The Sights and Smells of Kibera – Nairobi, Kenya

Today a bunch of us were going to visit Geoff in town so we trekked to Karen jumped a matatu. We arrived into Adams and as Geoff wasn’t at java hut yet, I got to do a bit of email. When we did meet up, we walked through the market on the way to his house. The crowd of makeshift shacks were dingy and in bad condition. It smelled bad and the ground was really dirty but they were selling everything! Geoff said that if you ever get something stolen, come here and you can buy it back the next day. I really wanted to stop and shop. The clothes actually looked quite wearable. And 50 schillings…couldn’t go wrong really. The place was like a huge dump maze. Some covered with large plastic sheets to promote rainy day shopping.

Geoff kept apologising for making us walk but I wondered why…walking is part of the culture and it wasn’t very far at all. We finally made it to his house which was small but neat and tidy. The house was humble but homey. There were rugs on the floor, many couches and chairs lining the wall with a small square table in the center. There was another off the side, obviously a serving table. There was no dining room so this room doubles for that as well.

We chatted and met the whole family. We met not his mum but his Aunt Lucy. I am not sure of all the dynamics and altho he did try to explain them, I had a little trouble following, as I do when it comes to relating relatives. It was so cool that she had a guest book. She has been so hospitable having visitors from all over the world. We were offered drinks and I told Geoff to surprise me and he brought fanta, coke and sprite. His cousin David came with Sam and we visited for a bit. We looked at photos (two plastic bags full) then I perused the very politically incorrect newspaper.

We sat around then went for a night walk. I was a bit nervous and didn`t really want to but went anyway. My shoes were not suitable (as I should have known when I stepped in a bit of mud on the way in) especially in the dark but I managed. I ended up hanging onto all three of the guys throughout the walk. I somehow kept my footing even through the massive dirt potholes and rubbish.

It was pitch dark as there were no streetlamps. The only light was coming from the little box stores some lit by candles, some by kerosene lamps. Selling all from meat to fruit to bread to cigarettes. There were little bars and hair salons. It was really only 7-ish but it seemed later considering how dark it was. There was a buzz and it was an exciting energy.

Geoff was buying some things (sugar and bread??) as we studied our surroundings. There was a little boy in his mums arms and as we passed, he yelled out a loud “Hi how are you!” in absolute perfect English. He didn`t sound like a baby at all. I was startled by the size of the kid but and it must have been apparent in my response.

So we ambled along to the tracks on our way to the shantytowns. UN just named Kibera the biggest, most dangerous slum in the world. And we were walking in it in the dark. It smelled a cocktail of rotting rubbish mixed with the plumes of burning garbage smoke. There were lights dotting the darkness and through it I could make out faint outlines of the shabby shanties. It reminded me of the townships in South Africa.

We walked along the train tracks quietly. I clutched the guys` shoulders as I balanced on the rails trying to keep my bare sandaled feet out of danger. There was broken glass and “flying toilets” that may or may not be present in the sea of trash. The only other time I have seen this amount of trash and smelled this stink was when I was in the garbage dump. And people lived here right in the middle of it. A lawn of litter and broken glass flowers. Shit stained walkways of stenches and sours. I could sense the raw edge of desperation altho I didn`t feel unsafe. But then when do I.

The train goes by at 6am and 5pm. No roads in and no roads out. We went into a small store and got the rest of the groceries. Beside it there was a small pub with a TV and the wall was lined with people watching it from the outside. We thought there was something going on like some sports event or exciting newscast but it was just normal broadcasting.

I asked how safe I would be here by myself and Geoff didn`t reckon very. A small kerosene lamp lit up a tired looking mother, her breast hanging out nursing her baby with her small tattered blanket shop displaying fruits for sale. Next door to her was a couple of old men in front of a rusty grill covered crude drum roasting cobs of maize over the dancing flames.

We went back to Geoffs house and immed on arrival he and I both realized he had left one of the bags on the shelf of the store. He raced back and got it. It was still there. I went and explored the house a bit. The kitchen was small and narrow but had a fridge and stove. I didn`t noticed the stove until later tho as I was drawn into the backyard. Here there was laundry hung across separating the small rectangular cement pad with the banana treed garden…well, that is, compost I guess. It is where they throw all the scraps for the wild cats in the area. Needless to say, I wouldn`t want to walk back there.

I sat and chatted in the back area with Susanne while we cooked together. I stirred the large pot which was over a single gas flame. I was sitting on a small low bench thingy and the mixture of vegetables kept spitting on me. She added spice after spice and we talked about marriage traditions and other ways of life in Kenya.

We mixed green peppers, onions, tomato, spinachy stuff with beef type bouillon, ginger, soya sauce, 5 spice mix, and then added chicken and potatoes. The mashed green bananas with the crushed peanut sauce was divine and chapati rounded it off. Banana for desert as we all chatted. The whole family ate together and although supper took ages, it was so tasty. David came late anyway so we didn`t end up leaving until 11-ish.

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