Saturday, February 11, 2012

From Kibera to Muthaiga

Yesterday, I thought it would be interesting to go check out the 'Village Market'. Contrary to what it sounds like, the Village Market is actually a luxurious shopping complex with over 150 stores, along with a food court that caters to a variety of international cuisines. It is located in Muthaiga, arguably the fanciest part of Nairobi--the president's home and the United Nations compound are located here, and many expatriates working for the UN and foreign embassies alike also call it home. It is often said this shopping centre is for Nairobi's elite, and people joke that its full of wazungu (white people).

Upon arrival, I found these claims to have a grain of truth. In Kibera, I am among the few white people within the slum. In the Village Market, I was hard pressed to find anyone who was not a foreigner, carrying bags of shopping. So along we went, exploring the indoor/outdoor maze concept that is this shopping mall. They had a health food store, an art gallery, a hair salon that caters to foreign people (not joking, they had a 'European/Asian' price list and an 'Afro' price list), and some art galleries. It was fancier than any mall I had been to in Canada. Nicer than Metrotown, for any of you who have been there.

Initially, my intention was just to have a little day trip, do some exploring, relax, and show Joram some of the funny things that Canadians eat (The Nakumatt there sells McCain superfries - the smile ones!).

I had just spent my week in Kibera. I had visited homes half the size of your living room (and with twice as many family members), discussed adherence to ARVs, talked about solutions for children who were unable to attend school due to lack of school fees. I conversed with a woman whose only option lately to feed her 6 children was to sleep with a man who would give her 50 shillings (about 60 cents) for ugali flour. I measured and distributed food rations for the World Food Program. And while I do love what I do, none of this seemed fair. At all.

I passed a furniture gallery, and in the window was a couch for 300,000 shillings. That is about $3500 Canadian, or enough for a family to move out of the slum. For a year. And eat nutritious food all the while. I started to well up. How unfair that 45 minutes away, a third of Nairobi's population (1 m.) lived in a space the size of Stanley Park and was unable to afford even the most basic necessities. And here everyone was, spending 2 months rent in Kibera on a hair cut or the equivalent of a childs lifetime of school fees, from K to 12, on a couch.

It was difficult for me to decide whether or not I should be there at all, and I felt kind of hypocritical. How could I, who came here under the pretense of assisting others, justify just checking out of that for the day and going to the Village Market? I felt lucky to have the luxury. To have the option to come across town and look around the mall, to eat a variety to nutritious foods of my choice, to have a latte if I did so feel to. To fly back to Canada to a loving, healthy (relatively) family and friends, a refrigerator and pantry full of food and a washing machine that did all the work for me. And to a house without holes in the roof, or to a country with free, quality healthcare.

In reality, I have that option, but for others, it is a struggle to find enough shillings to eat, for rent, or to print out a resume if you want to apply for a better job. And even that is dependent upon if you are able to read, type, and speak English.

The rent in Kibera can range anywhere from $3 to $30. At most, $50. Enough food to feed a large family would be under a dollar, for a packet of ugali flour. It could last 3 days.

At the Village Market, you can buy fancy granola at the health food store, buy a $3500 couch, go to the waterpark, see a movie, go bowling, or buy Prada.

As some have told me, it is unfair to compare myself to others or to compare Kibera and Muthaiga. I know it is not wrong of me to have things like enough food to eat or proper shelter. I just need to find the balance between compassion and the ability to take care of myself as well. As a social work instructor might put it, the ability to practice self care. It doesn't mean stop caring, nor does it mean to overindulge. Balance is key. I will always count my blessings, and I'll try to use the education I have been blessed with to assist others in rising from poverty.

"Go now to make a difference in this perilous and broken world.
May you all hold each human life in the same regard as your own.
May you bring serenity and peace to the lives of others.
May God's Loving Spirit go with you and guide you this day and always.

- Convocation Benediction Given by The Rev. Brian Yealland,
Queen's University, 30 October 2003.
(Borrowed from the website of Gen. Romeo Dallaire).


  1. Replies
    1. Hey Rafiki,
      I really appreciate that you're reading my blog! I seemed to forget some of this stuff having been back in Canada for so long. I promise to balance it out with some happy posts too :)
      Miss you!