Continuing on from my last blog, I believe I was talking about my adventures last Wednesday, which would have been July 11th. Firstly, one thing I would like to discuss was my bus ride that morning. I waited for 45 minutes to get on a bus, because they were all full. So imagine my delight when FINALLY a bus let me on! I sat in the last row of the bus, and settled into the quick 10-minute journey to ANK. Upon reaching the hospital stop though, this seemingly smooth bus ride turned into a roller coaster at Disneyworld, as the bus was pulling through the bus stop I was being bounced at least 1 foot up into the air! Gripping onto the seat in front for dear life, this ordeal lasted a good 15 seconds, yet unlike a ride at DisneyWorld, this was not a barrel of laughs, but at least it was a much cheaper thrill! So after that eye-awakening start to the day, I realized one important thing; don’t sit at the back of the bus!
Wednesday was also my first field visit, to meet some of the Kiva clients in the Kiambiu slums, and if my map skills serve me correctly, Kiambiu is located on the eastern side of Nairobi- also known as ‘Eastlands’. I have visited slum ‘areas’ before, and therefore thought I might be mentally prepared for what I was going to see, however, walking through the slums and meeting the people was a very different experience.
We parked the car in a churchyard, since it was safer, – there was an askari (private security guard, of which there are an estimated 100,000 in Nairobi- even the coffee shops downtown have askari) we then walked up the road to the entrance of Kiambiu. Walking past a few vegetable and fruit stalls, you then cross a bridge over mysteriously grey-colored stream; presumably it was that odd color due to the garbage and pollution everywhere. Then you enter the area where the houses are, with stray dogs lying everywhere, and children playing in the paths. The people of the slums are used to seeing mzungus (a white person) since a lot of other NGO’s, charities and international organizations work amongst them, however, it is still fun for the children, and they come up to you, with their big inquisitive eyes and runny noses, shouting ‘ hello how are you!!’ to which I replied, ‘ fine, how are you?’ Some of the braver youngsters ran up to me and shook my hand, whilst a few of them simply followed us around.
Walking through the main ‘street’ of Kiambiu was almost like an out of body experience, I mean you know what to expect when you hear the word ‘slum’; dirty roads, open sewage, rickety houses built of mud mixed with cement and held up with timbers; but it is still surreal. The burning rubbish gives out a rancid stench that sits in your throat, and the smoke stings your eyes, as you try to stay upright dodging huge holes in the dirt paths, with people staring at you the whole time. All I could think of was how unfair it was that people had to live like this, especially when you see the small toddlers playing with rubbish along the roads, and massive amounts of guilt for the life that I am lucky enough to lead at home. Simple things we take for granted; access to clean drinking water, free education, simply knowing that we will have dinner tonight; these things are not guaranteed for the people of the slums. Even something as commonplace as street lighting- recently there has been a project running in Nairobi called ‘Adopt a Light’, whereby local businesses sponsor lights to go up by advertising on them, and in return the people of the slum areas get lighting, which has helped improve security.
I was able to meet a few Kiva clients in Kiambiu and also sit in on a meeting of a credit group. Women seem to be the main beneficiaries of micro credit, and it seems a lot of this is down to the fact that many of these women are left to run the household and bring in money, whilst their husbands often look for casual work in the industrial areas of Nairobi. Women have proven themselves to be trustworthy and reliable as loan recipients, sorry I do not mean to be sexist, but this does seem to be the general trend. Consequently it is the women who have often organized themselves into ‘Merry Go Round’ Groups, like a rotating credit fund, to pull together their resources, improve their businesses, and therefore provide for their children.
As we walked away from the slums, I was chatting to one of the ANK staff, who informed me that Kibera – the largest and most infamous of the Kenyan slums- is actually worse. Worse? I thought, how could anything be worse than that! But apparently Kiambiu is actually relatively clean and organized, whilst Kibera there are houses everywhere, right next to each other leaving no space for paths, or to allow for some sort of basic drainage system. Next week we are planning to visit Kibera, and I have to admit that I am anxious about it.
Sunday July 15th
By the weekend, I was ready for a bit of a relax, and maybe out to get some ‘Western’ grub, although I am loving the food here, its always nice to have a taste of home. So on Sunday, whilst most Kenyans attended church, I went to the Sarit Center in search of Harry Potter and pasta! So I braved the infamous matutus and made my way to the shopping center- the matatu was not that bad- I like to call them ‘party on a bus’ since they blast out loud African music and are crammed with young people.
Much to my delight I found both Harry and pasta! So I purchased my ticket to see the latest installment, selected my seat- you are assigned a seat in the cinemas here- and then spent a glorious hour at the food court devouring my pasta and Mexican salad (one of those salads in a big taco shell, which really surprised me to see, kind of random to find in the middle of East Africa!) I wandered around the shopping center, and then the time finally came for HP, which was awesome, and a nice treat to have, despite the fact I blew my daily budget for it, it was worth it!
Now that brings me up to today- Wednesday- and after a few days of tremors it seems there has been an earthquake over the border in Tanzania- nothing bad but still a little unsettling, especially since last night after a tremor at about 9pm I convinced myself that the ceiling in my room was going to collapse! But luckily I woke up, sans ceiling collapse, just another day in crazy Kenya!
That’s about it from me in Nairobi for now- I will have more adventures (and misadventures!) to report later on in the week; after a field visit to Kayole, a slum area outside of Nairobi, so, until then, Kesho ( tomorrow)!