Hello from Kenya!
I have been here for over two weeks, and I have lots to share. This post is going to be a bundle of random. Enjoy!
So far I have been mostly staying in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi. The house is decent – high living with a toilet and a shower – but we are in the slums. It’s like walking around in one of those commercials where they show sad kids playing in trash and tell you that you can feed them for less than a dollar a day. The difference is those kids always have puppy eyes. The kids here are always laughing and playing happily.
The first time I walked through the slums, I fell in a hole. I won’t tell you what was in the hole. Honestly I didn’t want to investigate that too thoroughly myself. I’ll let you use your imagination. The hole was lined with metal sheeting, so I bruised my knee really bad and got a nice scratch on my leg. Evidence:
Basically I am an idiot. The bruise is still there, but the scratch is finally healed. There was a moment where it got puffy and red, and I got a little panicky about what bacteria was making its new home in my leg… but all is well now.
To me, the most interesting part of the story is the reaction of those around me. I was with a local outside of a house I had just visited. I was just embarrassed for being so clumsy, but they all sprang into action to take care of me. One guy fished my shoe out of the, uh, muck and took it to a woman washing clothes to be cleaned. Another brought me a wet rag to clean off my leg. Someone else stood there to help me stand on one foot. I was so well taken care of. Maybe it was just because i’m white, and they were frightened. I don’t know. I would love to know what they secretly thought of this idiot white girl who doesn’t know to look at the ground when she walks!
I went to the Maasai Mara for just a few days, which is officially one of my new favorite places. It is gorgeous. Evidence:
I saw some awesome birds, a poisonous lizard, a dikdik, and some zebras, but you’ll have to wait on photos of that. What I can show you know is this – bones!
I felt like Simba exploring an elephant graveyard, only instead of being chased by hyenas I had a little crowd of Maasai kids running after me. They loved my camera and really wanted
to touch my skin, but they wouldn't do it when I was looking at them even if I held out my hand. They would only do it when I wasn't looking because, you know, obviously I can't feel that. It was cute. This is some of them.
For those wondering what work I’m actually doing, one of the things I did was play photographer a bit for these photos to protest the trophy hunt for the black rhino in Namibia. I think they look pretty awesome. Example:
And I have another story for you about work I tried to do. I am a little nervous about telling it because I don’t want to offend anyone, but it’s important to me. Listen openly, please.
I went to a room in the slums yesterday where a woman runs a daycare. She calls it an orphanage, but in the Western sense of the word that’s not true. She takes care of children during the day so their mothers can work. Daycare. The room was about the size of maybe two cubicle offices. When I was there she had 15 kids that were from baby to toddler range – too young to be in school. They were dirty and adorable and at first I was really excited to be there.
I sat down and the bravest kid, a little boy about two, climbed onto my lap. I was trying to play with him, but she wouldn’t stop talking to me about all the wonderful things she’s done. She wanted me to see photos of kids she’s helped over the years that are now at university. She wanted me to look at how many names were in a notebook of children she helps. She wanted me to see how she uses her purse as an office. She wanted to complain about their tiny space and tell the story of how she has no money for a bigger one. She wanted me to praise her and feel sorry for her and open up my wallet.
Maybe she deserves those things, but while I was there, that boy I was holding got bored and got down out of my lap. And he fell on that concrete floor and bumped his head. And when I tried to get to him to love on him (walking in a tiny room with 15 toddlers takes some navigational skills), she stopped me and got frustrated that I wasn’t paying attention to her photos! She physically tuned me away from him – a child crying in pain – to look at her.
Before I left, I was told a story about how on Judgement Day everyone will be asked what they’ve done with their life and God will need an answer. I was told to consider my legacy and what I wanted it to be if I died tomorrow. I was literally told to remember Mother Theresa and try to be like her. I can not fully describe how much it sickened me. I want to help kids, but telling me to help you so God will love me is a really ineffective way to gain my trust.
I left there feeling so nauseous. When I got home I ate some of my cracker stash meant for when I’m carsick to get the bad taste out of my mouth and read Harry Potter (my comfort object for homesick days) to escape my angry thoughts.
Here’s the thing: I have been in a few slum houses now, and although they DO make me sad, it does not occur to their owners that it would be weird for me to be in a little room with four sets of bunk beds with walls of sticks and mud and metal sheeting for the roof. That’s how they live. They aren’t expecting my sympathy. This woman, though, has learned to play the pity card, and it felt inauthentic, rude, and annoying.
There are other places I can go, and I will. I hope that’s the last time I get that kind of attention. It probably won’t be, but let a girl dream.
Thanks for listening. Most of my experiences here have been so positive, but that was the one I needed to get off my chest!