The following is an introduction to the photos and should be read before seeing them. I had to wait until I was almost 83 until my boyhood dream to visit Africa came true.
I went to Nairobi on the invitation of Kibera Hamlets Youth Director, John Adoli who introduced a Mural project with the message of peace between the different tribes. The hamlets Teacher, Mercy Ondisa, picked me up in a taxi from the airport and took me to the ‘Jamhuri Youth Hostel’ where I stayed for a week. The Hostel was “across the Railroad track” from the slum where 250,000 people (I was told 100,000 of those were orphans), live in tin sheds without running water, electricity or toilets, and which I spent exploring for the following days.
Coming from the city, the transition is gradual, Commerce is conducted on the roads leading to the slum, and the photos show the activities in their environment. I spent hours talking to the trades people and sharing shoptalk. These are not to be confused with businesses in the City of Nairobi which are modern and similar to ours, but I had not much time to explore what I saw was from a bus or taxi, the latter being very expensive. I saw many pictures of the slums on the internet but nothing can prepare you for the life altering experience of being there, feeling with all your senses the poverty of the most profound kind, interacting with the people who are born and raised under those conditions.
We walked through a maze of narrow pathways, between structures made with sticks, mud and “mabati” (corrugated iron). The smell of unfamiliar food, garbage and charcoal cook fires, were challenging. Garbage is piled up everywhere and the sewage runs under boards, sometime sticks, whereever we went.
Kibera has been described as a dangerous and crime-ridden place, I found it the opposite, and I know it has a lot to do with the kindness of my companions: John, Fred, and Mercy, who introduced me as “their” guest. Everyone, without exception was friendly, welcoming, and no one asked me for tips or money. I felt completely safe at all times.
What amazed me most was how well dressed everyone was, how clean they were and again how friendly and willing they were to share their stories and information.
For lunch and dinner we took a mini-bus to a modern shopping centre, where each restaurant had a sales person trying to "sell" their food. Some locals and westerners found this annoying, but I found it amazingly entertaining. What stood out were their exceptionally good French fries and that their ‘Diet Coke’ tastes way better than ours. For $8.00, you receive a good, full meal.
The organization, Kibera Hamlets, who took care of me during my stay in the slum, has an amazingly good track record of achievements under the circumstances, unfortunately their school and administration centre, which was deep in the slum, burned down and they are struggling to get funding to rebuild. I recommended they purchase their own property on the outskirts of the slum, they loved the idea so - I am - that is, we are, contemplating helping them in this endeavour. The challenge will be to raise about $15,000 to purchase the property and about the same for the building.
In preparation for my visit to Africa I searched the internet and came across a most amazing project by Nani Cross who has lived in Africa for over 45 years and has built an Artisan Village called Kitengela Glass.
It is located adjacent to the Nairobi National Park, at the end of a rough road. Despite this, the constant stream of visitors from all over the world never stops. Nani and her husband Erick invited me to stay with them in their magical place for a week. All their buildings are built in ‘adobe style’ with glass and bottles. When I woke up in the morning, I looked up at the ceiling, which was inset with glass panels, the monkey were dancing outside, and I was sure I woke up in an “Artists Paradise”. Needless to say it was the extreme opposite of Kibera and healed my soul from what I had experienced the week before. Nani’s latest ambition is to build an “Accredited Glass School”; she personally donated the property and is looking for partners.