KIBERA, Nairobi - one of the world's most awful slum areas, 1000 hectacres, some 70,000 people - and by far the worst poverty i have ever seen. You can't come to Nairobi and do any kind of work with HIV AIDS and not visit Kibera.
Monday morning, my last day with the flight taking off at 11:35 am, I woke early determined to go- Shitema, the former UN ambassador described it with such compassion his face changing, crumbling, watering his eyes. The woman on duty all night at the hotel called someone to take me through, bags packed, a bit of coffee, toast and by 7 we were on our way, strangely only a few kilometres from the place i was staying. As we get closer, at this hour, hundreds, maybe thousands of people surging out of the area and moving quickly up the hill on their way to work. We made our way slowly down the main road, at the bottom making a left turn into a world changed. The streets were mud, pockets of water collected from rain the night before, floating with garbage, a chicken picking its way through, on each side what could only be described as sheds, shacks, made from cardboard, corregated iron sheeting, crumbling plaster, wood crammed in, side by side each one attached to the next. Fences of barbed wire, sticks, wood, corregated iron, doors opening into dark and dirty hallways, rooms, with someone peering out from a sewing machine, people sitting at the side of the road, cooking chapittas, pancakes and madas, little cakes in big metal woks over fires fuelled by kerosene, charcoal or wood; open fires burning garbage in the middle of the road as we pick our way through rushing people, children in school uniforms carrying little back packs travelling in pairs, clumps standing and sitting and watching our car as it moves slowly along.
I was taking notes of what I was seeing, while Peter my driver was explaining: no electricity, no water with huge round corregated iron tanks every here and there collecting rain water and sold: 20 litres for 2 shillings about $1.40. No toilets, no privacy. Dank and grim. Churches, clinics and chemists offering free medicine and advice, youth and help agencies, woman's groups and beauty salons wedged side by side in amongst filthy crevices and holes lined with old rags and sheets of cardboard as places for people to sleep. Men bunched in a row, so many of them 10-20 maybe more, blocking the roadway in front of a sign saying Kakaunga Hotel waiting for the bar to open at 8am. for home-made beer and wine,made with corn. Bright red Coke slogans blasting 'a better way', Ïn the Wings of Love health care, Ghetto Guts - an electronic repair shop and Let's Meet Bread Depot buried amongst storefronts and shops with pink plastic shoes and yellow buckets of cooking oil, withered shanks of last week's lettuce hooked and hanging off metal pipes, cigarettes, pots, pans, bags of maize, flour, a few tomatoes, potatoes, onions and a shock of red bouganvillia strung up and snaking across barbed wire.
Early morning people, carrying things on their heads, shoulders, with babies on their backs, a team of life streaming by and peering in surprised and curious, asking Peter what are we doing?Friendly,carrying cups of chai- steaming hot, calling "Jambo! Habare!" Good morning! the children getting up close with huge smiles with a big "how are you!!" pronounced clearly and distinctly in primary school English like kids we pass everywhere.
Dogs lying on our path, sleeping as if dead and digging through garbage, the bleetingof a goat and chickens as we pick our way over sharp and jagged shards of rock down to the very bottom, deep into the bowels of Kibera to Saba, a city within a city, a valley of hell where rents are the lowest. Rags, filth, dark and smelly, patches of cardboard, wood, metal nailed, roped together onto anything to cover the dirge, the stench of big piles of rotting garbage, dank, old, tired, spent people sitting and lying down, a woman, old, ancient and weathered, resting on top of an overturned pail roasting cobs of corn, a dog at her feet. Two little ones standing in a doorway, a boy with another, slung on his back - two playing in mud, naked. For a long time, Peter and I drive slowly along,in silence.
I ask him how does he reconcile living well, how can any of us, how can any of us, who have so much, live with this in our world. I could hardly speak, repeating myself, trying to find the word, the words that weren't coming out well.
He said: "I only pray, that God, will help them". Slowly.