So what’s it like living in Nairobi? Well, I’d say it’s tough and that’s putting it mildly. If you happen to live in one of the slum areas, like the majority of the population, life is something that you try and get through every day. There’s not a lot of work about. Doing odd jobs means that for that one day you will have money and the next, you won’t.
You need to find enough work to be able to earn a few shillings to feed and clothe your children. Water costs money and has to be delivered. Delivering it also has to be paid for. Cooking is done on refillable gas bottles. These need refilling regularly. These are refilled for a fee, of course, but people rarely get their tanks back filled to their full capacity. For the people doing the filling, it’s a good way of saving gas and serving more customers.
A corrugated metal, 2.5 metre square ‘house’ with a leaky roof and exposed and dangerous electricity also costs money. Everyone has to pay rent. If the rent can’t be paid, everyone is put out and will be sleeping on the streets. I saw lots of people sleeping on the streets. The rent costs 20,000 shillings a month, which is about 20 euros. If your house is made of bricks, it costs about 30,000 shillings, 30 euro’s. That doesn’t seem so much to us, but when you consider that a loaf of bread costs 30 shillings (3 euro cents), or a fresh pineapple costs 50 (5 euro cents) it’s a lot of money that has to be paid every month.
There are some small, very basic schools in these parts of town. Everyone is desperate to send their children to school and the children desperately want to go. Everyone knows that getting an education is the only chance for any sort of a safe, secure future. School costs money! Every school term has to be paid for, including everything the children need to learn. School books, exercise books, pens and pencils etc. School uniforms also cost money and they are compulsory. If a child doesn’t have one, they can’t attend school. So most children get very little chance of education. They may only be able to attend one term in any schoolyear, which leaves children disadvantaged and undereducated. Spread out on the pavements in the streets around the centre, are thin paper exercise books. Piles of them. Some are in a reasonable condition and a lot aren’t. These are the schoolbooks that most people are buying. But when I happened to look at the prices of books in the supermarket, I was shocked to see that a basic hard backed book cost 50,000 shillings! A childrens paperback story book was 30,000! That’s fifty and thirty euros, which is twice the price of books here in europe. So by making it impossible for the population to have access to basic education, the population remains ignorant. An ignorant population is not likely to rebel against a government who wants to keep them that way. I was furious at the injustice of it all! A basic human right denied to thousands.
Don’t get sick in Nairobi! A visit to a hospital costs a lot of money. No one can afford health insurance. I heard a story of a mother of four. She had given birth at the hospital. When it was time to go home, she was presented with the bill. Which she couldn’t pay. Her daughter was forced to go home, gather all her mothers belongings, including all her clothes and sell them. It took a week. Meanwhile her mother was kept in the hospital without food, water or treatment until the bill was paid. Then they let her go home. People die in hospitals. A lot. Next door to our Salon is a small private hospital. I was intesrested in seeing what is was like and I got shown around. I used to be a nurse, so I was interseted in finding out what sort of care they could offer. It was very basic and was clean and had facilities to precribe drugs, fit people with glasses and carry out minor surgery. There was a room for mothers to give birth and two beds which they could rest in after the birth. They have access to a private ambulance if they need to take a patient to hospital, but the traffic on the streets is almost permanently gridlocked, so a journey to hospital would take a long time, and then there’s the bill! The doctors there are working long hours seeing up to thirty patients a day and then they spend night shifts dealing with emergencies.
Despite all the difficulties and injustices that these people deal with on a daily basis, there are some really great things about Nairobi. One is the public transport. Guide books will warn you off using public buses, but if you never use them, you are missing out on a bone crunching, hot, cramped, musical experience. They are all painted brightly with the craziest logos and designs and slogans. They are fitted out with loud speakers, which play very loud hiphop or reggae. If you sit next to the loud speaker you’ll be literally filled with rhythm as the beat vibrates through your bones. You can watch music videos on Nairobi’s very own MTV. And on some buses, disco lights are included. The potholes are so bad and the ride so bumpy that the whole experience can be like a ride on a big dipper. I love them! Everybody loves them. They are a big, bright, happy thing to ride in and there to brighten everyones day. A warning though! Don’t try taking photos with your camera or telephone near the window or someone outside may take it out of your hands. And it’s always sensible to keep your valuables somewhere where hands can’t get at them.
Another great thing about Nairobi is the food. Delicious simple recipes cooked with fresh local produce. Spinach is popular and sweet potatoes and arrowroot. The fruit is delicious and cheap. Pineapples taste fantastic because they haven’t been plucked, green from the trees and spent weeks in a ship before ending up on our supermarket shelves. They are very ripe, sweet and juicy. We tried sugar cane which looks just like bamboe from a distance. A man with a machete slices off the outside stem and slices bite size chunks off it. It’s really fibrous so it’s chewed on until the sweet sugar pours out and then it’s spit out. It’s heavenly. The staple diet of Ugali is a thick paste made with corn flour and water. There’s not much taste to it but when it’s eaten with vegetables cooked in a sauce it’s really good. Rice is also a staple part of everyones diet but that’s more expensive. More expensive than I’d expected it to be. So is meat. Being able to eat chicken or beef is a real luxury. So it’s a real treat when anyone gets the chance to indulge. It was lovely for us being able to buy enough chicken and rice and vegetables to prepare a big, delicious dinner for Maqulate and all the family. The ladies are wonderful cooks!
A delicious plate of chicken, spinach, sweet potatoes and rice.
And the greatest thing about Nairobi are the people, who are smiling despite their hardships. Who are helping and supporting each other. The women who are working all the hours God can give them to support their families and hopefully pay for some education for their children. The people out all day in the baking sun pulling heavy carts piled with goods through the diesel fumes of the gridlocked and chaotic traffic. It’s a hard life. Belief in God gives everyone a ray of hope. Belief that a better day is coming. I believe also that a better day is coming for the girls and women we want to help through our project. A small change in someones circumstances can be a major change in one girls life. It doesn’t cost much to change one life. We want to help lots of girls with our project. Everyone deserves a chance and I know we can’t help everyone. I wish we could, but I will be forever happy to be able to change lives for as many girls as we can.
With your help we can make a difference