Trip Start Dec 02, 2007
9Trip End Dec 09, 2007
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to bed around 12, and didn't wake up until 10 when Vic called. I
feel sooo much better than I have since I got here. I wasn't
suffering too badly, but I'm just so much more refreshed and energetic
I realized that this is the furthest South I've ever
been - even further than Panama and Venezuela - kinda fun to think of
I did a quick, uninspired practice, then got
dressed. I was going to have a shower, but there wasn't any hot
water at the moment, so I went for lunch instead. After lunch, I
grabbed a cab and went to meet Vic, and her friend Tito. We took
a Matati (a local transit van..) to Mathare, the second largest slum in
Africa. It's only about ten minutes outside of the city centre,
well within the limits of the city. It was one of the most
amazing experiences of my life, exactly the kind of thing that I travel
On one side of Mathare is the most affluent
neighbourhood in Nairobi, where the President and senior politicians,
and some of the country's most wealthy people live. On the other
side is an air force base. In the middle, in an old gravel
quarry, is Mathare.
We arrived, and it wasn't immediately
apparent what the slum would be like. We walked along a dirt road
for a while, until we passed a soccer field and the police
station. The police station is home to many of the police
officers who were recently involved in the gang killings of the Mungiki
sect (as they call it here), or gang. We passed through some of the
houses where the killings took place, while Tito explained to me what
had happened. As he described it, the gang moved into Mathare a
while ago, and too control of a variety of services. It started
with the electricity and water, and moved to security.
Eventually, they wanted to control the illegal production of alcohol
(changai), which Mathare is known for. However, the production of
changai is moderated by the police through a series of bribes.
The people of Mathare were unwilling to allow changai to be controlled,
and the police weren't either. The Mungiki were beheading people
and even skinning them if they opposed their idea of 'security'.
Eventually, one of the gang members killed a police officer, which is
when the police then killed the majority of the gang.
Unfortunately, many civilians were killed in the process. Tito
told me that it was really the only way of getting rid of them, since
in Mathare, everyone is related or knows one another. Since the
gang was extremely coercive in getting people to join it, friend were
often forced into it, and therefore people were reluctant to do
anything about it, since it implicated their friends and family.
won't describe Mathare, since there are pictures that can do it more
justice. However, one thing that did surprise me was the
order. While there was garbage and animals all over the place,
people's front 'porches' or walks were clearly marked, and cleanly
swept. The real trouble at the moment was that the government had
cut off the water to the slum, so people were having a tough time of
it. Some people speculated that it was because of the upcoming
elections. Interestingly enough, Mathare is divided into three
voting areas, so that the community cannot vote en massed and control a
We then made our way down to one of the
schools. Vic, my tourguide for the day, is involved with a
charity that provides secondary school scholarships to graduates of the
informal local school. The difference between the informal and
formal school has a lot to do with funding and requirements. In
the formal schools, uniforms, socks, shoes, and lunches are
required. In the informal school, as long as the kids show up,
they can learn. A big improvement came in the learning process
when the school got sponsored by the World Food Programme, so the kids
got two meals a day. The results were dramatic in terms of the
children's ability to learn. The informal local school used
to be run out of some of the shacks, but a new school was recently
built with money from the Chinese embassy. Vic was super
impressed with thebuilding, as was I, particularly after they took me
to see the old classrooms, which were little more than shacks of
corrugated metal and cloth.
We spent a lot of time at
the school, some of which I spent with the kids. I was watching a
volleyball game, and two little girls came up to talk to me.
Elisabeth, 10, spoke nearly perfect English, and asked me about my
family and life in Canada. She was really darling.
Eventually she took my hair out of its elastic and petted me...my light
hair was really surprising to her. The girls also made fun of me
for my sharp nose, and joked that they were too scared to touch it
because it could cut their fingers. We had a good laugh at that
one. There were also lots of questions about my freckles, and why
I didn't have any children. After a while, it was time to go and
get a drink.
We walked through a predominantly Somali
neighbourhood, and over to a bar, where we had several beer and some
food. Vic and I ate some delicious guacamole with maize bread,
while the guys ate some goat. (To be honest, I'm glad I'm vegetarian,
given that the goats were outside eating garbage.)
I had a
great conversation with Tito, E and J. We talked about Fidel and
Che and Chavez and all the revolutionaries, and how Tito needed to lead
a revolution in Mathare. We had such a good time - we also
chatted about Kenyan politics, and the Chengai brewers. I felt so
safe in Mathare, and I found out why later. I learned that J was
a major player in the Mathare slum, and was in fact in charge of all
the brewers, the main source of income for virtually everyone in
Mathare. Clearly we were in good hands.
enough drinks, the guys made sure we had a safe ride home (they
negotiated the increadibly good price for us) and we got home, back to
the city centre safe and sound.
It was truly a remarkable day,
and I learned a lot about development. It's made me question a
lot of my ideas. For example, the community in Mathare is running
a successful school and community centre, just from money from the
community. What do they need our money for? They don't need
us to teach them to read or write, they can teach themselves.
What they need is for the government to turn the water back on, free
secondary school would be a good start, and be allowed to vote as one
block would probably make a ot of this happen. The people are
able to provide for themselves given a really minimal amount of base
goods, like water. The children are happy and playing like
children should. I think I'll be pondering that for a long time
to come. This is a community that doesn't pay any taxes, partly
because the government refuses to admit that it exists. There are
no government projects there, because Mathare is not real. What
does the community need? It's hard to say. Recognition,
less police corruption (but that might threaten the Changai brewers,
which is a major source of income), development projects? It's a
bit more complex than I'm able to process at 12 pm. Maybe
tomorrow I'll have some bright ideas.