A family in the slums of Mukuru.
The people live in tightly packed, ramshackled houses made of wood and metal and sit out front to sell things to those who pass by. Some sold inexpensive things to eat while others sold secondhand clothes or shoes to wear. Nothing seemed new or of any real value. Nobody seemed to laugh or smile.
The streets of the Mukuru slum.
We crossed over a wooden bridge under which ran a dirty river that was filled with trash. This river was the people's source for water. This river was used for drinking, bathing, washing clothes and also as a drain for toilets. We walked along the dirt roads between the simple houses and where met with stares from the people. We could have been aliens from another planet. It was not often that a mzungu (white person) would visit the slums. Occasionally children would come out to greet us with their smiles and laughter. They seemed to be the only ones whose spirits were not effected by this place. There was a narrow canal dug into the roadside only about six inches deep that contained an awful smelling sludge. This canal was the plumbing and sewage system. In most areas the sewage would not drain, but only sat stagnant baking in the sun. It was strongly recommended to us earlier that we wear shoes, not sandles and now we knew why. In some areas the canal would overflow spilling sewage onto the open street.
As we made our way through the Mikuru slum I felt compelled to take pictures but in a place like this it's always a risk. I wanted to take pictures so that I could remember this moment, but also so that I could show everybody back home the desparate situation in Africa. I took a few pictures as discretely as I could knowing that nearly every eye on the street was pointed at me. When taking a picture of a specific person it is always important to ask permission first. Many don't want their picture taken or will want money in return. Not only can taking pictures in the slums offend some of the residents, but also having a nice camera can show that you are wealthy and you can be mugged.
Mukuru Primary School grounds.
Mukuru Primary School Classroom.
Children and I at Mukuru Primary School.
At some point on our tour, Maria brought us to the Mukuru Primary School. It is an elementary school that exists right in the middle of the slums. We stepped through a metal doorway and the crowded slums opened up into a large school ground with children laughing, running and playing. If the slums were a desert, this primary school was the oasis. Once again we were surrounded by many children wanting to shake our hands and ask, "How are you?" We were taken, by a young man named Gasper, into nearly every classroom where we introduced ourselves and the children looked at us in amazement. The children that were unsupervised jump out of their desk and ran to the front of the classroom. We were celebrities. It was a very enjoyable moment in sharp contrast to only moments before.... It was very hard to believe that we were still in the slums.
People walk along the railroad tracks in the Kibera slum.
Kibera is argueably the largest slum in Africa. Although it is hard to determine exactly how many people live in any slum it is estimated that 1 million people live in Kibera. I was told my second week here that comedian and Saturday Night Live Alum, Chris Rock, was in Kibera at the time and was shocked by the level of poverty he saw. We had the opportunity to visit a school in Kibera that had a small library on the second floor where we could look out over the slum. It took our breath away to see the vast number of rusty, metal roof tops from the houses that seem to go on forever. If we looked closely we could see men, women, and children in the distance walking down the dirt paths between them. For another glimpse at what this very large slum looks like, there is a scene in the movie, The Constant Gardener, that was filmed in Kibera. Kibera can be recognized by the train tracks that run though it.
Some questions I asked while I was there are, "Who owns the land that the slums are on?", "How do the people come to live in the slums?", and "Do people ever move out of the slums?"
What I was told was that the land the slum is on is owned by the government. The land was inspected and was found to be unsuitable for building or any other use and that was when the slum was built. The poorly constructed houses in the slums were also built by the government. The people in the slums actually pay rent to the government to live there. The people are tenants and the government is the landlord. The slums are treated by the government like highly profitable business. Although the conditions are very bad, many of the people that live there are reluctant to move out for fear that somebody else will take their place. If they moved out and had to move back they might have to live in a house that is much worst then the one they had before. There also might not be any space available to move back.
So it seems like a hopeless situation at the moment. But hopefully as people from other countries continue to visit the slums and make them known to the rest of the world through awareness and many prayers a change will occur.