Being here in Kibera has been an eye-opening experience for me. I have spent a great deal of time in marginalized communities in the past, especially in the favela (slum) Cidade de Deus(City of God) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Kibera’s slums are on another level; in fact, most favelas in Brazil would not even be considered slums in Kenya due to their paved roads, brick houses and halfway decent infrastructure. As I walk through the narrow paths in Kibera, the contrast is stark: it is a labyrinth of mud houses and dirt roads with garbage strewn everywhere. Open sewers run all over with shaky wooden planks over them that you pray don’t break as you walk over them. While there is electricity, it is hooked up in extremely precarious ways and you can see wires sticking out of the ground that are sometimes live. Generators regularly explode and as you might expect, death by electrocution is not uncommon here. And of course the bathroom situation is not pleasant. As bad as these issues may be, the deeper problems of HIV and AIDS, violence, social exclusion, and lack of education and job opportunities are even more severe.
While all this sounds depressing, the slum is far from a bleak place. The kids are so enthusiastic and hilarious; when we play games, they get so into it that they scream, jump up and down and even fall on the floor when their team scores a point. They’re always laughing and are curious about everything. I’m constantly amazed by their creativity, their bright spirits and their total lack of bratty-ness (a la American teens). The adults I’ve met working with Kibera Hamlets have also been amazing and inspiring people, and have taught me so much about Kenya, Kibera, and the intense political situation which has been heating up as the election approaches. Here in the slum people are very political, and there are daily—even hourly!—parades down the street of people singing, waving their favorite candidates’ posters, blowing whistles and yelling. It is joyous and excited, but everyone has warned me that things can get tense quickly, as fights break out and people start throwing rocks. Today is their version of the primaries, so the kids don’t have school and many people stay indoors due to the potential for violence. —Joel B