Life in Nairobi's Kibera slum

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced today that Kenya's rival political parties have agreed on a plan to end the violence. (You prefer not to use the term �slum.' What do you use?) I prefer either squatter community or shanty towns because slum is a pejorative. (Give us a vivid picture of Kibera.) Kibera is positively medieval. You walk in and it's the end of paved roads or roads of any kind. All houses are made of mud. During the rainy season the mud is so thick is sucks the soles off your shoes. The community has no water, no sewers, no toilets, no running water. It's shocking that these kinds of conditions can exist and 40 years after independence in Kenya nothing has changed. It's within sight of wealthy communities. (How many people live in Kibera?) It's somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million people. The population density is immense. The size has been compared to Central Park. There are many fully productive citizens of society that live there. (How does somebody like that manage?) Well one official has two small rooms for him and his family. He's in Kibera because he's priced out because of the other communities in Nairobi. (You describe some people in Kibera as squatter millionaires). This is a community that buys food, drinks beer, does normal things and entrepreneurs who service those activities can make a lot of money. The particular person I refer to started out by cutting a hole in the window of his mud hut and selling products out his window and he parlayed that over 30 years into many stores and a whole network of investments including grocery stores and apartment buildings, he owns property in the legal part of the city but he prefers to live in Kibera because that's his home and where he's always lived. (Can you talk to us about this man who doesn't have a lot but he goes out and is pretty well dressed and you wouldn't expect for him to live in this community.) Yes this man was splendid everywhere. He was just amazingly well groomed all the time, clothing and cleanliness. I asked people what they thought of foreigners like me and I expected them to say wealthy and they instead said dirty because they wash their clothes all the time. They really prize this. They use old fashioned irons which uses charcoal. (So if they can barely feed their families why would they place so much importance or a crease in a pair of jeans?) it's very important to look right when you're applying for a job and everyone wants work. But beyond that the people in Kibera want to be recognized as legitimate citizens. They want to be seen as people who have something to offer society. They go to lengths to show this off, showing even their diplomas or high school degrees. (Are you in touch with these people now?) it's difficult because they don't have fixed phone lines. (What are they telling you?) one friend told me the situation is really deteriorating. Kibera is so large an area that it has many different neighborhoods and they're different ethnic enclaves. And they're being protected by their own militant gangs. She did say that the police are trying to quell the violence between these gangs by lobbing in tear gas which doesn't do any good because it makes everyone more angry. It had gotten to the point where this friend was investigating options of moving into a refugee camp.

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