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Kibera

Monday, March 1, 2010

It is said that if a visitor brings rain, it is a blessing. 

A long steady rain begins shortly after midnight, and I lay staring at the ceiling envisioning myself walking on the muddy walkways of Kibera. It is difficult to be grateful for rain. 

Kibera is considered the largest of slums in Africa. 500 acres located on the outskirts of Nairobi is a labyrinth of mud-walled structures capped with corrugated tin roofs each divided by narrow alleys that serve as walkways, toilets and garbage disposals. Depending on which study you read, the population ranges from 700,000 to 2.2 million. Those in Kibera believe there are more than 1 million. 

Because those who live here are squatters, the Kenyan government refuses to acknowledge them, leaving them without clean water, sanitation, sewerage, or security. 

As we enter Kibera, the road is wide, a handful of cars bring in products, worn buses take children into the city for school, street vendors, crowded on either side, sell anything from second-hand shoes to charcoal to vegetables, eggs, and even fish bones. Music blares from some of the stands which creates an almost festive feeling. There is a bustle of activity. Some head into town for work, men push wheel barrows laden with rocks, women carry barrels of water on their backs, and bread and chicken is fried in the streets. 

This area quickly gives way to unnervingly tight alleyways. Because of the rain, they are thick with mud, and the way is slippery. Each step has to be carefully navigated. I try not to consider the reality that I am walking through human waste, though it is impossible with its smell wafting through the air.

In the most rustic sense, there are churches, schools, clinics, community centers, clearings for gatherings, and movie theaters (a tv with vhs tapes) scattered through this slum. 

Homes consist of a single room, perhaps 10’ x 10’. Part is partitioned for their belongings, leaving half that space to be used as the living room, kitchen, and bedroom as the need demands. It is not uncommon for 14 family members to share this small space. If they can afford electricity, they have a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. Cardboard and fabric decorate the walls and strips of laminate flooring are used in an effort to protect them from the trash, mud, and rock foundation. They push the table and chairs, if they have those luxuries, out of the way and sleep side by side on the floor.

There are moments I believe I won’t be able to fight back the tears walking surrounded by this wretchedness, but I am amazed at the proud, determined and even smiling faces. These people have an unconscionable strength founded on their faith and hope that humbles me.