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Team Luskin Kenya

Team Luskin Kenya

This is a photo of the UoN Team in CURI. They were a wonderful group to work with. I enjoyed all of them so much. Dr. Mbathi in the back (tallest) is the project Director. In order (will have to look up last names, pole), Bessy, Sharon, Maranga, Betty, Dr. Mbathi, Cathy, Dorcas, James, Mutuku (Kabiru had to go into town so I’ll post his photo later). All of the team are students, with James being a Master’s student in Urban Planning and the Team Leader.

Fairest of Them All

Fairest of Them All

Another photo taken in the Kosovo village in Mukuru (Kwa Reuben section). The mother of this baby requested this photo; she wanted me to hold the hand of her newest daughter in mine to show how fair the baby is. She wanted me to remember her and her children and was very happy that I had come. Many black babies are born lighter and darken as they grow older. This baby was indeed, very fair, something that is a pride-point for many Kenyans.

While we were conducting surveys, the older daughter only about 6 or 7) of this woman, saw us and was so excited, she wanted us to see her home and her mom. She lead us through some tight passages and hen under a low-hanging awning into the area that is her home. This family had an urban “farm” of sorts. She had a stall with pigs and was growing some vegetables and the house was immediately next to the yard. All of this was taking place in a space of about 15’ x 15’. I will never again complain about the size of my house.

Wasted River

This is a section of Ngong River which forms the upper boarder of Mukuru settlement. The riverbank looks like this and worse the entire course-way as far as we could see. There is a school on the other side and the children were out playing (for recess, I think). With water scarcity being such an issue, it is incomprehensible that there would be such rampant pollution and disregard for this resource. Unfortunately, residents do not understand the resource. Although piped water does comes from Ndakini dam, they view supply as a provision of the government and do not connect that river with anything other than a source to wash clothes, maybe bath, and to dump all forms of waste. To the right of the photo is a dump where a lot of burning takes place and yet, the residents close to the river and close to the dump often choose to dump waste in the river or on the banks. There are so many challenges for the people who live here. There are no quick fixes, no easy solutions.

Beauty and the Beast

I met this young woman while working on our survey. She very clearly lives in Mukuru and yet was dressed so nicely, made-up, and high heels; she was just so stylish. I asked her name and what she does. She is an opera singer and was going into the city to record.

“Beast” as in the environment: I think I am finally beginning to grasp some of the realities of the informal settlements. Even though I’ve spent time in Nairobi interacting with Kenyans, I found that all too easily, I too would slip into inaccurate assumptions about and rationalizations of the nature and residents of the informal settlements.

I recall being corrected (gently) during my first Extension course in Urban Planning course to indicate “poor people” rather than “the poor” when speaking of the inhabitants of the informal settlements. Although I understood the semantics of the distinction, I did not understand the reality of it. I believe that westerners have very fixed and completely inaccurate views on poor people and the settlements.

Shortly after Alex came to the US, in a conversation about Kibera, he told me he had lived there for six months. I was surprised but from the awareness that anyone from any background can and does live in the informal settlements of Nairobi. Alex comes from an education and employed family; his father is a Doctor (retired) and his Uncle was faculty at the University of Nairobi. Surely, someone like Alex would not “need to” or resort to living in Kibera. He was going to college and wanted cheap housing, thus Kibera. I met one of Alex’s cousins, a high school teacher in Karin (very wealthy part of Nairobi) and he lives in Mukuru (the one we are studying). He described it as very secure, comfortable and most of all life is very easy there.

I think Urban Planners are going to have to be incredibly creative in their planning approach. Prof. Ngau who I am working under, said, “If we upgrade housing, they (residents of informals) will sell or rent and move back into the traditional structures. If we upgrade services, they will stay.” Very good observation and it is why the study is taking place.

There are some pretty stark differences in so many things in Nairobi. An example is how police manage the city and crime. So most of us think of pick-pocketing, theft, assault, etc.  Another crime in Nairobi is “hawking” or street vendors who walk through crowds and traffic or spread their wares on a cloth on the sidewalk – they are everywhere!  On occasion, the police decide to take action against the hawkers……so….

