Sawa, Sawa

Jambo once again from cold Nairobi! I am going to start this blog talking about my trip to Kayole to visit some Kiva clients last Wednesday. Kayole is located about 30 minutes from downtown Nairobi, and is not really considered a slum, more of an ‘informal settlement’ whatever that really means. So we loaded up into the car and drove through the smoggy streets of the city. Driving through Kayole I was already struck about how different it was from Kiambiu-which is considered a real ‘slum’- Kayole had actual buildings, mostly flats, ambiguously piled on top of each other, but it was proper housing nonetheless. It also seemed a lot smaller, and was sort of its own village really, set amongst some fields a few miles from the city. I was able to meet about five Kiva clients, all of whom were so nice, and I actually got to spend the day with a lady called Monica who was so funny and kept looking with disgust at the state of my nails!(She runs a beauty school, and was far more smartly dressed than I!) Everyone was really friendly, and we even had lunch with some of the clients, although since everyone spoke in Swahili most of the time, I just grinned and drank my Fanta! But it was fun, since I felt like I got to know some of the people who benefit from the loans, rather than just interview them. Of course I got the usual ‘hello how are you’ from all the little children running around everywhere, but it was a fun day. I also met a Kiva client who makes clothes, and she had some wonderful Katenge’s (sort of like a Kenyan kaftan) so I might have to visit her again and place an order!

One of the issues I have been pondering a lot recently, is why, when I meet some of the clients who are doing well, don’t they move out of the slums into the various ‘estates’ around Nairobi. This is where the ‘catch 22′ of slum-living really maks a point; since its so much cheaper to live in the slums than the rest of the city, most people, even if they could move out, tend to stay. Also, there are apparantly some parts of Kibera where people do not pay any rent at all, and so that helps explain, why despite the terrible conditions, people keep moving in. Yet one of the viscious aspects of this, is that it is difficult to have a profitable business in the slums, even if you wanted to charge just a few shillings more for the products you serve/offer, people would not pay it, since they know they can get the same old cheap price from someone else. I met a lady the other day, who complained how expensive for her it is to buy her beans and maize to sell, since she sells a plate of food for Ksh 25 (about 39cents). So I asked, her, why don’t you sell your food for more? And she gave me the reply I have heard over and over again, which is no one would pay more. Then I thought, why not sell your wares outside of the slums? And of course this is not so easy, since that would mean you have to lug all your gear; pots and pans, sacks of food, a pretty far distance into the city. It justs not worth it.

So after my visit to Kayole, I ended up spending the weekend camping with some wazungu friends near to Lake Magadi, which is a few hours southwest of Nairobi, towards the border with Tanzania. Lake Magadi is a soda lake, and absolutely reeks of sulphur, but the flamingos were cool! It was really nice to get out of the city, breathe some fresh air, and relax, although the appearance of a cobra snake on Saturday night was not so conducive for a relaxing sleep, but makes for some good campfire stories! The area where we camped is also Maasai country, and although it wasn’t a National Park or Reserve, it is considered communal land, where the Maasai are left to live their lives as they choose, with all their precious herds of cattle and goat which were constantly walking past our campsite!

So that basically brings me up to today, Friday July 26th, this week has been a bit slow, but tomorrow I am finally going to Kibera, where a lot of the Kiva clients are. This is one of the largest slums, probably in all of Africa, so I am sure I will have a lot to write about next week! So until my next riveting installment, Kwa Heri!


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