KIBERA, KENYA—When I returned to my apartment after a business trip, Bernard (on top of the car on his cell phone) explained to me that the orphanage next to my flat had burned down the night before. The cause was either neglect of a cooking fire or an electrical failure; there were rumors of both. Everyone was able to escape safely. In the background of the photo above you can see four boys pulling a disfigured bunk-bed frame from the rubble. The car Bernard is standing on was in working condition before the fire.
Bernard is a swell guy. Some people you just know straight off. When I arrived at my apartment last week he took me around to find all of the things I would need. He manages a health clinic next to the orphanage and he is the manager of the upand-coming Kibera Celtic football team which had a record of 31-3-3 last season and is now in a national kenyan league. The night of the fire he stayed awake and guarded the site. Bernard explained to me that when there is some kind of disturbance in Kibera, some people, especially young men, will take advantage of the disorganization and raid the surrounding area. Such was the case the night of the fire. The mechanic shop and Toi Market were threatened by thieves, but from what I can understand Bernard, the mechanics, et al kept the area safe.
In the background is Kibera Plaza where I live in a two bedroom flat on the third floor. Though the water is sporadic (people have to buy water most days) the location is great and so is the price.
The roof of Kibera Plaza gives one of the best views in Nairobi, I wager. There is really nothing left of the orphanage but scrap metal which will all be sold by the kilogram. None of it will be thrown away. The small fires in the middle of the photo are not from the original fire. In Kibera, waste collection is a joke. People have learned the only way to get rid of trash is to burn it. So that is what they are doing.
For my house, I have a two bedroom flat with a kitchen and a living room (each room is about 12’x12′). The rent is about 180USD per month. Such a deal! But I don’t have anything to put in the house yet. My only furniture is an inflatable camping mattress. The emptiness of my room sharply contrasts with the fullness of an adjacent room of the same size housing the 15 members of the girls’ football team. Sometimes I feel a little guilty, especially since I spend so little time at home. Most of time is spent on business trips.
Some people scold me for living where I do. (The flat is officially in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, but in practice the slum is across the road from my flat.) Other people are very encouraging to me. I hoped by living here I would see things differently. I was saddened to see so many people displaced by the fire. But I was thankful that I could be a witness to an event that I would never have noticed if I did not live in Kibera.