On Thursday I spent the afternoon walking around the local community here with our gate man Titus (Tito) Kibiego. He’s been living here for about 8 years and is well known in the area. I don’t know WWF but around here the kids call him Big Show (after some wrestler), he’s about 6 foot 2 and 250lbs. He’s also become my Mwalimu, teacher, and has taken it upon himself to teach me Swahili and all things Kenyan. So back to our little walking tour: our goal was to take me through the two slums on either side of our campus and to meet the local elders and the area chief.
First we headed to Umoja slum which has thousands of people living in very cramped quarters. We drive through there every day on our way to take the kids to school so it was good to meet some of the people we see by the road. I visited with many people but the elder was not in. I went into another NGO program there that does a feeding program and a small school. There were over 30 small children packed into tiny shack made of what looked like scavenged stones, mud, and scraps of old metal. It was 12’x25’ at most. All the kids were sitting on tiny wooden benches and working on learning their letters. I met Mumo, a man Tito has known since grade school who runs a little fruit stand by the road. They tried to teach me all the name of the fruits, Tito’s a patient teacher.
We wove in and out of the tiny alleys and shacks meeting and greeting the amazingly resilient people of Umoja. BTW, Umoja means one people, as in we are all one. Next we headed back past Karibu Center to Kishagi, a larger slum that is just on the other side of the campus.
This is the place where most of the kids have been coming to Karibu Center from. Many of them know me by name now; they are the ones who stop at our fence in the afternoon. We headed right to the elder’s place but he was not home either. Instead, we met a 100+ year-old woman who really reminded me of my ailing grandma in some way. Maybe just because I miss her, maybe because this woman had some of the same spunk as my grandma. She had huge stretched out earlobes and insisted that Tito and I sit and stay a while. So, in her little dirt courtyard surrounded by 5 slum shacks, we both sat together on a little bench that was about 6” high and 2’ long. From that low perspective the small courtyard seemed more safe and homey somehow. We sat and Tito explained who I was to the old woman, the elder’s wife, and three small children. When we stood up I could look right over the roof of their homes, we continued the tour and then the kids spotted me.
For the next hour I had 30-50 kids hanging on me, following us, and asking to come to Karibu Center. No matter how many times “Big Show” told them to go home they would just keep swarming us. We had to tell them that today we were just walking around and we’d let them know when they could come next. We met a woman who was holding a small girl with a wrap on her head. She told me the child had been bitten in the head by a snake and it wasn’t healing. She pulled of fthe wrapping and showed me the infected wound, then asked me what I would do to help. Tito told her to take the kid to the doctor and that today we were just walking and greeting people.
We walked and he talked, explaining life in the slum. Tito lives in Kishagi, he has one room in a secure building that he rents out. It is a square structure with about 10 rooms around the outside that open into a common courtyard (that’s approximately 20’x30’) full of hung laundry. There are two water spigots, two toilet stalls, and two cold shower stalls that the 40+ people who live there share. We stopped by his place and looked through some pictures he has of family and friends. I sat on his couch, feet up on the coffee table between me and the bed where he sat.
Then we headed back to Karibu Center together. We happened to meet the elder and the local chief on the road. Tito introduced me and we talked about the program and our plans. They were very supportive and will come by later for a more thorough explanation so they can help us identify the people in the community who need our help most and who fit best with the population we came to serve. Funny thing…the chief has a young son named Ian, go figure. I met a boy in Kishagi named Ian too. It’s more common here than back home.
So, that was my Thursday afternoon, just thought I’d share. Ian