So, I decided to not describe it and wait for my work here in Nairobi to start. Which, it did today.
Rose, who is Mwix's sister, works at Real Stars. Which as I've said before (although so long ago I will just update again) is an organization that sets up sponsorships in the slums in Nairobi. Most of the people working here are social workers, which is the kind of work that I will be doing. A couple days a week I will be in the offices, doing paperwork and updating their website, then a couple days a week I will spend in the slums, doing home visits and talking with the families.
Today, I did a little bit of both. In the morning I spent time on the slowest computer known to man, trying to update their newsletter for 2 months ago. One of the women I work with there, Nancy, just discovered today that it never got posted. So, to sum THAT up, it took about 10 minutes just to highlight the text in order to change the font that decided to constantly change on me. I think it's really good that I've come to help there though, because Nancy doesn't know many tricks on the computer which is why the website doesn't get updated very often. I think that updating this website is crucial, because there are less than 100 kids that they sponsor in the slums today, and more than 100 pending cases. And considering the way our world works these days, the best way to get information to mass amounts of people is through the internet. I can see how Nancy could lose patience (which results in losing interest) in updating their website, but I... being a younger and more involved member of that little thing called the World Wide Web, can swallow the impatience and teach her how to handle it better. So that hopefully she can keep current sponsors up-to-date, along with people who are curious about the organization. So after my computer crashed and I lost all the work I did, it was time to go to the slums (don't worry, tomorrow is a full day in the office so I will recover everything I worked on and get the website up to date... there was just no time today!)
So Nancy, another guy from Germany who's actually leaving tomorrow (forgot his name and I know that if I remembered it I would have no way of knowing how to spell it), and one more older man who was just visiting for the day named Daryl, and I went to Kibera. Kibera is very close to the office so we were able to walk.
It's hard to even begin explaining the affect this place has on you. To be honest, I don't even think I CAN describe it perfectly. The mixture of emotions that pass through you is similar to what I would imagine a spirit or ghost gliding through you must feel like. Its heartbreaking, sometimes scary. But the amount of beauty that lies inside the slums is alarming. I don't just mean the beautiful faces of the young, the old, the tired, the sick, but the true and absolute beauty that is inside the hearts of most of these people. Their kindness and devotion to helping each other leaves me speechless. The fact that these people have the least amount of everything you can imagine but want to share it with others is so intense. For example, the family we met with today is the family of Mama Faith. She has 6 kids of her own, and has taken in 4 others who are orphans. Mama Faith and the children's home is smaller than half the size of my room. Four of the kids are sponsored by Real Stars, but the family struggles to support the other six. Mama Faith said sometimes she has to make the choice between paying for food, or paying for the school fees. Her small amount of income comes from selling Mandazis (basically a doughnut) and peanuts. On weeks that she decides to pay for the school fees, its peanuts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On weeks that she decides to pay for food, the children get chased away from school.
Mama Faith was always smiling. She was constantly giving thanks for every single thing in her life. She served us chai, peanuts, mandazis, and even a plate of beans and corn for us to share. It was impossible for me to take this food, but at the same time it's an insult to deny it. So I took the smallest amount I could of mandazis and peanuts, and one bite of the gathare (the beans and corn).
She talked about how any time she is given anything in life, she must share it with others who need it. "Yes," she says, "I'm in need. But so are my brothers and sisters". She takes in kids off the street, even though she will struggle to support them, she has to help them.
This is the beauty I'm talking about. It's a heartbreaking beauty that I will never forget, and that I'm sure will continue to take me back here.
But, I will also take a moment to focus on the not so beautiful, almost scary sides of the slums. I went completely prepared, carrying no valuables and being on guard. Luckily Nancy was willing to take a camera so we could get some pictures of the family, but for a "Mzungu" like me, its very very unwise to take anything but myself into these areas. In fact, Daryl was in a different slum just last week and him and his group were attacked by 5 men with machetes (called Pengas) and knives and his camera and money were stolen. He wasn't injured at all, but he definitely warned against going there with anything that looks like it could be valuable. All of the locals are also aware of this, Nancy, being a Kenyan, said that the first time she came to Kibera she was completely lost and a group of men realized that she was out of place so they began following her. She immediately noticed and started talking to an old lady as if she knew her, so she avoided a bad situation. So it's really all about going in there aware. This made me slightly freaked out... but only for about 5 minutes. Then this strange thing happened, while I was walking down the dusty, dirty road, as I was thinking somewhat ridiculous things like, "what if that guy came up to me right now and robbed me", "oh that guys looking at me weird", "I just heard 'mzungu!'"! I was overcome with a calm feeling. I felt almost completely at ease, and the next person that said "MZUNGU HOWA YOU?" in what before I would interpret as an almost threatening tone under these circumstances, I said, "Mzuri sana, habari yako?" and he smiled a huge smile and said "Mzuri sana, karibu!" Translation: "Very good, welcome!".
This feeling of ease never left, and while of course I will always be aware of my surroundings and my belongings (the little that I'll ever bring the the slums), I won't let the fear I had for about 5 minutes stop me from the work that I came here to do. I will be careful, my safety is obviously extremely important to me and the people I'm working with, and probably to you, but I assure you... I will be fine. I think I've got a guardian angel on my shoulder these next few weeks :)... or something of the sort...
|Mama Faith and a few of the kids|
|Singing for us|
|Just a small amount of the large family|
|Outside the house|
I didn't get a photo of the whole of Kibera, but in case some of you don't really know what I'm talking about, I want to post a photo or two that I'll just simply grab off the internet to give you an idea of what this place is like.
|Welcome to Kibera, the second largest slum in all of Africa.|
|There are 13 villages within Kibera|
I could go on and on about facts that I'm learning about this particular slum, and I could go on and on about all the different kinds of help that they need, but I will have to save that for another time, perhaps even for when I get home.