They say that time flies by when you’re having fun. I have been in East Africa for six months and now it seems like my time has passed by in almost no time. Even though I have done a lot, and traveled through most of East Africa. Burundi is the only country in the region that I have not been to. It hasn’t been only fun, I must say, but I wouldn’t have expected it. Life is never only fun.
The restless part of me, wanting to travel and to explore the world is for the time being satisfied. I have made my mistakes, tried and failed, but at least I have learnt through the process of failing. But most of all, I think that I have achieved. For what it’s worth, it’s good enough for me. A few times I have felt like wanting to cry, though I haven’t. The hardest times has been meeting people who are struggling to get by, and hearing people’s stories. Many of them I have not put on my blog. My impression is that people are trying their best. East Africa also offers plenty of opportunities to have fun and I have had a plenty of laughs, especially with locals. The best moments is when we laugh at the same jokes, because the cultural divide somehow disappears.
Now, in Nairobi, I have spent two and a half days before catching my flight back home to Norway. In a way I wish I could stay for a bit longer, because I really enjoy being in East Africa. Within a few days I have tried to make the most of my time here.
On Monday I visited the National Museum of Kenya, which includes a range of various exhibitions on display, including historical, cultural, natural history and art. The exhibition that made the strongest impression was the fine arts. This included pieces made by youth on the theme “Experience Kenyan Heritage through Art”. Fifty youth entered the competition and the top four pieces are on display. They are all beautifully made. Art collector Joe K. Gitau is quoted as having said: “To improve our ways of living we definitely need to improve on the way we treat art – art is the only language that unites us regardless of our race, language and vast cultures.” I could not agree more.
Yesterday I visited Karen Blixen’s home in the suburb Karen in Nairobi. Her home is under refurbishment and all the furniture is for the time being covered by plastic sheets. I was allowed to enter at a reduced cost. At 28 years of age Blixen left Denmark when she received a marriage proposal from her half cousin, Baron Bror von Blixen Fincke from Sweden. She was a pioneer in the promotion of universal education for children, for which she is well known for here, I was told by a guide at the museum. At the beginning of the film Out of Africa Meryl Streep, in the role as Karen Blixen says, “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills.” From the garden I had a view towards the Ngong hills, and could easily imagine the Baroness strolling in her garden. The coffee plantation that once existed here was 600 acres large, but due to bankruptcy Blixen was forced to sell it. Coffee crops grows poorly in this region due high levels of acidity in the soil, so it was not the best cash crops to invest in. Today there is a country club at the site of the former plantation. For those who are interested in visiting Karen Blixen Museum, I am sure it will be beautifully presented once the refurbishment finishes in May.
Today I visited Kibera, the second largest slum in the world. It is second to Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa. John Kennedy gave me a guided tour for free. He is 24 years old and is involved in community development projects. I commented that he is only missing the “F” in his name to make him famous. Kind of famous… I met him through couchsurfing.org, which is a great way of making new friends and finding cheap (free) accommodation while travelling if you’re new in town. And it is safe as well because you can read other couch surfers’ online reviews who have stayed with people before. John Kennedy was born in and grew up in Kibera and knows his way around the ghetto.
We went to visit John’s uncle, who owns restaurants in this area of town. He has two wives and eighteen children. Twelve children with one wife and six with the second. Each family stays in each house and the father mixes to live with his two families. The children help out with the restaurants and some other boys collect waste that they sell in order to earn money. I asked Derek what he thinks about lifein Kibera. He said, ” It is good, because we get money.” We visited one restaurant, and both of the homes of the uncle’s family. Both houses are sized about as large as a medium sized bedroom, possibly 10m2. John Kennedy pointed to a table placed in one house, and said “This is the sitting room.” Subsequently he pointed to an open space in the same corner in the room, and said “This is the kids’ bedroom. Twelve children sleep here.” The bed mattress is stored on top of a clothes liner, strung up in the ceiling, on which also clothes are hung.
People living in low-income countries often have a way of coming up with new ideas of how to solve or help those in need. One of John’s cousin in the his uncle’s second home, Derek at 14 years of age told us about his idea of creating a solar light. Occasionally the power is not functioning, and normally it would be very dark when the power is off. In order to allow for the family to have some light he had an idea of making a light using an empty water bottle, water and a washing liquid. The bottle is filled with the mixture and then placed in a hole in the tin roof. Rays of sunlight pass through the bottle and gives more light inside the house. Derek and his brother Felix have made similar bottle lamps for the neighbouring families. Outside we could see bottles sticking up from the tin roofs in their vicinity. At only fourteen I thought that his ability to alleviate the problem of not having light in the lack of power is very impressive. I told him that he should become an inventor and help solving other problems. Derek seemed happy with my suggestion of his career path.
Today Nairobi had quite a bit of rain while we were in Kibera. There are no paved roads in the ghetto, but a lot of muddy tracks, which get even muddier during rain. A passerby nearly slipped, but managed to stay on his feet. In Norway we have slippery ice during winter, while in Kibera slippery mud can be a challenge. Along the way we passed by a public toilet. For 5 Shillings per visit many locals cannot afford to spend the money to relieve themselves. The local solution are the “flying toilets”. After one is finished the human waste is put in a plastic bag, which one make a tied knot to keep things inside. Then the bag is swung around, and one makes a whistling noise to warn others before letting it all go and throwing it away. “If you hear the whistling noise you will know that something is coming,” John warned me. So take care and seek cover. If you should be unlucky, you simply brush it off, wash it off and move on. “And head straight to work, eh?” was my response.
Afterwards we moved on to visit Fruitful Educational Centre. George, in his mid-twenties is the manager of the centre for orphans. Subsequent to the post-election violence in 2007 many children were left orphaned in Kibera when their parents were killed in inter-tribal violence. Neighbours would kill neighbours of another tribal group due to a power struggle, which I am told, has lasted since the era of independence in the early 1960s. Kibera was a “hotspot” of the violence that followed the elections of that year. Several children suffered from post-traumatic stress and had no one to look after them. To help them George and his grandmother, Lorna, set up a rescue centre for children. Lorna had already started projects for women’s empowerment before the 2007 elections. Now they look after some twenty children providing them with school and a home. George, being an acrobat, teaches some of the boys how to do somersaults and various group formations. They perform for audiences to raise funds for tuition fees. During our visit the children performed to show their skills and talents. The dancing and acrobatics is also a method to ensure that the children have joy and pleasure in their lives. In addition the centre promotes peace and non-violent communication as a preventive measure against violence and crime.
Today I am catching my flight back to Norway. I am looking forward to seeing friends and family, including my older sister. She is pregnant, due to give birth in about two weeks. I am looking forward to visiting my favourite places in Oslo and being a Norwegian on a full time basis. At least for a while. And I am going to apply for funds for my projects.
I hope that you have enjoyed following me on my journey in East Africa. Thank you. 🙂
All the best,