Day #10 The biggest Slum of Africa, Nunnery and Running Battle

Wanja and me went this morning down to the city be a Matatu ride. From outside of town this can be Sh70 to Sh100 to get there. We changed, and I get used to the Matatu’s. One of them was so awful loud inside with the Hip Hop music next to my ear, that I felt like becoming deaf – and I am used to loud discotheques.

In the inner city we walked to down town, because of the heavy traffic there, it was easier to walk to the next big Matatu stop. I recognized the area, from another day. I also did a video before in this area, so this will be as soon as possible on my website. We also had a short stop by a supermarket to by some gifts for the nunnery we wanted to visit in the slum.

Wanja take me along this day, because she wanted to visit her godmother, which she calls “auntey” (like in aunt). She is the sister of her father and a catholic nun, working since a while in the middle of the biggest slum in Nairobi, which is called Mathare. There is also another big one here in Nairobi which is called Kiberasare. The other day, when we picked up friend to go to Olo Polos, I shoot a video, in which asked, if they would call this area a slum. No, compared to what we headed for, this was at least a place to stay, which is o.k.. Randomly we met some jung nuns on the street to the Matatu stop in down town. Wanja asked them if they maybe going our way and if we could join them. This was because of two reasons. First, Wanja did’t saw her aunty for a long time and was not sure about the way. Second, I is not a recommendable tourist area, a Mzungu like me should visit. Mzungu by the way means white person in Swahili and has no racist connotation, like the German translation of black guy (= Schwarzer) slightly has. German people are a bit difficult about these issues. Therefore the nuns with us, are in a slum like the perfect body guard. The nuns do a lot of really good work around this area and most of the people here are very religious. So the all greet the nuns respectfully and some even greeted me and Wanja like friends, because we was with them carry the gift for the nunnery around. I would not

Anyway I shot some video and photos more around the entrance of the slum, but not while we walked through. It is not recommendable to carry obviously expensive things or clothes around this place. So maybe also not a good idea to take a lot of pictures around here.

Behind a hugh wall and a big gate was a kind of a oasis in the slum. Outside was a dirty street where need to watch each step and water running beside it. With little huts made of everything, you could think think of a material to build something. On each corner was a little “shop” that sold random stuff for daily life. Goats was carried along the streets to the next butchery to sell. Children saw me and came to beg. Men came to say hello. In between the huts, there where then more and more old buildings made of stone, which looked then most of the time more nice than the huts. Also flat buildings. It seemed, that they just build one story after the next on top of these houses. Some of them had six stories and the had started a seventh story on top.

Inside the nunnery, they had trees, a chapel, a school, a paved yard, an orphanage, a home for disabled children and grown ups, and a place for young women, who want to go the long way of 12 years to become a nun.

We sat down in a room, where we had a chat with sister Bethlin, Wanjas auntey. She told us a lot of her work here, and for sure Wanja and she had to talk a lot about family stuff. From time to time some young nuns came in to say hello to the visitors. The where then giggling like little girls. For some reason I think this was not really because Wanja came to visit… Anyway, I asked sister Bethlin, if she could show me around this place. It was not allowed to take photos around this place. In a few areas I got permission, but then I just decided to leave the camera away. This was no tourist place. So I will just tell you.

First, we waved a bus of nuns good bye, that went to the airport for a mission abroad. The nuns was send all around the world for their work. Sister Bethlin was 12 years abroad, before she came not so long ago back to Kenya. This place here is very international. You find here nuns from Asia, South America and even a nun from Germany. Since quite a while she had not spoken German, but just after a view words and a handshake she went to the bus for the airport and the mission abroad.

Then we was shown around to the orphanage. The have a lot of stuff for the children to play, but often it is under a plastic cover to make sure it will be clean and could be used a long time. It looked a bit strange, all this teddy bears with plastic covers in the hands of the children or just hanging from the roof. The also employ women form Nairobi as caretakers. I guess the children are here in good hands. But this was just for the little ones. They don’t have much space for older children to stay, so they have to find parents for the children to doped them, before they go to school.

