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Our safari has ended and we are headed home. But first, we have some time to kill before our flight home.
Our outfitter has arranged a driver who picks us up at the Wilson Airport a little before noon to show us around Nairobi for the rest of the day. His name was Gideon. He was tall with a soft but deep voice that reminded me of James Earl Jones. He had immigrated to Nairobi from Malawi and now worked for our outfitter Gamewatchers Safaris.
Gideon took us first to a bead and jewelry manufacturer in Karen, a suburb named after the author of the novel Out of Africa, for a short tour. All of the bead makers are women with children who do not have husbands.
It is part of the company's mission to provide employment to this disadvantaged group and there is always a waiting list of applicants for openings. Our guide showed us around the plant and explained the various parts of the process from shaping to baking to coloring and finishing the beads.
Afterwards, Gideon took us to a nearby restaurant for lunch. We both felt like we were dining in a movie set for a film about colonial Africa. We sat outdoors on in an area that looked and felt like a country club setting. When it cooled down with the threat of rain, our servers brought out a small coal-burning appliance to set down beside the table. Linen napkins, etc. You get the picture.
As we drove, we talked. Where was Gideon from? Did he have family? Where did he live? He was very curious about America and asked many questions about life in the States. What were houses like in the United States? Did the houses have walls like those in Karen?
The walls. They were everywhere we drove in Nairobi. So many and so high that they obstructed your view of what lie behind the sidewalk or street. And in the high-end residential areas they were frequently topped with razor wire. Homes like fortresses. Like luxury prisons.
When we were finished with our list, it was to early to head to Nairobi International Airport for our flight home so we asked Gideon if he had any suggestions. At first, he could not think of anything that interested us. So we suggested he take the long way to airport. And, then he had a thought.
"I could drive you by the slums," he said. "It is good to see them because it reminds us of how fortunate we are." And so as we meandered toward the airport, he pulled the car to a stop at the top of a hill and invited us to get out.
There below us for miles to the left and right and abutting right up to modern city buildings were ramshackle buildings with rusted corrugated tin roofs and scrap metal walls. The buildings were so crowed together that from our distance you could not easily make out where roads or walkways were.
After weeks of taking photographs, I could not bring myself to take a picture. The scene was too much, too overwhelming. I had seen pictures, in the movies even (think Slum Dog Millionaire), but until now I had no direct experience, no sense of scale.
I was sure I could not do it justice with a camera. How many people must live in this area? And, what kind of life do they have? What government services could even reach into the depths of this maze of shacks?
Could he take us closer, I asked? Yes, he could drive us along the edge as we make our way into the city on our long route.
And so we did.
It was dusk when we began driving down a street that abutted the edge of the slum. On our left for blocks and blocks were the tin shacks we had seen from above. In front of them were beaten up booths, mostly empty now that night approached. On our right, just the other side of a four lane road were the walls common around Nairobi with the buildings and activities of a modern city behind them.
There were lots people out and about, both adults and children. None had a scrubbed tailored look. I tried to look down the passage ways that entered behind this front of the slum. What I could see in the diminishing light were dirt pathways, mostly narrow and winding into the back parts this rusting city within a city.
"They can't get services in." Gideon noted. "When someone gets sick or injured, they have to carry them out because an ambulance cannot get in."
I looked again into the slum. Three children left the street in front of us and followed a darkening path that led to who knows where.
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Photo by Schreibkraft use under Creative Commons license and modified by the author.
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Travel, business and history with original photos.
Clinton Richardson - author, photographer, business advisor and traveler.
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