Saturday 5 September 2009

Slum Dust Millionaire

For once I have woken up and been pleased to see that it is raining. Not rain like we know it in Wales, more like being caught by a sprinkler that is watering someone's lawn or the splash from an overflow pipe from an upstairs bathroom. Whatever I welcome the fact that the dust that contaminates every breath I take in Nairobi will meet its fate and become mud. Eventually the mud will become dust again then return to mud in an eternal cycle until it reaches a mud moksha or gets blown away to become part of a desert somewhere.
Last night I spent half an hour cleaning my camera, it had become coated in slum dust becoming a vehicle for just about every disease known to man. The dirtied white hotel towel I used should really have been incinerated, I kept glancing at it laying in the corner like a convicted child killer.Malignent linen.
I had spent a fantastic afternoon with SAFE a small charity that educates through theatre, they work in ghettos in Nairobi and Mombassa and also in extreme rural areas. They always work with youth from those areas addressing issues the young people feel need attention.They also encourage local talent to get up on stage and this further engages the local folks and it is also how they find their performers.

The performance I filmed was about bad parenting, it's astonishing because that is a taboo subject almost everywhere in the world, you don't tell people how to bring their kids up, but we should.
The group work from a bus that has a retractable stage. In minutes an empty space between buildings with a couple of streams of liquid runnin across it that were maybe 10% water, was turned into an arena. The group then went out with drums and a bugle and marched around the district and pied piper style returned leading a throng of dancing laughing people and a cloud of dust and airborne diseases.

I have been here before, a labrinth of low single storey wood or corrugated iron, buildings that seem to have replicated themselves thousands of times but each one slightly different to another. The scene reminds me of an almost completed game of boxes where children have to complete squares on a dotted grid.There are no roads. lights or pavements just the buildings and small paths inbetween the place wasn't planned it happened.
Slums, ghettos , highly populated temporary housing however you want to label them, they all suffer the same problems and there are many, one of the biggest is is disposing of waste both human and domestic. Any surface water just becomes contaminated, it stinks,it is fetid, almost frightening and certainly lethal. At one point I heard one child's cry that cut through the noise as being distressed not just upset or angry. It is as if a parent's ears are atuned to the SOS of an infant. A small child of maybe two had fallen face down into one of the putrid pools and was covered in the foul mud. It was a pathetic sight other children stood around watching not knowing what to do and the child stood there distressed and dripping finally he toddled off into the maze of housing.

Recently an NGO hit upon the great idea of turning the acres of corrugated iron roofing into a giant catchment bowl for rainwater thus supplying fresh clean water to everyhousehold in the slum. However they did not account for flying toilets. In a supreme example of Not in my back yardism it is common practice for people to defaecate into a plastic bag and then dispose of it by throwing it as far away as possible. Mostly they end up on the roofs nearby but frequently hit people who may be walking past. I think this maybe what stopped the water catchment plan.

50 years ago the site of this slum was a wooded valley with a cool river running through it. Over the years migrants set up here and now it is this vast estate without sanitation lighting or law It strikes me that this could be Glastonbury If left to run for 50 years when the stage had collapsed. Alot of people make a lot of filth and we in the north produce just as much sewage as anyone else. If you look at the mess left behind after any festival you can see it that in time it would reach slum conditions.

The rain has come and will damp the dust it will gloss the surfaces of the city and lightly clean the streets. This morning the hundreds of people who daily treck up to 6 miles each way to work from the slums are carrying umberellas or bags over their heads. The rain seems to have out a spring in their step but their faces are largely expressionless, like commuters on the tube each individual absorbed in their journey their thoughts, still nearer sleep than wakefulness They pass the endless queues of stationary traffic each badly tuned car coughing up exhaust,both air and land are congested. Nairobi city council could save thousands by switching the traffic lights off, sell them for scrap nobody uses them.Traffic police do a perfectly good job of keeping this city at a virtual standstill,syphoning off vehicles from one line of traffic to wait at the end of another. The red lights don't mean a thing ultimately all things turn to dust and when it rains that becomes mud.

1 comment:

The thumb is mightier... said...

This is so powerful. Thank you