Opposite of the orphanage was the home for the disabled grown ups. Here they have just women, because it was a nunnery. Around this house they had a lot of constructions and renovations going on. This is by the way very common all over Nairobi. You see constructions of houses at each corner of the city. It seem, that there is at least one or two construction site in each street. Often the take not so much care about security for the traffic at roadworks or the builders on the construction site, but there is that mentality to get it done. Nairobi is definitely a place of growth, even in the world finance crisis. But back to the home of the disabled women. I worked in an internship with disabled children, but again this was not really easy. I feel always a bit bad when I am around this people. It’s like feeling guilty to be brighter then they are. But they all seemed to be happy here. Most of them just chilled out in a yard behind the house. Most of them was able to notice the visitors and again most of this group was keen about saying Hello and give a handshake. You should treat them just like normal persons – may be more kind, if you treat the most people not to well 🙂 -, even if you feel in the beginning the urge to treat them like little children.

We just had a short look in the house for the young nuns. I guess men should be around here. Inside is a small praying room like a chapel, where we kneeled down for a short prayer. Next two this house is the home of the disabled children. This was something I was more used to see, so I felt here a bit more comfortable then with the disabled women. They have a very good psychologist here, who helps this children to develop. I learned in my internship in Sheffield, that the target for such children is to be later able to live their live independent from other people. The grown up women in the other house are the not so bright ones, that cant life on their own. In two very big bed’s they had a lot of not so bright kids – by the way, “bright” is the regular term to talk about the status of a disabled person. This was sad to see. Most of them are barely able to notice the world around them. The bit more bright ones, with hope of getting better when they grow, are at least able to show emotions when you move the toys above them, which was hanging from the sealing. A very bright boy, which was very hyperactive came to show me around. I guess he will be able to live on it’s own one day. He introduced me to everybody and was obviously enjoying it, to take a guest around. So I started playing with the more bright ones. It was fun. I like to play with kids, but especially with these little ones, you have to take care, that they get not to exited. They are less able to behave than other children their age.

Next stop was the school. Children from around this are go to this elementary school. They even have afternoon lectures, but this is not for the same kids. To use the school best, they have in each classroom two classes. One in the morning, and one in the afternoon. The teachers came from the city to this school. They educate the children here well and take care about special needs the slum children might have to catch up with the children from other areas. The hope, that the most children are then able to go to a regular school afterwards. On my way to the slum I saw boys in school uniforms, so it seems it works. So with this education a few of them might be able later to leave the slum which is the most important work the nuns do here, in my eyes. We visited all the classrooms until they had a play brake. It was interesting to see. Some of the children was able to speak a good english, some just learned it. In the slum it is not so common that the children grow up with two or three languages – remember, the native language is still the tribe language like Kikuyu AND Swahili. The other native language is English, which some of the people here don’t speak. The english people here are speak therefore no tribe languages and not even all off them speak Swahili. So one of the children didn’t got my name right and understand “Georg” as “Kioko”. Sounds similar if you try to pronounce it in a english way. Since then I have my African name. Kioko is a name from the Kamba tribe. About the fourth biggest ethnicity in this country. Again a short lecture about the tribes here. The Kikuyu are the major ethnicity here. The famous first president Kenyatta was Kikuyu. The third and actual president is Kikuyu again. That was the reason for other tribes to stand up after the elections, because the see a need to have a president form each ethnicity. So the tribe is still something very important here and builds up most part of the identity of the majority of the people. I guess this a important key to understand the habits of the people here. Massai are the most famous tribe here and often still live traditionally as herdsmen and warriors. The Kamba are known as kind people that get along with everybody. Kioko means “early in the morning”. Maybe it fits, because I am often early for breakfast 🙂 But the most of the names give just a hint about when someone was born, like “in the afternoon”, “at a sunday” or something. By the way “Georg” means “Farmer”, like my father was farmer and want me to become one – it fits.

