The pungent scent of smoldering charcoal was an instant reminder of a place I visited before. It was two years ago, on my first visit to Nairobi on behalf of non-profit organization to educate kids called Friends of Ngong Road, that had brought me here. And I wanted to come back, just to this same spot, again on a Sunday afternoon to experience street life in the Kawangware 56 neighborhood.
It was at this corner on my last visit that my driver, named Steve, skillfully navigated through the dense traffic that has no sense of separation between vehicles and pedestrians, much less between wild goats and other livestock that roams. Back then, a man with a child jumped out of a bus in front of us and looked over his shoulder, waved and said something. He must have been saying something as my terrified face feared for the child. Steve sensed my anxiety and said, “Do you know what he just said to you?” “No,” I replied. “I figured he was upset that you almost hit his kid!” Steve countered, “He was saying, ‘Hey, how are you?'” It left a lasting impression. The people in this neighborhood might have it very tough. But they are a kind and accepting people. I wanted to return. This time so that I could do a better job of capturing through video the everyday realities of children who come to school everyday and are provided the opportunity through the work of those at Ngong Road Children Association (established and supported by Friends of Ngong Road). So, today was my lone Sunday on this 10 day trip to do just that.
TRANSIT HUB AND BUZZ
Today’ visit was to three neighborhoods with the name Kawangware. Kawangware 56 is a transit hub. Movement of anything with wheels or legs is a fascinating sight, with the sounds to boot. I’ll return to this blog with some video and audio once I have more bandwidth to work with upon returning home.
Our second stop was to nearby Kawangware Soko Mjinga. Soko Mjinga means “Foolish Market” as in a place to get a good deal. There might be good deals, but based on this visitor, it’s apparent the visual merchandising is a part of suggesting items are not over-priced.
Families who live in these neighborhoods live in corrugated metal buildings about 20′ x 20′ in size. There are often six to 10 family members, often multi-generational extended families, squeezed in to make ends meet. They pay monthly rent of roughly $1,500 Kenyan Shillings (equivalent to $17 US) or $2,000 ($23 US) for power.But that power is often turned off between 7pm and 6am. There is no water, no plumbing, no security. By comparison, my driver Steve’s rent is 8,000 Ksh ($94 US) per month and caseworker Antony pays 10,000 $Ksh ($117 US), not including power. Unlike urban slums in America, the poor in Nairobi live on the outer geographic edges of the city. It is here that villages of shacks are built on land owned by locals who have mostly acquired the land through inheritance. Absentee landlords have held onto this land with with little public infrastructure support with the short term objective of marginal cash flow through minimal provision of shelter, and a long term objective of selling land off to developers for higher end development. Nearby rents for furnished units range in the 150,000 to 180,000 Ksh ($1,765 US to $2118 US) range are beginning to push the slums further out.
Speaking of shelter. It’s starting to rain now. I can only imagine what that means for those right now in Kawangware.