I sat for 30 minutes trying to think of the right words to describe today, and I’m still not sure quite how, but here is my best attempt.
I shared oatmeal & bananas with my new roommate and we spoke about our expectations, worries, and fears. Having both traveled to relatively many places, we started to build a mental image; shacks, mud, waste and a large crowd.
We arrived in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi and one of the largest in the world, just after 9 am, and man, was it alive! People working, walking, talking, running, bustling, hustling. Everywhere you looked there was a new item to buy or a new car to avoid. There was an energy about the place, a certain atmosphere, and emotion which I spoke at length about with a Professor that accompanied me. Happiness. Everyone was smiling, everyone had a purpose. Of course, as Fred our driver told us, a lot of the people who live there turn to alcohol and drugs due to ‘life frustrations,’ yet the image we were shown was one of hope and opportunity. Everyone dressed impeccably, their clothes spotless and their houses scrubbed clean, despite the rivers of human waste and large mounds of mud and rubbish which stray dogs sniffed around in delight. In the middle of the slum was a train track, which looked old and unused, until we heard the distinct horn and saw the smoke from the chimney as it chugged past us. Incredibly unsafe, but an incredible site.
Next, Mathare. By now, the mood represented the sky… gray and cloudy. The general vibe was solemn, everyone was tired, upset, and unsure of what to say. We approached the second slum and already it felt less clean, less vibrant, less welcoming. The classrooms were of a lower quality, and I felt envious of the other group’s relatively top-notch facilities.
The day ended with a trip to Yaya market, a walk back in the dark, and a quick omelet with a Tusker beer while we prepped tomorrow’s first day of teaching.