrances. We were expecting to see terrible living conditions and filth everywhere but we were almost immediately pleasantly surprised. It really is not that bad. To be sure I would not want to live there. However, the trash on the ground was only slightly more than the rest of East Africa we’ve seen, there was ample room to walk on “streets” and among the very small housing, and the people were as happy as anyone else we had seen. No children with flies in their eyes crying on the side of the road (Don’t believe the guilt advertising of all the “agencies” on TV)
We started our trip through Kibera walking around checking out different streets through town and seeing daily life. We saw thousands of “houses” from the outside – essentially a 3 metre square mud hut with the tin roof, some bigger most smaller. We crossed the “stream” running through Kibera which is full of trash and many different animals refuse (including human) and sadly sometimes used as a water source for washing possibly drinking I’m not sure. It turns out that there is a few water pipes running through Kibera that provide “fresh” water. Some are legal pipes that people have actually paid for but from that main line people have hooked in and tapped it sending other lines all over the place. As Rick explained the cleanest water is at the top of the chain and as the water gets lower down the ravine of Kibera it gets more and more contaminated. This is due to all the tapping in, broken pipes, holes in the pipes, and what not that allow the outside grime to leek into the water. We crisscrossed the main pipe many times and many other pipes going this way and that.
We crossed the lower train tracks running through Kibera and I wanted to take a picture. Rick looked around and told me this was not the best place, so on we went. For the most part taking pictures was no problem and all I had to do was ask Rick if it was good or not. I was fine with this arrangement as I wanted to hold onto my camera and not have it stolen or piss anyone off that didn’t want their area or picture taken. A little while after the tracks we walked down a section of the slum that I would describe as a kind of merchant street. There were vendor shacks on all sides selling pretty much everything and some very good smelling food. Which was tempting as we were hungry by this point but for safeties sake we abstained from eating in Kibera. I did see samosas so it was truly difficult not buying those. Everything seemed to be edible enough. This merchant section was quite interesting and it was nice to see that things here run pretty much the same as all other towns we visited, just a little different and more cramped.
While walking and talking with Rick the normal get to know you talk came up. We were asked how long we’ve been married, what we did back home, if we had kids or not. Every time we say we have no kids in Africa people look at us with something between shock and sympathy. Apparently we should have kids by now. We asked Rick a bunch of the same questions and this is when we learned how great of a guy he is. As you already know he works at Wildebeest whenever he can. He lives in Kibera, where he has been for the past 5 years or so if I remember correctly. He moved here with his Father (to work in Nairobi but live in more affordable housing) but now lives with a brother in a different house in a neighbouring section of Kibera. His mother lives out in the country and they send money back to her and the family out there to take care of children and other family members. To top off the person that is Rick, he is a devoted, yet modern thinking, Christian and has adopted a little girl that he found abandoned on the street. He has had this little girl since she was very small and she knows him as dad. She lives out in the country with his mother and he sees her every few months or so. It is quite a story and I haven’t covered it all here.
A short while later Rick took us to our first official stop of the tour, a one room school house. This was an amazing stop and we spent quite a while there and Lindsay could have stayed and played all day. The school is about 3 metres wide by about 9 metres long which for Kibera seemed quite large but once inside you realize how small it actually is. Our stop began with a rehearsed greeting from the school children that the teacher led. It was a sort of sing-song in the style of Simon Says. Teacher would chant I’m Jumping, I’m Jumping then all the kids would take up the chant and of course start jumping. Then it would change to sitting, clapping, and so on. It was adorable, completely rehearsed, but still adorable. I’ve got a bit of it recorded and the video will come along in the videos section eventually. After our big introduction we headed to the front of the room to learn about the school from the teacher. While doing so we sat on the front bench with the littlest children and played while talking. There was a lot of arm stroking – them touching us since we’re hairy and weird coloured- and this fun new one we learned where you make a fist pop your thumb out and then push our thumb against someone else doing the same thing. It’s a sort of “high 5” or “fist bump” African style. So we thumb bumped pretty much every single child while we spoke with the teacher about the school. At one point some of the kids were so exuberant in trying to get closer to us that the whole first bench fell over. After a short stint of crying everyone was all right. It was cute and funny.
The teacher Margaret Otieno was a very nice, albeit tired looking, woman in her early thirties. She is the head teacher of the school which by the way is called God’s Mercy Academy. As it turns out they have to rent the space for the school which is also a local Sunday worship space. The church helps them to afford the rent along with the very small fees they charge for attendance to the school. The school has kids from around 1 year old (which are just there for a daycare equivalent) up to the end of middle school I believe. While we were at the school there seemed to be about 30 – 40 kids spanning that age range. There are 3 or 4 other teachers that work on and off and she makes sure get paid. Margaret on the other hand doesn’t seem to have taken any pay in quite a long time. The school just barely stays afloat. As with many other parts of Africa there is an Aids problem in Kibera. Many of the children at the school and around in Kibera have Aids and need medicine or have been abandoned and need someone to care for them. Margaret herself is single-handedly trying to save them it would seem as she has adopted and takes care of 9 kids!, most of which are HIV+
Lindsay and I also learned that the school is in desperate need of learning materials. Everything from pens and pencils to more importantly text books on all subjects. They also need money for rent. We’re not exactly confident in sending money to people we just met in Africa but we have started a book drive for this specific school. So if you’re interested in donating some books or money that we will use to buy some books and ship them to Kenya please get in touch with myself via email [email protected] Rick is going to be our go between and we’ll ship things to him and he’ll make sure it makes it to the school as he sees it quite regularly.
Finally our time at the school came to an end and we decided to move on. Next on the ticket was a trip to Rick’s father’s house. So off we went winding our way through Kibera, I’m amazed Rick has it all memorized as we’d get stuck I’m sure. Check out the rest of the day in our next post, coming soon…