On Tuesday afternoon, a coworker and I decided to catch a bus the next morning and head to Nairobi for a few days away. And by bus I really mean: A bus, walking across the border, a lot of harassment and bargaining, 1 large van, and a taxi. After 14 hours of traveling and a hit and run with a man on a motorcycle (Yes, we hit him with the van and kept driving), we had arrived at our ‘hostel’. We stayed in one of the nicest campsites ever: Wildebeest Eco Camp. The tents aren’t your typical ones, as they are large luxury ones with beds inside. We had booked a dorm, but they ended up being full so we were upgraded to our own private tent – no complaints there!
After a good night’s sleep we headed out
on our first adventure – the Kibera Slums. Our guide, Joshua, was born and raised there. He led us through narrow walkways, and I spent most of my time watching my steps as to avoid sewage, mud, and trash, which was impossible. As I slid my way down hills, dodging people, and waving hello to the children yelling, “mzungu how are you!” in a chorus of giggles, Joshua told us all about his home. Kibera is located right in the city of Nairobi, home to over 1 million residents, making up one fourth of Kenya’s entire population. It’s the largest slum in Kenya, and the second in the entire continent of Africa. The smell was distracting, as each breathe I took contained waves of trash, pollution, and sewage. The children were welcoming, excited, and eager to say hello to us. But with adults, I felt hesitant to say anything. It’s difficult to know what the appropriate thing to do is when we both know the reality of it all, and how far our differences divide us. As we crossed a narrow bridge, a dying woman was sandwiched between two women half helping, half dragging her as they ran across. Her face was filled with pain, and I tried to avoid making eye contact with any of them. Joshua explained how far away the one hospital in the slum is, and how most sick people never make it there in time. As I looked out from the bridge I could see children in the extremely polluted and trash-filled water, splashing one another and laughing. Usually when I’m around extreme poverty, I find relief with the children. At least they find entertainment, even if it is in a muddy river. But this was different. These kids wouldn’t know how important they were, and they probably wouldn’t ever get out of the slums. I was ashamed and horrified by how much I had been blessed with, and how little these children were.
Eventually we arrived at a modern two-floor building that offered laundry services,
toilets, internet, and showers for 5 Kenyan Shillings (10 cents). In the lobby, beautiful artwork hung all around the walls. We learned that they were done by resident children, selling them in order to pay their school fees. I bought a beautiful painting done by a 16-year old boy named Joseph for $70. While I thought the center had the right idea, attempting to change the lives of the slum, I couldn’t help but wonder how much good it could really do when most of the community can’t afford to go there. We continued along until we reached the office of the Kibera Community Empowerment Organization, where Joshua informed us of all KCEO does. KCEO runs a recycling program, where residents can go out and collect plastic and be brought to them to sell, where they have a machine that crushes the plastic and creates building materials. He also showed me a binder explaining every topic you can think of, from anti-corruption to sex education to personal hygiene. These are taught in a youth behavioral change program. Joshua is one of the co-founders of KCEO and it was moving to see his passion. He has been able to set up a local organization that was making a real difference in his community. His story was inspiring and gave me a sense of hope. If he could make such a change, so could others. After returning back to our hostel we reflected on what we had seen that day. I’ve experienced rural poverty before, and it’s always been difficult for me to put into words. I’ve constantly struggled with how to make people at home understand that this isn’t just something you see on TV. But this time was even harder to grasp, and as I tried to write in my journal I wasn’t even sure myself what I was feeling.
The next day was a day full of tourist activities, and I was more than okay with that. We started in the morning for the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – Kenya’s haven for orphaned elephants. It was incredibly muddy and rainy, but once we saw the elephants it made it all worth it. We arrived in time for their feeding, where their keepers lead them out into a ring. We watched along with many other people as the elephants devoured their bottles before running around and playing. They came bounding over to us, let us pet them, and one even attempted to pull my hood off of my head, resulting in him spraying me with mud and water. I was covered and soaked, but couldn’t stop myself from smiling. Anyone who knows me at all knows how skeptical I am about tourist attractions like these and how the animals are hurt from this much interaction with humans. However, this organization seems to be one of the good ones. After a certain age the elephants don’t participate in these feeding viewings, and are reintroduced to the wild, but it’s a long and hard process and a lot of times babies are rejected by other herds. The Wildlife Trust rescues them from all over the country, and works hard to promote anti-poaching and education on the effects it has on these animals. Our next stop was the Giraffe Center, where we were able to feed and kiss some resident giraffes! The kiss was a little gross, but an experience for sure!
Finally, our driver recommended that we visit the Kazuri Bead Factory. We took a tour and learned how their jewelry was created. They make the clay on site, and then there are multiple stations. The first is where women shape the clay, each by hand with little to no molding or shaping tools, and leave them to dry for days, sometimes weeks depending on how large the item is. Next, they are each painted individually by hand and put over a fire for about 12 hours, before they are repainting and put back in the fire. The final step is to string them into beautiful bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and adorable animal figurines. They even make pottery, but that’s an even longer process. Of course by the end of the tour I was obsessed, and I still haven’t decided if I was lucky or unlucky that they accepted all major credit cards in their shop.
On my 23rd birthday, I woke up to the sound of rain on the roof of our tent. I bundled the covers around me and waited for an alarm to go off in the dark before starting our 14-hour journey home. I spent my birthday in two countries, with good company, and although the journey was hard and stressful at times, I was happy to have a few drinks back in Tanzania, and to be back in my bed at JBFC that night.
Wall mural with the word “peace” written in 42 different tribal languages
He loved this shovel!
Having a moment with the giraffe
Anna & I hanging out with this guy!
Kazuri Bead Factory
Some of the beads