Green Screen…

MTV KiberaThe Chinese invasion of low-cost smart phones into Kibera has reached near saturation point for the under thirties. The insatiable appetite for social media and instant chat has had little effect on the more traditional forms of communication. Competing music can be heard pounding the sinews of elderly part functioning speaker stacks daily. Local radio stations operating from the humblest of studios dance with genre and local news.

Mature CRT televisions are communally watched for a small fee and the variety of content is immeasurable. American sitcoms stoke aspiration of life beyond Kibera and nestle alongside a multiplicity of local soap, news and political promise.

Taking part in a local chat show necessitated a visit to the smallest of TV stations. A couple of rooms rented in empty shopping centre in central Nairobi set the stage. A bijou studio, cloaked in green screen, a single camera, one monitor, no rehearsal and a hastily scribbled set of notes just out of sight. Fifty minutes punctuated by commercial break relief developed a new respect for this adrenalin fuelled rooky anchor.

Meanwhile, Mr Norton can relax…

 

 

These writings are penned whilst in the field working with our friends who live and work in Kibera and it is hoped that they bring insight, understanding and a provocation that the status-quo is unacceptable. Please feel free to unsubscribe or share as appropriate. Any opinions implied or expressed are my own and names may have been changed for the sake of privacy.

Boda Boda…

matatuNairobi’s peak traffic inflicts pollution levels that are civically unmeasured. A choking blanket of acrid fumes exude from the numerous elderly and poorly maintained matutu; essential to move the thousands of workers around the metropolis.  When the arterial routes inevitable grind to a halt, journey times can extend from twenty minutes to several hours, whilst the smog clings and chokes in the morning heat. The eventual gridlocked traffic only exacerbates; trapping lungs and shortening lives.

Whilst the newer wealth migrate to personal private transportation, increasing congestion further, a fresh challenger is emerging. The number of boda bodas (taxi motor cycles) is exploding. Economically imported from India and China, the entrepreneurial owner operator can provide a fast and cheap alternative that can circumnavigate just about anything. Pavement and traffic direction are no barrier and the paying pillion ride is truly terrifying. Build quality and emissions are at best dubious and the crash fatality rates heart wrenching. Rapid development and the Nairobi population pull-factor will only escalate the problem.

London, in an apparent overnight coup recently introduced the ‘T’ charge; an eye watering £10.00 daily toxicity levy on older vehicles in attempt to make the air more breathable. The average daily wage in Kibera is £2.00.

Boda bodaMatatu: Public minibus taxi
Boda Boda: Taxi motor cycle

Dance School…

DSC00055

Navigating the narrow dark alleyways of the Kianda area of Kibera as an alien is nigh on impossible without a local guide and some form of security. Informal settlements are just that, land space is at a premium and planning is a luxury. The rough and often steep alleyways double up as refuse repositories and foul drainage, punctuated with rocks enacting a comical acrobatic sashay perambulation by the visitor with the inevitable alarming miss-hap.

It is therefore all the more remarkable that deep within these catacombs nestles an oasis of creativity and respite. Several shacks have been connected to form a dance school of impressive proportions. James and his dedicated team provide quality training to the children of Kianda in dance and art regardless of ability or age. A lively African drummed showcase of stunning proportions followed, demonstrating a dedication and commitment that was truly breath-taking and worthy of the larger stage.

Carefully weaved into their work are clear social messages of education and hope that are Kibera relevant, heart wrenching and sometimes brutal. The love and care is evident and all encompassing, the volunteer’s dedication and commitment are palpable.

Kibera is never predictable and James is of course is a graduate from a Nairobi ballet school.

DSC00053
Please visit Foundation of Hope on https://www.facebook.com/foundationofhopekibera/

Election Re-Runs…

Kibera RiotElections fever runs high in Nairobi and although only around twenty percent of the Kibera residents are registered to vote it is inevitable that there that there is an overflow of frustration into the dark and narrow alleyways. On the wider tracks open back trucks loaded with oversized public address systems that could shame Wembley, broadcast messages with an energy and ear drum snapping volume that is both infectious and intimidating. If this fails than flurries of fifty shilling notes illegally incentivise whilst snubbing the concept of voter bribes.

