It all started with a phone call. And the telephone, extracted from an n old and outdated spreadsheet, which connected your name to another organization, another slum. That’s how I meet Ezequiel, a potential young leader of the Mathare slum, a few kilometers away from Korogocho.

We sat at a café somewhere in Nairobi to chat before hopping into a Matatu heading to the community. We were analyzing each other. On his side, why in God’s name, a muzungu like me would come closer to a slum? Probable answer: bored with my plentiful life in Europe, I decided to help the poor. On my side, I just wanted to make sure that he was someone with access to the community and able to freely represent – or access – Mathare.

After a few minutes chatting, we adjusted to reality. He understood that my objective was learning, researching, and my intention was to contribute with ideas and contacts from other organizations, at least for a while. On my side, I felt safe that, despite not being currently involved with any organization, the self-defined job as a free-lancer sounded interesting. We talked, I paid for the coffee and we left.

On the way we talked about some ongoing projects, such as the apparently gruesome RYP (Rehabilitation Youth Program) a youth center called Luwaku and a garbage collection cooperative, also carried out by youth of a community called One Love. So many projects related to youth. My question was answered: he was born and lived for over 20 years in Mathare. He knows everyone.

We walked along the asphalted and commercially busy side in the outskirts of the slum. On the way, several signs referring to the international cooperation projects between the Germans and the Kenyan government. In one of the parts of slum (Mathare 4A), a German initiative tried to renovate some houses. It turned zinc shacks into cement houses. Until today it is clear to see the impact of such intervention, but the project was interrupted due to the tribal violence after the 2005 elections.

The region has two well-defined areas (and many others that are undecipherable): on one side, asphalt, 3 to 6 story buildings, public utilities (deficient, however present) and an atmosphere of “normalcy”; some more steps through the landfill, once again a bridge and we get to a second area, apparently with no planning, no infrastructure, e no presence of the public power. But a lot of people living there.

The houses are distributed along one creek and end where a second creek starts. During the rainy season (according to the residents, during practically any rain) the two creeks merge, flooding the narrow land strip that has more than 200 houses. On one side, called Ndoya, a school, blockhouse style, was built and it is one of the most stable constructions in the area, avoiding the constant flooding of the creek. I got used to the smell suffocating odors of open sewerage, but I confess I was knocked out by the smell coming out from the narrow pathway at the edge of the creek.

Surrounding the school the houses are not very well designed and are constantly flooded. The dirt ground, totally flooded and covered in insects is the place for plays and nice smiles of hundreds of slum children. A symphony of “how are you?” comes from the cheerful voices of the little ones, but in my mind the answer is not as positive: how am I? I am trying to find out some feeling that would justify so much neglect and abandonment, so close to the “rest of the civilization”.

The surrounding buildings consider this part of the slum– including its dwellers – a major landfill. Every day they toss from their windows the garbage from their houses, with no regard to the final destination of that waste. But we, here below, know exactly the impact of such lack of respect: piles and more piles of accumulated trash being collected daily by some of the young members of an organization called One Love. However, the amount of trash and the way it is disposed of hinders any nearly acceptable result.

We crossed to the other side of the community, and we arrived to the second creek. A weird invitation: I was invited to see the collective latrines of the slum. I squeeze sideways through a wooden wicket and barbed wire and I reach the creek’s edge. Here, two small houses made of twisted metal and wood serve as a refuge to satisfy the most basic physiological needs of the residents. And obviously, from there the waste goes to the same creek.  The background landscape is filled with trash, plastic bags and buildings that surround this part of the slum.

Watching the brown-bluish water that practically does not move, an unpleasant sight. At first we thought it was a doll, a toy that children play with and learn how to care for another being, even if just playing. But it wasn’t. With only one arm and a part of the body outside the area a newly born (or better, an aborted baby) laid there, on a pile of trash that formed an island in that insensitive landscape. I was reluctant to take a picture, but I registered the image. From far away, with no expression and a pain hurting somewhere in my being.

Talking with the residents we understood that this is something that repeats itself very often, not only here. Abortions are carried out through illegal and dangerous procedures, and the aborted fetus is discarded. Just like that. On the other side of the fence a local church building. According to Ezequiel, the marriage of his sister will be celebrated there the next day. And that’s how I took the baby’s image away from my head and replaced it with a romanticized scene of the union between two strangers. Just like that.

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