Vunja Winga means Breaking Boundaries [it is also the title of rapper Sharama’s debut album]
Two months ago I made a friend. Nothing new, ei? But it is this friendship that made me visit a place that all at once fascinated and scared me. And that place is Kibera. I have mentioned before on this blog that I consider myself a member of the middle-middle class.
So to be brutally honest, I hadn’t taken the time to visit, because [in my mind] the middle class is a hop-skip-and-jump away from abject poverty. This thought lingers ever in my mind and I did not need a reminder of the same.
Also, and more realistically, I had no reason to go there. I had no family, no project or business to conduct there, so why go?
Therefore, you can imagine how shameful I felt when my friend invited me on a slum tour of Kibera. He was in the country to write a paper on the ‘phenomenon’ and as he put it, I was ‘the perfect guinea pig’.
I got up on the Saturday morning set aside for the tour, sat on my bed and thought ‘Woah! I’m really doing this’. See, I am opposed to the idea of slum tourism because it is disrespectful.
It is the observation of how a people live. As if they were caged animals in a zoo to be marveled at. It also engenders the idea that poverty is something to be ‘proud’ of, something to ‘present’ and expect to make money out of.
But since I hadn’t made a point to go there through other means, I thought it best to shut up and see for myself. We met outside Java, Adams Arcade and due to my awesome time-keeping skills [ahem], I was the last to arrive.
There were about 12 people gathered there, mostly Caucasians with just one British lady, two guides and myself repping the Africans. I dashed to the loo to steel my mind and soul [ok, that sounds a tad bit dramatic] before the tour, because I knew I’d experience the mixed emotions of anger, sadness and embarrassment later on.
So we set off, looking quite the spectacle as we wove our way through the narrow paths, wooden, mabati and/or polythene-roofed stalls of Toi market. I was already cringing as I heard the inevitable ‘Hawa wazungu wengi wanaenda wapi?’, [Where are all these white guys going to?] ‘Hallo mzungu’ etc. But I knew that there in the densely packed confines of the market, I was probably passing off as just another shopper stuck behind a trail of a bunch of white guys.
But as soon as we got to the end of the market and crossed the road [unfortunately I don’t know the name of the road, but basically it divided Kibera and Toi market] it was clear that I was part of the troupe. A local ‘tourist’.