Kayole, Kibera and lots of Totos

Jambo Jambo everyone from Nairobi! Once again it has been a rather overcast week here in the highlands, but I have faith since we have had two sunny days this week! For all the Kenyans this weather is freezing, but as a Brit, its a normal English summer spent without sun and some rain, pretty standard. So this week has been quite exciting, lots of adventures to report, starting with another trip to Kayole slums outside of Nairobi on Tuesday. Most of the staff went, so it was rather a big day out for us all together, and we were interviewing some people for a project. I was surprisingly asked to be on the panel, and we spent about 5 hours interviewing, with a lunch break and then meetings afterwards. I have been able to visit Kayole a few times now, and have gotten to know some of the Kiva clients there, who are so welcoming and fast becoming friends. I also love all the kids who follow me around with their whispers of ‘mzungu‘ and ‘hello how are you’, one little brave toto (Swahili word for ‘kid’) even came up to me and wrapped his arms around my legs with a big smile and runny nose saying ‘Jambo mzungu’. With all the attention and waving I had to do, I told the ANK staff I felt like the ‘Britney Spears of Africa’ which gave them all a giggle.

The staff also thought it was hilaroius that I should want beans and vegetables for lunch; now, I am not a vegetarian per se but I don’t eat a lot of red meat, however the Kenyans LOVE meat here and eat it practically everyday. So for them it was very strange that I should pass on their nyoma choma (barbecued red meat). So for all of you vegetarians out there, be warned before coming to Kenya! There are butcher shops everywhere, all with huge carcasses of animals dangling rather disturbingly in the front windows!

That then brings me to Wednesday, which was a pretty nondescript day except for my bus journey home. Now the buses here are quickly becoming my nemesis. There is just no physical way, in this known universe, to be on time for work. Regardless of how early I might get to the bus stop, I could be waiting for 45 minutes (as is usually the case) or five minutes like I was lucky enough to this morning. So on Wednesday I plop into my seat on the bus and begin the supposedly 10 minute journey back into town. About 20 minutes later the jam is crazy (they call traffic jams, just ‘jam’ here, so imagine my confusion in my first few days here, when everyone kept talking about how bad the ‘jam’ was! I kept thinking they were talking about the raspberry variety!) Anyway, so I am sitting on the bus when the lady behind me starts making some rather unnerving noises. Then the plastic bag comes out. I don’t think I really need to go into any more detail there. Lets just say after 40 minutes of that, I hopped off the bus asap and walked into town. Another typical day!

That night I was also lucky enough to go to an awesome Italian restaurant. Now I know that is lame, considering I am in Kenya and should be partaking in all the great food here, but the only part of me that ever gets homesick is my stomach and I really have to have some home comfort foods now and again. So I indulged in some of the best spinach and ricotta ravioli ever and went to bed with a full happy belly!

That brings me up to August 2nd, Thursday, which was to be my first visit to the infamous Kibera slums finally. I was a bit nervous about going, but also excited to meet all the Kiva clients there. Myself and another ANK staff member took a matatu (party on a bus) and then another bus to get to Kibera which is about 20 minutes from Nairobi. As the bus pulled up, I could see what looked like another town; paved roads lined with shops and vegetable kioks, cars, bikes, houses, pretty standard stuff really. We disembarked and walked into the city; down some roads and met a Kiva client, then continued along the road deeper into Kibera. This was where the paved roads ended and the dirt track began. Kibera is hilly, set amongst some rolling hills that are actually quite pretty, and it allows you to see the rooftops of the slums and get some notion of how vast this area is. I stumbled down some muddy ‘stairs’ and we continued to visit clients. How anyone can know where they are going is beyond me, I would have been lost in 5 seconds had I been on my own, since obviously there are no signposts and new shacks and buildings are going up all the time as the population grows.

As we walked deeper into Kibera, this was where is became more ‘slummy’ (if that is a word!) there was literally mountains of garbage, with goats and dogs picking at the leftovers, most of the ‘houses’ are tin roofed shacks that don’t look like they could survive the slightest tremour or storm, and the smell is funky to say the least. However, Kibera definitely has a different ‘flavor’ than the other slum areas I have visited, its almost like its own micro country, its really hard to describe, but to be honest it was not quite as bad as I was dreading, I think Kiambiu is a bit worse. People are able to have televisions and refrigerators,(although the electricity is illegally tapped off of the main grid by middlemen, who charge the people living in the slums money for an inconsistent supply of power) however sometimes the power company gets fed up every few months and just cuts them off.

The people are so friendly, and the little totos were running around chanting ‘hello how are you’ in chorus. It makes for a very interesting day out of the office. Although don’t get me wrong it is extremely depressing at the same time since you have to wonder how can all these people ( no one really knows how many people there are in Kibera, some might estimate one million) ever be pulled out of poverty to lead a healthy life that they deserve. Its quite disheartening, but at the same time I am in my idealistic phase of life, and I really believe that micro finance is our best weapon in the fight against poverty, helping people to help themselves; rather than just throwing money at governments then to have it disappear.

Oddly enough, Judy, the ANK Project Officer who took me to Kibera, told me that most of the people living there are not really that poor. Why would they choose to live that way then? And the answer is largely that its sooo much cheaper to live in the slums than in a formal estate- trust me when I say Kenya is not as cheap as I was expecting, I am struggling to pay my rent! So people just decide to stay. I have been in homes where they have full on entertainment systems, despite the fact they live in what I guess could be called a mud house!

So thats about enough of my ramblings, today I have another visit to Kibera planned to meet some more of the clients then hopefuly tonight attending a barbecue where I will partake in some nyoma choma! So, until next week, baadaye!

(Will try and upload some photos later, the internet is being so slow at the moment!)


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