Kenya, another week!

by Through Inspiration

Another week has passed in Nairobi. The realities that exist here are becoming clearer and continually more overwhelming. This being said, I will start with the good things first. I moved into my home stay on Saturday night. I LOVE it here. My family is amazing. I live with my mom (Mama ZamZam), my dad (baba), my older sister Mary (she is so wonderful) and the house help, Scofia (she doesn’t speak English but we laugh together a lot). It is interesting, everyone here has house help! They have welcomed me in with open arms and emphasize that this home is now mine, and I will forever be a part of the family. They are a muslim family and my father is a polygamist, these are both things that I do not have a lot of knowledge or experience with so I am eager to learn. Mama is a fantastic cook and literally force-feeds me at every meal! I have to try to politely tell her that I am full but she gives me a dissatisfied expression and puts it on my plate anyways. Normally I would say no, but she cooks amazing food, and we all know how I love to eat. She is constantly making me laugh, telling me about how she needs to go on a diet. Her expressions are priceless and her laugh is soothing and heart warming, I am growing to love them all already! On the nights that my father is home from his other wives house we all eat together in the living room. He chats with me about my studies and teaches me about Kenya, while my mom watches her favorite American dubbed soap operas—amazingly hilarious. Our house is very nice in comparison to what many other students are dealing with, I feel very fortunate. My sister and I have been getting up around 6 am to walk in the mornings. She likes to exercise and so do I (we both need to burn off mama’s cooking). We stroll through the streets and watch the little kids walking along the railroad tracks on their way to school. All of them are wearing matching school uniforms, and many of them barely 4 years of age. The children here are breathtakingly adorable. They all smile, wave and yell “muzungu, mugunzu!” and run away laughing. Muzungu means “white person” in Kiswahili.

We visited numerous NGO’s this week. I love when we go on visits, it means we don’t have to sit in 4 hour Kiswahili lectures. Earlier this week we visited Women Fighting Aids in Kenya. This experience, like many this week, was very eye opening and inspirational. We visited women living with HIV/AIDS and sat with them in their homes. It became so apparent that the issues people are facing here are real, more real than I could ever have imagined. The stigma around HIV/AIDS is tragic and the people who are suffering from this disease cannot find work. The woman we spoke to lives in a one-room shack with one bed that took up the entire room, she lives here with 5 other people. Their rent is twenty-two American dollars a month and its all they can afford. She spoke openly and honestly about her experience, and we all sat crammed in her tiny room soaking up her presence. What inspired me the most was the hope and joy the women displayed in spite of their disease and living conditions. Words cannot describe what it was like to sit and hear their stories of forgiveness and how they make sense of their condition. I feel so fortunate to have met them.

Today was amazing and challenging. We visited the Kibera slums. Kibera is the largest slum in East Africa and it is about 10 minutes away from my home stay. Imagine all of the things you’ve heard about third world slums and they’re all true. We found our way through tightly woven homes made from tin, wood and old plastic tarps, rivers of human feces ran by our feet and over peoples front steps. Children sat in the dirt crying, black from dirt and dust, flies covering their bodies and their bellies bloated from hunger. In the midst of this terror and madness you find beauty. Beauty in the people you meet, those trying to make a difference and trying to make a living. Children scream and laugh in the school house as you hear them chant their ABC’s in Kiswahili; they are fascinated by us white people. Children gather behind fences and chant “How are you, how are you, how are you!” and laugh when we reply in broken Swahili, “Nzuri sana, na we we?” I find my eyes darting in one million directions, trying not to miss a moment. My mind follows, wondering, observing and coming up with endless amount of questions. I am in awe of the conditions, and in awe of how people can live their lives this way, day after day. To them however, this is home, this is life. The smells are overpowering, the trash scattered and piled high and moms wash buckets of clothes in dirty water, a baby slung on her back. There is no water system, minimal electricity and no sewer systems; the women and children walk kilometers to find clean water. All of this being said, there are a lot of wonderful people doing hard work to change the conditions of Kibera. I am thinking of studying maternal mortality in the slums. The maternal mortality rate in Kibera is an appalling 33%. This is an unacceptable reality.

Oh lord, I have probably overwhelmed you all. I am overwhelmed! I want you to know that I am well. Thinking a lot, learning a lot and laughing a lot! I have a good group of friends and a fantastic family. On my 2-mile walk to school I buy a mango and an avocado for 30 cents and happily munch the day away. A week from now we will be leaving for the village where we will be living for 2 weeks. I am hoping to get another chance to write before this. Feel free to email and ask questions. There is SO, SO much I haven’t gotten a change to write or express. Each day is filled with stories. I feel as though I am giving such incomplete explanations of the experiences and the things we have been doing and seeing. I hope to give you each a glimpse, at the very least. Hoping you’re well.

Bridgette