After the school we sat down again. Sister Bethlin was away a while and had prepared a nice meal for us. A traditional tomato-salad, not to different, to what I am used to and spaghetti with sausages. The sausages was bit like Frankfurter, but sausage is not very famous here. They more likely have british breakfast sausages, which are not to good from a Germans point of view (like most british food 🙂 kidding, actually I liked the pies in England a lot).

While we ate, the sisters was away in a mass. When they came back we had another chat with sister Bethlin. She asked me about my travel, what it is for. This might be also of interest for you:

“This travel is on the surface to visit friends. I would like to see and hear and sense as much as I can. I would like to find out about other cultures, what it is like to live here. If possible I want to find out even about all parts of the society. I came to see the good things and the bad things, to be able to understand. I want at least to get clue where understanding should start. At the same time this travel is not only about going away form my home, it is also about finding a way to myself. When you are entangled in the duties of daily live, you might be not able to reflect that intense about yourself. So I also hope to come back as a better person, then the one that started this travel. Therefore it is also a struggle with my inner self.” For this two reasons – the external and the internal – I recommend such a travel to all of you! But this only can work, if you get involved with the people, and not just living in hotels and having guided tours or seek for exotic romance. You might have noticed, that my first week was a lot about party, drinking and having fun. This week is for sure the more serious one. There will be a few more parties in each country I will go to, but I also think there will be also more time to understand and reflect.

With that we left the nunnery with blessings and gifts from sister Bethlin. Sister Bethlin and one of the young nuns, she teaches brought us to the Matatu place more outside the slum, from where we went back to the city.

On the way to Nairobi city Wanja got a call from her father, that we should stay away from down town because of a fire. We passed by the fire on our way from one Matatu stop to another big one. A supermarket was burning. Most likely you saw just a lot of smoke in between the skyscrapers. Wanja told me that it take quite a while in Nairobi clear a fire. This might have nothing to do with the equipment, because I saw very modern fire trucks, but with the crowed around. It was like hole Nairobi was standing in the streets, looked out windows and even climbed and entered buildings and balconies to have a better look. Even the advertisement screens on the streets showed live pictures from the fire a few streets away and people was standing all around, blocking the roads. Also the police started to close roads to make sure the people stay away from the fire and the firemen can do their job. We went in the meantime to a internet café. Even there I was not very satisfied with the speed of the connection. It need a lot of patients. Something I have a lack of.

Because the streets was still busy with the crowed of the streets we could get a Matatu to get home. Wanja told me, the people might wait for a chance to lot the supermarket. So we decided to got to a bar, met there a friend of Wanja and stay away from the streets a while. So we sat down and I had a nice chat with Wanjas friend. He is graphic designer and showed us his newest work in a newspaper. He created two advertisements for Computer equipment. While we was sitting there for a beer – I learned to order it in Swahili, and feel therefore from now on independent and able to life in Kenya. The people on the streets start screaming and running outside the bar. The barkeeper closed the door and blocked it. Through the window you could se the people running away from a place. It was not because of the fire – we had a live NTV news from the fire to update us in the bar. Then I saw police horsemen pushing the people away. Wanja told me, this is what they call here a running battle. When the police cant manage it to make the people stand away from the fire, they force them. As far as I could see it, the police was not aggressive, but you would run, if a horse would run behind you. Wanja explained me, that this is for the own good of the people. When the US Embassy was bombed in Nairobi, there was fist a smaller explosion, and everybody came stare. Then came the big explosion and even a skyscraper next to the embassies place came down and lots of people died and was injured. By the way, the place where the embassy was is now a park. The embassy of the US moved out of the inner city.

Enough adventures for a day. We went back in a very big Matatu, that felt like a rolling discotheque.

Read you later.

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