Slum artists – acrobats, rappers, b-boys… It’s been a long time since my last post… I’ve been busy – in Rwanda and the slums.
I was going to write more, but I think these two videos say most of it. The day I first went to Dandora it took me an hour and a half to get to downtown Nairobi where I met my friend D’costa to go with him to Dandora, the slum where he lives. Dandora is another one of the many slums that ring Nairobi and the site of the largest garbage dump in East Africa. People tell me that Dandora is considered one of the most dangerous slums in the city, but now I’ve been told that Dandora is much safer than it used to be. The youths police the slum, and on one of the times I was there we came across a couple of police with ak-47s. I never felt threatened at all. It’s totally safe to visit Dandora if you go with people who live there. The same is true with the Mathare slums another nearby slums where I have friends. Mathare used to be dangerous, now it is totally safe for a foreigner to walk there during the day. Like anywhere in Nairobi, night would not be a good time to be there.
The mounds of trash around Dandora stretch for acres and acres. I had followed D’Costa’s small form through pressing crowds and billowing clouds of diesel until we came upon an unmarked bus stop on the rundown side of downtown Nairobi. Then the two of us squeezed into a seat in the back of a decrepit bus, and crept along a road to the Dandora slums where D’Costa shares a room with a friend from Mombasa. It wasn’t a bad little room. For $25 a month they had a decent window on the second floor, shared toilet and shower, shared sink for washing, no kitchen. But way better than the shanty rooms in the real downtrodden part of the slums. This was in a real building. D’Costa is a rapper and acrobat, and he knows many, many people in the slums. He introduced me to his friends and the two times I visited we walked all over the slum and met people and artists who live there. The acrobatic group that I met also do community projects like picking up trash, planting trees by the river, and keeping the slum safe. They are amazing guys.
I also spent some time in Mathare with two other friends, Fred and Ben, who are peace-makers – leaders in the community who help keep it safe and help make peace. Ben helps run a school in Mathare that is totally put together by the community. They use whatever rooms they can find in the slums and the teachers don’t get paid anything. They just want their kids to get an education. There is only one government school in Mathare – not nearly enough for the half million people who live there, so they took matters into their own hands. The school also hosts a couple youth groups that do dance and music.
I am helping my friends from Dandora and Mathare start projects to bring tourists into the slums. These are incredibly vibrant places with amazingly talented people who are trying really hard to make a difference in their own lives. They are not looking for handouts. The acrobats practice every day starting at 6 am. My friends also took me around to see people who are making crafts in the slums, amazing little slum farms, and a waterfall on the Nairobi River that runs through both Mathare and Dandora. The waterfall is a waterfall of trash, because the slums are built on trash dumps.
These are incredible places and amazing people. I’m going to build websites for them, and try to get tourists going there. This could be one of the best things you do if you travel to East Africa. *And* you could help these people empower themselves at the same time. I made the video above from both the communities. Below is a video of my friend D’costa rapping at “the temple”.
I leave Kenya next week. Totally mixed feelings about that. A month ago I didn’t think I would ever come back to Kenya, but now I want to come back. It’s complicated, and I’ll write about it when I get back. But here’s something I txt-ed to a friend the other day when I was riding a matatu through town… “Somewhere amidst the swirling masses of people and the billowing clouds of diesel fumes I’ve finally found a sense of peace with it all. Like a column of sunlight angling down through the clouds at the very end of an overcast day.”
My next blog post will be about my trip to Rwanda last week – genocide survivors and participants and a trip to see the mountain gorillas.