 

The hope of democracy has to be the way forward when the chasm of inequality is so prevalent and it is easy to stoke unrest in a community that has so little and everything to gain. The politicians know that. Demonstrations can be quickly whipped into full scale riots, whilst the presence of illegal firearms degenerates into settling old scores with the inevitable toll on human life.

 

It is therefore hugely encouraging that in the Kiandi area gunshot deaths are in measurable decline. The Kibera Saints football project amongst others is working with the young men who are gradually learning that there just could be another way and are choosing not to get involved in the melees.

 

The first 2017 election was declared invalid; the current rerun tension is palpable.

 

 

50 Kenyan shillings = 36p (UK)
Photo by Mark Tizodi

 

 

 

 

 

These writings are inspired and usually penned whilst in the field working with our friends who live and work in Kibera and it is hoped that they bring insight, understanding and a provocation that the status-quo is unacceptable. Please feel free to unsubscribe or share as appropriate. Any opinions implied or expressed are my own and names may have been changed for the sake of privacy.

12 Step Bhang…

DSC00040According to our Narcotics 12 step teaching programme, addiction has little respect for class, race or wealth. The choice of drug however is strictly related to financial capacity, availability and demand. Changaa, a low quality alcoholic brew that is locally concocted and sold for a few shillings, is widely available and largely overlooked by the authorities for small considerations.

 

Bhang, a form of weed is readily available, usually smoked but sometimes made into a drink, has become part of the Kibera gang economy. Whilst stoking crime, belonging and being part of something meets a basic human need often lacking amongst Kibera’s young males.

 

As financial trickledown slowly permeates Kibera, a raft of more exotic recreational chemicals await to fill the voids. Meanwhile glue provides a cheap and plentiful alternative.

 

 

 

 

 

These writings are inspired and usually penned whilst in the field working with our friends who live and work in Kibera and it is hoped that they bring insight, understanding and a provocation that the status-quo is unacceptable. Please feel free to unsubscribe or share as appropriate. Any opinions implied or expressed are my own and names may have been changed for the sake of privacy.

Umeme:- Poleni Sana…

Kiandi Fire

High density informal dwellings are a consequence of urban pull factors and aspirational hope of those who have little. Nairobi has capacious needs and Kibera services them at minimal cost. Whilst Nairobi’s urban growth sprawl is partly organic it benefits from oversite and planning, Kibera is left to its own devices. Whilst water and sewage are a daily challenge, electrical power is often casually harvested with disastrous consequences.

Open charcoal indoor burners, copious combustible materials, live electrical shorting metal cladding, conspire to make frequent fires inevitable. Recently, two with in the space of days occurred in the Kiandi region, the latter sadly claiming the life of a 16 year old child. The fire service rarely attend as the density of development would make access impossible. Community firefighting alongside self-destruction of the surrounding dwellings break the fire, but not the community. Resolute and stoically determined; lives have to go on.

Government electrical poles have been in place in Kiandi for some time delivering an illusion of hope but no power. The funds have dried.

Umeme: electricity
Poneni sana: so sorry
Photo by Mark Tizodi

Kuku on the roof…

DSC00056Not particularly known for their aeronautical prowess, kuku might well have preferred to keep her feet firmly closer to ground level, although spare bare earth has become a district rarity. Constrained by the sewer laden streams and civic boundaries, even informal shacks are obliged to extend skywards. Second levels of precarious development are becoming common place to meet demand, sending the population density to eye watering levels and adding a further strain to non-existent utilities, whilst maximising the rental Kenyan shilling.

 

Around the perimeter the government is selling land leases to the casual developers who concrete build four to five story apartment blocks. Although rudimentary in construction they are a considerable improvement to the mud, stick and tin of the informal shacks in the valley. Sadly the rental demands are beyond the reach of most Kibera residents.

 

DSC00242

DSC00057Kuku however gains a whole new vista from her new residential platform five stories up.

