Almost two weeks ago a part of Kenya team went to Nairobi with the aim to attend meetings and events relevant for our project. It was the first time for us to spend more than a good week in the capital of Kenya. And besides usual work this time we also have a time to spend some free time there. And that offered me an opportunity to observe and think about the city and its differences a little bit more…
Founded in 1899 as a railroad depot on the line linking Mombasa and Uganda, Nairobi quickly grew to become the capital of British East Africa. Under British rule, it was a major centre for coffee and tea plantations and a destination for big game hunting. After Kenyan independence in 1963, Nairobi began a period of intense urbanization, expanding from just under 267,000 residents in 1962 to more than 3.2 million in 2010, which makes it the largest (though youngest) city in East Africa today.
But how could we describe Nairobi? “Green City in the Sun”, “City of Flowers”, “Safari capital of Africa”… These are just few names with which agencies want to attract tourists. Descriptions are not far from reality but at the same time we must be careful that they don’t overshadow other faces of Nairobi such as filth, poverty and crime. Nairobi is definitely a city of enormous differences so let’s take a look of what can it represents.
For our team, Nairobi is the perfect place where we can spread our network of contacts in order to make our work more efficient and effective. And from personal point of view definitely a place for cultural activities and great cuisine and let’s be honest… a place where we are able to sleep in warm beds and have a hot shower J And this time we also had a chance to discover other bright sides of Nairobi. Driving with our matatu on the streets and avenues fringed by beautiful trees and flowers, visiting museums such as the museum of a baroness who “…had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills…”, National Museum with snake park and enjoying in tastes of Italy and Ethiopia.
And last but not least we also had a chance to spend time in big and modern shopping centres such as The Junction and Yaya where offer is practically identical (or even better) as offer in this kind of centres in Europe. But just few kilometres away from these centres of capitalism there lies the Kibera. Kibera is the biggest slum in Africa and one of the biggest in the world who houses more than 1 million slum dwellers. After just few hours spend in Kibera with the representatives of Map Kibera Trust I have realized that Yaya and other similar centres are just planets in completely different universe. Especially if we consider the fact that more than 60% of the Nairobi population lives in informal settlements such as Kibera that are turning Nairobi into “Nairobbery”. And after spending time in shopping centre and in Kibera I started to think about people that you can see in these two places. If in Yaya you are able to see a businessmen attracted by profitable business prospects in Kenya, a diplomat doing shopping with his family and a successful women in a high price dress, shiny shoes and with a perfect make up, Kibera is an area with a lot of poverty and disillusioned faces of the unemployed and destitute rural immigrants who were drawn to this place by the hope of opportunity and better life. And despite the wealth in one side and misery on the other, you can still witness many dissatisfaction in the world of privileged ones and see friendly food vender in Kibera trying to make his living and smiling ladies who go to one of many “salon and kinyozi” places to get a new hair style. And at the same time I would like to stress that this is just a general picture, there are exceptions on both sides.
And after thinking and observing these differences there comes a moment that breaks your heart and really makes you think what kind of person are you – as an individual and as a person working in a humanitarian/development sector. A moment. A moment of seeing a disabled child, alone, wandering around in the dirty streets of Kibera. What kind of future is waiting out there for him? Does he even have any??? And how should we feel and behave after being a witness of this scene? Can we really go back to Yaya and spend more than 3 euros on a coffee when knowing that most people in Kibera must survive with less than 1.5 euros per day? Is this really appropriate, especially for people like us working on humanitarian issues? Does this make us bad human beings? Or are we just “normal” people who decided to dedicated their work to less privileged people and have a right to live a “normal” live that every now and then includes enjoying in things that we can afford with the money we have earned by working hard? Isn’t our work much more effective and efficient if we have a nice meal and a good rest in a nice apartment? But then again…where are the limits of this enjoyment if there should be any? It definitely depends on a person. For some it is enough to have a dry apartment, running water and sometimes expensive frozen yoghurt covered with fruits and sweets. And what kind of limits do representatives of biggest humanitarian organizations working in worst humanitarian crisis in the world who attended the Adeso and OCHA forum last week have? What kind of limits does a participant, a lady in a high price dress, shiny shoes and with a perfect make up have? O wait. Isn’t that one of the typical ladies visiting the Yaya centre? And how does she feel when she wakes up in the morning, looking out of the window of her posh and highly secured apartment that you can see on the picture on the edge of the Kibera slum…?