Living in the dump, literally,& the AIDs Orphanage

Trip Start Jul 13, 2009
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Trip End Sep 11, 2009


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Flag of Kenya  ,
Saturday, August 8, 2009

Great news! FINALLY, something is happening with my internship! Yesterday we met with an American woman who runs a private wildlife conservancy at Lake Elementaita, a soda lake that abuts Lake Nakuru National Park. It’s a new conservancy so they need help with just about everything, including giraffe and Colobus monkey monitoring, creating an environmental management plan, and constructing a research buildings. And get this: she actually wants volunteers! I am so excited! Barring all unfortunate circumstances, I am going to move out there this coming week and start work! I will be living in a banda (a type of permanent tent) on the conservancy, cooking my own food, and working 5 days a week. Although I like Nakuru, I am so excited to move outside of the city and camp with wildlife! The desire to work with wildlife is what brought me to Kenya.

Now the not-so-nice news. On Thursday, a Kenyan friend took us through the biggest slum in Nakuru, where 20,000 people literally live in and on the city dump. In the winter of 2008-2009, Kenya exploded in violence over the disputed presidential elections. Kenya is divided along tribal, rather than regional lines, and the presidential candidates exploited these tribal differences to push people to fight each other and their own tribe. The politicians encouraged the violence that killed hundreds and left even more without safe homes. 

Most of the residents of this slum in the city dump are refugees from the post-election violence last year, living there “illegally” because their homes or families were destroyed. The Kenyan government has made it illegal to live there because they want the people to simply disappear, rather than having to deal with the issues of displacement, poverty and homelessness. Instead of fixing the problem and building houses for these people, the police periodically raid the slum, trashing houses and beating up the young and elderly. They want to push the people out, people who literally have no where to go. Living in the dump is simply the only option for them--they have no where else to turn.

As word got out in the slum that a group of mzungus (white people) were visiting, bringing toys, bananas and candy, we were soon surrounded by children, all dressed in rags and so eager to hold your hand. The residents live in shacks made of garbage and mud, and use piled plastic bottles as mattresses. Their houses are surrounded by piles of trash, with pigs, dogs, and chickens lying about. We met mostly women and children, but we saw two men brewing changa’a, an illegal drink equivalent to moonshine in the US. Equivalent except for the fact that it’s often brewed with battery acid and formaldehyde and can make you go blind, or kill you. A few women in the slum make bags out of plastic bags from the dump, and the landfill is continuously rummaged through by the residents, in search of food or any useful trash.  

I left the slum feeling very weak in the knees. Walking around town was so surreal, and buying lunch afterwards was even weirder. I kept thinking about how I would easily spend $20 bucks on a T-shirt, something totally useless, while these people could eat for months on that. Meanwhile I was enjoying my nice lunch and feeling nauseous.

The next day we visited the wildlife conservancy where I'll be moving next week and met the conservancy director. Afterwards we drove to an Orphanage for kids with HIV/AIDS.  Many of these kids were born with HIV and abandoned at the hospital I’ve visited in Nakuru, and then sent here. An elderly Italian nun of limitless compassion runs the Orphanage. Children born with HIV/AIDS usually don’t live past their teens, so most of the children there are very young. They sang worship songs and performed traditional dances for us, and were just all around the most polite, adorable, and lovely children I’ve ever met. Seeing these kids was an incredibly sobering, sad, yet fun, joyful and hopeful experience. 

Tomorrow, if I can get my act together, I am going to travel with a few friends to Kakamega Forest Reserve in Western Kenya. It’s the last remaining stand of East African rainforest, and it should be pretty amazing!


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