 Kuku: Poultry, (Usually chicken)

These writings are inspired and penned whilst in the field working with our friends who live and work in Kibera and it is hoped that they bring insight, understanding and a provocation that the status-quo is unacceptable. Please feel free to unsubscribe or share as appropriate. Any opinions implied or expressed are my own and names may have been changed for the sake of privacy.       

Runway Dance off…

DSC00737Kibera myopia can easily distract from ongoing tragedies not so far away. As South Sudan has recently been reported the most dangerous place in the world for aid workers, it is all the more remarkable that our good friend Rob Rass recently joined the volunteer Kibera team direct from South Sudan as part of his rest and recreation time.

Rob writes from South Sudan…

The rainy season beats hard on the clay-like soil, turning the land quickly into a swamp. Rain often is a blessing but in this case, it hampers the chance of getting life-saving aid being brought in. The biggest factor for us was that airstrip was in great need of rehabilitation to grant access to our planes. The women in the community knew the value of these efforts. At least two hundred gathered, sang and danced as they levelled the airstrip, creating channels and dams to deal with troublesome water. Once the work was done, they gathered together for a mighty dance-off to celebrate the strength in their community and do what they can to live well against the odds.

Thank you Rob.

 

Rob Rass works for Medair and is currently lives and works in South Sudan

Pamoja FM 99.9…

Pmoja fmElectronic communications across Kibera are remarkably good. Third generation cellular networks and patchy wifi hotspots are available. Smartphone ownership using cost effective Chinese handsets, is highly valued and necessary to obtain work, information, maintaining rural contact and as important business tool. Swapping airtime credit for goods and services creates a virtual banking system in a bank bereft society and the M-Pesa application does this one better.

Local Radio is also popular and Pamoja FM (The Voice of Kibera) is prized. With rumoured listening audiences of around 400k it was an honour to be invited to take part in an hours broadcasting mid Sunday evening. Arriving at the dark and remarkably adept single studio based at the back of a dwelling was a relaxed to the horizontal affair. The host arrived a good three minutes before airtime, equipped with a pencil and paper enquired as to how we wanted to do this. Going live after a brief introduction and complete handover in Swahili tipped us over the precipice.

Adrenalin and years of standing at the front of teenage classrooms birthed a zoo-radio of rudimentary proportions whilst Facebook, twitter feeds, text and calls gave feedback. Aware of the predominantly Christian content the Muslim station owner called post show to say that he had never heard anything like it and would we come back to do more…

 

 

 

 

These writings are penned whilst in the field working with our friends who live and work in Kibera and it is hoped that they bring insight, understanding and a provocation that the status-quo is unacceptable. Please feel free to unsubscribe or share as appropriate. Any opinions implied or expressed are my own and names may have been changed for the sake of privacy.        

Shylock’s Revenge…

DSC00696Conceiving and nurturing a fledgling a micro finance initiative on paper is relatively simple.  Micro loans for a cottage business attracting a modest service charge facilitating the entrepreneurial in Kibera a hand up and an alternative to the Shylocks’ incalculable interest rates and leg-breaking consequences for non-payment. An impartial committee of local volunteers and community leaders oversee the administration and the collection of the repayments whilst offering business support, advice and encouragement.

Inevitably loan demand outstrips supply and not all business ideas are suitable and some will fail. On paper the figures looked acceptable, one or two disappointing and some remarkable. Making loans to folk to whom the mainstream institutions regard as invisible may give some justification to the Shylocks’ business model. The field visits kicked myopia into a new perspective.

Stumbling along the tiny dark alleyways into the even darker homes of the cottage industries with our patient fixers, we witnessed the business intangibles of hope, pride and the satisfaction from the ability to feed a family. Simply being able to purchase raw materials in bulk brings costs tumbling and aspirations soaring. The bottled liquid soap, stacked quality vegetables and deep fried mandasi were displayed with pride.

Shylock: Loan shark with attitude.
Mandasi: African deep fried low calorie donut.

DSC00698

These writings are penned whilst in the field working with our friends who live and work in Kibera and it is hoped that they bring insight, understanding and a provocation that the status-quo is unacceptable. Please feel free to unsubscribe or share as appropriate. Any opinions implied or expressed are my own and names may have been changed for the sake of privacy.