Visiting Kenyan Slums

*Note: this picture is from meeting children in Pap Onditi, not from the Kibera slums

Our old bus hobbled down the steep, dirt road.  Dents, rust and colors of light blue, off-white and red covered its exterior. The ravine-like pot holes tossed our bus back and forth like a canoe on wild water.  I held onto the top of the seat in front of me, fearful that our bus would topple into the human waste running as a creek beside the make shift streets.  I reasoned with myself that the Kenyan bus driver was used to driving in Kibera and would do his best to protect us.

Kibera is Africa’s largest urban slum and the third largest in the world.   There are 2.5 million Kenyans living in slums in Narobi, 200,000 packed in the squalor of Kibera. Without a sewage system, most are living without electricity and water in an area smaller than a square mile.

The land is government owned with most of the people making less than a $1 per day. We passed rows of stores made out of sticks, mud and tin roofs, no bigger than the average American bedroom.  Women crouched over open fires cooking whole fish, the large eyes of the women and fish stared in wide-eyed wonder as we creaked past.  Men sat on the porches of their establishments, selling whole butchered animals with flies buzzing around the carcasses.  I was convinced that one bite would send me straight to the emergency room.  The meat had already browned and there continued to be a stench of body odor, coupled with fried fish, dirt and sewage.  I stared at the meat hanging in the doorway of the small shanty when a boy ran up to the window with his hand out and white shirt ripped up past his belly button.  

“Hello, hello, hello, hello.  How are you?  How are you?  How are you?”  He repeated the only English he knew, his hand extended for any donation we could muster up.

My eyes were drawn to a group of young guys standing at a shack, the name of the bar scrawled on the red-brown mud hut in light blue paint.  They sold and drank the strong Changaa, a cheap alcohol, widely brewed at 50% alcohol with a high level of Methanol.  It was a killer.  The shirtless men raised their glasses to the bus and summoned us in.

We continued past The Mother Teresa of Calcutta School on our left, still built in the same mud, stick and tin manner, and then our bus came to an abrupt stop in a large dirt schoolyard.  We were warned that a missionary had been attacked by an insane elderly Kenyan just the week before and to stay close together.

We walked down narrow paths.  The red earth creased itself into my dance shoes from Los Angeles.  A Muslim leader brushed by with a clean, black thobe on.  His tall Kufi, was black, red and teal.  He was a stark contrast of wealth against the arid landscape.  I tried to smile at him, but he refused to meet my eyes.  A woman whose eyes shone in spite of her leathered face shook my hand.  Tears met my lids unconsciously when the presence of God was felt in her fingertips.  Our first stop was a light blue concrete shack where a couple of American newlyweds were living while they volunteered in Kenya. I peeked my head in their one room home. It was large enough to hold bunk beds and not much else.  The china, crystal and excess of American weddings was not in their room. The little they owned and a pair of shoes were nicely placed in front of the lower bunk with care.  I saw the life I wanted; one free from the chains of materialism and in its place, a life of true love.   Instead of sandy beaches and honeymoon drinks with little umbrellas, this couple had chosen service in Kenya.  When I met the new wife face to face, I was further challenged.  

Her dark, wavy hair flowed around flawless skin.  She was built like an American dream, but carried herself with modesty.  She walked with confidence that still had humility.  Her brown eyes shone with purity; her beauty, eternal.  Peace surrounded her and every word she spoke flowed with a love for Jesus.  I wanted what she had.  She was in a place of love, freedom and surrender that I only dreamed of.   The Kenyan sun set in wisps of orange and pink high above the Kibera poverty.  The wife held an ebony orphan against her milky skin; so much beauty and pain mixed within this clay city of squalor.  She cared for the baby lovingly and I felt that familiar pang; the reminder that my ebony and milk child was but a memory.  He should exist.  He could have existed and it was my choice that he didn’t.

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