I was almost at my bus stop to go home yesterday when I heard two very loud bangs; I thought it was gunfire and I saw some people running from something up the street (not in my direction). There was also a lot of commotion and noise. I kept moving, convincing myself not to panic, after all no one in my near vicinity was doing anything but continuing on their way.  I got to the little street before my stop and there was a pedestrian jam with people coughing and spitting – what the heck was going on? Well, figuring I do the Kenyan thing, I pushed my way through and got to my bus and boarded. As I moved this very short distance 30 feet or so, I smelled something terribly caustic and felt it in the air, it was like breathing acid.  The bus windows were all closed and people had hankies and scarves over their faces.  I asked the gal sitting next me and she explained that it was tear gas. GOOD GRIEF!!! What the heck is going on that prompts the use of tear gas? Apparently, the police use this tactic to clear/chase/raid the hawkers in a given area. The hawkers respond by banging on tins and making a commotion to warn other hawkers and in general cause chaos. They also pick up the tear gas cans and throw them back toward the police. I just can’t explain how shocked I was at this.  I told my husband Alex that night about it and he said “Welcome to Kenya”.  I also told my team today and they also said this is a normal occurrence in the city. I guess I’ve been initiated; I’d take any smell in the informals in lieu of tear gas!

The Path Most Traveled...

This is one of the paths we traversed today. I decided to wear my rain boots which were a big hit because they had designs on them. The kids kept coming up and touching them. Surprisingly, the smells were not bad at all. I even visited a primary school located within Mukuru and stopped in each class. These kids are amazing and so well-mannered. So many stories to tell. I had another great day; a lot of bonding with the team (so much fun) and lots of questions on both sides about life, relationships, family relations, housing, rental prices, and so much more. I think I may have to either post more stories without photos and maybe photos with only short captions….what to do…

NICE walkway (secondary path) in Mukuru

Baby in Mukuru Informal Settlement

This is a pretty typical image of very young children in Mukuru and other informal settlements.  We were standing here for at least five minutes mapping electricity “poles” most of which are something like a broom handle only wider with covered copper or bare aluminum wires running in several directions. People who live here pay for this electricity. No adults came up to this baby while we were there to see what we up to, just a few children aged 4-6 who gathered around.  Children who mustered the courage to come up to me just kept touching my arm and whispering “mzungu.” It was quite a day!

Transit to UofN

Transit to UoN

Mzungu is the Swahili word for “white person.”  So the place I am staying at had a water problem for the past 2 days; problem being, there was none coming out of the pipes.  Bottled water only goes so far when you need to cook, wash dishes, shower, and wash you hands (seems like every five minutes). I couldn’t just sit by and watch my friend carry 20 ltr jerry cans up a flight of stairs so I helped.  Oh my gosh – what was I thinking? Apparently, one of the neighbors was wondering the same thing.  She asked me, “You know how to carry these?”  Mzungus simply do NOT carry jerry cans. I said yes and lugged the 2/3 full can up the stairs (I know my limits).

Water was back on today and I had a nice hot shower.  Still adjusting to time and altitude (which was much worse for me than I expected).  To Pam and Marcia who always reminded me to take a breath (I guess I hold my breath without realizing it – is there such a thing as day-time apnea or blond apnea?). I am practicing my yoga breathing all the time.

The second picture posted is of my neighbor girls, the youngest of whom is only two years old and has never seen an Mzungu.  She kept rubbing my arm and holding my hand and whispering “Mzungu.” Very sweet girls!

One more picture for today (too many to decide from) is of my rapid transit option to get to University of Nairobi (UoN) every day (M-F) while I am here. Oh and there is a nice long 30 minute walk after the bus drop to get to the building I will be at. I plan on walking off about 10 kg while I am here.  Wish me luck on my transit adventure! I promise I will never again speak ill of MTA.


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