Change Yourself…Change The World.

Slums & Decadence, all in one day
February 5, 2011, 2:01 am
Filed under: Kenya, Pictures Post

Dear friends,

Continuing my trend of writing about Kenya, I wanted to go back in time a little bit and talk about a day of complete and utter contrast: one bright and hot day sometime in October when my Kiva fellowship was nearing to a close, I decided to visit the Kibera slums, a literal 10 minute walk away from where I was staying at Wildebeest. Kibera is the second largest slum in all of Africa. Throughout my three months of traveling to a lot of rural areas in Nairobi to meet with Kiva clients, I had never had the opportunity to visit Kibera, and so I decided that the time had come.

For those readers who are unaware of what slums are, they are generally an extremely densely populated area with sub-standard housing (most houses consist of small rooms with dirt floors, made by scrap pieces of corrugated iron), and are a type of informal settlement. According to the United Nations, slums are usually characterized by high rates of illiteracy, poverty, and  unemployment. Slums can also be defined as unhygienic, rampant with disease and some without proper access to toilets (or sharing one with many other neighbors), running water, and full of garbage.

Yet while a lot of affluent people balk at the thought of houses with dirt floors and tin roofs, many people that live in slums love their lifestyle and fondly call it their home, opting to live there by choice rather than move into a nicer dwelling. Their neighbors are friends who watch out for each other, their children grow up right next to each other, and many feel quite safe and secure living within such a tight-knight community.

I spent the morning walking through Kibera, which are chock full of narrow alleyways paved by trash piled on top of each other until they turned as muddy and as brown as dirt. Women and men peeped their heads around doorways, yelling ‘mzungu!’ (white person) as I passed, and half-naked children in torn clothing followed me around chanting over and over again the only English phrase they knew: “How are you? How are you? How are you? How are you?” I found this downright hilarious.

After walking around Kibera in the morning, one of the poorest areas in Nairobi, I then ascended upon the most dissimilar and expensive area of the city, Gigiri: home to the United Nations, a variety of embassies, and the nicest and largest mall in East Africa, The Village Market.

A friend of mine liked to call it ‘a little slice of the USA,’ but some malls in the US don’t even compare to how extravagant this mall is. This is the thing about Kenya that really threw me off. Growing up, all I knew about Africa was what I saw from ads on television: severely malnourished and starving children in torn and ragged clothes. When I grew older and started reading books on development, I spent a lot of time learning about the problems of Africa: war, poverty, HIV/AIDs, disease, starvation. I knew from travel experience that this was not the entire picture of what Africa as a continent was- but with that being said, I was completely unprepared for the decadence of Nairobi. Huge and lavishly decorated malls boasting movie theaters, food courts, coffee chains, and massive grocery stores the size of Walmart. Top-notch restaurants that served a huge variety of cuisine, whether French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Morrocan, Indian- even Tibetan?! Huge nightclubs, luxurious apartments- all surrounded by this poverty, malnutrition, and disease. Co-existing completely peacefully, right next to each other. Yes, Nairobi definitely threw me through a loop.

So I had decided to go to the Village Market because every Friday until 6:00 PM there is a huge market for traditional Kenyan artifacts, clothing, jewelry, paintings, and pretty much every single conceivably Swahili thing you can imagine. There are a variety of markets in Nairobi every week that sell these items, but the Village Market is by far the largest. And since I was in the way for Christmas gifts, I decided that this would be the best place to visit. Beforehand, I decided to treat myself to a fancy lunch at an Italian restaurant in the mall (conveniently two times the price of what it would cost in the USA- another thing about Nairobi? There are a LOT of conveniences from back home- but expect to pay anywhere from 3-10 times more for it here), and I pulled out my Kindle to read a book, marveling at the extreme polarity of my morning and afternoon. From trekking through garbage to reading from an electronic device and sipping sparkling water in an extravagant restaurant.

It’s hard not to feel guilt, sitting at a lavish table with a spotlessly clean white tablecloth while a waiter presents you with fresh ground pepper for homemade pasta. It’s hard to justify witnessing areas of extreme poverty where people don’t have access to water, toilets, or electricity, and then afterwards spending more money on one meal than another person makes in weeks. It’s becomes even harder to justify these ‘treats’ when you work in development and interact with people who have exceptionally less than you on a daily basis.

But one of my favorite passages from The Blue Sweater, a book by the wonderfully inspiring Jacqueline Novogratz, speaks to this and helps me keep some things in perspective:

“We lived with enormous privilege in all aspects of our lives. We had drunk fine wine at the French embassy’s parties and already had traveled the world. Most precious of all were our passports that would allow us to leave the country whenever we wanted and our sense of empowerment that led us to believe we could accomplish the impossible. The challenge wasn’t whether to buy a couple of bottles of champagne; it was instead not to take our privilege for granted and to use it in a way that served the world and our highest purpose.”

Check out Pictures here:

Kibera Slum

Communal toilets, donated by UNICEF

The Vuvuzela craze has definitely caught on in all parts of the world

On the outskirts of Kibera

My helpful guide and also Faulu Kenya borrower!

Sudden transition to the Village Market. This is what the inside of the mall looks like.

My decadent lunch

The Village Market’s weekly… village market.

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ミネトンカ 格安

Comment by チャンピオン ポロ

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